We used to have a segment around here called "Kyle Gets Contrary," but that feature hasn’t appeared recently, perhaps because everything was going so well for the Georgia Bulldogs that there really was nothing about which to complain. (That’s a joke, folks.) However, it appears I have been saving up my cantankerousness, contrariness, and vitriol for just the right moment, and that moment is now.
You’re all aware that Steve Spurrier has suggested that the SEC Championship Game participants be determined by division record alone, without regard to the results of conference games played against teams from the opposite division. This is, of course, a self-serving and stupid idea, and Mark Richt said so as politely as possible, but the regular recurrence of dumb and historically unpalatable ideas has me thinking the Red and Black should consider a reaction as extreme as the provoking actions have been.
Accordingly, in recognition of the fact that today is Confederate Memorial Day (and also, incidentally, John Isner’s birthday, though that is neither here nor there, really), I hereby respectfully suggest that the University of Georgia secede from the Southeastern Conference. Here is why:
I begin from a pair of premises that are very much in keeping with the spirit of the day. First of all, loyalty to institutions is hierarchical, so that one may be loyal to two institutions simultaneously only to the extent that the interests of both are not in conflict with one another, and, if such a conflict emerges, one must proceed in order of priority when choosing one over the other. Secondly, when assigning that order of priority, the concrete precedes the abstract and the personal trumps the universal. That, in essence (and irrespective of the political issues of the day that prompted the sense that particular institutional loyalties were incompatible with one another), is the philosophical outlook that led our ancestors to break away from the ties that previously had bound them; when it was decided by Georgians, rightly or wrongly, that the interests of their state and the interests of the United States had diverged, the natural next step was to eschew the larger, more amorphous, and farther away in favor of the smaller, better defined, and nearer. Reasonable citizens may debate the accuracy of their assessment of their situation, or the morality of their reasons for arriving at that assessment, but the principles they followed after arriving at their conclusion were sound, and thoroughly in keeping with American notions of independence enunciated at Philadelphia in 1776.
As it was with the perceived divergence of the interests of Georgia and of the United States, so it is with any similar divergence in the interests of the University of Georgia and of the Southeastern Conference; my loyalty to the SEC is derived entirely from my loyalty to UGA, and I care not one whit for the former, except to the extent that it serves the latter.
That may sound harsh, but I value Georgia’s membership in the league because it has served to preserve the longstanding traditions that have helped to define my sense of myself as a Bulldog fan. The formation of the SEC in 1933 helped to preserve, perpetuate, and cement such Red and Black rivalries as those with Auburn, Florida, and (at the time) Georgia Tech, all of which antedated the establishment of the conference by decades, but each of which has been played annually (except for interruptions during World War II) since the SEC came into being. In the case of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the formation of the SEC coincided with the permanent placement of the game in Jacksonville after a vagabond existence that carried it, in succession, from Macon to Athens to Tampa to Savannah to Gainesville during the period, from 1904 to 1932, during which the game was never played in the same city in consecutive campaigns.
Even after the Yellow Jackets’ defection, the structure of the Southeastern Conference served to maintain many of the Bulldogs’ defining attributes. League members set their own schedules, and were required only to arrange six conference games in order to qualify for an SEC championship. This allowed the Red and Black to play Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech annually in league play, and also to face Clemson and South Carolina regularly in non-conference contests. This flexibility permitted Alabama and Georgia to play yearly when they chose to do so, and to refrain from playing yearly when they became so inclined. When Georgia Tech left the league suddenly, Georgia was allowed to designate another game to count in the SEC standings instead.
Since 1987, however, the winds have been blowing in a different direction. When the conference schedule expanded from six to seven games, the Bulldogs no longer were able to play both Palmetto State rivals each autumn, but were forced instead to rotate two-year home-and-away series with the Gamecocks and the Tigers. When the SEC expanded from ten to twelve teams in 1992, a rigid scheduling model set by the league office in Birmingham was imposed, rendering inflexible conference schedules in their entirety and out-of-conference schedules in significant part.
The switch from two permanent inter-divisional rivals to one ended the Bulldogs’ annual series with Ole Miss after it was played for 37 straight seasons, just over half of the 70 years that then had elapsed in the conference’s history; the year I celebrated the birthday that rendered me Constitutionally eligible to seek the presidency of the United States also was the first of my lifetime in which the Bulldogs and the Rebels did not square off on the gridiron. Likewise, the addition of one perennial foe from the state to our immediate right as a permanent fixture on the SEC slate produced the longest break in series history with our other South Carolinian rival; never in their respective football histories had Georgia and Clemson gone more than seven years without playing one another until the current hiatus.
