A couple of weeks ago, there was a debate on
cursed troll-infested public square social media Web site Twitter — which began operation literally on my 16th birthday, and is thus something I feel unaccountably responsible for — about whether Florida fans should root for an all-SEC College Football Playoff National Championship Game (an ASCFPNCG, for short), in which one side’s spite of Alabama and Georgia and the other side’s point that the benefit of the prestige conferred by playing in college football’s best conference is worth the pain of seeing rival teams succeed.
I honestly think both sides have decent points in this argument — but I also think, ultimately and probably more importantly, that the’s SEC a reputation is all but bulletproof at this stage. The league doesn’t have just one laurel to rest on: It has that run of seven straight championships that Florida initiated in 2006 and the dynastic march Alabama is on and programs like Georgia and LSU dominating their states and divisions on occasion and Texas A&M proving out at least some of its “sleeping giant” potential and Oklahoma and Texas deciding to join what they could not beat.
And though it wasn’t always like this — when Alabama won a national title in 1992, it broke a 12-year drought for the SEC — that coupled with just how fully the SEC has swung the pendulum makes me think it might really be like this for a long while. Including that 1992 title, SEC teams have won 15 of the last 29 consensus national championships; tonight, that number ticks to 16 in 30.
Six different SEC teams have national titles since 1992, too, and a seventh could join that fraternity tonight. And while adding Oklahoma and Texas means we’ll have to get fuzzy on what “SEC team” means in accounting like this going forward, it also makes what the SEC will be the clear locus of powerhouses in the sport in the current era.
That doesn’t mean that Clemson and Florida State and Miami and Michigan and Notre Dame and Ohio State and Oregon and USC and Utah won’t be able to compete for national titles going forward. It doesn’t even mean that Cincinnati or UCF or another interloper won’t be able to storm the fortress.
But there is a fortress, and the winds of change won’t howl all that loudly inside.
The critical mass of football players growing up in Southern states can now go to an SEC school without leaving their home state; relaxed transfer rules mean that players who may not qualify for or catch the eye of SEC institutions immediately could still end up at Auburn or Ole Miss eventually; institutions needing to find ways to support their players getting paid — through monetizing their name, image, and likeness rights — is likely to advantage the haves who can throw money at the problem or hire the smart folks who figure it out first at smaller schools.
Alabama is here for this game because Nick Saban has built a program that can weather the storms and get here. Georgia is here because Kirby Smart has more or less done the same, even if Stetson Bennett is still somehow starting and probably playing most of the snaps in this one.
But an SEC team is bound to be here more often than not because the league simply has too many programs with the ability to do things like Alabama and Georgia do, too many flagship schools built on fertile grounds with fevered fan bases and flush boosters.
I think I’ll probably remember 2020 and 2021 in college football best for games being played despite a pandemic, but I can concede that many with pandemic fatigue considered these to be wild, crazy years — not ones on par with 2007’s gold standard for kaleidoscopic chaos, but seasons somewhat close to it.
And like that year and last year, this one will end with an SEC team at the mountaintop.
College football is probably more fun overall when the sport leans into the chaos, with more colors of the rainbow being visible and vibrant over the fall that plays host to its contests. And the detractors who want that chaos to continue into a playoff system that isn’t designed for chaos but for a somewhat meritocratic crowning of a champion will have a point about preferring the former to the latter.
But the complaint that our current era of dazzling wonder until the titans show up at season’s end suggests that college football should maximize its potential for fun and not its profit.
And the SEC’s teams aren’t here to make things fun for everyone. They’re here to win.
Don’t like it? Do something about it.