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Imagine Georgia Fans Celebrating An SEC Title At The Swamp

Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the SEC Championship Game is played in a venue that is smaller than the home stadia of every single team that has played in the title game, with the exception of Mississippi State? [Editor's note: ATLANTA IS AWESOME PLEASE LET US KEEP ALL YOUR FOOTBALL GAMES]

Get this guy outdoors.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Get this guy outdoors. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The big debate right now in Spanish soccer is the venue for the Final of the Copa del Rey, the knock-out tournament that takes place during the season.* The Final will be contested between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. This match is fraught with political connotations in Spain because Barca is the flagship club for the Catalan region and Athletic is the flagship for the Basque region. Both regions have bristled in the past at control exerted by the central government in Madrid. This historical enmity plays out in soccer matches, as fans of these teams hate Real Madrid - the club that most prominently represents Castillian Spain - with a white-hot passion. When Barca and Athletic played in the Copa del Rey Final of 2009, their fans whistled the Spanish national anthem and the TV network showing the game first cut away from the anthem and then aired an edited version with the whistling drowned out.

So, with the venue for the Final up for debate, the Spanish soccer federation has an interesting problem. The natural venue for the Final is Real Madrid's home stadium. Sid Lowe explains:

Two years ago, Athletic and Barcelona met at Mestalla, Valencia. There were 52,500 fans packed into the stadium; over 15,000 more were left outside; others were stuck at home. It was the first final that Athletic had been in since 1985 and its supporters were desperate to go. They tried anything to get hold of tickets. For thousands of them, it was not possible -- but they went to Valencia anyway, traveling in hope, determined to enjoy the atmosphere even if they could not get into the ground.

Two years later, the teams are repeated. But two years later the teams are determined that the same scene is not repeated. Both Athletic and Barcelona want to play the game in the biggest stadium, possible. With the Camp Nou (capacity: 99,000) ruled out because Barcelona are in the final, that means the Santiago Bernabéu. It is the perfect venue. It holds 85,000 -- in other words, over 15,000 tickets more for each team -- and is roughly equally reachable for both sets of supporters.

Needless to say, Real Madrid is not enthusiastic about the fans of two clubs who hate Real coming to their home stadium to whistle at the Royal Family. (Have I mentioned that "Real" is the Spanish word for "royal" and Real have a crown on their crest?) At a base level, Real are also not enamored with the idea of their arch-rivals celebrating a cup title on Real's home soil. Here is Sid again:

Madrid simply does not want Barcelona winning the Copa del Rey in its stadium; it does not see why it should host its rival. It certainly does not want to watch Barcelona parade a trophy round its ground. The memory of 2010 is still fresh: the blind panic felt in Madrid over the possibility of Barcelona reaching the Champions League final at its stadium. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, the venue for the final added something extra: it was like it was a guilty forbidden pleasure, something a little perverse, enjoyably dirty. What better way to really rub Madrid's noses in it?

This scenario got me to thinking: wouldn't it be fun if the SEC Championship Game were played on a rotating basis at campus sites instead of the Georgia Dome? The title game is always a tough ticket, so it does not make sense that it is played at a facility that seats 70,000 when Sanford Stadium, Neyland Stadium, Williams-Brice Stadium, Florida Field, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tiger Stadium, Reynolds-Razorback Stadium, and now Kyle Field all have bigger capacities?**

For instance, when Auburn and South Carolina met in 2010, demand for tickets was through the roof because Auburn was two wins away from their first national title in 53 years and South Carolina was playing in the title game for the first time in their 18th year as a member of the conference. If the game would have been in Baton Rouge, slightly more than 20,000 additional Tiger and Gamecock fans could have seen the game in-person. It seems like a waste for SEC programs to have giant stadia and then to relegate the culmination of the SEC schedule to a smaller venue.***

Leaving stadium sizes aside, imagine the fun that would ensue with programs winning titles on their rivals' homefields? Imagine that Auburn is hosting the title game and Alabama wins the West. Imagine that Florida is hosting the title game and Georgia wins the East. Imagine those two fan bases occupying half of their bitterest rivals' sacred home grounds. Imagine 40,000 drunk obnoxious Georgia fans taking over Gainesville's nightlife. Admit it, my stuck record of finding things about European soccer that would make sense for American sports occasionally stumbles onto a good idea.

* - Generally speaking, major European soccer teams compete for three major titles: (1) their domestic league, where they play every other team home-and-away and the team with the best record at the end wins the title; (2) their domestic cup, which is a knock-out tournament involving teams from multiple levels within a country; and (3) the Champions League, which is a European-wide tournament for the top finishers in each league that has a group stage in the fall and then progresses to a knock-out stage in the late winter and spring. So, for example, for the last five weeks, Barcelona has been playing a domestic league game on the weekend and then a domestic cup or Champions League game during the week. The competitions all go on simultaneously. Thus, major clubs can find themselves playing upwards of 60 matches over the course of a season.

** - Unfortunately, this reasoning would support moving the game to JerryWorld. The argument against that would be that Atlanta is no more than a half-day drive from every SEC campus with the exception of Arkansas and the two newbies, whereas Dallas is a long hike for half the conference. Also, to paraphrase Edward the Longshanks in Braveheart, the problem with Texas is that it's full of Texans.

*** - The counter: title games are not just about capacity. Logistics also come into play. Atlanta is capable of hosting an influx of guests because of the Airport, the hotels, and the Interstate highways that lead to the city. Getting into and out of Auburn is bad enough when a significant portion of game attendees are Auburn students who live in the city or fans who have only a short drive to make. Imagine 40,000 Vol fans and 40,000 LSU fans trying to get into and out of a city with minimal hotel rooms and terrible highway access for a Saturday night game. This is why my idea would never happen.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.