SEC preserves oldest rivalries in 6-1-1 scheduling format

DESTIN, Fla. -- For the time being, the SEC's traditional cross-division rivalries have emerged from the first round of decision-making unscathed by the league's expansion to 14 teams.

The SEC approved a 6-1-1 scheduling format Friday, the same format that will be used in 2012, for future football schedules, a move that preserves the Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee rivalries on a yearly basis.

Under the SEC's approved schedule, teams will play their six divisional opponents, one permanent opponent from the other division and another cross-division opponent that will rotate among the other six teams.

A timetable for releasing the 2013 SEC football schedule has not been set.

"People recognized that some of these traditions, particularly Auburn-Georgia, the South's oldest rivalry, needed to be a part of college football moving forward," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said.

An overwhelming majority of SEC teams voted for the 6-1-1 format despite opposition from a group of teams led by LSU to abolish permanent opponents and play a 6-2 format.

Auburn, Georgia and Alabama wanted to protect two of the conference's longest-running rivalries. The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has been played 115 times, and Alabama and Tennessee have squared off 93 times.

"I think every school has their own agenda, but at the end of the day I think it was what was best for the SEC," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. "Everybody has to make an adjustment here or there."

At least one cross-division rivalry changed. Arkansas, a team that has been paired with South Carolina, will now play Missouri under the new format, and the Gamecocks' permanent opponent will be Texas A&M.

LSU, led by athletic director Joe Alleva, had argued that its cross-division rivalry with Florida left the Tigers at a competitive disadvantage.

"I made my pitch, and sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some," LSU chancellor Michael Martin said. "I think there's going to have to be some reconsideration of it."

For the moment, the SEC is committed to the 6-1-1 format for the next three to four years, according to SEC commissioner Mike Slive, to allow teams to schedule nonconference games.

Teams typically schedule nonconference games years in advance -- McGarity said Georgia is scheduled through 2015 -- and the 6-1-1 format has to stay in place long enough for teams to take advantage of the open dates set by the SEC.

With the ever-present threat of more realignment -- most administrators would not speculate on further SEC expansion -- and the possibility that the 6-1-1 format proves unpopular, Slive did not rule out the possibility that the 6-1-1 format will be reviewed in the next half-decade.

"We needed to establish the format so we can begin to build a schedule," Slive said. "The idea that you're going to be able to schedule 10-12 years out isn't going to work."

Unlike the old schedule, the one rotating cross-division opponents will no longer play a home-and-home series. Instead, a team's rotating opponent will change every year to prevent a decade passing between matchups.

"If you went home-and-home, then Georgia would not see Texas A&M for 11 years," McGarity said. "It lets you see one opponent every six years."

In men's basketball, the SEC adopted an 18-game schedule that includes one permanent opponent, four rotating opponents home-and-home and eight games against the remaining teams.

Auburn's permanent rival in basketball is Alabama. Georgia will play South Carolina, at least for the next three years. At the end of that cycle, the permanent opponents will be revisited.

Georgia coach Mark Fox wanted to play either Auburn or Florida, but the Gators will play traditional rival Kentucky instead.

In addition, the men's basketball tournament will now include an additional round on Wednesday featuring two play-in games for the 11-14 seeds.

On the women's side, the schedule will be 16 games, with one permanent opponent, a round robin and two random opponents. In women's basketball, the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is preserved, but Georgia will play Florida.

A periodic evaluation of those formats is also expected.

"Nobody has a really good sense of expansion and what tomorrow holds," Jacobs said. "We're set right now and moving forward."

Related stories from Columbus Ledger-Enquirer