by KEN ARD
A great Pamplico, South Carolina philosopher once said, “pointing fingers don’t fix shit.”
Missouri joined the vaunted SEC in 2012. My South Carolina Gamecocks joined in 1992. So the chickens had a 20-year head start in pursuit of football prominence in the conference that “just means more.” So why? Why did Mizzou look like the old hand on Saturday and USC look like a freshman on the first day of school? Why has Missouri accomplished more in the SEC since 2012 than the Yardbirds have since 1992?
Is it the players fault? Is it head coach Shane Beamer‘s fault? Is it athletic director Ray Tanner‘s fault? The college president’s fault? The board of trustees? The students? Was it Sparky Woods’ fault? Will Muschamp‘s? The “Chicken Curse?” It’s gotta be some damn body. Right?
Or is it our fault? The fans. Gamecock fans are legendary – for good and bad reasons. Good because loyalty is a great virtue. Bad because loyalty is easily taken advantage of. Rabid loyalty can lead to sunshine pumping. And sunshine pumping can make you far more likely to believe things that just aren’t true. Realizing the truth – and what needs to be fixed – may require a little disloyalty.
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Loyal fans deserve university leadership totally dedicated to competing and winning at the highest level. From the game day experience to recruiting budgets to proactively supporting name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. Nobody gives you a winning tradition and culture. You have to go out and build it – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. And until our beloved university decides to match the intensity and tenacity of our rivals, we’re middle of the pack at best. No matter who the coach is. SEC money can build majestic buildings – but it can’t build a program.
I’m just a fan. Grew up a fan. Will die a fan. But I’ve recently and reluctantly accepted that the Gamecock Nation will never DEMAND excellence. We’ve been trained like a circus animal. I know a few people that matter and I bitch and complain to them but I’ve accepted that as long as we’re turning a profit and not making the headlines, we’re fairly comfortable being mediocre. After all, we’re in the SEC, SEC, SEC! We’re the consummate conformist in the most non-conforming business. But the books balance and everyone gets a raise. AND THE FANS REMAIN LOYAL TO THE MEDIOCRITY.
“You can’t win at South Carolina” is reflexive and just not true. The head ball coach walked to the beat of his own drum and wouldn’t give in to the predisposition. His teams proved Gamecock football can win at the highest level. I honestly believe he did it despite – and not because of – internal support. Did you know South Carolina’s state GDP is larger than that of Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas? Poor little ol’ South Carolina is a bullshit excuse for not meeting or exceeding expectations – and our fan base has been convinced it’s legitimate.
Did you know the state of South Carolina is ranked in the top ten in players per capita in the NFL? Poor little ol’ South Carolina?
I’ll never give up. I’ll never stop pulling hard for my chickens. But I’ve decided to be one of the first to break rank and say publicly what I believe. To be critical. I believe Gamecock football has abundant potential and can compete for championships. But not under the current construct. I’m not blaming a single person nor would it matter if I did. I’m a gnat on a buffalos ass in the grand scheme of things. But I’m tired of the lack of full commitment.
Clemson builds an indoor practice facility before we do. Clemson builds a football operations building before we do. Love ’em, hate ’em, but they tend to business in the Upstate. As nearly all of our peers do. And if we don’t up our game we’re destined to endure season after season of underachievement. We ain’t curing cancer and this doesn’t balance our federal debt but if we wanna compete with the big boys of college football it’s time to demand better and hold people comfortable with how things are 100 percent accountable. Go Gamecocks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Ken Ard is a native of Pamplico, S.C. The 88th lieutenant governor of the Palmetto State, he is the host of Wake Up Carolina on WFRK 95.3 in Florence, S.C. and the ‘No Stop Lights‘ podcast. His column, reprinted with permission, originally appeared here.
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