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College Football fans, let me explain something about conferences

OK, we are in the middle of the College Bowl Season.  Lots of college football fans are going to spend the next few days in front of their TV’s, in sports bars, or if they are fortunate enough, at a bowl game.

I love college football.  I remember my first game.  It was in 1986 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI.  The Badgers hosted, and lost to, the Wyoming Cowboys.  But it was a great experience.

My next games were at the Division II level in 1988.  Central Missouri State University (now University of Central Missouri) had a decent program and the games were fun, but not the same.

In 1990, I got to experience BIG TIME college football.  I flew out to Los Angeles to see Notre Dame play USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  LOVED every SECOND of it.  Even when the people behind me asked me to sit down…..in the student section.  I told them NO!  [People in front of me were standing, so if I sat down, I couldn't see.  Besides, its DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL!!!  THE BIGGEST Intersectional Rivalry in the game.  Stand up or stay at home]

Two years later, I went to the game again in LA.  I had moved to Las Vegas by then, so it was easier.  SC lost to ND, again.  But it was a lot of fun.  Always was.

A year later, I lived in Southern California.  My love of college football led me to acquire a “fake ID” to get to the games.  OK, it was a real ID, just not mine.  It was a student ID that allowed me to acquire student tickets.  So for the 1993 season, I was a fake student with real tickets.

It was also in 1993 when I got to go to my first and only Big Eight game.  Kansas hosted Iowa State in October….it was a nasty rainy day.  Enjoyed myself, but I will admit that it could not compare to the USC/Oregon State game that I was missing back in LA.  But, Kansas won and it was a good time.

It was four years later when I got to my next college football game.  But it was more than simply a game.  It was a religious experience.  1997 was Peyton Manning’s senior year at Tennessee.  Kathleen and I got tickets from one of my co-workers for the Homecoming Game against Southern Mississippi.  Long story short, awesome seats at the 40 yard line, 35 or so rows back from the field and the Volunteers beat the Golden Eagles 42-20 (I think). 

My next game was the 1999 SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida.  My good friend Dr. Roger Thompson was on staff at UA and he scored some extra tickets for Kathleen and I, so we were there…and we supported the Tide.  This was also the first time Kathleen met Roger and Deb.  A very nice night in Atlanta, and the Tide did roll all over Steve Spurrier’s FU Gators.

One month later, I enrolled in classes at the University of Tennessee.  I learned that fall that I could get student tickets even if I was going part time.  I could buy a “spouse card” for Kathleen and we could both go to the games.  Again, in 2000, I had season tickets.  Kathleen went to most of the games with me, my good friend Lori pretended to be my wife for a game to go when Kathy couldn’t. 

In 2001, my role changed.  I had gone from being casual fan, to intense fan and now I was covering the games.  I became the Sports Director at WUTK radio and used that position to get media passes.  I even went to the preseason SEC Media Days.  And that was a great experience for me.  I had the opportunity to meet many of the coaches and chat with them on a deeper level.  During that season, I traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and South Bend, Indiana, to cover games.  The Vols made it to the SEC Championship Game, so I covered the game and Kathleen and Roger sat together in the Georgia Dome watching.  I finished the season by covering, and attending, my first bowl game.  That was the last Citrus Bowl (now Capital One Bowl).  Tennessee faced, and beat, the Michigan Wolverines for the first time.

From 2002-2006, I covered the Volunteers teams as a the radio pool reporter.  That allowed me to do some work for various radio networks, including ESPN Radio, ABC Sports Radio, Metro Networks, Westwood One, Fox Sports Radio and Sporting News Radio as well as a few local radio stations in other markets in cities like Chicago, Seattle and Boston.  Great experience and decent exposure, but it also allowed me to check my status as a fan AND truly be objective.

And that is why, to this day, I am a Tennessee loyalist, but I can view them critically, while at the same time I am an almost blindly loyal fan of USC.   To be 100 percent honest, I would want Tennessee to beat USC if they played each other.  Some friends of mine have questioned me on that.  So far, this has not been tested in football.

In 2004, I traveled as a fan to Washington, DC, to see the Trojans play Virginia Tech at FedEx Field.  And we ended that season at the Orange Bowl to watch the Trojans destroy the Oklahoma Sooners, 55-19, in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score shows.

