David Miller
by David Miller
Wed Dec 10th 2008 at 4:21pm UTC

College Football & US Auto Industry: Both Spiky

As a graduate of the U of Michigan, I can only try to forget what an awful football season we have just endured. However, a recent WSJ article reminded me that the Big 10 football conference and all major conferences are being outperformed by the teams of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

The WSJ asks “What the rise of Southern Football Says About America,” in an interesting piece by Darren Everson. And while there is no overt mention of Detroit’s Auto Industry and the South’s Auto Industry in the article, the ongoing bailout saga kept popping into my head as I read the article. A snippet:

In recent years, the South has undergone rapid growth. Twenty-seven of the 50 fastest-growing metropolitan regions in the country in 2007 were in the South, while personal-income growth in the region outpaced the national average over the past decade. These changes have added muscle to the South’s historic passion for college football. While they rank low in many measures like per-capita income and educational achievement, states like Alabama and Mississippi rank close to the top in the percentage of high-school students who play football. And among states that have more than 10 native sons playing in the National Football League, the top six producers by percentage of population are Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

I began to wonder, is there some connection between the success of SEC football teams and the rise of the Southern Auto Industry?

Are Big 10 teams stuck with ‘Fordist’ football models while SEC coaches and administrators make use of ‘continuous improvement’ and other concepts in order to strengthen their programs? Are SEC leaders better at innovating with recruiting, play calling, and conditioning? (Remember, Gatorade was created at the U of Florida.)

The article points out a few potential theories for why the SEC has grown into such a football powerhouse, including pride of place that Southerners exhibit in their states, tight relations between SEC schools and Southern politicians, and academic standards in the SEC that differ from other conferences such as the Big 10 and PAC 10.

While there is likely no connection between successful SEC football and the successful Southern auto industry, it highlights the spiky nature of the creative economy – from auto production and college football administration to content creation and biotech. I believe that is what the rise of Southern football tells us about America.

BTW, I will remind all SEC fans that Michigan (and its old school coach Lloyd Carr) did beat Florida (and new school coach Urban Meyers) handily during last January’s Capital One Bowl Game.

4 Responses to “College Football & US Auto Industry: Both Spiky”

  1. Josh Says:

    The Deep South takes its college football and regional chauvinism very seriously.

    “Down here, you’re not born a boy or a girl, you’re born a Gamecock or Tiger. Down here, football is just as entrenched in our culture as Jesus, sweet tea and barbeque sandwiches. We say ‘Yes Ma’m’ and ‘No Sir’, but we also say ‘Roll Tide’, ‘War Eagle’ and ‘Pig Sooey’. Down here, ‘two plus two equals third down and six’.”


  2. David J. Miller Says:

    also beginning to wonder what it says about all the policy makers in the article who are funneling time and effort in SEC football when their schools rank low (as outlined in article)…. which will do more for the long term health of the SouthEast?

  3. RS Says:

    Interesting Post…

    Don’t forget about the impact of the changes in the Div 1-A scholarship rules through time.

    Pre 1973, a program could issue as many scholarships as they wanted. 73-77 they were allowed to give out 105. 78-91 the number shrank to 95. The number then shrank to 85 by 1994, which is where it still is.

    As of 2008 there are 119 Div. 1-A football programs in the US. 67 are in the North and only 52 are in the South. As a result, the south has 1,275 less scholarships to give out since 1994. So… the top echelon of players in the north can spread out much thinner than in the south.

    As a result… it seems pretty obvious that the SEC has recently been granted a considerable advantage over say the Big 10 or the other northern conferences in that the very best players are more likely to not be able to obtain a scholarship somewhere else within the same geographic vicinity.

  4. Josh Says:


    What’s the North/South population discrepancy? A better metric would be Div 1a football scholarships per residents. An even better metric would be football scholarships per varsity football playing high school graduates.

    As a humorous sidenote to your point about scholarship reductions over the decades, Bear Bryant was famous for not only offering a star high school recruit a scholarship but all his friends scholarships as well. Even those that didn’t play football.