June 15, 2021

MORE Than Sports: A Decade of Showcasing SEC Academic Excellence

Pictured: The original home of the SEC Academic Consortium, incorporated in 2005.
Pictured: The original home of the SEC Academic Consortium, incorporated in 2005.

By: SEC Staff
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

National. Champions.


Are there more accurate words to describe the storied competitive history of the Southeastern Conference? In its near 90-year existence, SEC teams have claimed 250 team National Championships – one in every sport the league currently sponsors. And each one brings a wealth of exposure for the SEC and its 14 member universities.


Ten years ago, the SEC decided to use some of that exposure to do the unthinkable – heavily invest in highlighting academic achievement unrelated to athletics. Academic stories would regularly ride alongside athletic ones on the SEC Network, in social media and in traditional academic publications. To accomplish this bold undertaking, the Conference established an internal team to oversee the work … but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.


After voting to dissolve the standalone SEC Academic Consortium – which was incorporated in 2005 – and move operations to the Conference office, the SEC Presidents and Chancellors charged the league office with finding unique ways to spotlight the academic achievements of each SEC university, using the SEC brand and its virtually unmatched media platforms as the foundation.


This month marks the 10th anniversary of the SEC uniquely investing in the teaching, research and service mission of its members. In the last decade there have been a number of changes, from adding and sunsetting programs, to adding new positions to the team, to connecting to a broader messaging strategy – ever heard of It Just Means More? But despite the changes, the vision of an athletics conference actively supporting the academic work of its universities remains the same.


We recently sat down with SEC Associate Commissioner of Academic Relations, Dr. Torie A. Johnson, to learn a bit about how it all came to be, what’s changed, and what’s to come. Keep reading to learn about how the SEC works to make sure people know the Conference is about MORE than sports.


What is the primary goal of the SEC’s academic messaging efforts?

In 2011, there wasn’t a defined marketing, branding and positioning plan. In fact, we focused more on programs. Our first SEC Symposium was in year two, when we showcased Conference research. We also launched the faculty travel program that year. The faculty achievement and professor of the year awards were first presented in year one. While our goals haven’t changed, we have crystallized our mission. We still have the programming, but we also have a robust website and social media presence. In the end, we promote the collective impact of our universities; the individual accomplishments of our faculty, staff, and students; and we show the unique presence of the SEC in the higher ed space.


What academic constituency groups does the SEC work with, and how has that changed over time?

We’ve worked with presidents and chancellors, provosts, vice presidents for research, individuals in faculty affairs, admissions and enrollment officers, and business school deans, to name a few. It might not always feel like it when you work in the Conference office, but universities are massive, and our programming has a lot of reach. Initially, we had to build relationships and help people understand the benefit of working with the SEC. The idea of a “conference affiliation” doesn’t really exist in higher ed, so there was a lot of confusion when we started. But now people know what we’re aiming to do, and they are how we get feedback, programming and topical ideas, and research to share with the world.


What is the biggest change you’ve witnessed so far?

We’re more focused now on promoting academic accomplishments than when we started. It really is just as important to us as facilitating excellent programs and activities. We are also a much bigger operation than we’ve ever been. We help facilitate about ten programs and events each year; we have a full-blown messaging program connected to It Just Means More; we have the website that has to be managed; and we’re active on the main social media platforms. During the last ten years we’ve built a vibrant and dynamic presence that touches so many people, thanks to consistent support from our leaders.


Describe the impact of the SEC’s academic programs and events.

We have the most direct impact on faculty right now, but we’ve increased our student reach over the years. When the Consortium was formed in 2005, the provosts were at the top of the original 501c3 organizational structure, and they usually focus on faculty matters – whether its research, travel, training, achievement, etc. I’m pleased we’ve been able to not only continue those faculty successes, but also to create new opportunities for students with the college tour, which helps us recruit the best and brightest to Conference campuses; the student pitch competition, which helps us get the word out on our students’ innovative ideas and companies; and the MBA case competition; which helps connect our MBA students with industry.


What are your hopes for the next ten years?

I would like to see us increase our student touch. I’d also like to see us get engrained more with campus as a whole. There’s value in connecting at the college and department level, but that’s thousands of units across 14 institutions, and we are a small team. We’ve made great progress in building new relationships through things like Fourteen on the 14th and our In the SEC blog, but it’d be really gratifying to see us working on projects with leaders in areas like diversity, equity and inclusion or student affairs.


During the next two weeks, we’ll be celebrating the SEC’s commitment to highlighting the teaching, research, service and athletics excellence of its 14 member universities. Head over to our social media platforms to follow along.