The hot topic issue in the Southeastern Conference right now is expansion. If you get on any sports site at all, it is hard not to notice theories about which teams will be added, how/if the conference will realign, and the direction the conference will take in the near future. What do you know, here is one right here. With all this buzz about the SEC I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the history of the conference as a whole. This will be a three part series including pre-SEC, formation to the expansion of 1991, and 1991 to the present. This is part one: Pre-SEC.
The SEC was established on December 9th of 1932, but what were the soon-to-be SEC schools doing before that formation? This article will attempt to follow the history of the founding SEC schools before they joined the conference.
The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association
The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association was founded on December 21, 1894 by Dr. William Dudley, a chemistry professor at Vanderbilt. (Thats right, a Vanderbilt chemistry professor founded a predecessor to the greatest conference in collegiate sports, who knew?)
This was the first organization of college athletics in the South. The founding members of the SIAA included future SEC founding members Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Sewanee, and Vanderbilt as well as North Carolina. Dr. Dudley originally started the association to standardize player eligibility rules and host an annual track meet and basketball tournament. In 1896, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi, MSU, and Tulane joined as well as a few other non-SEC schools*.
As time progressed the SIAA added more members almost annually. Before long there were over 25 colleges represented in the association and the disparity between the colleges was immense. There was a dispute between the smaller and larger colleges over freshman eligibility among other things starting around 1915. By December of 1920 the dispute had become irreconcilable and several universities left to form the Southern Conference between 1921 and 1922.
The Southern Conference
The charter members of the Southern Conference included SIAA defectors Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Tennessee. Other non-SIAA charter members were Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Washington & Lee. The next year Florida, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tulane, and Vanderbilt were all added from the SIAA. Sewanee joined in 1923.
The stay in the Southern Conference was short lived by many of the schools. On December 9, 1932 Florida President John J. Tigert announced that Florida, as well as twelve other universities, would be withdrawing immediately to form the Southeastern Conference. The main reasons for the split were geographical distance, travel time and expense, a great disparity between the large and small schools in the conference, and the fact that half the schools did not play each other from one year to the next, if at all. Sources are sketchy as to whether or not an “S-E-C, S-E-C” chant filled the room.
One thing to note is that besides disparity between larger and smaller schools, a main reason for the downfall of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association as well as the split of the Southern Conference were problems resulting from the conferences growing too large. That is something to think about, especially when the SEC is ripe for expansion. The next segment will focus on the birth of the SEC to the 1991 season, so check back later.
*sources differ on the exact date when Kentucky joined, some say 1896, others 1906
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