Nick Saban returned the Alabama Crimson Tide to its lofty annual championship perch, restored its time-honored and tested tradition; and has helped simultaneously bolster the marketing brand of the Southeastern Conference as one of the nation's top sporting outfits. I say outfit because the SEC is so big and powerful, and now such a de facto amateur stop for fast-tracking professionals--for both player and coach, that it is really not like its stated competition--the other, lesser collegiate conferences. Instead, it is more like its more woke, professional counterpart, the misguided NFL, wielding a larger market share, commanding a much larger built-in fan base than other power 5 conferences, despite its identical, self-imposed political correctness, social equity task forces and virtue signaling on a level most SEC fans find unfavorable on the back end of a Pandemic that looked political. After a season on the brink of unthinkable Covid-19 lock downs forcing an unprecedented 10-game, all-conference schedule, one wonders what the future of the nation's toughest football-playing conference holds in store for its universities, alumni, coaches, players and fans, as America redefines its entertainment priorities in the wake of the onslaught of the great reset predicting multiple future years of mask-wearing proffered as the ignominious "new normal."
Eclipsing the Bear
Although it appears the league is returning to its regular, traditional 12-game schedule with eight conference opponents and four non-conference foes, it remains to be seen, as the new normal is that nothing is set in stone. Saban has won eight national championships in football, one at LSU and seven at the Capstone, meaning his legendary shadow now eclipses that of his magnanimous predecessor, the Yellowhammer's immortal life giver, Paul Bear Bryant. This is Saban's true legacy--beating the Bear's records. The fact that he did it at the Bear's school only emboldens the former legend, while extolling the new, in a way few coaches can be exalted. Because of this, Saban's eventual departure will leave two voids: One for Alabama, and one for the conference, as his talent and reign are equally unprecedented.
The league has seen many changes over the past few years, not the least of which has been a propensity to speed the game up and spread the field with exotic offensive sets, motions and quick passing plays that accentuate the inherent advantages offenses have over defenses. This, more than anything, has altered the game from a former low-scoring, defensive affair, to a high-scoring offensive juggernaut. The transition has been fan-happy, as offense sells tickets, but it has left many wondering how it became so difficult to any longer see dominating defense. Like tailgating and fan attendance, it appears a thing of the past. But it makes one wonder what future changes loom post the grand reset, threatening to further dilute the revered weekend cultural experience, social rite and pastime.
A Transfer of Success
The transfer rule has had a tremendous impact on college football, and the Southeastern Conference. Since 2000, the SEC has won sixty percent of the national championships, dominating the American gridiron landscape without compunction, worry or dismay. This statistic was bolstered by the transfer of junior Joe Burrow from Ohio State to LSU, in 2018. After a yeoman's effort in 2018 that saw the Tigers win a gritty, come from behind bowl game victory over Central Florida, in 2019, LSU caught lightning in a bottle, went 15-0 and became what is considered the SEC and the country's greatest college football team. Nevertheless, a serious college football observer could argue that LSU would have never reached such heights had it not been fixated on beating its arch-rival, the vaunted, envied and copied, universally-hated and loved, Alabama Crimson Tide, led by its former championship head coach, Nick Saban. The Tigers knew that year that the road to the championship went through Tuscaloosa--and it did. The same still bodes true.
LSU finds itself two years removed from that unforeseen, magical, surreal perfect season; a glinted treasure tucked away in Tiger folklore. The Bayou Bengals are not known for repeating championships. The Epicurean flair of the Louisiana capital city works against such Herculean triumphs, unlike in Tuscaloosa, where they're the prescribed norm and stated purpose. Predictably, LSU went 5-5 a year ago, barely missing an overall losing effort due to a late-season upset win over the Gators in Gainesville, a game many tabbed as the SEC game of the year in terms of entertainment value. LSU's true freshman, left-handed quarterback, Super Max Johnson, led the Tigers in an improbable road victory over the highly-ranked, East-leading Florida Gators, coached by Merlins himself--Dan Mullen, a coach humbled by his own machinations. A self-imposed bowl ban and scholarship forfeitures (8) precluded the Tigers from any post-season practices or games, putting a merciful end to what many Tiger fans considered a disappointing slate, especially when juxtaposed with its prior year accomplishments.
A Good Aggie Joke
The Texas A&M Aggies were the most abused/least loved team in Power 5 a year ago. Snubbed for losing only to undefeated Alabama, A&M went on to win its bowl game against a solid North Carolina club, its finest season under Fat Stacks Jimbo Fisher, a coach finally gaining a foothold in the treacherous SEC Western Division pecking order. The Ags deserved a spot in the playoff--which begs for an expanded format, so these types of wrongs don't again happen. Egregious slights like that which happened to the Aggies only make college football look even more like the antiquated, disjointed, top-down organization supposedly in charge of it all--the sanctimonious, and self-serving NCAA. The Aggies not making the playoff remains the biggest joke of the season. Meanwhile, what has been done to expand to eight teams?
LSU, as an athletic department, is grappling with a number of festering issues. LSU basketball coach Will Wade has become the Bad Boy of college basketball, supporting the notion that a coach can bend or even not follow the rules, depending on rock-solid political connections to pave the way and smooth things over so the charade can go on. Wade's Tigers defeated 16th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, making them 8-4 in league play heading into late February. Membership in the NCAA cool club certainly has its privileges. Ask gangster Will Wade.
Meanwhile, late last year it was revealed by an avalanche of news reporting, led by USA Today and other national media outlets, that LSU has had nine (9) football players that were reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence since Coach Ed Orgeron took over the program. In some of these important cases, no disciplinary action was taken. In all of the cases, LSU failed to maintain internal policies and allegedly did not follow the law prescribed for such conflicts involving a violent offender and his victim. This created a particularly difficult situation for the university and the athletic department, moving forward, a proverbial Gordian Knot for Athletic Director Scott Woodward, the former assistant to then-Chancellor Mark Emmert, Nick Saban's former boss at LSU and now, NCAA President. Where all of this is headed remains to be seen, as it appears LSU is fighting a battle on many different fronts. The national media bent on social justice. Parents of the victims want equity, protection and fairness under Title IX Law. Reform advocates demand the protection of female athletes and victims inside what is perceived as a malicious, male-dominated, corrupt fiefdom bent on winning football.
*Chris Warner is the author of over 20 books. He lives in Perdido Key, Florida.
Visit his web page: chriswarnerauthor.com
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