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Expounding On Expansion: The Teams That Fit, By The Numbers

(This is the eighth part in an on-going series examining the possibility of SEC expansion from a business perspective.)

Over the past two weeks, we’ve done exactly what everyone else in the sports media has been doing — talking about conference expansion.

Only we’ve been taking a different angle.

Our goal has been to examine the possibility of SEC growth using the same criteria that university presidents would likely use.  Instead of simply grabbing a map and discussing last year’s bowl invites, we put together a list of nine criteria that will probably discussed in any expansion meetings.

How do we know that our criteria are the right ones?  We’ve paid attention to what the commissioners, athletic directors and university presidents from other conferences have been saying about this current wave of expansion mania.  We’ve also listened to what former SEC commissioners have said.  And we’ve studied the SEC’s own expansion history.

Our criteria — which are explained here — are: proximity to the heart of the current SEC, new television markets, new population bases, academic fit, recent success in the two revenue-generating sports of football and basketball, Directors Cut all-sports success, new recruiting areas, total athletic department spending, and football stadium size… which indicates a school’s commitment to the biggest bread-winning sport.

We selected 18 current BCS schools to examine.  Many fit the SEC’s current geographic footprint.  Many do not.  If you’ve been listening to rival commissioners or former SEC top dog Roy Kramer, you understand the importance of truly expanding a league’s boundaries.

We then graded those 18 schools in each of our nine criteria.  Hard data, pure rankings.  The goal?  To decide which schools would actually have the most positive impact on the SEC if invited to join.

Here’s how our grading system worked.  We ranked each school, for example, in terms of its proximity to the center of the SEC.  Georgia Tech is located closer to the SEC’s favorite conference tournament homes (Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans) than any other school.  Therefore, Georgia Tech received one point in our proximity ranking.

Texas Tech — which would only be considered IF the Texas legislature demanded a four-team package deal for Texas… as it did when the Big 12 was formed — is the farthest of the 18 schools from the SEC’s geographic hub.  So Texas Tech was given 18 points.

Obviously, the fewer points the better.

The fewer points, the more a school would bring to the SEC financially, athletically and academically.

Below are our full results:

School Proximity TV Markets Population Academics F/B Success Director’s Cup Recruiting Spending Stadium Size Total Points
Baylor 9 6 1 8 18 9 1 16 18 86
Clemson 2 13 14 8 12 16 13 10 5 93
Florida State 3 13 14 8 10 4 13 3 3 71
Georgia Tech 1 13 14 1 3 14 13 17 15 91
Kansas 13 10 12 8 4 18 8 6 17 96
Louisville 4 13 14 15 4 8 13 13 14 98
Maryland 16 4 9 1 8 6 7 9 16 76
Miami 17 13 14 1 12 12 13 12 7 101
Missouri 6 8 8 8 12 11 9 11 8 81
Notre Dame 8 1 7 1 10 5 9 7 6 54
Oklahoma 12 11 10 8 2 7 11 2 4 67
Oklahoma State 14 11 10 15 4 10 11 5 12 92
Texas 15 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 24
Texas A&M 10 3 1 1 12 3 1 4 2 37
Texas Tech 18 13 1 15 4 17 1 18 13 100
Virginia 7 5 5 1 17 2 5 8 10 60
Virginia Tech 5 7 5 8 12 13 5 15 9 79
West Virginia 11 9 13 15 8 15 13 14 11 109

Scientific?  Not exactly.  If we wanted this to be a scientific study, we would have weighted each category and given each actual score a corresponding numeric value.

Instead, we were looking for a ballpark number.  Some way to summarize what a school brings to the table.  Across nine categories, those schools that brought the most “new” assets to the SEC school were rewarded.

This isn’t the kind of mathematics that only Will Hunting could perform, but it is a more accurate way of looking at the SEC’s expansion options than, say, just going with gut feelings.  For that, we direct you to the 28,544,327 posts this week on BleacherReport.com.

With the our results now tallied, below is the final list of 18 schools ranked according to what each might bring to the SEC in terms of new value:

Rank School Total Points
1 Texas 24
2 Texas A&M 37
3 Notre Dame 54
4 Virginia 60
5 Oklahoma 67
6 Florida State 71
7 Maryland 76
8 Virginia Tech 79
9 Missouri 81
10 Baylor 86
11 Georgia Tech 91
12 Oklahoma State 92
13 Clemson 93
14 Kansas 96
15 Louisville 98
16 Texas Tech 100
17 Miami 101
18 West Virginia 109

So the SEC should run right out and call Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Virginia, right?

