As goes Tennessee football, so goes the GOP

Lane Kiffin, the new coach of the Volunteers, garners a Sarah Palin comparison. Get ready for a blowout loss

Published September 14, 2009 8:09PM (EDT)

Who says sports and politics don't mix? On Thursday, ESPN broadcaster Tim Brando reached back to last year's presidential campaign to explain the current state of Tennessee football via a comparison between Lane Kiffin, the Volunteers' brash 34-year-old head coach, and Sarah Palin.

"And in my estimation, the thing Lane Kiffin, to this point, has done is energize the base," Brando told Gainesville Sun reporter Dwight Collins, "which right now in this economy is what big-time business and big-time college football is about."

"It's sort of what Sarah Palin did for the Republican ticket. Maybe not get more votes, but energize the base of the Republican party. It doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to be successful, but if that's what (Tennessee) wanted to do when they hired Kiffin, that's what he was able to accomplish in the offseason. Now we'll see how much staying power he has, and how successful he can be."

HTWW readers who for some strange reason are not obsessed with Southeastern Conference college football may need a little backstory to understand the Kiffin-Palin analogy. Yes, there is no doubt that Lane Kiffin, the newly hired Tennessee coach, has "energized the base." He got the good ole boys hooting and hollering by immediately predicting an imminent return to glory for the Volunteers and picking a series of fights with other SEC coaches as soon as he arrived in Knoxville, including, most notoriously, calling out the head coach of the defending national champion Florida Gators, Urban Meyer, as a cheater.

If, in the "big-time business" of college football the key is to get fans excited so they fill seats and buy lots of Tennessee Volunteer paraphernalia, then Kiffin may be lauded for his efforts at rallying the base over the spring and summer, just as Sarah Palin, initially, garnered rave reviews for attracting huge crowds and lots of media attention. But in college football, as in politics, winning is the only thing that counts, and one can feel the base sagging already, in the wake of Tennessee's uninspiring loss to UCLA on Saturday.

Let's take another look at that Brando quote: "It doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to be successful..." Not only is that the kindest possible assessment of the Palin effect on the McCain candidacy, but how else can we interpret it except to assume that the Kiffin regime will be an atrocious disaster? In the unlikely event that Palin nabs the Republican nomination for President in 2012, her chances of winning the presidency seem about as good as Tennessee's chances of avoiding a 50-point blowout loss in Gainesville, Florida to the Gators.

Of course, we all know that anything can happen in politics or college football. Maybe Lane Kiffin will pull off a miracle, and maybe the former governor of Alaska will ride a wave of Tea Party rage into the White House. But I think the bookies in Las Vegas are more likely to bet that both will end up big losers.

DISCLAIMER: My mother and step-father have season tickets to Florida Gator games.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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