The Origins of the Southeastern Conference

1921VandyFootballteam

Utter the words “Southeastern Conference” during football season and your listeners will envision national championships, top ten rankings, and lucrative television contracts. Today the term is synonymous with the madness that is college football in the South. But in truth, the phrase was not always so meaningful.  The Southeastern Conference (SEC) was not always known by this name.

As college football took hold at schools across the country, southern school officials began to realize that an affiliation with similar institutions would make sense from an economic and geographic perspective. Southern football’s first game took place in 1881 as Kentucky State (now known as the University of Kentucky) beat Kentucky University (now known as Transylvania University) 7.5 to 1.  By 1892, the birth of southern football began in earnest.  Teams from Alabama, A & M College of Alabama (Auburn), Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt were playing.  LSU began its proud football history in 1893, Arkansas and Texas A & M in 1894, Mississippi A & M (Mississippi State) in 1895, and Florida in 1906.

Dr. William Dudley, a chemistry professor at Vanderbilt, answered the call for an affiliation of southern schools.  Representatives from seven schools—Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee, and Vanderbilt—met Dudley on December 22, 1894 at the Kimball House in Atlanta to form the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA), the grandfather of the SEC.  The SIAA was formed, according to Dr. Dudley, to provide faculty regulation and control of all college athletics.  A year later, 12 more schools were added, including Clemson, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas, and Tulane.

The SIAA held together through the 1920 season.  At the annual conference on December 10, 1920, a disagreement among the schools took place.  The smaller SIAA schools, through their collective vote, passed a rule allowing freshmen players to compete immediately with the varsity and voted down a proposition to abolish a rule that allowed athletes to play summer baseball for money.  Additionally, the SIAA had reached 30 members making it very difficult for the schools to play one another and crown a true champion.  Led by University of Georgia English professor Dr. S.V. Sanford, 18 schools left to form the Southern Intercollegiate Conference (Southern Conference) on February 25, 1921 in Atlanta.  At that point, the SIAA became a conference for small colleges and eventually disbanded in 1942.

The Southern Conference grew to 23 schools by 1932.  Again, the league was too big.  Dr. Sanford convinced the 13 schools west and south of the Appalachian Mountains—Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU,  Mississippi, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane, Vanderbilt–to reorganize as the Southeastern Conference.  Play began in 1933.  By December 1953, eight other schools—Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest—had left the Southern Conference to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Southern Conference survives to this day.

Sewanee resigned from the SEC in 1940, Georgia Tech in 1964, and Tulane in 1965.  Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC in 1990, and Missouri and Texas A & M joined in 2012.

From its SIAA infancy in 1894 to its full maturation in 2012, the SEC has been a force in college football.  The league boasts eight out of the last eleven national champions, landed the largest television contracts (CBS and ESPN) in the history of college football in 2008, and launched its own network in 2014.  The South has indeed risen again.

 

 

 

 

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  1. […] The Origins of the Southeastern Conference – Take a trip way back to the SEC before the network, the seven straight national titles, Bear Bryant, and a lot more. […]

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