From the archives: The lure of Southern football

While I’m taking a summer break from the blog, I’m reposting and updating selected links from the archive.

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When Florida State defeated Auburn in the last BCS title game in January, it ended a seven-year run for the SEC in winning national championship games.

But the trophy still remains in the South, whose hallowed college football ground is becoming very expensive.

Paul Finebaum BookAs I wrote in “A few riffs on the culture of Southern football” in November 2012, the appetite for college football, and the SEC in particular, appears to be insatiable, as evidenced by growing TV contracts:

“While those beasts grow ever larger, and must constantly be fed to a possibly unsustainable degree, this is about more than commercialism and the desire to win. The Southern complex of wanting to be better than those damn Yankees at something doesn’t fully explain it, either, although it does contain the seeds of this cultural fervor.”

A week from today, on Aug. 14, ESPN will launch the SEC Network, which figures to make your cable bill go up whether you live in Birmingham, Detroit, Seattle or Boston. The deal is a 20-year marriage that will significantly alter the financial equation for an already lucrative conference — although we don’t know how much right now.

(Clay Travis has worked up some numbers that even he finds astonishing, FWIW, but I think this may be an overestimate. Others worry about ethical issues for ESPN, which is airing the entire College Football Playoff.)

The rich are not only growing richer, they’re also pricing themselves into a different planetary system. One of the few non-SEC entities that can hang financially is Texas, which if SEC radio host Paul Finebaum is to be believed, offered some astonishing cash to lure Nick Saban away from Alabama.

In his book “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football,” which was released this week, Finebaum set the figure at $100 million.

Saban didn’t take the money — he signed a $6.9 million annual extension in December — and Texas hired Charlie Strong away from Louisville.

But it’s suspense like this that makes the SEC prime gridiron soap opera fare.

And now that ESPN is corralling so much more of the SEC enterprise — it hired Finebaum and assigned its own Gene Wojciechowski to help him write the book — the Worldwide Leader has a programming interest that’s second only to the NFL. The SEC is much richer, but less autonomous.

My post two years ago was more about the culture of college football in the South, and how that culture endures regardless of the money being thrown around. How the SEC handles that cultural legacy from here might be as carefully noted as the on-the-field and financial success that’s sure to continue to come its way.

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