Randy Smith: Is Tennessee-Alabama Football Rivalry Doomed?

Friday, April 25, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

While scanning the internet this week, I noticed some chatter regarding the Southeastern Conference scheduling dilemma. There is a movement among SEC coaches that would change the current 6-1-1 schedule, (six division opponents, one rotating other division opponent, and one permanent other division opponent) to a 6-0-2 schedule, with the league removing the permanent divisional opponent and replacing it with another rotating school. That means the long-time historical rivalries like, Tennessee versus Alabama and Georgia versus Auburn would change from an annual meeting on the gridiron, to once every six-seven years at best.

College football fans in the south do not favor a lot of change, and that is one change that Vols and Tide fans are completely against. Heck, some of them are still raw about the change a few years ago, that moved the annual match up from the “Third Saturday in October” to the fourth Saturday of the month every so often.

It’s called tradition, and that tradition is what makes college football so popular in the south. Now a movement by several coaches threatens to take away some of that tradition. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is pushing the league to change to a nine game SEC schedule, which would allow each team to keep their one traditional rivalry game, and add another rotating opponent from the other division. That makes plenty of sense to me, but Coach Saban himself admitted this week his proposal doesn’t seem to have the support it needs.

The problem is most SEC schools do not have a big traditional rival in the league. For instance, LSU and Florida are permanent rivals right now, but neither school wants that to continue and rightly so. Continued expansion for the league also makes it tougher to keep a traditional rival on your schedule. Right now, South Carolina’s permanent rival is Texas A&M and that makes no sense whatsoever.

There is another scenario that does make a lot of sense. That is the proposal to keep an eight game league schedule but add a rotating ACC opponent each year. That one has some support from both the ACC and the SEC but not enough to pass just yet. The ACC has the defending BCS champ in Florida State, but the format for the national championship changes this season as a four-team playoff will be added. Both conferences want the best options available to make sure they get at least one team in the “final four.”

The 2014 season, which will be here before you know it, could be one of the most exciting seasons in years with the beginning of a college playoff to determine a national champion. It may not be in my lifetime, but I think within a few years, the playoff scenario will expand again to include as many as eight teams. While I can however, I will thoroughly enjoy watching the selection process and the three big games to follow.

For Tennessee and Alabama fans, it appears that the best we can hope for might be for the Vols to make a big push and get back to the SEC Championship game. In a year or two, that might be the only way Tennessee would face the Crimson Tide in football; providing ‘Bama keeps its end of the bargain and wins the SEC West. By the way, the 2014 season kicks off on Aug. 28, with South Carolina facing Texas A&M. That is a mere 125 days away.  

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Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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