Now that college football season is over, and FSU won the final BCS Championship, there’s a bit of a college football vacuum to fill. I might as well take a few minutes and explain something that seems to really confuse people outside the SEC: What’s the deal with the “S-E-C! S-E-C!” chant?
The short version
The SEC! chant was a marketing gimmick to get SEC teams more votes and more favorable rankings in the polls, meaning higher BCS rankings and more shots for SEC teams to win the BCS Championship.
The longer version
The BCS era was a transitional regime between simply voting for the national champion and deciding the championship “on the field” with a playoff. It was essentially a two-team playoff whose participants were determined by a computer algorithm that accounted for poll rankings, strength of schedule and some other stuff. The actual algorithm changed often throughout the BCS era as components were dropped, certain polls got more weight, the strength of schedule formula changed, and they made other tweaks here and there. But at its core, the BCS relied very heavily on polls, getting votes, and beating other BCS-ranked teams.
The SEC! chant reminds voters that the SEC is pretty good, so they’ll give SEC teams more votes, leading to higher poll rankings for SEC teams. This has an explicit benefit of nudging SEC teams ahead of non-SEC teams in the polls, and subsequently improving BCS rankings for SEC teams. For the last half of the BCS era, if it came down to a tight race between an SEC team and a non-SEC team in the polls, the SEC team would generally get preference. Sometimes, the preferred team would be a non-UF SEC team, but sometimes it would be UF, and we’d get a shot at a title. So that’s one way it helps UF when UF fans root for the SEC.
There was a nice indirect benefit, too: The BCS formula also included a bump for “quality wins”, so beating a Top 15 BCS team meant a better BCS score, which often meant a better BCS ranking. Most of a football team’s season is played against conference opponents, so if your conference had a lot of BCS-ranked teams, then that was good for your team because there were more “quality win” opportunities available. But if your team was the only BCS-ranked team in its conference, that meant there were no in-conference quality wins available. In this sense, rooting for the SEC was also rooting for UF.
To put a finer point on it, the SEC! chant gave SEC teams a small mathematical edge over non-SEC teams in the BCS formula; since UF is an SEC team, UF got a small piece of that edge. So, at least in the SEC, we could have our cake and eat it too—we could root for our team by rooting for our conference.
The trick with this whole gimmick is the SEC had to show up and actually win games so that the SEC! chant would continue to carry weight. If the SEC had gone to a couple BCS Championship games and lost, the chant would’ve been almost worthless. Of course, the SEC dominated the BCS era with the most appearances of any conference, winning three more BCS Championships than all other conferences combined. So it seems the SEC! chant served its purpose.