Ray Grier's How the SEC Became Goliath

As I type this, Alabama is pushing a Notre Dame team around the national championship turf in Miami on their way to the SEC's seventh straight national title. This brings to mind a book I mentioned earlier this season, but never properly reviewed, Ray Glier's How the SEC Became Goliath: The Makings of College Football's Most Dominant Conference. The book is a quick one, written in two months and a day, and it suffers somewhat for it. Anecdotes are repeated in the introduction and the subsequent chapters. An already slim volume keeps coming around to the same points. I can't help but think this would work better as a Kindle single or similar type of e-book.

Glier attributes SEC's successful run to a number of things, each delineated in its own chapter. He begins with the SEC Championship game, which got the conference a jump on the avalanche of money that would soon flood college football. Then there's the population shift to the South in recent decades, which combined with the decline of baseball produced more football talent (and rabid fanbases) than the rest of the country. After this comes profiles of the championship teams of the 2000's, interspersed with the lessons to be taken from them — Nick Saban changing the Tigers' culture (and upgrading the facilities); the speed and leverage of the defensive linemen; the strength and condition programs that began with Tommy Moffitt at LSU and spread throughout the conference; Urban Meyer adapting his style to Florida's players and the SEC talent (the book is very kind to Ron Zook, by the way); the offensive lines capable of running power-play spread offenses for Tim Tebow and Cam Newton; and finally, Nick Saban's surprisingly disciplined analysis of potential recruits.

The chapters contain good football analysis, but there's something off in the tone. Glier seems to think something is wrong with the culture of the SEC, and topics like Nick Saban's abuse of medical redshirts, the money sloshing around Cam Newton's (and others') recruitment, and the demands on the athete's time all get a hearing. But the only program to have a chapter dedicated to their malfeasance is Lane Kiffin's brief tenure at Tennessee. The chapter is a morality play about the young upstart who can't do things the noble, SEC way — it's even titled "No Cutting in Line." It also ends, as two other chapters do, with the catechism of "North Carolina, Ohio State and Miami." The Tar Heels appear more often than you'd expect in a book about the SEC, always in reference to the scandals that ended Butch Davis's tenure in Chapel Hill. There's a defensiveness here, that the other conferences would dare impugn the good name of the Southeastern Conference when they are the true villains, or at least just as bad.

The defensiveness pops up in other places, too. SEC offensive linemen don't get drafted because they have to compete so furiously against juggernaut SEC defenders. USC's facilities are described as having "no Wow! factor. There were just trophies, no glitz, and no glamour, even for a school in ritzy L.A." The SEC's introduction of paying players (via scholarship, in 1935) is bookended with the observation that the "same hypocrites from the Midwest and East who poke at the SEC today existed eighty years ago." Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is described as "conspicuously turn[ing] away from maintaining academic standards." The chip on their shoulders Greir attributes to the teams of the SEC extends to the tone of the book.

All in all, this is an interesting read, if one this padded in places. It's also a good foretelling of where all of college football is headed, as the the SEC style of play expands across the country with each coaching hire. The money is here, for at least the near-term, and everyone is looking at upgraded facilities and chasing the same talent. I'm not sure the SEC can be dislodged from their spot atop the college football by anything other than a change in the athletic culture at universities, and I don't see that happening for quite some time. For the next decade at least, this book should be a decent roadmap for how every other conference adjusts. If that interests you, it'll be worth the money. But I'd at least wait until the paperback comes out.

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