The Southeastern Conference is a hegemon, naturally controlling a hegemony. That, literally and in simple terms, means it is leader, and when considering the past few college football seasons, no rational fan of the game could legitimately disagree with such an assertion. BCS Championships, NFL Draft picks, attendance figures, and revenue dollars don't lie - by nearly any metric one can dream up, the Southeastern Conference is easily atop the NCAA football heap.
But there is more to the word than it's simple, Greek etymology. When speaking of a person or, more often, a nation or group of nations, a hegemony is a "political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups, regardless of the explicit consent of the latter." A hegemon controls its hegemony principally via consensus and intangible pressures, but is hardly hesitant to use brute, physical force when necessary.
Think of Ancient Rome, The British Empire, or the Soviet Union.
Oh, don't mind that odd feeling in your stomach. That's just your America-lovin' self gettin' all weirded out that I compared your favorite football team to a Soviet state. Just bear with me, here.
There is a misconception that powerful, multi-national or imperial entities rely on brute force to rule or dominate those beneath them. Certainly, the Southeastern Conference has had to engage in such behavior at times in order to suppress threats to its power, but that is far from the only methods at the disposal of this hegemon.
Because the SEC is in the most fertile recruiting ground in America, the SEC has a firm grasp on the nation's best football talent. Because the SEC is contractually tied in with ESPN, the conference has a significant impact on the game's exposure and narrative. And the conference's immense pools of money are enticing to the game's greatest coaches. It's hardly a dominant stranglehold, but it's certainly a nice grip the SEC holds over other conferences via these advantages. This is reminiscient of powerful nations or empires controlling economies, information, or culture in order to maintain power and, no, it's not that much of a stretch to make such a comparison.
Like all hegemonies, the SEC is despised for this. Every conference's goal is to overtake the SEC. Many non-SEC fans will cheer for teams entirely out of their fandom realm, if they're matched up against the SEC. Seemingly, the only thing a Big Ten, Big Twelve,and Pac 10 fan can find common ground on is that "the SEC must be defeated." Spend more than a week on any collection of college football fansites - blogs, forums, etc - if you have yet to see this phenomenon.
Why did a significantly differing and separately governed group of 13 colonies fight together in the 1770's and 80's? To nudge King George III's Britain out of power.
Why did the British, Germans, and Russians all work together in the early 1800's? To stop Napoleon's France.
Why did the [STAR WARS REFERENCE] and the [STAR WARS REFERENCE] during the [STAR WARS REFERENCE]? To defeat the Glactic Empire.
Hell, even the United States of America allied itself with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in order to take down Nazi Germany.
History and a cursory understanding of humanity can show that otherwise ambivalent or hostile groups can come together in order to eliminate a common threat.
Granted, our "S-E-C" chants are pretty annoying and it's tough to see your team lose to anybody with the swagger LSU, Floirida, and Alabama have possessed as of late, but the anti-SEC rhetoric is founded in the simplest notions of human psychology. People resent those who are better or more powerful than they are, and people naturally hate what they fear. The SEC is hated because it is legitimately powerful.
Also, like many hegemonies throughout history, the SEC is emulated. Let me redirect you to a piece I wrote regarding this during the conference expansion circus of a few months ago:
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.
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.
Every European empire over the past two millenia has tried to emulate Ancient Rome, the European Union is based off of the American blueprint, and the new Big Telelve is modeled after the Southeastern Conference.
And, like most hegemonies, it is actually to the benefit of most under the hegemony to, implicitly or otherwise, endorse the rule of the hegemon. Look at the United States today and do what you can to argue that our great nation is not atop an international hegemony. You can't, because we fit the definition nearly perfectly: we're militarily mighty, economically powerful, and culturally significant. This is our planet right now, for better or for worse and, despite what our detractors would have you believe, we are doing an alright job of taking care of it.* The dollar, being pegged to so many international currencies, benefits the world if it remains strong. The American military has essentially prevented WWIII from erupting in Europe by maintaining a presence significant enough to, as the British put it, "keep the Germans down and the Russians out." And American industrialization and innovation has produced the single strongest globalizing and time-wasting force imaginable: the Internet.
Of course, this is overly simplistic, but we're talking international politics on a college sports blog here, so I'm not diving much deeper. I would like to recommend Michael Mandelbaum's The Case for Goliath if you'd like to read more about America's positive modern role as the international hegemon.
And look at it from a historical context. Did the Romans just go around drinking and fucking and smashing things? Well, yeah, but they also constructed the world's grandest ancient city, an infrastructure network spanning across much of Europe, perfected the world's most widely used alphabet, and so led the known world in innovation that the times following the fall of Rome were aptly named the Dark Ages.
Imperial Britain ruled over the high seas promoting stable and safe trade for goods created during their world-altering Industrial Revolution. Serb-controlled Yugoslavia under Tito kept otherwise warring factions in relatively peaceful harmony with one another. And I'm sure that, once they, you know, got things the way they saw fit in their wacky ass minds, the Soviets had intentions take really good care of Europe.**
Simply put, if you're the head of the house, you're going to take care of the house. The SEC is the head of the college football house and if we decide that bringing in more viewers and money is a good thing for us, then it's ultimately a good thing for everyone else in the house as well. The successes of Alabama and Florida can and will trickle down to Akron and Fresno State.***
History does teach us, unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective - that hegemonies are hardly permanent. They can die from within, be dismantled by a group of mutually motivated enemies, or other, more powerful hegemonies can emerge and usurp power. Of course, the delicate balance of domestic and foreign affairs, industrial capacity of foreign adversaries, and conflicting individual interests of a hegemony's leadership - the issues which ultimately doom many nations, empires, and alliances - aren't really applicable to the SEC or college football in general. But other forces are and will be at play here. Improved and amplified recruiting, tweaks in the game's championship system, coaching improvements, and the general cyclical nature of college football will, eventually, take a toll on the SEC's position as the nation's premier football conference. Know this and accept this, SEC fans. We will not dominate forever.
But, hot damn, it'll be fun while it lasts.
*Let's try to keep political debates out of the comments threads. Kthx.
**I love gettin' my nerd on, y'all.
***Once again, there comparison is overly simplistic and a bit weak. Still, it's legitimate, even though there are conditions, circumstances, and nuances which are not mutually applicable to the two subjects.