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The games we’d add to balance the SEC’s conference-only schedule

With reports that the SEC would keep an eye toward scheduling fairness and balance with its 10-game, conference-only 2020 slate announced Thursday, I sat down Friday morning in an attempt to create a sample balanced schedule.

I knew it would not be easy, but it was far tougher than I imagined.

Before I get to my (admittedly flawed) results, allow me to establish the parameters I used, which I believe are in keeping with what the league wants to achieve.

First, divisional games were untouched. The league wanting to keep divisions so that it can play its title game is essential to the equation.

Second, existing cross-division games were also untouched. For example, Georgia still plays Auburn, and it also plays Alabama since the Tide rotated onto the schedule this year.

Third, I wanted to make sure the gap between the easiest and toughest schedules in each division shrunk.

The third point is key. While there is some effort to balance schedules across the entire league, it really is a secondary goal to balancing schedule difficulty within divisions, since the division champs go on to play in the title game in Atlanta.

This really comes up when realizing the split in quality of teams within the divisions. The West has four teams who we can safely call very good to great, and two or three which will likely be somewhere between below average to terrible. The gap in the West is large, with little middle ground. A lack of decent (not top tier but not below average) teams in the West is challenging.

The East, however, has two teams we can call very good to great, two decent, two below average, and one which is probably terrible. This allows for easier balancing of the West’s schedules when adding the cross-division games.

It is impossible to give everyone a schedule which is exactly even. But I did achieve more balanced schedule difficulty across the league and especially within the divisions. But it wasn’t easy.

In order for the league to do so, the SEC is going to have to use some sort of internal power rating system. This will likely be the first time a league will have to acknowledge rating its own teams in an attempt to fairly balance a schedule, though it is doubtful the league will share its exact numbers.

I did the same, using a blend of some public metrics (Bill Connelly’s SP+, ESPN’s FPI) and some private ones.

Previously, the difference on a per-game basis between the toughest SEC West schedule (Arkansas) and the easiest (A&M) was five points/game, according to my power ratings. I knocked that down to just two points/game difference between the toughest (now Ole Miss) and easiest (still A&M).

In the East I had even more success. The old difference between the toughest conference schedule (Vanderbilt) and easiest (Missouri) was five points/game. The new difference is just 1.7.

This is far from perfect and someone with better computer skill than me, a scheduling program, or both might be able to do better. But here are my results for the added games.

WEST

Alabama: Florida, Missouri

Arkansas: Vanderbilt, South Carolina

Auburn: South Carolina, Missouri

LSU: Tennessee, Kentucky

Mississippi State: Vanderbilt, Florida

Ole Miss: Kentucky, Georgia

Texas A&M: Georgia, Tennessee

EAST

Florida: Alabama, Mississippi State

Georgia: Texas A&M, Ole Miss

Kentucky: Ole Miss, LSU

Missouri: Alabama, Auburn

South Carolina: Arkansas, Auburn

Tennessee: Texas A&M, LSU

Vanderbilt: Arkansas, Mississippi State

Eight of 14 teams had their per-game opponent power rating change by between 1.5 and -1.5 points on the Vegas scale.That’s pretty negligible.

Six teams saw more substantial changes.

Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Auburn’s schedules got easier. Arkansas’ opponent Power Rating went down by almost a field goal/game on average, Vanderbilt’s 2.5 points, and Auburn’s 1.7 points.

Meanwhile, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas A&M’s schedules get a bit tougher under my scenario. Missouri’s increased by about a field goal per game on the Vegas line, while Tennessee’s went up two points and A&M’s up 1.8 points.

It’ll be interesting to see what the SEC comes up with. In the meantime, try your own!

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