The Problem With The SEC’s Conference Loyalty

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“Conference loyalty” has to be the most absurd concept I have ever heard of in college football.

How college football fans can view another school as a hated enemy for eleven months out of the year but then look to that same school as a defense for their underwhelming season boggles my mind. I’m obviously looking at you, SEC.

Does it matter who they rooted for from mid-January until the end of November? Absolutely not. The Auburn fans that cringe whenever they hear “Roll Tide” will be supporting Nick Saban on January 7th, 2013. The Iron Bowl? Yeah, forget about that. This time of the year, people in the Southeast treat the SEC like it is a national powerhouse of a team instead of just a conference.

Every year, the entire conference is very inSECure over its perception of being considered the kings of college football. Fans of any and all SEC schools will claim at least a small victory whenever the national title ends up in the Southeast merely because they are a part of the conference that makes their  record look better — no matter how disappointing it may really be.

Some want to defend this mindset with geography. The South is the geographic region in the United States with the greatest sense of pride and football is a religion down there. These people come together in December to support the team that emerges from Atlanta to represent the conference. I’ll never be able to know what that regional pride feels like as a Notre Dame student who has lived in the same suburb of Chicago his whole life, so maybe I’m underestimating this southern mentality. But this is why the notion of cheering for an entire conference seems ludicrous to me.

Ohio State will never root for Michigan, North Carolina will never root for Duke, and Oklahoma will never root for Texas. Missouri fans would rather stick needles in their eyes than root for Kansas. Now that Mizzou is in the SEC, the school feels a sense of entitlement and is joining in on the “SEC domination” chant. I know the school does not have a bitter rival in its new conference, but to go from hating conference foes to adamantly supporting them is completely asinine in my opinion.

The worst part about this irrational love for a conference is that is tightens the stranglehold the SEC has on the college football landscape.

No one has ever legitimately questioned that this conference has been superior over all others the last six years and no one should. It is hard to argue against all of those consecutive national championships. Luckily for us, fans of SEC universities all band together in December to root for the same team and remind us of those championships. They constantly boast the recent success of the conference, regardless of whether or not their favorite school was actually a part of that success.

In the midst of all of this SEC love, the conference has a nice little fix going. It has the pleasure of beginning the season with four or five teams ranked in the top ten to fifteen of preseason polls. Its schools have a few weeks of cupcake games before getting into the thick of conference play. Of course, there is zero chance that the conference’s six or seven ranked schools actually lose any games before they enter this conference stretch. Well, except for Arkansas. (Wait, why were you guys there? Silly preseason polls.)

When the SEC schools start falling in conference play, they only drop a few spots in the polls because the defeats are at the hands of “championship-caliber” foes. Voters can understand the loss because hardly anyone goes undefeated in the SEC, it is just “way too hard” to accomplish with all of those physical and talented teams.

This allows for one or two SEC schools to always be within striking distance of No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS rankings. So long as two teams do not have an undefeated record, the SEC will always have a spot in the National Championship. Heck, last year they even pulled off two spots in the title game.

How would SEC schools fare in games outside of the conference? Unfortunately, there is not much recent history to even answer this question, since SEC schools repeatedly schedule themselves games against the Sun Belt Conference, or even worse, the FCS. Selective statistics show that since the inception of the BCS, the SEC is under .500 in the regular season when playing against the Pac-12 and the Big 12. Heck, the Big East is 8-3 against the SEC in bowl games. Certain evidence like this can be manipulated any way you want to get it to support any argument, so do not put too much stock in these numbers, but it certainly supports the proposal that the rest of the country is a lot more evenly matched with the SEC than its fans would like to admit.

SEC schools only accept losing to each other though, so their schedules will continue to be filled with the likes of Jacksonville State, Western Carolina, and Georgia Southern. Why should they change their strategy and risk being exposed if it keeps ending up in National Championship births? How can you blame fans of SEC schools for trying to keep this running joke of a scheduling habit alive by forgetting about their favorite university and instead claiming allegiance to a geographical region?

Again, I am not disputing that the SEC has been the best conference in football. But the obsession over the SEC has to stop, and it won’t until it loses in the championship since it will not play anyone out of conference in the regular season.

Notre Dame has its shot to end the “SEC domination” rally cry on January 7th. If that fails, the playoff system in 2014 will soon force the SEC teams to play more tough non-conference games than they would like. That is, unless the selection committee picks four SEC schools for its inaugural playoff.

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I am a business student at the University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015. Been a fan of the Bears, Bulls, White Sox and Fighting Irish since birth. Follow me on Twitter @p_creagh