UK Football

Commentary: Time for SEC to realign football divisions

Vanderbilt and Kentucky have struggled to reach the SEC East’s top tier. Would moving Vanderbilt to the West create a better league balance?
Vanderbilt and Kentucky have struggled to reach the SEC East’s top tier. Would moving Vanderbilt to the West create a better league balance? Lexington Herald-Leader

This time of year is always appropriate for recommending improvements to my favorite sport, college football.

Never mind that none of my suggestions has been adopted. I recommend away, aware that eventually less enlightened people will come around to my superior ideas.

This year, I’m making only one suggestion. But it’s a big one.

The Southeastern Conference needs to realign its divisions. And it’s so obvious that even less creative thinkers than myself should realize it.

The SEC West is the strongest division in college football. The SEC East is so far behind, it shouldn’t even qualify as a member of a Power Five conference.

You could take the top five teams from the American Athletic Conference and replace the bottom five teams in the SEC East and have a tougher division.

This is temporary, you might contend; everything goes in cycles and eventually the SEC East will be better than the West.

Don’t bet on it.

Let’s start with the conference’s most recent additions, Texas A&M in the West and Missouri in the East. Do you really think the Tigers will consistently be better than the Aggies in football?

Texas A&M has a much better recruiting base and better facilities. My guess: Missouri already has peaked in SEC football.

It won back-to-back division titles in its second and third seasons in the conference. That will prove to be an aberration rather than a trend.

Next, consider the less affluent football members in the divisions: Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the East, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the West.

Mississippi State hasn’t had a losing season since 2009. Ole Miss hasn’t had a losing season since 2011.

Take away Vanderbilt’s Golden Ages (from 2011 through 2013 under coach James Franklin) and the Commodores have had only one winning season since divisional play began in 1992. Kentucky has had six winning seasons and never won more than eight games in a season during that stretch.

South Carolina in the East had a nice run under Steve Spurrier. But Arkansas traditionally has been a stronger program.

The West is better at the top, too. Three West programs have won national championships since 2002. Only Florida from the East has won a national title since 1998.

And the SEC championship game too often has been a joke. The West has prevailed in the past seven games, only one of which was close.

Five of the seven have been decided by 17 or more points and three by 29 or more. The average victory margin has been 22 points.

Even if the East is at the top of its game — Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are all rolling — the West’s depth probably will make a it a stronger division.

You might wonder whether three coaching changes in the East could affect the disparity between the divisions. Yes, for the worse.

Missouri and South Carolina replaced the winningest coaches in each school’s history. Georgia replaced its second-winningest coach in school history. The three replacements have a combined four years of head-coaching experience. And all of that belongs to new South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who was fired at Florida.

If you want to balance the divisions, you need to move schools, not coaches.

The simplest way to balance the divisions would be to move Auburn from the West to the East and put Vanderbilt in the West.

It would disrupt a few rivalries, but that’s a small price to pay for a more balanced conference.


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