It’s a funny word. Whether it’s Aretha or Otis Redding singing about it, or some athlete somewhere complaining because the media isn’t giving their team enough of it, it’s something that we all clamor for.
Respect usually has to be earned; it is not simply bestowed upon those who want it. It’s something you have to show that you are worthy of being granted.
In the 2009 season, there are four college football conferences that could be seen as fighting for respect on a national level. Let’s take a close look at these four conferences.
Mountain West Conference
The Utah Utes' defeat of the Alabama Crimson Tide got the program some love and showered some attention on the league. An offseason attempt to “storm the palace” and overthrow the BCS ultimately fell short, but look for the league to continue to try to make noise for a more equitable postseason arrangement.
The depth of the conference is not really there unless the traditional dregs of the conference step up to challenge BYU, TCU, and Utah. New blood at Wyoming and San Diego State, plus marked improvement by UNLV, could be just what the respect doctor ordered.
Of course, victories are what ultimately matter. The league is going to have to deliver in their non-conference games—and not just in the games played by the big three. If some of the bottom-of-the-league teams can beat Nevada, Oregon State, Minnesota, and UCLA, that would go a long way to affecting the national perception of the league.
The ACC went 4-6 in their bowl games last season. That may not seem like a big deal at first until you realize that the ACC sent 10 of their 12 teams to bowl games in 2008.
That’s right—10 teams. Only Duke and Virginia found themselves home for the holidays.
Of course, that fact forces us to wonder this: What is the line between being a balanced league and a league that is mired in mediocrity? It’s a razor-thin margin, to be sure.
The league might be on the upswing in the respect area, though, if you look at the preseason rankings. These must always be taken with a grain of salt, or a salt lick, depending on how much of a cynic you are.
There are four ACC teams in the top 25 in both the coaches and media polls. Virginia Tech is the highest ranked at No. 7 in both polls. The perception is that the strength of the conference is in the Coastal Division, which is where Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina reside. Florida State is the only representative of the Atlantic Division in the top 25.
What the ACC needs for respect is for someone to emerge as a legitimate national title contender. Virginia Tech has the inside track for that honor, and if they manage to get past fellow top 10 team Alabama on opening weekend, then they could position themselves to be that power team that the league needs.
If Florida State can also raise itself up with a win over BYU and become a dark horse title contender heading late into the season, then the ACC title game will appear to have significance. That would certainly draw more attendance than last year's tilt in Tampa.
Why does the Pac-10 need respect?
Simple: USC is the team that has eaten the respect from other teams.
Oh sure, it seems like every year there is a team that manages to upset the Trojans on their march to the BCS championship game.
Time and time again, though, there sit the Men of Troy on top of the conference standings.
But it’s not only a USC problem, which can only be alleviated by someone finally knocking them off. The problem overall is national perception.
Pac-10 schools play solid out-of-conference schedules. They are one of only two BCS leagues to play a true round-robin schedule (more on that other league in a minute). The league went 5-0 in their bowl games last season.
But what most folks remember about the Pac-10 is how they got schooled by the Mountain West in regular season play.
Couple that with the seeming nonsensical idea that this league is located in some hidden, misty locale like Brigadoon, and you have a perception problem.
With Larry Scott taking over as commissioner in July, the Pac-10 is going to start being more aggressive at tooting its own horn. While the West Coast has the perception of being a more laid-back region of the country, make no mistake about the passion of the fans out West.
That passion, and the success of these teams, has got to be pumped up and put out there more and more in order for some of the perception issues to wash away.
Take a second and count the number of Big East teams ranked in the top 25 of the coaches and media polls.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Time’s up. How many did you count?
The correct answer is none.
So much for the fallacy of East Coast bias, I guess.
Keep in mind what I said about not putting a lot of stock into the preseason rankings. However, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the Big East has been virtually eliminated from having any stake in the national title discussion for the 2009 season.
Heck, the Mountain West and the WAC have a better shot of having a team crowned as the national champion than the Big East will.
The league has been fighting perception issues about its viability as an automatic qualifier since the league lost Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the ACC.
Sure, West Virginia served as the putative class of the league during the Pat White era, but now that he’s gone, the perception is that the league is due to slide back quite a bit.
Much like the ACC, the Big East needs to have a program step up and become a national threat. As the only league besides the Pac-10 to play a true round-robin schedule, the Big East needs to take advantage of its five non-conference games and start barnstorming a bit by regularly scheduling inter-sectional non-conference games with the perceived national powers of the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC.
Temporarily take on two-for-one games at those mega-stadiums in those leagues to rebuild the strength of the brand.
Remember, respect is not just given. It needs to be earned.