This weekend, the fine folks at the largest and fastest-growing network of fan-centered on-line sports communities hosted the first (hopefully, the first annual) SB Nation blogger convention in Las Vegas. My wife and I, who celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary last week, went out to Sin City for the weekend, leaving our children with their grandparents (this was a win-win; Thomas and Elizabeth got to spend a couple of days with Grandma and Grandpa, and vice versa) while I met with MaconDawg’s and my network colleagues, and while Susan and I saw the Blue Man Group, toured Hoover Dam, strolled the Strip, and otherwise enjoyed visiting Vegas for the first time.
Because the intent behind the event was to have bloggers share information, look ahead to the future of the network, and enjoy one another’s company, we were asked to spend the weekend at least relatively unplugged. Consequently, I shut down my computer at noon on Friday, went home to pack and prepare for my parents to arrive to look after their grandchildren, and literally did not access the internet until just now, while seated in the Phoenix airport awaiting a connecting flight to Atlanta.
This does not mean, however, that I have been in a complete vacuum in the interim. Susan and I were on our way to the airport on Friday evening when MaconDawg called to tell me not to worry, that he was on it, and to enjoy my trip. I thanked him, expressed my appreciation, and asked him politely about what the heck he was talking. Needless to say, text messages and telephone conversations between your humble co-authors followed on Saturday, as news broke and rumors flew. This was good, because much of what was being relayed as fact in the meeting room of the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel turned out to be, if not rumor per se, at least premature.
Here, for whatever they might be worth, are my disjoined thoughts on SEC expansion, offered from the perspective of someone who was in Vegas when it all happened, who has read not one word of anything published on the internet (including any postings or comments published here at Dawg Sports) in the interim, and whose body does not recognize the existence of any time zone other than Eastern:
- High on the list of "fun places to be when the Texas A&M Aggies vote to leave the Big 12" is "in a room with a bunch of Texas Longhorns sports bloggers." Austin was well represented in Vegas this weekend, and, while the disdain of rivals is to be expected in any such circumstances---we Georgia Bulldogs fans are still ticked off at the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for leaving us in the lurch when they bolted the SEC in the ‘60s---the what-the-heck-is-A&M-doing? reaction of the Texas faithful left me more convinced than ever of the logic of the Aggies joining the SEC.
While we were in line for lunch on Saturday, a well-respected Longhorn blogger expressed bafflement at the decision of his team’s season-ending rival. Noting the difficulty of an SEC West slate that yearly included the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, and the LSU Tigers, he observed of Texas A&M, "They’re going to be Mississippi State over there." I conceded that this would be true at first, but noted that the Arkansas Razorbacks and the South Carolina Gamecocks both had improved steadily as a result of being in the SEC, to the point that, last year, the Hogs went to a BCS bowl and the ‘Cocks represented their division in the Georgia Dome. "The Aggies aren’t going to a conference championship game in the SEC," the Texas blogger retorted. I replied, "Well, they’re sure not going to a conference championship game in the Big 12." We cordially agreed to disagree, but it says something to me that the Burnt Orange fans are so incredulous about College Station’s attempt to strike out on its own rather than remain a Soviet satellite state in thrall to Austin’s Moscow. This, in short, is a marriage that works for both parties, and, if our league is looking to settle down and commit rather than flirt and play the field, Texas A&M is the right fit for the Southeastern Conference.
- Because the Virginia Tech Hokies evidently have been the most vehement in their denials, and because the most persistent rumors flying about where I was concerned the addition of the Clemson Tigers, Florida St. Seminoles, and Missouri Tigers, I gave much thought to those three teams. Despite my initial opposition, I would be comfortable with (though less than thrilled about) Mizzou, if only because the Tigers’ presence in the SEC doesn’t particularly make any less sense than the Kentucky Wildcats’. As for the other two, well . . .
