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Expansion By The Numbers 9: Academic Fit

As we enter the homestretch of our numbers-specific look at SEC expansion, it might be a good time to look back at what we’ve done so far.

For starters, you can read our original lengthy piece on SEC expansion from May of 2010 right here.  There are numbers involved, but our goal was to find which schools — out of the 18 we studied — would best fit the SEC’s profile for expansion.  Take a look at it and you’ll find that Texas A&M — viewed as a tag-along with Texas by most people — and Missouri — not considered an SEC option by any other major outlets at the time — scored very highly in our study.

In the past year since that piece was published, we’ve spoken with a number of administrators and sources at BCS-level institutions who have said our breakdowns were on the mark in terms of what school presidents consider when discussing expansion.  Armed with those attaboys, we contacted — and were contacted by — other sources in the television, media rights and college sports industries.  We asked them for their views on what matters, why it matters, and how much it matters.  And with that information, we began this year’s SEC expansion project.

The gist?  We chose a ridiculous 35 schools for comparison just to makes sure someone didn’t say, “What about my team?”  Sadly, we’ve gotten a lot of that anyway.  But we looked at 35 knowing that not all of those 35 would be candidates for the SEC in any way, shape or form.

We also chose to use very simple numbers — often times the numbers used by our sources as examples when talking to us — to help explain what categories matter when it comes to expansion.


Part 1: Grading Potential SEC Partners served as our introduction.

Part 2: Television Markets was a look at the Top 40 television markets located within 200 miles driving distance of a school’s campus.  A television network executive suggested we just look at the Top 40 markets because that’s likely what networks would consider.  We put the line at 200 miles because a line had to be put somewhere.

Part 3: Total State Population provided an indication of the number of potential fans, cable households, and future students/alumni/donors living in a school’s home state.

Part 4: Proximity broke down the distances from our 35 schools to the center of the current conference — Birmingham.

Part 5: Fertile Recruiting Ground was an examination of the total number of NFL draft picks from each school’s home state over a 10-year period.

Part 6: Athletic Budgets looked at — wait for it — the athletic spending of each of the 35 schools on our list.

Part 7: Football Stadium Size attempted to put a gauge on how much fan support schools count upon as well as the level of “football craze” on each campus.

Part 8: Athletic Success broke down Director’s Cup success — in order to grasp schools’ overall athletic success — and the number of NCAA Tournament and bowl bids received over a 10-year span — in order to judge success in the two biggest money-making sports.



* We’re looking at too big a selection of schools and we know it.

* We’re using simple numbers in order to avoid debate (though that really hasn’t helped much because anyone seeing a number that makes his/her school look bad immediately attacks that number).

* We know full well that Mike Slive and the SEC’s presidents will not be using a formula to judge expansion candidates.  We’re using a formula only as a tool to show which categories matter — according to our multiple sources — when it comes to expansion.

* We’ve tried to make it clear that these categories are numeric representations of “reputations” held by the 35 schools we’re discussing.  When it comes to academics, for example, we doubt Bernie Machen, Dan Jones and Harris Pastides will be thumbing through the college rankings of Forbes or US News and World Report.  But they will, however, consider whether or not a school would help the SEC’s academic brand… and therefore their own institutions’.  The numbers we use help to give you an idea of what reputations these schools carry in a number of areas.  We’re using something specific to give you a view into the generic.

* We’ve also tried to make it clear that the politics and timing of expansion can make one category the most important one minute and the least important the next.  Think of it like drafting quarterbacks.  QB1 and QB2 might be separated by their accuracy.  But QB2 and QB3 might be equally accurate which would require them to judged based upon their mobility, for example.  In other words — just as our sources have tried to provide for us — we’re trying to provide for you a ballpark idea of how these decisions are made.  Nothing is cut and dried.  These categories matter, but they may matter in totally different ways to different conferences.

