DESTIN, Fla. ‚Äî The Deep South‚Äôs oldest rivalry will continue in the new world of a 14-team Southeastern Conference.
Georgia‚Äôs football series against Auburn, which dates back to 1892, never seemed to be in serious jeopardy of not being played, but it wasn‚Äôt until Friday that it was a done deal when the league adopted its scheduling format for 2013 and an undetermined number of years after.
‚ÄúI think everything was on the table and I‚Äôm glad things turned out the way they did,‚Äù Georgia president Michael Adams said after the final meeting was over on the final day of the league‚Äôs spring meetings at the Sandestin Hilton. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an important rivalry that‚Äôs existed for over 100 years and our view is it‚Äôs good for both schools and it‚Äôs good for the league.‚Äù
The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry lives on, as well, as an annual affair in the 6-1-1 format, which features six games against division opponents, one permanent cross-division game and one rotating cross-division game. That‚Äôs the format already in place for 2012.
Maintaining the Auburn series ‚Äúwas our priority all along,‚Äù Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. The new permanent rivalry games are Arkansas-Missouri and Texas A&M-South Carolina.
Asked if he ever thought the Auburn series was in danger, McGarity said: ‚ÄúYou never know. The way that some of the discussions were going with the different groups and their passionate concerns or just their thoughts as an institution, you don‚Äôt know if that could sway people‚Äôs votes or not. You just never know until they call for the vote.‚Äù
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, whose school will continue to play Florida as its permanent rival, said 11 of the 14 conference schools supported the 6-1-1 format.
That‚Äôs the same head count tallied before the meetings started, Alleva said, even though football coaches didn‚Äôt come to a consensus.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the way it is,‚Äù said Alleva, one of the three dissenting votes. ‚ÄúIf that‚Äôs the way people wanted, that‚Äôs the way it is. So that‚Äôs fine.‚Äù
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the format was backed by ‚Äúan overwhelming majority.‚Äù
‚ÄúAs difficult as the decision was to make it, I think our people are glad to have a decision and move ahead and implement it,‚Äù Slive said.
Outgoing LSU chancellor Michael Martin said among reasons he was against permanent rivals was that LSU will have to play five of the previous six national champions each year in Alabama, Auburn and Florida.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think that‚Äôs a particularly good way to set up a schedule,‚Äù he said.
Said McGarity: ‚ÄúI think every school has their own agenda, but at the end of the day it was what‚Äôs best for the SEC. There are some quirks in the model, but everybody has to make an adjustment here and there.‚Äù
McGarity said the format would be maintained until further notice and that no specific length of time was set.
‚ÄúMy guess it will be five or six years,‚Äù Adams said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs been a lot of uncertainty for the last year or so, and I think everybody‚Äôs ready to normalize things for a while.‚Äù
Slive said there‚Äôs ‚Äúno specific period of time, but under our bylaws the league is free to look-in ‚Ä¶ on the format at any time it wishes.‚Äù
Slive said the league will schedule ahead for three or four years starting in 2013.
‚ÄúThe ‚Äô13 and ‚Äô14 (games) will be a little difficult because of so many non-conference games already on the books,‚Äù said SEC consultant Larry Templeton. ‚ÄúOur goal is to honor all those contracts. We‚Äôre where we need to be. They‚Äôve made the decisions for us now. All we‚Äôve got to do is pick the dates. I‚Äôd think we can get knee-deep in it real quickly.‚Äù
McGarity said Georgia is waiting on the dates so it can schedule non-conference games down the road. LSU‚Äôs Martin thinks the schedule will have to be reconsidered in a year or two.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre asking for it as soon as we can,‚Äù McGarity said. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôve got to get ahead of this as far as scheduling. It‚Äôs difficult to get teams to come in and just play a guaranteed game.‚Äù Slive said he anticipates more emphasis on strength of schedule going forward in the proposed four-team playoff.
Georgia‚Äôs rotating SEC West opponent for 2013 has not yet been finalized, McGarity said. Slive said he hopes that will happen as quickly as possible.
The rotating cross-division game will cycle through on a yearly basis for six years to play every team in that division before switching sites for the next six years. If the rotator went home-and-home like it had in the past, Georgia wouldn‚Äôt play its last SEC West school for 11 years.
The other permanent opponents include Kentucky-Mississippi State and Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.
‚ÄúSome are more natural than others, but competition over time breeds rivalries,‚Äù Slive said this week. ‚ÄúGreat games, great events, great performances ‚Äî they all build rivalries. They all build traditions.‚Äù