Additionally, Arkansas will always get a boost in DFW because it has the largest single Arkansas alumni base outside of the state.
Who are the top four candidates for the SEC’s 14th spot?
By Evin Demirel
Last week, Texas A&M, to the surprise of no one, slapped its big brother across the face and skipped away to play with the neighborhood children down the street.
Their spat had been building all summer, as A&M clashed with its bigger, wealthier counterpart in Austin, Texas, over the launch of a cable channel solely dedicated to broadcasting Longhorn sports.
Such a channel, the Aggies maintained, would allow the University of Texas to air high school games of players it was recruiting, an advantage no program could match.
I mean, does the child who already has all the toys really need Santa’s cell number, too?
So A&M yelled, “No fair!”
The Aggies left the Big 12 and are now a favorite (assuming legal threats don’t block the move) to become the Southeastern Conference’s 13th member. That’s not a very stable number in a league with two divisions.
Look for the SEC to sit pat with 13 members for the short term and survey a college football landscape soon to change again as the Big 12 tries to replace A&M with another program. The very existence of that league is in jeopardy, though, as the Pac-12 eagerly anticipates opportunities to swoop in and poach more teams on its way to becoming the first of four 16-team “superconferences.” The Pac-12 had already triggered this arms race by adding two teams in the past year — Colorado from the Big 12, and Utah from the Mountain West Conference.
So, at some point, the SEC must bring aboard a 14th member. What program that could be has been — and will be — discussed ad nauseum. I’ll chime in on the matter by first discussing teams which won’t be the 14th team, but could be the 15th and 16th teams.
North Carolina and Duke — This tandem’s inclusion would immediately boost the SEC’s basketball prestige and bolster its academic reputation. Problem is, Duke makes Vanderbilt look like the Dallas Cowboys on the football field, and the Tar Heels football program has been racked by numerous alleged violations resulting in the firing of its head coach this summer. There’s also that small thing about the schools forming the very backbone of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Still, things will look very different in a couple years’ time. Imagine, for instance, Arkansas native Gus Malzahn leaving Auburn to make the Tar Heels one of the nation’s most explosive offenses while the ACC itself cracks under the stress of all that superconference chair arranging.
Kansas and Missouri — Just like in North Carolina, these schools would allow the SEC to spread its tentacles into new territory and around new TV viewers. Both would also raise the SEC’s academic cachet and are more powerful in football than the Duke/N.C. duo. Finally, Kansas basketball is strong enough to consistently serve as Kentucky’s chief conference rival. But it’s likely neither program wants to join the SEC as much as the Big 10. That conference is a better fit culturally, geographically and academically.
Florida State or Clemson — Culturally, the SEC could not find better fits than these two programs which breathe football, sweat football and have won national championships in the last 30 years. Problem is, numerous sources report a gentleman’s pact between current SEC members Florida, South Carolina and Georgia to vote against any inclusion of a new member from one of those states. (Lording your SEC membership over every other in-state rival helps with recruiting, after all.) SEC commissioner Mike Slive “won’t ram home an expansion vote if more than one school opposes the addition,” writes Clay Travis of outkickthecoverage.com. If that agreement crumbles, though, we’ll see the Seminoles war chanting to the bank as the SEC’s 14th member.
Final Four Candidates for 14th Member
4. West Virginia — Call’em Arkansas East. Mountaineer mania runs rampant through most of this small, rural state with strong basketball and football traditions. Fans of both programs travel well, and it’s conceivable the programs’ similarities would spark an instant rivalry between the Razorbacks and Mountaineers. One knock is that West Virginia, like Arkansas, doesn’t have a huge population base, although it does have major surrounding TV markets like Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Another potential snag is a strong conference tie to Pittsburgh that West Virginia doesn’t want to break.
3. Virginia Tech — It takes no stretch of imagination to envision this football-crazy Virginia school being right at home in the SEC. It fits well along cultural lines, has strong academics and the SEC would love to dip into its lucrative nearby D.C.-Baltimore market. Problem is, for years the Hokie faithful dreamed and yearned for ACC inclusion while bouncing through other conferences. After much wrangling, state lawmakers and University of Virginia bigwigs made it happen in 2003. Throwing all that effort away now to make a money grab for the SEC could rub many people wrong.
2. Louisville — Arkansas native Charlie Strong coaches a Cardinals football program eager to reclaim glory the UL hasn’t tasted since Bobby Petrino left. Not that this team will get anywhere near the on-field glory in the SEC as it does now, when it has an easier road to BCS bowls by securing the Big East’s automatic bid. But if the Big East starts crumbling, this becomes a more serious possibility — one that University of Kentucky fans I’m sure will hate. The Cardinals would give the SEC an in-state basketball rivalry on par with North Carolina-Duke. Plus, Louisville, like V-Tech and West Virginia, gives the conference an east team to easily balance out A&M’s inclusion. So what if it’s not on par with Clemson or FSU in football? The SEC has a veritable death grip on the national championship trophy and doesn’t need another heavyweight contender. Just a program with enough other benefits. Which is why my final choice is …
1. Texas Christian University — Assuming Texas and Oklahoma are off the table, this is the next best choice from the Big 12. As Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel pointed out, it has the best possible location for an SEC hungry to expand its regional footprint. The Horned Frogs are located in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, the epicenter of the country’s football talent and interest. No reason to mess with Texas Tech and Baylor when DFW is where it’s at. Sure, the Horned Frogs’ stadium seats less than 50,000 people, but potential for growth is obvious — the school recently raised $143 million for a stadium expansion within a few weeks. An uptick in talent and facilities, combined with the quality of the Horned Frogs’ coaching, could not only keep TCU afloat in the SEC, but make them pretty good within a few years. Arkansas wouldn’t be too happy with two new SEC schools based in Texas. Its status as the closest SEC member to the DFW area has long been a major recruiting advantage. A lone dissenting voice, though, isn’t enough to stop Slive from doing what’s best for his conference.
This piece originally appeared in Sync magazine, a central Arkansas weekly. It is republished here with the permission of the author.