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Expounding On Expansion: Why The SEC Should Be Working Right Now

“Wait and see.”

That’s the approach everyone seems to be taking when it comes to the idea of conference expansion.

Scratch that.

Fans and media aren’t taking a wait and see approach.  They’re way out ahead of things… to the point of looking pretty foolish everytime another “report” turns out to be nothing more than incorrect speculation.

But the folks actually involved in possible conference expansion — university presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners, etc — well they are taking their time.  Everyone seems to be waiting for the Big Ten to make it’s Big Move.

That includes the Southeastern Conference.

Down south we like to think of the SEC as the juggernaut to end all juggernauts.  And it is pretty close to being that.  But as we continue this series over the next few days (it’ll be a multi-parter), we’ll show why the Big Ten actually has more chips on the table right now than your beloved local league.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive made it clear a few weeks ago that his league would be ready to move if forced.  To paraphrase him, the conference plans to maintain its perch near the top of the college sports world.

Fair enough.

But I would suggest to you — and to the commissioner — that the movers and shakers in the SEC had best be figuring, factoring and planning for the future right now.  They shouldn’t be waiting around for the Big Ten to tip over the first domino.

That doesn’t mean the league should rush out and grab up the first two or four schools it can find.  Heck, it doesn’t mean that the league should expand at all.

What it means is that the SEC power-brokers should be doing their research this instant.  Reports should be drawn up.  Outside companies should be hired to give analysis.  Behind-closed-doors phone calls should be placed.

The SEC’s decision-makers should be considering every school in the United States as a potential dance partner.  If there are schools out there that the SEC feels would be of help to them, then they shouldn’t wait for the Big Ten to snap them up.

And if the SEC feels that one league moving to 16 teams does NOT shift the balance of power in college athletics too far toward that new behemoth league, then it should do nothing.

Either way, the Southeastern Conference should do what it usually does — lead the way.  It should act rather than react.

Waiting for the Big Ten to announce its plans could leave the SEC without a dance partner when the music stops.

Here’s how:

Let’s say that the Big Ten does max out as a 16-team super-conference.  Let’s say they grab Missouri and Nebraska from the Big 12 and Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh from the Big East, as has been much speculated.

That leaves the Big 12 in a precarious spot.  But already that league’s leaders have held meetings with their counterparts in the Pac-10 to discuss a possible partnership.  That’s not a merger, mind you, but a partnership.  The two leagues’ schools would play more often.  The television rights for both conferences would be negotiated together as part of one massive deal.

Perhaps Utah and TCU would be added to the mix, as well.

If that were the case, a television network would be able to secure the rights to 22 schools’ games in one swoop by dealing with a Big 12 / Pac-10 consortium.  That network would be able to effectively control college sports west of the Mississippi and it could lock up markets like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Kansas City, Dallas and Houston in the process.  Not bad for one negotiation, eh?

Now let’s suppose that the folks on the East Coast get the same idea.  In order to survive, the remaining Big East schools might forgive the ACC for its past transgressions and try to work out a media/on-field partnership with their brothers to the south.

Let’s also suppose that the ACC — currently in need of a new television contract — decides that its best way to fend off possible SEC expansion is to pair up with the folks up north.

A television network (or networks) reaching a single agreement with an ACC / Big East syndicate would lock up the best college basketball package in the nation.  It would also grab hold of some of the country’s biggest television markets: New York, Boston, DC, Baltimore, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami.

So where would that leave the SEC?  As a regional player at best.

The Big 12 / Pac-10 combo would stretch from Canada to Mexico and from the Pacific to the Mississippi.

The new Big Ten would cross the northern part of the country from Omaha to the Atlantic.

A Big East / ACC merger would claim the eastern seaboard from New England to the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, the SEC would basically be left in the footprint of the old Confederacy, outnumbered, just as its predecessor was.

Effectively, the SEC would be the smallest “big” coalition of schools left on the landscape.  The league already features mostly small television markets.  To make matters worse, the population of most of the SEC’s states are small compared to the giant states of California, Texas, Ohio and New York.  That means that each year, more and more children would be raised as Big East / ACC fans, Big Ten fans or Big 12 / Pac-10 fans than SEC fans.

Consider that a bit of cruel arithmetic.  To quote the evil king in “Braveheart,” “If we can’t drive them out, we’ll breed them out.”

In just a few quick moves — moves that are much more likely than some of the far-fetched expansion theories already being floated — one of the nation’s most powerful conferences could become one of the nation’s smallest and least influential.

Ah, yes, influence.  How much sway do you think a 12-team, regional SEC would hold when it came to BCS or NCAA decisions?  Think an expanded Big Ten and partnered-up big-market leagues wouldn’t have more pull than their country cousins down south?

