SEC football coaches’ opinions split on Spurrier’s proposal

DESTIN, Fla. — The Southeastern Conference is the envy of the college football world for its six straight BCS national titles.

South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier yearns for his old days in the Atlantic Coast Conference when it comes to scheduling.

“I was thinking about the most fair conference I was ever in, the ACC, ’87, ’88, ’89,” Spurrier, a former head coach at Duke, said Tuesday. “I think we only had eight teams and everybody played each other, so it was very simple. Whoever had the best record was the league champion and so forth. Now with the mega conferences, everybody can’t play everybody and sometimes scheduling might be the reason somebody wins the division or even the conference championship.”

Spurrier spoke on the day the SEC spring meetings opened at the Hilton Sandestin, pitching his plan to count only division records to determine division champions. The current SEC system counts records against all conference opponents.

“I think every man has a right to his own opinion,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “If it gets changed, then good for him, I guess, this year. I don’t know if he’d feel that way every year. This year he’d probably feel good about it. I don’t think it’s going to change. I’ve always said for me, personally, tell me what the rules are at the beginning of the year and let’s go play by them.”

Georgia players got SEC East championship rings after going 7-1 last year in the league but avoiding the big boys of the West.

South Carolina players got rings for winning 11 games, the most in program history, but didn’t go to Atlanta for the title game despite going unbeaten against SEC East teams. The Gamecocks finished 6-2 in the league but lost to SEC West foes Auburn and Arkansas.

It’s a longshot that Spurrier’s plan will ever be adopted, but it at least went from not being on the agenda this week to something that SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he expected will be brought to the table for athletic director’s to think about.

Slive doesn’t support the idea.

“It’s hard for me to think about a conference game that doesn’t count,” he said.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen called the division-only scheme “interesting,” and said it could be “fair,” but added: “They’re still SEC games. You hate to devalue those games in terms of league play.”

Count LSU’s Les Miles as one who backs Spurrier’s division plan, but Alabama’s Nick Saban does not.

“There’s no perfect way to schedule,” Saban said. “You can look in the NFL and say well this team got in the playoffs because they didn’t play all of these good teams. I know there were teams last year in the East that didn’t play LSU, Arkansas or us and we were 1-2-3 at one point and time, but how many times does that happen? That might happen every now and then.”

Georgia happened to avoid LSU, Alabama and Arkansas again in this year’s schedule.

The combined overall record of Georgia’s 2012 SEC opponents is 52-49 compared to 65-39 for South Carolina. The Gamecocks play at LSU and are home against Arkansas while Georgia gets Ole Miss at home and goes to Auburn.

“The best team in the West should play for the championship,” Miles said. “The best team in the East should play for the championship. I think there’s a view of a loss in a crossover game that it could be detrimental and not allow the best team to come into the championship game.”

Richt said the football coaches discussed the issue Tuesday but today “we’re going to dig in a little bit more on it.”

Said Vanderbilt’s James Franklin: “It’s something we need to at least look at. I want to hear everyone’s opinions on it.”

Florida’s Will Muschamp wasn’t embracing it.

“It’s hard for me to say that I could lose to an Eastern Division team and have that Eastern Division team lose to two Western Division teams and go play for the SEC title,” he said. “That doesn’t make any since to me. An SEC game should count as an SEC game.”

Richt said earlier in his career he might have looked more at other teams’ schedules.

“Now I know that you really don’t know until the end of the year who had the toughest schedule, you know what I mean?,” he said. “Some people going into it might think a certain thing and when the year is over they might be like, ‘Maybe this other team had a tougher schedule.’ ”

Richt’s first SEC title at Georgia — and the program’s first in 20 years — would not have happened if Spurrier’s division plan had been in place in 2002.

Florida went 5-0 in the division that year but 6-2 in the conference. Georgia finished 13-1 overall that year, but was 4-1 in the division and 7-1 in the league. That was the year after Spurrier departed Florida to coach the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

“You’re going to sort of minimize the importance of cross-divisional games if you say they don’t’ count toward the championship,” Saban said. “Then we’re really not the SEC. Then we’re just an East and a West, so why would we play the games?”

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