A BALANCING ACT
The most SEC title-game appearances since 1997, including this week's matchup:
The Southeastern Conference championship has been college football's second biggest game the past several seasons, but that will not be the case moving forward.
Starting next season, the sport is implementing a four-team playoff that is scheduled to run through 2025. So the SEC title game at the Georgia Dome will rank fourth at best in magnitude, trailing the playoff's championship game and its two semifinals.
"There are always going to be two really good teams in the SEC championship game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said, "and that will certainly have a tremendous bearing on who ends up on top. It's always had a tremendous bearing on the top two teams, and I think it will have a tremendous bearing on who will be in the top four teams."
The SEC title game made its debut in 1992, when Alabama turned back Florida 28-21 at the inaugural event in Birmingham and then went on to trounce Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. In each of the past seven seasons, the winner of the SEC championship has advanced to play in the BCS title game.
In three recent cases -- the Alabama-Florida matchups of 2008 and '09 and Alabama-Georgia last year -- the SEC title game served as a national semifinal.
"I think it will still have a significant impact," SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack said. "Whoever our conference champion is will have a significant impact on the selection committee, so from that standpoint, it will continue to be an important game. How it impacts how many conference teams are able to get in is just something you don't know right now.
"The game has certainly been a big part of the conference landscape since '92, and it's become a great event and more than just a football game considering the publicity it has received and the amount of revenue it generates for the conference, which is significant."
According to the SEC office, the league championship has gone from generating $6 million in 1992 to $15.3 million last year.
The SEC title game has always been a potential detriment for teams in the national championship chase, but the only pothole occurred in 2001, when No. 2 Tennessee lost 31-20 to No. 21 LSU. That cost the Volunteers the opportunity to play No. 1 Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
Alabama was No. 3 in the rankings when the Crimson Tide lost the 1994 game to Florida 24-23. The Crimson Tide had trailed No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Penn State, who went undefeated that year.
"It's really helped all the SEC teams in the past in that winning that one got them into the final game," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I know the year we won the national championship at Florida in '96, beating Alabama in the SEC game got us a little bit ahead of other teams that had one loss. It was very helpful to us being voted No. 1 after we beat FSU in New Orleans.
"It's helped Alabama since then, and it's helped Florida. I know it could hurt you also if you lose that game, but it seems like the SEC team that's in contention for the national championship has won most of them."
The loser of the SEC championship game has never played for the BCS title, but that could change in future seasons. Alabama and Florida were ranked 1-2 going into the 2008 SEC championship, and those rankings were reversed when the Crimson Tide and Gators met again in '09.
In last season's SEC championship, which Alabama won 32-28 over Georgia, the Tide entered ranked No. 2 with the Bulldogs at No. 3.
"Whoever lost our game with Georgia -- would you make a case that they're still in the top four teams?" Saban said. "Because, in my opinion, Georgia probably was one of the top four teams. That may be an issue."
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