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Fun Times In The SEC

The conference is immensely successful financially but not so much in some others

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Trash litters the sidelines after it was ruled that Jacob Warren was a yard short of the first down marker on a 4th and 24 play during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Tennessee fans littered the Neyland Stadium field with debris for several minutes following Ole Miss’ game-clinching defensive stop with 54 seconds to play.
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

There was a lot of concern recently, perhaps justified, when the SEC plucked Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big 12, which will push the conference into new territory. Some people said it was in essence a hostile takeover of the NCAA.

That assumes a lot though. First, just as a hypothetical, what would happen if the rest of the NCAA had enough, seceded and left the SEC on its own? Just a thought, but what would happen?

And second, nearly every strength reveals a weakness and in the SEC’s case, a lot has been revealed lately.

First, two fans - who were not at the game - got into it during the Texas A&M-Alabama game. They were asked to leave and stepped outside and at least one opened fire. One is dead; the other is still at large.

And there was psycho fan ‘Bama fan Harvey Updyke, the guy who poisoned the trees at Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner in 2011.

What about what happened at Tennessee Saturday?

You’ve probably seen it by now: the fans essentially staged a in-your-seat riot when they were unhappy with a late call vs. Ole Miss and pelted the field with whatever they could reach including water bottles, golf balls and, amazingly, a bottle of French’s Mustard.

It was like a Maryland basketball game only with more people and fresh air (which Maryland admittedly could use more of).

And then there’s the L$U fiasco.

Ed Orgeron won the national title two years ago, has gone 9-8 since and there may be a reason for that.

Like what?

Well, like the recently divorced Orgeron’s allegedly voracious womanizing. In one case, he was alleged to have approached a woman at a gas station saying “hey, you look like you work out. We could work out together.”

When she told him she was married and pregnant, he reportedly said “why does that matter?”

Not a great thing to say to the wife of a high-ranking university official - oops.

There were also accounts of him inviting girlfriends to practice and at least one suggestion that he allowed them to actually take part in some way. An anonymous official says he “lost track of who he was and what made him good.”

He probably would have survived the womanizing if he had kept winning but losing is the only sin left in the Situational Ethics Conference, not least of all at L$U, where Will Wade has survived being wiretapped cheating by the FBI.

But it gets ever more interesting.

The L$U AD, Scott Woodward, was at Texas A&M from 2016-19 where he hired his good friend Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State. And when he did, he gave Fisher a 10-year, $75 million dollar contract which was extended this year and is now worth $95 million.

But here’s the thing: if A&M fires Fisher, they have to pay him every penny they owe him. And if his old boss and buddy Woodward hires him away for LSU?

Fischer won’t owe A&M a dime.

Look, raiding a fellow conference member isn’t a sin or a crime. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

What’s different here is the perception that Woodward set it up so that he could hire Fisher again later and if he does, A&M is going to lose its collective mind.

And second, it underscores the underlying cause of most of the problems the SEC is having. The focus is almost entirely on two related things: winning and money. Academic and moral integrity are for losers apparently.

It’s not football but remember when AD Joe Alleva was run out of town for how he handled Wade’s woes? The L$U fans were in near open revolt. They were very clear about it: Wade is winning and you will.not.interfere. We’re not sure they can ever go back.

Incidentally, Alleva, whose Duke hires were often roundly criticized, hired both Wade and Orgeron, so his Duke critics had an argument.

The SEC is the dominant football conference and football, for now anyway, is the biggest collegiate sport. However, the desire for power and money, which is certainly not exclusive to one conference, is causing unforeseen issues. The SEC is likely to continue to dominate there, but look at the costs it is accumulating. And if you want to measure them, you can consider this: Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation, long considered a borderline psycho fan base, is starting to look pretty reasonable.

At both L$U and Tennessee, the administrations are under great pressure. Louisiana State has to make a lights-out hire or people will get fired.

And at Tennessee, poor chancellor Donde Plowman has to find a way to discipline an apparently incorrigible fan base (remember Greg Schiano?) knowing full well they’re likely to turn on her next if she pushes it too far.

We linked to a documentary about the Duke-Maryland rivalry in the last years of Gary Williams’ time as coach and former Duke radio man Bob Harris quoted his dad as saying in his lifetime, Bob would live to see money destroy sports as we know it.

The SEC is working overtime to prove him right.