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The SEC Upgrades To College Football 2.0

Posted: Sep 04, 2008

The nation at large now sees what the Footprint has long known - SEC Football is dominant and truly in its own league. 

Despite the hue and cry against it, the BCS has allowed sports fans to see top teams, by and large, go against each other on the field.  Since that has happened, SEC teams have been largely dominant.  All it took was overlooking Auburn's 13-0 team in favor of an overmatched Oklahoma squad a few years back, and pollsters have since given the benfit of the doubt to the SEC.  Florida and LSU made good on that privilege the last two years.

Today, the SEC has multiple BCS champions and the only two time champion in LSU.  They also have the only champion with two losses (LSU) which shows the respect the conference gets. 

The SEC also has the most lucrative TV and media deal of any college conference as of two weeks ago.

There are many reasons for all of this success.  The SEC has tradition.  It sits in a growing market, etc, etc. 

The main reason may be its collection of top level football programs.


LSU coach Les Miles with SEC Chief Mike Slive surrounding the BCS Trophy

Over the last decade or so, an evolution has occured.  Teams and programs have either "evolved" or been left in the dust. 

Watching Michigan's new coach, Rich Rodriguez, holding a multi-million dollar deal well above what predecessor Lloyd Carr ever got demonstrates how college football has changed.  UCLA's hiring of Rick Neuheisel was predicated on USC's success over the last decade.  Both Michigan and UCLA used to see themselves as "above" this kind of emphasis on sports vs. academics.  Their administration knows that times have changed.

Starting with Notre Dame's NBC deal to the BCS, the necessary "evolving" factors that must be in place are the following:

1.  Top facilities

2.  Dominance of local/in state recruiting

3.  A strong presence in national recruiting

4.  Top coaches that serve as CEOs of their program

5.  Significant financial support from alumni/boosters

Anyone can probably name some of these programs like Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, USC, Penn State, but in a recent Forbes study of the Top 20 most valuable college football programs only one conference dominated - the SEC.

Georgia (#3), Florida (#5), LSU (#6), Tennessee (#7), Auburn (#8) and Alabama (#9) were all in the Top 10.  South Carolina (#12) and Arkansas (#15) were the two other SEC in the Top 20.  So, eight of the twelve SEC teams have Top 20 values in college football.  Almost half of the Top 20 are SEC teams.


The Big Ten has 5 teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn St, Michigan St, and Wisconsin) in the Top 20.  The Big 12 has three teams (Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas A&M).  The Pac 10 has two teams (USC and Washington).  Add in Notre Dame at the top and there's your 20.  (For the record, the Big Ten was the only other conference that put more than one team in the top 10 with Michigan and Ohio State.)

Let's state a couple of obvious points - neither the ACC or Big East put teams on this list.  The significance of this can't be overlooked.  The schools in these conference also don't meet our five point test above either.

With the SEC having two-thirds of their conference in the top 20, they have a pretty massive head start.  In addition to those top eight, Kentucky and Mississippi State have shown recent improvement by going to bowl games, and Vanderbilt and Ole Miss seem to have found good coaches.  The new TV money will further help these programs build on their recent success.

So, besides a few programs here and there, what other conference can come close to fielding a legion of top level programs. 


The Big Ten has the numbers, but only one top 5 school (Michigan).  Ohio State lies at #10 and the other three are further down.  Maybe the Big Ten Network will start helping out the other schools, but there are simple logistics of money and population that work against additional Big Ten teams stepping up to the big time.

The Big 12 could step up, but their conference has been saddled by uneven revenue splits between schools.  $2 million dollar gaps in funding between Big 12 schools cannot be overcome easily.

Until the ACC and the Big East dedicate themselves to football, these conferences will remain a step behind.  (Watching Alabama destroy Clemson made for a good microcosm of the gap between the SEC and the ACC.)


Tommy Bowden hides his face in shame after the Atlanta massacre to Alabama last Saturday

Perhaps only the Pac 10 could make the SEC's jump.  USC remains a power.  Washington should be.  UCLA has begun the process.  Oregon has Nike money to throw around.  It's only too bad that West Coasters don't have the same passion for sports like we do in the Footprint.

The SEC makes the most money and spends the most money.  They split their revenues evenly so that all of their schools have a chance to be competitive.

That's why we call the SEC "College Football 2.0".  They have upgraded, and the benefits of that upgrade are paying off on the field and off.

Now that they've shown the way, which conference will next follow their lead?

PS  I will be looking forward to tonight's South Carolina/Vandy game.  The Gamecocks have all the basics in place to be a major player, but their stumble at home against the Dores last year put their season in a tailspin. 

