While it may have taken a weeee bit longer than a couple of weeks as King Karl had stated during Sun Belt Media Days back in mid July, the league suddenly and-rather randomly-posted the league slate going forward next season and 2019. (You can check out the full schedule here).
Here are some of the big takeaways:
- NO PERMANENT CROSS DIVISIONAL RIVALRIES
KK told the media during SBC Media Day that Troy and South Alabama would be permanent, cross divisional rivals. Even before the proclamation, many pundits (along with myself) were pretty confident that’s the direction the league would move towards and once Benson stated that the Trojans and Jags would play every year despite being separate divisions, most if not all thought that was the nail on the coffin. But nope, per the press release the AD’s of each respective school took a vote and approved for the two Alabama schools to play one another every year and everyone else will play their four divisional foes every year and continue to rotate three opponents home and away in two year intervals (SO LONG STORY SHORT, VIRTUALLY NOTHING HAS CHANGED).
- IS THIS A GOOD OR BAD THING? IT’LL REMAIN TO BE SEEN
Personally, I was all for permanent cross divisional rivals. Do you absolutely need it? Nope, not at all. But again, the whole notion of having a two, five team division with a conference championship game also seems a little screwy to begin with (but that’s a whole other article for another day). My biggest reasoning for being in favor of cross divisional rivalries (lets abbreviate that to CDR, kay?) was to maintain the status quo: if you’re going to have two of your ten total teams play a permanent cross divisional game, why not go ahead and have the remaining eight do it? Now obviously because there’s only ten football playing members with an eight conference game slate, plus the conference championship game, it’s a pretty solid likelihood you’ll play everybody if not play the same opponent twice in a season, but I still can’t help but think the league missed an opportunity. CDRs, especially if matched up with the right teams who could market it the right way to their fanbases really might’ve helped solidify not only the bond amongst the teams but really make at least some of these conference games matter from a fan perspective (much like how Tennessee-Alabama is long standing traditional rivalry with their respective fanbases despite being in the SEC East and West Divisions).
- COME 2018, ROTATION OF CONFERENCE OPPONENTS RESETS
Yep, you read that right. With the start of division play and conference championship game means who cares who you have played the previous two-four years in league play? Everyone starts at LEVEL !!! So for instance, despite Arkansas State traveling to Statesboro this season to play against the Eagles, come 2018 the Red Wolves will have to do it again (with Southern returning that game in 2019). Speaking of Arkansas State, we will finally get to see them take on fellow Co-Conference Champs Appalachian State in Jonesboro come 2018, but the Red Wolves won’t return that game the following season; instead, ULM gets to have those honors (Troy will travel to Arkansas State in 2019, despite not drawing each other in ’18). There are quite a bit more match-ups similar to the examples I just shared and It was definitely mind boggling for me when I first read them in the release but again, the conference is treating 2018 as a “whole new day” and that’s the perspective fans and beat writers alike will need to remember going forward after 2017. (Though I must admit…I would love to know exactly how the league schedule makers came up with whatever formula or means to match teams up; I’m sure they’ll maintain it was randomized which I hope is their reasoning because there is little to no seemingly obvious logic behind these first two year pairings).
Those are about the three biggest takeaways I took from today’s announcement (though I feel it’s worth mentioning the Eagles might be early candidates for the “That’s A Pretty Brutal 2019 Schedule Award”).