The Southeastern Conference will unofficially welcome in Missouri and Texas A&M to the fold this week in Destin, Florida as the league starts this year’s Spring Meetings. Though Aggie and Tiger brass won’t join the league officially until July 1st, their top brass have already been involved in many SEC votes and discussions.
Also this week, the league they left behind — the Big 12 — will begin its annual meetings. You can expect expansion and realignment to be mentioned some in Destin, but it will be a hot topic in Kansas City. If the Big 12 moves, most expect a ripple effect across the rest of college sports… depending on which schools that league might grab.
Florida State, Clemson and Miami continue to be the schools mentioned most often, but even FSU trustee Andy Haggard is now trying to walk back his very loud comments from earlier this month:
“We have not heard a thing and we have not approached them and they have not approached us. If anybody approaches us, we are certainly going to listen to them. We have an obligation to Florida State to listen. You can’t close the door…
There are so many rumors and so many things out there. There’s nothing to talk about really.”
According to The Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that FSU’s athletic department not only contains a shortfall for 2012-13, but that it also is unlikely to balance its budget by the end of current 2011-12 fiscal year. Big 12 revenue — if offered — would be a nice plus. But FSU would also have to manage to make some part of a $20 million buyout payment to the ACC should it switch leagues (would the Big 12 be willing to chip in for FSU and another school?). And if the Seminoles do land in the Big 12, will they be happy in a conference that still does not split all its revenues evenly? FSU fans and some trustees feel there’s a pro-North Carolina/Duke bias in the ACC. In the Big 12, Texas flat-out makes more money than anyone and FSU would have no hope of catching them.
Then there’s the perspective from the Big 12. Fans want to expand, it’s fun. It’s real-life Monopoly played with football teams instead of hotels. But the folks at Texas aren’t in favor of adding any more teams to the Big 12′s 10. If the league expands, Texas’ revenue and power diminishes. Who else seems to be taking a slowdown approach? Interim commissioner Chuck Neinas who led the charge to grab TCU and West Virginia last fall. Here’s what Neinas told The Dallas Morning News late last week:
“People have to understand that bigger is not necessarily better. What we are trying to do, in view of what has transpired in the past, is to build unity. We have two new members. Let the membership be comfortable with each other before they ever consider going forward.
We’ve taken care of the contentious issues. We have a very workable solution. Let’s build on that, then down the road maybe think of expansion. But to automatically run off and say, they’re going to go to 12 or 14 or whatever — that does not take into account where this conference was, where we’ve come from and where we need to go…
I’ve talked to some of my colleagues in the ACC and SEC who tell me 14 is unwieldy. You talk about disrupting tradition — North Carolina and North Carolina State will now play basketball once a year. What happened to Tobacco Road?
The situation has become cumbersome. If you’re at 14 you may as well go to 16 because then you can have two eight-team divisions. But then that’s not a conference. That becomes a scheduling convenience, not a conference…
Why don’t people believe us when we say we’re content at 10? There is comfort with 10. The membership is much more comfortable having a conference without divisions. They’ve experienced divisions. Just three weeks ago our athletic directors discussed it thoroughly and everyone said we’re just comfortable with 10.”
Why don’t people believe the Big 12? Because they’ve been lied to by countless conference commissioners, school presidents, athletic directors and trustees for going on three summers now. They’re wise to the fact that what one person says today can be completely undone tomorrow.
That said, it certainly sounds as though Neinas believes the Big 12 needs to catch its breath. Whether Bob Bowlsby will feel likewise when he takes over Neinas’ chair in a few weeks is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly what we’ve been hearing from people inside the SEC — “let’s slow down and see how our latest moves help or hurt us before we rush into another quick, reactionary decision.
Off the expansion front, expect there to be plenty of playoff talk as well. The recent Big 12-SEC announcement of a new, co-owned, postseason bowl game didn’t go quite as intended by Neinas and Mike Slive. Shrewd Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the new game might just breathe new life into talk of a simple Plus-One game after the bowls. (As we’ve written before, the Big Ten and Pac-12 would love for the SEC and Big 12 champs to eliminate one another in bowl… nixing one of the two strongest conferences going from the national championship game.)
“The game has more legs than a caterpillar,” Neinas said regarding the game and the reaction to it. ”It’s been somewhat surprising.” Slive made it clear that the game was not designed to push toward any form of traditional, non-seeded Plus-One:
“I think what’s in the best interest of college football is a four-team playoff. I think it’s better for everyone involved in the game. The plus-one narrows the postseason in a way that not necessarily in the best interest of all of the conferences.”
This writer believes it would be a positive for the new bowl to become a national semifinal game. Only if football fans want the two best teams from the two best leagues meeting in a play-in game every year.
He also reports that one “Big 12 insider” told him: “We may not see enough support for one of these (four-team) models. Best first step might be a Plus-One. I heard a little bit of chatter about that in the last few weeks. Almost like if we can’t get to an agreement on these other models, the best we can do is an agreement on the Plus-One.”
Despite what you might read elsewhere, a four-team playoff is not guaranteed at this point. Especially with some Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents reportedly in favor of going to a Plus-One in order to preserve the Rose Bowl.
But if there is a push to make the Rose Bowl a semifinal and the “Champions” Bowl a semifinal, you can expect some major uprisings from other conferences’ commissioners and presidents — as well as the lawyers and politicians they have on speed dial. Also, expect a school like Florida State to be scared to death of being left in a league without any hope of reaching the national title game (even though such a possibility is ridiculously small).
That, of course, brings us full circle and right back to expansion and realignment. Get ready for a lot of that this week. With two leagues holding their meetings and hot topics up for discussion, there will be a lot of folks running in circles over the next few days.
(FYI… Why the italicized quotes aren’t double-spacing as usual, I’ve no idea. Apologies if this looks harder to read than usual.)