Where East meets West

Tennessee's football coach and athletics director believe the league's method of awarding division titles could be a hot issue at the upcoming SEC meetings. Here's why.

Tennessee's football team got the shaft from the SEC schedule-maker in 2011, whereas Georgia got a virtual bye to the conference championship game.

Last fall Derek Dooley's Volunteers had to face three top-10 teams from the Western Division — Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. The Vols lost to each of the three and finished last in the SEC East. Conversely, Mark Richt's Bulldogs had to face none of the three. Instead, the Dawgs whipped West also-rans Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss en route to winning the Eastern Division.

Clearly, Tennessee's conference schedule was far more challenging than Georgia's. That's why it may be time to award division titles based on division games only. South Carolina head man Steve Spurrier suggested as much recently.

"I know that's coach Spurrier's big push this year," Dooley said last week, smiling smugly as he added: "It's not ironic that he was undefeated in the division last year, and that's his big push this year."

Certainly, Spurrier has a vested interest. His Gamecocks went 5-0 against the SEC East last fall but 1-2 against the West, ultimately finishing second in the division to a Georgia team they beat in Athens.

Still, Dooley believes Spurrier's suggestion has enough merit to warrant consideration when the league coaches hold their annual spring meeting in Florida later this month.

"We'll probably find out in Destin," Dooley said. "We'll probably do a little research, have some discussion and see where it falls."

Tennessee director of athletics Dave Hart also finds Spurrier's suggestion worthy of consideration.

"It has merit for meaningful conversation," Hart said. "I'm not sure at the end of the day that it will win the day but I think that point is well taken. I didn't think his (Spurrier's) point last year about paying players out of his own pocket would get a lot of serious conversation but I think this is one the coaches in the coaches' meeting probably will talk about."

When East powers Florida and Tennessee were dominating the SEC back in the 1990s, some observers suggested the league's two highest-ranked teams should meet in the conference championship game, even if they represented the same division. Using this system top-ranked LSU and second-ranked Alabama would've met in The Georgia Dome last December, instead of LSU and Georgia.

"I haven't put a lot of thought into that," Dooley conceded.

Like Spurrier, the Vol coach wants to see a system implemented that will work in his program's favor.

"Whatever can help us get to The Georgia Dome, I'm for," Dooley deadpanned. "So, whatever rule that is, you all (media) let me know and I'll push it."

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