South Carolina's SEC basketball schedule to add two new permanent opponents

SEC basketball takes on a different scheduling look beginning in 2015-16. The logo should stay the same, though. - Kevin C. Cox

The SEC figured out a sensible rotation for its SEC basketball schedule. Naturally, it's going to change it after the first cycle.

The SEC found itself mired in a number of scheduling quandries when it expanded from 12 teams to 14 with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M two years ago. Football continues to struggle to figure out what to do with permanent opponents, as the rest of the league contorts itself into permanent "rivalries" in order to placate the needs of the Auburn-Georgia and Tennessee-Alabama rivalries. Meanwhile, most other sports spend the season simply never seeing other members of the conference. For instance, the baseball team avoided LSU and Texas A&M this season, despite each of those teams making the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, basketball figured out a nice compromise. It used a three-year rotation with an 18-game schedule that allowed every team to play every other team in each season, and provided a nice trade-off between competitive balance and fairness. Each team was assigned one permanent rival that it played two times every season. It then spent that three-year cycle with four home-and-homes a year against those other 12 teams (four a year over three seasons completes one rotation). In the two years where it didn't play a team in a home-and-home series, it played them away in one year and home in the other. A sensible, fair way to schedule the conference.

However, it seems the powers-that-be in the SEC weren't getting enough of particular match-ups. For instance, Kentucky and Tennessee - two of the best programs in the conference this season - only squared off once this season, despite each team's successful seasons and their long-standing rivalry.

So the SEC decided last week in Destin, Florida to change its approach. Instead of one permanent rival, each team will now play three home-and-homes a year against the same three schools, for 6 games. It's not yet clear how the schools will figure out their other two conference home-and-homes for each year. It seems they'll either do a five-year rotation of the other 10 schools, or move to the formula employed by the old Big East when it overexpanded, where the conference simply dictated who played who in order to put on as many compelling match-ups as possible (though this also led to many extremely uncompelling match-ups between the lower-tier programs). The new rotation will begin in the 2015-16 season, after the SEC completes their first three-year rotation next season.

This means South Carolina will need to add two permanent rivals to complement its current rivalry with Georgia. One tricky aspect as well is that many teams will, frankly, probably try to avoid getting paired up with the Gamecocks. For instance, while Carolina's next-closest SEC rival is in Knoxville, for historical reasons, the Volunteers will likely want to add Kentucky and Alabama to their list of permanent rivals (alongside at-present rival, Vanderbilt). Florida seems a likely fit for Carolina given their relative dearth of healthy local rivalries (they're currently paired up with Kentucky) and the need to find the Gamecocks a dance partner. It seems possible the Gamecocks may also find themselves paired up with the Wildcats, though they likely will find themselves trying to get paired up with Tennessee and Vanderbilt for geographic reasons.

Trying to balance this across 14 teams will certainly pose an interesting challenge for the league office, and could lead to some odd "rivalries" like the current one between Texas A&M-South Carolina in football, whose storied rivalry dates back to oh wait they've literally never played one another. However, until they sort that out amongst themselves, what team would you most like to see the Gamecocks pair up with in basketball? Leave that in the poll, and feel free to list the other team you'd like to see us add in the comments. Or go crazy and pick three permanent rivalries per team, if you have a few hours to kill at work today (and frankly, don't we all?).

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