So what are all you college football fans going to do when the Southeastern Conference Championship game features Texas A&M and Virginia Tech?
Oooh. Won't that be exciting? If the game features A&M and Oklahoma State, will they still play in Atlanta, or will you be driving to Dallas?
To their credit, the presidents and chancellors of conference schools decided Sunday that they would not expand the membership in the SEC to 14, or even 16 schools—for now. The issue seems ripe because A&M is trying to get out of its crappy conference and wants to move to the SEC. To have balance you can't add one team, it has to be two. Or four.
Why would the most popular and successful football conference in the nation monkey with that success and why should we care? We should care because high school and college football is important to Southern society and most of the people in it. It is an integral component of our culture.
The money-grubbing bastards who run big-time college football in the South aren't satisfied with the best fans. They aren't satisfied with five national championships in a row. They aren't satisfied with millions in television revenue. They don't seem to realize that the expansion of the league out of its traditional regional base is to alter the very character of the league and undercut its fan base. They don't understand that there are things more important than money. But if money is your only God, you should also realize you are running the risk of undercutting the financial support of the traditional fans.
Ask UT how ticket sales for the Montana and Buffalo games are coming along.
The consensus among the smartest and most influential sports writers around the South is that conference expansion is coming. And it likely will include four teams instead of two. It is unfortunate that the conversation has now shifted into a parlor game—who would you pick to join? In addition to A&M, the names mentioned are Oklahoma St., Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Georgia Tech.
If Georgia Tech, a school that used to be in the SEC, and Florida State, in the region, came asking to join the league, it would probably work out. Arkansas and South Carolina joined in recent years. But this isn't what the latest talk about expansion is about. It's about stretching the SEC into a national powerhouse. Where does it stop? You want to start going to Arizona for games? Oregon? Twenty teams? A Super Conference outside the control of the NCAA?
If you lose your regionalism, lose your cultural ties, and dilute traditional conference rivalries, you haven't expanded your conference. You have destroyed it and morphed into something else.
When Gen. Neyland took the Vols north of the Mason-Dixon line and started winning ball games, it was a huge morale boost for a region beat down by poverty and national neglect—a region often ridiculed by the rest of the nation. Neyland and later Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught, Johnny Majors, Vince Dooley and others built on the Neyland legacy. Fans that never set foot on a college campus began to follow football and give higher education their financial support. High Schools used football booster clubs to gin up community support and community pride. The integration of college football and, as a result, high school football, smoothed race relations across a lot of the South.
Small-town daily newspapers jumped out as regional heavyweights on the back of high school football coverage. You can look at the Internet sports blogs to see that sports is again a vehicle for newspapers to make inroads with readers and stave off competition.
Football remains important to our culture and our quality of life. It is too important to leave it to people only concerned about money and winning and losing. We run the risk of losing a lot more than football games.
This issue remains in the hands of the college presidents and chancellors and they have resisted blandishments thus far. They need our support. It's the Southeastern Conference. Let's keep it that way.