Finally, in 2007 and 2008, I covered the Missouri Tigers.  I was on the local pregame show and I went to the games, including the “Border Showdown” games with Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium.

So, now you have my resume.  In short, I have been exposed to Big Ten, Pac 10, Big Eight, SEC and Big 12 football.  I have worked both SEC and Big 12 games.  The quality of football between the conferences is pretty close, but they all have different styles.

The differences between the conferences is this.  The fans and their devotion to their teams.

That is where the Southeastern Conference kicks the asses of every other conference.

As I said earlier, it is an almost religious experience.  There is a reason why SIX of the twelve schools in the SEC made the list of 20 schools that The Sporting News book “Every Saturday in Autumn” from 2001.

It is something that Big 12, Big 10 and Pac 10 fans cannot understand until they experience it.  And going to see “your” team play at a SEC school doesn’t really give you the experience. 

In the SEC, every game is a rivalry game.  Seriously.  When Tennessee played Ole Miss this season, there were Vols fans who were wearing their “Archie Who?” buttons from nearly 40 years ago to the game in Oxford.  The Vols and Rebels don’t even play every year.  Would you get that at a Kansas State/Baylor game?

Even the Tennessee/Vanderbilt game, the Vols first real rivalry, is a big game to many.  That series was dreadfully in favor of the Commode Doors until the emergence of Robert R. Neyland.  The Vols had only beaten Vandy twice and tied them twice with 18 losses prior to Neyland’s arrival.

I could go on and on, but the nearly 80 year history of the Southeastern Conference combined with the fact that most of the schools are outside of major media markets has led to SEC football being THE sport in that part of the country.

Many coaches get it.  Some want to be a part of it, others fear it and would never tread there.  Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban both left the SEC for the NFL before coming back to the SEC.  Lane Kiffin had a disasterous turn in the NFL and lobbied hard for an SEC job when openings emerged. Bobby Petrino bolted Louisville for the NFL, then jumped to Arkansas.  Why did they all want to come to the SEC?  Because the loyalty and intensity of the fans in the SEC surpasses that of every other conference AND the NFL.

In closing, rather than dismiss what I am saying as an SEC bias, remember that I have experiences in other confereneces.  I encourage anyone who doubts what I am saying to experience it for themselves.

Once you do, unless you choose the Kentucky/Vanderbilt game and maybe even then, you will see what I have been saying.

And then you will know that I am right.

But I still love the USC Trojans and always will.  Unless they play the Volunteers.


  • Dec 30th 200911:12
    by Topher

    I have a slightly different theory on why the SEC is like it is: With the exception of Vandy, every school is in a small town/city without a significant professional sports presence. In L.A. on any given fall Saturday you can watch the Angels, Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks, USC or ucla–or do any number of non-sports activities. In Starkville, there’s *nothing* else to do, and certainly no other teams to support.

    In effect, the SEC has a sports monopoly in the southern U.S. I will argue that the atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium rivals that of the SEC venues I have experienced, but South Bend isn’t exactly a metropolis either.


  • Dec 30th 200912:12
    by Administrator

    I don’t think we disagree. The size of the communities and the longevity are two huge factors. I believe I stated that, but I did not mention the distractions. And the atmosphere on campus at USC on game day is pretty damn good from my recollection.

    I did not include Notre Dame for a reason….lack of a conference in football. But, I agree. The atmosphere there is probably the greatest outside the SEC….and often surpasses that of the SEC.

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  • Dec 31st 200908:12
    by Matt

    I see you have never made it to the Big HOUSE! Every game there is a must win. Every team that that ventures to Ann Arbor is viewed as a huge rival (with the exception of appalachian state). Its the same way in the Big Ten. Northwestren and M always have a spirited game. And the don’t get any bigger than Michigan vs that little state school in Ohio.

  • Dec 31st 200908:12
    by Administrator

    I am going to argue that Tennessee-Alabama is bigger and has been for a longer time. Michigan-Ohio State was huge under Schembeckler and Hayes, but it has been streaky since then.

    Been around the Big Ten for a big part of my life, but admittedly not to a lot of games. In the SEC, the games are huge but also the fanfare surrounding the games. Do people in the Big Ten travel mid-week for a Saturday game that they don’t even have tickets for? Maybe for Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, but certainly not Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan State and I know not at Wisconsin. Across the board, I have witnessed it in the SEC.

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