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SEC Pushing Its Academic Oomph

professorWhenever we point out that academics do matter to some extent in the conference expansion/realignment game — depends on the conference and its goals, obviously — we always hear from a few folks who say school prestige has nothing to do with league growth.  “Conferences are a collection of sports teams!”

Well, for those who need more convincing with regards to schools binding not only their athletics but also their academics together, we bring you this press release we received today from the Southeastern Conference office.

Will you care?  Probably not.  Dry as a bone?  To most.  But still it should give everyone — everyone — an understanding that conference presidents view their league affiliations as something more than just sports groupings:


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Southeastern Conference is widely known for setting the standard of excellence when it comes to intercollegiate athletics. But even as the league was accomplishing a record-setting fall, which included Alabama claiming the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS Championship, it also has been busy preparing for the inaugural SEC Symposium.

This first-of-its-kind event will address a significant scholarly issue across the range of disciplines represented by the SEC’s 14 member universities. The event showcases their academic excellence and underscores their educational and economic contributions to the vitality of the region, nation and world.

The 2013 edition of the SEC Symposium, entitled “Impact of the Southeast in the World’s Renewable Energy Future,” will take place Feb. 10-12 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

Just as the SEC provides its student-athletes the opportunity to compete on one of the biggest stages in college athletics, the Conference will also afford its faculty members and standout students a prestigious academic platform from which to present and discuss their research and scholarly accomplishments.

The SEC Symposium is the brainchild of Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, current Vice President of the SEC Executive Committee and liaison to SECU, the league’s academic initiative.

“We are excited for the inaugural SEC Symposium,” Zeppos said. “This will provide an outstanding way in which to showcase the academic accomplishments and research efforts of our SEC institutions.”

This year’s event, led by the University of Georgia, will feature a wide variety of presentations from faculty representing each SEC institution, an SEC university showcase, poster exhibitions and a reception with the SEC Presidents, Chancellors and Provosts.

Established in January 2011, the University of Georgia’s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute (BSRI), headed by Dr. Robert Scott, provides a synergistic collaboration of the university’s history of success in the areas of agriculture, forestry, environmental science and engineering to find a long-term solution to creating a sustainable and economically viable bioenergy future.

“Dr. Robert Scott has provided tremendous support of the SEC Symposium through BSRI,” said Torie Johnson, Executive Director of SECU. “Following his example, everyone has been eager to help organize our inaugural event in a way that not only highlights UGA, but that highlights the entire SEC membership. I appreciate their work in the bioenergy area and their willingness to translate it into a substantive program for the SEC Symposium.”

As synonymous as football is with the Southeastern United States when it comes to the sports world, so too is renewable energy a geographically natural fit for an academic conference that highlights the efforts of its region.

“To the leadership in our institute, it was obvious that this topic resonated with most of the SEC institutions,” Scott said. “In the Southeast there is, in particular, a lot of biomass – plant material – such as pine trees and switch grass, all of which make the Southeast a place where bioenergy makes more sense as a renewable energy source than say wind energy or solar energy.”

The SEC has always been at the forefront of recognizing and promoting the accomplishments of its students in the classroom. The Symposium affords the SEC just another opportunity to showcase the outstanding academic work of its students and faculty.

In 1992, the SEC became the first conference in the nation to assemble a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Since the implementation of the Graduation Success Rate, there has been a general trend of improvement in the GSR of student-athletes in the SEC. NCAA research indicates the student body graduates at a GSR comparable rate of 60 percent, which is exceeded by 90 percent of teams within the SEC. Since 2003, the SEC has had 170 student-athletes earn first-team Capital One Academic All-America recognition.

In 2005, the Presidents, Chancellors and Provosts from the then-12 SEC institutions created the Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium (SECAC) to coordinate efforts to bolster teaching, research, public service and other educational activities at the institutions.

The SECAC was the precursor to SECU, which in 2011 moved from the University of Arkansas and came under the direct auspices of the SEC Office in Birmingham, Ala.

Using its SECU academic initiative, the SEC sponsors, supports and promotes collaborative higher education programs and activities involving administrators, faculty and students at its member universities.

