Amid the biggest off-season college football story in decades – conference realignment – I’ve noticed a peculiar attitude from fans of other conferences, particularly those of the Pac-10ish(?) persuasion. Scan the comments section of almost any article covering the expansion. Peruse the forums of Pac-10 and/or University of Texas fan sites. You’ll notice a theme among current Pac partisans. Apparently, their conference is on the verge of finally one-upping the hated Southeastern Conference.
"Your days of domination will soon be over," they warn.
"The SEC is quickly becoming a second-rate conference," opines Joe Pac 10 Fan.
"Our money will dwarf yours once we get into the Asian TV markets (yes, they really are trying to do this)".
Here’s the one thing all of these people are completely missing. It’s not all about money – at least when it comes to being the premiere college football conference. The thing the SEC has that the Pac 10 will never have is the "IT" factor. And, all the money in the world can’t buy "IT".
You’re thinking "Of course it’s about money. It’s always about money. What’s wrong with you?" Well, yes. Obviously, the conference realignment situation we’re now facing is about money. That’s not my point.
The SEC isn’t the most attractive girl at the dance every year because the league makes more money than the others. The league makes more money because it’s the most attractive girl at the dance. It’s not the most attractive girl at the dance because the league has won more BCS Championships than any other conference. It’s won more BCS Championships because it’s the most attractive girl at the dance. The SEC is the most attractive girl at the dance because it has "IT".
So, what is "IT", you ask? IT was best described by Mario Casem of Alcorn State University:
"In the East, college football is a cultural exercise. On the West Cost, it is a tourist attraction. In the Midwest, it is cannibalism. But in the South, college football is a religion, and every Saturday is a holy day."
IT is many things:
- IT will forever separate the SEC from most other conferences.
- IT is why Jim Plunkett and Ronnie Lott are celebrities on the West Coast while Archie Manning and Billy Cannon are folk heroes in the South.
- IT is the difference between 70,000 screaming Gamecocks packing their stadium for a 0-11 year while the fans of most Pac 10 schools simply find other things to do when their program is down.
- IT is an entire region living, breathing and drinking college football every single day of the year.
- IT is caring more about your school than some NBA team.
- IT is caring more about your school than some of your family members.
- IT is Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium.
- IT inspired the late, great Lewis Grizzard.
- IT is the party in The Grove – before, during and long after the game.
- IT is the Iron Bowl.
- IT is why most neutral college football fans around the country would rather watch LSU and Florida or Tennessee and Georgia or Ole Miss and Arkansas go at it on a Saturday afternoon as opposed to Oregon and Washington, UCLA and USC, or Arizona and ASU.
- IT is about love and hate and every emotion falling between the two, and how those emotions manifest amid the electricity between the hedges in Athens when Auburn comes to town.
- IT is witnessing 90,000
unbearable rednecksloyal Crimson Tide fans come to their feet with a roar when old black and white footage of "the Bear" appears on the video board before each home game.
- IT is the Immaculate Deflection.
- IT is pulling an upset against the Mighty Gators on a hot, muggy afternoon in the Swamp.
- IT is sitting in a foggy, damp stadium in Baton Rouge as Billy Cannon’s 1959 punt return is rubbed in the collective face of Rebel fans via the Jumbotron.
- IT is deviled eggs, fried chicken, potato salad, gumbo, jambalaya and your friend's grandma's famous bourbon balls.
- IT is temporarily setting individual school spirit aside for a brief moment and chanting "SEC! SEC!" after defeating a formidable non-conference foe in January.
- IT is 50,000 maroon-clad, stubborn Bulldogs ringing their cowbells in celebration of winning the Egg Bowl – despite their season being over.
- IT is the Vol Navy, which, by the way, could kick your Husky Navy’s ass.
- IT is knowing the best watering holes and restaurants in every SEC town.
- IT is "Rocky Top", "From Dixie With Love" and "My Old Kentucky Home".
- IT is the tears those tunes bring.
- IT's peeling the red wax as you christen another Fall Saturday with the aroma of a newly opened bottle of Maker's Mark - at 7:30 in the morning, the perfect time to switch from bloody marys to whiskey.
- IT is Eli Gold, Larry Munson and Jack Crystal.
- IT is an old man named Mr. Two Bits, a bulldog named Uga and an eagle named "Tiger".
- IT is Roll Tide! Geaux Tigahs! War Eagle! Hotty Toddy! And Hail Dear Ol’ State!
- IT is college football at its very best.
To our Pac 10 friends, we say "good luck" with your expansion. Perhaps you will get that Asian market. Maybe you’ll find someone other than USC to win a BCS National Title. Maybe you’ll even figure out a way to temporarily one-up Mike Slive’s sweetheart deal with ESPNABCMikeyMouseBilderbergsIlluminati. Go for it. Hitch your wagon to the stars!
Just remember that no matter what happens, the SEC will always be The SEC. And, there’s nothing you could ever do to change that.