2021 SEC Championship Game: Texas A&M vs Clemson

SEC Championship Game

Cowboy Stadium - Arlington, TX

Arlington, Texas (December 11, 2021) — Ten years ago this night would have been inconceivable. Nobody, especially rabid SEC football fans of the early 2000s, could imagine a day when their conference’s championship would be decided on foreign soil (Texas of all places!) between two schools that weren’t even SEC members. But after a decade of expansion, secession, and reconstruction — what American College Football President Urban Meyer called “our Second Civil War” at a press conference earlier this week — 90,000 fans at Cowboys Stadium will bear witness tonight to the on-field battle between Texas A&M (13-1) and Clemson (11-3) for what SEC fans maintain is still the nation’s most prestigious college football championship.

A&M’s presence in tonight’s championship is especially historic given that it was the proverbial Fort Sumter of the Second Civil War. In 2014 the Aggies, a year into Coach Gus Malzahn’s tenure, jumped from the former Big 12 to the SEC, setting off the decade’s second round of realignment. Unlike the musical chairs of the early 2010s, when the SEC stayed on the sidelines, then-commissioner Mike Silve publicly announced his intentions to form the first 16-member “mega-conference.” By early 2016, Silve had invited ACC members Florida State, Georgia Tech (then coming off a costly NCAA probation), and Clemson to unite with their southern brethren.

In one swoop, Silve not only consolidated the SEC’s regional footprint; he’d dealt a deathblow to ACC football that many observers felt had been a long time coming. “The ACC had always struggled as a basketball-first conference dominated by the Tobacco Road schools,” said Richard Van Falk, director of the sports economics program at Auburn University. “Between the quasi-death penalty the NCAA imposed on North Carolina football in 2012 and the conference’s steadfast refusal to expand over the objections of the basketball coaches, the ACC made its outlying members easy prey for the football-first conferences.”

The ACC, like the Big East, also ended up paying the price when they pushed the NCAA to inflate its basketball bubble to the point of bursting. “Expanding the men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams in 2015 proved disastrous,” Van Falk noted. “The NCAA’s former television partners — the now-defunct CBS-Turner Sports — didn’t want to do it, but they let the eastern basketball conferences bully them into it. The consequences were predictable: Already sagging ratings for men’s basketball cratered in the face of a watered-down product.”

When the NCAA’s “March Madness” revenues collapsed, so did the Association’s hold on college football. Coupled with increasingly aggressive — and many critics claimed arbitrary — enforcement actions that saw four national champions forced to vacate their titles over a seven-year period, the football powers finally made the move to secede. Four years ago, when the NCAA tried to prevent the formation of the current Big Sixteen Conference, those schools joined the SEC in withdrawing their football programs. The Pacific and Southwest Football Conferences left six months later, leading to the formation of American College Football.

The Big Sixteen — the old Big Ten — had followed the SEC’s lead and finished off the ACC by taking its remaining football prize, Virginia Tech, along with Maryland, which paid a hefty fee just to get the life preserver thrown its way. The Big East’s Pittsburgh and longtime conference holdout Notre Dame followed suit, leaving onetime football powers like Miami and West Virginia to languish back in the NCAA.

“Like the ACC, the Big East was never competitive with the SEC or Big 16 in terms of broadcasting contracts,” Auburn’s Van Falk said. “By 2015 the Big East as a whole barely earned one-fourth the revenue of most individual SEC schools. Ultimately, the market wouldn’t support more than three or four large conferences devoted primarily to football.”

It also helped that the National Football League, after years of ignoring the problems with its de facto developmental system, took an active role in changing college football. “The big question was always, ‘Do you pay the players?'” ACF’s Meyer said earlier this week. “What we eventually realized was, it’s not whether you pay the players; it’s whether you maximize their professional educational opportunities. And that’s when the NFL stepped in by creating the Spring League.”

Since 2016, the NFL Spring League has provided ten-week internships for college upperclassmen and recent graduates to play an exhibition schedule in NFL cities under the direction of longtime pro coaches. “The kids get paid a stipend for the internship without altering their ‘amateur’ status within ACF,” Meyer said, adding, “It provided a necessary safety valve to relieve the pressure built up under the NCAA.”

Of course, the biggest change to college football since the ACF’s formation has been the playoff tournament, which emerged after years of press griping and antitrust litigation over the former bowl system. Tonight’s SEC championship is technically just the second round of the 16-team tournament that began with last week’s conference semifinals. “The most radical thing for most fans wasn’t the playoff itself so much as the realignment of traditional conferences like the SEC into four divisions,” A&M’s Malzahn said. “At first it was weird to think of Arkansas, LSU, and [Mississippi] State as our ‘division’ rivals. A lot of fans hated it at first, thinking we were becoming ‘too NFL.’ But now they are far-and-away the three most exciting Saturdays of the regular season.”

This is the first year A&M won the SEC’s Western Division to advance to the ACF’s postseason. Last week’s 27-10 win over Central Division champion Ole Miss setup tonight’s contest against Atlantic Division champion Clemson, who squeaked by Gulf Coast champion Alabama 15-12 in overtime. Tonight’s winner will play Pacific Conference winner Boise State, who defeated Stanford in last night’s championship game.

The SEC In 2021
Western Division Central Division Atlantic Division Gulf Coast Division
Texas A&M Kentucky Clemson Florida
Arkansas Vanderbilt South Carolina Florida State
LSU Tennessee Georgia Auburn
Miss State Ole Miss Georgia Tech Alabama
Semifinal: New Orleans, LA Semifinal: Atlanta, GA
SEC Championship: Cowboy Stadium, Arlington, TX

Tonight, the SEC Championship Game takes place for the third consecutive year at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  Owner Jerry Jones, still reeling from excessive debt levels needed to construct his prized stadium, looked to bring the blockbuster game of the SEC to Cowboy Stadium in an attempt to bring in more revenues.  While SEC fans opposed moving the Championship out of the heart of the south, the money Jones offered the SEC was too much to ignore. Atlanta’s aging Georgia Dome was given one of the two SEC semifinal games along with the Superdome in New Orleans.

