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SEC Expansion: A Warning Letter And Slim Pickins

The SEC expansion train is chugging along once again following yesterday’s news that Texas A&M had sent a letter to the Big 12 asking for a detailed primer on the league’s exit policy.  As a result, sources are squawking and rumors are roiling.

But before we get to the main course, here are some appetizers from across the nation to cleanse your palate this Friday morning:

1.  Yesterday, Texas A&M notified the Big 12 that it’s ready to do some serious looking around.  While the letter to commissioner Dan Beebe doesn’t amount to a full-fledged “we’re outta here,” it does serve notice that things are getting serious.  This letter asking for advice on how to properly exit stage left will probably go a long way toward clearing the SEC of any charges that it tampered with A&M.  In turn, that could prevent a $1 billion lawsuit from being filed against Mike Slive’s league by the Big 12.

2.  SI.com has a copy of the short, to-the-point letter sent by A&M president R. Bowen Loftin right here.

3.  An “A&M insider” says the letter “is simply the first official, legal step in the process of A&M exiting the Big 12 for the SEC.”  The letter is similar to one Nebraska fired off to Big 12 headquarters before it vamoosed to the Big Ten last year.

4.  According to another “insider,” once the Aggies have officially exited the Big 12, “the SEC is expected to name A&M its 13th member.”

5.  Texas A&M also put out a full press release on the subject Thursday afternoon.

6.  Soon after Loftin’s office released his letter to the public, Aggie athletic director Billy Byrne put out his own statement supporting the president’s decision to “explore all options regarding the future of Texas A&M.”  It’s always a good idea to put out a release supporting your boss… as if both releases weren’t written at the same time by the same people.

(On a total sidenote, Billy Byrne is the father of former Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne who left MSU for Arizona a little more than a year ago.)

7.  The time is right for a move according to the folks at A&M’s student newspaper.

8.  Beebe responded to A&M’s release with a statement of his own: “It remains our strong desire for Texas A&M to continue as a member of the Big 12 and we are working toward that end.  However, if it is decided otherwise, the Conference is poised to move aggressively with options.”  The real message: Hey, other leagues, don’t think you can start raiding the Big 12 for schools.

9.  In a pretty good sign that they know A&M’s gone, The Big 12 has already formed a committee to pursue expansion.

10.  SMU athletic director Steve Orsini — who is believed to be a candidate for Tennessee’s vacant AD post – is already pushing his Mustangs for a slot in Beebe’s league.

11.  But this writer for the Kansas City Star doesn’t believe the Big 12 has many good options for replacing Texas A&M.

12.  One person “with firsthand knowledge of the Big 12′s discussions” says the league’s targets, in order, will be Notre Dame, Arkansas and BYU.  Anybody think the Big 12 and the SEC might just swap Texas A&M for Arkansas?  We didn’t think so.

13.  CBSSports.com points out that the Big 12 requires a two-year heads-up from departing schools.  But A&M clearly wants out now so it can join the SEC in 2012.  That means it’s time to start talking buyouts and exit fees.

(Another sidenote: Dennis Dodd is one of the writers treating this move as though it’s a horrible thing for college sports… something I don’t recall hearing when Nebraska and Colorado fled the same league for greener pastures last summer.)

14.  With folks assuming that an A&M-to-the-SEC move is just around the corner, a new wave of expansion talk is popping up from coast to coast.  Apparently one school can’t move without everyone else moving too, right?  (You’d have thought we’d have all learned our lesson last summer.) At any rate, The San Jose Mercury News explores the possibility that several Big 12 schools might head west to join the Pac-12.

15.  Bowls like the Alamo Bowl — with ties to the Big 12 — are also keeping a close watch on the A&M/SEC situation.

16.  Meanwhile, Sean McManus — the chairman of CBS Sports — said earlier this week that CBS would revisit its contract with the SEC should it expand, but he did not anticipate that happening “in the very near future.”  Make a note of that, folks.  A) You know that the SEC has been talking to CBS about its plans on some level and yet McManus said he does not anticipate a move coming soon.  B) He also said: “If something materially changes in the conference, we’ll sit down and talk to them” about the current contract.  Remember that for a little later.

17.  This Dallas sportswriter believes A&M wants into the SEC yesterday while the SEC would just as soon take its time and look for a 14th school.  (We’ve been writing the same thing for two weeks.)

