College course probes religion of SEC football

by Gregory Tomlin |

(Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports)Arkansas Razorbacks tight end AJ Derby (11) gets past Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Geno Smith (24) to score a touchdown during the second half of a game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2014. Alabama defeated Arkansas 14-13.

CLINTON, South Carolina (Christian Examiner) – It's an old joke: On the eighth day, God created Southeast Conference (SEC) football.

But for a group of professors and students at Presbyterian College, the religion of football is no laughing matter.

CBS Sports correspondent Jon Solomon reports two professors, Drs. Michael Nelson and Terry Barr, have been teaching a course on religion and football for more than a decade but it is now more popular than ever.

Students in the one-hour course from Nelson, a history professor who is an Arkansas Razorback fan, and Barr, an English professor who favors the Crimson Tide of Alabama, probe issues related to the near religious devotion football fans have for their teams. They "worship" the players and coaches, pray that their teams will win, and mourn when they lose, Solomon reports.

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God & Football: Faith & Fanaticism in the SEC by Chad Gibbs is a book chronicling the experience of the author's journey to each of the 12 SEC schools where he spent time with "rabid" Christian fans of various ages and denominations. 

"Very quickly it became clear to us the parallels with religion were abundant," Nelson told CBS. "Even Nick Saban at a press conference is akin to a pulpit."

The class begins with students "confessing" their football habits and, if they don't adore football, they write reflective pieces on other topics, such as the football traditions of their families.

Lest anyone think, however, that religious devotion to football is really the point of the course, Nelson and Barr claim that the course is meant to teach people that life is full of things more important than football – a lesson a "set of Alabama fans" should have known before they missed their daughter's wedding to attend a game, Solomon wrote.

According to Solomon, the professors want to explore whether a person can be both devoutly religious and a rabid football fan, or if football tends to replace religion for a particular season of the year.

"I think for a lot of people in our society this really has become a civic religion," Nelson said. "It's the idols we worship. What would compel me on a Thursday to pack up my two boys and drive to Fayetteville, Arkansas 15 hours away? It's a pilgrimage. The stadiums are meccas."

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