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Why being in the SEC IS the tradition that Georgia should honor most

I write this post as a critical reflection on Kyle’s recent post. In offering this critical response, I am doing so as a philosophical fellow conservative. I am not attacking Kyle’s conservatism, I am simply questioning the way in which he applies it.

I understand Kyle’s main point that local, particular connections are to be valued over more distant, abstract connections. But if every member of the current SEC starts formulating a new dream league on this basis from their own perspective, what do we end up with? The truth is that breaking off from the SEC is itself a non-conservative move at this point. Or at least, so it seems to me.

There are always trade-offs in these kinds of decisions. Yes, ceteris paribus, Georgia should favor keeping traditional rivalries over maintaining less traditional ones. But, ceteris paribus, Georgia should also not disrupt its current affiliation that works in favor of beginning a new one that might or might now work. The conservative dictum that "if it is not necessary to change, then it is necessary not to change" can cut both ways here.

There are really two issues here. The first is: Does remaining in the SEC impose *so great* a cost on Georgia's own valued traditions that breaking away is a net gain? It isn't just a question of whether Georgia should prefer its more local rivalries to the SEC's more far-flung and recent ones. It's a question of whether breaking away from the SEC--itself a tradition-breaking act--is the proper (proportional, farsighted, etc.) response to that problem. Even on conservative terms, it's not clear that this is the case.

The second issue is: if Georgia is justified in advocating for its own dream conference that suits it better than the SEC currently does, then so is every current member of the SEC; and, if every member fights for its own ideal conference, then the resulting conference that actually results will presumably be one in which each member has to compromise.

This makes SEC secession disanalagous from the situation that obtained in the build up to the War Between the States. When South Carolina seceded from the United States in 1860, it was theoretically on its own. It was not seceding to join any new confederation of states, per se: it was simply declaring its independence from the U.S. It could have, at least hypothetically (though certainly the expectation at the time was not that this would actually be what took place), been left alone as a new Republic of South Carolina. Full stop. Now, as it turns out, other states chose to secede, too; and once they did, they then also agreed to form a confederation for certain mutually-beneficial purposes.

To make the Georgia-SEC question fully analogous to the War Between the States, therefore, we would need to allow that Georgia is generally considering independence from any conference whatsoever. And then, for whatever reason, we would consider that actually, the *best* arrangement for Georgia is to align itself for certain mutually-beneficial purposes with other theoretically-independent schools. Well, that's just what a conference is, right? But if the conference must be mutually-beneficial, then no one school can simply have its preferred way. You'll end up with everyone doing their own cost-benefit analysis, and choosing to join a certain configuration that might satisfy many of their wants but most likely not all of them. But that's what we have already; so how exactly do we know that the new proposed conference would be better in the long run and *for the entire group of members?*

Kyle makes a good case that the new conference would better suit Georgia than the current SEC does (if we share Kyle's valuations of the traditional rivalries, etc.). And it would probably also better suit South Carolina. After that, though, it sounds like it would be more-or-less a wash for the other members. This is important, because the other members presumably would also want to fight for their own better-than-now conference configuration. Why would Georgia's dream set of preferences be the one that wins out?

Keeping these two big issues/problems in mind, I offer some further thoughts below, and then try to tie it all back together at the end.

Part of the problem here is how many years makes for a new tradition, and how do we actually do a reasonable analysis of the trade-off between competing traditions and values?

I mean, in the grand scheme of intercollegiate athletic history, 20 years is not nothing. The 12-team, Championship-Game-playing SEC is not really brand new any more. There is almost a generation of fans that have known nothing but, etc. 20 years is baby-time compared to world history, of course; but then, the entire existence of college football is baby-time compared to that kind of standard.

People from the Continent might laugh at us Americans because we've only been around 200 years or so. Yet, at the same time, there are plenty of ways in which our own time as a nation and culture are plenty long enough to give us a claim to a genuine claim to institutional and cultural continuity and to traditions worth upholding, etc.

College football, as a competitive endeavor undertaken with zest by educational institutions from all over the United States, is even now only barely older than a generous individual lifetime. A person celebrating their 100th birthday today has witnessed enough of college football’s historical evolution to lay reasonable claim to understanding the whole history of it (even though, certainly there were major changes made from 1869 to 1912). Within those chronological parameters, is 20-30 years really such a short time?

Think of Miami. It is common to hear Miami mocked, even now, as being a Johnny-come-lately to college football competitiveness. But, is the early 1980s really Johnny-come-lately any more? How long did northeastern supremacy last, once the whole country was really playing competitive football in earnest? About four decades? So Miami has been on the scene for almost as long now as a major power to be reckoned with as the classical powers (Yale, Harvard, etc.) held sway. (As a Bulldog, I refuse to apply this conciliation to Florida. Clearly.)

