There’s standard-issue velocity (think Jair Jurrjens), and then there’s college football velocity (think Craig Kimbrel). It was barely a month ago that Texas A&M began making noises about leaving the Big 12, and those noises have become all but a roaring reality. A&M has signaled its intent to leave, and the SEC has offered to provide a new home. All that’s left is for somebody to persuade Baylor — and perhaps other spurned Big 12 schools — not to sue.
The apparent threat of legal action delayed what was to be A&M’s grand announcement Wednesday, but the move figures to happen soon enough. And why would Baylor care what A&M does? Because the Aggies’ leaving could lead to Texas and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State bolting to the Pac-12, and by the time the exodus concludes the Big 12 might be reduced to three months of Baylor playing Iowa State. (Which apparently is also reserving its right to sue.)
Litigation, or the threat thereof, aside, the greater issue remains: Where does the SEC turn after it absorbs A&M?
The original thought was that the SEC could add a 14th team to offer geographical balance and call it a day. But momentum — and here we note again that momentum is a mighty wind — now suggests the SEC won’t stop at 14. The growing possibility that the Pac-12 will pick the plums from what’s left of the Big 12 could force to the SEC to go to 16 teams, or even 15.
And how, you’re asking, might a 15-team conference work? Well, there could be three five-team divisions. And how would three division winners fit into one conference title game? Only the best two would qualify. And how might the best two be determined? Good question. Conference record? Overall record? BCS rankings? Recruiting rankings?
For simplicity’s sake, an even number makes greater sense. So who might be the SEC’s 14th (or 15th and 16th) teams? Glad you asked.
Missouri: Heavy rumors link the Big 12 Tigers to the SEC, although it’s not entirely clear why. The Tigers have historically been better at basketball, and their recent run of football success might not stand the strain of the SEC West. Adding Missouri would broaden the TV base into St. Louis and Kansas City, but a countervailing theory holds that Mizzou sees itself as a better fit in the Big Ten. Chance it lands in the SEC: 50 percent.
West Virginia: Another heavily rumored name. If the intent is to stop at 14 teams, the Mountaineers would make more geographic sense than Missouri. They’d fit in the East, and they’d also serve up a slice of the Eastern Seaboard TV market. And this is a school that takes football seriously. (Witness the burning couches.) Of the teams on the SEC’s draft board, West Virginia would figure to be the easiest to convince. Chance it lands in the SEC: 65 percent.
Virginia Tech: An even more attractive candidate than West Virginia. The Hokies would offer penetration into the Washington, D.C., market, and they play BCS-level (meaning SEC-level) football. Still unclear is whether Virginia Tech, which lobbied hard to get into the ACC alongside Virginia only eight years ago, would split so soon. Chance it lands in the SEC: 37.5 percent.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are the greatest prize out there, but they’re believed to looking first toward the Pac-12. Then again, the SEC did approach Oklahoma last summer, and the Sooners are nothing if not pragmatic. The school’s inclination to trample on tradition — coach Bob Stoops has said super-conferences are the way of the future and that if the annual Texas-OU game gets lost for the sake of progress, so be it — could lead it southward. Chance it lands in the SEC: 30 percent.
North Carolina/N.C. State/Maryland: Any one of these would offer something approximating Virginia Tech, except that all have deeper roots in the ACC and none is as good at football. It’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels leaving the conference they and Duke control, basketball-wise; it’s less hard to picture Maryland and State wanting to get away from Carolina and Duke. Chance of landing in the SEC: 30 percent for Maryland; 20 percent for N.C. State; 5 percent for Carolina.
Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Louisville: Any of these might be welcome under ordinary circumstances, but it’s believed the SEC won’t add teams in states where it has already has a foothold. That said, desperate times could call for desperate measures. Two months ago, would anyone have thought Texas A&M would be SEC-bound in September 2011? Chance of landing in the SEC: 10 percent for Florida State, Clemson and Louisville; 5 percent for Georgia Tech and Miami.
And there’s your scorecard, folks — as of today. A week from now, Boise State might well have emerged as the hottest name on the SEC’s wish list. Although, owing to recent events, the school in Athens might file suit to bar the Broncos.
By Mark Bradley