SEC Nation: Bret Bielema and life at the top of the College Football Space Race

By John Gorman

Sundays are for church. Saturdays are for the gridiron. Such is life south of the Mason-Dixon, east of the I-35.

The University of Wisconsin – by all accounts a fabulous institution of higher education and a Big Ten juggernaut in a myriad of sports – just lost their head coach, Bret Bielema, to Arkansas. On the surface, it seems like a mistake. Arkansas isn’t a very large state, or school – an old Southwest Conference cast-off.

But Arkansas is a member of the SEC, college football’s Premier League, an exponential arms race into the future of college athletics. Arkansas is the vanguard of the College Athletics Bubble, a system of thought where it’s deemed prudent to dump as much money as possible into College Football, because dollar-per-dollar, through TV deals, booster money and gate receipts, the College Football Industrial Complex generates more revenue than anything else in the history of college – including at those precious Ivy towers.

Why the SEC? Why now? Because of our nation’s history. And it can be traced to, of all things, air conditioning.

[Wait, John, what are you talking about? How is HVAC related to the explosion of the SEC and College Football’s madcap frenzy to keep up?]

A/C was invented in the 1920s and, as has been well documented, largely contributed to our nation’s population center shifting ever south and westward. But, so too, has our top of college football shifted. It wasn’t until the 20s and 30s, as our nation’s diaspora began in earnest, that schools outside the Northeast cropped up to the top of the standings with any semblance of regularity.

But, that’s not the full story. It took a long while for our nation to recognize this great migration and reward them with professional sports teams of any kind. The Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins weren’t Things until the 60s, the NBA was a Northeastern curiosity until even longer, and the NHL even longer than that. College Football was all the South had, and the passion grew with an intense fervor – ask Paul Finebaum.

Money follows people and passion. As more and more Americans hitched their wagons to the land of sun and muggy summers, the new money followed. Oil barons and telecom giants and real estate moguls and the like threw their money where their passions lie: to the only sport that matters – where Every Day Should Be Saturday(TM Spencer Hall I Did Not Invent This Hence The Caps).

And where money went, talent followed, and the bubble began. Realignment officially commenced when the Southwest Conference disbanded and Arkansas left for the SEC and they plucked South Carolina off the Independent Scrap Heap in 1991. The SEC turned into a 12-team juggernaut and began the lunacy we see today.

The people. The passion. The money. The talent. The race to keep up. It’s all related back to the ability of mankind to find a way to make room temperature a fully-manipulated constant, rather than an ideal. 72 degrees proved to be the perfect climate to make SEC Football the hottest place to be in America.




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