18.  Texas — ah, Texas — is hinting at replacing A&M with Notre Dame for its yearly Thanksgiving night game… and of possibly partnering with the Irish to start their own conference.

19.  Asked about Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 (and Texas) for the SEC, former Florida coach Urban Meyer said he would be “sad to see that happen.”

20.  Even Charles Barkley has a take on the Aggies’ potential move to the SEC: “Hey, Texas A&M, come on down so we can beat the hell out of y’all.  Come on down to the SEC, real football.”

Alright, now for the main course.  Some interesting rumors have been popping up in unexpected places the past couple of days…

RUMOR ONE

The first comes from Austin, Texas and the folks at Orangebloods.com — the Rivals site that covers the Longhorns.  Yesterday, they noted that while it’s still expected that SEC presidents will vote to bring in Texas A&M, there is now speculation that officials at Florida, Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt are showing some concern about expanding.

The Aggies would need nine out of 12 league presidents to give a thumbs-up before being granted entry into the league.  If those four schools voted no, A&M would be left in no man’s land.

Meanwhile, “a high-ranking SEC official” spoke with Pete Thamel of The New York Times this week.  Normally, I would wonder how a writer for The Times would outscoop dozens of websites (including this one) and dozens of Southern sportswriters with deep connections inside the SEC office with so many new tidbits of information.

But two weeks ago, MrSEC.com was the first and only site to learn during the week that the SEC’s presidents would be meeting on Sunday, August 14th and that only 11 of the league’s 12 top administrators would be in attendance.  A day after our report, Thamel reported that his source inside the league had told him the same thing.  Our source here at MrSEC.com was correct.  Ditto Thamel’s, obviously.  So we tend to believe he does have some good connections.

Well, Thamel wrote this week that there have been “some recent voices opposing the move, including from Vanderbilt.”  Reading that, we wondered if Thamel was simply paraphrasing David Williams, Vandy’s vice chancellor of athletics, who said last weekend that he was not a fan of “growth for growth’s sake.”  (We linked you to that story here.)

Interestingly, in his latest piece — which came out a day later — Thamel had indeed tracked down Williams who said that he is “neutral” regarding expansion but that that should not be interpreted as being opposed to it.  “He stressed that expansion is done on a presidential level, and it was the president’s opinions that matter,” Thamel wrote.

For the record, we at MrSEC.com still believe that A&M would get enough “yea” votes to gain entry to the conference.

In Thamel’s piece from Wednesday night, there were several more surprising nuggets:

RUMOR TWO

Thamel wrote that his SEC source said that the league has not even discussed a 14th school yet.  “While he said that the league’s athletic directors had been assured that they would eventually have to take a 14th member to assure schedule balance, the move to add a 13th and 14th university are not necessarily paired.”  The source also said, “We have had zero conversations about 14… and we won’t.”

Thamel came back a day later and wrote that Vandy’s Williams told him “There was little discussion about who that fit (at 14) would be, even if there was that fit.”  Williams also said, “If there’s ever a 13, 14 becomes an issue you really talk about.”

Our sources inside the SEC have said flat-out that the SEC wants to find 13 and 14 at the same time.  Other Southern writers — Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com, for one — have also written that 13 and 14 together are the goal.  Meanwhile, Clay Travis of OutkickTheCoverage.com has said that the league would take A&M as #13 all by its lonesome.

If Thamel’s source is right, then it looks like Travis may eventually be right, too.  But we don’t believe our sources — or those of so many other well-connected Southern writers — are wrong.

It’s possible that the SEC wanted School 14 to present itself only to find “slim pickins” in the current landscape.  (And, yes, that’s why we’ve got Slim Pickens photo’d at left.)

If we assume A&M is going to be joining the SEC, we’re left with a list of 55 possible BCS schools that might also join Slive’s league.  Now scratch out all of the Pac-12 schools because they’re just too far away.  And you can also nix the 12 Big Ten schools because they’re not going to move to the SEC.  Quickly, you’re down to 31 possible expansion partners:

ACC (12 schools):  Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech

Big 12 (9 schools):  Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech

Big East (8 schools):  Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, West Virginia

Independents (2 schools):  BYU, Notre Dame

Now slice out Boston College, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, UConn, Rutgers, Syracuse and BYU due to distance.  That takes you down to 23 schools.  Scratch Miami with its current troubles and the pool is now 22 schools.