Not exactly.  All things being equal, certainly, those four schools would appear to bring the most value to the league.  But all things are seldom equal.

From an academic standpoint, three of those schools are viewed as being Top 25 universities and the other (Texas A&M) has a comparable budget and comparable academic standards.

From an athletic standpoint, you’re looking at four schools that all rank among the nation’s leaders in total spending as well as in all-sports success.  They also have four of the biggest “brand” names in collegiate sports.

From a business perspective, those schools would bring in huge television markets and large population bases.  They would expand the league’s geographic footprint from the nation’s capital to the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande.  Take that, Big Ten.  In addition, each would also provide fertile new recruiting ground for current SEC schools.

In all three of the areas that SEC presidents should be considering, Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Virginia stand strong.

But the SEC — if it even decides that expansion is in its best interest — will not going to be adding those four schools.  It should try to, but it won’t.

Here are a few more observations about our final candidate rankings:

*  There’s a reason everyone in America is eyeing Texas.  Despite its distance from the Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC, UT has had past discussions with all three of those leagues and is rumored to be a current expansion possibility for each conference again today.  The Longhorns — and Texas A&M — simply bring too much to the table to be ignored.  From an SEC perspective, both schools would be more valuable than even Notre Dame.

*  Notice how Texas A&M easily outdistances every school on the list not named Texas.  Located close to Houston and Dallas and with a huge alumni base that stretches across the Lone State State and the Midwest, A&M should be viewed as a possible expansion partner on its own merits.  The last time expansion was on the SEC’s docket, A&M was in the middle of the discussion.  Some say they were a throw in with UT.  Some say the SEC never wanted them.  Still others say they were set to come onboard even without the rival Longhorns.  Depending on whose self-serving recollections you believe, there have been rumors about an A&M-SEC marriage for more than 20 years now.  Former LSU AD Joe Dean once said the Aggies were the “most logical addition to the SEC.”  He was right.

*  The Irish and the SEC won’t become partners anytime soon.  The fit just isn’t right and everyone knows it.  But from a pure business sense, there’s a reason that leagues as far away from South Bend, Indiana as the ACC, Big East and Pac-10 have chased Notre Dame.  If the SEC truly wanted to put the college sports world in a headlock, it too would make a run at the Irish.  But it’s not going to happen.

*  Of all the schools we’ve examined in this series, the most surprising might be Virginia.  The Cavaliers haven’t excelled in football or basketball recently, but they certainly offer everything else that conference presidents would desire.  Likewise, Maryland scored awfully high in our rankings.  And the Terrapins have boasted more success in the big revenue sports of late, winning a national title in basketball in the past decade.  When fans and media mention ACC schools as being possibilities for SEC expansion, it’s usually the Southernmost members of that league that are named.  But the Northernmost ACC schools offer more value to the SEC.

*  Oklahoma — as expected — ranks high in most areas.  They aren’t a close fit and they don’t offer a great recruiting base or a boost in terms of in-state television markets.  But the Sooners spend money and flat-out win like an SEC program.  Unfortunately, they’ve also been spending a lot of time in the NCAA doghouse of late.  When Mike Slive was hired as commissioner, he was directed to clean up the league.  Like a modern day Wyatt Earp, Slive has succeeded.  The SEC — which once had an embarrassing reputation as a cheater’s league — has been surprisingly trouble-free in recent years.  Oklahoma, on the other hand, has been involved in both basketball and football scandals in this decade.  Even now the school’s athletic department is in the midst of an alleged pay-for-play basketball brouhaha.  Oklahoma is a big draw and would certainly aid the SEC’s athletic reputation.  But the stench of major NCAA violations might drive away league presidents.

*  Our grading system was designed to reward those schools which would bring new value to the SEC — new television markets, new recruiting ground, new population bases.  We believe that if every other conference is looking to expand for those reasons, so should the SEC.  Kramer, the last commissioner to preside over league expansion, has also said as much.  So imagine our surprise when Florida State scored so highly in our system.  If the SEC is to dip into waters that it already controls, the Seminoles clearly make the most sense.  Of the four Southern ACC schools, FSU offers the most in terms of brand name.

