Frustrated by the North Carolina-centric nature of the conference, and what was seen as uncompetitive academic standards, South Carolina bolted from the ACC in 1971. After wandering in the wilderness as an independent, and then as a member of the now-defunct Metro Conference, we were in the right place at the right time when the SEC was looking to expand in 1990. As a lifelong Gamecock fan who came of age during the putrid Metro days, I can recall many who bemoaned our departure from the ACC as a stupid move by the USC administration at the time. Well, guess who look like geniuses now?
Paul Dietzel and Frank McGuire, that’s who.
McGuire’s teams were the bad boys of the ACC. They were street toughs from NYC who didn’t take crap from the “whine” and cheese crowd in the Tar Heel state. After getting jobbed repeatedly by the conference powers, McGuire thought that enough was enough and lobbied to get his boys out of the ACC.
In football, a guy named Freddie Solomon was as dominant a high school player as anyone had ever seen. But due to the ACC’s academic standards, which were more stringent that those of the NCAA, Freddie could not play at USC. We all know what happened to Freddie. After a guy named Rice, he’s probably the next best receiver to ever play for the San Francisco 49ers.
When USC pulled out of the ACC, the strong rumor was that Clemson would also be leaving. Supposedly it was a pact. Turns out that CTU left us high and dry; instead, deciding to stay in the ACC after USC boldly (foolishly some say) stepped out as an independent. I can remember some USC folks speaking with bitterness about the perceived double cross pulled off by CTU. For years, you can bet that CTU thought they had really screwed us. I hope they had a lot of fun while it lasted, because we are doing all, and I mean ALL the laughing now.
Sure, we sucked for the first few years we were in the SEC. No doubt about it. We weren’t ready to compete with the big boys and it was painfully obvious to just about anyone who watched. We won a game or two here and there, but overall, we were overmatched. But guess what else was happening while we took our lumps? The Gamecocks were getting paid, and paid well.
The SEC, unlike some other conferences, is basically an equal pay out league. While UT, Bama, and LSU were winning championships and raking in the dough for the conference, Carolina was building its war chest. The SEC also brought credibility. With credibility came coaches like Ray Tanner, Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. And now, after a long period of paying dues, some success has started to roll in (See Buck Sweep, Golden Age Edition). No more are we the throw-in team needed to get the SEC to 12. Now we are legit.
During our time in the SEC, the national landscape has changed considerably. The SEC is now the unquestioned powerhouse conference in America. And there’s a HUGE gap between first and second. Oh, and where does our former conference, the ACC, now rank? Maybe 5th. And that’s on a good day.
With conference realignment in full swing, the SEC just strengthened its brand by bringing in TAMU and Missouri. The ACC? They now proudly call Syracuse and Pittsburgh members. That’s right, the ACC is now looking a lot like the former Big East of a few years ago. And we all know that the Big East (Least) sucks, big time.
Last week’s announcement of the new SEC/BIG 12 Champions Bowl is yet another crushing blow to everyone not a member of the four power conferences. The message sent by the SEC to the ACC football schools was loud and clear: we have the ball and we ain’t kicking it to you. Meanwhile, CTU and its fans desperately want OUT of the ACC and into the Big 12 (or the SEC). They used to whisper about this while still singing the praises of the ACC in public.
Well, no more. Visit a CTU message board sometime for your viewing pleasure. Those guys are now openly begging for a chance to bolt from the ACC. While publicly stating that they still have the upper hand in football, they are now privately admitting that the power ($$) of the SEC has taken its toll. They cringe when they think about the losses to USC and how those losses have occurred – old-style SEC beat downs.
So, I want to take this opportunity to thank Coach Dietzel and Coach McGuire. Without their guts and vision, we might still be in the ACC and might (like CTU) be on the outside looking in as the world of college athletics is remade.
Because of these men, we have a seat at the table – and the food is tasting pretty darn good.