The latest round of expansion produced serious discussions of eliminating permanent inter-division rivals altogether, of expanding the conference schedule again to nine games (a 50 per cent increase over what it was just 25 years ago!), and, now, of not counting cross-division contests. These suggestions, respectively, would (i) end the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry as an annual affair after more than a century during which the Georgia-Auburn series was interrupted only by world wars; (ii) likely doom forever the prospects for reviving the Georgia-Clemson rivalry, the renewal of which recently appeared gravely imperiled before wiser heads prevailed; and (iii) cause yearly meetings between the Bulldogs and the Plainsmen to cease to count in the conference standings, ensuring that never again would a Georgia victory in Jordan-Hare Stadium cause the Red and Black faithful to look at the sugar falling from the sky. These are more than mere fungible aspects of our history; these are characteristics that define our athletic heritage, the sacrifice of which reduces our sense of ourselves as who we are, leaving us lessened in the process.
Simply stated, we rapidly are reaching the point at which the perpetuation of the Southeastern Conference is antithetical to the purposes for which it was created, and, if and when that occurs---as it now appears certain it will, if it has not already---it is clear that our loyalties lie not in the Magic City, but in the Classic City. Not to get all Thomas Jefferson on you or anything, but, when conferences cease to serve the ends for which leagues were instituted, it is the right---it is the duty---of the people to alter or abolish them.
In that spirit, let me just lay it all on the line: I, as a Georgia fan, want to play Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and---yes, Gamecock fans, I’m getting to y’all---South Carolina in football every year, and, consequently, I support any structure that facilitates that arrangement, and I oppose any structure that serves as an impediment to it. Playing Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana State, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas A&M are nice and all, but, at the end of the day, they aren’t worth sacrificing our five biggest rivals; heck, I’d rather play the Rebels than any of them, and not just because Mississippi’s mascot fits well with the holiday today from which this posting draws its themes.
When the Southern Conference became unwieldy because it contained too many schools spread out too far geographically, there was a mass exodus from the league, and the Southeastern Conference was the result. The SEC appears to be heading in the same direction as the successor to the old SIAA, and it may be time for the world to turn once more. I say get while the getting is good and make a clean break by choice rather than necessity.
Get Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina on board. (I’m guessing some Gator fans, at least, wouldn’t be hard to convince.) While we’re going and getting Georgia Tech on board, get the other three to go convince Alabama, Florida State, and Clemson to come with us. Since taking Alabama means taking Tennessee, and since taking Tennessee means taking Vanderbilt, go grab them, too. After that, fill up the last two spots with somebody---Kentucky if Tennessee insists; N.C. State if you just need a warm body---and form a twelve-team, two-division league with a championship game, and now you’re in business.
Speaking of being in business, don’t talk to me about dollar signs, because now is the perfect time to defect. The SEC is currently in negotiations with its TV partners to arrange better deals financially. Do you think Mike Slive’s position might be undermined a little bit by the departures of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee from the conference ranks? I have no problem scuttling that ship, bringing a shiny new cruiser into port at New Orleans, and sending the rest of the league into the waiting arms of the Big 12. Heck, half of the teams we’d be leaving behind are used to sharing a conference with Texas, anyway.
Opposing fans like to complain that we’re holding up progress? Hey, there’s progress all over the place here, baby. Besides, if you put the Bulldogs in the same division with Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina, I won’t care about all that other stuff that’s a big deal to me now. I won’t need inter-divisional rivalries, because all our rivals will be in our division, anyway; you can rotate the whole rest of the conference however you like. I won’t mind eight or nine or however many conference games you want to play at that point, because every rival who matters will be in the league, anyway.
The SEC has been good to us, but our interests and the league’s no longer are as aligned as they once were, and that divergence is growing. I’d be content to give up the right to chant “S-E-C!” in exchange for regaining the right to chant “U-G-A!” and know there was no hypocrisy or compromise inherent in that exhortation. The road the Southeastern Conference has chosen to travel no longer overlaps with the path the University of Georgia should follow, and that has brought us to a moment of decision. I know not what course others may take, but, as for me, I will be true to my school.