By HARRY KING
LITTLE ROCK — Easy to gloss over, there was an interesting message several paragraphs into the Southeastern Conference announcement on that long-awaited day when the league’s 2012 football schedule was released.
"The 2012 schedule is not based on any other previous or future scheduling formats," the SEC said. In other words, this is only a stop-gap to immediately accommodate Texas A&M and Missouri.
Now fast forward a couple of weeks and note what Charles Bloom, SEC’s associate commissioner, told the Austin American-Statesman: "There might not be a permanent rival. Don’t read anything into next year’s schedule."
The release, plus Bloom’s words, provide carte blanche to speculate what the athletic directors will do this spring when they hammer out the schedule for 2013 and beyond.
To begin with, the athletic directors should not be bound by rigid parameters from the past. This is a time for innovation and imagination.
Abolition of permanent rivals would up a myriad of possibilities. Suppose the schedule did not include Alabama vs. Tennessee and Auburn vs. Georgia, the two most compelling games between division rivals.
Such leeway could lead to realigning the divisions, an idea that might be far-fetched when first offered, but something worth considering.
How about moving Missouri to the Western Division where it belongs geographically and switching Auburn to the Eastern Division? Missouri was placed in the Eastern Division simply to balance out the addition of A&M to the West.
Not only does the move make sense from a travel standpoint, it would pit Missouri against Arkansas, the Tigers’ nearest SEC rival, on an annual basis.
The Auburn-Georgia game, a fixture every year since 1898 except for three years, would occur naturally inside the Eastern Division. Alabama vs. Auburn, an in-state rivalry that is unparalleled, could be retained in the same way that the Pac-12 kept some California rivalries when the league expanded to 12 schools.
The league put Stanford and California in the North Division and UCLA and USC in the South Division, but the schools in the Bay Area play the Los Angeles schools every year in football.
The SEC athletic directors are bright people; they could figure out something similar.
The Pac-12 does play nine conference games and Bloom said the SEC would stick with eight. Probably so, but possible TV revenue from another conference game might encourage some to push for expansion of the league schedule.
A nine-game conference schedule could be arranged to include five quality home games per year — all of them against SEC opponents one year and four plus an attractive nonconference foe the other year.
With nine games, the schools could play all division opponents, retain a permanent opponent, and rotate two other opponents just as they do with the eight-game schedule that has been in place for the last 10 years. With eight conference games and only one rotating opponent, Arkansas would not see Florida or Georgia or any other rotating team from the Eastern Division for more than a decade.
If division realignment turns out to be a pipe dream, maybe the schedule makers will reconsider the permanent opponents and pair Arkansas and Missouri. It’s been said before that about the only thing the Razorbacks have in common with permanent opponent South Carolina is that the schools joined the SEC at the same time.
No matter what the schedule looks like, schools will be unhappy with one thing or another. With change comes push-back.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org