SEC football divisions are dead, and here's why you will miss them | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News
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SEC divisions are dead.

I'll miss them, and if you don't, you never really got to know them.

Since the day former commissioner Roy Kramer stuck his heel in the SEC sand and dragged a jagged line through the heart of the league's footprint, splitting 12 teams into two competing groups in 1992, divisional play never failed to be a compelling engine for the then-revolutionary concept of conference title games. Kramer's line started just West of Gainesville and snaked along I-75 North toward Chattanooga, separating Gators from Tigers, Volunteers from Rebels, and two kinds of Bulldogs along the way. It veered northwest from there, as if an imaginary line could make Vanderbilt and Arkansas any more different.

The outcome was made for TV from the outset, as two concurrent races in the league standings drove interest, ticket sales, and viewer ratings alike. Winning a division for a berth in the SEC title game became a measuring stick for coaches, and clearing that bar fueled credibility and contract extensions alike.

A faction of hardcore SEC fans even began taking on a sense of divisional pride, arguing over which side was tougher, and tallying records to back up their claims. The West was 10-4 against the East last year in regular-season play, and somewhere on two barstools, eight months later, that's still being talked about.

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Divisional play will hang around for three more seasons, like a lame-duck coach whose firing is imminent, then gone for good once the league flips to a new scheduling format to accommodate incomers Texas and Oklahoma.

Chalk it up to the price of progress.

An announcement on that new format is still pending, but the decision to ditch divisions has been a poorly-kept secret for months. In May, the NCAA rid itself of a rule requiring conferences with championship games to use a divisional format, but SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey publicly hinted at the end of divisional play even before that. He all but confirmed it at SEC Media Days, noting that league meetings in Destin were focused on a single division model, and that tiebreaker procedures must be explored "with the single division concept in front of us."

That's tacit confirmation, particularly on the high-profile public stage that is SEC Media Days.

Properly eulogizing Kramer's then-controversial vision requires a walk through some pretty spectacular history. Start with a legendary inaugural title game – Alabama 28, Florida 21 – that helped spring an undisputed national champion and would later become the subject of a documentary film.

For a stretch in the 1990s, the East was the power division, with the Florida-Tennessee game serving as its power matchup. The winner of the September showdown won the East eight times in the format's first 10 years;  a titanic clash that was presumed to be the league's gateway to championship seasons.

The eventual rise of Alabama, and to a lesser extent LSU, flipped that dynamic and drew the eyes of the nation to the West's November finish line. It came to be not only the league's better division, but the college game's best division.

Kramer's line in the sand will be erased in 2025 after 33 seasons of service.

Every Power Five conference eventually copied the idea.

None did it like the original.

Reach Chase Goodbread at cgoodbread@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread

Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.
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