For more information on the inaugural SEC Symposium and its participants, please log on to



I have stated all along that one of the last straws for TAMU to get out of the B12 was the 2012  state of Texas budget. There used to be just two tier one research in the state. About 6 years or so, a amendment to  the state constitution required the funding and creation of more tier one research schools. Well the 2012 budget split the research funding from between UTx Austin and TAMU, to now it is spread out among 8-10 schools. In other words TAMU is getting a much smaller piece of the research money pie.  The university of Texas, with their network of campuses (which several are now  receiving larger portions of the research pie due to this law), is a huge research monster and by itself compares with many conferences. TAMU could not compete with that, like most university networks. TAMU is similar to the other schools in the SEC, and nation. One flagship campus and several newer smaller campuses around the state.  I fully believe what killed the PAC deal was not the Longhorn network, but that the UTx did not want to share academically equally with the rest of the PAC conference. After TX refused to share academically with the non-CA schools, they no longer had the votes to join the conference.  In this last go round of re-alignment, it was no surprise that the two most unstable conferences were the two conferences with no academic networks - the B12 and the Big East. The B12 is forming a academic partnership, minus Texas. It was one of the requirements of  OU to stop looking around, and WVU mentioned it  as part of  their  accolades when joining the B12.  As state and federal resources become tighter and spread thinner, academic partnerships and conferences will become more important and valuable. Research hospitals, petroleum fields, body farms, nuclear research facilities, civil engineering research facilities, marine bio-science labs, super computers are no longer being designed and built. These facilities built in the 30, 40, 50, and 60's are now under the umbrellas of your state schools and will not be cannot be duplicated.  So yes Academics are huge in this  upper level conference dance. Remember it  is the people with the bowties that are making these alignment decisions, not the people  with  the whistles. Just remember that letter from the president of FSU in regards to the B12 academics and how much FSU would  lose by leaving the ACC. 


i hope you're right.  i'd love to see the sec come into its own as an inter-COLLEGIATE conference.  unfortunately, if you took a poll, i'd be willing to bet that, by a considerable margin, those sweat shirt wearing, rv driving 'fans' consider academics as an unnecessary impediment to recruiting.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

Getting the feeling some folks didn't get the drift of this story.  We've written a few thousand times about the importance of academics in all of this and we've written in detail about the SEC's academic consortium.  Matter of fact, we did so as far back as 2010.  


For leagues fighting for survival (Big East, ACC to an extent) academics don't matter as much as filling slots at this point.  But for leagues like the Big Ten (AAU or else!) and the SEC (tired of being looked down upon as if it were a second-class conference) it matters a great deal.  Which was the point.


For those who don't grasp that academics do play a role in terms of the SEC presidents' goals, here's proof of how conferences are about both athletics and academics.




I think this is a good idea and I also think it could be used to help with expansion and attracting teams like North Carolina and Duke.


College presidents have a big impact on the SEC, the President of UF was the guy who pushed the President of A&M to consider the SEC. Where did that happen? An academic symposium. Why? They started talking first about what the UNIVERSITY brought to the other universities in the conference.


Academic alignment is very important to university presidents. AS IT SHOULD BE. Sports get all the headlines, but what these men and women think about how to deal with academic issues take up most of their time. I pay a lot of attention to what A&M does, and the reason is UF wanted them associated with my institution. As a graduate of a school, and not a football team, call me silly, but these academic relationships are important to all of us.


there are those of us who have actually graduated from an sec school who take pride in the name 'university'. 


 @HoustonVol That was a great bit of behind the scenes stuff. Makes perfect sense that Machen would also be looking for partnerships inside the converence to expand UF's research partnerships. Wonder if there is a site on the web that tracks partnerships for research funding. I know it is just too geeky, but you got me wondering. Thanks.


 @HoustonVol This is fascinating insight that I had not seen anywhere else.  Thanks for providing it.  I've written on other threads about the role that state legislatures play in the research game.  My favorite example is Ohio University.  It suffered because the Ohio legislature decided in the late 1980s to consolidate all resources in a single state research university, thus effectively creating THE Ohio State University.  Ohio U people are still smarting from that decision. 


I suspect that the State of Alabama is similar.  Why is the flagship state university rated so low in research?  I think it's because the Alabama legislature has decided that UAB is the research university in that state.  State money is required in order to get off the ground in the research game.  If you don't have it, then you're not going to attract the PhDs; if you don't have PhDs, then you're not going to have the needed volume of grant applications; if you don't apply for federal grants, then you're not going to get them; and so on.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Whatever the school, there's always a difference between the "alums" and the "sidewalk alums."  Folks who went to a school care about its overall reputation.  Those who didn't attend a school but just grew up pulling for its sports teams could care less about academics.  So I think you're "impediment to recruiting" statement is 100% accurate for a large percentage of America's college sports fans.  


