SEC on verge of total domination
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- America has a long history of resisting tyranny, which is why the republic should band together Thursday night and root for that plucky underdog, the Texas Longhorns.
Texas athletics is a mom-and-pop operation paying its football coach a mere $5 million annually. It's trying to get by on a shoestring budget, just $127 million a year. And it is up against the giant that is the Southeastern Conference.
You've heard of the SEC, which also answers to the self-given handle, "God's Gift to Football." It is on the verge of historic hegemony.
This time every year, one of the SEC's football coaches grabs that crystal football and holds it over his head while confetti falls on him.
After Thursday's Citi BCS National Championship Game, it could be Alabama's Nick Saban taking his turn with the football. He had it back in 2003 as well, when he was the coach at LSU.
That would be four straight national titles, something no conference has ever accomplished. Going back to 1936, the onset of The Associated Press poll, leagues have won three straight three times: the Big Ten from 1940-42 (Minnesota twice and Ohio State); the SEC from 1978-80 (Alabama twice and Georgia); and the SEC's current streak from 2006-08.
If the league wins its fourth straight title, it's complete domination. This hasn't been a great season for the SEC as a whole; the bowls so far have played out much like the regular season, wherein the league looks great at the top and below-average everywhere else. But if you win the big prize at the end again, you get all the bragging rights.
Now, if the SEC four-peats with a third different school, it's completely out of control. The checks and balances of college football will be so far out of whack that it could actually be bad for the game.
I'm not anti-SEC. This is nothing against Alabama or Terrence Cody or houndstooth fashion statements. I love toilet paper in the trees at Auburn and Mike the Tiger at LSU and the hedges at Georgia and the Volunteer Navy at Tennessee. Football is fabulous in the South.
But it's on the verge of eating the sport alive.
The SEC already has the biggest pile of chips: the best coaches, the most fans, the best players -- and perhaps most importantly, the most money. The new TV contracts the league has signed with CBS and ESPN only further inflate the annual revenue checks distributed to each school, which only further enhances the competitive ability of the league.
More money means better facilities, higher-paid staffs and greater recruiting reach.
So unless you live in SEC territory and/or have a diploma from one of its 12 member institutions (that's leaguespeak), you should be rooting for Texas to derail the Dixie Express on Thursday night in Pasadena. From the Pac-10 to the Big East, college football fans should be backing Bevo and poor little ol' Texas.
With its 100,000-seat stadium and a gazillion recruits to choose from -- how will the Longhorns ever stand up to the big, bad SEC?
It is patently hilarious to see the Longhorns in underdog clothing. But they are underdogs in this game, and they do represent the 108 FBS schools yearning to breathe free against the SEC sleeper hold.
Well, maybe 107 of them.
In an eyebrow-raising flouting of Big 12 solidarity, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops showed up in Tuscaloosa as Nick Saban's guest at practice during December. The natural suspicion is that Stoops was helping Saban prepare for the Longhorns. According to Alabama media reports, the stated reason for Stoops' visit was to check out Saban's "practice organization."
Stoops has been the head coach at Oklahoma since 1999. You'd kinda think he has the "practice organization" thing down pretty well by now.
Coaches do make a practice of visiting other schools to share ideas. But spring practice seems both a more commonplace and more politically correct time for doing so.
Texas people I talked to have either rolled their eyes at Stoops' Bama excursion or dismissed it. The party line: How much would he know about beating the Longhorns when he's lost to them the past two years and four of the last five?
But clearly, nobody in the league knows Texas the way Stoops does. And nobody in the league tries harder to beat Texas.
I asked a Big 12 administrator Tuesday what the league thought of Stoops' presence in an enemy camp before the biggest game of the year.
"First I've heard of it," he said. "There's no rule to prevent it."
No rule, sure. But if I'm Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, I'm not very happy.
I know the Sooners are bitter rivals with Texas -- we remember the dueling airplane banners of '08 -- but they also share the same division of the same conference. And if ever there were a time to at least feign unity, it's now.
Stoops is welcome to jump on the couch in his living room and celebrate an Alabama victory Thursday night if he wants. But in public, a united front looks much better and removes any suspicion of sabotage.
And in reality, the entire Big 12 and everyone else had better hope plucky Texas pulls the upset. Or the Southeastern Conference really might swallow college football.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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