Mission Impossible: Texas A&M's 2012 SEC Schedule

Now that we know Texas A&M is officially divorced from the Big 12, the complications for the SEC actually become more substantial. The next step is fairly simple: The SEC presidents will vote to extend an offer to Texas A&M once the Aggies officially submit an application. (The application is really fun to think about. In particular, is there an essay portion? I'm picturing R. Bowen Loftin sitting up late at night staring at his computer screen screaming: "Why am I so damn boring?" If this essay doesn't focus on the trials and tribulations of male cheerleaders, I'm going to be really disappointed.) 

At least nine SEC presidents will vote yes and A&M will join the best conference in America. 

Then things get difficult.  

OKTC has been told the 2012 scheduling process will move into the hands of the SEC office which will present three or four different potential schedules and allow the ADs to vote on the best option. Simple majority will carry the day. That is, assuming the SEC schedulers aren't all throwing themselves off bridges before all is said and done

I spent an hour tonight trying to draft a potential 2012 SEC football schedule for A&M. Then I gave up. How did I give up? I called my friend Chris Shaw, a Math PhD living in Chicago, gave him the divisional parameters -- every team plays every other team in its division and all teams play eight total SEC games.

I didn't even worry about the issue of making the dates work, which layers a degree of complexity on top of an already intractable problem. 

I asked my math PhD buddy to confirm what I believed was true -- that an eight game schedule for 13 teams predicated on playing every team in your division was impossible. 

Ten minutes later he texted me back -- "That is impossible." 

For those who don't know or haven't really paid much attention to it right now the SEC football schedule is fairly simple -- each SEC team plays the other five teams in its division, a consistent rivalry game from the other division, and two rotating opponents from the opposing division.

Voila, the schedule takes care of itself pretty easily with 12 teams all playing 8 games.

But how would a 13 team conference for 2012 look?

Let's dive in and consider ten of the complexities:

That is, the teams in the SEC West can not all play the other teams in the SEC West.

So does the SEC scrap the divisions for a season and play with one 13 team conference? The top two teams would go to Atlanta to play for the title.

Of course this begs the question: Could the SEC eliminate the divisions and still hold a title game?

I'm assuming the answer is yes, but every other conference that has a title game also has divisions. Indeed, this was the initial loophole that allowed the creation of title games in the first place. So are divisions actually, positively required for a title game? I don't know. The SEC would need to get a waiver to be able to play a championship game without two divisions.

If they aren't then eliminating the divisions would be the "easiest" fix. Of course that would mean trying to ensure that every SEC team played an equally hard schedule. Good luck with that.  

2. If you keep the divisions, would the SEC teams be okay with some teams playing 9 games and others playing 8?

This answer would be simple: Hell no. 

Teams in the SEC bitch and moan when bye weeks aren't set up fairly. 

Can you imagine if some teams had to play nine conference games and others only played eight? Especially when the team that went 8-1 got in the SEC title game despite losing to the team that went 7-1? 

Which, inevitably, would happen.

Uneven scheduling isn't an option.

(By the way, doing yeoman's scheduling work -- seriously, there is no telling how many hours this would take -- here's Team Speed Kills making a run at the actual schedule. His solution? Four of the seven SEC West teams would play just five division games. "Next, you have to select which West teams will play five division games and which will play six. I picked Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss to play five division games, with the Bama-Arkansas and Auburn-Ole Miss games not happening in 2012." It's a pretty good solution but can you already see the ticking time bomb in 2012 under this scenario? What if Alabama and Arkansas both finish undefeated in the SEC? Or both finish 7-1? Who goes to the title game? It's a mess if all the teams in a division don't play.)

3. Multiple games will have to be bought out.

Scheduling isn't just a math problem, it's also an art form. This is why football schedules are set years in advance. Inevitably some of these out-of-conference games are going to be bought out.

Who pays the buyout fees? The league or the individual schools? It has to be the league, right, they would be the ones forcing the buyout.

We're talking about millions of dollars in buyout fees. This is actually a big deal.

4. Who pays schools that have to give up home games to travel to Texas A&M?

Again, we're talking about millions of dollars in lost home revenue.

Assume that A&M will have at least three conference home games in 2012. (I'm betting the SEC will count Arkansas in Arlington as an A&M home game. Before y'all start bitching there's a precedent for a neutral site game alternating between counting as home games for one team or the other -- the Cocktail Party between Georgia and Florida).

So that means that three other teams that weren't planning on going to College Station in 2012 will have to go play at A&M.

Who will those teams be?

Merry Christmas to those coaches, you get to go to Texas and play a top team that you've never played before.