Thanks for reading,



 @John at MrSEC Like most of your "not quite purely sports" stories, this kind of thing generates tangental interest. I taught for 4 years at the universtiy level, so the minute you mention academics, my interest is peaked. I also am not overly impressed with the whole concept of academic rankings of schools, an exercise equivalent to trying to nail warm Jello to a tree. But I know enough about the structure and politics of schools to know the presidents are under a lot of pressure to show improvements to the board on positioning the universtiy. 


Most of us have never been to more than one university, other than for sporting events, but most of us like to try to imagine what it is like going to a different place, what makes these guys different, how did that traditrion start, etc. Getting off the topic and missing the original point can be fun. I've enjoyed this post a lot. It has generated more than a little casual converstion at our consulting firms soda machine (no one here goes to the water cooler, heck, don't even know if we have one). Its nerdy, but most college presidents are kind of nerdy, so I can relate.



 I have to admit that the potential to use our conference's academic consortium, SECU, as a tool to attract prestigious, AAU-affiliated academic institutions as possible expansion candidates was the first thing that entered my mind as i read this article.  That said, I'm just glad the SEC has gotten around to establishing a consortium that can organize high-level symposia such as this one in Atlanta, as any initiatives that can enhance the overall academic credibility of our conference are both helpful and welcome.  Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, SECU can be as effective in its role as the Big Ten's CIC has been for many, many years.


 @BonzaiB While I'm not positive about A&M, it was mentioned back in 2011 when rumblings began about Missouri joining the Aggies in a move to the SEC, that Bernie Machen from Florida and Brady Deaton, chancellor at Missouri had served on committees together and had been talking about MU possibly switching leagues back in 2010.  Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia were big supporters of adding AAU schools. 


 @TennesseeJed  @cjhadley The SEC is definitely on the right track in this regard.  The problem is that it is so far behind the Big Ten.  The CIC has been around for decades and still includes the U of Chicago from the old Western Conference days (it left the athletic conference but not the academic consortium.)  The pointy heads at schools like UVA and UNC know all about the CIC.  Depending on who's doing the talking, the CIC either "made" Penn State or, at the very least, contributed greatly to its emergence.


When it comes to conference realignment and expansion, the important thing to remember is that prestigious academic schools tend to want to be associated with "like institutions".  That's a negative for the SEC if it finds itself competing with the Big Ten for UNC and UVA.    The fact of the matter is that the SEC has 4 AAU schools and the Big Ten has 13.  AAU is of course not the end-all; schools such as Virginia Tech and Miami are competitive academically with lots of AAU members and would make fine additions.


 @merlinsedge1 I read a piece in one of the Texas papers when I was on a business trip on the topic. Luftin(?), A&M president was outlining the reasons for the move, and he spent some time in the interview talking about his chance meetings with the UF folks at administrative converences. Said something to the effect the seating at many of those meetings was done alphabetically, so he often was seated next to Machen. He and Machen apparently became pretty good friends. Machen was credited by some reporters in the SEC world as having worked behind the scenes (with MU?) and others to get the ball rolling. It makes sense that these guys sitting on committees together would talk openly about issues the schools were going through, and MU and A&M admins would have had a lot to talk about with the troubles the Big XII was going through for 09 - 11 (at the very least).


I think you have it right, based on what I have read in mainstream press. I like to think that once you had Machen talking it up, it was not hard for the other presidents to help A&M and MU's boards to realize they had an option other than the Big XII. Pretty cool story, and since I am an odd ball who really likes the history of Land Grant Universities, the similarities between UF and A&M are interesting.



 I didn't intend to slight UF when I made my "standard bearer" comment about Duke and UNC.  UF has a very impressive research profile (and you could add A&M to that category as well).  I was referring just as much to the reputation of Duke and UNC's undergraduate programs as I was to the quality of their graduate programs and research capabilities when making that statement, and it's my fault for not mentioning that.  UF, UGA, and A&M are all highly thought of public undergraduate instittions, but UNC is generally considered, along with UVA, Michigan and Cal-Berkeley, to be amongst the top 4-5 public universities in the country.