None of this is to say that the SEC must expand right away just for the sake of expansion.  But it is to say that the league needs to be considering anything and everything, including quick expansion.

Everything should be on the table right now.  Not in two months, now.  And if the Southeastern Conference feels that Move X would benefit the league long-term, then by all means, it should make Move X before anyone else has a chance to.

Things can change quickly in this world.  If you don’t believe the SEC could go from the top dog to the runt of the litter, you’ve not been paying attention to just how quickly they can change.

Ten years ago newspapers were still powerful and successful.  Ten years ago all 12 SEC schools had different football coaches.

And ten years ago you’d never heard of Twitter, Facebook, iPods, or some group of militants called the Taliban.

Things change quickly.  Mike Slive and the SEC’s presidents need to keep that in mind.




  1. [...] Mr SEC joins the do-it-now chorus: … the Southeastern Conference should do what it usually does — lead the way.  Waiting for the Big Ten to announce its plans could leave the SEC without a dance partner when the music stops. In just a few quick moves — moves that are much more likely than some of the far-fetched expansion theories already being floated — one of the nation's most powerful conferences could become one of the nation's smallest and least influential. Everything should be on the table right now.  Not in two months, now.  And if the Southeastern Conference feels that Move X would benefit the league long-term, then by all means, it should make Move X before anyone else has a chance to. Things can change quickly in this world.  If you don't believe the SEC could go from the top dog to the runt of the litter, you've not been paying attention to just how fast things change. Ten years ago newspapers were successful.  Ten years ago you'd never heard of Twitter, iPods, or a group of people called the Taliban. [...]

