Mr. CFB/Tony Barnhart: Why moving the Auburn game made sense for Georgia

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn (left) and Georgia Coach Kirby Smart agreed to move their game in 2020 to September or OctoberDale Zanine/USA Today

The Deep South's oldest rivalry will be moved from November to September or October in 2020

I was disappointed to read the news that the Georgia-Auburn football game, starting in 2020, will be moved from its traditional November date to either late September or early October.

Georgia-Auburn is the longest continuous rivalry in the Deep South, starting in 1892 in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. It has always been my favorite game for a host of reasons. With the cooling temperatures in November it just has a different FEEL to it.

The game has given us some of college football’s classic moments from Fran Tarkenton drawing up the winning play in the dirt in 1959 to Georgia’s five-overtime win (the first OT in SEC history) at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1996.

So yes, when 2020 rolls around and Georgia is playing Tennessee instead of Auburn in November it will feel strange. I get the disappointment.

What I don’t get is the anger this decision has sparked on social media and elsewhere. To listen to these folks, UGA’s president (Jere Morehead), director of athletics (Greg McGarity), and head coach (Kirby Smart) have all sold their school down the river in order for the SEC office to help Auburn.

So let’s all take a deep breath right here.

First of all, this news was not a complete shock. Last November new Auburn athletics director Allen Greene said publicly that it was a priority to get some “breathing room” for his team which has to play both Georgia and Alabama in the final three weeks of the season. And since 2013 both games have either been at home or on the road. In 2017 both were at Auburn and the Tigers won them both, beating Georgia and Alabama when they were ranked No. 1. Last season both were on the road and Auburn lost them both.

At the time Greene said that it could get done in 2020. I’m pretty sure Greene was not supposed to say that publicly.

So Greene had talks with the SEC office trying to get some relief.

Now understand how the football scheduling process works in the SEC. Each school has its priorities of what it wants out of a football schedule. Example: For the 2019 season Georgia wanted its two open dates to fall on Sept. 28 (after Notre Dame and before Tennessee) and Oct. 26 (the week before Florida in Jacksonville).

Every school makes its priorities known to the SEC office which begins to circulate drafts of future schedules to the schools. The athletics director at each school consults the coaching staff for its input. Any concerns from coaches are then sent back to the SEC and the process continues until the final schedule is released in September, about a year in advance.

The No. 1 rule of football scheduling in the SEC is: Nobody gets everything they want.

And that’s what happened with the Georgia-Auburn game. The SEC gave Georgia a draft of the schedule that had moved the game to September or October. McGarity sent it to the coaching staff to study. Smart had said at the 2018 spring meetings at Destin that he would like to get some relief from playing both Auburn and Georgia Tech on the road in the span of three weeks every other year.

So at the end of the day, Smart felt the schedule was one he could live with.

“If we had a problem with it (the 2020 schedule), it never would have happened,” said McGarity, who also got a contract extension this week.

President Morehead made the announcement Wednesday and made it clear he was on board.

“I suppose if I was looking at the schedules, the keys for me would be asking if the head coach is happy with the schedule and has our athletic director vetted it properly?” President Morehead told DawgNation.com. “All those things have been done.”

But why, the angry fans want to know, didn’t Georgia just say no? Why didn’t they fight? Why should Georgia do ANYTHING to help the SEC help Auburn? Nick Saban wouldn’t do it. Why should WE do it? What’s in it for us?

Again, let’s take another deep breath.

The answer is the Southeastern Conference asked for help. Georgia is a member of the Southeastern Conference. And it never hurts to have the SEC owe you one. And Georgia was getting something out of the deal by not having to play both Auburn and Georgia Tech on the road in a three-week span.

Here is the reality of college football in the 21st century. In order to keep the sport healthy changes—some we don’t like--have to be made from time to time. We all love tradition but I learned from commissioners like Roy Kramer and Mike Slive that while college football embraces tradition better than any other sport, it can’t be bound by it.

I hated it when we lost Florida-Auburn as an annual game.

But it had to be done back in the 90s for the SEC to advance. And look at it now.

And let me share this and it is strictly an opinion: The next big battle involving the Georgia-Auburn game is not WHEN it will be played but IF it will be played on an annual basis. I’m getting some rumbles that more and more athletics directors in the SEC are hearing from their fan bases who want to a better variety of conference games in the season ticket packages.

Example: On Nov. 23 Texas A&M will play at Georgia for the first time since the Aggies joined the conference in 2012. If the current scheduling model (which expires in 2025) stays in place Texas A&M will not return to Athens until 2029.

One way to speed up that rotation is the elimination of permanent crossover games from each division. Each team in the SEC plays a permanent team from the other division and the other rotates on a five-year cycle. Georgia’s permanent crossover opponent is Auburn. Alabama’s is Tennessee. LSU’s is Florida (and they ain’t happy about it).

Do away with these permanent crossovers and teams would play against each other on a much more frequent basis. But SEC fans would have to give up Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee on an annual basis to do it. That will be an interesting fight.

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