Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And as commentator Frank Deford reminds us, it's also time for college football.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Well, the Southeastern Conference season has begun. I have it on good authority, too, that other college football teams around the country will also be playing games this fall.

I don't know when exactly it was that the SEC took over America. I know this is hard to believe, but the epicenter of college football used to be in the Midwest. I'm so old I can remember when Notre Dame actually mattered.

Now, this is not to say that college football in the South hasn't always been important. Football is the war game, and Dixie has always produced a disproportionate number of our warriors. Major league professional sports were late in coming to the South, so college football down there has, even now, less competition.

But the national primacy of the SEC is relatively new. SEC teams have won the last six BCS titles, and the SEC not only has a huge multi-billion dollar contract with ESPN, but a backup one with CBS - so both networks swoon over the SEC. The national hype now exists with the regional passion. The SEC is ubiquitous. And it's also expanding.

The SEC has moved out into Texas and up into Missouri. Basically though, the SEC has always been Deep South, plus Kentucky. Kentucky is apparently allowed in the conference so that everybody else but Vanderbilt gets a guaranteed win, plus Kentucky bourbon can fuel those famous Southern tailgate parties.

But, of course, it's impossible to ignore the pride that the South feels for its football. As no other section of the country remains so closely connected - save your Confederate money, boys. So does no other section of the country boast of a regional predominance in any sport. And just because the Yankees have won all these years, the Northeast has never said, hey, we got the best baseball up here. It's impossible not to sense that because the South usually brings up the rear in important things like health, education and income, it looks to college football to enhance its national standing.

In the new book, "Better Off Without 'Em," in which the author Chuck Thompson argues that the rest of the country would be improved if the South really did secede, he quotes Colin Cowherd, an ESPN host, as accounting for the SEC's success primarily because the region is so high in, quote, "poverty and obesity."

The South's pride in its college football success is really quite analogous to what Notre Dame used to mean to Roman Catholics, back when there was tremendous prejudice against the religion and its parishioners were viewed as second-class citizens.

But what is different today is that Southerners are not just loyal to their particular football school. The team's league has earned an allegiance that truly matters and is unique in American sport. Of course, it also helps, as always, that the SEC is a winner.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from