Dr. Terry Barr is an English professor at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. He’s also a diehard Alabama fan. Dr. Michael Nelson is a history professor at Presbyterian. He’s also a diehard Arkansas fan.
So, one day they had an idea: Let’s teach a course about SEC football.
“I had no idea it was going to get any attention, and so this past week has just been eye-opening,” Barr said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “We’ve been teaching the course since about 2006. It started more as a history of SEC football.”
Over the years, though, it has morphed into something else entirely: “Religion of SEC Football,” a one-credit course for freshmen.
“Students kept asking why (SEC fans) were so crazy,” Barr explained. “As we thought about the fanaticism of football, someone said it really is like a religion. I said, ‘Yeah, it really is.’ Then Chad Gibbs wrote a book (in 2010) called ‘God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC,’ where he goes around every SEC stadium during the course of a year trying to figure out why football is more important – or seems more important – than God. So we thought, ‘Well, this is a great idea.’ So we kind of morphed our course into thinking more about religious fanaticism and people who claimed to (adhere) to the bible but tend to show up more to football games than they do to church.”
Barr hopes to have Gibbs visit his class this year. He also shows the “30 for 30” documentary Roll Tide/War Eagle,” which chronicles the Alabama-Auburn rivalry.
“There’s nothing like poisoning trees and hanging Bear Bryant in effigy to say ‘I love college football,’ right?” Barr joked.
The course only has room for two dozen students. Upperclassmen are not eligible to take it.
“We’re trying to keep it very exclusive, I guess, to people who just have passion,” Barr said. Although I have to say we get people who have never watched a college football game. We met yesterday. Some of them don’t have a team, so who knows why they sign up for it?”
No student has ever failed the course.
“There have been students who have made Ds,” Barr said. “That’s mainly because they either don’t come to class when they should or don’t turn in the work. I can’t imagine why. We ask for reflection essays. They’re writing a confessional in two weeks and that confessional is how deeply religious or not they are with their SEC football. So it’s really a lot of fun, but the idea is to also get them to reflect further about why they like what they like, why they’re passionate about what they’re passionate about, why they care, and have they been born into a family of football devotees, or have they chosen (it)? Kind of like (a) religion.”
Barr knows his stuff, too. At the end of the show, he beat Brian Jones in an SEC pop quiz.
“What do I win for playing?” he asked, laughing.
That question naturally led to a conversation about one of Jones’ favorite topics: BBQ.