It’s Championship weekend in College Football. Conference title games are being played from the MAC, C-USA, AAC, BIG 10, PAC 12, ACC, and SEC. It’s an annual celebration for fans of these schools to see who will be crowned conference champion with some being a play-in game for the CFB Playoffs. It’s an eagerly anticipated event to close out the college football regular season but it wasn’t always this way. Not until December 5, 1992 in Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1991 Roy Kramer, then commissioner of the SEC, found a little known NCAA rule allowing conferences to play a championship game if it was divided into 2 six team divisions. Kramer knew the potential of an extra game would help strengthen the conference brand and bring in extra revenue from TV sponsorships. Ryan McGee of ESPN: “The goal was to stand out. I think it was separating themselves from the pack. Immediately, the SEC had something nobody else had.” Remember, this wasn’t the strong SEC brand we know today. Arkansas and South Carolina were added to give the conference 12 teams. They were split into two divisions, East and West. The 1992 season would have the first SEC Conference Championship game.
This was radical thinking of the day and coaches were not excited about playing an extra game. Many thought it was too risky and would jeopardize any future national championship chances that teams in this game would have. Steve Spurrier of Florida: “Divisions and championship game? I didn’t know that was legal.” The season played out with Alabama (11-0) facing Florida (8-3) in the first SEC Championship game. Gene Stallings of Alabama: “We’re 11-0 and we haven’t won anything!” A Bama win would put them in the Sugar Bowl to play Miami for the National Champion. A loss would have eliminated them. Kramer: “You had a chance to have a team play for the national championship. Now, all of a sudden if they lose the game, they’re gonna lose their spot at a national championship. I was concerned we had shot ourselves in the foot.”
Alabama won the game 28-21 thanks to a late 4th quarter TD interception return by Alabama’s Antonio Langham off of Florida QB Shane Matthews. Alabama went on to beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl for the national title and the rest is history. Other conferences followed and added their own title games. Today the SEC brand, love it or hate it, is the most recognized conference in the country. In 1861, the South seceded from the Union during The Civil War. On December 5, 1992 they did it again and changed the landscape of College Football.