published Friday, September 27th, 2013

Hart: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: The religion of football in the South

By Ron Hart

Southeastern Conference football teams have won the national title seven years in a row now. Before that it was the University of Texas. Southern teams dominate this fanatical American pastime. You have to go back to 2002 to find a Northern team that won the national championship (Ohio State).

In last year's championship game, Alabama beat Notre Dame and imaginary linebacker Mante Te'o 42 to 14. The Fighting Irish were distraught. Too bad the Irish do not have some sort of time-honored custom in which they commiserate with each other and drown their sorrows.

It is an article of faith here in the "Bible Belt" that SEC football is holy. You are to have no other gods before it, or even at halftime, not even NASCAR or the lottery.

If you drive south in the fall, about the time you start seeing Elvis artwork and shot glasses with the Confederate flag on them, folks will be watching SEC football. That pastime stretches from Kentucky south to Orlando. South of Tampa, you are back in Michigan.

The only college football weekend I missed was opening weekend, when I had to go shopping for wedding preparations with my daughter. It was torture, tantamount to violation of the Geneva Conventions. To no one's surprise, I got all ADD and kept trying to find a TV. Do you know how hard it is to find football on a TV in a bridal shop? It is like trying to find a romantic comedy on ESPN.

Northern elites resent pretty much anything Southern. That is why it is fashionable to be snarky about colleges in the South. To be fair to Northerners, if I lived in a state that smelled like bong water and lost its top football recruits to the South each year, I'd be angry too.

It's not like northern schools have some moral high ground here or are not trying. Look at that Rutgers coach yelling at players. You really cannot have a championship football program where coaches are required to ask nicely that players achieve team goals and have to vet their remarks through the university's Human Resources Department.

While the sport is not perfect, a lot of good is derived from college football. Before I judge these 18 year-old kids, I remind myself that I have hip replacements older than they are. Even if the players do not go to class, they learn many meaningful educational lessons:

Investment 101: Athletes learn about getting a high return on investment (ROI). Let's say, hypothetically, that Auburn University spent $100,000 to get Cam Newton and won a national championship. The highest ROI ever -- allegedly.

Management 101: Athletes learn discipline. When players at Oklahoma State U. get in trouble for violating team rules, they are often suspended without pay.

Law 101: While only 3 percent of college players end up playing professional football, those few will learn a good bit about the legal system. It is a goal of all of great athletes like Ray Lewis and O.J. Simpson to someday achieve the NFL star's ultimate dream: a hung jury.

All this is preemptive banter for my buddies from California who come to different SEC football games each year. This year the six Stanford alums decided to host our trip to California for the first time. They have us scheduled to see Oregon vs. Stanford and USC vs. Cal-Berkley. I asked if these were real football games, or just flag or Frisbee football played on the campus green where every student had to participate equally and all scores had to be ties so there would be no losers. They assured me these college football games included helmets and pads. Intrigued, I plan to attend.

Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist, award-winning author and TV/radio commentator. Email Ron@RonaldHart.com or visit www.RonaldHart.com

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