NB: All opinions are those of VandyImport and do not reflect those of the management of Anchor of Gold, the Commodore football program, the University of Vanderbilt, the night bartender at Tin Roof or the administration of HM Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.
So did everybody see the SEC Network's Vanderbilt promo? If not, go look. I'll wait.
Well, to paraphrase the immortal Mal Reynolds, 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 a member of the Southeastern Conference? Let's take a look, shall we?
National exposure? Not at all. Our game 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 entire 2013 college football season for 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 thisyear has already been handed off to its replacement, the SEC Network - which for a while actually looked like it would reach fewer households than the syndicated package would have. As it is, we have...wait for it...the late game on opening night, again, and not even on ESPN this time.
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 even 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 the 2013 season for any Vanderbilt supporter is that the officials actually reviewed that infamous 4th down 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 in the national coverage 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 going toe to toe with some of the best teams in the country, 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 three straight 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. Last 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 won a national championship in their second trip to the CWS since 2011…blame summer if you like, but the hype factor from the league just isn’t there. Everything that Corbin and Stallings and Balcomb and their fellow coaches accomplish happens without a lick of help from Birmingham. How much did being an SEC member help out when ESPN was providing a tongue bath for Texas and UVA throughout the College World Series?
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 (for now), 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. Why else do I have three (3) different Pac-12 channels on my UVerse?
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 post last year 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 got to hop up to the Peach Bowl, and Carolina got to hop Missouri into the Citrus despite finishing behind them for the SEC East crown, and a 6-6 Mississippi State got 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 and 2013, despite the disappointment of staying home or getting dropped. 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, this 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 owe one iota of respect, or support, or allegiance to an organization that has not one iota of those things for us.
Our teams. Our triumphs. If you no help us now, I say (cough) you, SEC. We do it ourselves.