South Carolina football: Gamecocks should oppose permanent crossover rivalries

Oct 13, 2018; Columbia, SC, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond (11) is sacked by South Carolina Gamecocks defensive lineman Aaron Sterling (15) in the first quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 13, 2018; Columbia, SC, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond (11) is sacked by South Carolina Gamecocks defensive lineman Aaron Sterling (15) in the first quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina football shouldn’t favor permanent SEC crossover rivalries.

A hot topic at this year’s SEC Media Days is permanent crossover opponents. Should teams be forced to play the same cross-divisional rival each season, or should there be two rotating matchups? It’s a safe bet to say that 10 of the 14 SEC affiliates are against having permanent opponents on the schedule, so why hasn’t the conference gotten rid of this arbitrary rule?

The answer: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Tennessee.

These four schools have essentially forced the league to install this ruling in an attempt to protect longtime rivalry matchups between the Crimson Tide and Volunteers, and Bulldogs and Tigers. While protecting rivalries should be a priority, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the rest of the conference.

Florida’s Dan Mullen is a proponent of these changes, and he made it known on Monday during his Media Day appearance.

"“I don’t want to get the commissioner in trouble here, but I’d love us to maybe do away with the permanent crossover team so you get these type of games more often. I think for the players, for the fan bases, I really think it’s exciting to see some more of maybe mixing up the teams from the West and playing two different teams each year instead of a permanent crossover. I think that would be really exciting so you get this matchup.”"

The Gators’ permanent matchup is with LSU. Mullen gave this answer in response to being asked about playing Alabama in the regular season for the first time since 2014. And we think he hit the nail on the head.

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Why the league should change

Fairness/Strength of Schedule

With the SEC locking in permanent crossover games, South Carolina football is tasked with playing Texas A&M year in and year out. Prior to the Aggies joining the conference, the Gamecocks were paired with Arkansas.

While the contest with Texas A&M does offer an intriguing matchup, it also consistently lifts the Gamecocks’ strength of schedule over, say, Kentucky, who is matched with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have seen great seasons in the past, but they aren’t a perennial top 10 team, like the Aggies.

South Carolina has yet to beat Texas A&M since its arrival to the league, while Kentucky has been able to run roughshod over the Bulldogs in two of the last three seasons, outscoring Mississippi State 65-39 in the process.

The Gamecocks’ trip to College Station also represents the longest distance between any two schools in the league. And the SEC is forcing the Gamecocks to make a yearly trip as opposed a team like Georgia, who won’t meet the Aggies on the field until 2024. Instead, the Bulldogs make the two-hour drive to Auburn, while the Gamecocks take an annual 1,100-mile cross-country trek. Something about that doesn’t add up.

Eliminating permanent crossovers would take the Aggies off the schedule every few seasons so that the Gamecocks could fill the slot with a closer opponent.

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Exposure to each SEC program

Removing these permanent rivalries would also allow four-year lettermen to see each SEC opponent over their college career. As it stands now, a number of South Carolina players won’t get to the opportunity to face Alabama, who doesn’t appear on the schedule until 2024. In fact, the Gamecocks have played the Tide just once in the last decade. The same is true of Auburn, whom the Gamecocks only got a chance to play last year due to the COVID-adjusted scheduling. Prior to that, the two teams hadn’t met since 2014.

Similar things can be said about South Carolina’s series with Mississippi State and Arkansas, which have been on hiatus since 2016 and 2017, respectively. The Gamecocks don’t face the Bulldogs until 2023, while they face the Razorbacks next season. Only three players from the current roster played in that 2017 meeting with Arkansas, while no one on the current roster has competed against Mississippi State.

That’s more than half of the SEC Western division affiliates that South Carolina players won’t get a chance to see due to the SEC’s refusal to remove permanent crossover matchups. Eliminating them would be beneficial to the student-athlete experience.

This topic has come up in the past, as has the move to a nine-game conference slate. The league hasn’t budged yet, but maybe this will get it thinking once again. It’s up to the SEC to decide whether protecting four programs outweighs the considerations of its 10 other members.

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