Here we go again. When Alabama plays Clemson for the national championship Monday night, fans from Baton Rouge to Athens, from Gainesville to Knoxville, will be rooting for the SEC. Yes, even some fans in Auburn. Some. Probably not in Lexington. It is basketball season, after all.
This has become the norm. SEC fans go at each other on message boards and sometimes inside stadiums. But when it comes time to play out of conference, they band together like the republican presidential candidates are sure to do once they have a nominee.
As Mississippi State was putting a whooping on North Carolina State, the now familiar -- and apparently, to many fans, highly irritating -- chant started echoing off the mostly empty seats at the Belk Bowl.
"S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!"
"I just don't get that," said Charles Arbuckle, the former UCLA Bruin working as the color analyst for ESPN Radio. "I wouldn't root for SC just because they're in the Pac-12."
A similar scenario took place as Arkansas was wrapping up its Liberty Bowl win over Kansas State. This prompted Danny Kanell, the former Florida State quarterback, to Tweet:
"Our 7-5 team is beating your 6-6 team. Our conference rules!!!! Woohoo."
What Kanell conveniently overlooked was that Razorbacks' victory left the SEC 8-2 in bowl game this season.
Some fans draw the line at rooting for their hated rival. As one LSU fan posted on a SaturdayDownSouth.com thread, "Geaux Clemson! Sorry, SDS, but I'm not going to get with the program when the program is Alabama."
My friend Luschous, though, is more torn. He's also a big
LSU fan and not too fond of the Tide.
"But I guess I'll be rooting for Alabama even though that will make Nick Saban even more obnoxious. It's still good for the SEC.
It's a matter of practicality. If Arbuckle wants the College Football Playoff committee to some year select his Bruins over, say, Baylor, then you should want the Pac-12 to stand out. That might mean rooting for Oregon or Stanford.
College football is all about perception. The national rankings. The playoffs. The bowl selections. The history. All of it. It's all perception.
SEC fans are the ones who get it.
Think back to last year. Why did Ohio State jump TCU and Baylor to make the playoff? Perception. Sure, the Buckeyes proved to be legitimate when they beat Alabama and Oregon. But nobody knew that at the time. Maybe TCU or Baylor would have done the same thing.
All the committee could do, though, was consider the facts. Ohio State embarrassed Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game. The Big 12 had no impressive non-conference wins. TCU beating Minnesota was the closest thing to it. And that was a Big 12 co-champ beating a middle of the pack Big 10 team by one touchdown.
No, neither the Big Ten didn't have any impressive wins, either. But at least they played some heavyweights -- Notre Dame, Oregon and LSU.
Yes, college football finally has a playoff system, as imperfect as it may be, so the championship is decided on the field. But the participants are selected based on perception. Resumes, records, comparative scores, strength of schedule.
That's the way it has always been and the way it will always be. It won't matter if they expand the field to eight teams or even 16. Even if certain conference champions receive automatic bids, the rest of the teams will always be selected based on perception.
There will come a time -- maybe as soon as next year -- when the argument can be made that the second-best team in one conference is more deserving of one of those four spots than some Power Five conference champion.
It's hard to say when this conference allegiance began. As far back as the early 1970s, many SEC fans rooted for some of the other teams. Key word: some. Not all SEC teams are rivals. Georgia fans certainly didn't root for Florida or Auburn. But when LSU played Penn State in the Orange Bowl after the 1973 season, what did it hurt the Bulldogs to root for the SEC?
Justin Carter wrote a piece for Bleacher Report before the 2008 season on what he termed "SEC Nationalism."
"The bond and pride that Southerners share is derived from being isolated (geographically, politically, and socially), from overcoming demanding and strenuous periods of time, and from being different," Carter wrote.
In other words, it's bigger than football. He's probably right. Many SEC fans with a sense of history are amused by the growing resentment of the so-called "SEC bias." Many Alabama fans old enough to remember the 1966 Crimson Tide team know there was no SEC bias when Bama was snubbed for the national championship, despite its perfect record, in favor of Michigan State and Notre Dame, which tied 10-10.
There was no SEC bias in 1983, when Auburn beat Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl -- its third win over teams that finished in the top 10 -- but was jumped by Miami after the Hurricanes beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
There was no SEC bias in 2004, when Auburn got snubbed for the national championship game in favor of Oklahoma. Yes, the teams were picked by the BCS formula. But human polls were part of that formula.
So when Bama takes the field in Arizona, you might not hear too many Roll Tide yells from non-Alabama fans. But you're apt to hear that familiar chant.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org