  2. [...] (This the second part in an on-going series examining the possibility of SEC expansion from a business perspective.)How did we get here?  What is it about Spring 2010 that’s led to possible seismic changes on the college sports landscape?  What’s the rush to expand the conferences?  Is it an attempt to beat the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012?To make things as simple as possible, there are basically three factors that have led college presidents and conference commissioners to start drawing up new maps and contemplating new marriages.The first has nothing to do with 2010, either.  In fact, it actually began in 1992.1.  Conference Championship GamesIn the late 1980s, then SEC commissioner Harvey Schiller had an idea.  As he tells it he was thumbing through the NCAA rule book when he first realized that his conference could hold a football championship game.  Well, it could IF his league had at least 12 teams in it.So Schiller and SEC presidents started whispering about the possibility of expanding the league and creating a newfangled title game that they believed would be a sure cash windfall.NCAA president Walter Byers wasn’t pleased when he heard the rumors of what was being discussed down in Birmingham.  “What the heck are you doing?” he asked Schiller.  “That (rule) was not meant for you.  It was meant for hockey, volleyball and soccer (and smaller divisions) where they have 12 or 14 or 16 schools.”“But that’s not what the rule book says,” Schiller told him.  As Schiller recently related to Paul Finebaum of The Mobile Press-Register, the conversation went south from there to the point that Byars called the SEC’s commish an SOB and told him there would never be an SEC Championship Game.But just a few short years later — in December of 1992 — there was such a game.  And college football hasn’t been the same since.The new title game set aside the SEC as a trendsetter league, a pioneer.  It resulted in added exposure for the league.  It also produced the buckets of cash that were initially expected… and then some.Last year, the conference raked in $14.3 million for it’s 2008 title game.  In early June we’ll learn that the league made even more from last December’s Alabama-Florida, #1 versus #2 matchup.Other leagues have taken notice.  Two other BCS conferences (the Big 12 and the ACC) have jumped on the bandwagon, but have yet to record the same amount of success as the SEC.Now the Big Ten is eyeing expansion partly in hopes of creating their own title joust.  As coaches in that league have pointed out in the past months, the Big Ten virtually disappears from the college football scene in early December.  A championship game would change that.  It would also put some more sacks of money in Big Ten coffers, which has never been more important than it is now.2.  The EconomyAccording to, “Declining gifts and massive investment losses caused the nation’s college university endowments to suffer their worst year (from July 2008 to June 2009) since the Great Depression.”  The average loss was reported to be 18.7%.  Endowments actually spent more than they earned for that fiscal year.  And while the past year’s numbers should look better, there’s no question that schools are feeling a bigger pinch than ever before.If you’ve read the front page of your local paper (if you still have a local paper), you know that your Hometown U. has probably been faced with massive spending cuts, a reduction in courses offered, salary freezes, hiring freezes and worse.If you read you’re sports page, you also know that coaching salaries — both for head coaches and assistants — have been on the rise.Schools need more cash.  They don’t just want it, they need it.  To get it, they’ll do whatever they feel they have to do.  Even toss out traditions.The NCAA recently expanded the size of its men’s basketball tournament to 68 teams.  It had toyed with actually expanding to 96 and that remains a possibility somewhere down the road.The NCAA has also given a thumbs up to two new bowl games this season.Do the math.  More tournament bids and more bowl bids mean more dollars pouring into the bank accounts of the nation’s biggest conferences.With more bids available (and possibly even more available in the future), wise conference heads realize that the more bids a league lands, the more cash comes in to be spread around evenly.How do you increase the odds of landing more bowl and tournament bids?  By adding more teams to your conference (and by taking them away from someone else’s conference).Whether it’s bowl bids, tournament bids, television deals or — on the academic side — bigger and better research funds and grants, bigger conferences mean bigger bucks.3.  TelevisionTV deals are the third accelerant at play in the drive for expansion.  Less than three years ago, the Big Ten launched the Big Ten Network.  Its early troubles were too numerous to count, but the biggest issue was the league’s inability to land the channel on major cable carriers.  While the Big Ten was trying to get their network off the ground, the SEC used the idea of starting its own network as leverage in its negotiations with CBS and ESPN.  Having seen the troubles faced by the Big Ten, the SEC chose to make CBS and ESPN its “official” networks.  The two nets apparently bought the league’s bluster about an SEC network, too, as they agreed to jaw-dropping new deals.CBS inked a 15-year deal with the league that nets the SEC $55 million per year.  ESPN then backed up a Brinks truck and signed a separate 15-year agreement to the tune of $150 million per year.  That’s more than $200 million dollars every year coming into the SEC.Tally that and it’s $3 billion coming into the SEC over the life of the two mega-deals.And talk about timing.  Shortly after the SEC signed its record-crunching contracts, the US economy hit the skids.  Had the league’s contracts been up for renewal a year or two later, it could have been the SEC that was left to get creative.The Big 12, ACC and Pac-10 are now in that boat.  They’ve had their own talks with the nation’s networks about new deals, but no one is seeing numbers that come close to approaching the SEC’s landmark agreements.That’s why those three leagues are contemplating starting their own networks.  Some, like the Big 12 and Pac-10 have talked about partnering up in their next round of television negotiations.  Any network landing the football and basketball rights to a Big 12 / Pac-10 joint venture would tie up 33% of all the television households in the United States.  One contract, one third of the TV homes.  There’s not a network out there that wouldn’t jump at that deal.There has even been talk of the ACC and Pac-10 working together to launch their own channel.  Imagine ACC games in primetime at 8pm on the East Coast and Pac-10 games in primetime at 11pm on the West Coast.  All on one channel.Just as the SEC’s deals sent shockwaves across the sports horizon, so has the success of the Big Ten Network.  Since its initial struggles, the league’s channel has boomed to bigger success than anyone — including Big Ten officials — had projected.A co-ownership deal with Fox (51% Big Ten, 49% Fox) has helped.  Landing on more cable carriers has helped, too.  Adding more markets to the mix would likely push the network even further from red to black to pure, deep green.Last year, Big Ten schools made about $9 million each from the league’s deals with ABC and ESPN.  They pulled in another $7 to $8 million from the Big Ten network.  Those numbers should grow this year.If the Big Ten can add markets like Kansas City, St. Louis and New York City to its network’s roster, it might be able to land on even more cable carriers.  Cable carriers who already clear the network might be willing to move the channel onto better cable tiers as well.Over the next few days, we’ll continue our series by looking at some of the unfounded fears of expansion and what the SEC’s goals should be if it does expand.  We’ll take a school by school look at the expansion candidates both in athletic, financial and academic terms.  Finally, we’ll show you what we believe to be the league’s best case scenario.Keep in mind that might mean doing absolutely nothing.But before we can get to the finish line, it’s important to know why all of this is starting and why it’s starting now.  The answer to that — as you can see above — is as easy as 1-2-3.(To read Part One of our series, click right here.) [...]

  3. [...] SEC go from first to worst? Expounding On Expansion: Why The SEC Should Be Working Right Now I found this article and I think it has valid points. All of us clammoring that the SEC "is [...]

  4. [...] famous historical quote to sum that up:  Fortune favors the bold.(To read Part One of this series, click here.  For Part Two, click here.  And for Part Three, click [...]

  5. [...] won’t deliver.To read our on-going series on the possible SEC expansion, you can find below:Part One — Why The SEC Should Be Working Right NowPart Two — How We Got To This PointPart Three [...]

  6. [...] about the end game, it’s best that you take in all that we’ve covered so far:1.  Why The SEC Should Be Working Right Now — Is the SEC guaranteed to remain one of the nation’s two preeminent conferences?  [...]

  7. [...] May 13th we put forth the first piece of our “Expounding On Expansion” piece.  In it we laid out some possible events that quite frankly look more likely today than they did last [...]

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