Friday, September 16, 2011

Open Letter To Texas A&M From SEC Fandom

*A note to new readers perusing the archives: this post went up before Texas A&M had been officially accepted to the SEC.

Dear Texas A&M,
This really isn't a good idea. We know you think it is, and we think that's cute, but trust us, it's a phenomenally bad plan of action. Don't come to the SEC.

Allow me to exercise Southern Hospitality to the fullest and phrase it this way: your wonderful school has many fine attributes and traditions, but we postulate that y'all might not be real comf'table here, and bless yer little hearts, we'd just hate for y'all to feel ill at ease.

Or, to be less polite: We don't want you. More importantly, you don't want to be here.

We know you think you do. We know some of the power conferences are already unrecognizable from, say, fifteen years ago, and the entire paradigm of NCAA conference alignment may undergo some quasi- to hyper-dramatic shifts towards "super conferences" sometime soon. You don't want to get left without a chair when the music stops. You want to play the kind of teams that command national attention and respect, so that if you manage to go undefeated, you won't be kept out of the BCS Title Game on the "strength of schedule" argument. If Texas and Oklahoma vacate the Big 12 and you fail to get out in time, you're going to be stuck in a TCU-esque purgatory. And yes, it wouldn't hurt you (fiscally) to move to this conference, where we command truly staggering quantities of TV and marketing revenue, of which you would presumably get a share. You want a sort of preemptive contingency plan so that when your conference collapses, you're already in a safe harbor full of prestige and money. Fair enough.

But Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier are not the droids you're looking for. (We'll let you figure out which one is R2-D2.)

Let us break this down for you. Residents of your state are exceedingly fond of the phrase "Don't mess with Texas." It's a mantra, a battle cry, a protective incantation, and (in your minds) a factual declaration. Let us assure you now, if you come to the SEC, Texas, or at least College Station, is going to get messed with. You have no conception of the messing-with that will occur.* We don't mean to unduly disparage your program, but if you have to play a schedule loaded with 'Bama and LSU and SC and Ole' Miss and Auburn every season, you're going to get slaughtered. If you think this attitude is out of line or maybe overdosed with swagger, well, who won the last five National Titles?

*I'm talking primarily about football here, but even if you decide, for some crazy reason, to prioritize your school's athletics around basketball, let us cordially remind you: that would still entail facing a conference schedule with Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee involved. Just saying.

But it's more than just the actual games, A&M. So much more. See, with all the hopscotching being done, there's the side effect of identity/misnomers to deal with. Geographical and numerical monikers for conferences are becoming increasingly erroneous. The Pac-12 only has it right because they had the good sense to change their name when they added teams. Nothing else makes any sense anymore. And really, all the chaos is OK. It's ... charmingly quirky that the Big 10 now has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10. I suppose it's also an homage to the history of the conferences. Michigan and OSU have always been "Big Ten"; Texas and Oklahoma have always been "Big 12." Can't let a silly thing like basic math dissociate such storied programs from their respectively traditional "Big Whatevers." All the jumping around and mucking up the names and numbers is fine.

Unless you're talking about the SEC.

More than any other conference, we have a deeply vested cultural identity here that transcends scoreboards and recruiting and Heisman winners and draft picks and BCS bids. This is about what it means to be in the South Eastern Conference. We know, we know. We Southerners share many things with the Great State of Texas. Obviously, an obsessive love of college (and high school) football is right near the top of the list. There's also BBQ and Country Music, deep-fried-everything and moonshine, the Blues and guns whose names include hyphens followed by the word "gauge." On the surface, the rest of the country probably views us as culturally very similar, if not exactly the same. (Yes, the preceding paragraph was meant to be semi-satirical. Also kinda true, though.)

However, being a Southerner is more than just the stereotypical trappings. There's a geographical swatch of territory that runs (roughly) from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean to Louisiana's western border, and extends in latitude from the Mason-Dixon Line southwards to right around Ocala, Florida. Within that approximate region lies the SEC, and Sounthern-dom, for lack of a better term. It's a specific and powerful aura that permeates every facet of our cognitive and emotional existence. Trying to define it is a fool's errand. Like a good bourbon, you know it when you see, smell, taste, and experience it. It simply is.

And you don't feel that Southern thing, Texas A&M. You know how we know that? For one thing, by no stretch of any cartographer's imagination would your school be considered as within the Southeastern United States. But more importantly, as Texans, you've told us you don't feel "Southern." Your state is vehemently insistent that it is an entity unto itself. You don't want to be associated with us. You're too good for us, aren't you? "Everything is bigger (and by implication better) in Texas." That's another one of your mottoes, right? Well, one of our favorites goes like this: "American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God." We admire your state pride. It just doesn't jibe with us, because we're Southerners first. Not Georgians or Virginians or Floridians.


Now you're thinking, "but this is about a football conference. We're not invading or trying to impose Texan-y things on you or anything, we just want a respectable place to play."

Well, consider our position to hinge upon a philosophy very similar to the old square/rectangle axiom: being Southern isn't entirely about the SEC, but the SEC is entirely about being Southern. The games and their attendant hoopla are just how we express that through an understandable cultural meme. (While we're kicking your ass, of course.)

So Texas A&M, if you value your Texas-ism, and your not-a-doormat-in-your-own-conference status, rethink this one. Between your Texan ego and our Southern pride, it could only have ended badly between us. We hope you find a great conference, and wish you all the success in the world, so that one of us can beat you in the National Championship game six years from now.

-The SEC Fans.

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