Just over three years ago, Lebron James became the biggest villain in major American sports as a result of his televised Decision. For the next three seasons, fans – whether they hated or loved Lebron – couldn’t stop watching him as he pursued NBA Championships.
Several years before that, baseball fans were joined together in a hatred toward the New York Yankees as a result of multiple World Series titles and an ever expanding payroll.
Whether the villains are a result of a Decision, a payroll several times that of a team’s competitors or 7 straight BCS Championships, villains are fantastic for sports. Villains drive emotion and drive fan interest on both sides of the equation.
It’s no question that the Southeastern Conference is that emotionally charged entity of college football. The SEC is dominant, arrogant, and a group of fans separate from the rest of the country. Fans outside the SEC don’t really care who wins the next BCS Championship as long as its a non-SEC team. Fans inside the SEC want their own team to win, but if that’s not going to happen, well, keep the crystal trophy in the conference.
The worst thing in sports is a lack of emotion. Whether its love or hate, a high emotionally charged sports league is key to a successful league. Emotion drives frenzied crowds, television ratings, message board debates, Twitter spikes, etc. Absent Yusiel Puig, when is the last time you saw any emotion in a discussion regarding MLB? Emotion and interest are linked.
The SEC is an interesting scenario for a villain since it’s such a large entity. It’s not a single individual like Lebron James or Tiger Woods. It’s not a single team like the Yankees. No, it’s 14 teams and an entire region of the country.
You might think that Alabama should be the villain of college football. However, Alabama, the recent face of the SEC with its three championships in four seasons struggles to be the villain due to the personality of the team. Saban runs such a tight ship with most of the playmakers and personalities being either muted or likable. As such, a growing hatred of the Crimson Tide has not really taken root. Think about it…two of the iconic images of Crimson Tide players in recent years are the tears of Mark Ingram at the Heisman ceremony and the NFL Draft and the tears of AJ McCarron after the LSU win in 2012. Oh yeah, and Katherine Webb.
Instead, people are typically just impressed with what is happening in Tuscaloosa and take out their frustration on the league as a whole.
The SEC’s run of domination has not only lead to a widespread anti-SEC trend among the fans and media of college football, but it has even helped other conferences develop conference pride essentially in response to SEC pride. While a “Big Ten” chant at football games isn’t common – and quite frankly, would be hilarious – Big Ten fans are beginning to understand the need for the Big Ten to succeed as a conference even if it’s not their own team. Fans of other conferences have seen the dynamic in the SEC and are seeking to duplicate it.
Lastly, many view the coming College Football Playoff as a day of reckoning against the SEC which has unfairly hijacked the BCS system. Because of the run of championships, fans think that the SEC is given too much credit and thus, SEC teams fill the BCS rankings on a regular basis. This rankings dynamic makes it inevitable that the SEC Championship became a play-in game for the BCS Championship.
Well, the College Football Playoff is going to fix all that…so they think. As I’ve said many times, the college football playoff will not change anything. If anything, the SEC will have more opportunity to win championships with an expansion of the field from two teams to four.
As fans and the media recognize this, and as the SEC’s villain status becomes even more entrenched in college football, the media will seek other solutions such as an expanded playoff field to eight teams.
All of this, however, is good for business. College football having the SEC as a polarizing villain is great for business. It drives conversation, ratings and success. Just like the NBA is better off with a Lebron James, college football is better off with the SEC in the championship conversation each and every year. ESPN and college football is smart to ride the SEC train.
Oh yeah, did we mention that ESPN is going to have a live television at SEC Media Days next week?