An open letter to Greg Sankey and the leadership of the schools of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) – all of whom met in our town of Birmingham, Alabama, earlier last week:
Dear Mr. Sankey, athletic directors and presidents of the universities of the SEC:
One of the taglines I have come to love most – (and that I share in good fun regularly with non-SEC fans!) is the recent Southeastern Conference marketing campaign that: “The SEC: It Just Means More.”
For me, the tagline is brilliantly conceived and well makes a point about discipline and preparation and knowledge and pride in education and loyalty to team and conference.
It also effectively turns the heat up on competing conferences, if, in fact, the SEC expects more of itself and plans to lead.
A masterful piece of marketing and public relations work to be sure.
My great hope in writing this letter is that it might be read and considered by the appropriate folks within your circles – with both you and those determining to put this magnificent tagline into action – to give it legs, so to speak.
In this critical moment of decision-making for colleges and universities considering re-opening plans for this fall, it would mean so much, if it really “just means more,” for the SEC to speak with one voice in canceling or postponing until spring the start of its college football season – it’s major money-making sport by far.
Already the SEC has postponed the start of volleyball, soccer and cross-country competition until late August.
Postponing the start of football – where more than half a million fans, boosters, students, athletes and coaches gather in person and in nonsocially distanced ways on any given Saturday in the fall to watch their favorite SEC team – would be one of the single greatest contributions the SEC could make and live out how much more it really means.
Other conferences and schools would likely follow the SEC’s lead in postponing or canceling altogether. Academic programs might also take note and adopt saner policies and measures for returning to the classroom too.
This single gesture might represent the greatest gift the SEC could give the nation amid this increasingly deadly pandemic.
Such a move by the SEC headquarters to take strong action would bring clarity – particularly if made regarding football, specifically. Such decisions represent ones that will be hard to make – certainly economically challenging (if not devastating) – but morally principled with science as their guide and with the safety and well-being of all SEC students, athletes, coaches, faculty members and fans at their core.
What a statement to the college world and to those who would gather on campuses around the globe this fall – saying collectively and assertively that for this semester our 14 SEC institutions are suspending all team sporting events – in the interest of safety for our players and coaches, as well as for the public at large.
Let’s live boldly and lead with what our tagline says – that being part of “the SEC just means more” – particularly when faced with life-threatening realities and hard decisions that must be made.
I think it would have a most welcome effect on the tough decisions that the academic side of these schools must make too, with athletics leading the way.
It would make for an incredible statement of leadership by the SEC headquarters, college presidents and our athletic directors and their staffs.
My immediate family members are long-standing, avid fans and supporters of the SEC, its teams, its students and its faculties.
My wife, sons, brothers, grandson and I attend multiple SEC sporting events each year – and boy do we cover the SEC spectrum in fan loyalty.
I’m a “Reigning National Champion” LSU fan by birthright and a Vanderbilt Commodore by education.
My wife and I have five sons: one currently a senior enrolled at Mississippi State, one a sophomore enrolled at Alabama, a rising high school senior considering Florida or South Carolina for college, two sons and a grandson who are huge Auburn fans as well as two brothers who live in Little Rock and regularly “Call Down the Hogs” for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
So we love the SEC, its football teams and represent our loyalties with our time and money.
We attend various SEC football games nearly every weekend in the fall, make multiple basketball games in the spring, never miss the SEC baseball tournament here in Hoover and on and on.
We cheer on the SEC, its institutions and the superior sporting competition it cultivates.
For many of us, SEC athletics are the best in the country.
So, then, ought our response be the best to the pandemic now before us – as a conference – and the example we can set collectively as a best practice moving forward.
Let’s show the world why it “just means more” to be part of the SEC.
On Dec. 7-8, 1932, (nearly 88 years ago) two events occurred that had a huge bearing on life as we know it in the United States.
On those dates:
- The Southeastern Conference was founded.
- Albert Einstein was granted a visa to travel to the United States, a fortuitous moment as Einstein chose to remain in the U.S. the next year when he traveled here and ultimately emigrated in 1940.
Point being, let that date compel us from the very beginning of the Southeastern Conference, and relying on the very best information from the smartest minds among us today, to live out the call and set the example for schools and conferences around the country.
Let’s live the claim we make in the tagline – that it does, in fact, “Just Mean More” and give our own institutions and other schools around the country a way and a reason to make great decisions for all.
Humanity may just depend on it.
Sincerely and respectfully submitted,
Founding Co-Director of Hope Manifest, Inc. — a consulting firm advising both religious and secular non-profit organizations, Heifner holds an M.B.A. from Samford, and a Masters in Institutional Advancement from Vanderbilt. He is married to Amanda Hiley and together they have five sons, Graham and Deason Heifner, Jess, Andy and Nathan Vaughan and a grandson, Julian.