In July, SEC commissioner Mike Slive famously joked to a national writer that he and his league could expand to 16 schools in 15 minutes if they so desired. Well from the looks of things this morning, Slive either a) overestimated how many schools would want to join his league or b) stubbed his toe by trying so hard not to step on the toes of others.
The ACC is stronger today than it was on Friday. By adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse, that league has locked up just about every state (and major television market) up and down the Atlantic Coast. If it adds UConn — which is expected to come next — you’re talking about a powerhouse basketball league that will draw eyes from Boston to New York to Baltimore to Washington to Charlotte to Miami. That’s money, folks.
The Pac-12 is apparently on the verge of adding Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech. The Longhorns may be more trouble than they’re worth when it comes to in-fighting, but they — along with the Sooners — will push the next Pac-12 contract into the stratosphere… and that league is already tops in TV money now. If all of this comes to pass (and the boards at OU and UT are meeting today) the Pac-12 will control the television markets of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
The Big East appears to be doomed. Ditto the Big 12. But if the two can somehow combine under a “Heartland Conference” type of moniker, there’s still room for another BCS spot and big TV dollars. Possibly.
The Big Ten, meanwhile, appears to be sitting this mess out. Jim Delany has said that nothing has happened “to date” to force his league’s hand. And with a share of all the major Northern TV markets from Philadelphia to Minneapolis, several of the biggest brand names in college sports, and the Big Ten Network, Delany’s league could actually stand pat and still make big money. (But don’t write off the possibility of the Big Ten chasing Rutgers and one other school for the express purpose of adding cable households for the BTN.)
Which brings us to the SEC. Slive’s league — if/when it finally adds Texas A&M — is going to add some major Texas markets to the league’s portfolio. But aside from Atlanta and Nashville and Orlando, there just aren’t that many major television markets in the existing SEC footprint. The league does not have its own network, either. It counts on national drawing power — thanks to tremendous football — to grab television dollars. But it has already been passed by several other leagues in terms of cash. If leagues like the Pac-12, Big Ten and the new-and-improved ACC begin to make more money on a yearly basis, eventually schools in those leagues will have facilities as good or better than those found in the SEC. Thanks to the SEC’s location, recruiting should never be too much of a problem, but if other leagues catch up even a tad, it might mean the SEC will become a great football conference rather than the best football conference.
Slive and the SEC’s presidents have made it clear that they did not want to raid an existing league. They preferred to sit back and let schools come to them. Unless we’re in for some shocking news — and that’s certainly possible with Slive — it appears that didn’t happen.
The ACC raided the Big East for the second time in a decade and will likely deal it a death blow this time around. The Pac-12 tried to raid and kill the Big 12 last summer chasing half the league’s members and — if things go as expected — they’ll wind up stealing five teams overall in a two-year span.
Remarkably, the SEC didn’t invade any league and yet it’s the only body so far to be threatened with lawsuits. (Thanks, Baylor.) It’s also the only league so far that seems to give two flips about the potential for lawsuits. John Swofford and Larry Scott have seen what they wanted and they’ve tried to take it.
Slive and company have instead been nice guys. And I think you know where they finish.
Now, many SEC fans will say that they don’t want their league to expand anyway. That’s understandable and that’s fine. But from a business perspective, the SEC had a smaller TV footprint than the other league’s to begin with. Once the SEC set the bar with its CBS/ESPN contracts and the other leagues then went through their contract negotiations, it became clear the SEC was going to be a bit down the pecking order in terms of television revenue. Like it or not, that’s a fact.
So what’s to happen if other leagues get stronger and bigger while the SEC adds A&M and another school that no other league wants — say West Virginia?
You can be sure Slive will claim that his league has eyed whoever joins the league for “a long time,” that that school is “a perfect fit,” and that the league did just what it wanted to do. Maybe so.
But if the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are all richer than the SEC when this wave of expansion stops, Slive and the SEC’s presidents will have erred long-term on the business front. And eventually that could be bad for the league on the athletic front.
This isn’t about sports, sports fans. It’s about business.
Today — at this moment — it appears the SEC could fall behind two or three other leagues in terms of revenue. If that happens, there’s no spinning the fact that that’s bad business.