“SEC! SEC! SEC!” A rallying cry that has permeated the college football world, much to the dismay of everyone not included in this 14-team fraternity. Unfortunately for them, the days of this acronym reverberating off the walls of stadiums filled with Southerners will not end anytime soon. The conference as a whole is enjoying a peak, and fans are going to take advantage as long as they can.
However, this faux brotherhood amongst SEC schools has created a misconception that all SEC fans stick together and maintain an “us vs. them” mentality against other conferences. Nothing could be further from the truth for a silent minority that will become a vocal majority in the future. Not all Southerners are beaming with pride when an in-conference rival wins a bowl game or a national championship.
Eventually fans will realize that the success of their neighbors is not as helpful as once believed. Casting aside the regional pride argument and getting to brass tacks will reveal that the negatives far outweigh the positives. I have been cursed and admonished by my Southern brethren for this outlook, but it does make sense.
First of all, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. SEC schools recognize this, as evidenced by perennial top-10 finishes in the recruiting rankings by several schools every year. You better believe that Florida‘s coaching turmoil is a topic of discussion when Mark Richt or Nick Saban are competing with Will Muschamp for a recruit. You will not hear Hugh Freeze tell anyone, “hey, if you don’t choose us, go to LSU. It’s a great school.”
There is no brotherhood or friendship here — it’s the difference between keeping a job or moving on down the line. Nobody is celebrating when a coveted player commits to an SEC rival. Message boards are inundated with accusations of negative recruiting and improper benefits.
Anyone that calls themselves a true fan of their school would much rather see a great player go outside the SEC, where they cannot do any harm. A stud running back from Mississippi taking handoffs in Columbus, OH seems to be a much better prospect than facing him in Baton Rouge or Oxford for three or four years.
High school players have become more fickle in recent years; decommitments have increased and “sure things” are not so sure anymore. The SEC has not escaped this trend, and the angst it has caused among the fanbases is palpable. The case of Rashaan Evans was an ugly example of how insidious the business of recruiting has become. As these incidents continue to occur, fans will grow tired of the flip-flopping and watching the rich get richer.
As their patience wears thin, so will their conference loyalty.
Most importantly, money and power structure will be the ultimate demise of the conference brotherhood. As the playoff system begins, several SEC schools will be in the thick of the national championship hunt. Those limited spots will be coveted by every team, and the arms race to reach that newly-minted bracket will be more fierce than any bowl bid.
With this battle will come a further distance between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of the conference. Television networks will assign favorites and tout those names at the expense of the others. An internal struggle will arise and fans will not be able to justify conference pride any longer.
Pat Riley has referred to this as the “Disease of More.” When an entity has reached the mountaintop in terms of success, individuals within that entity will want more money, recognition and rewards that come from that success. If that does not happen, those individuals will lose sight of the ultimate goal and the entity will suffer as a whole.
While Riley was referring the 1980-81 Los Angeles Lakers, this is applicable to SEC fans and conference loyalty. As the strong get stronger, recruiting gets more out of hand and the schools on the outside looking in get fed up with their place in the pecking order, something will give.
The day will come that more Southern fans realize that watching their neighbor hoist a trophy is not exactly doing them any favors. It is hard to cast aside regional pride, but many will eventually stop piggy-backing on a rival’s victories. People will stop chanting “SEC! SEC! SEC!” and start wondering when their turn in the spotlight will come.