Fill 'er Up

I wanted to like Lane Kiffin.

I think he’s bright and aggressive and has charisma.

We share a birthday (5/9/75).

I defended him when he called Urban Meyer a cheater and I chose to look past the minor NCAA violations and thoughtless comments he’s racked up upon taking over in Knoxville.

But after what he’s said now, I’m off the band wagon.

In case you hadn’t heard, upon finding out from a recruit that the player had decided to stay in-state and play for South Carolina, Kiffin told the player “he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina.”

If Kiffin did say that – and it’s a comment so wholly out of bounds I struggle to even believe it’s true – but if he did, Kiffin should be sanctioned harshly by his university, the Southeastern Conference and provide a public apology to the University of South Carolina.

Here’s what makes Kiffin’s latest shot so outrageous: it concerns the quality of education provided by an SEC university.

Before Lane Kiffin is the football coach for the Volunteers, he is an employee of the University of Tennessee. He works at an institution of higher learning and he is taking a cheap, unfounded, petty, and malicious shot at a brother SEC university. He’s not talking about football or facilities or who has a better strength program, he’s saying the University of South Carolina as an academic institution is inferior and doesn’t provide a profitable future for its students.

That is completely inaccurate and wholly unethical for a college football coach to say about another school.

The Southeastern Conference is a coalition of universities connected by geography, academic mission and athletic competition. As hot as the rivalries are, as intense as the passion is, these 12 universities are connected, and football – while an important part – is just a part of the big picture. Some are better than others, but together, the 12 members of the SEC are outstanding schools whose academic reputation is of primary importance to each and every one of them. When an SEC football coach tries to destruct the reputation of one of those schools, he degrades the entire conference.

As a graduate of Auburn University, Kiffin’s “pumping gas” comment inadvertently attempts to slight my diploma.

As much as your degree from LSU or Alabama or Ole Miss stands on its own, alumni of SEC schools are also viewed as a collective much like Ivy League or Big 10 graduates. Lane Kiffin is inadvertently defiling the diploma of every single graduate of an SEC school by claiming South Carolina football players are destined to a future of “pumping gas.”

If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t left the South.

I’ve lived and worked from coast-to-coast in this country and I can promise you that Southerners in general, and SEC grads specifically, are lumped together when applying for jobs or just introduced at cocktail parties. No one in Boston or Seattle makes any distinction between a degree from Arkansas or Florida or Kentucky, they just view you as having gone to one of those big football schools in the South.

There wouldn’t be anything necessarily wrong with that if it weren’t for the built in prejudices that exist in every corner of this country about the shoddy nature of education in the South and Kiffin reinforces that stereotype with his comment.

Kiffin’s remark proves to what great degree he is an outsider to the region and the culture because as much as SEC schools go at each other’s throats on Saturday and on the recruiting trail, we understand that in the eyes of the nation, we’re all the same. As Southerners, we know we battle negative pre-conceived ideas about what goes on here and any time we step outside of Dixie – be it from Tennessee or Georgia – we’re judged together and need to watch what we say and do to best represent this part of the country we love so much.

Kiffin’s comment isn’t merely flip and ignorant, it’s dangerous and reinforces negative stereotypes that harm all Southerners.

As SEC people, we can joke and take shots at one another about football, but we can not when it comes to the quality of the SEC universities – that’s too important.

If Kiffin did say this, the University of Tennessee should put him on unpaid administrative leave for a week, and I don’t care that the Vols are in spring practice. The president of UT should force him to hand write an apology to the president, students and alumni of the University of South Carolina and if I were UT’s president, I’d watch him write every word so I knew the words were sincere and that it wasn’t ghost written by an athletic department flunkie. And if I were SEC commissioner Mike Slive, because of this error in judgment (and the pile he’s already accumulated before it) Kiffin would be suspended from coaching the Volunteers’ season opener September 9th against Western Kentucky.

Call that harsh, it’s meant to be.

SEC football is rough and tough and bare-knuckles, but Kiffin crossed a line when he attacked the academic reputation of a member university and the academic reputation of the SEC member schools is far more important than their football reputation and has to be protected at all costs.

Lane Kiffin Career Advice
Welcome to the Big Time
SEC Ethics
The big lie of the NFL draft.
FSU's schedule sham.
Some players don't get it.
Auburn's recruiting class.
Following the recruiting story.
Urban blight.
Tebow is The Man.
Saban envy.
UGA football should be ashamed of the team celebration.
SEC fans are the best, and the worst.
Tuberville stays.
Arkansas deserves better than Houston Nutt.
Despite flaws, Jeremy Foley is a great athletic director.
FSU's monster recruiting class.
Which conference is better? Bowls don't tell us.
The BCS works.
Florida State is a dead dynasty.
ACC coaches are the worst.