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Bless His Heart: A Southeastern Conference Partisan's Reply to Chuck Thompson

I know better than this. Really, I do. I realize the pointlessness of trying to lecture a Yankee or a scalawag who has dedicated himself singlemindedly to the task of denouncing the South; it has been an enterprise in which our fellow Americans have been engaged since the start of the republic. Occasionally, though, it is too much to ask a conscientious Southerner to remain silent in the face of some of the more egregious examples of such stupidity. Chuck Thompson’s Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession is just such an example.

Thompson’s incendiary title and provocative cover---which depicts a shotgun, a shapely female, the Republican Party elephant symbol, and the Christian fish emblem arrayed around a crude simulacrum of the Confederate battle flag---make it clear that the author has no intention even of attempting to strike a high mark, and his lowbrow pandering to the lowest common denominator does not disappoint.

In the second paragraph of his SEC-bashing excerpt, Thompson defines the league as “the twelve teams collectively regarded in the South -- and much of the rest of the country -- as whales to krill, The Beatles to Herman’s Hermits, jackhammer sex with Mila Kunis to dry humping your junior prom date standing up in her parents’ garage.” That outrageous exaggeration is typical of Thompson’s unsubtle approach, as is his tin ear for metaphor. Mila Kunis? Dude, we ain’t from Wisconsin, so we have better alternatives for female companionship than Kelso and Hyde had, including but not limited to our junior prom dates. Also, Chuckles, before you start breaking bad with my conference, you might want to do a quick Google search and learn that there now are fourteen teams in the SEC . . . unless, of course, you’re just riffing on the Big Ten’s infamous inability to count the number of football teams in a conference.

Thompson proceeds to assert that “SEC dominance is a very recent phenomenon,” noting that the league’s 57.14 per cent national championship-winning rate in the BCS era represents “a stunning turnaround when compared with an undisputed national title rate of 10.42 percent over the half-century prior.” Note the qualifier “undisputed.” Divided titles, which were quite common in the pre-BCS era, do not count, in Thompson’s estimation, so he gives the SEC no credit for the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 1973 UPI championship or 1978 AP crown, or for titles bestowed by minor selectors, such as those awarded to the Auburn Tigers in 1983 or the Florida Gators in 1984.

Thompson then proceeds to trot out such shopworn, and laughable, canards as the one about how “SEC teams frequently play in bowls near home stadiums.” Yeah. So? When the Georgia Bulldogs travel to Columbia, S.C., to face the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Red and Black are playing near their home stadium; that doesn’t make it easy to win in Williams-Brice Stadium, though, and, location notwithstanding, a site is a neutral site if both sides get half the tickets. Just last season, Georgia beat Florida in Jacksonville, the LSU Tigers beat the Bulldogs in Atlanta, and Alabama beat Louisiana State in New Orleans, so spare me the tripe about how it’s unfair to have to play on a neutral field that’s closer to the other team’s hometown than your own. It ain’t like northerners are unwilling to head down I-75 to the Sunshine State at Christmastime.

Thompson notes that SEC squads have been far from dominant against other AQ leagues, and places special emphasis on regular season meetings as being more revealing, as if conference-wide conclusions could be drawn from, e.g., the Michigan Wolverines’ win over the Vanderbilt Commodores in the Big House to start the 2006 season, in which the Maize and Blue went 11-2 and the Music City Mariners went 4-8. Yeah, there’s a basis for widespread extrapolation.

We’re talking about the SEC here, so, naturally, there has to be a conspiracy theory, Pawwwwwwwl. Thompson’s paranoid prattling focuses on the Worldwide Leader’s investment in SEC supremacy. His thesis is that the Southeastern Conference has gotten the benefit of the doubt since the BCS began in 1998 because ESPN signed a 15-year television deal with the Southeastern Conference in 2008, a decade later. I mean, dang, Chuck, I know y’all can’t count up there---the twelve-team Midwestern league is called the Big Ten, and, apparently, the 14-team SEC has twelve teams, too---but how exactly do you reckon ESPN knew to give preferential treatment to the SEC ten years before signing the deal you say put in the fix? Does somebody in Bristol have one of them Wayback Machines?

This, asserts Thompson, explains the sinister exchange occurring on “Pardon the Interruption” in which Michael Wilbon said, “I’m in agreement this time with the SEC.” Ah, yes, the Worldwide Leader, well known for its incessant Southeastern Conference pandering, as exhibited by noted Dixie homer Kirk Herbstreit, who stumped for Florida over Michigan in 2006 and shamelessly boosted the Bulldogs in 2007. No wait, I’m sorry, that didn’t happen at all, did it? Sorry to mess up your pet theory with inconvenient facts, there, Chuckster, but there’s a reason Wilbon said “this time”; it ain’t every time.

But wait! There’s more! Evidence of the overt pimping of the SEC may be found in the fact that Auburn made it into the national title game by being ranked No. 23 to start the season and beating higher-ranked conference foes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Georgia. Of course, there’s a bit of a divorce from reality there, as the Bulldogs were no longer ranked by the time the two teams met in November, but the Plainsmen went 14-0 against a slate that included six games against teams ranked in the top 25 on the day of the game.

Two of those contests were against South Carolina. The Gamecocks were ranked twelfth when the SEC stalwarts met in the regular season, and the Garnet and Black were ranked 18th heading into the SEC Championship Game. South Carolina was ranked 22nd in the final poll, primarily by virtue of having lost to the Tigers twice. Auburn also beat teams ranked 12th (Arkansas), ninth (Alabama), sixth (Louisiana State), and second (Oregon) at the time of the game. All four of those teams remained in the top twelve in the final poll. Besides, the Plainsmen beat the only other undefeated AQ team in the BCS Championship Game, and, six years earlier, they were left out of the title tilt altogether because they began the season ranked in the teens. I hate Auburn, but don’t go telling me the Tigers are evidence of the system’s pro-SEC bias unless you’re prepared to learn a little history from as far back as 2004, there, Chucky. You remember 2004, don’t you? It was four years before ESPN signed the deal that compromised the Worldwide Leader’s integrity, and it was six years after the Worldwide Leader began compromising its integrity based on a deal that had not yet occurred. Damn, now I know why those folks have such a hard time keeping up with the math. I can barely follow it, and I’ve watched every “Doctor Who” episode from the Tom Baker and Peter Davison eras!

There is more, and I could go on, but the point has been made, and, frankly, I have better things about which to worry. It suffices to say, in closing, that Chuck Thompson’s Southern-slighting manifesto is strained in its interpretations, is willful in its overlooking of unhelpful facts, and is evidence of some outsiders’ pathetic insistence upon making the South the focus of their fixations. I appreciate the compliment, really, I do, but, honestly, I don’t see the need for all the fuss. Maybe it’s just ‘cause I’m from around here, but, really, I go whole days---weeks, even---without giving so much as a single thought to what folks in other places are doing. The attention is nice and all, but, really, people ought to focus on what’s theirs and not get all hot and bothered over what’s not.

Much like Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Exodus 20:17 warns us not to covet, instructing us thusly: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (I apologize for the superfluous “u”s, but, when I get all riled up, I go with the King James Version.) Chuck Thompson, and folks like him, need to quit coveting my ass, and need to start worrying about my football team kicking his football team’s, instead.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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