S andestin—The Hilton on the Beachside of the Sandestin Resort is a perfect setting for the SEC elite. Segars Restaurant in the resort serves foie gras as an appetizer, a $46 USDA Prime filet or if you are in the mood for sharing a two-person Chateaubriand priced at $100. The resort is a combination of reserved opulence and a touristy mood with crowds of visitors willing to pay $9 for a bowl of gumbo at Baytowne Wharf.
It is just like the SEC. The conference is full of staid tradition supported by millions of fans spending their dollars boosting the conference coffers.
The media descended on Sandestin to cover this year’s conference meetings. While the crowd is not in the same numbers as show up for Media Days, it is a who’s who of national journalists (with at least one Internet douche included.)
Why are so many eyes fixed on Destin? Because it matters what Mike Slive says about a college football playoff, a future SEC television network and the SEC football schedule.
The SEC has always mattered. However, the SEC matters like never before in its history.
Birmingham’s forgotten Legion Field once proclaimed Birmingham as the Football Capital of the South. Rust and time took their toll on the Old Gray Lady and Birmingham faded into the pages of on-the-field football lore.
Birmingham is no longer the Football Capital of the South.
It is the Football Capital of the World; The college football world anyway.
With six consecutive BCS National Championships, the SEC has ushered in a new era of college football. It is an era where Birmingham and for one week a year Destin matter more than Chicago or Walnut Creek, California.
It is the center of college football because of success on the field and success in management. There is no conference commissioner as wise as Mike Slive.
The SEC’s management is the most professional it has ever been. There is real direction powered by a vision for the conference.
Slive navigated the waters of conference expansion and sailed the SEC into a harbor of untold wealth. The expansion added Missouri and Texas A&M into the SEC’s footprint—something very important for television dollars.
Slive achieved his success in expansion because of a commitment to equity. The SEC treats all its members the same. This appealed to Missouri and Texas A&M who lived in a league where Texas was primus inter pares.
This philosophy permeates the entire operation.
The SEC Digital Network makes sure to provide coverage of all member institutions and of all SEC sponsored sports. According to SEC Digital Network General Manager Ben Godwin, this is one of the charges the conference provided the network when it launched. (You can read more about the SEC Digital Network in this Q&A we posted with Godwin and you can learn more about SEC Today host Hannah Chalker in this interview.)
The SEC Digital Network is another example of how the conference moved with wisdom. When the conference needed to manage its copyrighted material (about 25-30 years worth of archival footage), the conference found an experienced partner. This has been a good thing for the conference as it works with XOS Digital to stay in front of the technological curve.
Observers looking to discover what a future SEC television network might resemble should learn from the lesson of the SEC Digital Network. It is clear that the SEC likes working with partners who possess the necessary experience and technology to be a force in the industry. This would seem to narrow television partners considerably.
The future of college football is being discussed in conference meetings across the country, but being here at Sandestin, one gets the impression that the decisions made here matter more than elsewhere in college football.
It is true because Mike Slive is here and his voice while soft and calm carries more weight than any other conference commissioner. He is just smarter than the rest, and his record proves it.