DESTIN, Fla. - The SEC spring meetings clearly are the most unrealistic event on the conference's annual calendar.
You can see it in the coaches' faces. Those aren't the same faces you see in competition.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt doesn't stare anybody down. Neither does Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Coaches meet and mingle as though they're at a family reunion. Rumor has it that Alabama coach Nick Saban even smiles, but I've got no credible source on that.
The conference is one big, happy family at a resort hotel for Memorial Day week, which is all about sharing.
Money didn't buy all of that happiness. But it helped.
The 12 SEC schools will share $127.2 million this year. That's more than the combined salary of Jimmy Sexton's SEC football-coaching clients.
This is a work trip for SEC coaches. But it's a different kind of work. Nobody loses at the end of the day. Nobody gets fired.
Then, everybody packs up their beach clothes and big smiles, and goes back to their real jobs, which entail heaping misery on the rest of their SEC family.
"You see all the grey hair," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said, pointing out a side effect of the competition.
"We beat each other up," he added. "But we're making a lot of money doing it."
He could be referring to the conference coaches or schools.
Nowhere is the competition more apparent than in football, where you could argue that winning the conference championship has become almost as difficult as winning a national title. To win the SEC, you must endure an eight-game schedule in the nation's toughest conference, then win a playoff game in the Georgia Dome. All you have to do to win a national title is beat Ohio State.
"The last two national championship games haven't been very close," Tuberville said in reference to Florida's and LSU's dominance against Ohio State in winning back-to-back SEC national titles.
But the SEC races have been as close as ever. You can expect more of the same this fall.
In talking to SEC football coaches last week, the majority opinion was the conference would be stronger this season than last when LSU and Georgia finished one-two in the final Associated Press poll, and conference teams won seven of nine bowl games.
That's not just coach-speak. The depth charts and preseason rankings bear it out. The top four teams in the SEC East - Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and South Carlolina - all should be improved. In fact, Georgia and Florida already have been picked to win the national championship by preseason magazines.
In the West, LSU has lost a number of key players from its national championship team but still has a wealth of talent returning. And title contender Auburn should be improved.
Also, a league chock full of proven coaches should be even better on the sidelines season with the addition of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and with Houston Nutt replacing Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss.
"We'll have to continue to fight through (the conference competition)," Tuberville said. "Because we're going to tend to keep beating each other up."
And continue making each other rich.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.