SEC Football: It just means more, even during a pandemic

2019 SEC football championship game (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
2019 SEC football championship game (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Big Ten shook the world this month by canceling football. Why hasn’t SEC football and the rest of the Power Five, minus the Pac-12, followed suit?

When the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences decided earlier this month to cancel all seasons for fall, it caused a seismic shutter and shift through the sports world. It’s a decision that affects billion-dollar business, families with dreams and sweat equity spent and one that is infused and layered with science and politics.

It was huge.

It also was supposed to be a harbinger of things to come from the other Power Five conferences. Yet, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are still moving toward a season. So, like the SEC motto and logo states: Does it just mean more in that conference?

Let’s get this out of the way. This isn’t a political piece. Yes, politics is surely involved, and on multiple levels, but I’m leaving that to other people and spaces. This also isn’t an argument as to whether college football should or shouldn’t be played. Naturally, I have opinions on the matter. You will probably glean from this what they are. No, this is meant to approach something larger than me or my opinions or you and your opinions. It’s a wide lens look at culture. A peek at foundational community involvement. A furtive glimpse at local love and fervor.

Why is the SEC plowing ahead during a pandemic to play football? Does it really mean more? That wasn’t just a logo or branding opportunity? They really meant that?

The focus here is on the SEC because, it’s this writer’s belief that, without the SEC moving forward, the ACC and Big 12 would have canceled, too. Money talks, and the SEC is that dude with the fat money clip and Rolex. It’s the Ric Flair of athletic conferences. The Four Horsemen were something, but they were nothing without “Space Mountain”.

The SEC’s decision to move ahead with playing gave cover, and added geographical pressure, for the others to follow. That is not, or should not be, a controversial statement.

To understand why the SEC chose to buck the Big Ten, one has to take a granular view of things. Look at it from the ground up. Like the Annales school in historiography teaches, it is a long-term social history.

This begins with high school football and all that entails. While everything is bigger in Texas, and while the rust belt and Midwest surely love their football, Southeastern Friday nights only mean one thing in the fall. Local economies are built on it. Crosstown rivalries are what fuel the conversation. Church signs playfully poke and jest. Simply, it is in the cultural DNA. To not play football would require cultural gene-splicing. Good luck with that.

There is a saying that “politics is down stream from culture”, and whether to play high school football in the South, or not, is a perfect example. The TSSAA and GHSA are political organizations (don’t get me started). There is no doubt that they would have much preferred to play it safe, pearl-clutch and say, “We’ll get ’em next year boys!”

But they never had that opportunity. From school boards to mayors’ offices to governors’ offices, everyone understood what everyone else understood without having to have meetings: “We’re playing ball this fall.” Local business, family tradition, small town loyalty dictated as much. Johnny’s Grandpa played at “X” high school, so did his dad and you aren’t going to rob him of his senior season.” Go to any café or diner or kitchen table in the South, and you’d hear it.

Didn’t matter whether you were eating mayo or hot sauce. That was the conversation.

Tennessee high school football played game one last Friday. Georgia high school football kicks off Sept. 4.

That is ground level stuff. The heart and home and lay of the land of SEC country. Add to that the corporate interests, with literally, billions of dollars that would be lost without playing, and you begin to understand the push to move forward.

To many, the obnoxious and cacophonous chants over the years of fans chanting “SEC, SEC, SEC!” after a win, or the equally eye-rolling SEC branding “It Just Means More” has always seemed like what it was: Chest thumping and trolling. And even one like me, who is from this region, snickered and snorted a little at the obvious “extra”.

That said, whether the corporate ad folks recognized what they had stumbled upon or not, it rings true. Even during an international health crisis, the SEC, and local football teams are hell-bent on playing the game, and enjoying all that comes with it.

No one knows if the SEC, ACC and Big 12 will, in fact, play a single game, much less finish an entire season. No one knows if local high schools and Youth Football Leagues will be able to finish what they’ve started. Virologists can’t even answer that question.

What we do know, though, is that those areas are going to go down with hands in the dirt and in a three-point stance. Which is kind of how most of us grew up, and some live our lives to this day.

And if they do complete the season successfully, and without major illness or death, it will be an indefatigable fact that it does just mean more. Even in a pandemic.

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