Sorry Longhorns fans, but it’s true. A conference can’t produce seven straight BCS champions* and not be considered the best. In an age of a rank-happy, list-everything-in-order-of-best-to-worst media, SEC has to be #1.
The reason I bring up this tired, what’s-the-best-conference debate is because of a comment Bob Stoops made in May to the Tulsa World regarding the media’s bias towards the SEC.
“So you’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you,” Stoops said. “You’re more than smart enough to figure it out. Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight (of the SEC), whatever they are. How well are they all doing?”
“What’d we (the Big 12) have, eight of 10 teams in bowl games this year? Again, you figure it all out.”
I would never accuse Bob Stoops of being an eloquent man, and these comments make a healthy addition to his litany of wince-worthy statements. However, Stoops has a point.
Let's ignore his allegations that the bottom of the SEC is weaker than the bottom of the BIG 12. I would argue he’s spot on with that assessment, but that debate can only be settled on the field. Instead, I want to focus on Stoops’ overarching point, the media’s seemingly large influence on today’s college athletics.
Granted, the AP Poll is not included in a team’s final BCS ranking, but it’s tough to argue the media carries no weight at all.
Today, sports news is on a 24-hour cycle via ESPN, perhaps the biggest conflict-of-interest-riddled media outlet in the world. ESPN wants to hype the good teams, the teams they think will make the big bowl games, because they want to incite national interest and increase ratings for games on their network. They cleverly deem such matchups “hotly anticipated.” Voters listen to this hype and it can, even on a subconscious level, have an effect on their voting.
Now, to call this “propaganda” is taking it a little far. It’s not as if Nick Saban is controlling the strings in Bristol, Connecticut. And to suggest there’s intentional malice behind this bias is silly, and Stoops should know better.
ESPN does not have a vendetta against the BIG 12 or any other conference, nor do they have an SEC agenda. ESPN hypes what they believe are the best teams in the nation, and any team at the top of the conference responsible for the past seven champions, would have to sit at top of that list. If the BIG 12 won seven BCS Championships in a row, they would receive the same treatment. It makes sense.
What’s unfortunate is that this could have, or has already had (I’m looking at you 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys), an effect on which teams play for the national title. And this won’t get any better with the new playoff system. The new system will take the top four teams, regardless of whether they won their conference or not. So, it’s not inconceivable to think that three out of the four teams could come from the same conference, and that’s where I draw the line.
Regardless of the SEC’s “distinction” of being the best conference, they are far from invincible. Just ask Garrett Gilbert. Remember him? Gilbert almost beat the big, bad Crimson Tide as UT’s backup QB in the 2009 BCS Championship game. Of course, most Horns fans now think of him as SMU’s starting quarterback, having changed schools because he couldn’t cut the mustard in burnt orange.
No conference is so elite to be deemed unbeatable. The top of the SEC is good, damn good, but I would rather not go through the torture of having to sit through another LSU vs. Alabama title game. Unfortunately, if the national media continues to big up the teams at the top of the SEC, Tide vs. Tigers is exactly where we could be headed.
You’re on a big stage, national media. Don’t mess it up.
*It is my belief that all pre-playoff champions should be considered “BCS Champions” and not “National Champions.” Kind of like the NFL pre-Super Bowl.
Brian Kendall is a Staff Writer for Horns Illustrated. You can follow him on twitter at @TheBrianKendall