*  Virginia Tech (often mentioned) and Missouri (not so much) both should get a look from SEC presidents.  They are similar in distance from the SEC (Virginia bordering two league states and Missouri bordering three).  They are similar in population base and in terms of new television markets (one would haul in DC and the other would bring St. Louis and Kansas City).  They are similar to SEC schools from an academic perspective, too.  Their football stadiums are even similar in size to one another.  No, it won’t happen, but adding Missouri to the West and Virginia Tech to the East would be better — from a business standpoint — than the SEC’s last expansion into Arkansas and South Carolina.  And that one worked out pretty well in its own right.

*  When it comes to the rest of the schools on the list, why bother?  Unless one (or more) of those schools are brought in as part of a package deal that also lands Texas and/or Texas A&M, they really bring nothing more to the league than another mouth to feed.  They represent just another hand grabbing for a slice of the SEC’s pie.  And, yes, that includes the oft-mentioned Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami… which are rumored to be among the SEC’s actual expansion targets.

As stated above, we’ll next look at the different combinations and options available to the SEC when our series continues.  Until then, know that the above list is as close as you’ll come to finding an actual “value” ranking of the SEC’s potential expansion candidates.

For academic, financial and athletic reasons, those schools near the top of our rankings should be considered by SEC presidents currently weighing conference growth.  And if those presidents decide that expansion is a wise move, then it’s those top-ranked schools who should be contacted first.

 


6 comments
james turner
james turner

looking at f/b success gave wvu 8 louisville and kansas 4 gt 3 no offense to these schools but wvu has more more bcs wins than these three combined and much better overall record not to mention wvu beat gt in thier most prestigous bowl of the last decade numbers can be skewed and these definitily are this guy is just making it out the way he wants it to be not scientific is an understatement

WVfan
WVfan

The academic rank for WV also requires more analysis and discussion. The U.S. New and World report weighs very heavily on freshman and sophomore criteria and very little on specific upper level or graduate programs. WVU ranks high to above average nationally in engineering, medical fields and law. However, our draw of students from other states helps with an extended fanbase, but hurts us in academic rankings. Many of them come to WVU for the first couple years, but then get homesick and transfer to a school in their home state. In the US news report is looks like they didn’t graduate when in fact they just transferred back home. It’s a double edge-sword of having such a high out-of-state student population.

WVfan
WVfan

WV also has a following well beyond its borders. You just can’t look at our in-state population for market impact or recruiting. West Virginia’s borders are within 60 miles of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and D.C. and prime recruiting grounds in PA, MD, NJ, OH and VA – WVU routinely draws recruits from these areas as well as points south. Additionally, 57% of the student population is from WV, while 43% comes from the bordering states listed above, extending our fanbase. Just last weekend for example, the Pittsburgh stations televised the WVU game instead of the Pitt game because more people will watch. Also, with WVU in the SEC, it gives these recruits a great opportunity to play in some games closer to home in a great conference and not have to constantly be in the frigid northeast conferences, especially for skill guys.

WVfan
WVfan

Since some folks are still referencing this year old article, l need to make the case for why the ranking should be better for WVU. Yes, West Virginia has a small population at $1.8 million, but virtually the entire State follows WVU. Would you rather be in a larger media market with a school nobody cares about, or in a State with a larger fanbase and actual TV viewers. West Virginia has the added benefit of no professional sport teams to compete with for fanbase. - -a very similar situation to many SEC schools. Another good indication of fans and market is the fact that WVU is one of the top 20 schools in the nation for WVU apparel and other licensed merchandise sales.

Mike H.
Mike H.

How did Maryland rank so poorly on proximity? (9 points behind its neighbor Virginia; behind Oklahoma, Kansas, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State even though they cannot even arguably be called part of the Southeast; behind West Virginia even though Morgantown is significantly further north than College Park). I agree it is surprising how high Maryland ranks out. When you consider they were robbed of 4 or 5 points on proximity and some other schools got questionable credit in that category, they might rank even a slot or two higher.

A.B.
A.B.

Interesting that you mention Virginia, but, not North Carolina. A school with every bit the academic pedigree, and, a boatload of athletic success to boot.

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