SEC Has a New Tiebreaker Rule That Could Be Massive

Oct 4, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze during the first half against Alabama Crimson Tide at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 30, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn reacts during the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 4, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Christopher Hanewinckel/Shanna Lockwood/Marvin Gentry – USA TODAY Sports Getty Images North America

With the demise of the BCS, the SEC implemented a new tiebreaking rule in the event teams end the season knotted up in divisional rankings. Two-way ties are relatively commonplace and will still be broken by head-to-head results. But what happens in the event of a three-way tie? Prior to the end of the BCS the SEC used the BCS standings to eliminate the lowest ranked team and then used head-to-head BCS rankings to decide the outcome. That’s how Georgia came to represent the SEC East in 2003. 

But now that the BCS doesn’t exist, the SEC has implemented a new final tiebreaker rule.

Here are the complete SEC tiebreak rules:

Three-Team Tie (or more)
If three teams (or more) are tied for a division title, the following procedure will be used in the following order: (Note: If one of the procedures results in one team being eliminated and two remaining, the two-team tiebreaker procedure as stated in No. 1 above will be used):
A. Combined head-to-head record among the tied teams
B. Record of the tied teams within the division
C. Head-to-head competition against the team within the division with the best overall Conference record (divisional and non-divisional) and proceeding through the division (multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last and a tie for first place will be broken before a tie for fourth place)
D. Overall Conference record against non-divisional teams
E. Combined record against all common non-divisional teams
F. Record against the common non-divisional team with the best overall Conference record (divisional and non-divisional) and proceeding through other common non-divisional teams based on their order of finish within their division; and
G. Changed: Combined SEC record of the team’s cross-divisional opponents

Given the strength of the SEC West, doesn’t it seem like there’s a decent chance that a three-way tie emerges? After all, there are five fanbases that still feel like their teams have legit chances at winning the toughest division in sports. Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Given how strong all five of these teams are, I think there’s a decent chance we end up with a three-way tie.

For instance, would it really shock anyone if Auburn beats Ole Miss and then Alabama beats Auburn to end the year? Assuming the teams won every other game then all three teams would be tied at 11-1, 7-1 in the SEC, 5-1 in the SEC West. You could come up with any number of potential three-way tie outcomes as well, Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn could end up tied. Or Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Given that I don’t think it’s likely anyone finishes undefeated in the SEC West, I think the odds of a three-way tie are pretty good. (Keep in mind there’s also the possibility of a three- or four-way tie of teams with two losses.) 

But here’s what’s wacky about the new final tiebreak rule: Several teams are pretty much eliminated from winning a three-way tie already based on how bad their cross-divisional opponents’ SEC records are.

For instance, Ole Miss can’t win a three-way tiebreaker because Vanderbilt is likely to go 0-8 in the SEC this year. Coupling that with Tennessee, already 0-2 in conference and not looking particularly strong and the Rebels are likely eliminated from winning a three-way tiebreaker. The same is likely true for Mississippi State which also has the fortune/misfortune of drawing Vanderbilt. Couple that with Kentucky, who has started off 2-1, but will be the underdog in its next five conference games, and the Bulldogs have virtually no chance of winning a three way tiebreaker either. It also raises an interesting question: What happens if the combined SEC records of the three team’s cross-divisional opponents are all equal? I mean, Ole Miss and Mississippi State could easily have identical 2-14 cross-divisional opponent records. I have no idea what happens if all three teams’ opponents have the same conference records too.

Update: the SEC says in the event that the cross-division opponent records are a three way tie that we would have a simultaneous three way coin flip.

Rule H, which I haven’t seen anywhere: H. “Coin flip of the tied teams with the team with the odd result being the representative (Example: If there are two teams with tails and one team with heads, the team with heads is the representative). 

So who would win a three way SEC West tie?

Probably Auburn. The Tigers are in comparatively good shape given that the Tigers cross-division opponents are Georgia and South Carolina and it appears that Georgia will be the class of the SEC East.

Texas A&M appears to be in pretty decent shape with Missouri and South Carolina on the schedule. (We’ll have a better sense for this after the Georgia at Mizzou game). Alabama’s got Tennessee and Florida. So, interestingly enough, the Tide needs to be rooting for the Vols and Gators in every other SEC game.

How competitive is the SEC West? The league may need to add an 8th tiebreaker to figure out who deserves to go to Atlanta. Given that we’re in a playoff era, how complicated would this make the committee analyzing the playoff? If three teams are virtually equal, how in the world are they supposed to decide which SEC team, or teams, advance to the playoff.

Good luck, guys. This could be one hell of a mess.

At least we know SEC fans would handle this mess with the requisite degree of decorum, common sense, and civility.

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