PPS Phil Fulmer finds himself officially on notice.  Losing to UCLA has not made SEC loyalists happy.  Like South Carolina, Tennessee never seems to be as good as they can be.

- Jim Markel

related tags

Tribal Fever,
South Carolina,

Wireless from AT&T


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swampland says...

Northernboy1, I'm not really sure you read the piece carefully, but we're glad to have you here even if we are offending your football sensibilities. First, we at Swampland Sports like the BCS. Many SEC fans don't, but we have pointed out that the BCS has been good to the SEC. Auburn's 13-0 that was left out has worked in the SEC's favor over the last few years. So we agree on that point. The bigger issue isn't about wins and losses but about the financial nature of SEC programs as a whole versus the rest of college football. The SEC has spent more and made more off of their athletics than any other conference and that was before the recent $2 billion plus deal they made with CBS and ESPN. In this sense, they are ahead of the curve as a conference. The Big Ten is following this change as well. Ohio State has a very strong top level program. Their dominance over rival Michigan forced the Wolverines to change their ways by hiring Rich Rodriguez and paying him over $2 million a year. USC's dominance over UCLA forced the Neuheisel hire as well. The difference between the SEC and the Big Ten is that the SEC has 8 teams that can play at the highest (financial) level while the Big Ten only has two with the potential for three more (Penn St once Paterno retires, Michigan State, and Wisconsin). 8 is still more than 5 by anyone's math. The Pac 10 could make a move, and I expect they will in the next decade. Yes, the SEC doesn't always win. Good finances don't guarantee wins. Clearly, there is a lot of pressure on coaches like Phil Fulmer (and now perhaps Steve Spurrier after two losses in a row to Vandy) since their fans understand the resources that both schools have. Perhaps the best comparison is baseball. The finances behind the Yankees and the Red Sox don't guarantee a World Series win every year, but it surely is an advantage. I'm not comparing the Big Ten to the Tampa Rays, but there is a disparity in overall conference revenues that is significant. At the end of the day, the dispatch above was directed toward the ACC and the Big East, both of which have teams in the Footprint. These conferences may have automatic BCS bids, but they are woefully behind the times. They need to work to catch up. As far as the Big Ten, I do think an honest assessment of the conference tells you it is in trouble. Ohio State is good and will be good, but it needs the rest of their conference mates to get better. A couple of corrections to your piece - LSU has a long storied history and were good before Saban - although they had some down years before he came. As far as the South being filled with 65% of northern transplants, I question those figures. Also, don't forget that northern factories were filled by hundreds of thousands of southern transplants decades ago. Regardless, you and other northerners are following the money by coming down south. That same money is filling SEC coffers giving them the advantage I speak of.

Northernboy1 says...

The one thing that I can never get used to is the incessant ramblings of the "self proclaimed college football experts of the south". Every August through January, we (the northern transplants that make up 65% of the south) have to listen to Georgia this and Auburn that! Hell, most college football fans didn't even know that Georgia still fielded a team before they beat a tomato can named Hawaii last year! Auburn's last national championship was 1957. Oh, let me guess...the great screwjob of a few years ago when Auburn went undefeated right? Well, if memory serves me correctly, the same "flawed" BCS system has worked in favor of the SEC for the last 2 seasons, allowing UFL and LSU into the title game. I think to say that the SEC is the dominant conference in college football is kind of like saying "Keneau Reeves is a good actor!" Tennessee was the East Division representative in last year's SEC title game, how dominate were they on Monday night? They played an unranked team with a third string QB who threw 4 interceptions and yet they still lost the game.Our definition of dominance is clearly different! I love the way you guys are so quick to throw "one of your own" under the bus becuase he gets outclassed in his opening game. All conferences have their peaks and valleys. In College football history you have only 2 top teams Alabama and Tennessee, the other solid teams in your conference UFL and LSU have only come into their own the last several years after playing college football for what 80-90 years? After listening to southern fans, it amazes me that every team who competes against the "mighty SEC" doesn't just roll over with their paws in the air and give up! The SEC has been up the last few years, no doubting that, however; I notice that you didn't include the following statistic in your SEC fluff piece... the SEC versus the Big Ten in Head to Head matchups in Bowl Games is 9-9 over the last several years, not a very good record for "the dominate conference" with all of the good athletes and top programs. I have a theory that all of this college football talk comes up every season because northern teams bring up feelings of insecuirty and inferiority in the minds of southern citizens who have cleary never recovered from the fact that they defeated in the Civil War by the boys from up north. Let me leave you with a quote from my favorite book... "Pride cometh before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18) Jeff Rawlins

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