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Expansion By The Numbers 8: Athletic Success

Media markets and budgets.  Facilities and population base.  Recruiting ground and geographic location.  All will have some bearing on the conference expansion/realignment process that continues to shake the college sports landscape.  But what about the fun stuff?  What about pure athletic success?

In this installment of our simple, by-the-numbers look at 35 potential (though most are unlikely) SEC expansion possibilities, we take a gander at the programs that have had the most recent success.  First, we’ll show you how each school fared in the most recent Directors’ Cup rankings and then we’ll look at those schools that have had the most success in the two main money-making sports of football and basketball.  Tally those numbers up and you’ll get our ranking for recent on-field/on-court performance.

This Category:  Athletic Success

Why:  Media markets and population figures are incredibly important in the expansion process because those figures are what propel television network ratings and those ratings are what drive television networks to hand over barrels of cash to athletic conferences.  But there’s a reason Rutgers — while often mentioned as a potential candidate for the Big Ten and/or ACC — has yet to be selected.  The Big Ten went with Nebraska.  The ACC grabbed Syracuse and Pittsburgh.  Why?  Because obviously those schools are better athletically than Rutgers.

The Southeastern Conference is viewed inside and out as the top athletic conference in college sports.  The Pac-12 may grab a lot of overall trophies, but the SEC wins in the sports that people watch on television.  There’s a certain status that the SEC must uphold.  And don’t discount the role Mike Slive’s ego plays in all of this.  When speaking to sources at multiple SEC institutions as well as to two in the television and media rights fields, Slive’s desire to create a legacy — and to outshine Larry Scott and Jim Delany — was mentioned often.  So don’t expect Slive (or the SEC’s presidents) to have much interest in a school that hasn’t created at least some type of solid athletic reputation for itself.

Like any league, the SEC enjoys winning as many trophies as possible.  And the strength of a school’s total athletic department shows a commitment to winning that league administrators prefer.  That’s why we’ve included the Directors’ Cup standings in our list.

And, as we mentioned above, the SEC knows that when it comes to television dollars, two sports draw the most eyeballs — football and men’s basketball.  For that reason, we’ll look at the total number of NCAA Tournament bids and bowl bids that each of our 35 schools have racked up over the last 10 years.

Why not other numbers?  Well, in a later piece, we will take a look at national championships.  But we aren’t going to look at winning percentages because so much of that depends on scheduling and current conference alignment.  Yes, the bids category is influenced by that as well, but it seems an additional step removed.  Also — as was mentioned to us by one senior network executive — the more bowls and tourneys a school takes part in, the better its brand becomes.  So bids got the nod over winning percentage and national titles will play a role later.

In order to keep our two numbers (Directors’ Cup ranking and total bids) similar in value, we totaled both categories for all 35 schools and found that the Directors’ Cup score was roughly 50 times greater than the tally of bowl/tourney bids.  For that reason, we’ve multiplied the bid number by 50.13 and rounded.

Math majors, this exercise is not designed to be a provable formula.  There’s no such thing when it comes to expansion.  We’re only trying to give our readers an understanding of the areas and issues that we’ve been repeatedly told will matter to presidents, chancellors and commissioners when it comes to expansion.  So if you spend a lot of time arguing the details, you’re probably missing the greater point.


Rank  School Directors’ Cup ’10-’11 Points   NCAA Tourney/Bowl Bids (Last 10 Years)   Bids x 50.13   Total
1 Texas 996 19 952 1948
2 Oklahoma 1064 16 802 1866
3 N. Carolina 1160 12 602 1762
4 Florida State 1079 13 652 1731
5 Texas A&M 1090 12 602 1692
6 Duke 1171 10 501 1672
7 Maryland 858 13 652 1510
8 Notre Dame 833 12 602 1435
9 Penn State 996 8 401 1397
10 Virginia 1092 6 301 1393
11 Louisville 629 15 752 1381
12 Oklahoma State 635 14 702 1337
13 W. Virginia 542 15 752 1294
14 Texas Tech 465 14 702 1167
15 Connecticut 502 13 652 1154
16t Clemson 485 13 652 1137
16t Missouri 535 12 602 1137
18 Boston College 322 16 802 1124
19 Georgia Tech 350 14 702 1052
20 Virginia Tech 500 11 551 1051
21 Pittsburgh 135 17 852 987
22 Miami 416 11 551 967
23 NC State 312 11 551 863
24 Syracuse 348 10 501 849
25 TCU 395 9 451 846
26 Baylor 623 3 150 773
27 Kansas 265 10 501 766
28 Wake Forest 261 10 501 762
29 Kansas State 352 8 401 753
30 Cincinnati 100 12 602 702
31 Iowa State 348 6 301 649
32 Navy 191 8 401 592
33 S. Florida 208 6 301 509
34 E. Carolina 198 6 301 499
35 Rutgers 97 5 251 348