If the SEC really has a gentleman’s agreement that blocks all schools from existing SEC states then you can whack Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and South Florida from the list, too.  That leaves just 17 schools.

Of those 17…

Maryland, Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina and Virginia aren’t likely to leave a relatively stable ACC for the academically-inferior and athletically-tougher SEC.

NC State’s athletic director has already said that NCSU is a founding member of the ACC and that they have no intention of leaving.

Virginia Tech would make a fine target, but the Hokies AD has said he would expect the school to “politely decline” an SEC offer because Tech is a better fit in the ACC.

So the whole ACC is likely off the board and the SEC is left with 10 possible partners…

Baylor and Texas Tech would only get an invite if A&M lured them East and if the SEC was flat-out desperate.  It’s not.  Scratch ‘em.

Texas has no interest in the SEC and hasn’t for 20 years.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are believed to be locked at the hip.  Plus, writers in the Sooner State say OU’s board would much prefer the academics of the Pac-12 or Big Ten to those of the SEC.

That’s five more potential partners gone…

Cincinnati has a football stadium smaller than Vandy and would immediately become the worst academic institution — rankings-wise — in the SEC.  League presidents wouldn’t like that.

Notre Dame has turned down overtures from the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC over the years.  They wouldn’t join the SEC.  Take them off the list.

So that leaves Missouri, West Virginia and Pittsburgh as possible dance partners who might have an interest in phoning up Slive.

Those pickings are slim, people.  Slimmer than probably anyone expected, including Slive who joked last month that he could get to 16 teams in 15 minutes if he so wished.  But in the current landscape, most schools seem to be taking a wait and see approach when it comes to realignment.

That said, as super-secretively as Slive works, it’s possible he’ll announce this weekend that Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Ohio State and A&M are all joining the SEC.  At MrSEC.com, we rule nothing out.

But on the surface, it looks like there aren’t many potential School 14s out there… and we believe that might be one reason the league is having to accept the idea of playing with 13 teams for a while.

RUMOR THREE

Thamel’s source dropped another big bombshell:

“The official acknowledged that because of the length and structure of the SEC’s current television contract, adding Texas A&M and a 14th member would not be financially beneficial from a (television) rights standpoint.

Texas A&M and Team #14 are expected to receive a pro rata share equal to what the SEC’s 12 current universities are making: an average of about $18 million in league payouts.  (Individual universities can make more money from their separate television deals.)

The SEC deal, which ends in 2025, has a few windows when it can be renegotiated but no one from the SEC or the networks expects any radical change.”

Worse, the Big 12′s TV consultant told Thamel that A&M could actually make more money in the Big 12 when that league cuts its new television deal in four years.

From Thamel’s view, A&M is moving simply for the long-term security the SEC offers and not for increased wealth.

First, if that’s the case, then 99.9% of the coaches, administrators, analysts, and sports writers talking about this move are 99.9% wrong.  And that’d be an awful lot of wrong people.

Second, only if Slive cut a terrible TV deal with zero outs could the SEC not profit by adding two top 10 Nielsen markets and millions of new viewers.  The commissioner, however, has hinted that it’s standard for any TV contract to include a renegotiation clause should a conference expand or contract.  And remember, CBS’ top big wig said that CBS would expect to talk with the SEC should it expand.

Third, assuming A&M is ready to make this move solely for stability’s sake, what’s in it for the SEC?  If not money, then what?  Are we to believe 12 SEC presidents will agree to see their slices of the pie get smaller?  Or stay the same?  While their odds of reaching a BCS bowl shrink?

If you’re the president at Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Vanderbilt, do you vote to include a school with better football tradition than your own institution if you get absolutely nothing back to show for it?

Would the SEC be making this move into Texas simply for recruiting, merchandise sales, and the hope of cutting a richer television deal in 2025?

The people behind MrSEC.com have combined for about 30 years of television experience and we’d be shocked if the SEC added Texas A&M and another valuable school and gained nothing in terms of rights fees.

