Mythbusters: Where do loyalties lie?

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Once again, the good old (read: tired and annoying) conference superiority debate is rearing its ugly head. The SEC, the traditional bully on the block, has seen its preeminence challenged by the Big 12, which had the audacity to place four teams in the top seven of the coaches poll, including the top two. And the whole thing calls to mind a myth that has doubtlessly tormented fans from L.A. to Athens.

Conference rooting is a strange and relatively recent college football phenomenon. The theory goes, in the BCS era you need all your teams' opponents to also do well... that way, when you beat them it improves your credibility on the national scene. Call it the 'Hansel and Gretel' effect: fatten 'em up with praise, so you can feast on their tasty, bloated carcasses.

But how did we get to the point where once-hated rivals root for each other on every Saturday but one? Since when did the performance of the other conference teams somehow dictate the worthiness of your team? And can we dig ourselves out of this moral morass and give ourselves the freedom to once again hate our rivals year-round? We can only hope.

First, let's isolate a few culprits. The ACC is still primarily a basketball conference, and with the likes of Florida State and Miami outside the top twenty, they're not a major factor in the regional chest-thumping. The Big East is also a basketball conference, and, well, they're the Big East. So let's reign the discussion in to encompass the other four BCS conferences: SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10. And if you want to get really personal with it, the SEC and Big Ten are the Hatfields and McCoys of this movement.

Florida and LSU consecutively blowing up Ohio State was seen as a referendum on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the SEC and Big Ten (Michigan's win over Heisman winner Tim Tebow and the Gators in the Citrus Bowl -- with a lame duck coach -- apparently did little to alter the consensus). Even though those LSU and Florida teams were also faster and better than the other teams in the SEC, fans and analysts took those title game blowouts to mean that the SEC as a whole was simply faster and better than the Big Ten. Battle lines drawn by north and south geography... call it Civil War II, only with a lower body count. And less relevant. And dumber.

Now, this isn't a referendum on which conference is the best: there's simply no way to address that topic without completely obliterating the e-mail inbox, so we'll leave it alone. But let's be honest with ourselves: this silly habit of cheering for the entire conference has got to stop. Is there anything lamer than fans chanting "S-E-C! S-E-C!" or "Big Ten! Big Ten!"?

Your rooting interests should be confined to your university, not the collective geographic region where it just happens to be located. Mississippi State doesn't get to claim Alabama's or LSU's national championships any more than Cornell gets to claim the presidents produced by Harvard and Yale (sorry, Andy Bernard). USC's Heisman trophies don't collectively belong to Oregon State (even though the Beavers do kinda own the Trojans). Baylor has as much to do with Oklahoma's success as smoothly paved asphalt has to do with Ferraris being fast.

Does it make rational sense to root for your enemies so your computer average goes up? In theory, yes. But if you're from one of the power conferences and you find yourself passionately rooting for your rivals, chances are your team has already blown it. Don't blame the conference superiority debate -- blame your heavily favored squad that forgot to show up for the first half in Corvallis or the second half in Gainesville.

With the exception of Auburn in 2004, there hasn't been a team in the BCS era from one of those conferences that has gone undefeated and not played for the national title. Last year, even a one-loss team from the SEC, Pac-10 or Big Ten was virtually assured of playing for the crystal.

So does it help? Yeah, certainly it helps a little. But are a few extra tenths of a point worth a Georgia man actually doing the Gator clap? Or a Missouri Tiger flashing the "Hook em" sign? If you find yourself sitting in your home stadium rooting for your hated archrival to help redeem your team's lost honor, you should probably reexamine your life.

After all, where does it end? Do you scrap your Nebraska Cornhusker apparel and just buy 'Big 12' apparel? Do you swap your 'University of Georgia Alumni' license plate frame for one that reads 'SEC Alumni'? Forget "Fight On," do you need to sing, "Our (Pac-10 conference) fights on to victory"? And forget safety schools, maybe high school seniors should be sure to always have a safety conference, just in case.

You know you don't like it. Gator fans should never cheer for Rocky Top under any circumstances. Longhorns don't need to memorize all the words to Boomer Sooner. Buckeyes and Wolverines don't need to have each others' backs, it goes against the natural order of the universe. Plus, it's just dirty. And Auburn fans rooting for Bama and vice versa, is even worse.

Life is complicated. College football shouldn't be. You root for your team and against their rivals, polls and computer averages be damned. That's simply one of the pillars upon which our Jeffersonian democracy was built. Without that moral certainty, we have anarchy.

There's no reason to sacrifice your integrity and dignity in the name of wishing your team into a better bowl game. Then again, 'integrity' and 'dignity' aren't words commonly associated with college football fandom, so people will probably keep doing it anyway.

That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans think it's true, doesn't mean it is.

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