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Gumption: Whining, Permanent Rivalries, and the Zero-Sum Game of Scheduling

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I love you Les, and understand you're politicking for LSU's best interests. But, scheduling is a zero-sum game where the "winners" get stuck just as often as "losers". More importantly, the huge cross-divisional games aren't going anywhere, so dust off that Gator game film, Tigers

"The only fair game is one where I win"
"The only fair game is one where I win"
Chris Graythen

Let's play a game of "name that team". In the Post-Bryant Era (1983 season-present, and irrespective of voided games for infractions) we have four SEC teams. All four teams won at least one National Championship and at least 2+ SEC titles. All four teams have had at least five coaches since 1983. Even spicier, these four teams play at least two of the other three every year.

We have: Team A, that compiled a record of 253-119-2. Team B, that went 286-90-4. Team C went 239-119-4 over that time. And, finally, we have Team D, with a record of 247-106-4. Care to take a guess at whom is whom?

A: Alabama, B: Florida, C: LSU, D: Tennessee.

Not surprisingly, these four are all in the top-5 in the SEC for winning percentage (sorry UGA), and total wins (sorry Auburn). In short: The league's elite have been just that: elite, and series between the four have been, although streaky, nearly-equal in terms of results for the past three+ decades. But, we are again faced with the annual whining -and yes, it's whining- by Les Miles against the inequity of playing opponents on par with yourself.

Historically, the LSU-Florida rivalry stands 31-25-3 in Florida's favor. The last 12 meetings have been split 6-6, with LSU going 3-3 in Death Valley, and the Gators tallying a 3-3 Swamp record. In that time, Florida and LSU each earned two National titles. This is, in short, as competitive a series as you will see in modern big boy football. So, what's the problem here?

As Les Miles has repeatedly framed it, the issue is one of "fairness". Namely “unfair” to LSU, as he sees it, is that that Alabama plays Tennessee on a permanent basis. It is the elephant in the room that he believes Tennessee sucks and Alabama gets to skate, while poor LSU is saddled with Florida. Well, that may be true...but only insomuch from the time that Miles entered the SEC in 2005. He conveniently ignores the preceding decade where Tennessee, with Florida, owned the conference. Hell, as late as 2007, Tennessee played for the SEC title. The issue then is one of recency for LSU, not historically, or even within the past decade. This is Miles' ox being gored in the most severe way, and he recently doubled down on these comments on the Tim Brando Show:

I think there is some unintended, unearned advantages by scheduling. I mean unintended, the conference put it in there and they tried to deal with the traditions of the conference and tried to make things work. I think the unintended has to do with that. No question there are some advantages by scheduling. You can deny historically, traditionally that those two teams are pretty strong [UGA/UF]. And those two teams can make a difference in what is the Western Division championship. And they can make a difference year after year if the scheduling is not some way made equal.

To try and make LSU’s case, notorious Tiger homer Brando says “If I would've told you in the last 13 years, you would've played non-divisional opponents Florida and Georgia, you've played them 17 times. And Alabama has played them eight times.” Of course they’ve played “them 17 times”. This is the 43rd season that Florida and LSU have met, and they have met every year since 1973. Meaning, LSU has met UGA but four times…the same number of regular season meetings Alabama has versus the Dawgs. When you add the OTHER traditional powerhouse in the SEC-East, the one Miles wants to overlook but that cannot be ignored, you have the following breakdown:

LSU v. UT, UF, UGA (4, 13, 4)

UA v. UT, UF, UGA : (13, 4, 4)

And, adding SECCG appearances over the past 13 years, LSU has met the East troika a total of 5 more times, three against UGA (for a total of 7 appearances) and twice against UF (for a total of 5 games). LSU has never even played the Gators in the title game. Alabama’s appearances, over that same time, add three additional games against Florida (for a total of 7 appearances) and once more versus UGA (total of five appearances since 2000).

So, save it, Les. Historically, all four teams are nearly equal. Each has had a period of wandering in the woods over the past three decades. And, versus the other three teams, each has played at least two of the others damn near the exact same number of times. Your permanent opponent is on par with you, which is to say, usually an elite foe. And, guess what? In the post-Bryant era you can say the exact same thing about Tennessee. But, because Miles’ football history apparently extends only to the 2005 season, he can’t see that.

The next issue, and one absolutely in ignorance of the SEC’s welcome-to-the-neighborhood-meet-our-standard-bearers agenda, is the concern over so-called “bridge” scheduling. This is how bridge scheduling worked. With the addition of the two FNG’s, the SEC essentially adopted the 2008-2009 rotational schedule. However, Alabama and Florida were tapped to play the n00bs, both on the road. This meant that Alabama and UGA did not meet, and UF and Ole Miss did not meet. Is this some nefarious plan to aid the Alabamas and Georgias and Ole Misses and Floridas of the world, while simultaneously sticking it to TAMU and Mizzou? Of course not. Was this the league introducing excitement by scheduling games at TAMU/Mizzou, with their two largest brand names? You got it.

The “bridge scheduling” assgrief is no more a conspiracy than the infamous six straight opponents, all coming off byes, all-in-conference, that Alabama faced in 2010. Were we pissed? Absolutely. Did we pay for it down the stretch? Absolutely. But, scheduling works out that way. Sometimes the breaks inure to you, and sometimes they do not. Moreover, such myopia on Miles’ part completely overlooks the other beneficiaries and “victims” of the bridge schedule: GEORGIA caught a break last year and again this year. Missouri did not. OLE MISS catches a break this year and did so last year, while Florida did not. And, where is LSU’s concern for Aggie: On top of the SEC-West, they get to jump into a rotational with Florida…their second game of the season.

Is a 9-game schedule more equitable than bridge scheduling? Maybe. But, honestly, what solution was supposed to be imposed absent a temporary fix? Another one, that would have aided say Arkansas and Auburn, while damaging MississippiState and Ole Miss? By “fairness” doesn’t Miles mean “Alabama must face UF, UT and UGA, while we get to drop Florida”? I’m beginning to suspect that’s exactly what he means.

As a larger matter, will elimination of bridge scheduling do anything about the permanent UF-LSU, UA-UT, UGA-AU rivalries? Absolutely not. These are big ticket, big draw games. These are historic games. These are games with a lot of hate and animus. Even with a nine-game schedule, do not expect the Gators to go into that sweet goodnight. Scheduling sucks and it sticks it to you: Just ask Alabama and Florida, in 2012, each of whom had an additional road game imposed on them at the last moment. Additionally, Alabama, since Sabans' entry in 2007 has played three times as many opponents coming off of bye weeks as anyone in the league. Is this what the conference does to play favorites? No. Is this a scheduling quirk and/or what the conference does does to make money? Absolutely.

So, Les, man-to-man, chest-to-chest, it’s time to realize that a bridge schedule which harmed as many teams as it aided –as zero sum scheduling is wont to do, and the nature of elite competition, means things won’t change anytime soon.

And I, for one, eagerly await the 44th meeting between the Gators and Tigers in 2014, and beyond.