Now, it’s possible that the league would want to take the extra inventory created by a two-team expansion — 11 of the 12 football games played by each school would be owned by the league — and launch its own SEC Network.  But the language in the league’s current ESPN contract — we believe — prohibits such a move.  So even though the SEC in theory could still give ESPN and CBS their same number of games per year and also set aside 22 new contests for its own network, that’s not a realistic opportunity under the current pact.  At least not from the way Slive described the agreement when it was inked three years ago.

All that said, Thamel’s sources have been right before.

RUMOR FOUR

One final tidbit for you.  Texas A&M wants to move now.  The SEC would prefer to move slowly and to find a 14th school before expanding.

It would be best from a league perspective for A&M to join the conference — along with another school — in 2013, not in 2012.  Knowing that, we again reference CBS’ McManus who said he does not anticipate the SEC expanding “in the very near future.”

So stay tuned.  Even as done as things seem to be on the A&M-to-the-SEC front, there are still a lot of varying opinions out there.  And a lot of variables at play.  Things can change quickly.  So this deal might not be completely done yet.

And, yes, we reserve the right to erase that last paragraph at a moment’s notice!

 


16 comments
Jim
Jim

West Virginia is not an option because they would slap the SEC around like a bunch of punks in football and basketball.

@DaddyxRey
@DaddyxRey

My question is, what if the Big 12 Folds? Will TAMU still be held to buyout fees and penalties for leaving the Big12 with less than two years notice?

@ECUmedford
@ECUmedford

The SEC needs to look at expanding their geography. One state the SEC should want to add is North Carolina. UNC and NC State both seem committed to the ACC. That leaves East Carolina as the only other viable option. They have the second best TV ratings in the state behind UNC and ahead of NC State. They outrank every non-AQ team in the country in attendance besides BYU. Averaging 50,000 fans/game in CUSA is impressive. Imagine what they could accomplish with an SEC schedule. Don't take my word for it: http://www.ecu.edu/undaunted

wademac2011
wademac2011

Reference to the Big 12's TV consultant is where the Thames article loses more credibility...the supposed TV deal in the Big 12 is a continual moving target. Anyone who says that A&M would make more money in the Big 12 than in the SEC must be a Texas Tech grad...complete nonsense...

jtfris
jtfris

As a Mizzou fan, I wish we would make a play for the SEC like we did for the B10.

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

I have a hard time believing that a 13th team will be admitted without the 14th team at pretty much the same time. If there are 2 separate expansions in consecutive years then that really throws a wrench in the TV contract negotiations. A&M and whichever team comes with them have to bring such a new pop to the TV audience that their combined presence gives more revenue to all parties. If A&M enters a year early then either the current pie is going to be split another way before the 14th team enters or when the 14th team enters then the pie will not be enlarged in as great a proportion as when A&M enters.

I don't know, maybe they'll do some sort of independent scheduling with regard to football, but that may get sloppy.

@pjmaud
@pjmaud

I continue to question Pete Thamel and the NYTs as a source. I am convinced he is a puppet of ESPN or some other East Coast business with interests in keeping the conference and tv contract situation at the status quo. I mean, where has he been on any other story prior to this point in time? And all of a sudden he's magically got insight into the SEC? That doesn't happen, people, and certainly not from the NY Times. For some reason (though I can't find confirmation), I want to say he was also later the source that claimed the SEC presidents were NOT meeting that Sunday (that the meeting had been cancelled)? I think he is full of mis-information being spewed to sway public opinions on this deal in hopes that it comes crashing down. That all being said, I appreciated the insight and thoughts on what was written here that wasn't based on that article. Good stuff!

NekiEcko
NekiEcko

It is a good idea but I think you cant do that besides if that happens Ken Starr will be a very happy man and TAMU very upset (I am thinking that he is getting information from sites like this for his lawsuit vs TAMU). But I think the tomorrow (Saturday) meeting of the Big 12 President is going to be very important because if somebody else besides TAMU pull chocks unless if they are like Texas Tech or OU(PAC-12) submits a letter as well, I got a feeling the MIssouri is going to be the one that pull the bombshell, it can provided the 14th team, since none of the East Coast isnt going to jump, Silve would just go west, pick up Missouri and call it a day. But i think how the way that Silve works, he might already have #14 already, so I dont count any rumors from any place. At the end of the day, TAMU will be in the SEC in 2012

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

Actually, it would only require 7 schools. The TAMU/Arkansas game is already schedule. I think a few schools would jump at the chance to get a game on Texas TV and in front of Texas recruits. Since these games would not be part of the actual conference schedule, I don't see what would prevent the SEC and TAMU from selling them to the highest bidder. I am sure with all of the lawyers pouring over the contracts that they can find a way to make it happen and be profitable.

