Good call on the presidents voting not to invite A&M. Kinda surprised they did that, but this site had it figured out.
Mike Slive would prefer the college football landscape stay just as it is. When you consider on-field success, total revenue and national television exposure, no other league today can match the Southeastern Conference. If you’re Slive, why would you want to risk changing things if you didn’t have to?
Last summer, it appeared that the Big 12 conference was on the verge of implosion. Just when it seemed that dominoes were set to fall in every possible direction, Slive and the SEC slipped into the picture to line up Texas A&M and Oklahoma as future members. Had Fox and ESPN not rushed in to save the Big 12 with millions of television dollars, the Aggies and Sooners would likely be prepping for their first SEC football season today.
Now it looks as though massive conference realignment is once again just a tremor or two away. Only this time, it looks like the SEC and Slive are the ones causing the shakeup. Slive can’t like that.
The SEC’s commissioner has made it very clear that he does not want to have a hand in the destruction of other conferences. He leaves that to the Jim Delanys and Larry Scotts of the world. The SEC does not believe in a first-strike policy.
Too bad then that Texas A&M is forcing the Slive’s hand. It was A&M that approached the SEC this time around. And it’s A&M that has backed itself up to the point of no return with the Big 12. Now Aggies everywhere are leaking word that they’re set to move and that the SEC is the best landing spot for the school. Only they don’t have an actual invitation yet.
And that’s where things get tricky.
At SEC Media Days last month, Slive joked with a reporter that he could “get to 16 (teams) in 15 minutes” if he so desired. Little did he know that he really would be working against such a short clock just a few short weeks later. The league’s presidents are expected to vote tomorrow on whether or not to extend an invite to A&M.
You can be sure that the SEC’s presidents do not want to field a 13-team league in 2012, so it’s imperative that the league find a 14th team to pair with A&M. Quickly.
But the SEC has two more things working against it in terms of promptly finding another dance partner:
1. As mentioned above, the SEC has stated that it does not want to break up another league. Doing so could lead to lawsuits, though that hasn’t really played out in past conference manueverings. Still, there’s a first time for everything and Slive — an ex-lawyer — knows better than to leave himself and his league open to potential lawsuits.
2. Multiple reports are claiming that the SEC has some sort of secret clause protecting current league members against the threat of rival in-state programs entering their league. This would greatly limit the SEC’s ability to move freely in attempting to upgrade the league’s drawing power.
So if the above items are indeed issues, Slive is not only working against the clock, but his hands are partially tied. All that’s missing is a water tank to drop him into. During his tenure, Slive has been a tremendous commissioner, but I’m not sure he’s on par with Harry Houdini when it comes to prestidigitation.
For now, let’s scratch schools such as Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Louisville from the SEC’s pool of candidates. And now let’s also cross off any schools not approaching the SEC first.
From the sound of it, that would include Virginia Tech… a school that would make a fine addition to the league and expand the SEC’s reach into the Washington, DC television market. Tech AD Jim Weaver said yesterday that he believed his school would “politely decline” any offer from the SEC and then he went on to list several reasons why the ACC is a better fit for the Hokies than the SEC would be. He didn’t leave himself much wiggle room.
So what is the SEC left with? Not much. The only league that could be considered unstable is the Big 12 and that’s only because of A&M’s actions.
Oklahoma has made it clear that they’re not going to approach the SEC. Their interest has waned since last summer because — like most Big 12 schools — they now look at their current 10-team league and realize that if A&M leaves, they’ll be competing in an even easier nine-team league. And the networks have already said they’ll pay the same amount of money to the remaining nine teams. Those who stick around will get more money and a better shot at reaching a BCS bowl game. Why leave?
Assuming all this is true, it’s likely that the SEC — a league not used to having its hand forced — has told Texas A&M to go forth and find a companion. Missouri AD Mike Alden has said he’s had no talks with the SEC. (No doubt he learned his lesson after being burned by the Big Ten last year.) But Alden didn’t say that he hasn’t been talking with A&M. Ditto Texas Tech. The Red Raiders live in fear of being left behind by Texas, so there might be interest in Lubbock of a move to the SEC. But Lubbock is so far off the beaten path the SEC might as well offer Brigham Young.
If A&M can’t help find another team to enter the league, the only other major school that might — might, we say — approach the SEC and ask for an invitation is West Virginia. The Mountaineers have solid athletics. They would also help the SEC push north into the Pittsburgh television market. But WVU ranks poorly when it comes to academics. While Joe Fan might not care that West Virginia is a Tier 3 university, the current batch of SEC presidents likely would.
Tally all this up — and assume that the SEC will live by the two rules laid out above — and you start to reach the conclusion that it’s likely the SEC will actually vote down A&M tomorrow. Again, we simply do not believe that the SEC will OK a 13-school existence (without knowing that a 14th school will closely follow).
The trick to voting A&M down, of course, would be doing so gently enough so that the Aggies would want to come back in the future when the college football landscape shifts in a major way or when the SEC can take its time to find a 14th school that truly fits.
There’s no way around it… tonight the SEC and A&M are on the clock. A&M is no doubt trying to find a school that will tag along with them so they don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of crawling back to the Big 12 a la Missouri last summer.
Further east, Slive is also trying to figure out who can join his league. It may turn out that none of the items above were true and that FSU, Virginia Tech, A&M and Oklahoma have been lined up — and lying about it — for weeks. But as it stands right now, it looks like Slive may need more than 15 minutes just to get to 14 schools, not the 16 he boasted of last month.
The next couple of days should be very, very interesting.