Of Major Crises Recently Averted in Arkansas, Only 1 Involved Pittman Naming Preferred Foes

Eli Drinkwitz, Sam Pittman, Arkansas football, SEC football
photo credit: Missouri Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

Two major crises were averted in these United States of America on Thursday. One was far, far more important in Arkansas.

Republicans and Democrats agreeing on a debt limit increase is major American news, especially in this day and age when the two sides – in Washington D.C. – can’t seem to agree on anything. The SEC is starting to look a lot like that, actually.

Conference commissioner Greg Sankey announced Saturday that the league would get rid of divisions in football starting in 2024 when Oklahoma and Texas join the league, but the SEC also, despite Sankey’s dropped hints about his desire, wouldn’t move to a nine-game conference slate. Sankey also said the move was temporary. You know, just like everything in life.

Still, Sankey felt the need to specifically say that. To this writer, that suggests he simply couldn’t get his member teams to agree to the details. That is, if a nine-game league slate were instituted, each team would have three permanent opponents and six played on a rotational basis. The issue is, of course, no one wants to be the school that gets the big dogs every year. Even though, as we all know, *every* team has an equal shot in this great game of college football. They all start 0-0!

Permanent Opponents for Arkansas Football

The trepidation by school athletic directors is justified. Oklahoma and Texas are considered powerhouses in the sport. The Sooners were as bad last year as they’ve been in about 25 years and Texas is perpetually underachieving. However, if you think for a second that someone like Hunter Yuracheck wants both of those schools as two of Arkansas’ three permanent rivals, you’ve got another thing coming.

But who would Arkansas want, anyway?

Sam Pittman, out of the SEC meetings this week, had said he anticipated Arkansas getting the Longhorns and Missouri and then another current SEC West school, likely Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Pittman said that, personally, he preferred that slate. And why not? Mizzou has owned Arkansas since joining the SEC, but has never been a dominant national power. 

Ole Miss has its ups and downs, as does its Magnolia State brethren. Then Texas, well, it brings back an old Southwest Conference rivalry and gets the team – between the two newcomers – that has been less impressive over the bulk of the last 20 years. This century, Arkansas has won four of six games with the Texas football program. 

From a wins standpoint, such a set of games is about as close as Arkansas football could realistically get to having a good trio. If the league were wholly interested in keeping or refreshing rivalries, the Razorbacks would end up with Texas, Texas A&M and LSU. If the league were to go geographically, then Missouri, Oklahoma and Ole Miss would fit best. And, frankly, that is right up there with the one Pittman prefers. But that will also never happen. Of course, Vanderbilt and South Carolina and maybe Kentucky would be most ideal for Arkansas from that rack-up-Ws standpoint. No one is going to entertain that idea for a second, though.

The Conundrum for SEC Football

The contention, though, from other schools is that someone is going to get screwed. Or, perhaps more importantly, someone is going to get an easy path. It’s unlikely the SEC would pair Vandy, USC and UK together as a school’s trio, but it also isn’t out of the realm of possibility. For example, who are Tennessee’s three? Florida, probably, but almost certainly Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Then Florida gets….

Oh, you know what, forget it. The whole ordeal is a massive pain in the tuchus. Regardless of the ultimate outcome someone, or several someones, are going to gripe. Pittman seemed to hint he preferred keeping at eight games, anyway.

”The one that hit me was it’s not broke,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d want to play a whole bunch of Power Five teams after playing a nine-game SEC schedule.”

Which is another point of contention. Nine games is a gauntlet, even if you have two gimmes on a permanent basis. The non conference opponents are going to be William & Mary (no offense, Tribe), Idaho and, like, UMass. Those games aren’t fun, even if you win them 70-7. Fans don’t care. Coaches gain little. Players get reps, sure, but they get plenty of that in practice and with the one easy-peasy game already on the schedules as it stands. 

The college football gods did a great job of getting away from encouraging such schedules in the 2000s into the 2010s. Does anyone want to go back to that?

It’s hard to imagine the league sticking with eight games for long. The disappointment from league brass was almost palpable Thursday and Sankey’s remarks practically ensure the proposal of a nine-game slate will be put on the table year after year until it’s finally accepted. And, eventually, it will be accepted. Because, just like in American politics, griping about things is what we do best.

Ask Tommy Tuberville.


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