Missouri's Love for their Tigers will fit in perfectly with the SEC "Culture"
SEC Culture and Mizzou
It now appears that it could be the end of this week that we find out that Missouri is the 14th member of the SEC. Personally, I love the move and think the Tigers are a good fit to the league, but some seem to have some issues with Mizzou. There seems to be a large amount of critics that want to say Missouri doesn't fit the culture of SEC Athletics . The problem is that I have yet to hear a reasonable argument on why Missouri doesn't fit the culture, it's just a statement people throw around with no evidence.
I'm not exactly sure what the culture of the SEC is supposed to be. Certainly, I think most intelligent SEC fans would agree with me that culturally each SEC school is unique. In the State of Mississippi for instance, Ole Miss likes to portray itself as the civilized old south while Mississippi State is the agriculture school that seems to have a more laid back feel to it. The same could be said to Alabama and Auburn who have similar features within their own state.
Maybe when people speak about culture it is a thought that everyone in the Southeast share a similar set of values and beliefs. This I also have an exception with. The area around Columbia, South Carolina has a large number Lutherans in the area due to what is known as "The Dutch Fork", an area settled by German Settlers hundreds of years ago. The large number of German Settlers in the area help explain the large number of Lutherans as well as the love for mustard BBQ sauce. Travel to Baton Rouge, LA and you will find a large number of Catholic Churches. The beliefs and food in Baton Rouge are much different than that in Columbia, SC. I don't think anyone who has been to these two places would disagree with me.
Within SEC State Borders you have huge cultural differences. Memphis is nearly 400 miles away from Knoxville and there is no doubt that Eastern Tennessee and Memphis are two different areas. Eastern Tennessee has a mountain culture to it and a bluegrass type feel to it, where Memphis is a city with a much larger African American influence to it and more of a blues feel to it. Still, on a Friday Evening in Tennessee you will see thousands of cars from the Memphis area with Vol Flags on them traveling to Knoxville to interact with people with different cultures.
Even SEC Gameday Cultures are different at each school. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Auburn fans dress up more on gamedays. You see more people looking like they are headed to a business meeting or church rather than a football game. Meanwhile at LSU and Florida you have more of an anything goes type of dress, almost NFL like in some ways. At Tennessee and Arkansas it seems to be more of a blue jean and tshirt type crowd. Even fan participation is different at each school. Auburn loves its pom poms, while Gamecock fans rely on white towels to "Sandstorm" with. Mississippi State has its cowbells and Vandy has a Foghorn. Each SEC school has its own Gameday Culture and Missouri will bring its own as well
It's possible some think that the athletic culture is what makes Missouri different. Some believe that Missouri doesn't love college football enough and is a NFL or MLB State. When traveling to St. Louis this is true in regards to the Cardinals. The Cardinals are one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball and get plenty of love throughout the State of Missouri. This doesn't mean that the Missouri Tigers Football program isn't loved though. Missouri averaged over 64,000 fans at each home game a year ago. That total is higher than the average attendance at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and not much less than that at Kentucky. Keep in mind that Missouri's home opponents in the past few years have been teams like Iowa State, Kansas State, and Colorado(Missouri and Kansas have played at a neutral site the last few years). Give Missouri a group of SEC schools to travel to Columbia on a Saturday and there is no doubt attendance would increase at the 71,000 seat Faurot Field. Keep in mind Williams Brice Stadium only held 72,000 when South Carolina joined the SEC and Razorback Stadium only held slightly over 50,000. Kansas City has been home to the Big XII Tournament for many years. If this was just a pro sports state then why would one of the most important basketball tournaments in the country hold its games in Missouri?
Missouri football has done very well recently. The Tigers have a 40-14 record in the last 4 years and has won 3 Big XII North Titles. Since 2005 the Tigers have 2 bowl wins over SEC schools and has an all time record of 19-8-1 against SEC schools. Certainly, Missouri Football struggled for many years in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but the program seems to be on a solid foundation now. Certainly, most would agree that at this moment Missouri has better football leadership than that at Kentucky, Ole Miss, and maybe a few other SEC schools. This is a program that could come in and compete right away in the SEC. Certainly, they aren't at the level of Alabama, but who really is right now that isn't in the SEC?
