There is a certain degree of convenience for an Ohio State supporter to argue that coaching explains the disparity as opposed to talent. Ohio State is the one program in the Big Ten that has a legitimate, elite-level coach, so pointing the finger at coaching is self-serving from a Buckeye, although that certainly does not make the emphasis wrong. A gap in talent would be more difficult to correct and would have more negative implications for Ohio State and the rest of the conference. Focusing on coaching allows Babb to ignore the fact that the South produces more quality football prospects than any other region in the country. Ohio produces plenty of good players, so with no in-state competition for those players, Ohio State can compete with SEC powers in terms of talent (although you'd never know it from the Bucks' sterling record against the SEC). However, the potential for the non-elite programs in the Big Ten is not on the same level as that of the non-elite teams in the SEC because the talent pool is shallower in the Midwest and the disparity will only get more pronounced as population continues to shift south. Or maybe the better way to put this is that there are three elite (or potentially elite) programs in the Big Ten - Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State - and six in the SEC - Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee.
My other minor criticism of the article is that the following paragraph is a little rich for me:
SEC schools gladly pay outrageous sums of money and devote incredible resources to winning in football because of the cultural values placed on wins and losses. This is the way it has been and likely always will be in a region where the
center of the universe rotates around what happens from September to January. Losing to a hated rival is something not to be tolerated; snide jokes and needling from business associates, neighbors, and even relatives must be endured until the following year, and to avoid this embarrassment, money is not an object when it comes to hiring a new coach. In the eyes of the alumni and fans, if the man is right for the job, they will find the money even if they have to take it out of their children’s college fund. Criticism is ignored and runs off their back like water off of a duck, and if pushed they will even ask, ‘Yeah, well, I bet you would gladly trade your coach for ours now even at twice the price.’ Even the coach of a program becomes part of the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ discussion and a source of bragging rights. This passion is so over the top ministers have been known to include references to football in marital vows, and while it may draw a laugh it frequently isn’t meant in jest.
Am I truly reading an Ohio State fan criticizing other fan bases for taking college football too seriously? I could be paranoid in my reading of that paragraph, but that's the gist of it for me.
Something tells me that Dewey Richard would have no problem including in his wedding vows a promise to be true like Rex Kern.
Substantively speaking, the point that Babb leaves out is that the SEC programs have ignited an arms race in terms of paying their coaches. It's hard to identify the starting point for the race, but we're currently at a stage where each SEC fan base looks at its coach and says "is this the guy to compete with Nick Saban and Urban Meyer." If Tennessee off-loads Phil Fulmer this fall, the coaching arms race will be a reason why. Conversely, in the Big Ten, there is no arms race because the coaching pool is filled with mediocrities and unproven figures. There's no great urgency to pay $1.8M for a new coach when all he has to do is compete with Joe Tiller and Ron Zook. The one place in which the arms race dynamic might come into play is Michigan because the Wolverines' arch-rival have the one great coach in the league and Michigan fans, detached and ironic as we may be, can only tolerate playing second fiddle to Ohio State for so long. The arms race should also be in effect at Penn State, which is a shadow of its former self, but the Lions are in a bind because they have a legendary coach whom they cannot fire, regardless of how mediocre his results.
The other problems with Babb's point is that the Big East has turned into one of the premier conferences, certainly surpassing the Big Ten over the past year or two, and those programs pay their coaches a relative pittance. Long-term, Rutgers, West Virginia, and South Florida are going to have to ante up for their head men or suffer Louisville's fate they will, but right now, the Big East is getting a bigger bang for its buck than any other league.