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Was The SEC, Missouri, And Texas A&M Union A Smart Move?

On Sunday morning, the Southeastern Conference put two new logos up on its official website.  In just a couple of weeks, SEC Media Days will feature Missouri and Texas A&M coaches and players for the first time.  Prepare for dozens of national stories about how those programs are walking into a buzzsaw of a football conference.  Expect to hear quotes of amazement from the schools’ coaches and players regarding the size of the media throng (players) and the SEC’s all-for-one unity (coaches).  All the while, Aggie and Tiger fans will continue to snap up tickets to their schools’ football games at a pace neither group has matched before.

So with all that said, was the SEC+Texas A&M+Missouri marriage a smart move?  For all parties?  Below is a quick 8-question primer on the pluses and negatives of expansion.

 

1.  Will the SEC get the money it expected in adding Missouri and Texas A&M?

It all depends on “Project X.”  If the league is able to launch its own network with the help of current television partner ESPN, then cash should roll into the league’s coffers in record numbers.  Which, for the SEC, is saying something.

Currently, the SEC is negotiating with both ESPN and CBS about its current contracts.  CBS is reportedly playing hardball in terms of handing out additional cash when — according to sources — the network believes Alabama, Florida and LSU currently drive the conference’s ratings.

The ESPN negotiations could go in any number of directions.  The network could simply agree to pay out more money for the increased inventory it’s about to receive, and then sell that inventory off to other vendors (as it has in the past with Fox Sports Net and CSS).  Or ESPN could lock arms with the SEC and try to give it a go with a new channel, despite its recent start-up woes with Texas’ Longhorn Network.

If the SEC can get its own network up and running, then the windfall in cash should more than pay for the addition of two new mouths at Mike Slive’s table.

 

2.  Why these two schools?

Last summer, West Virginia officials made it known to the SEC (and the ACC, too) that their school was looking to make a move from the Big East.  But WVU never got the nod from Slive and company.  Missouri got the final slot in the league instead.

Why?  Eyeballs.

As we told you at the time, Missouri is simply a much bigger state than West Virginia.  More cable households and more eyeballs should increase the potential value of “Project X,” mentioned above.  Those eyeballs and two large markets in Kansas City and St. Louis should help CBS and ESPN’s SEC ratings in that state.  That will be good for those networks’ ad sales and it will please the CBS’ affiliates in the Show-Me-State as well.  CBS knows all of this, which is why we believe their hardball negotiating stance is simply that… a negotiating ploy.

As for Texas, think Missouri and then multiply it.  Sorry, Aggie fans, the University of Texas is still the biggest draw in the Lone Star State, but there’s nothing wrong with being 1A to another school’s 1 in a state that size.

Missouri and Texas A&M will cause a lot of new folks to watch SEC sports, to talk SEC sports (I’ve already started doing radio appearances in far-0ff Kansas City, for example), and to buy a whole lot of SEC merchandise.  For the conference, that’s a win, a win, and another win.

 

3.  What’s the SEC lost with these additions?

Tradition.  A&M and Mizzou will help create new traditions and new rivalries just as Arkansas and South Carolina have over the past 20 years, but the SEC’s new scheduling formats for basketball and football will give up a lot.

In football, non-permanent cross-divisional foes will visit one another just once every 12 years.  While its good those types of foes will at least play each other once every six years, that’s just too much time between visits to maintain the close-knit feel the SEC has enjoyed for so long.

In basketball, what’s left to be said?  Each school will keep just one permanent opponent for home-and-home contests each year.  That means several SEC rivalries that have been played 200 or more times will no longer be guaranteed as home-and-home matchups each and every season.

Ironically, while expansion led to the new scheduling formats, those formats can’t be blamed exclusively on expansion.  There were options — as we’ve discussed many times — that would have allowed the SEC’s programs to play more often.  Unfortunately, the leagues’ coaches and athletic directors weren’t interested in those options for football or for basketball.

That makes the loss of some tradition the big downside to expansion so far.

 

4.  Will the new playoff in college football impact how we view the SEC’s expansion?

Not really.  Unlike the Big East — which made moves to try and maintain an AQ status that’s now been thrown out the window anyway — the SEC’s moves were made for monetary reasons.  Regardless of the national title system in football, Missouri and Texas A&M were and are expected to bring in millions more in cash to the Southeastern Conference.

That said, it’s possible that the two new additions might hurt the league’s chances of getting two teams in a playoff.  But that would also be driven by the many other conferences out there who simply want a piece of the action.  If a now tougher SEC costs a playoff-worthy team an extra loss or if some selection committee member chooses to grade the SEC down because its teams play but eight league games per year, that’ll be on the selection panelist.

Expansion will have opened the door to those issues, yes, but it will be on the panel member whether or not he chooses to make it tougher for an SEC squad to get a playoff invite because of those reasons.

