Starting 11: The SEC Meetings Arrive in Sandestin, Fla.
But that was nothing.
In 2009, the SEC redistributed $132.5 million.
From $4 million to $132.5 million in 29 years. Even Warren Buffet is impressed.
On Tuesday the SEC spring meetings opened. For those who aren't aware Sandestin is the ritziest part of the already ritzy Destin-area. The decision to hold the spring meetings in Sandestin makes complete sense because the SEC is rich and because everywhere you look, similarly rich alums in SEC gear are drinking heavily in the shade of their beach umbrellas.
Occasionally, we alums stop drinking. Generally, we stop drinking for two reasons: to chase our children on the white-sandy beaches and ... really there isn't a second reason.
I, like everyone else at the SEC spring meetings, also brought my family with me. As I'm writing this, my two-year old son is screaming, "Daddy, do the tickle monster! Daddy, do the tickle monster! Daaaaaaaaaadddddddy!"
You'll have to excuse me.
(The tickle monster triumphed and my son is now sleeping.)
As the opening of the SEC meetings arrived, 11 compelling issues remained to be examined. Among them, was the Pax SECana that began in 1992 with the debut of the SEC championship game going to continue? And, just where exactly was Destin?
So let's roll with serious SEC questions that we hope to see answered alternating with some family vacation postcards. (Which seems perfectly appropriate given that the rest of the SEC considers this week to be a working vacation as well.)
1. The most fundamental question of the SEC spring weekend: Does the SEC's television contract with CBS and ESPN have a provision regarding expansion?
Specifically, would the SEC schools receive more money for their televised games from CBS and ESPN if they add members? Because if they wouldn't, expansion becomes a much more difficult proposition. It might, and might is the key word here, mean that expansion wouldn't immediately be revenue positive.
If expansion wasn't immediately revenue positive then I think you would run into serious issues with making expansion work.
The Big Ten doesn't have this issue since it owns the Big Ten Network and can add new geographic regions to its footprint, which would lead to an increase in cable subscription revenues. In other words, if the SEC doesn't have a contract rider that increases the payout in the event of an expansion, the Big Ten has a tremendous advantage in expansion.
I'm going to do my best to get this question answered this week because I believe it is the single most important question that can be asked at the spring meetings.
2. Everyone has a different route to Destin.
But none of them is fast.
Destin is one of the most difficult places to reach in the entire Southeast. Put it this way, even people from Fayetteville, Ark., think Destin is remote.
Even though it's impossible to get here, everyone thinks they know the right way.
My mom has a route, my brother-in-law has a route, your grandmother does, my cousin twice-removed does. It really doesn't matter who you are, you think you have a way to get here.
And they're all different.
Yet every single one of them will involve driving around in the middle-of-nowhere for three hours.
For the first two seasons of Lost, my working hypothesis was that the castaways were in the Florida panhandle. I kept expecting to see Sawyer suddenly swim up at the Holiday Inn in the midst of Vanderbilt's beach graduation week.
A sorority girl would stand up, point at him, and say, "Why are you wearing jeans?"
3. Will the SEC make a game-changing move when it comes to expansion or will the conference be content to match whatever the Big Ten does?
I think this is the second most interesting question of the spring meetings.
I've already laid out my game-changing Final Four of the SEC piece here.
I don't think commissioner Mike Slive (right) and the SEC aren't content to merely match the Big Ten. But I don't know that for certain. For the past few months, we've talked about whether the Big Ten will go to 12, 14 or 16. Does the SEC already have an optimal response regardless of the Big Ten's expansion size?
4. Deep in Alabama, we pass a huge Confederate flag placed there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Do you think Confederate soldiers, assuming they are still capable of observing modern life, ever think, "Damn, we fought a war to beat the North, lost, supported slavery, saw our homeland ravaged for generations, and all we really needed to do was invent air-conditioning?"
Think about that for a moment.
It will blow your mind.
Yep, air conditioning reversed the outcome of the Civil War.
Now Southerners of all races have won.
5. Destin, Fla., is the perfect metaphor for what the Big Ten's Jim Delany termed that conference's "demographic problem."
Namely, everyone in the SEC footprint is getting richer and there are more of us. Meanwhile, in the Big Ten footprint, everyone is getting poorer and there are fewer of them. Granted this is a gross generalization and there are specific examples to the contrary -- for instance Joakim Noah is rich and has moved from the South to the North -- but walking around the Silver Dollar outlets, a huge collection of high-end retailers that are swarmed on Memorial Day, it struck me how true this is and how appropriate the SEC spring meetings in Destin really are.
Thirty years ago, most of these Southern people weren't driving luxury cars, shopping at Coach and spending tens of thousands of dollars to vacation on the beach in Destin.
Thirty years ago our parents and grandparents, if they traveled to the beach at all, were staying in fleabag motels on the Redneck Riviera.
Now, plenty of people are still staying there, but many more are vacationing in Florabama luxury.
It's a quick demographics lesson that comes to me as I sit in mall traffic surrounded by cars from every SEC state, but, hell, I have to get some benefit from driving a rental car with Pennsylvania plates, right? (As soon as I saw that I was going to have Yankee plates in the deep South, I knew I was getting a speeding ticket. Knew it).
