Well, the days of my disrespect for the SEC are certainly coming to a middle. This is something that’s occurred to me more than once in the 20 years I’ve been associated with Vanderbilt University. It’s reaching a point where the question has to be asked: what benefit do we actually get from being in the SEC?
National exposure? Not at all. Our appearance against Georgia on CBS was our first appearance on the SEC’s flagship over-the-air broadcast outlet in two decades. Go back and watch the intro and see how much you see of Vanderbilt over that iconic theme music. How about ESPN? Well, our prime-time matchup against Ole Miss to open the year – and quite frankly one of the best games of the year if you’re anyone but a Vandy fan – got shoved all the way back to an 8 PM Thursday night kickoff. And then we got slagged for not having the stadium packed 45 minutes before kickoff. No, most of our “national exposure” involves the 11:30 AM slot on the old Jefferson-Pilot syndicated package. Our season opener next year has already been handed off to its replacement, the SEC Network – which come August may actually reach fewer households than the syndicated package would have.
Access to premium bowls? Apparently not. The “prestige” bowls only go about 6 deep. Unless you make a BCS bowl, you’re going somewhere between Atlanta or Dallas. Forget about a bowl in California, or the secondary bowl in New Orleans, or something other than January 1 in Florida – nope, you either land on New Year’s Day or you land in some cold landlocked place in driving distance of Nashville.
Quality competition? Sure, you’ll get to play half a dozen ranked teams every year, all of whom will be favored in Vegas, in the media, and in Birmingham. The most stunning thing about this season for any Vanderbilt supporter is that the officials actually reviewed the 4th down spot in Knoxville and overturned it when it proved to be a bad spot. But every year, you’ll get to play Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Tennessee and Ole Miss and now Missouri and God help you if you schedule a slightly easier non-conference schedule, because you’ll be tarred and feathered for having the temerity not to play a road game against a top-5 out of conference opponent.
Reputation? Well, we get to share in the SEC’s reputation – except for the championship caliber football. Nobody gives us credit for that, but they’re more than happy to lump us in with soft scheduling and psychotic redneck fans. They certainly don’t credit us for selling out our bowl allotments in both our previous seasons, even when it meant traveling 5 miles to the same bowl game we’d attended four years earlier. We didn’t fold our tent; we showed up and represented, and it got us nothing for our trouble.
Support from the conference? Not happening. We went to the same bowl in 2012 at 8-4 that we went to in 2008 at 6-6, because the Gator Bowl claimed that they didn’t want a rematch of Vanderbilt and Northwestern. And then this year, they passed us up at 8-4 for a Georgia team at 8-4 which we beat…and rematched them against Nebraska. ACC commissioner John Swofford was on the phone, metaphorically throwing hands on behalf of Duke to make sure they didn’t get shafted out of the Peach Bowl in favor of Miami. SEC commissioner Mike Slive…yawned.
Support for other sports? Eh. Everything we did in baseball and basketball, we did ourselves; this conference is about one team in basketball and it’s not ours. Meanwhile, baseball finished 3rd in the nation in 2011, which was good enough for 3rd in the SEC East. Everything that Corbin and Stallings and Balcomb and their fellow coaches accomplish happens without a lick of help from Birmingham.
Money? The Big Ten has brought home more cash per member school than the SEC for years, only changing now because of expansion and projected playoff revenue. And they only have to split it 12 ways rather than 14, and they were ahead of everyone else on the conference channel scheme. Laugh at the advertising, but it turns out Barbasol and Ro-Tel have mad cash to spend. Contrary to what the people on 21st Street in Birmingham would have you believe, there are other conferences that can stack the cash too.
Academic achievement and reputation? Don’t make me laugh.
Think about it. The Big Ten was five years ahead of the game on their network, and they have almost national coverage to go along with record revenue – setting aside the fact that every member bar Nebraska is also a member of the AAU, the prestigious academic consortium (until the expansion to 14 teams, Florida was the only other AAU member in the SEC not called Vanderbilt). The Pac-12 has launched SEVEN channels, including a regional network for each of their traditional pairings that provides coverage for nearly every sport, not just football and basketball. The ACC offers the likes of Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, UNC and UVA – all nationally-regarded academic institutions that seem to do all right for themselves sports-wise. Hell, it’s only been a few years since Wake actually went to a BCS bowl. That’s right, Wake !-ing Forest went to the Orange Bowl. If you go back and looked at the schools with comparable records in my original post about the chip, most of them were 5th or 6th in their conferences. Depending on how you measure, we were 7th or 8th…and we wound up in the 10th bowl slot for our troubles.
We’re here. We’re a founding member of this league. We’ve paid our dues. We have every bit as much right to be in this league as Arkansas and South Carolina have, never mind the Johnny-Football-Come-Lately crowd from out west. And yet, Texas A&M gets to hop up to the Peach Bowl, and Carolina gets to hop Missouri into the Citrus despite finishing behind them for the SEC East crown, and a 6-6 Mississippi State gets to go above us in the pecking order. We’ve delivered our two best football seasons in almost a century, we’re squarely in the middle of the conference rather than scraping the bottom or barely hanging on for bowl eligibility. We sold out our entire allotment for our bowl games in 2011 and 2012, despite the disappointment of staying home last year. Nothing matters to the SEC but football, so we did our part to be credible, and it has earned us absolutely nothing but the bare minimum required; if the Compass Bowl could somehow have taken Tennessee at 5-7, they wouldn’t have hesitated.
If it were up to me, next year we’d take the SEC logo off the uniforms. Instead we’d put a nice black-and-gold poker chip, with a star-V on it, right on the back right shoulder. Because the SEC doesn’t deserve to share our uniform. Everything we’ve accomplished as a university has happened without the help of the SEC – in fact, has mostly been accomplished in spite of the SEC. We don’t own one iota of respect, or support, or allegiance to an organization that has not one iota of those things for us.
Our team. Our triumph. Anchor Down. Go Seminoles. Go to hell, SEC.