Relevant. (h/t Charles Barsotti)
While their basketball programs had a better showing last year, with Michigan getting to the title game and plenty of other teams doing well in the tournament, there’s no question that the tradition-rich and stoic Big Ten has had to look up at the SEC in football over the last seven years. Programs like Ohio State, Michigan, and even now Nebraska, are used to winning championships. At least, they were used to it. Now, though, the SEC has a vice grip on the trophy, and doesn’t look like it ever plans to let it go. Last week’s NFL draft only highlighted the problem, like Carmex on a cold sore; the SEC had 12 first-round picks, to the B1G’s one. One guy who’s tired of being second-best? Urban Meyer.
Meyer, now at Ohio State after Tim Tebow was denied his request for perpetual eligibility, noticed the difference in recruiting, and isn’t happy about it. But more than just recruiting, SEC blog Saturday Down South discusses, quite accurately, the importance of perception in college football. In an era where pre-season polls can determine who plays in the championship game, prestige is important. And when it comes to recruiting, kids want to play with and against the best. Joker never embraced that, but Stoops has pretty clearly played it up during his short time here. The prestige of the SEC covereth a multitude of sins; member teams get better recruits, and better rankings, as part of the momentum-heavy snowball effect.
So what’s the Big Ten’s response? Conference pride. If there’s one thing the SEC has had for a while that seems to be unique to the conference (apart from a universal loathing for a member team ::coughTennesseecough::), it’s a sense of unity between member teams. Every time I can remember that the BCS championship game has been over, whichever SEC team won has stood behind the broadcast desk chanting “S-E-C.” Even Kentucky fans often think “If we’re gonna get beat, might as well get beat by the best.” At least I think (thought) that. But we’ve always rooted for each other, even if from a distance (notwithstanding individual rivalries).
Now, other conferences are starting to do the same. Only instead of chanting their own conference, they’re basically all chanting “Beat the SEC.” It’s a big target, but one that’s worth its weight. Urban Meyer is gunning for the SEC, and he’s trying to get the rest of the Big Ten to follow suit. It’s only a matter of time before other conferences join in, too. The question is, “Will it matter?” Or is it already too late to catch up? Will the SEC produce half of the first round picks, and 100% of the championships for the next five years? I hope so, if only to make Urban Meyer sad.