 @TennesseeJed  @Roggespierre 

UF usually ranks about the same as UNC in total R&D expenditures, some years higher, some years lower. The two schools are pretty close for 2011. Duke might become the unquestioned standard bearer but I don't think I'd say that about UNC.


Thirty institutions reporting the largest FY 2011 R&D expenditures in all fields, by source of funds: FY 2011(Million of current dollars)

Rank Institution All R&D

1 Johns Hopkins U. 2,145

2 U. MI Ann Arbor 1,279

3 U. WA Seattle 1,149

4 U. WI Madison 1,112

5 Duke U. 1,022

6 U. CA San Diego 1,009

7 U. CA San Francisco 995

8 U. CA Los Angeles 982

9 Stanford U. 908

10 U. Pittsburgh main campus 899

11 U. PA 886

12 Columbia U. in the City of New York 879

13 U. MN Twin Cities 847

14 OH State U. 832

15 PA State U. University Park and Hershey Medical Ctr. 795

16 Cornell U. 782

17 U. NC Chapel Hill 767

18 U. FL 740

19 Washington U. St Louis 725

20 MA Institute of Technology 724

21 U. CA Berkeley 708

22 U. CA Davis 708

23 TX A&M U. 706

24 U. TX M. D. Anderson Cancer Ctr. 663

25 Yale U. 657

26 GA Institute of Technology 655

27 Harvard U. 650

28 U. TX Austin 632

29 Northwestern U. 619

30 U. AZ 611


 @TennesseeJed All good points.  The biggest obstacle that the SEC will need to overcome is the "like institutions" predisposition.  Many seem to think that keeping in-state rivals together might be a mitigating factor, but we'll see.  Virginia and Virginia Tech managed to be rivals for decades without being in the same conference.  Clemson/USC and Georgia/GT, and UK/Louisville pull off the same trick.


What if North Carolina is left with a choice of either 1) Big Ten membership, 2) SEC membership, or 3) membership in a watered down ACC?  I don't think anybody can predict what would happen, but I do like the B1G's competitive positioning.  The key, of course, is sufficiently watering down the ACC so that it is no longer attractive to UNC.  That means that the Big Ten will likely need to go to at least 18 teams including Virginia and Georgia Tech.


The Dukies around here - and there are lots of them, mostly lawyers, in the DC burbs - are worried about getting left behind.  They are loathe to join the SEC and they're not particularly excited about the Big Ten.  Obviously, they don't speak for the university, but I think it's going to be a very tough sell.  What about the SEC would appeal to Duke?  The school has never indicated an interest in playing football at the highest level.  It does want to play basketball at that level, but it could do that as a member of any one of several conferences.  Duke's third most important sport from a fundraising standpoint is lacrosse.  Does anybody in the SEC play lacrosse?  For that matter, the Big Ten will have just five LAX schools (one short of the minimum for AQ status) after it adds Maryland and Rutgers.  It's actually talking seriously about trying to land Johns Hopkins as a LAX-only member.


Would Duke willingly stay in an ACC that included the likes of Wake and Syracuse among its leadership?  One could argue that Duke is a better fit with those schools than it is with either the Big Ten or the SEC.


You're right - interesting stuff.  Following it is becoming an addiction.



 I don't think anyone could reasonably argue that the SEC's academic consortium is anywhere close to being in the same ballpark as the CIC.  You're right, we're presently far behind the B1G in that regard.  The good thing is the conference does have one now, and though it's relatively small in scope and scale right now, it's starting to have some impact.  In my opinion, it will take at least a couple of decades of strong financial and political support and the full commitment of all SEC members before SECU could even begin to be mentioned in the same breath with the CIC.  That said, I do remember reading that both A&M president Loftin and Mizzou chancellor Deaton (both leaders of AAU institutions) mentioned the SECU and the opportunity to participate in academic symposia such as the upcoming one in Atlanta as a reason (not saying it was THE reason by any stretch) for their leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.  At the very least, events such as these demonstrate a desire by SEC leaders for the conference to be viewed as much more than just a collection of football factories with suspect academic reputations.