An additional note; I have it hard to believe that the SEC and TAMU would not have gone this far down the road if there was not financial payoff for all parties involved. However, I don't think it will be a short term home run that some people anticipate. I don't think ESPN will be that happy with TAMU and SEC upsetting the apple cart, and won't be very giving with the additional monies - unless the SEC has the ability to tear up the contract if they don't agree with the new terms that ESPN presents.

One final note: This is about more than money. This is putting the TAMU brand on a national stage and losing that other school in Texas image. That is important to recruiting top students, faculty, and research dollars. Most people outside of Texas do not know that TAMU is one of the best universities in the nation. Do you really think that Vandy and the other presidents are going to object to having a highly ranked academic university join the conference? As you have pointed out - sports fuel the passion, but eggheads make the decisions.

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

The SEC and TAMU might have to work out a strange deal for a year or two in order to expand. Tamu might have to play as a "independent" in conference. TAMU could play 4 western and 4 eastern teams in football, but would not be eligible for the conference championship game for a season or two. TAMU would be eligible for the at large slot from the SEC, but not the championship game. This would allow TAMU to fill out their schedule for 2012 and possible 2013, and give the SEC more inventory of games to sell, but not shake up the cart until the 14th team should be invited. I still personally believe that the 14th team is already making the moves behind closed doors. However they are waiting for TAMU to pull the band-aid off the B12 and seeing what ripples that causes in other conferences before making a move. I still find the "we are not expanding" statement by the B10 odd. It was a message to someone. Was it a lawsuit cover like the SEC's message or a coded no to Mizzou that we will not expand with you, and if you have an offer on the table from the SEC - take it to the bank.

ViciousDawg
ViciousDawg

Don't count out Clemson or FSU just yet. State legislatures have a funny way of twisting arms. Just saying

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

The SEC could have 16 in 15 minutes, but probably 2 of the other 3 would have to be non AQs or schools within the current footprint. So that's not likely.

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

Based on what happened last year I don't think they'll make a play for anyone for fear they'll get egg on their face again. They could approach behind the scenes of course, but I don't think it should be as public as it was last year. At the same time if the SEC comes calling then I don't think they should hold out for a Big 10 invite as some have indicated that they want to do.

johnmrsec
johnmrsec

HoustonVol...

I agree completely on the "independent season" idea. In fact, if it hadn't been 2am when the above post was finally put to bed, that was going to get a lengthy mention as a possibility (as if the above post wasn't lengthy enough).

The issues would involve a) 8 SEC schools changing their 2012 schedules at the last minute with some likely giving up home games, b) figuring out where new money would come from for A&M if TV contracts did not change until A&M officially joined the league, and c) how would A&M fit into the SEC's bowl line-up?

But in many ways, fixing those issues might be easier than creating a 7-team SEC West for a year. Imagine the screams and cries from folks in the West who'd have a harder road to Atlanta than those in the East.

Thanks for reading,
John

@Cougar_High
@Cougar_High

I hate to break it to Missouri, but the B1G invite isn't going to happen. The B1G didn't expand for 20 years before Nebraska got the most recent invite. If they expand again, it's going to be for someone big with a strong football tradition like Texas, Oklahoma, or Notre Dame. I think Missouri would be a good fit in the SEC, but I get the feeling that Missouri (like the ACC schools, and Texas and Oklahoma as well) thinks the SEC is academically inferior. Otherwise, we'd be hearing more rumors about Mizzou to the SEC.

@kylekriegel
@kylekriegel

As an alum of a current Big 12 school (not a&m) I think that idea actually makes a lot of sense. That said, I think worrying about what bowl a&m will go to and/or the conference championship game is a waste of time. Unless the 8 schools they play are the 8 worst in the SEC there is little chance they make a bowl game next year at all. This should be their best year in the last 15, but then half (or more) of their stars leave after this season. They're going to get destroyed next year and I have to say we can't wait!

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