College football: SEC championship game has propelled league forward

by Jason Kersey Modified: August 28, 2013 at 9:00 am •  Published: August 25, 2013

The Southeastern Conference made a bold, forward thinking and, at the time, very controversial decision in 1991 to add a league championship game, the first such contest in major college football.

The Big 12 followed suit in 1996, when the newly minted conference became the second to stage a championship game.

But while more and more conferences eventually jumped on board with the cash generating, nationally televised title games, only one league regressed.

The Big 12 got out of the conference championship game business in 2011, when its membership dropped to 10 and the league began playing a round-robin schedule.

The Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences added title games in 2011, leaving the Big 12 and Big East (now known as the American Athletic Conference) as the only two BCS automatic qualifier leagues without them.

The clashes all trace back to the SEC's first one in 1992, when coaches widely bemoaned it as nothing more than a money grab and an unnecessary hindrance to the league's national championship hopes every year.

“I'm not saying an SEC team will never win another national championship,” Alabama coach Gene Stallings said at the time. “I'm just saying it's not going to happen very often.”

Stallings very quickly proved himself wrong. After his Crimson Tide squad won the inaugural SEC title game in 1992, it beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl to claim a national championship.

In 10 of the 21 seasons since the SEC began crowning its football champion in the East vs. West title game, a school from the league has become national champion.

“I was in the camp that I didn't think it was a good idea,” former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer remembered in a recent telephone interview with The Oklahoman. “I thought we were gonna beat each other up and knock each other out of the national championship picture.

“As it turns out, that hasn't been the case. It has more likely propelled us more times than it hurt us.”

Fulmer experienced the downside of conference-title games in 2001, though, when LSU upset his No. 2-ranked Volunteers and knocked them out of the national championship game.

The same day, No. 3 Texas lost the Big 12 title game to Colorado.

Those two conference championship upsets oddly elevated Nebraska, which hadn't even won the Big 12 North Division, into the national-title game.

Two years later, Kansas State routed unbeaten, No. 1 Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 title game, but the loss ultimately meant nothing to the Sooners, who still received a spot in the national championship.

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by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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