College football has enjoyed a great laugh at Auburn's expense for the last month. To the detached observer, it has been almost as funny as watching Ohio State unravel in a big game.
But Auburn's self-inflicted misfortune isn't quite as laughable if you're a card-carrying member of the SEC. That has nothing to do with fraternal concern. It's about checks and balances.
The rest of the SEC West - and the conference as a whole to a lesser degree - is far better off when Auburn can check Alabama and vice-versa. Now, after one bizarre season, the rivalry looks terribly out of whack.
Contrast Alabama's sudden supremacy with what was going on in August. The Tigers began the 2008 season with a six-game winning streak over their arch-rival and the favorite's role in the SEC West. Since then, the Friendliest Village on the Plains has been the Wackiest Village on the Plains.
Auburn's new offensive coordinator was shown the door by mid-season. Its starting quarterback lost his job. Its head coach lost his job.
And then, things really went south.
Within weeks of firing Tommy Tuberville, Auburn hired Gene Chizik, who spent the last two years trying to turn the Big 12 into the Big 11. Iowa State went 2-10 this season, gave up 49 points or more three times - and didn't play Texas or Oklahoma.
Last month, Auburn had a coach with a track record for beating its arch-rival, holding his own against Nick Saban and being at his best in the games that mattered most. It has replaced him with a coach who couldn't hold his own against Mike Sherman.
It's almost enough to make Alabama fans feel sorry for Auburn. Just kidding.
The rest of the West should feel sorry for itself.
Saban has been on the job only a couple of years, and Alabama is 12-1 and playing in a BCS bowl. Auburn is 5-7, with a 2-10 coach, and with its loudest alum - Charles Barkley - angrily playing the race card to a national audience.
Should make for an interesting in-state recruiting battle, huh?
In fact, it should be about as interesting as the SEC West next season. Arkansas is just getting started under Bobby Petrino, Mississippi State is starting over again, and LSU just went 7-5 after running out of Saban's recruits. Who's supposed to challenge Alabama for the championship? Ole Miss?
Alabama's next team will be more talented than this one. Its next schedule will be easier. Its toughest road game will be at Ole Miss. It won't play Georgia or Florida from the East.
Where are the checks? Where's the balance?
If Saban ever laughed, he would be laughing fiendishly now. He might as well start game-planning for the SEC championship game this summer. That's two weeks preparation for Florida and two days for Georgia. He could prepare for Auburn on a coffee break - if he took coffee breaks.
The irony is that Auburn had the best Saban antidote on the market. Tuberville split two games against Saban at Alabama, and won three of five games against Saban when Saban was at LSU.
Now, Tuberville is out of the picture, and the state of Alabama belongs to Saban. So does the SEC West.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.