- The addition of Clemson and Florida State would both help and hurt Georgia. If the Country Gentlemen and the Tribe came into the league, it would leave the Bulldogs and the Wildcats as the only teams in the SEC East with obligatory in-state out-of-conference rivalry games, while the Florida Gators’ and the South Carolina Gamecocks’ non-SEC slates virtually would be guaranteed to consist of nothing but cupcakes. On the other hand, the Palmetto State Poultry and the Sunshine State Saurians no longer would be able to brag to recruits that they offered local prospects their only opportunity to remain close to home and play in the SEC. Georgia and Georgia Tech don’t really compete for recruits, but the public Division I-A universities in the states to our immediate east and south do, so it would be to our benefit to have conference opponents in both states diluting one another’s brands.
- The Blue Man Group is cool. That’s neither here nor there, really, but it was a point worth making, and there was nowhere else it fit.
- If the SEC kicks over the dominoes and creates the first (though not the last) 16-team superconference, it probably will pave the way to a Division I-A playoff, which I do not want, but Mike Slive is a smart guy, and he is going about this in a methodical way, much as Larry Scott did when shooting for the moon while knowing he had the Utah Utes as a fallback option if his grand design failed to achieve fruition. The SEC pioneered the twelve-team conference model, so I have complete confidence in the leaders of our league to be the ones to make a larger model work.
- When the rumors broke Saturday morning as though a 16-team SEC arranged along the above lines were a fait accompli, I found it difficult to contain my enthusiasm for the prospect of welcoming Clemson into the conference. Yes, I know all the reasons why such a move doesn’t make sense and isn’t likely to happen, but, when I was walled off from the virtual world and receiving information in drips and drabs, it became clear to me where my sympathies truly lie: I want what’s best for Georgia, first, last, and always; I’m not sure whether this is the right time to expand, but I trust the decisionmakers in this high-stakes game to make the right moves; I think Texas A&M is the right fit, but, at the end of the day, if expansion is going to occur, I largely don’t care what else happens as long as we get Clemson in the conference and go back to playing the Tigers every year. I recognize that this position is problematic, improbable, and largely financially irrational, but the heart wants what it wants, and what my heart wants is to revive a rivalry that defined Bulldog football as much as any other for my generation.
- I was born a Georgian, I will die a Georgian, and, in between, I will live in Georgia. I am tied to the place of my birth, so much so that I literally could drive you to every place I have ever lived in the course of a day, and maybe in the course of an afternoon; I do not believe it to be at all coincidental that perhaps the two most iconic Southern novels, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, end with the words "place" and "time," respectively.
I don’t know if it is because of my innate Southerner’s sense of being rooted in a specific locale, but, every time I have designs to cross a state line for any purpose other than attending a sporting event, big news breaks. The day before I went to Florida on vacation in July 2010, the story broke that Damon Evans had been arrested for driving under the influence. While I was in Florida on vacation in July 2011, Caleb King was declared academically ineligible. On the day my wife and I left for Las Vegas, the Texas-A&M-to-the-SEC story went thermonuclear. Could there be any better evidence that Bulldog Nation’s luck is changing than the fact that, this time, I left town, and the news was other than uniformly negative, and (particularly if it gets Clemson back on the schedule annually) could be overwhelmingly positive? (Please ignore this point altogether if a Georgia player has been arrested for emerging from an alley on a scooter while wearing a stolen helmet and driving on a suspended license who misspelled his last name since I received my last update from MaconDawg.)
I don’t know where we go from here. Heck, at this exact moment, I certainly know less about this than you do, because you’ve had access to the internet since noon on Friday, and I haven’t, and your body clock most likely is attuned to the time zone in which you presently find yourself, while mine most assuredly isn’t. Nevertheless, I know this much: Ronald Reagan best expressed how it now feels to be a college football fan right now when he said there has never been a more exciting time to be alive. Help get me up to speed, though, folks. Where do you think we are, what do you think happens next, and how do you feel about our brave new world, which may have Aggies, Seminoles, Tigers, and Tigers in it?