Regarding the ACC and which conference some of its members would prefer if the ACC collapsed, that's a subject I have very mixed feelings about.  I just have a hard time imagining college athletics without UNC, Duke and UVA competing in the ACC.  The ACC is an important part of the fabric and culture of the states of Virginia and North Carolina, and I would hate to see that come to an end.  But if that day does come, I would agree that most of the faculty and administrators at those universities would prefer the B1G over the SEC due to its superior academic reputation and membership in the CIC.  But there are other factors at play, at least in North Carolina, namely geography and politics, which could mitigate that advantage.  Also, the SEC could sell UNC and Duke on being, along with Vandy, the unquestioned academic standard bearers of the conference (notwithstanding UNC's current academic issues).  And the SEC, by already adding two AAU institutions in their previous expansion and setting up and moving forward with their consortium, could show Duke and UNC that they're serious about improving the conference's academic standing. 


But, who knows what will actually happen?  Certainly makes for an interesting discussion.






 @Quidam65 Well, that permanent rivalry isn't going to happen under an 8 game schedule. Not sure how a 9 game SEC schedule would affect it. I suspect the SEC is headed to a 16 team conference, and probably before the 2016 season (right after the schedule stabilizes for a 14 team conference). So, turmoil might have us meeting in the next couple of years, but it is highly unlikely. I've been on both campi, and like the student atmosphere at both. Big difference is after a game in Gainesville, I can make it to the beach in less than two hours...... two hours from College Station, I'm still in..... Texas......



 If for some reason the SEC stays at 14 members for the foreseeable future I would like to see A&M and Florida be permanent rivals.  It only makes sense for the SEC's two largest members (and two of the 10 largest in the whole country) pair off.


Our (I say this as a fan) extension centers would probably put us ahead (we have so many across the state), but organizationally they are separate entities under the A&M System.  We're in the process of putting our medical campus under the main university, and we just got approved to purchase and take over a private law school in DFW.


 @Roggespierre  I'm glad you think A&M would have been outstanding as a B1G member and know that it is a world-class institution in its own right.


Of course we both know that it was never considering going there, invite or not, just like it had no interest in the PAC (and definitely wasn't going to go there just because Texas made some deal to take everyone).  It was either stay in the Big 12 or jump to the SEC, and probably since 1990 the SEC is where it has always wanted to be.


 @Quidam65 Thanks for correcting my spelling of Dr Loftin's name. Lazy, could've just looked it up. Thanks for confirming what I read in a discarded newspaper at DFW. Seen one Loftin press conference. For a guy who wears bow ties (how unstereotypical Texan is that?), he sure can hold your interest. He nailed it with that "100 year decision" remark. Thought that was the best quote from the expansion.


A&M and Florida are really very similar in their corporate outlook. UF, although it does not bathe itself in tradition, has quite a few, its ROTC program is large and for years rated #1 in the country, like A&M it does a large amount of research for DoD, very large science and veterinarian programs, etc. Within a couple of hundred students of each other, and while the College Station campus is huge all on its own, UF's total size, including extension centers, is impressive. 


At any rate, welcome aboard and thanks for playing us early.....


 @Quidam65 I think Texas A&M would have been an outstanding addition for any conference.  As a Big Ten fan, I wish the conference had paid more attention to A&M and I congratulate the SEC for landing it.  I can't imagine that getting a CIC invite would have been a problem.  A&M outranks a majority of schools in the CIC with regards to research funding.


In hindsight, A&M would have been a better B1G addition than Nebraska.  Given everything that has occurred in conference realignment, I wonder if Delany and Co. would have eliminated the "contiguous states" consideration had they known then what they know now.


Dr. Loftin (A&M) mentioned that, when attending meetings with other university heads at Association of American Universities meetings, the participants were seated in alphabetical order, and next to him was Dr. Machen (Florida).  So not surprising they have worked together.  (Recently A&M was the lead of a consortium that won a large federal grant for vaccine production.  One of the members of the consortium?  Florida.)


I have no doubt that whatever conference A&M wanted to join, its academic credentials alone would have gotten it in (including the highly selective Big Ten, you ask?  A&M is an AAU member and #18 overall in terms of total research dollars.  The only delay would be getting the CIC to simultaneously announce its invite as well.)


A&M was considered as a potential SEC member (along with arch rival Texas) as far back as 1990 (according to a recent article from Saturday Down South).  We may tease them (t.u.) but they're no slouch in academia (AAU and #20 overall research dollars).  Though if anyone was the big mover and shaker back in 2010 to get A&M to consider (once again) the SEC, it may have been Gene Stallings (yes, the former A&M and Alabama coach, at that time he was an A&M System Regent).


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