The Big 12 is down to a Lesser 10, and within days it could be reduced to Iowa State and Baylor. Nebraska has joined the Big Ten, which technically numbers 12. The Pac-10 has picked off Colorado and is hopeful of adding five more Big 12 expatriates, flagships Texas and Oklahoma chief among them. But the Pac-10 would seem to have less in common, both geographically and philosophically, with Texas and Oklahoma than would a certain other conference.
The SEC plays better football than the Pac-10. The SEC plays better football than anybody. The SEC includes schools based in the Central Time Zone, which the Pac-10 as yet does not. The “SE” stands for Southeastern,” which could be applied, albeit loosely, to Texas and Oklahoma, neither of which abut the Pacific Ocean.
The SEC with Texas and Oklahoma would be a killer conference. (Not that the SEC isn’t already. Four consecutive BCS titles, you know.) But the Pac-10, which at the moment numbers 11, seems to have stolen a march on the SEC, which might have to make do with Texas A&M. Meaning no disrespect to the proud Aggies, but the thought of all this league-hopping concluding with the nation’s richest conference adding only a road trip to College Station would be cold comfort.
Meaning: Mike Slive needs to get cracking.
As unseemly as all this program-poaching is, it’s better to poach well than to poach poorly. There aren’t many schools that can add to what the SEC already has — again, we’re primarily talking football — but Oklahoma and Texas are on the short list.
Slive is the SEC’s commissioner, and he’s among the brightest men in the industry. He’s also a fretter of the first rank. During games involving his schools, he fiddles with his BlackBerry and pops Life Savers to keep calm. (I know. I’ve sat beside him. I’ve even bummed a Life Saver.)
What’s happening is the ultimate zero-sum game: If you don’t win in this coast-to-coast conference-shuffling, you lose. The SEC became the first mega-league when it added Arkansas and South Carolina, but that happened in 1991. The ACC, the Big East and now the Big Ten and the Pac-10 have all grown bigger and stronger since, and simply adding Texas A&M won’t burnish the ol’ image. If the SEC cannot land either Oklahoma or Texas, it will be seen as having lost. The SEC rarely loses.
It’s believed Texas wants no part of the SEC. It’s also believed that Oklahoma, which met with the Pac-10 on Saturday, might be amenable to a Slive charm offensive. And if the SEC could snare Oklahoma and Texas A&M, the lure of the Pac-10 would surely be lessened for the Longhorns (The Sooners and the Aggies are Texas’ biggest rivals.)
I used the word “philosophically” above, and Oklahoma would indeed seem more like Alabama and Tennessee than Stanford and Cal. (Meaning: It’s not unfamiliar with NCAA scrutiny.) Barry Switzer coached OU after playing at Arkansas, which is in the SEC. Bob Stoops coaches OU now, and he apprenticed at Florida.
The SEC could live without Texas. It couldn’t live as happily without Oklahoma. If both alight in the Pac-10, that would give the Left Coast League three schools that have won a BCS title. (Although Southern Cal’s grip on the 2004 championship is, owing to NCAA sanctions, slippery.) The SEC has four — Tennessee, Florida, LSU and Alabama — but the SEC prides itself on being twice as good as every other conference.
The SEC has also prided itself on being the first to act. (Its adoption of a football championship game in 1992 became the model.) This time the league appears to have been slow off the mark. But that can change with the right pitch to the right school.
For the SEC, Oklahoma would be that school. If the Sooners come South and the Longhorns follow, all the better. But Oklahoma alone would be enough to offset anything done by any other conference. The area code for Norman is 405. I’m guessing Mike Slive has it programmed in his BlackBerry, and I’m guessing he’s reaching for the Life Savers as we speak.