09 October 2012

This SEC Purist Having a Hard Time Accepting Mizzou into the Fold

As the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide prepares to travel to Columbia on Saturday to take on Missouri, I have to admit I’m still having a hard time accepting the Tigers into the SEC.

There are very few things in life about which I consider myself a traditionalist, college football being one exception. I’m just now warming up to the idea of South Carolina and Arkansas, some twenty years after they joined the conference. Don’t even bother asking my opinion of those hideous uniforms everybody's wearing these days.  

I know. Time marches on. The world evolves and that includes uniforms and athletic conferences. Nothing is permanent.  There was a time when Sewanee was a member of the SEC, after all.

Nostalgia is experienced through rose colored glasses. My good old days are charted by countless hours in my Alabama backyard pretending to run the wishbone alongside imaginary teammates as Paul “Bear” Bryant looked on with nodding approval from the sideline. The wishbone formation has long since found its way to some grandma’s attic next to a dusty typewriter and Thin Lizzy 8-tracks. But, in my nostalgia-warped mind, it represents Bama’s heyday, the Tide’s current dominance on the gridiron and its uber-successful coach notwithstanding.

When it comes to football, I'll admit that I'm a little bit stuck in the 70's. No, I don't think we need a playoff. Yes, I think it's fine for games to end in a tie. Yes, I think a 9-6 defensive slug-fest is a thing of beauty. And, yes, I think the SEC was fine the way it was.

I understand the economics of big time college sports and the motivation for adding the St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets into the equation. I know those high dollar television contracts help fund dozens of non-revenue sports across the conference. Revenue from major college football programs dwarfs other sports and other university departments. Football is money. And when so much of it is on the table, neither history nor geography are particularly relevant.

But come on. Missouri? Don’t you think a southern drawl should be among the criteria for inclusion in the Southeastern Conference? Do they even eat grits in Missouri?

To me, it’s more about sociology than athletics. Football is just different in the Deep South than it is in the rest of the world. The SEC is a source of tremendous pride among its residents who, perhaps, still have a chip on their collective shoulders and something of an inferiority complex - still fighting stigmas and stereotypes held over from Reconstruction and reinforced during the ugly days of the civil rights movement.

The South may still lag behind the rest of the country in numerous measures of well-being, but college football is something it does better than anybody else.

When we chant “SEC” in unison at our gargantuan sold out cathedrals it’s not so much about an athletic conference as it is about all things southern. It’s Major Ogilvie and Johnny Majors and Archie Manning and Pat Sullivan and Uga and The Swamp and the Iron Bowl. It’s about not having to explain why you don’t plan a wedding on the third Saturday in October. It's gravel roads and sweet tea and mama’s biscuits and Leonard’s Losers and kudzu and a congenital disdain for Notre Dame. Does all that fly in Springfield and Jefferson City?

Don't get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the University of Missouri - undeniably a fine institution of higher learning which will do well enough in most of the teams it fields.

I just don’t think they belong in the SEC, y’all. 

I bet "Bear" agrees with me.