In the early 1980s, a group of professional wrestling promoters gathered in an attempt to form an alliance to combat the expansion of Vince McMahon, Jr.’s World Wrestling Federation. McMahon had come to dominate public perception of the industry and the WWF was coming to be seen as the major leagues of wrestling across the country.
In prior decades, promoters across the country had carved the US into regions and maintained a pact not to promote outside their own territories. McMahon had refused to honor this agreement, and offered a product with superior production values and marketing to a public used to a cheaper, home-grown version. Suddenly, the hometown champion looked like an amateur compared with a blonde Adonis like Hulk Hogan.
As the promotions spent time bickering among themselves over the best ways to ape the WWF’s style or marketing (rumor even has it that there was discussion of putting out a contract on McMahon’s life), McMahon’s promotion became the mainstream face of pro wrestling, and eventually bought out or drove out all his competition.
As we read almost daily reports of conference commissioners making the case that their three-loss champion deserves an automatic bid over a one-loss Alabama, we see the desperate flailing of salesmen pushing a bad product on a public that isn’t buying it anymore.
That the Southeastern Conference is the strongest football conference in the country is beyond dispute. Its champion has won five of the last six BCS Championships, and lost the last one to SEC rival Alabama. And it’s not a question of outspending, either; the SEC has only the third-highest television contract among the major conferences, and Alabama is behind Texas and Ohio State in total revenue.
The SEC has the strong hand in this battle. They must make a firm stand against the NCAA and those member organizations that want to carve up the college football landscape into an Upward football, everyone-gets-a-trophy league where everybody makes money and nobody has to work hard to excel.
What we are seeing in the statements by conference officials is an admission that their teams cannot win a national championship on the field, so it must be won in the public relations department. Once again, a superior product that has vanquished its competition must be sacrificed on the altar of fairness and parity.
Whether institutions of higher learning should fund for-profit athletic teams is another argument entirely; but what the current public relations battle does seem to show is that the default position of most cartels – whether pro wrestling or college football – is to tell the buying public what they can have, instead of giving them what they want.