The Southeastern Conference is cultivating champions on and off the field.

Eight academic programs that in no way target athletes are now featured on a new website,, that the SECU launched during Winter Break.

The SECU is the Southeastern Conference’s academic initiative, and the programs include study abroad fellowships and faculty research grants.

Torie Johnson, executive director of SECU, said this is the first time a major collegiate conference is directly supporting academic programs that are unrelated to student athletes.

“Other conferences have something that is academically focused,” Johnson said. “The SECU is different, though, in that it is so directly tied to the conference.”

The new website is part of a rebranding campaign the SECU has undergone for more than two years.

Formally known as the SEC Academic Consortium, the organization was originally independent of the Southeastern Conference.

Now the SECU is operated and funded directly through the athletic conference, giving the organization the opportunity to identify with the SEC and utilize its resources.

“If successful, I would imagine this might set a precedent for other conferences to follow,” said Dan Williams, UF marketing assistant vice president.

Though the SECU funds eight programs, Johnson said the organization may add more grants, scholarships and fellowships in the future.

The new website was unintentionally launched in conjunction with the prepared launch of the SEC Network, an upcoming cable college sports network that will expand coverage of conference sports. Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow will work for the network.

Johnson said the consecutive timing of the two launches was not planned, but the SEC Network might be another platform for the SECU to broadcast its message.

“For instance you might be watching an SEC game and then you may see an SECU ad,” Johnson said.

Steve McClain, UF senior associate athletic director, said the SECU is another long-standing collaborative effort of the SEC to bridge academics and athletics.

“The Southeastern Conference’s academic initiative will only strengthen the relationships between the academic and athletic units at the University of Florida,” McClain wrote in an email.

Williams said the SEC has become a strong force in athletics and that the formation of the SECU may remind people outside the South of each member school’s academic prominence.

“For us, I think it could help overcome the image that southern universities are nothing more than ‘football schools,’” Williams wrote in an email, “and at the same time encourage even more productive collaboration between our conference members.

A version of this story ran on page 15 on 1/6/2014 under the headline "New SEC academic website wants to dispel ‘football school’ notion"

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