Yesterday, a Pittsburgh radio host tweeted that West Virginia has sent paperwork to the SEC:
“Same university source who told me Dana was getting hired –& was spot-on re: everything–says WVU sent paperwork to SEC today. We’ll see.”
Meanwhile, SI.com’s Andy Staples claimed that Missouri is the SEC’s target for the School #14 slot:
“Yes. RT @gregrazer: Are u also being told that MIZZOU will be #14 (if Big 12 implodes)?”
So what do we know so far? First, that rumors of SEC business usually begin outside the SEC. Leaks may come from schools the SEC is talking to, but they don’t come from inside Mike Slive’s tight-lipped ranks.
We also know that Missouri and West Virginia are leftovers in the college expansion game. At least so far.
Missouri packed its bags for the Big Ten last year only to be publicly snubbed. Things might change this time around — if everyone goes to 16 schools — but to date the Big Ten has continued to leave Missouri brass out in the cold. The Tigers have been mentioned only in connection with some Big East-Big 12 combo and the SEC. From the sound of things in Columbia, the SEC is a fallback spot for the Tigers and not a first choice.
West Virginia has reportedly applied to both the SEC and the ACC. But the ACC has decided to chase Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers instead. Why? When the Mountaineers are just as good in football and basketball as any of those schools?
Because West Virginia is just the 37th-largest state in the Union with small television markets. Anyone grabbing WVU would have to hope networks would credit the school with the Pittsburgh TV market. And the state’s small population means it holds little recruiting value for SEC coaches. (Currently, there’s not a Top 100 football player or a Top 150 basketball player in the state of West Virginia, according to Rivals.com.)
Also — and this is another reason why WVU was not one of the hundred candidates mentioned in connection with the Big Ten last summer — the school does not have a tremendous academic reputation. It currently ranks #164 in the US News and World Report rankings and it’s not an AAU member.
The current lowest-ranked school in the SEC is Mississippi State at #151. The league’s average rank is #98. So if/when WVU enters the league, it will immediately become the league’s least-prestigious school. Fair, not fair, them’s just the facts.
Last summer in our “Expounding on Expansion” series we ranked 18 potential SEC expansion partners in a variety of categories that league presidents would have to consider: athletic budget, facilities, population base, recruiting ground, television markets, athletic success, academic reputation, etc.
Of the 18 schools we scored, WVU came in 18th. Dead last. (For the record, Texas A&M ranked #2 and Missouri ranked #9.)
From an athletic and cultural perspective, the Mountaineers couldn’t be a better fit. But when it comes to the things that are driving the current expansion push, WVU scores poorly. Which is why the ACC and Big Ten haven’t shown much interest.
From an SEC perspective, it’s a shame that Missouri and West Virginia couldn’t be combined — and perhaps they could… by bringing both into the league…
Academics: Where WVU is lower-ranked (that doesn’t make it a diploma mill by any means, by the way), Missouri is a member of the AAU and the #90 school according to US News.
Desire: Missouri would rather go elsewhere, but WVU would love to land in the SEC.
Geography: Both expand the SEC’s footprint and borders, but…
Population/Television: Missouri is a state of six million residents (West Virginia has 1.8 million) and it includes the Kansas City and St. Louis markets.
Athletics: Both schools have quality facilities as well as good football and basketball programs, but WVU gets the slight edge.
Cultural Fit: Both are college-first towns. Columbia ranked in the Top 10 in a recent poll of the country’s top college-sports-crazed areas. But WVU is a perfect match for the SEC with its ultra-nutjob, couch-burning fans (and we mean that in a good way.)
In a perfect world, the SEC would have added Texas A&M and another big-name, big-population, big-TV draw from the East… and then stopped at 14 schools. As of now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
So the SEC might have to race to 16 just as the Pac-12 and ACC appear to be on the verge of doing. If so, adding A&M and Mizzou for population, academic and TV purposes along with WVU for athletic and cultural purposes would be solid moves. They wouldn’t equal a Texas/Oklahoma pairing for the Pac-12 or a Syracuse/Pitt/UConn/Rutgers push for the ACC, but they would broaden the SEC’s portfolio.
Now, if the SEC did grab those three schools — and that’s a big, big if at this point — the most logical 16th school would be Kansas or TCU. Kansas carries major hoops clout and sports a 100-year football history with Missouri. That might help woo Mizzou. And imagine an SEC Tournament final of Kentucky versus Kansas.
TCU doesn’t fit the SEC’s profile — not a traditional power, located in a metro area, not the biggest draw in its area — but it would enable the SEC to double-down in Texas for TV and recruiting purposes.
Despite messageboard rumors, the Louisvilles and Cincinnatis and East Carolinas of the world are highly unlikely to receive SEC invites. Louisville and Cincinnati are seen as commuter schools and that doesn’t fit the SEC profile. ECU is just not a national player in any sport and academically it ranks just 194th according to US News. From an ego standpoint, what message would it send for the Pac-12 to add Texas and Oklahoma, the ACC to add Pitt, Syracuse and UConn, only to see the SEC add… East Carolina?
For the time being, Missouri and West Virginia appear to be the most likely schools to join the SEC family. And the truth of the matter is, they’re both leftovers.
It’ll be interesting to see if the SEC indeed has to settle for schools other leagues have passed on or whether Slive can pull a rabbit out of his hat at the last minute.
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