And how in the world do you balance that out when those same three teams already have four SEC home games and four SEC road games? Again, this comes back to the impossibility of the divisional lineup in 2012. Some of the teams that travel to A&M's road games will have to be tossed out which then messes up the home game schedule for those teams that they would have played.

Is your head spinning yet?

Oy vey.

5. Does the scheduling complexity demand that the SEC go to 14 teams for 2012?

It could.

If you added a single team in the east, the schedule would get much easier for 2012. You'd play every team in your division and then every school plays two teams in the other division. Presumably you'd only have a single rotating opponent as opposed to two. The assumption here is that the SEC would keep the cross-division rivalry games that occur every year. So your top tier games of Florida-LSU, Georgia-Auburn, and Alabama-Tennessee would still be set. 

Then A&M's yearly rival, for the moment anyway, would become the new entrant into the league, the SEC's 14th team. 

Just like South Carolina and Arkansas were added as rivals in the SEC's last expansion.  

6. But is adding a 14th team on such short notice even possible?

ACC bylaws require notification by August 15th if any team is going to bail in time for the next season. That date has sailed past without any notice being given. So I'm not sure an ACC team could walk this late.

If an ACC team managed to bail, it would fit well in the SEC East, but that departure would ease the SEC's complication while making the ACC's incredibly difficult. 

Falling to 11 teams, the ACC would have to scramble to add another team in less than six months to keep its title game afloat. 

Then the entire scheduling process repeats itself for a new conference.   

7. What about adding Missouri?

It's possible, theoretically. (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are a pair and the SEC won't take both). But then you'd have eight teams in the SEC West so you'd have to relocate a team to the SEC East.

Who?

Auburn is the easiest call here, but then Auburn's cross-division rival would have to become Alabama. Which means you lose the Tennessee-Alabama game.

And Auburn wouldn't play LSU anymore. That's a pretty damn big game to lose.

8. I've been told the SEC would be willing to sit at 13 teams for several years if necessary.

Can you eliminate the divisions for that long? After all, a one-year hiatus from divisional play is easier to sell than a multi-year departure.

To the extent that you can maintain your title game without divisions for a single season, can you maintain your title game for multiple years without divisions? No idea.  

9. None of this even considers other sports.

All of these complexities just come from football.

Thirteen team scheduling will be complicated in all sports.

Which is why I've convinced myself while writing this article that the SEC will go to 14 sooner rather than later.

10. Okay, so who is the 14th team, smart guy?

 I think the SEC will look to the East exclusively now. Eventually it will go to 16, but for now 14 will be the number and that team will have to come from the East.

Here are my rankings for the 14th school: (Keep in mind that Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech are out of the mix because of a pact between the Presidents of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to forbid additional teams from their states).

1. Virginia Tech

I know, I know, their people are having conniption fits over this SEC talk right now. Spare me. Tech is interested.

2. N.C. State

The SEC's dream scenario is landing Duke and North Carolina as part of its 16 team conference. But you can't split up those schools. If the SEC's in a bind and needs a team from North Carolina fast, State would come running. Plus the Vols and Wolfpack are already scheduled to open the 2012 season.

One game is already scheduled!

3. Virginia

One way to get Virginia Tech interested in your conference in a hurry? Make them think UVa might join the SEC.

4. Maryland  

This would be a tough cultural fit, but it would get the SEC into the Washington, D.C. market.  

I think these four options are it. No one from the Big East is that strong of an addition. Especially because I'm told Kentucky would oppose Louisville's addition. Not to mention Kentucky is too small of a state to add a second team in. And I just don't think West Virginia brings much of a demographic addition. 

So if the SEC just went to 14 teams, I think it would be choosing from these four ACC schools.

Who do y'all want of these four? 

If the SEC doesn't go to 14, well then 2012 is going to be one hell of a scheduling conundrum. You're welcome to tell me why I'm wrong and scheduling 13 football teams in two divisions is easy, but you'd better bring Albert Einstein level math abilities.

In the meantime, A&M playing a full SEC slate in 2012 is looking like mission impossible.

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Here are OKTC's articles on conference expansion. Dive in if you want to be as well informed as anyone in the country on the hot mess that is expansion.

SEC expansion candidates and discussion of why league won't expand in existing markets.  

Why ESPN Is Dead Wrong: FSU and Clemson have no shot at the SEC.

How ESPN is Complicating Texas A&M to SEC

North Carolina and Duke, the SEC's expansion homerun

ESPN's contract issues complicate all realignment

The ACC and Big East battle for conference survival.

Is Arkansas in play for the Big 12? 

The Big 12 Bylaws Loophole: Could Texas A&M pay nothing?