6. While at the outlet mall, I also see that UnderArmour is now selling flip flops.
We must protect these toes.
I can't think of any more incongruous pairing for the company.
Old UnderArmour vibe, Ray Lewis spitting at camera, "I'm going to kill you, fool!"
New UnderArmour vibe, Jimmy Buffett, grinning at camera, "It's four o'clock somewhere."
If marketing means anything, these flip-flops must fail.
7. Will the SEC scrap the divisional seeding for basketball?
With the top four teams in the conference -- Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- once more coming out of the SEC East in 2010, can we go ahead and do away with the charade that the SEC East and SEC West are equal divisions when it comes to basketball?
Those divisions were designed for football.
The SEC East is and will continue to be vastly superior to the SEC West. If you doubt me, read this and see why you're wrong.
8. In an Alabama town called River Falls -- predictably the town boasts neither rivers nor falls -- I get pulled over for speeding en route to Destin.
As we pull into the parking lot, my son says, "Are we at the beach?"
My wife says, "No, Daddy's getting arrested."
The police officer, an Alabama state trooper wearing one of those ridiculous cowboy hats -- seriously, why do state troopers wear these hats it's not 1887 anymore? -- approaches my window.
"Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?" he asks.
I'm incredibly tempted to claim that I'm an Alabama assistant coach on my way to visit a recruit. (That worked for about a decade.) "No," I say, handing him my license.
"You're not from Pennsylvania?" he drawls when he sees my Tennessee license.
"It's a rental car," I say. "We're from Nashville."
I swear, I saw a moment's hesitation cross his face. I really thought he was going to let us go.
"You've got a court date on July 6," says the state trooper. "I'll see you then."
Yeah ... I don't see that happening.
I'm not driving into the middle-of-nowhere Alabama, where I'll probably get another ticket on my way to court, so I can challenge going 71 in a 55 mile-an-hour zone. The $250 I contribute to the River Falls education fund will probably put 10 kids through fourth grade down here.
Also, far be it for me to be an expert on speed limits, but, come on Alabama, there ought to be a law against dropping the speed limit from 55 to 30 within a half-mile.
I saw this multiple times during my drive in the backwoods of your state.
If you can't afford to pay Nick Saban his salary, find other ways to make the state money.
9. In case you had any doubt where you were, late Monday night the Hilton puts up a huge SEC logo on the side of the hotel.
It looks like the Batman sign.
I halfway expected for Slive to roar up to the front entrance of the hotel, toss the valet the keys to the Batmobile and say, "Don't give Jim Delany any water until he agrees to the plus-one format."
10. My family arrives in Destin and goes out to eat at Chili's.
Don't even ask me why we did this. The reason? Most of my fine-dining experiences now consist of me thinking of where no one else would possibly want to go and then choosing to go there.
We were right, the place was mostly empty. I ordered a steak sandwich that tasted like a skinny rat eaten in the final days of the Vicksburg siege.
I was just glad I wasn't one of those doing shots at 8 in the evening at the Chili's bar.
The Alcoholics Anonymous brochure should include the following question:
Have you ever done shots at Chili's?
If yes, are you a parent dining with children?
If no, you're an alcoholic.
If yes, take another.
We finish eating and go to our hotel.
I carry my son, now sleeping, to the door.
Only, I think I see a snake.
Which is a big deal for me.
I don't like snakes.
To be honest, I don't like most animals.
But I hate snakes.
"It's a snake," I hiss, as if the snake is going to hear me if I talk in full voice.
My wife squints (she has 15/20 vision which she has been bragging about for eight years.) "That's not a snake," she says, "it's a stick." Then she walks right past my snake in flip-flops.
My wife is not impressed by my fear of snakes. A fear that, mind you, causes me at least once a month to awake in the middle of the night screaming, "There's snakes in the bed, snakes!"
(If I ever saw Snakes on a Plane, I would never fly again.)
Shamed by my 110 pound, six-months pregnant wife, I carry our son past the fake snake. At least, I've convinced myself that it's probably a fake snake that some punk kids, who if I saw them I would waterboard using a boogie board in the hotel pool, have left out to scare people like me.
When I come back downstairs, a huge mountain of a man, wearing pajama bottoms and no shirt is standing with a tire-iron above his head. He looks at me, mid murder, and then smashes the tire iron on the top of the snake's head, crushing it into the sidewalk.
Turns out it was a four-foot copperhead.
11. Is the oil moving toward the sandy beaches of the South a symbol of Texas coming to the SEC?
Everyone wants to know whether the oil from Deepwater Horizon -- didn't anyone at BP say, you know, I think naming our well after what sounds like an apocalyptic end of days thriller isn't a great idea -- has reached Destin yet.
The oil hasn't.
But standing on my balcony looking out over the ocean on the night before the SEC meetings began, I couldn't help but think that all the talk of Texas and Texas A&M joining the SEC makes the oil slick moving toward Destin even more talismanic.
If God is an SEC fan -- as if there was any doubt -- what more could He do to put the state of Texas on the mind of every SEC member than send black gold unspooling in the direction of Destin's white sand?
Will Texas' rich oil meet the riches of the SEC?
Maybe we'll start to find out this week.