Slive fights the Balkanization of the SEC

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive administers a conference flush with cash. Tony Barnhart’s blog this morning on the SEC points out the $2.8 billion television deals and the national exposure of the SEC’s deal. The SEC has changed from its past, and things are better today than ever before. The league is more competitive than ever.

What is remarkable is the rise of the rest of the conference, to borrow from Fareed Zakaria. The Alabama hegemony of the 1960s and 1970s has fallen away, and the only school that has exerted a claim to a new hegemony was the 1990s version of the Florida Gators under former head coach Steve Spurrier. Today, while Florida is the superpower in the SEC East, the remainder of the conference has surged forward too. LSU has won a national title. Alabama has improved, and looks to assert its former dominance. Auburn was powerful under Tommy Tuberville, but while it looks impotent under Gene Chizik, it could still prove to be important in the quest for the crown. Ole Miss is a top ten program in 2009 too. Georgia is a consistent power under Mark Richt.

With the rise of the rest, there are greater expectations, and greater conflict when those expectations are not met. The best example is how Auburn fans reacted to failure on the recruiting trail; according to the fans, it wasn’t Auburn’s failure. According to Auburn fans, Alabama cheated, and if you don’t believe that, just read the message boards. Also, take a look at what a few Auburn fans had to say about Slive after Alabama’s latest NCAA case. It was nasty.

The SEC looks more like the chaotic multipolar system of 1914 Europe than a successful business empire. Barnhart makes a great point today, the SEC can destroy itself. And Commissioner Slive is fighting that descent into tribalism.

According to Barnhart, “Slive had to have a heart to heart with his football coaches at the SEC Spring meetings in Destin. Actually, it was a lot more forceful than that. He had gotten fed up with the back biting among some of the coaches in the press and basically read them the riot act. The message was received and understood by the coaches. “

Too bad Slive can’t have this talk with fans and boosters. Envy, fear and greed motivate most of the nasty rumors on the Internet and talk radio. Fans must stop hiring private investigators to snoop on rivals, and enjoy what the conference is today. Football, like power, is a zero-sum game. However, the economics of football isn’t—even Vanderbilt benefits from the SEC television contracts. Today, you can see every SEC game, and the conference has claimed three straight national championships. Life is good. Fans need to appreciate that before the conference follows the path of destruction like the old SWC.