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For the SEC, Lessons on the Day When College Football Changes Again

There aren't many lessons that the SEC can draw from what happened to the Big East and the Big XII. But there's one big one

Michael Chang

It's July 1. In case you haven't been following the discussion on Twitter, that means that the football teams of the Big East are now in the American Athletic Conference with UCF, Houston and Memphis (Memphis!), the rest of the Big East is now in the Big East (only the other Big East), and the ACC now includes Pitt and Syracuse. Because, Carrier Dome, or something.

The significance for the SEC, of course, is relatively small. None of our members are moving around, and the bowl match-ups between the conference and the Big East, or now the American Athletic Conference, are generally limited to lower-tier bowls. The ACC moves might bring Pitt and Syracuse into the SEC's bowl picture a little more often, but Pitt in particular already showed up in some SEC bowls.

But I think there's a message in the end of the old Big East, and I think it's largely the same message as the message we can draw from the shattering of the old Big XII: Tradition matters.

For those who don't remember, the Big East joined with the SEC in the early 1990s to kind of start the last two decades of realignment. And the Big East did so for the express purpose of making a radical departure from its tradition by adding football to what was then a basketball conference. And that expansion was at the heart of the rupture that almost killed the old Big East in 2003 and what did kill it this year: The Big East never knew who or what it was.

The end of tradition was also part of what helped pull the Big XII apart. When Nebraska lost its rivalry with Oklahoma while Texas played the Sooners every year, it was the first foreshadowing of the shift toward the league's new center of gravity. And it was the beginning of the alienation that led Nebraska to look for a new home in 2010. After all, if Nebraska couldn't play its biggest rival in the Big XII and there was more money to be made in the Big Ten, why stay?

And that's why, even as a fan of a team that doesn't have one of these rivalries, I think the SEC should make sure that the interdivision rivals continue to play SEC games. (And SEC games that count, Steve Spurrier.) Alabama and Tennessee should continue to meet in a conference game every year, just like Auburn and Georgia should face off one weekend each fall. If that means a nine-game conference schedule, and everything that entails, then it means a nine-game conference schedule.

Because those traditions are a part of what the SEC is. It is who we are. And as the Big East and the Big XII can tell you, once you lose that, it doesn't take long for you to lose almost everything.