The Southeastern Conference's stature has reached such heights that puffery in the form of TV spots and sportswriter paeans are no longer necessary. There is a reason that Missouri and Texas A&M pined at the gilded gates begging for entry, right?
Ink spills and tongues wag over the league's football prowess. Six straight national championships. A fierce commitment to "big boy" football with defenses that not only suffocate, but punish.
Now the men's basketball championship has returned to the SEC with Kentucky's vanquishing of Kansas, and the polls suggest that the conference has the odds in its favor to capture a fourth straight College World Series crown. The league is so good in the latter sport that, counting the Aggies, there are eight teams among Baseball America's Top 25 poll with current or eventual conference allegiance.
We hear "S-E-C" chants reverberating through the crowds at all these games of significance. Conference pride is off the charts. Arkansas fans do their part in reminding others that we are part of this stronghold and by God, you'd better respect it.
But is this hubris misplaced?
Much of my fanhood is spent loathing the Alabama football or Kentucky basketball teams. Our Razorback roots give us an unhealthy amount of venom for those programs that have, historically and presently, realized the bounties to which we aspire. We despise their successes because they aren't ours, because they were at least in part taken at our expense. When Arkansas went to Baton Rouge in November with a No. 3 ranking and designs on disrupting the BCS pecking order, it was Alabama that crowed about the potentially unfair circumstance in which the Tide would get left out of a title game when it had beaten us resoundingly in September.
We are remarkably inconsistent as a fan base when our allegiances are tested. A quick review of Facebook updates Monday night suggested that, by and large, nobody could stomach the thought of John Calipari winning a national championship due to his reputation as a flesh-peddling weasel. That was in stark contrast to the thunderous elation many felt when, say, Auburn rode a cash-on-delivery quarterback to a BCS title only 15 months prior. On that night in January 2011, all the caterwauling about Cecil Newton whoring out his freakishly talented son to replenish the Building Fund went by the wayside because, hey, it's another title for the SEC!
There is no right answer as to how this moral quandary gets resolved. But I submit that maybe we're overlooking something rather troubling: membership has privileges and drawbacks all the same. Being part of the SEC has given Arkansas a national stage in many sports for two decades, but whether it has given us success above and beyond what we could hope for elsewhere is debatable.
We love having highly-ranked teams, but it has engendered within us an irrepressible desire for something greater. And yet in every damned sport, somebody is just flat-out better than we are, and our recruiting profile isn't such that we can just casually defeat that. The quality of our coaching, the caliber of our athlete and the sheen on our facilities have all been on the uptick just as every other school has progressed in the same areas, and every time we land a game-changing recruit, John Calipari rooks a five-star into signing a 12-month lease at Wildcat Shangri-La.
Thus, we participate in those chants, at the Sugar Bowl, at the College World Series, wherever...but maybe it all rings hollow. We are part of something great, but at this juncture, we've had only an ancillary role in bringing this league to the fore. It may be paradoxical, but as our collective athletic future brightens, do our prospects for singular glory dim?
Screw it, I'm getting too philosophical about this. We just need to get Petrino to wear a helmet.