Guerry Clegg commentary: Money will overcome tradition, even in the SEC

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJune 3, 2012 

In the end, common sense prevailed. Traditions and history were protected.

The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry will not become the latest casualty of run-away greed.

The Third Saturday in October will continue to be more than just another weekend.

So we're safe … for now.

But just wait.

The time will come when the temptation to grab a few more bucks will overcome tradition and history. The Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee rivalries -- both of which are the essence what makes college football what it is -- will be sacrificed into the volcano of conference expansion.

Those four schools alone generated more than $425 million from 2006 through 2011 in athletic revenue, according to USA Today. Much of that comes from football -- ticket sales, luxury suites, concessions and TV deals large enough to make Donald Trump's hair spin.

But they will want more.

The movement toward super conferences began 20 years ago. The NCAA's death penalty on SMU football led to the demise of the Southwest Conference, which already was an exercise in class warfare. So Arkansas bolted to the SEC, joined by South Carolina, and the SWC crumbled like the Soviet Union. The SEC power brokers hoped to add independents Florida State and Miami and possibly lure Clemson and someone else to create the first 16-school super conference.

That didn't happen, and the best conference in college football flourished. In fact, all the major conferences flourished, even the newly formed Big 12, an amalgamation of the SWC upper crust and the Big Eight.

The most treasured rivalries were protected. Yeah, a few were lost, most notably Auburn-Tennessee and Texas-Arkansas. But a few new rivalries sprang up (Georgia-Tennessee, Florida-Tennessee) or grew deeper, stronger roots (Auburn-LSU, Georgia-South Carolina).

The SEC's interdivisional format that ensured everybody played everybody twice in an eight-year span was a more than suitable compromise.

But greed struck again. Blame it on Nebraska's and Colorado's decisions to defect from the Big 12. Texas A&M and Missouri panicked and split for the SEC.

That gives the SEC 14 schools, seven in each division, and turned scheduling into a logistical -- or maybe just logical -- nightmare. The extra division game plus the ongoing rivalry game means many schools will face each other only once every seven years.

So now, instead of Georgia playing Alabama -- its neighboring state -- for the 66th time, the Bulldogs will play Missouri for only the second time. The only other time they met was in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day, 1960. Ten months later, the Andy Griffith Show debuted.

Gotta love tradition.

Interested in making that trip Sept. 8 to Columbia? You might want to leave next week. It's 734 miles and will take somewhere close to 13 hours to get there, accord

ing to Google maps. You go through Nashville, so when you get to Vanderbilt, you're almost half way.

Auburn's trip to Texas A&M next season will be about the same.

Think that's far? Florida and Missouri fans get to take turns making a 1,009-mile, 17-hour trip.

Fans don't matter. What matters is television revenue, and the SEC is having to scrape by on its $205 million-per-year TV contracts with CBS and ESPN. That $76 million they pulled in from the bowl games goes only so far.

But throw in Missouri and Texas A&M, and the four-letter network will be so giddy they just might add an ESPN4 to cover that Missouri-Vandy game. And who wants to watch Alabama and Florida more than once every seven years, anyway?

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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