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May 30, 2012

Football format faces opposition; hoops close

DESTIN, Fla. --- The football scheduling format that entered this week's SEC Spring Meetings here at the Sandestin Hilton as the clubhouse leader suddenly has some definitive competition.

While the general consensus had been that the 6-1-1 model --- six divisional opponents, one permanent crossover rival and a rotating cross-divisional opponent --- would carry the banner, some schools and their football coaches have vocally endorsed a 6-2 model.

University of Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart even told VolQuest.com that he's in the minority of those who favor a nine-game conference slate, but that the 6-1-1 model is paramount in preserving the Vols' annual October rivalry clash with Alabama. Other key rivalries, such as the Auburn-Georgia tilt known as the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, and the 40-year plus Florida-LSU rivalry, also would be preserved with that format.

Slive, fond of remarking how the "First Amendment is alive and well" in this league, also called Wednesday's meeting of athletics directors and coaches "vigorous."

"We had a vigorous discussion; it was good," said Slive Wednesday as the day's meetings actually wrapped up a bit ahead of schedule. "Coaches, I thought, were really impressive. They came in and they were very thoughtful. It was a sharing session with our athletic directors and looking, thinking about the various different formats and the pros and cons."

Hart has been adamant that the SEC preserve its traditional rivalries, such as the 'Bama-UT game that for so long has been known as the 'Third Saturday in October' showdown, as well as others and commended the SEC for expanding and yet maintaining these contests. An additional factor that some institutions also are considering this week are traditional, non-conference rivalries such as the Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina annual gridiron battles.

"I think everybody is trying to figure out what the priorities are. It's not easy," Slive said. "Depending on where you sit, your priorities may be different than another institution's priorities, and how do you balance that? That's really what is going on. It's really a healthy discussion. … I think before they get done, everybody will have thought through all the issues and the decision will be made."

The belief had been that the SEC would adopt its new football scheduling format by the Friday conclusion of these meetings, but that premise is no longer holding quite as strongly. Still, there's optimism for a resolution in the next 48 hours.

"At this point, our athletic directors will think it through and, if they're ready by Friday, they'll decide on a format," Slive said. "I anticipate that by Friday afternoon, we will have a format. There are pros and cons for every format."

Things are far less contentious on the basketball scheduling format, with Slive saying "It will be finalized Friday. I don't think there's any question about that."

Tennessee, as part of that new format, is expected to lose Kentucky and retain Vanderbilt as a permanent, twice-a-season in-conference foe.

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