Mizzou to the SEC: A Few Thoughts on Culture

This notion that I keep reading about how Missouri "just doesn't fit" with SEC culture is about to drive me nuts. I've lived a lot of places in these here United States. I grew up basically in the Midwest and have lived in Columbia, South Carolina since 2002. So, I feel like I can say with some credibility that the so-called "cultural mismatch" between Mizzou and SEC-country is waaaaayyyy overdone. For the most part, you're not going to see much of anything different in Columbia, SC than Columbia, MO. So here is my primer on the two cultural differences that really matter.

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1. Barbecue (Food). I know it has been discussed in this forum, but honestly, if Mizzou fans are likely to come to blows over anything with our new SEC rivals it will probably be barbecue*. I don't even recognize some of what is labeled barbecue here; pulled meat and mustard-based sauce. Blecchh. (Oh, and when considering a roadtrip to Columbia, SC I do NOT patronize Maurice's Barbecue. It's about more than him flying the Confederate flag. He has a whole slavery-is-biblical agenda that he is happy to share. You, of course, should make your own call on that subject should it come up.)  That cultural divide may not be able to be overcome. But if it can be, it can only be done by eating your way across it. So, that could be fun.

2. Fan (and Media) Passion. But maybe not the way you think. I suspect most people think that the difference is that the SEC has a bigger, stronger die-hard fan element. I disagree. I think the difference is in profile of the "fairweather" fan--not the die-hard. The SEC has fairweather fans, but they're different than the Big 10's or Big 12's. For instance, South Carolina has historically been a football doormat until Spurrier. So, it's got some fairweather fans. But S. Carolina sells out every league game, and has for decades. (I kind of expect the Gamecocks to emerge as Mizzou's in-division rival--second to Georgia, but still a rival.) Why? What I see is that the SEC fairweather fan doesn't have his attention diluted by pro teams. So rather than abandon the team when things turn sour, SEC fairweather fans learn to harness their bitterness. Gamecock die-hards aren't any more fanatical than Mizzou's. The difference is that the Gamecocks never have to compete for fan attention. So, it's just a question of whether attention will be negative or positive. Fairweather Mizzou fans just tune out when things go poorly. South Carolina fairweather fans just scream loudly for benchings and for coordinators/position coaches to be fired. Mizzou fairweather fans don't know the backups and the coordinators/position coaches. They just start watching the Chiefs or Rams.

Why the difference? It isn't just one reason but, some factors you can easily identify. One is that SEC country provides fewer pro alternatives than any other region really. Almost all SEC schools are the only game in town. Another often untold part of the "SEC passion" story is that fan attention isn't diluted by pro sports because local/state media is focused solely on the college team. Few outlets that have an AP voter have ever paid attention to pro sports. This is true even for outlets in largish SEC-area cities like Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Knoxville and Athens. Oddly, Vanderbilt might be the only SEC school that has a  media attention problem comparable to what Mizzou faces in St. Louis and KC. Nashville isn't really a college sports town, and it has a reasonable NFL franchise. (Notice how Vandy is always left out of these discussions about SEC majesty and tradition.) In practical terms what this means is that every disinterested school teacher in South Carolina knows that Stephen Garcia got kicked off the team for alcohol and drugs. It's front page news. I bet that only Mizzou die-hards know why Derrick Washington or Blaine Dalton were dismissed from the program.

What this all means for the fans is that this "cultural fit" argument has some merit, but it's blown completely out of proportion. Although the SEC treats schools as equals some schools are more equal than others. Mizzou will not be among the conferences royalty programs. But, not every SEC school has all the pageantry and majesty that everyone goes on about either. Every tailgater does not roast a pig, despite what you see on TV. Mizzou has as much football tradition that matters as Mississippi State or Arkansas.

What may actually matter though, is the relative attention Mizzou football gets in the media--especially St. Louis and KC, where we recruit. The opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference. Kids in SEC areas grow up knowing the ins and outs of those program their whole lives. They are rarely indifferent. That's why so many don't want to leave the region. It wasn't that long ago that Alabama lost to a not very good Hawaii team. Even the genius, Nick Saban, lost to a mid-major with some of the same players who later went to the BCS. The difference is that even if they come to boo they still fill the stadium.

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