Sunday, January 6, 2008

The passion of southern football

Golden has made an interesting post discussing the source of southern passion for college football. His argument can be pretty simply summarized:


He does a good job explaining what it meant to grow up in the post civil war south, and the combination of pride, guilt, and anger that many southerners felt about the civil war, and how southern football heros of the past, such as Bear Bryant filled the need for a hero and some redemption against the focal point of much of that anger, Northerners.

Leaving aside the political incorrectness of this argument (good luck finding any SEC coach to admit they are refighting the civil war), he glosses over one major point against his premise: Most players students, and fans of SEC teams can not trace their family back to the Confederacy. In fact it is not a stretch to say that most people who live in the most populous places in the south were born or grew up somewhere else. In 1960, none of the southern states that contain the SEC schools had more than 5 million people in it, and the total population of the conference footprint was approximately 26 million. By 2007, Florida and Georiga alone had 27 million people. While Golden's point was certainly true 30 or 40 years ago, it has less relevance today. I highly doubt that Glen Dorsey or Early Ducet feel any connection to Robert E. Lee. Certainly the best coaches in the SEC (Saban, Meyer, Miles), who were all born in Ohio, feel no need to fight for the stars and bars

So why is the passion for college football so great in the SEC? Because for the better part of the last century, college football was the only game in town. For me, growing up in Ann Arbor, as much as I loved Michigan football, I always looked forward to going to Tiger games, or following the Wings or the Pistons in the playoffs. There is a shared history for Michigan residents with these teams, just as there is with Michigan football. To a typical SEC fan, there are limited sports options outside of college football, and those options that do exist don't have the history that helps to ignite and maintain passion. There are only 18 major professional teams in the SEC footprint, and only six of them (Dolphins, Bucs, Falcons, Saints, Braves and Hawks) have been in existence for more than 20 years. None of them predate 1960. In contrast, there are 28 professional teams in the Big Ten footprint, and only three of them (Blue Jackets, Timberwolves, and Wild) are less than 20 years old. Many of the baseball teams are more than 100 years old. SEC spring games get 50,000 fans because there are no major league baseball, basketball, or national hockey league games to draw fans.

The passion of SEC fans is about history, but not the history that Golden refers to in his post. It's the history of organized sports in the south, and the absence of any real alternatives to college football that make such a big deal.