Monday, May 13, 2013

Lines in the Sand

By Jean Neuberger

Seven consecutive national titles have established the might of the Southeastern Conference.

On May 2, the SEC took their might and power to a whole new level.

The announcement of the SEC Network took no one by surprise. Most everyone saw it coming. However, the press conference did draw lines in the sand; lines that will help shape and define the future culture of college athletics. And yes, at this moment, the SEC is that powerful.

The first line was simple. The other power conferences lost a key negotiating chip. The SEC and ESPN did not release financial details. I strongly doubt they ever will. As old contracts expired, conferences continued to attempt to outbid each other in a mad dash for more cash and more exposure. However, the refusal to announce financial information made it firmly clear that the bidding war, if any, will be for second place.

Bob Stoops may not like that. However, the Big 12, nor any other conference, can match the SEC's record in the BCS. The collegiate world is a fight for cash. The key is football. The SEC has held that key for seven straight years. No longer will other conferences get a chance to outbid the current leader. The SEC will reign supreme in terms of cash flow. Despite so many successes on the field, this lone fact might be Mike Slive's top achievement.

The second line was drawn at the one school who bucked the conference trend and launched their own network: Texas, a program that is far from firing on all cylinders.

When the Longhorn Network was launched, it was the Texas way of proclaiming their dominance in the landscape of college athletics. The network, while feeding money into the program, has certainly not been what Texas thought it could be. Meanwhile, Texas A&M, reaping the benefits of their new conference, will only stand as a bigger threat to the Longhorn program, including the Longhorn Network.

Doubtful? Remember, the Longhorn Network gets two football games a season. The SEC Network will have 45. A football-hungry nation will have little trouble finding a feast on the new network; putting Texas A&M, along with the other 13 schools, in more homes. That's not good news for the Longhorns, let alone any other football program.

Finally, the line has been drawn for the smaller conferences that have little to no room at the BCS table. For those schools, the space at the head table is shrinking rapidly.

The "mid-majors" left a chance for a national title to join the ranks of the BCS level schools and rake in more cash for their programs. That's all well and good, except now, with TV being the fuel that drives the economic engine, the mid-majors are again being left behind by the bigger schools.

US News reported in 2011 that Troy had an endowment just shy of $400,000. Alabama spent 10 times that amount just sending its team to the BCS title game in Miami last January.

The SEC Network is a major way of dividing the haves from the definite have-nots. Parity is spreading in other college sports. That's not going to happen anytime soon on the gridiron. While most of the small schools will still gladly accept a paycheck to play the bigger name schools ... and sometimes beat them, the gap in money, facilities and exposure will continue to keep established programs firmly entrenched at the top of the mountain.

They had the power. They made the deal. Lines were drawn.

There might or might not be an eighth straight title. Regardless, the might of the SEC won't be fading away anytime soon.

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