Only a few days ago, the college football world was certain that a sixteen-team "superconference" formed out of the Pac-10 and ruins of the Big XII would emerge. This was a scary thought. A conference with a plethora of gigantic schools possessing football prowess and tradition would surely dwarf all others and, if this were to become a reality, the rest of us would need to quickly scramble something comparable together as to not get left in this Pac-16's dust.
This concern, as paranoid and illogical as any good college football fandom, was undeniably real and undeniably valid with regards to the SEC, Big Ten, Big East, and ACC, as well as whatever remnants of whatever conferences would be left straggling after any such superconference alignments.
But why was this worry of the establishment of a dominant superconference valid? Because, in 1991, something incredibly similar already took place. In 1991, a superconference was formed, and, as suggested, this conference, over the span of two decades, lept above all others as the undeniable king of the college football hill.
The conference about which I write is, of course, the Southeastern Conference.
Think, for one second, why the Big Ten, Pac Ten, and Big XII conferences would look to re-align or expand. And truly consider the timing of such aspirations as well. Some would call this homerism, but even the objective Pac 10 or Big Ten fan would agree that the SEC's winning of four BCS championships in a row with three different teams set these wheels in motion. For, really, the past decade, with special emphasis being placed on the past six years or so, the Southeastern Conference has been the undisputed most powerful conference in football.
Please, wandering fans from other conferences who might have just stumbled in here, check any and all bullshit at the door. I'm not denigrating the Pac 10, Big Ten, Big Twelve, or any other conference, their football, their traditions, their universities, et cetera. I'm not. I'm simply stating a very plain and obvious fact. If you cannot, for five minutes, swallow your pride and admit that when we goofily chant "S-E-C! S-E-C!" that we're kinda-sorta right in our assertions of conference dominance, then I don't know what to say to you. As it stands, in the summer of 2010, the college football world is dominated by the SEC.
In 1991, when the conference added Arkansas and South Carolina, it became the first modern-day major conference with twelve member institutions divided into two divisions. In 1992, with the implementation of the SEC Championship game, the first such event in any conference, strengths-of-schedule increased significantly, television revenues increased, recruiting bases grew, and the foundation was laid for the SEC to be built into the conference it is today. Is it any wonder that, in the 19 years since the implementation of said changes, there have been eight national championships extended to SEC teams among four different schools (and let's not forget Auburn going undefeated twice in said timespan with nothing to show of it). In the same time-period prior to such changes, the SEC won three championships, two of them going to Bear Bryant led Alabama teams and one to a Vince Dooley UGA squad.
And this is exactly why other conferences have attempted to recreate that of the Southeast. The Big XII made such changes in the 1990's, and after some tweaking and snatching up of Big East programs, the ACC did the same about ten years ago.
The Pac10, instead of playing a round-robin conference format--an idea which I actually find to be fantastic and true to the sport--has added Colorado and (tentatively) Utah. They'll expand to twelve teams and, per my conjecture, utilize an "SEC-style" conference schedule and championship game.
The Big Ten, instead of an odd 11-team conference and scheduling system which feasibly allows for a season resulting in two undefeated teams emerging from conference play, picks up a good Nebraska program to, once again per my conjecture, round out the conference to twelve, divide into divisions, and establish a conference title game.
Will all of this work for the Pac-10 and the Big Ten? Well, obviously, so much more goes into the emergence as the dominant conference outside of conference affiliates, scheduling, and championship games--namely coaching and recruiting--but I do believe that in this, the BCS era, where strength of schedule means perhaps more than it ever has, these moves are undeniably going to make these two conferences stronger and give their front-runners better shots at the BCS National Championship Game. And they do-so by expanding the swaths of geography over which their conferences lie, thus expanding their television base, thus expanding their revenues. It's a bit of a win-win-win-win for all involved parties.
The Big XIITexas, though, took a bit of a different approach. In a conference dominated by Texas not only athletically, but also financially and politically, the will of the Longhorns will be done. First, there were talks of Texas moving to the Big Ten. Then, we were all but assured a new superconference would be formed with the Pac-10 and much of the Big XII South + Colorado. Then it seemed like the Lone Star State would be gobbled up into the Southeastern hegemony.
But then, nothing happened. Nebraska and Colorado left, and Texas, along with the rest of the Big XII remnants, said they'd stay put and maintain a ten team conference. Citations of geography, tradition, and academic perceptions (as if that's ever mattered in modern college football) were all given as reasons for the new and "improved" Big XII.
Bevoshit. I don't buy any of that for one second. The Longhorns did not want to sacrifice or even threaten their place as the king of their own hill. Instead of competing with Florida and Alabama for SEC titles, or Oregon and USC (eesh, maybe not anymore) for Pac-10 titles, why not just beat the snot out of everybody else in your conference, as you already were, and cruise for a decade or so with a string of conference titles and BCS bowl berths, a la USC in the 00's.
Make no mistake: while everyone else is recreating the SEC, the Big XII is recreating the Pac-10 of a few weeks ago. Texas will win many, many Big XII titles over the next several years, with really only Oklahoma as the forseeable threat to their conference superiority. Mack Brown and Company's dominance over the Lone Star State and the few states immediately to her north remains firmly intact with this decision, just as they would have it designed.
So did the SEC technically "win" any of this, per the post's title's suggestion? I guess not, in that there really was nothing to win or lose. But, regarding the perceptions and preoccupations of all of these changes, the SEC "won" the ability to sit idly by and let whatever was going to happen to do just that. Some would perceive the conference's inaction as some sort of trepidation--a weakness, perhaps. It's not. Mike Slive and the SEC offices know exactly what is going on here and they're fine with it. They know that, for now and a good chunk of the foreseeable future, the Southeastern Conference will be the strongest conference in BCS football. I'm not guaranteeing a ridiculous run of BCS titles, nor would I even predict an SEC team to win one next year (Alabama, though, should be the early favorite). But, when considering attendance, revenue, television audiences, and all of the other measures justified in much of these moves, the SEC really has no incentive to change as it is--we're already winning in these areas.
So congratulations to everyone for seemingly getting what they wanted out of this. We'll see y'all on the gridiron this fall. Hotty Toddy and, for good measure, S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!