The Southeastern Conference means so many things to so many people across that region of the United States. It is home to 12 proud universities, hosting 12 athletic departments that have produced some of the greatest collegiate programs in the history of sports.
The Alabama Crimson Tide produced a football dynasty under Coach Bear Bryant in the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s that set the bar for greatness.
Kentucky means basketball in SEC land, and their Wildcats, under Coach Adolph Rupp, set the gold standard in the 1940s and 1950s that has carried over to today.
And, in baseball, how can you beat five World Series Championships in a decade, engineered by Skip Bertman and his LSU Tigers in the 1990s.
These are a sample of the programs that have emerged over the years as examples of consistent excellence. However, these noted programs can attribute much of their success to an ultra-competitive conference, with other very talented teams, constantly nipping at their heels, pushing them to achieve their absolute collective most.
This persistent competitiveness, nearly from top to bottom in almost every sport, has been the fuel that has ignited a fire of fanaticism unmatched in the land. Simply put, the SEC has the most rabid and vocal fans that, if not literally, spiritually bleed the colors of their respective teams.
I think, being situated in the South, already lends to a territorial mindset, that has been passed down through history. People in the South are very proud of who they are and where they are from. Mix this self-identity with inter-regional competition and it begins to look like a replay of the Hatfields and McCoys, being played out on the gridiron, hardwood, and diamond.
Let there be no mistake though—the south is football country first and foremost, with all other sports trailing behind. Yes, March Madness gets the basketball juices flowing, and baseball is starting attract more and more of a loyal following, but there is just something about football and the South that goes together.
There is something about football, in its territorial protection of real estate through brute force and tactical design, that gets deep into the blood of a Southerner. It is in our DNA, passed down from ancestors who defended real estate in a more literal sense.
Alabama versus Auburn—need I say more?
These are two uber-proud football programs staking claim to the same territory every November. If this isn't the Hatfields running up the gut on the McCoys or the McCoys going deep on the Hatfields, I don't know what is. One stands tall with bragging rights in hand and the other, after some wound licking, begins planning a strategy for revenge in 12 months. The seething hate for one another never ends.
This brings me to my last issue. What does the proud fan of a SEC school do when one of the other 11 are playing an out-of-conference game? Does the pent-up dislike (or hatred) for any of the other conference members override the overall pride to be realized in being a member of the SEC, to the point of actually rooting for that other SEC team? Does conference loyalty trump team pride?
It has been my experience, personally, and in talking with other SEC fans, that it depends. I have found that there is a shifting continuum of sentiment toward any of the other eleven members of the SEC. This continuum ranges from dislike and pity to bitter hatred and a desire for some unforeseen accident to come their way.
Teams that your team has beat up on recently usually fall on the mild dislike end of the spectrum, whereas teams that regularly do the beating up on your team, always are relegated to that “I hope you fall off a cliff” end.
It usually depends on where a particular team happens to be currently residing on my personal spectrum, as to whether SEC pride has enough "umph" to overcome the level of ill feelings I have for that team, for me to root for them.
Lets just say I have an easier time pulling for Vanderbilt in an intersectional football game than, say, Florida. Of course it is all very subjective, with everyone having their own personal spectrum, and as I said, positioning on that spectrum is subject to change over time. It is all part of the SEC culture where feelings run deep and if your blood is of a different color than mine, then you are to be greeted with a pistol or a shotgun or whatever backfield formation coaches are using this year.