* Consider the ACC’s recent moves.  The fact that Pittsburgh and Syracuse were chosen over West Virginia seems to prove the idea that market/population size and academics can combine to trump athletics in the right set of circumstances.  But there is no set formula.  If there were, UConn would have been the choice over Syracuse due to its enormous nearby media markets and its greater athletic success in recent years.  So why Syracuse?  Perhaps because the ACC tried to land the Orangemen in 2003 and there were already previous relationships in place.  We’re showing you in this series the things we have been told matter to commissioners and presidents.  But it’s not meant to be used a magic bullet.  It’s a general guide.  And politics, relationships and such amorphous terms as “fit” will still play a role in these matters, too.

* No need to suggest that we should have weighted one column or the other more heavily.  Commissioner Slive won’t have a chart and slide rule when discussing possible expansion candidates with the league’s presidents.  Again, these numbers are designed purely to provide you with an idea of what’s being considered.  For that reason, we ranked Directors’ Cup success equal with football/basketball success.  In reality, the latter issue might matter two, three, or four times as much.  For that reason, you can look at the bids as a separate number and draw your own conclusions.  (And no matter what we listed here, there were going to be complaints.)

* Of the top 10 teams on our list, Maryland and Virginia are likely the only two that would surprise you.  UVA’s number is clearly driven by the strength of its overall athletic program rather than its football/basketball success.

* The top half of this list is made up of some of the strongest brands in sports.  The more you move down the list, the less the word “brand” applies.  In fact, the league might have to overcome baggage issues with some of those schools.

* Even if the bottom 10 schools on the list had an interest in the SEC, you could go ahead and scratch them from any expansion list.  Call me crazy.  Say it’s not fair.  But I’ll bet you all the tea in China that you won’t see one of those last 10 schools in the Southeastern Conference when this wave of expansion slows.  Won’t happen.

For the sake of comparison, below are the numbers from the schools already in the Southeastern Conference:


Rank  School Directors’ Cup ’10-’11 Points   NCAA Tourney/Bowl Bids (Last 10 Years)   Bids x 50.13   Total
1 Florida 1212 18 902 2114
2 LSU 831 14 702 1533
3 Georgia 829 13 652 1481
4 Tennessee 763 14 702 1465
5 Alabama 726 13 652 1378
6 Kentucky 585 14 702 1287
7 Arkansas 726 10 501 1227
8 Auburn 638 10 501 1139
9 S. Carolina 547 7 351 898
10 Vanderbilt 378 6 301 679
11 Miss. State 237 8 401 638
12 Ole Miss 319 5 251 570


* As you can see, Florida would rank on top of our list by a good margin if placed in with the other 35 schools we’ve been discussing.

* Florida, LSU and Tennessee — three of the top four in athletic performance — also happened to have the three highest SEC athletic department budgets in the last Department of Education figures.  The smallest budgets in the league belonged to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State… which just so happened to rank in the bottom three for athletic success, too.  No shock there.

* The average SEC school had a Directors’ Cup score of 649 points last year and has been to 11 NCAA Tournaments/Bowls in the last 10 years.

* The average SEC school would tally 1201 points in our system which would rank right about 14th among the 35 schools we examined.

Up next, we’ll look at academics, overall brand and cultural fits in Part 9 of our series.

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