Marc Daniels Column: Is SEC's Power Move Bad For The Sport?

Auburn v Mississippi State

Photo: Getty Images

June 1, 2022

New York once was home to the famed five crime families who ruled in a unique way where power was shared, codes were respected and if you made a move on another family there may be consequences that could lead to your demise.

The Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese families had their turf and they worked to protect it but they also found a way to get along. One may have been good at running the gambling operations while others oversaw construction, waste management, alcohol and unions. They didn't necessarily get along and spend holidays and summers together, but there was a level of respect, a way of doing business and traditions to uphold.

The P5 conferences seem like a syndicate falling apart as a turf war has spilled over because one "family" muscled their way into someone else's territory and took two valuable pieces of business and now everyone is upset and the "family" who benefitted by the move might even think a "war" is best for them and now is the time to make the move and breakaway because their business is bigger than everyone else and maybe they want to leave the others behind.

While those crime families of the past are not as powerful today, the SEC has become the biggest family and now is thinking about flexing its muscles. But is there a risk in the power play? 

The SEC grabbed Oklahoma and Texas from the Big XII and the other families got upset, even though they all would have done the same if they had a chance. That led to anger among the other leagues and silly alliances were formed and a conference playoff expansion, two years in the making, was put on hold. Now the head of the biggest family, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, may see his Michael Corleone move to take over and make his own rules. That now he may not need the others. That now, his league is so big and powerful and making more money than anyone that they can branch off and do their own thing. 

Recent reports suggest the league is looking at staging its own playoff. Maybe they would take six or eight teams in their new soon-to-be 16 team league and have their own tournament and crown their own champion and not need anyone else.

They can and maybe they will. But is it good for the sport? How does this make college football better? What has and is happening to this great sport that so many across the country love 12 months a year?  

Yes, the SEC will make as much, if not more, than the Big Ten in its new media deal. Yes, the league has won more national titles the last 15 years than all other leagues combined. Yes, they successfully pulled off the coup of getting Texas and Oklahoma but going rouge doesn't grow the game.

Should the SEC care about what is good for the other leagues? Yes, they should. But they don't, at least for now. 

I have said over and over the NCAA is the scapegoat for all. NIL issues, blame the NCAA. Pay-for-play issues, blame the NCAA. No commissioner overseeing the sport, blame the NCAA. Gas prices are up, blame the NCAA.

It's lazy on the leaders of these leagues. In 2014, they didn't like sharing power with smaller leagues who had an equal vote so they gave you autonomy and created the Power 5 and wrote a new set of business rules. No one has stopped the five leagues from working with each other on NIL, transfer portal rules and anything else you want to come up with. But the biggest leagues all began looking out for themselves. They started poaching from each other and grabbing what they could from the billions in the media pie being divided. Now they are upset at Sankey and the SEC and now Sankey is tired of their whining and has talked about his league getting really creative and doing their own thing.

There's no shortage of members of the college football media fraternity playing the role of public relations firm for the SEC lathering up every scenario of how and why the league can and should do their own thing. It's comical at times to watch how the league is covered with so many obsessed to be liked by Sankey, Saban and FInebaum. No one criticizes anything they do.

But forget a P5 breakaway, we have now reached the level of an SEC breakaway. Be careful what you wish for. College football is a national sport, not a regional sport. While the SEC has won so many national titles, remember that just a few brands are responsible for it. While the brands at the top of the league dominate on the field, Kentucky is no different than Virginia. Mississippi State is just like Purdue and South Carolina is similar to Arizona. The point is some are contenders and many are pretenders. 

Debating the best league during a season and seeing non-conference matchups is part of the fabric of college football. The SEC can brag when it wins the national title but don't be fooled when South Carolina fans chant "SEC-SEC" when Alabama wins another title. 

I have written and talked about an SEC breakaway and suggested they could expand to 20 or 24 teams, have a salary cap, collectively bargain with players and have a media deal that might rival the NHL and MLS. But I don't think it's good for the game.

In the NFL when a 15-point underdog wins a game, we notice but it's not as big as a college football upset when someone is a four-touchdown underdog and knocks someone off. That becomes a day-long story everyone buzzes about. When you "breakaway" and focus just on you, parity becomes real. Good luck trying to win eight games for most of the expanded SEC if you want to go at it alone. You want to play a nine or 10 game conference slate that's fine. It will be worth millions more to each member but that's eight more losses being handed out every week.

No one has stopped the P5 leagues from scheduling more non-conference games against each other. I've said for years the SEC could have a weekend where its members played Big Ten schools. Some matchups would be great, some might have mild interest and some might have no appeal. But do you know why these things don't happen? Because everyone looks out for themselves. We do get a few good games at the beginning of a season and those who have signed up for those games should be praised. But we can have more. They don't want to lose more games which is what will happen in any league that decides we are bigger and better and we can just do this alone and play games within our league.

Heck, the leagues have agreed on a few things like getting rid of divisions so they can match their top two teams in a title game to help get into the playoff. I hate this idea. If a team with an 8-4 record wins your league, they should get an automatic spot in an expanded playoff with a 9-4 record. We have that system in the NFL and winning a conference should mean something.

The SEC and Big Ten will make more money than the other P5 leagues. Accept it but it doesn't mean they should abandon leagues who make less. At some point can any adults in the room pause and ask what is good for the game? The SEC needs the Big Ten, ACC and even the Pac 12. Why? Because it's been part of the sport's history. Yes, times change and we are watching unprecedented change in the sport right now, but some things are worth keeping.

TV dollars might be different but it doesn't mean the programs differ. Alabama and Georgia might be the top two brands in the sport but Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, FSU and Miami have a history of being big brands and winning titles. Most middle of the pack teams have been middle of the pack for decades and the same for the bottom of the league. Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Auburn have won every SEC title since 1999. Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have never won the SEC and Ole Miss, Miss St and Kentucky haven't won anything since 1976. 

The money class system has been in college football decades and will be for decades to come. More money doesn't guarantee wins and doesn't make you better than teams from other leagues.

Competition is good for business. There is nothing with striving to be the best and winning on the field. The SEC has done that for quite some time. But going off on your own because you can doesn't mean it's good for the business of college football. You don't need a commissioner to do anything. You, a group of supposed mature and bright professionals can create rules for NIL, pay-for-play, transfer portals and scheduling and an expanded playoff. You do need each other. It's good for the game. 

Even the five families figured out they benefited from coexisting. It was called "organized crime" for a reason. They organized and also realized that when one tried to muscle everyone else out, business got rougher and domination got tougher. Figure it out and do what's best for the game. Breakways sound good and there are plenty in your PR machine to write and tell everyone how great and smart you are and speculate on your own playoff and pod-scheduling and all that stuff, but remember that this sport is built on its history, don't abandon it. Embrace it. Make everyone an offer they can't refuse.

Final thought: Depending who ask, a form of all five crime families still exist today, but in a much lower profile than days in the past. And Sparks Steakhouse, where Gambino boss Paul Castellano was gunned down in the famous 1985 hit, is still open as it has been since 1966. 

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