Mizzou Tigers and the Other SEC

On New Year’s Day, the SEC suffered a defeat, and I hailed it as a victory. Nothing unusual about that scenario, except this was not the SEC I usually write about.

This SEC I’m talking about is not the Securities and Exchange Commission — which burdens entrepreneurs with mandates from laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley. This was the SEC on many more people’s minds yesterday: the Southeastern Conference of college sports.

The SEC’s Razorbacks football team of the University of Arkansas got creamed in the Cotton Bowl, and I rejoiced. Not because I have anything against Arkansas, but because of who defeated them. The victors were my alma mater, the Tigers of the University of Missouri, who had gone for about 30 years without being in any college football “bowl” games. Now I know a little bit how a Red Sox fan felt after the team won the 2004 World Series after a century-long drought.

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this blog post, I am not going to relate football and baseball to public policy. I’ve done that before with executive pay, and there are some good analogies to be drawn on some public policy topics, but this column is about enjoying sports for its own sake. Or rather the emotional hold athletic events can have over someone who is not a diehard sports fan. The world does not and should not completely revolve around public policy, although unfortunately, as we’ve pointed out, intrusive public policy can affect vast areas of the world and personal life.

Anyway, the Mizzou (that’s what students and alumni call the Univerity of Missouri) Tigers 38-7 victory over the Razorbacks affected me personally, because it served as partial vindication for the theft of a Tigers victory at a game that I personally attended. This was the infamous “5th down” loss of Oct. 6, 1990. This was the game where Colorado won 33-31 after getting an illegal “fifth down” near the end of the fourth quarter.

That was my freshman year at Mizzou, and I remember vividly being at the stadium when my roomate sitting next to me shouted, “Hey, isn’t this the fifth down!” (For those of you really ignorant of football rules, a team is allowed four downs to move the ball to the goal line to attempt to score before the other team gets the ball.) Even with the fifth down, we still didn’t think Colorado had scored. When fans originally ran onto the field it was because we thought Mizzou had won. But when the announcer said “Colorado’s point,” that’s when it looked like a riot was going to start.

The NCAA ultimately decided that since no one objected to the fifth down before the play, Colorado would keep its victory. This sham victory played a role in Colorado’s narrowly becoming Division 1A National Champions and getting to play in (and win) the Orange Bowl that season.

Deep down, I have never gotten over that game! I still have the T-shirt (even though it doesn’t exactly fit me) sold at the campus book store that says: “There’s no doubt. Colorado down and out!” But on New Year’s day, I felt the Tigers were vindicated, even though they had a different lineup with a different coach and were playing a different team. It’s as if this runaway victory almost said, the Tigers were always good, they were just robbed that year.

There is one more lesson about politics that can be drawn from this. Don’t expect people to get over a disputed election if they can’t get over a disputed football game.