* Finally, we haven’t skewed the numbers.  In fact we haven’t even tallied them yet.  We’ve written on numerous occasions that Missouri will be accepted as School #14 if it breaks away from the Big 12.  We’re not alone in saying that, of course.  We’ve said that numerous SEC sources believe Slive would love to land North Carolina (though we think that’s impossible).  And we’ve said that West Virginia likely would be a fallback choice only, even though we believe WVU would be an excellent athletic and cultural fit.  (Our sources have told us we’re right about West Virginia.)  We’ve also stated our opinion that Florida State would be the best possible “get” for the league, but we’ve weighted things so strongly toward “new” markets and new land in this expansion series that FSU may score very, very low in our formula.  Even so, we have our views, we know what shaped them, and we know who shares them.  So we don’t need to try and convince you to agree with us.  We’re not trying to brainwash Slive or influence any SEC presidents (as has been suggested), though I’m sure they’re all glued to this site as we speak.  If you agree with our views, great.  If you don’t, fine.  The only thing we’re trying to convince you of is what matters in these expansion discussions.


All that said, in Part 9, we’re going to look at the academics of our 35 schools.

This Category:  Academic Fit

Why:  Because the SEC has a definite “type” of school and that similarity helps bind it together.  For our purposes, we’ll look at whether or not the 35 schools on our list are an academic fit with the SEC’s 12 current schools.  And we’ll do this by studying a number of different factors.

US News and World Report’s 2012 rankings help to give a general idea of a school’s academic reputation.  Total enrollment is considered.  Ditto whether or not a school is private or a major, public university.  We’ll look at religious affiliation as well as the size of the city in which each school is located.

To find the academic fits out there, we first had to identify the SEC’s profile.  And here’s what that profile is (not counting soon-to-be-member Texas A&M):


* A public institution.  Vanderbilt is the SEC’s only private school.

* A school with an average total enrollment of about 27,000 students (typically with a lesser emphasis on post-graduate studies and research).

* A school ranked somewhere between #58 (Florida) and #157 (Mississippi State).  Vanderbilt ranks #17, but it’s certainly not the norm in the SEC.  Note also that while presidents would love to nab a school ranked highly (meaning a school with a superb reputation), those schools aren’t likely to jump to Slive’s league.  Call it the “halo effect.”  School presidents want to associate with other top-name institutions in order to improve their own school’s reputation (and donations).

* A school with no religious affiliation.  Not a single SEC school is tied to a church.

* A school in a somewhat rural area.  With the exception of Vanderbilt, no SEC school is located in a city with more than 300,000 inhabitants.  This “one-horse town” factor is one reason SEC fans are so passionate about their schools’ athletic exploits.  With the exception of Nashville, there are no SEC towns featuring major league teams.  There are no “commuter” schools.


That’s a pretty clear profile.  Now which of our 35 schools fit it?

The chart below lists the schools from the ACC followed by the Big East, Big 12 and our five “wild cards.”  Areas that do not fit the SEC’s profile are italicized.  For us to deem a school as a poor academic fit, it must fail to match the SEC profile in two of our four main categories.  (Enrollment varies, so we’ll not count off there.  That category is just for your information.)


School US News & World Report ’12 Rank Total Enrollment Private or Public Religious Affiliation City of 300,000 An SEC Fit?
Boston College 31 14,015 Private Catholic Yes NO
Clemson 68 19,453 Public None No PERFECT
Duke 10 14,983 Private Methodist No NO
Florida State 101 40,416  Public  None  No  PERFECT
Georgia Tech 36 20,720 Public None Yes  NO
Maryland 55 37,595 Public None No YES
Miami 38 15,657 Private  None Yes  NO
N. Carolina 29  29,390 Public None No YES
NC State 101 34,376 Public None Yes  YES
Pittsburgh 58 28,823 Public None Yes  YES
Syracuse 62 20,407 Private  None No YES
Virginia 25 24,391 Public None No YES
Virginia Tech 71  31,006  Public  None  No  PERFECT
Wake Forest 25  7,162 Private  None No NO
Cincinnati 143 32,283 Public None Yes  YES
Connecticut 58  25,498 Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Louisville 164  21,234 Public None Yes NO
Rutgers 68  38,912  Public  None  No  PERFECT
S. Florida 181  40,431 Public None Yes  NO
W. Virginia 164 29,306 Public None No YES
Baylor 75 14,900 Private  Baptist  No NO
Iowa State 97  28,682 Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Kansas 101  28,697  Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Kansas State 143  23,588  Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Missouri 90  32,415  Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Oklahoma 101  30,303  Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Oklahoma State 132  23,522  Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Texas 45  51,195 Public None Yes NO
Texas A&M 58  49,129  Public  None  No  PERFECT 
Texas Tech 160  31,637 Public None No YES
E. Carolina 194  27,783 Public None No YES
Navy 14  4,603 Private  None No NO
Notre Dame 19  11,992 Private  Catholic  No NO
Penn State 45  45,233 Public None No YES
TCU 97 9,142 Private  Disciples of Christ  Yes  NO


