The past week, whether it’s at work or out and about, I’ve been hearing college football fans talking about possible SEC expansion if the Big 10 kicks off the era of 16-team superconferences, and which teams ought to be added.
It’s the kind of subject that leads to spirited and enjoyable debate, with the candidates I’ve heard suggested ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.
So here’s my take on all of this:
If the Big 10 adds more than one team, Commissioner Mike Slive has indicated the SEC will be proactive to protect its position. Which probably means going to at least 14 and possibly 16 teams.
But just adding teams isn’t what this is all about. The aim of expansion for the SEC will be widening its television footprint by moving into lucrative new markets. Why add teams (like, for instance, Georgia Tech or Louisville) in markets that the conference already dominates? Splitting up the money more ways only makes sense if there’s more money generated. And that’s only going to happen with a bigger TV audience. (Someone mentioned that Louisville would bolster the SEC in terms of basketball, but that’s basically irrelevent to the discussion. Conference expansion is all about football.)
The best way for the SEC to add audience would be to invade the state of Texas. A lot of folks think the Big 12 will start to crumble if the Big 10 takes several of its northern teams, and the University of Texas is the jewel everyone wants. Texas in the Big 10 (as rumored early this year) is a bad fit, and while some think the Longhorns might go to the PAC 10, the SEC seems like a much more natural home for them.
According to former SEC Commissioner Harvey Schiller, Texas would have joined the conference back in 1992 had the Texas Legislature not insisted that Texas A&M must be taken, too. At the time, the SEC wasn’t interested in the Aggies. But if the SEC was going to 16 teams, adding Texas and Texas A&M would work just fine this time around. And if the Lone Star politicians didn’t get involved this time, adding Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC would be even better. Oklahoma isn’t a major TV market, but the Sooners are a marquee team.
And if Texas does decide to bolt to the PAC 10 and doesn’t take A&M with it, adding the Aggies and the Sooners to the SEC would work, too.
So that takes care of two of the four teams needed to reach 16. For the other two, some fans think locking up the state of Florida by taking Florida State and Miami away from the ACC (which probably will end up feasting on whatever’s left of the Big East after the Big 10 is through with it) would make sense. The University of Florida likely wouldn’t be thrilled about both of its in-state rivals being added to the conference, but I doubt they could veto both of them.
So if you just take one, the Seminoles are the better choice, both geographically and in terms of fan support. Miami fans don’t travel well and the U doesn’t even draw well at home (though perhaps they’d put a few more folks in the seats if they had SEC competition on a regular basis). Last time we went through all this, FSU opted to dominate (for a while) the weaker ACC rather than joining the SEC, but that would be less likely in today’s TV-oriented college football landscape.
As for South Florida, a school I’ve heard several fans mention, forget it: not ready for prime time.
For the fourth team, a lot of fans on both sides of the border would like to see the Clemson Tigers in the SEC, and admittedly they’d be a good fit in terms of football culture, location and natural rivalries. But they wouldn’t add much to the conference’s TV appeal.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, might be more inclined to bolt the ACC, where it hasn’t been all that long, and the Hokies would give the SEC access to the Washington-Baltimore area TV market. So I like that move, unless the politicians in the Old Dominion state throw a spanner in the works by insisting the University of Virginia must be taken, too. The Cavaliers aren’t a good fit for the SEC, so in that case Clemson would be the better choice.
So there’s your menu for selecting four new teams: Texas, Texas A&M or Oklahoma, Florida State or Miami, and Virginia Tech or Clemson. Add those to the SEC and it doesn’t matter what any other conference does.
Would this lineup make it tougher for UGA to win an SEC title? Undoubtedly. But it would make it tougher for Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU, too. And whichever team came out on top from such a conference would have a pretty good claim to being the best team in the country.
Feel free to share your own SEC wish list. …