Judging from some of the comments I received in response to yesterday’s post, it’s apparent that I didn’t do a good job of making my point, so let me take another stab at it.
Think about this for a minute: CBS has had the SEC contract as primary broadcaster since 1996 and the Florida-Tennessee game is the only league contest CBS has shown all 16 years. Not the Iron Bowl. Not the Cocktail Party. Not Tennessee-Alabama. Not Georgia-Auburn.
The reason for that isn’t that the game has been an instant classic every time. Or that the fate of nations has been riding on it. Or even that both teams have been highly ranked coming in. No, there’s a simpler explanation.
CBS hasn’t been presented with a choice before.
For better or worse, Florida-Tennessee became the signature contest announcing the start of the SEC season on CBS. I hesitate to call something like that a tradition (although there are plenty of events of shorter duration which insist on having that label applied to them), but it’s certainly something that’s become engrained in the rhythm of the SEC season. And just like that, it’s gone now.
Is it the end the world? Hardly. Rather, it’s more a sign of things to come, which is why I referred to it in my post as a canary in the coal mine. There’s a certain fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants quality to how this round of SEC expansion has proceeded that’s unusual in the context of how the conference has generally done big things.
The last time the conference expanded, it took far more radical steps – divisional play and a championship game – than we’re seeing this go ’round, albeit both moves had money grabs at their hearts. Despite that, the ’92 changes came off as more purposeful and structured than what is happening today. (And I think that’s one reason the earlier metamorphosis was so successful.)
Do you have the feeling that anyone from the SEC involved in the decision-making process has a clue about what the conference is trying to carry out with the new 14-school regime, other than to remake the TV contracts into something worth bragging about again? I sure don’t.
Keep in mind that this first bit of fallout from expansion comes before they’ve renegotiated the deals with the networks. The conference has to do this out of sheer expediency. Imagine what people like Mike Slive and Michael Adams (Mark Bradley’s new trailblazer, if you’re looking for recommendations) are capable of when they’re in full whore mode.
Now if all you care about is having a few more games on the tube, this probably isn’t particularly troubling. Congrats, you’ll feel good when they sell the new setup as a win-win for all. But for those of us who see some of the SEC’s soul – its history and identity, in other words – being bartered away for good with what appears to be very little thought given to the process, it’s disconcerting.
They’ll waive the shiny toy of expansion’s novelty at us for a while (I can hear it now: Georgia-Missouri, a new SEC tradition!), but what’ll be left after the novelty wears off? Aside from those new TV contracts, that is.