* Keeping in mind that we’re talking about an academic fit and not whether or not a school is a good fit location-wise, athletics-wise, etc… we would consider 12 schools to be “perfect” fits with the SEC from an academic sense: Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, Rutgers, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

* Last summer, the whole world expected the SEC to turn east in expansion, but instead it’s landed Texas A&M, talked to Oklahoma (last year), and is apparently waiting on Missouri this year.  The dysfunctional make-up of their conference is one reason for that, sure, but no league more closely resembles the SEC than the Big 12.  Like the SEC, the Big 12 is made up mostly of big, public schools in rural areas.  Big 12 schools fit the SEC profile.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the SEC is considering Big 12 schools or membership.

* A number of schools are listed as being academic fits with the SEC, without being perfect.  Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Penn State are all considered to be better academic schools than those in the SEC — fair or not.  They also reside in conferences that are considered to be more academically reputable than the SEC.  And we haven’t yet seen any school migrate from the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 for leagues with lesser scholastic reputations.

* NC State, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are located in larger cities — all with pro teams — and that doesn’t fit the SEC profile.  But of those, NC State would be the most likely SEC target because the Wolfpack would give the SEC a foothold in a large Southern state.  Another plus for NC State is the fact that despite the city’s size, the only major league professional franchise in town happens to be an NHL team.

* Schools like Texas Tech, West Virginia and East Carolina would add very little to the SEC’s academic reputation.  As we’ve noted elsewhere on this site, we’ve heard from more than one source that there are presidents in the league who have concerns about WVU’s reputation.  That’s not to say it’s a bad school or that that fact is a dealbreaker, only that it’s been mentioned as an issue.  Sorry to anyone that upsets, but it’s what we’ve been told by people working in the administration side of more than one SEC school.  (Something has cause WVU to be passed over in the current expansion frenzy.)  And if there are academic concerns regarding WVU’s ability to aid the SEC’s reputation, you can bet the same would be true of Texas Tech and East Carolina.  Especially ECU.

* Syracuse would be a perfect fit from an academic standpoint if it weren’t a private school.  The SEC only has one of those at the moment.

For the sake of comparison, here are the facts and figures for the SEC’s current roster of universities:


School US News & World Report ’12 Rank Total Enrollment Private or Public Religious Affiliation City of 300,000 An SEC Fit?
Alabama 75 30,127 Public None No PERFECT
Arkansas 132 21,405 Public None No PERFECT
Auburn 82 25,078 Public None No PERFECT
Florida 58 49,827 Public None No PERFECT
Georgia 62 34,677 Public None No PERFECT
Kentucky 124 27,108 Public None No PERFECT
LSU 128 29,451 Public None No PERFECT
Miss. State 157 19,644 Public None No PERFECT
Ole Miss 143 17,085 Public None No PERFECT
S. Carolina 111 29,597 Public None No PERFECT
Tennessee 101 30,312 Public None No PERFECT
Vanderbilt 17 12,714 Private None Yes NO


* As you can see, 11 of the SEC’s 12 institutions are very, very similar.  It’s not hard to spot the league’s overall profile.

* Not surprisingly, Texas A&M will fit the SEC profile perfectly.  And if Missouri joins the league, MU will be a perfect academic fit as well.

* Vanderbilt is clearly the outsider in the bunch.  A Top 20, private university, located in a major metropolitan area with professional teams competing for entertainment dollars.

* With Vanderbilt, the average US News and World Report rank for an SEC school is #99.  Without Vandy, that number falls to about #107.

Up next in Part 10 of our SEC expansion series, we’ll provide some final bonus categories, a full tally of the scores, and a number of observations and conclusions regarding each school on our list.  We will award bonus points or three additional categories — AAU membership, expansion of the SEC’s geographic footprint, and recent championships.

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