Dan Wolken, Vanderbilt University alumnus and national sports columnist
To Dan Wolken, you know it when you see it.
When Wolken thinks of the SEC, it reminds him of people whose lives revolve around game days — the people who set up RVs with big-screen TVs outside the stadium, sneak flasks of bourbon into the stands and get rowdy.
One defining characteristic of states with schools in the SEC, Wolken said, is their reliance on football to make up for limited populations and resources: They want to be on the national stage for football because it affirms their self-worth.
“They use their grand, gigantic football programs as kind of a point of pride for the whole state,” he said. “I’ve never gotten that vibe from Missouri.”
Kirby Goidel, Louisiana State University fan and director of the school of mass communication's research facility
Kirby Goidel and his friends grilled up alligator tail with sausage and rice on the side for the Oct. 8 game between Louisiana State University and the University of Florida.
They have their menus planned out for the rest of the season and are looking forward to gumbo and roasted pig.
For Goidel, tailgating is a weekend undertaking. On Friday night, he stocks his office with supplies, and, on Saturday, leaves his house around 6 a.m. to begin the festivities.
Game day in Baton Rouge is like combining the excitement of the state fair with a football game, he said.
"The thing about it is, I've been to a lot of different places," Goidel said. "At LSU, it's even beyond what a lot of different schools have."
For many, it’s less about going to the game than it is experiencing the atmosphere, Goidel said. Though the stadium holds nearly 93,000 people, about 150,000 are on campus during game day.
Clay Travis, author and University of Tennessee fan
Clay Travis started tailgating and going to University of Tennessee football games when he was 5 years old.
“You become a fan before you're even aware it's happening,” he said. Now, he takes along his 3-year-old and his 1-year-old.
He remembers when he first took his wife to an SEC football game and how she was shocked by the fashions on display.
Women were decked out in sundresses and heels. They “dress sexy,” Travis said.
Men make an effort to look nice, too. And because the weather’s mild, people don’t need to wear coats.
If you just go for the game, Travis said, you're missing 95 percent of the experience.
“It's a really, really unique vibe that doesn't really exist anywhere,” he said. “There isn't anything like it in the United States.”
Amanda Heckert, South Carolina fan and senior editor at Atlanta magazine
When Amanda Heckert was in college, her tailgate gatherings featured planned menus, linens and flowers. Once, a friend even brought a candelabrum.
"It gave it a sense of occasion," she said. "It would almost be like planning a party every home game."
Heckert's husband went to MU, and Heckert has gone with him to some MU games at Memorial Stadium. From talking with her husband, she got the impression basketball was the sport Missouri fans really cared about.
"While it's beloved in the SEC, it doesn't compare to the way football is treated," she said. "Football is kind of king."
Kelly Jolley, Auburn University fan and professor
Kelly Jolley once had a student ask if he could reschedule an exam days before Auburn University played the University of Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
The student, an Auburn fan, wanted to reschedule because he was living in a hotel with his father. The student's mother, an Alabama fan, had kicked them out of the house until the game was over. Depending on who won, the student wasn't sure when he'd get to go back home.
Jolley let the student reschedule the exam.
"Football comes first," he said. "That's just the way things are."