 

5. What’s the one part of expansion the league loves and fans don’t care much about?

Academics.  By adding Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC now has four member institutions in the prestigious American Association of Universities club.  The league is beating that drum every chance it gets, too.

While still not on par with the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 in terms of academic reputation, the moves of A&M and Mizzou from the Big 12 to the SEC shifted some scholarly clout from one league to the other.  In short, the SEC no longer has to listen to “yeah, buts” about academics when people talk about the greatness of the conference’s athletics.  For presidents, that’s enormous.

And adding Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC’s Academic Consortium is a plus as well.  SECAC is designed to “advance academic excellence through collaboration of SEC universities”  Now two more “name” institutions are taking part in that endeavor.

 

6.  What’s going to be the big surprise from this expansion?

Basketball.  Make no mistake, the SEC expanded in order to make more money and you make more money through TV contracts for football than basketball.  So money and football were the goals, but basketball might actually be the big surprise winner.

Missouri and Texas A&M are NCAA Tournament-level programs.  A&M has had success in the past.  Missouri might be the best program in the country to have never reached a Final Four.  Both programs should be ready for their first SEC season as well.

From a passion perspective, Mizzou fans will no doubt strike up immediate rivalries with neighboring Arkansas and Kentucky.  In fact, it could be argued that Missouri will join Kentucky and possibly Vanderbilt as the only SEC schools where the fanbases wouldn’t simply sell off their basketball program if it meant winning a national title in football.

Expect SEC basketball to benefit from the entry of the Aggies and Tigers before football does.

 

7. Can Missouri and Texas A&M keep up in football?

Despite the many prognostications of doom, yes, both schools should be able to do just fine in football long-term.  It took South Carolina nearly two decades to get there, but Steve Spurrier has turned the Gamecocks into a Top 10-level program.  No one would have predicted that in 1992.  Or in 2002, for that matter.

Here’s a question for you, would Missouri or Texas A&M thrive if Nick Saban took over their reins?  Now, Saban isn’t going to be leaving Alabama, but the point is this: With the right coach any school can prosper.

Gary Pinkel has flipped Missouri football from a joke to a year-in, year-out bowl team.  He had the Tigers ranked #1 in the nation in late 2007.  This isn’t Boise State or Utah we’re talking about, either, as Mizzou has had that success in the Big 12… which is second only to the SEC in terms of success during the BCS era.

Kevin Sumlin enters the SEC under tougher circumstances.  He’s a first-year coach who’s installing his own system while also having to learn eight brand new foes.  That won’t be easy.  But Texas A&M — in this writer’s view — is now the SEC’s biggest untapped gold mine.  Think LSU pre-Saban.  The school has passion, facilities and — along with Florida and Georgia — a wealth of in-state talent to recruit and sign.  If/when the Aggies find the right coach, A&M has the tools to become one of the SEC’s mega-programs.

 

8.  Will A&M and Mizzou “fit” in the SEC?

Much has been made of the Southeastern Conference going outside its footprint — which was the actual goal, of course — and adding one school from the Midwest and another from the Southwest.  That’s talk from people who were anti-SEC expansion from the start.  In reality, this isn’t akin to San Diego State joining the Big East.

Missouri and Texas A&M both fit the SEC mold.  They are both large state schools.  They are located in smaller towns where life revolves around their respective athletic fortunes (just like every SEC school not named Vanderbilt).  Both are already planning multi-million dollar upgrades of facilities.  And both are equal to or better in football than South Carolina and Arkansas were upon their entry into the SEC.

If messageboards and talk radio had been as big in 1992 as they are today, you’d have heard the “they won’t fit” argument thrown out about the Gamecocks and Razorbacks, too.  Especially “Midwestern” Arkansas.  Do you realize that Columbia, Missouri is farther east than Fayetteville, Arkansas?

Meanwhile, Texas A&M could very well have been an SEC school from the outset.  The passion, tradition, facilities and “feel” of A&M and College Station all scream “Southeastern Conference.”

So, yes, both will eventually come to feel like fits.  Just as Arkansas and South Carolina have.

 

Alright, final verdict time.  Did the SEC, Missouri and Texas A&M all make good decisions to marry one another?  It seems so at the moment.

 

* The SEC… will have definitely made a good move if it can drive up a significant amount of new television revenue.  If Project X comes to pass — as expected — then we’ll someday look back on this move as a no-brainer.  If not, well, then we’ll have to look again at what was given up schedule-wise.

* Missouri… escaped a dysfunctional Big 12 and might just be able to parlay its newfound SEC money (and upgraded facilities) into actual conference championships at some point.

* Texas A&M… escaped a dysfuntional Big 12 and created a differentiator between itself and cross-state rival Texas.

 

As a new day dawns, the forecast or all three insititutions looks pretty darn good.

 


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