On Auburn and the SEC East

The Tigers keep the steady drumbeat going about switching divisions

JC Shurburtt
May 17, 2017 - 11:49 am

USA Today Sports Media

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I’ve heard this argument from contacts at Auburn for years- the Tigers belong in the SEC East, not the SEC West. 

That conversation is picking up steam again after former Auburn coach Pat Dye and current coach Gus Malzahn both went on the record to support the move. Dye’s argument was that Missouri, which is located in the middle of the country some 732 miles northwest of the loveliest village on the plains, belongs in the SEC West because of travel considerations. 

As Malzahn said this week, that makes sense when you look at the map. Consider too that Auburn is less than 30 minutes from the eastern time zone and the Georgia state line.  

Also, and most Auburn folks will tell you this, there are traditional rivalries with Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. Prior to the league expanding in 1992, the Tigers annually played the Gators, Vols and Dawgs. They still play UGA on an annual basis. Also, when teams had two permanent opponents from the other division, Auburn still played Florida. 

There are two major issues with this. First and foremost is the Iron Bowl, the annual in-state rivalry game (and the most intense rivalry in college football for my money) is played at the end of the regular season schedule. What would happen under a hypothetical scenario where Auburn had won the SEC East already and Bama had won the SEC West and they were set to meet in Atlanta for the conference title the following weekend? That creates an interesting scenario. So, that game would have to be moved to another date. 

Second, I can’t imagine Alabama and Auburn not playing annually, so with the current eight-game conference schedule, the Tide and Tigers would be permanent cross-division opponents. That would take Alabama’s rivalry game with Tennessee off the annual schedule. 

These days, I am not sure that the Vols would strongly oppose playing Bama on a more infrequent basis (the Tide has won 10 straight in the series), but there does not seem to be a terribly strong appetite to jettison the third Saturday in October. 

So therein lies the issue. 

I’d also add that Mizzou is an outpost within the conference regardless. Granted, they do travel more miles in total to play in the SEC East and trips to South Carolina and Florida are quite long, but there are quite a few destinations that are within the same ballpark and Vandy and Kentucky are both closer to Columbia, Mo., than any other SEC West program except Arkansas. 

DISTANCE FROM COLUMBIA, MO. to EVERY SEC SCHOOL

Nashville, Tennessee (Vanderbilt)        432 miles
Lexington, Kentucky  (Kentucky)        460 miles
Knoxville, Tennessee (Tennessee)        608 miles
Athens, Georgia (Georgia)            735 miles
Columbia, South Carolina (South Carolina) 888 miles
Gainesville, Florida (Florida)        1,011 miles

Fayetteville, Arkansas (Arkansas)        309 miles
Oxford, Mississippi (Ole Miss)        477 miles
Starkville, Mississippi (Miss. State)    547 miles
Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Bama)        603 miles
Auburn, Alabama (Auburn)         732 miles
Baton Rouge, Louisiana (LSU)        774 miles
College Station, Texas (Texas A&M)    761 miles

At some point, a decision will be made on this subject, though I do not anticipate it happening any time soon. Most believe that any move would coincide with either further expansion of the SEC or the league adapting a nine-game conference football schedule, which would protect the schedule to a certain extent. 

I think Auburn folks have a point when they argue for a move and as a college football traditionalist, I understand the desire to play the teams you traditionally play. I also understand that the SEC East right now is not the stronger of the two divisions, but history tells us that that is cyclical and the SEC West wasn’t all that great last season anyway outside of Alabama. 

It’s an interesting topic to consider and part of what makes covering the SEC quirky and fun. 

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