By Jon Benton
This a quote that aptly expresses the deep-rooted connection between college football and the people of the south and it comes from a College Football Hall of Fame head coach.
Coach Marino Casem of Alcorn State and Southern Universities described it this way:
“On the East Coast, football is a cultural experience. In the Midwest, it’s a form of cannibalism. On the West Coast, it’s a tourist attraction. And in the South, football is a religion, and Saturday is the holy day. “
There are many thoughts as to why football is held in such high regard in the south and it is believed that it may have its roots in the end of the Civil War. If it is to be believed then it would make a lot of sense. Since we all know that the South took a beating at the hands of the North and they ultimately surrendered.
However, as football was still king of college sports, the south took homage to the fact that they still reigned supreme in the football realm. So, they hung their hats on that and it continued to grow in popularity and became even more ingrained into the culture of southern society. College Football became synonymous with the North/South rivalry even though the Civil War was long decided.
Even as the proliferation of professional sports leagues began growing in the Northeast and Midwest, the south continued to hold steadfast to its college football roots. The Southeast Conference or as it is most commonly referred to by the SEC. The college towns that each of the schools was a part of would fill the stands of the football stadiums all across the south. On any given Saturday, the population of the college town swelled to numbers that rivaled the largest city’s in the state.
In the 50s and early 60s, there wasn’t a whole of options when it came to football for local fans in the south. That was great for schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ole Miss, and many other top football programs. This continued to be the case throughout the middle of the 60s even as the NFL and AFL started growing in popularity in the North.
It wasn’t until late in the 60s that the South entered the NFL when two teams the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins joined the league. If you think that having two teams in the professional ranks damped the support for college football in the south, you would be sadly mistaken.
With only two professional teams in all of the south, this didn’t even make a dent in the overall support that college football enjoyed throughout the south. In the south, there were several dominant programs throughout the 60s, 70’s, and 80s. No school is more dominant than the University of Alabama and its Hall of Fame head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Winning became synonymous while Coach Bryant was on the sideline and it continued until he retired. The SEC continued to be the most powerful conference in college football as they began adding schools like Miami, Florida State, and Clemson.
Even as the NFL added additional teams in several southern states, including in Florida (Tampa Bay Bucs, Jacksonville Jags) their love of college football still would not wain. The fans still flocked to the schools in the south at all levels of college football. One of the predominant reasons why teams in the south were so good was there there was an unlimited supply of top high school athletes throughout the south.
All of the schools throughout the south would continue to benefit from the diehard fanbases that surround most of the schools. This made the best players from all across the country want to be a part of the schools, especially those in the SEC.
College Football impact on the culture of the South
While much can be said about the financial support that the fans of college football in the south bring. Whether it is ticket revenue or merchandise sales that each of the schools enjoys, there is no doubt that money is a big deal. However, there is something much more to it than economics to the people in the south.
See how much of an impact college football has on towns in the south all you have to do is try to get anywhere on a gameday Saturday in a town with a college football team. All the talk in the town leading up to Saturday is also centered around the football team and what everyone expects to happen. Even the local businesses often get in on the excitement of creating commemorative products that prominently feature links to the local school or its players.
Even at the high school and junior high school levels, the athletes dreamed of playing for many of the southern colleges which made it difficult for schools in the north or out west to come in and recruit kids from the south, Even for the blue blood football programs like Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan.
As long as SEC continues to be on top of the college football world and attract the best of the best players, there is no reason to believe that there will be a letdown in support from all of the passionate fans. Some people have observed that the support that football fans in the south may just borderline on a religious following.
5 Things that explain why college football means more in the south
If you know anything about the south and its love affair with college football you already know that there are four seasons according to football fans; Winter, Spring, Summer, and Football. Below is just a short list of the things that prove that college football means more to people in the south than anywhere else in the country.
- Fans are more passionate in the south
- Tailgate celebrations extend for the whole day
- Every college town in the south has its traditions
- There is nothing like college football on gameday Saturday
- Teams colors are an integral part of the fashion worn by everyone in town
As long as college football exists in the south, the fans will continue to be as passionate as they have been since the end of the Civil War.
Jon Is a 58-year-old US Navy veteran living in Oklahoma, OK for the past 30 years. He is married to his high school sweetheart and they have three adult children. He is heavily into politics, the Detroit Lions, and the Oklahoma Sooners (BOOMER SOONER BABY). Jon is an IT Support Specialist by day and a professional writer by night. He has been writing online for the better part of 30 years and much of it for other people. He is now geting credit for his writing!