Kiffin’s conference comparison and what’s really going on
Lane Kiffin has made more headlines during the offseason than any other college football coach in America. Taking over Tennessee’s program, and wagging his tongue, he instantly made enemies in the Southeastern Conference, while also racking up a rash of secondary violations.
But as SEC media days were upon us, Kiffin moved into a rest period, momentarily abandoning his SEC jabs to address the difference in attendance and passion between his old conference and new.
“…there’s no way you could argue that football’s not more important here [Tennessee] and that people are more passionate about it. The best example I can give you is that in our first year at Southern Cal, there were 45,000 people in the stands and that’s a pretty powerful school. At Tennessee, even when it’s down at times, we’re still selling out the stadium. So I think that speaks volumes about the issue.”
What speaks volumes are the reasons for the disparity. Football is a religion in the SEC, but only short term memory could make him believe the sport is more important than it is in Southern California.
The majority of the NFL’s rostered players began their football careers on California high school fields, and Texas and Ohio are your annual hosts for two of the hottest recruiting grounds in the nation. The reason for the inflated worship and tremendous passion in the SEC isn’t because their kids love football more. It begins with the programs and their residing states.
When the SEC reached its current alignment in 1992, nine of the twelve members existed in states not possessing a single professional sports franchise. Outside of college sports, what else is there to be passionate about? Even with Tennessee eventually gaining pro franchises in football, basketball and hockey, it still leaves half the conference without professional competitors. You’ll find the same type of passion in Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Kiffin came to USC in 2001, with the Trojans not only coming off a last place Pac 10 finish, it was a program with a string of underachieving seasons, with more than 20 years passed since their last national championship. Even so, the 45, 000 in the seats was still greater than the 41,000 home average during the Raiders’ short stay in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and they were Super Bowl Champions.
In 2008, Tennesse began charging students for football tickets. The seating was free in years prior, the same as South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Vols are a perennial SEC power that managed just 5 victories a year ago. Let a string of disappointment stretch through years, and let’s see if the attendance will dip along with win totals.
Yes, the SEC is filled with a passion that we wish all conferences would share, but not all states are limited by options. To say football at Tennessee is more important than it is at Southern California is just ridiculous. USC is one of the most storied college football programs, and each season is greeted with high expectations. A list of Trojans achievements would leave the Vols paling in comparison, and that is where the bar is set for new coaching staffs, incoming players, the university, and fans.
[hat tip: Scott Wolf, Inside USC]