BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The SEC has forced college sports into a unique moment. Is this SEC stretch of national titles in multiple high-profile sports simply cyclical, or further proof of the widening gap between the haves and have nots?
Whatever the reason, this run can't be ignored. We're witnessing a rare multi-sport dynasty by one conference.
Four NCAA sports are more prominent than others, the Big Four sports, if you will: football, men's basketball, women's basketball and baseball. The SEC has won half of those sports' national titles in the past six years.
If you're scoring at home, that's five in football, three in baseball, two in men's basketball and two in women's basketball since 2005-06. Six SEC schools won those 12 titles, a phenomenal achievement. No other conference won more than three in those four sports combined over the past six years.
The ACC, Big 12 and Big East each had three. The Pac-10 had two. There were none for the Big Ten, whose last title in a Big Four sport came in 2002-03 from a program now staring at NCAA sanctions (Ohio State football).
This SEC surge happened quickly. Between 1999-2000 and 2004-05, the SEC won two national titles in the Big Four sports, both by LSU (football and baseball). The Big East won eight in that period, followed by four each from the ACC and Big 12, and two apiece by the Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC.
Between 1936 -- when the Associated Press football poll started -- and 2006, there were only eight occurrences of one conference threepeating in one of the Big Four sports. The SEC has now accomplished the feat twice in six years, winning in football and baseball at the same time.
The only other conference to threepeat simultaneously in two Big Four sports was the old-Pac 8. USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux won five straight titles in the early 1970s as UCLA's John Wooden completed seven straight in men's basketball. What the Pac-8 accomplished with two coaches, the SEC has done with six: Urban Meyer (twice), Les Miles, Nick Saban, Gene Chizik, Paul Mainieri and Ray Tanner (twice).
This doesn't mean every Big Four sport in the SEC is as healthy as it could be. (We're looking at you, men's basketball.)
But the success raises important questions as schools across the country debate level playing fields over NCAA rules. What changed in the past six years for the SEC, and what does this mean moving forward?
One ongoing change is the population shift in the U.S. toward the Sun Belt. The economic downturn in Big Ten states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania means families -- and recruits -- are moving away.
Fewer students in the Rust Belt result in fewer resources for secondary schools and recreation departments. Fewer resources translate to fewer opportunities to properly develop athletes.
America's booming interest in college football can't be overstated in the SEC title run. Football drives major decisions in college sports more than ever before, whether it's media rights deals or conference expansion.
The SEC's football culture was perfectly conditioned for this changing climate. By annually packing stadiums, getting two Bowl Championship Series bids, and signing lucrative bowl and TV contracts, the SEC stockpiled money. More money gives schools more comfort to invest into other sports.
Critics will still question how exactly the SEC reached these heights. They'll wonder about lower academic standards, excessive spending and compliance of NCAA rules. All are fair questions for a cut-throat conference whose fans demand results today, not tomorrow.
It shouldn't be lost that the SEC's run has occurred with almost no Big Four sports programs on NCAA probation, a stark contrast from when Commissioner Mike Slive arrived in 2002. However Slive did it, preventing the SEC from becoming the modern-day Southwest Conference is paying off handsomely.
But for all of the SEC's self-congratulating, there should be caution, too. The Big Ten Network could become a juggernaut, the Longhorn Network could make Texas unbeatable, and the Pac-12 could start marketing itself in Asia.
Those would pose significant challenges to the SEC. Yet one fact won't change.
Ultimately, the SEC makes or breaks itself