As the SEC made a historic announcement Thursday in unveiling its own television network, Steve Spurrier’s thoughts turned to all the changes he’s seen in the league and how they have led to its dominant position in collegiate athletics today.
“We need to thank coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant for signing the first African-American player (at Alabama),” Spurrier said. “It took us a while, but the black athlete has made our conference the best in the country. There is no question about it.”
Spurrier played at Florida from 1964-1966, leaving one year before the first African-American played in an SEC football game. That player was Nat Northington at Kentucky in 1967, but Spurrier remembers that Bryan’s integration of the Crimson Tide as a more defining moment in the league’s history, he said. Alabama signed its first black player in 1970.
“I have seen it come from a bunch of white guys playing football to allowing the African-American (entrance). Now our conference is the best, coaches all around the country agree that we have the best football conference in the nation, and the African-American players have made it the best, but it took us a little while longer than the other conferences to start allowing those athletes to play,” Spurrier said. “I guess fortunately I still have a coaching job in the conference. It is neat to see the growth.”
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The creation of the SEC Network will have a greater impact on Gamecock teams other than Spurrier’s. The network will televise all the conference’s sports and announced Thursday it will show not just 45 football games in its first year but also more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games and 75 baseball games.
“As a student-athlete playing in the Southeastern Conference, this is a very special era,” said Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner, who was on hand along with Spurrier and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley for the announcement at the Hyatt Regency. “If you are a young male or female student-athlete anywhere in the United States, does the SEC pique your interest? Absolutely. This just makes another statement.”
The network will go on the air in August of 2014 and likely will mean the end of pay-per-view football games in the conference.
“Our conference has really grown over the years and looks like it will continue to grow,” Spurrier said. “This will continue making this the best football conference. It’s a big deal, and obviously ESPN has been a wonderful partner of the SEC. This financially is going to help all of our schools.”