In the minds of many, conference expansion isn’t about business, it’s about simplicity and fun. You grab a list of last year’s standing and your latest Rand McNally atlas and you pick two teams with good records who happen to be a short drive away.
But that’s not how things work anymore. The goal is to expand outward, not inward. Leagues want bigger television revenue, so they look for new state’s worth of fans to reach and new TV markets to annex.
They also look for new recruiting ground. Like Texas, for example.
Nick Saban was coaching at Michigan State as an assistant when Penn State was added to the Big Ten’s roster. He remembers the impact that move had on his program, a couple of states away:
“I wouldn’t oppose (expansion because of) my experience in the Big Ten. At the time Penn State came in, there were all kinds of naysayers… saying, ‘Why would we let a team as good as Penn State in the league? It’s going to mess up the balance of the league.
The fact of the matter was that Penn State opened up the whole East (as recruiting territory) for the Big Ten. Before that, we could never get a player anywhere in the East at Michigan State. When Penn State got in, it became one of our best far-away recruiting areas because the Big Ten got a tremendous amount of exposure in the East that they never had before.
So it actually helped Michigan State that Penn State got in the league. It was another tough game we had to play, but we always played one more tough game than we had to anyway.”
Saban added that the SEC is a great league that “doesn’t need to get changed… unless change benefits the league as a whole.”
Change like adding the states of Texas, Virginia or Missouri to the SEC’s footprint.