So why is the SEC so far ahead on the football field? The question has been dissected over and over throughout the SEC's run of seven consecutive football national championships. You've heard about demographic changes and how there are more elite football recruits living closer to SEC campuses than Big Ten campuses. You've heard about speed. You've heard about oversigning. You've heard about superior coaching. You've heard about the passionate/maniacal year-round obsession with college football in the South that doesn't really exist in other regions.
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke sheds light on another key difference between the Big Ten and the SEC, one that relates to revenue and specifically how the leagues use revenue differently. In an interview with The (Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel's Pete DiPrimio, Burke talks about the differences in the athletic department models between the Big Ten and the SEC.
"The SEC model, almost across the board, is sponsoring the minimum number of sports (16)," Burke told the News-Sentinel. "I'm not being negative toward the SEC, but their strategy has been to take seven men's sports and nine women's sports. That puts them in a gender equity balance. If you are getting 80,000 to 90,000 in your stadium, what that means is you're spending an awful lot on football. You have to call it what it is. I'm not saying it's wrong.
"The Big Ten model is, let's get more kids, more opportunities. We have a larger athlete base. Our grant in aid [scholarship] base is bigger. It's not that we don't spend, but football in the south is a religion. It just is. When you look at the dollars and models, they're very different."
Ohio State sponsors 36 varsity sports, while Penn State has 31 and Michigan has 27. Most SEC schools sponsor 19-21 sports. Purdue has 20 varsity teams but finds itself near the bottom of the Big Ten along with Northwestern (19 teams).
Big Ten fans probably don't want to hear that sports that generate little interest and zero revenue might be holding back their football teams from competing with the SEC for national championships. But Burke's point is valid: there are more mouths to feed in the Big Ten. It's a big reason why the Big Ten, while committing more money to assistant coaches, still lags behind the SEC in that area.
"The SEC and Big Ten are opposite ends of the spectrum. It makes for a challenge if you're going to try to challenge for a national championship."
Some will say Burke is making excuses for the Big Ten's recent woes. But he hits on an important difference between the two leagues that often gets overlooked. He also talks about the heightened interest level in the South -- "Football in the south is a religion. It just is" -- that can't be dismissed when sizing up these two conferences.
What do you think? Does the Big Ten's broad-based model hold it back on the gridiron, or is it just another way to mask bigger deficiencies in the league's football programs?