March Madness: SEC! SEC! SEC! I Don’t See

Mar 16, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; General view of the March Madness logo prior to the game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Xavier Musketeers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; General view of the March Madness logo prior to the game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Xavier Musketeers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, is in full effect, as is conference pride coming from some. I don’t get it.

Many would argue, and do so effectively, that the first two days of March Madness are the greatest days on the sports calendar. Without a doubt, there is nothing like it. 64 teams all have a path to a National Championship and national greatness. But, strangely, some infuse this experience with an odd notion of conference pride.

Here is your warning dear reader: This is not an analytical piece. Unless you consider it a psychological analysis of sorts. In fact, it’s probably a rant. It is certainly a questioning editorial. Sometimes those are needed. This is one of those times.

While absconding from work for a few hours the other day with a colleague to day-binge on the first day of March Madness (shout to the boy Beef Tips and a now three-year tradition), the food franchise known for wings and televisions galore was abuzz with that feeling that one gets on the first day of the tournament.

Everyone was skipping work. Everybody was intrigued, whether their team was playing, or not, and all were cheering and ooh-ing and awe-ing. But it was what they were cheering that made this writer confused and chagrined.

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You see, although I’m from the greatest city on the planet, Atlanta, Georgia, I currently live in Southeast Tennessee. A geographically beautiful area, but one that doesn’t share my affinity and affection for Atlanta and Georgia teams. Which is fine. That’s the problem here.

The problem arose when a room full of University of Tennessee fans started bellowing and cheering when Vanderbilt played their first round game against Northwestern. The same Vanderbilt University that beat Tennessee this year in football. The same Vandy that beat Tennessee in basketball. The same school that is Tennessee’s biggest in-state rival.

How is this? When asked, to a person, they cited “conference pride”. That makes no sense to this writer. It would be one thing if this was relegated to basketball. Reality is that the SEC doesn’t get credit or benefit of the doubt come Selection Sunday. In fact, it is considered a “bad” basketball conference. I get that. If fans are cheering for conference success so that they could get future consideration on Selection Sunday, if in that position, then I get it. But it isn’t.

This crazy scenario where Vols fans are cheering for the Commodores, where Bulldog fans are cheering for South Carolina, where Auburn fans are cheering for the Gators bleeds into football. This is especially prevalent during Bowl season.

Yes, I understand where it comes from, but it doesn’t make sense that it persists. Before the BCS system was instituted in football, the SEC, and its best teams, were routinely cheated and dismissed from conversations about the “best teams in the nation”. That is a fact I grew up with. Consequently, fans, who normally openly loathed each other, banded together to thwart this thinly veiled veneer of objectivity from the national media and its purveyors of poppy-cock perspectives.

Those days, however, are long gone. The BCS changed all of that. Once those conversations were taken out of the hands of sports writers and journalism majors, 95 percent of whom went to Big-10 and Pac-12 schools, hence the open bias, the SEC has vaulted to the fore of national conversations and prominence. That is inarguable.

Yet, we have this vestigial notion of needing to band together, when in reality, we don’t. Fans of teams in the SEC shouldn’t feel the need to cheer for Alabama in their 500th straight National Championship. Why would a Georgia fan want Florida to win anything? It makes no sense. The programs themselves play each other. They recruit against each other. They would probably steal from each other given the chance.

So, can we pause the “SEC! SEC! SEC!” stuff for a while, and at least think about it. Hey, Vols fans, it hurts you when Bama wins another one. Hey, Georgia fans, Florida winning back-to-back National Titles was awful your program. Don’t cheer it. Curse it.

If your team hasn’t won anything in a while, it doesn’t help your reputation that your neighbors do. You won’t hear many Bama fans cheering for LSU to win any titles. That’s because they don’t want it. You don’t hear Kentucky basketball fans cheering for Vanderbilt in the tournament. They don’t care. Neither of those programs care about “conference pride” because they win. They have program pride.

Look, I love being from the south. I’m a Georgia boy through and through. I came from that dirt, and that’ll be the dirt they throw on me when this journey is done. But that doesn’t make South Carolina, or Tennessee, or Florida any more palatable.

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I say enough with the “SEC! SEC! SEC!” stuff. Unless, one of our teams is playing Michigan or Ohio State. They still think they’re better than everyone else. And that’s not acceptable. That might be cause to cheer for a rival. Maybe. Quietly. And with a little self-loathing.