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SEC game molded future


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SEC game molded future

Tuberville believes conference championship games in football will become universal Friday, December 03, 2004


Sports Reporter

On a December night in Legion Field, the SEC made history.

Alabama was crowned the first champion of a conference title game after a game-winning interception return for a touchdown by Antonio Langham.

While many remember that game in 1992 for its incredible finish, the game itself had ramifications far beyond a win or a loss.

The SEC became the first league to match division winners in a conference championship game. Adding a 12th game to the season was a bold move, and not everyone liked it.

But since 1992, other conferences have followed the SEC's lead, seeking the revenue and prestige of a conference title game.

By the end of the 2005 season, five conferences will play a championship game. The Big 12 added its game in 1996 and the Mid-American Conference in 1997. The ACC and Conference USA will add games next season.

For better or worse, the rest of the college football world is catching up to the SEC.

"I think it's good," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team will play Tennessee for the SEC title on Saturday in Atlanta. "It gives two teams an opportunity instead of one."

The games haven't always been close, but the title game was created more for financial reasons than competitive ones.

"As much interest as there is in college football, the SEC was looking for a way to raise more money and also keep interest later in December," Tuberville said.

The game started outdoors in Birmingham in 1992 and 1993 before moving to its present home at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. The game consistently sells out and tickets are tough to find.

Although preparation for the game can give coaches gray hairs, Tuberville said that fans and players enjoy it enough to make it worthwhile.

"No matter who plays you're going to fill the stadium up and get a lot of TV money, which means a lot to the other sports," Tuberville said. "You can see the significance of how the players react to it. They enjoy it."

The Big 12 has found similar success playing its games in St. Louis, and now Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

The MAC started its championship game in 1997, but played the first game at a neutral site (Detroit's Ford Field) Thursday night.

The conference shuffling that took place over the summer also helped foster at least two more championship games.

The ACC took Virginia Tech and Miami from the Big East, forcing the Big East to raid Conference USA, which refilled its ranks with enough new teams to set up two divisions and play a championship game next year.

The ACC will also split into divisions and play its first championship game Dec. 3, 2005, at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

The two primary holdouts are the 11-team Big Ten and the 10-team Pac-10. Neither conference has any immediate plans for expansion or developing a championship game.

The lack of a championship game has the potential to distort the national championship picture when one team has to play an extra championship game at the end of the season.

That isn't a factor this season, since all three teams vying for the top spot will play 12-game schedules. No. 1 Southern California scheduled a difficult preseason game against Virginia Tech, No. 2 Oklahoma plays in the Big 12 game against Colorado and No. 3 Auburn plays Tennessee for the SEC title.

Tuberville said he believes any differences will be moot once conference championship games become universal.

"It's one of those things that's going to catch on with everybody eventually," Tuberville said. "In the future, you're going to see everybody go to it."


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