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Could Tennessee really throw games with a championship on the line for Vols?

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If Tony Vitello is throwing the SEC Tournament in order to rest his players for some non-exhibition contest, which he is, that may be a decision that permeates into another very important sport in the future.

How far are we away from Tennessee or any other school resting its players in an SEC Championship Game or holding back some of the best plays or a game plan that might tip off a future opponent? If a team is in a position to play for a national championship despite what happens to them in the SEC Championship Game, its coaches could easily pull a college football form of load management. That would be shameful.

As for the Diamond Vols, they played every pitcher they could to lose to Vanderbilt on Wednesday before beating Texas A&M on Thursday. The Vols will play Mississippi State on Friday night at 7:30 EST. Tennessee can still win it all in Hoover, but should the Vols really even be that worried about it? If the Vols leave Hoover with their pitching lineup set for the next step of the postseason, the trip to Alabama was a success no matter how far the Vols advance.

Opt outs are a common practice for bowl games. However, Tennessee or any other school loses all credibility if they don’t give their all in a football championship game. This isn’t a postseason exhibition – or is it? Plus, football is a sport in which one can get easily injured if they’re not playing at 100-percent. However, any team could just play backups and see where the chips fall.

Some coaches will undoubtedly consider taking it a bit easy on their SEC opponent in an SEC Championship Game, especially if they believe they’re outmatched. Why show college football teams all you can do when a conference championship has become a bit hollow compared to a natty? 

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I’m still waiting for an answer.

If you’re southern, like me, you probably don’t see it quite like that. Pragmatic will often lose to tradition and a winner-take-all conference mindset. Certainly, any fan would prefer a national championship over an SEC title, but the two shouldn’t be considered apples and oranges. 

There are two conferences in which a conference championship should be treated like a major accomplishment: the SEC and Big Ten. Other than that, is winning another conference championship really that big of a deal? After all, these conferences certainly aren’t tradition-laden. Many have recently just been reconfigured, including some west coast teams that decided to make repeated treks to Big Ten country.

Washington winning the Big Ten doesn’t exactly harken back to similar days of folklore. That’s because Washington only recently entered the Big Ten. Of course, there’s reason for them to place a much higher premium on a national title compared to a conference championship. Lack of tradition.

Imagine this scenario. Your team wins a conference championship and loses in the first round of the playoff. Is that an “okay” season or a “great” one? That’s up to each fan to decide, but it feels different in the SEC. It feels pretty good even without winning it all.

In the SEC, if a coach wins a conference championship, including the SEC Championship Game, that coach should receive a contract extension and a raise no matter what happens in the College Football Playoff – even a first round exit.

Of course, this is all for debate. Any SEC champion will have a great shot to win a national championship after a conference crown is wrapped up. However, throwing an SEC Championship Game would have sounded like heresy just a few seasons ago. Now, it sounds like the appreciation for a conference championship, including one in the SEC, has waned a bit. Would most players rather play for a national championship with no guarantees or have a conference championship ring from the SEC? Depends on the conference and depends on the team in question.

As for the Vols, a conference championship is nothing to take for granted. Tennessee has seen the other end of the spectrum and when it comes to championships, the Vols aren’t going to be picky.

There isn’t a clear cut answer to this debate. Each person has their own opinion. However, no one can argue that an SEC title means just a bit less now that a national championship can still be in play.

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