Book Review: How the SEC Became Goliath

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For those that don’t know, I’m a huge SEC fan.  A bit of a snob, really.  I grew up in South Carolina, pulling for the Gamecocks.  When they joined the SEC, Steve Tanneyhill was my favorite player.  I went to school at the University of South Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in History in 2002 and a Master’s in Public History and Museum Management in 2005.  I worked at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum for nine years.  My blood bleeds Gamecock garnet and black.  The SEC is the conference of my beloved university and I will defend it as long as South Carolina is there.

A couple of months ago I came across the book How the SEC Became Goliath: The Making of Football’s Most Dominant Conference by Ray Glier.  It had been a while since I read a book on sports, so I thought I would give this a try.  What I expected and what I got were two very different things.  What I expected was a history of the Southeastern Conference’s rise as the top football conference in the country.  Instead, what I got was, well, a hodgepodge.

Glier starts the book well enough.  He talks about the SEC as both a dominant conference and one filled with flaws.  I think this introduction is meant to show that, although he is a fan of the SEC, he also recognizes its imperfections.  The first chapter is without a doubt his strongest writing in the book.  Glier talks about the early days of the SEC, and I do mean the early days, going way back to the early 20th century.  The stigma of the SEC as a “cheating” conference began much earlier than I had imagined.  It began when the SEC wanted to grant scholarships to college football players and other conferences complained, even though the other conferences were giving paid jobs to players like “shoveling snow by the L.A. Colosseum.”

After the first chapter, Glier just goes all over the place.  Suddenly you’re thrown into the 21st century, skipping over a few decades.  Not talked about at length are the Fulmer Tennessee teams, the Spurrier Florida teams or the Stallings Alabama teams.  In fact, other famous coaches and teams from the SEC are briefly mentioned, such as Les Miles and Gene Chizik’s Auburn Tigers. The bulk of the book’s coverage is about three men:  Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Ron Zook.

Saban and Meyer are clearly excellent coaches who have shaped the SEC into what it is today.  Glier does an excellent job breaking down their recruiting methods, coaching styles, and how they relate to their players.  He talks about the impact they have had on player’s lives, and how many of their players have gone on to the NFL.  However, although Glier tries to not be too much of an SEC apologist, the deeper you get into the book the more he just turns a blind eye to anything negative.  For example, he extols the virtues of Meyer and how he built great teams, but he barely even glances at the fact that so many of his players at Florida had problems with the law. He doesn’t even talk about his “retirement” or the connection he had with Tim Tebow.  When it comes to Nick Saban, he goes on and on and on, from his time with the Cleveland Browns to the present day.  One would think that Glier is actually writing an autobiography on Saban and not the rise of the SEC as a power football conference.

While the book had some excellent moments, I feel that this was less about the “rise” of the SEC than it was a retrospective of Meyer, Saban and Zook (he is clearly a Zook apologist and spent a good portion of the book defending him as a great recruiter and coach).  Surprisingly, there is very little on Steve Spurrier, Marc Richt, or Phil Fulmer, three coaches who truly made the SEC into what it is today.  Oh, and if you’re a fan of any SEC team besides LSU, Alabama or Florida, don’t expect to read a lot about your team.  The book doesn’t follow any kind of chronological order, which is kind of what you expect from the title.  Instead, it jumps all over the place. Aside from the first chapter, there is very little history, and more a celebration of three coaches.

FINAL RATING:  2.5 of 4 stars.

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