As Texas A&M-to-the-SEC rumors continue to swirl — with one Aggie subscription website saying in its messageboards that a deal is already done and a more reputable site stating that that report appears to be bunk — there are five bits of information floating around this here interweb that we simply do not buy.
Last year, we put together an in-depth research piece on SEC expansion possibilities. While most people focused on football and television markets only, we looked at things such as academics, budgets and facilities. Since posting our “Expounding on Expansion” series, we’ve heard from multiple administrators at multiple BCS schools who have told us that having gone through these expansion scenarios in real life… they found our reporting to be spot on. One former Penn State athletic department official told us just last month that when the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten, the school’s administrators talked about exactly the kinds of things we broke down for you a year ago.
Because of that feedback from insiders, we feel rather confident that we’ve got a decent handle on the way Mike Slive and the SEC’s 12 presidents and chancellors will want to conduct their business when planning possible expansion.
With that in mind, here are the five myths of SEC expansion that we feel need some serious dispelling:
1. It would be a bad move for Texas A&M to join the SEC.
Media members, some A&M supporters and many SEC fans are under the impression that a jump to the SEC would doom Aggie sports to second-tier status for decades to come.
Bull, say we.
You can be quite certain that fans in Arkansas and South Carolina — the last two schools to venture into the league — are feeling pretty good about their teams’ chances in the big, bad SEC this year. They should, too. Carolina reached Atlanta last season and Arkansas made it all the way to a BCS bowl game. Both programs are on the rise. Good thing, then, that their administrators didn’t chicken out two decades ago.
Now, will it be easy for A&M to step into the SEC and dominate in football? No. But it’s not easy for anyone to dominate the SEC in football. Last time we checked, the SEC hadn’t had a repeat champion on the gridiron since 1997-1998.
A&M has the budget and the facilities and the fan support to survive and — at times — thrive in the Southeastern Conference. To suggest otherwise is a sign of pessimism and/or shortsightedness.
2. The SEC doesn’t need exposure in Texas.
Here’s the theory: Some SEC fans point to the league’s contracts with ESPN and CBS and state that the conference is already a national conference. It already reaches into Texas. It doesn’t need to grab the television markets in Houston and Dallas. (With A&M’s huge alumni base, the SEC could claim Austin and San Antonio, too, by the way.)
Sure enough, SEC games are available in Texas. But let’s move past the remedial level and examine things from a true television perspective.
If an Arkansas-Mississippi State game currently does an X rating in Houston, what would that same game get if A&M were wedged between those two schools in the SEC West standings in late November? Answer: It would get a bigger rating.
If you’re CBS or ESPN and you’re carrying that game, it’s suddenly more valuable from an advertising perspective in the Houston market (and the other Texas markets, too). A&M joining the SEC would increase interest in SEC games in Texas and that would earn the networks more cash.
Knowing this, the SEC could then say to ESPN and CBS, “Excuse us, but we’ll be needing you to add some zeroes to next year’s checks.”
Increased exposure equals more money for the SEC. Period. Texas is a massive state with massive television markets. Increased exposure in the Lone State state would, therefore, equal massive new cash for the league.
3. The SEC would sit at 13 teams for a year to land Texas A&M.
This sounds good. It works great as hyperbole. And it drives the point home that the SEC wants Texas A&M badly.
But it’s just not so.
Last summer, the SEC opened its doors to A&M and Oklahoma. It was eyeing a move to 14 teams. We’ve been told that’s still the goal. And we believe the same two schools would/will be targeted by Slive and crew this time around.
Why race to 16 teams when no one else is at that level yet? Let someone else be that guinea pig.
And why sit at 13 and deal with the huge scheduling problems that such a scenario would cause in the short term?
Oklahoma — reportedly — was ready to head to the SEC last summer before Fox and ESPN stepped in to save the Big 12. There’s no reason to think OU wouldn’t be interested in heading east again if Sooner brass believe the Big 12 to be steadily decomposing around them.
And if Oklahoma has lost interest, you can bet Missouri — a school that was desperate for a Big Ten berth last year — would be more than happy to move south. (Missouri already borders three SEC states, by the way.)
So we say 14 is the key number. If such a move then forces the Big Ten to raid either the remaining Big 12 teams, the Big East or the ACC, then the SEC might branch out further.
Slive made it clear last year that he doesn’t want to be viewed as the man who blew up the college football landscape. If he has eyes on teams to the East, he’s going to let someone else start to break up the Big East and ACC before he invades.
Fourteen, people… 14. Sixteen would be the second part of an expansion process. And 13 would only come into play if — for example — a move by Oklahoma gut hung up in the courts.
4. Oklahoma can’t join the SEC without Oklahoma State.
About 16 months ago, 90% of the people writing about potential conference expansion were claiming that Texas politicians would prevent Texas and Texas A&M from moving in separate directions.
How’s that lookin’ now?
And remember, the folks in Norman didn’t seem too worried about their neighbors in Stillwater while they discussed marriage with SEC officials last June.
We believe Oklahoma officials would likely try to make their own way in the world and then sit back and wait for T. Boone Pickens and some OSU-friendly legislators to try to muddy up their deal. Maybe Pickens and the politicos could force the two schools to stay together. Maybe they couldn’t. But to emphatically declare “OU must bring OSU” is silly at this stage.
There are a lot of options on the table, a lot of variables at play.
5. If the SEC spreads too wide, travel will become too big a problem for fans and athletes.
We touched on this nonsense earlier this week.
First, how many fans hop in their cars and drive from Gainesville to Fayetteville now? From Baton Rouge to Columbia? Fans are obviously important in college sports, but if you haven’t figured out by now that you’re not really the first thing schools consider when they make multi-million-dollar decisions, you’re probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
As for the athletes… please. In the Pac-12, athletes already had to travel from Seattle to Tuscon even before that conference expanded. In the ACC, road trips can take teams from Coral Gables in South Florida to Chestnut Hill in New England. The millions of dollars brought in from television contracts — contracts which grow larger as leagues expand — more than make up for the travel costs involved. Not to mention the fact, that divisional play helps to cut down on cross-continental trips. It’s not like Texas A&M or Oklahoma would be in the same division as Georgia and Florida.
As Sean Connery said in “The Untouchables,” here endeth the lesson. Sure, we realize that we could be proven wrong tomorrow, but we simply don’t believe the five myths laid out above.
And we don’t think you should believe them either.