As odd as it might sound to long-time SEC fans, either Clemson or Texas A&M will get their names etched in the SEC history books tonight as the best that the southeast has to offer. While the entire college football landscape has been in a constant state of change over the last decade, one thing still holds true: the SEC Champion is still the absolute favorite to win the national championship.



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  • Apocalypse has occurred. SC will never allow Clemsux to join for backstabbing when they left the ACC . This is a mute conversation.

  • …and then monkeys will fly out of your butt…

  • Why would they take another team from SC or Ga when Virginia Tech would get them into VA and Oklahoma would get them a perennial top team. Makes no sense, anyway we don’t want no taters in the SEC!!

  • When I first heard the title of this article, I wanted to throw up in my mouth. However, after reading this article, it’s a nice scenario. I would definitely love to swallow up the ACC and Big East. However, the only drawback, the SECCG still belongs in the south (Atlanta), because TX still isn’t the south.

  • I don’t like it. No. Go Hogs…

  • Why are we talking 2021? Everyone knows that the world is going to end in 2012! DUHHHHHHH!

  • “[I]s still the nation’s most prestigious college football championship”

    The only accurate phrase in the entire thing.

  • Thanks for not including the Miami hoodlum herd in this article! I’d rather see Va. Tech, Oklahoma OR Missouri, & a North Carolina school in our SEC rather than Clemson, FSU, & Ga. Tech. Expanding the SEC & 7 other conferences will be the foundation to a national playoff, so I’m fer it. We’ll check back in 10 years to see if you’re right. Til then, Roll Tide!

  • The Gulf Coast Division looks insanely hard. Tennessee also would have a cake walk in the Central Division as well.

  • This article tackles so many issues.

    First, I believe that the idea you proposed in the article is the only acceptable pay-to-play structure of which I have heard. I am a little confused on why this discussion is gaining so much of a following.

    Second, I hope an anti-trust case is brought up against the BCS, but I doubt the conference games would be part of the playoff bracket. I would like to see the conference champ from each conference fill the first spots while the rest of the spots go to at-large teams. The ranking system couldn’t be completely thrown out cause of the at-large spots, but at least all of the conferences could participate.

    Lastly, I would like to see expansion. Texas A&M isn’t my favorite choice, but I realize they are a smart one. I could never see the fans getting behind adding Clemson period. I would like to have seen Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Missouri added. I know that steps outside the Southeast but not too far. I would even be ok with switching out teams for Miami or Florida State with an emphasis on Miami for reasons of market saturation. However it works, I hope the shifting of other conferences to compensate would eventually trickle down to the non-AQs to make room for the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks since I am not sure where they will actually fit. (Non-SEC subject but that’s my alma mater)

  • Gig ‘Em Ags!

    The students/fan base want into the SEC so badly. Hopefully our administration will grow a pair already.

    • I hear SEC fans’ opinions on whom the other team to balance the conference should be if A&M was added. As an Aggie fan, whom would you like to see?

  • So we are talking about adding 4 teams and we get, A&M, Clemson, Ga Tech, and FSU? What about the other good school in the south: TCU, Miami(marketing), Va Tech, Mizzou, OU?

  • Absolutely NOT! It’ll snow in July in Columbia before I’d support cl*mson in the SEC. It’s a shame they’re even in the same state. Don’t add insult to injury.

    I’m not sure about our geography prowess here. Texas, by a Texan’s definition (not me, I’ve never even been there) may at times fall into the South or southwest, but never the South East. A&M is as much in the South East as Louisville is…or hey, what about Cinnci…that’s a big no.

    And the Free Shoes Criminoles and the (thug) U are such incredible liabilities that there would have to be a serious desperation to even consider them.

  • This article is stupid! Move the championship game to Texas… this would never happen. Plus Clemsux being in the SEC is a horrible Idea. I know it’s been floated around but I agree with ‘dougienkins’ why would you expand in a state that the SEC already has a recruiting base in. Go to NC or VA. And 4 divisions in the league, this is also a horrible idea. The dynamics of the league would change so much it would take away a lot of what we love as fans. The battles between the east and west are monumental, the cyclic shifts in power in the league, and one team from each division represent at the Championship game in the Dome is tradition, if they went to four divisions two would be left out every year… That would suck.

  • The pot calling the kettle blacker than black, when a gamecock will call out another school for thugery!!!!!!!!!!! They have more athelete arrest than any school in South Carolina, including the high schools…..

  • Considering the SEC is looking to maximize its revenue Texas A&M is a good addition as they have a huge following in the Houston area. By adding in their alumni association with the Arkansas alumni association there would be a significant foothold in Dallas which already shows the 11:30 am SEC game on one of its local stations. If you add A&M I would then vote to add Virginia Tech. Grab the DC market and create a pairing as both schools have long para-military traditions.

    Since 16 teams WILL happen at some point, the SEC should go first and take the pick of the litter. Sticking with the idea of money and big markets that means Mizzou and the St. Louis/Kansas City markets fall into line. I think Florida is the main program in the state and the Tampa/Miami/Orlando markets are already on board. To get a foothold in another good TV market you need to go into North Carolina. The Tar Heels would never give up the basketball rivalry with Duke (and given their recent NCAA issues it makes no sense to add them now) so the Wolfpack could come on board and bring the Raligh/Durham markets.

  • Love the Spring football externship idea!! Seems like such a natural and logical solution.

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