Guerry Clegg commentary: Doesn't matter when Georgia and Auburn play as long as they play

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMay 31, 2014 

They could play in early November or late August. They could play at high noon Saturday or prime time Thursday night or Tuesday before breakfast, for all that matter.

It doesn't matter to me when Georgia and Auburn play, as long as they continue to play every year.

For now, that will remain the case. Thankfully, all the shuffling of schedules and ditching treasured rivalries has not claimed The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry among its victims.

At least, not yet.

Unfortunately, though, that day could come. We've already seen some good rivalries plowed under like historic monuments being destroyed in the name of progress.

Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Auburn-Florida, Auburn-Tennessee, Georgia-Clemson, Missouri-Kansas, Pitt-West Virginia and Texas-Arkansas are among some of the oldest, tradition-steeped rivalries that have ceased.

Maryland, Rutgers and Nebraska in the Big 10. Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville in the ACC. Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12. Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC.

The formation of "super conferences," driven by league officials and school athletic director determined to expand their television markets for more money, has forever changed college football. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's not 1952. Sports have changed, mostly because there's more money involved.

But the more conferences evolve, the more rivalries become endangered species. Nothing is sacred any more in college football. We can't assume Georgia-Auburn is an exception even though they have played each other 117 times. With the demise of the Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas rivalries, Georgia-Auburn now ranks fourth in most-played rivalries, behind Minnesota-Wisconsin (123), Miami of Ohio-Cincinnati and North Carolina-Virginia (118 each).

It's true that those other rivalries ceased due to one team, or both, leaving their conference. That's not going to happen with Auburn or Georgia. Even so, they're in opposite divisions.

To their credit, Georgia and Auburn officials have remained committed to playing each other. If that means having to move the game from it's traditional late-season slot to make the schedules more manageable, that's a small price to pay to ensure that the rivalry lives on.

Adding Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, while good for TV ratings and revenue, created scheduling nightmares. With six divisional games to play, that left the conference with less than ideal choices.

• Add a ninth conference game. That's probably the most practical solution, but as of now Alabama's Nick Saban is the only coach in favor of it.

• Keep the current format of playing one permanent non-division opponent. But that means

facing the other non-division schools only once every six years.

• Eliminating the permanent non-division opponent. That would kill the Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee rivalries.

The objections to adding a ninth conference game are valid. Georgia (Georgia Tech), South Carolina (Clemson), Florida (Florida State) and Kentucky (Louisville) already have challenging in-state rivalries to preserve. The other schools do not, which gives them a scheduling advantage. The SEC has adopted a new policy, which goes into effect 2016, requiring all members to play at least one opponent from the ACC, Big 10, Big 12 or Pac-12. That's a fair compromise for now.

There's also growing support for reducing or eliminating the "paycheck" games. That is, a big school like Alabama paying teams like Western Carolina and Georgia State a fat check to come in and serve as tackling dummies. Saban said last week he'd like to see just the teams from the big five conferences play each other. That's too restrictive because it would eliminate some legitimate opponents such as Boise State, Central Florida, South Florida, Southern Miss, Troy and BYU. (I have to assume Saban would grant an exception to Notre Dame.) But they could agree to play just one game outside the top five conferences. That would leave 11 games, so increasing the SEC schedule to nine or even 10 games wouldn't put them at a disadvantage nationally.

I love college football, but I don't care if I never watch another Georgia-Appalachian State yawner, or Georgia Tech-Wofford.

Maybe there really isn't anything in college football that's sacred any more. But Auburn-Georgia is pretty darn close.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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