The argument that Missouri doesn't have a strong rival in the SEC is somewhat true. The Tigers' most played SEC team is Ole Miss, the two schools have met six times. Still, one has to think Arkansas would become a big rival for Missouri. The two states share a large border and have had a decent basketball rivalry in the past. Missouri also shares a passion for basketball that Arkansas has and with Mike Anderson leaving Mizzou to coach Arkansas a year ago there is certain to be some heated games between the two. Arkansas has also made a habit of recruiting Missouri for football recruits. Currently the Hogs and Tigers are in battle for the nation's top prospect in Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham's hometown of Springfield, MO isn't far from Fayetteville and has a good mix of Arkansas and Missouri fans in it.
Other rivalries for Missouri will form in time. South Carolina didn't have a true SEC Rival when it entered the league in 1992. Sure, Gamecocks will tell you Georgia was a rival, but UGA fans didn't see it this way. Clemson was the biggest Palmetto State Rival for Georgia at the time and most Dog fans would put Florida, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Auburn ahead of South Carolina as its biggest rivals. Arkansas left all its rivals behind in Texas when they joined the league in 92. The Hogs did have some big games with Ole Miss prior to its SEC days, but few would consider the Rebels a rival at the time. Arkansas and LSU had met over 30 times, but from 1967-1991 they didn't meet any. Missouri will form its rivalries over time just as the Gamecocks and Razorbacks have.
Is it the Gameday Culture that has fans upset? Are fans afraid that at trip to Missouri will feel like a trip to Winston Salem to watch a Wake Forest game? Mizzou has a very good gameday feel to it. This is the school that invented Homecoming that schools all over the nation have copied. Fans will dress in all black or all gold and create a great atmosphere inside of Faurot Field. There are plenty of good places to eat around campus as well. Shakespeare's Pizza was named the best college hangout in the country by Good Morning America. Get there early on gameday though, as this place is known to have large lines of people waiting to get in.
There is the belief that Missouri is a "Yankee" State by some in the South. Some believe that Missouri wasn't part of the Confederacy, but the truth is that Missouri was a border state like Kentucky. Many know that the Kansas-Missouri Rivalry is the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi, but this rivalry between the two states dates much further back in history. Conflicts between abolitionists in Kansas and Confederate Supporters in Missouri occurred all the time at the border of Kansas and Missouri. While the nickname "Tigers" is to honor a Union militia group that once occupied Columbia, MO, there were many in The State of Missouri that supported the Confederate cause. Just like Kentucky there are parts of Missouri that feel Southern and other parts that feel Midwest. Football seems to be a way to bring those regions of the state together. Heck, Florida and the City of Atlanta probably have more non Southerners in it than the entire State of Missouri. Should the Gators be kicked out of the SEC? Should the SEC Championship Game be moved from Atlanta?
There seems to be a stronger movement by SEC Fans to include schools like West Virginia or Virginia Tech into the league because some think those two schools have a better cultural fit. Keep in mind Missouri averaged over 5,000 more fans to its football games than West Virginia did and had very similar attendance totals than that of Virginia Tech. It wasn't that long ago that Virginia Tech struggled to get 50,000 fans to attend its football games. Lane Stadium has only been a great home atmosphere for about a decade now, for years it was a small stadium with little atmosphere to it. West Virginia has many games each year where less than 60,000 will be in attendance. I think the fact that WVU fans burn couches, seems to excite SEC fans to the belief that WVU is more rabid about its football than Missouri. Let's also not forget that West Virginia seceded from the Confederacy.
Missouri is its states flagship University and the fans love football more than any other sport. Isn't this what most SEC schools are like? If anything Vanderbilt and Kentucky don't fit the typical SEC description. Vanderbilt is a small private school with very little football support that fills its basketball arena with no problem. Kentucky has very good football support, but we all know The State of Kentucky is all about its college basketball. Similar to Arkansas, the Tigers love their football first but do have a strong passion for basketball. It isn't like this is Duke the SEC is adding where basketball and lacrosse might come across as more important to the school.
Missouri will be a great fit to the SEC. The culture of Columbia, MO will be different than some areas in the SEC, but those with an open mind will travel to the town and enjoy themselves. This is a fantastic academic institution that will form new rivalries and over time people will begin to see that this is a good fit. Over 70,000 will be in attendance on gamedays and Tiger fans will show their football passion. Fact is the term "SEC Culture" means that you love your University's Athletic Programs and support them with all your heart, this is something Tiger fans have done for well over 100 years.