Looked at from the other side but in the same direction, a lot changes over time, too, no matter whether you are dealing with a more ancient arrangement or a more recent one. A lot certainly HAS changed in the entire era of the SEC. Not every change is desired by all parties; in fact, virtually no change is. Yet some changes nonetheless turn out to be necessary, or perhaps unavoidable (not quite the same thing?).

At this point, I'd be rather disappointed to lose the SEC Championship game. It's part of the deal now. But I also remember the SEC before it happened, and am not spitting on that former way of doing things. I just don't think it would be good to "go back." I likewise have little regrets over losing the Ole Miss rivalry. In 2002, I was sad to think it was ending, but I actually got over it pretty quickly. Not as though I think it had no value, but in that I’m happier playing LSU and Arkansas and Mississippi State more often than I would be if we simply knew we had Ole Miss every single year.

My experience and opinions are not normative, of course. I'm just saying that things do change, sometimes necessarily and sometimes not so. And, as a result of those changes, the "tradition" that we defend changes, too.

I would die on the hill of the Auburn rivalry. I am also not particularly worried about this tradition being seriously challenged, even despite recent reports that it came under discussion. The economic forces for the rest of the conference would have to be enormous to overcome the block of UGA, Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee on the issue of locked-in interdivisional rivalries.

Clemson is trickier. I WISH we could play Clemson regularly again, but I also sympathize with why we don't and am honestly not even sure we SHOULD given our new financial realities. But the new situation brings its own blessings, too, so I don't chalk it all up to a sad thing that "killed" a once good tradition.

When things change, you fight for what is most true, good, or beautiful within the older order, even as the order changes. That's all you can do. We reasonably disagree as to what is or is not "worth it" in a given trade off. I'm sad about Clemson, but I'm not altogether sure it's loss is "bad" going forward in our current reality. Even if it is, I don’t see how a breakaway by the East teams, Auburn, and Alabama would be a good solution in its own right.

This gets us back to the trade-off front in terms of defending traditions. Breaking away from the Mississippi schools and LSU (not to mention Arkansas), might be a small matter to UGA and to the other current SEC East members, but you would be asking Alabama especially to abandon some significant rivalries there. (Without looking it up, I understand that Auburn has historically been much more focused to the east in its schedules, but I imagine it has significant rivalries with the Miss schools in its own right too, doesn’t it?) Furthermore, you would be imposing a real “tradition cost” on the schools left behind. It isn’t clear why Georgia getting to keep all of its preferred rivalries is more important than LSU or Ole Miss getting to keep theirs.

But that’s not the point, we might argue. The point is that UGA and LSU/Ole Miss (or whoever) are simply on different paths now; their interests no longer align as they once did. Given that that is the case, every individual school is justified to seek an arrangement that satisfies it as much as possible, and if some schools “win” out over others in doing that, then so be it. Perhaps. But I think our connections to LSU and even Arkansas are stronger than that at this point, that we can blithely dismiss them and encourage them to join the Big 12 (or whatever) all in favor of us having things just the way that we want.

Again, this is a cost-benefit analysis in many ways, and reasonable people can disagree on the calculation because reasonable people will differ in how they value the different things that go into the decision. But in reading Kyle’s post, I personally could not escape the feeling that it was a “what’s best for Georgia (and South Carolina)” proposal, and that fans of other schools could do a very similar analysis to Kyle’s and argue for pulling the current SEC apart in different ways. It isn’t clear why the Georgia-centric way of peeling teams away should hold sway, unless we are just saying that we think we have the juice to pull it off and might makes right. (An utterly non-conservative principle, and one that Kyle obviously does not hold.)

Every school has its own idiosyncratic preferences and traditions, but to make a conference you have to combine those in a way that upholds most of them while also requiring some change of everyone. Georgia is particularly idiosyncratic in this regard, in that three of its more treasured rivalries were with non-SEC teams from the late 60s to the early 90s. (Tech, Carolina, and Clemson, obviously). In this regard, we should probably be thankful that one of these schools got added TO our conference in the 92 expansion. I’m not sure we should turn up our nose at what we have gained over the last 20 years in favor of lamenting what we have lost.

I think Kyle’s proposal is very satisfying as a get-everything-you-want option for Georgia and South Carolina. It is probably *acceptable* for the rest of the SEC East and Auburn, but doesn’t really offer them much to positively motivate them to change (and re-invoke the conservative dictum about change at this point!). And it is downright rough on the westernmost SEC schools (Bama, Ole Miss, Miss St, LSU, Arkansas), forcing those schools (whether they join the new proposed southeastern league or whether they are left to go elsewhere) to suffer a net loss to the traditions that are most important to them.

In the end, the current arrangement, so long as one lock-in inter-divisional game is kept in place, seems to me like it does a more than passable job of benefitting everyone with the financial and competitive opportunities of modernity while also preserving optimal traditionality. But, again, I understand that everyone’s mileage may vary here.
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