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Great. Now Politicians Are Getting Involved In The Realignment Mess

Nobody dislikes politicians more than me.  We’ve reached a point in this country when most of them love their party more than their country.  If that weren’t bad enough, most of the folks we send to Washington do whatever they can to not fix our serious problems.  Instead of the economy and health care they take up silly side issues like steroids in baseball, HGH in football, all while threatening to weigh in on “spygate” and the BCS.

Now — thanks to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell — they’re wasting Americans’ time and money by involving themselves in the current conference expansion/realignment mess.

It’s one thing for politicians to lobby to keep in-state schools together.  But when the people we send to Congress decide they need to pull strings to make sure Homestate U. gets a berth in Conference X, well, that’s taking things a mile or 10 too far.

We’ve got some links for you to chew on this morning just to catch you up on all this silliness.  Most of it would seem to have bupkes to do with Missouri or the SEC.

On that front, the biggest news yesterday was The Kansas City Star’s report that MU chancellor Brady Deaton is scheduled to go to India next week to speak at an international conference on radiopharmaceuticals.  (I happen to be all for that because there are a lot of sick guys out there in sportstalk radio-land.  Bah-dum-bum.  I’ll be here all week.)  The takeaway: If Missouri can’t line up its exit from the Big 12 before the end of the weekend, this mess probably won’t be cleared up until after Deaton returns about 10 days into November.  Hooray.

But here’s the fear regarding all this Congressional hanky-panky — while it looks like this is a Big 12/West Virginia/Louisville problem, now that shouts are being heard in the halls of Congress, is it not possible that all of the politicians not happy over realignment might band together and decide to investigate the whole matter?  After all, as we’re seeing in Kentucky and West Virginia, what better way to kiss up to the electorate than to fight for the local school when it comes to its football conference.

And if some nitwit decides to further waste our tax dollars by calling for some half-baked hearing on conference expansion, then everything could be put on hold.

Maybe you like expansion and maybe you don’t.  Maybe you think the SEC should add West Virginia or East Carolina or East Oxnard Community College.  Fine.  Super.

But the minute Congress gets involved is the minute things will go straight to Hell.  Mark my words.  They may be keeping Mizzou out of the SEC at the moment, but tomorrow they may putting a de facto cap on all expansion or causing other leagues to break apart.

For those who don’t like the slippery slope argument, I give you cigarettes and ice cream.  As smoking bans were put in place across America — rather than allowing businesses to decide for themselves if they would be smoking or non-smoking — I told my friends that this would open us up to all manner of bans.  Obesity is the #1 cause of health problems in our country.  Insurance companies know that.  What’s to stop their lobbyists from trying to ban all types of fattening foods?  Imagine no ice cream parlors, I said.

A couple of years later, trans fats have been banned in New York City and the cities of San Francisco and Boston have now banned sugary drinks from vending machines on city property.  Soda taxes are now being proposed across the country.  Next stop: ice cream.

Does that make me a prophet?  Hardly.  It just makes me someone who knows that buffoonish blowhards will act like buffoonish blowhards when given half a chance.

So whether you’re for expansion or agin’ it, you should be on your knees praying that our elected “leaders” don’t get involved in it.  Or else things will only get worse.

Besides, shouldn’t Minority Leader McConnell be all for free enterprise with little government involvement?  Or is that just pablum he tosses around on the stump?  It seems big government is A-OK as long as he’s the big government interfering in the business decision of nine Big 12 schools.

The links to catch you up on all of this…

1.  Yesterday morning, everyone from Texas to West Virginia believed that WVU was set to join the Big 12 as soon as Missouri departed.

2.  Then came reports that WVU would get a Big 12 bid regardless of whether Mizzou left or not.  (We didn’t buy that one, but okay.)

3.  But then the Big 12 slowed their expansion plans when McConnell started lobbying the league to reconsider Louisville.  WVU sources who had been more than willing to talk about their move to the Big 12 on Tuesday suddenly went silent.  (Louisville was believed to be the Big 12′s top choice in expansion right up until WVU stormed past them this week.)

4.  It turns out McConnell — a U of L grad — had placed a phone call to Oklahoma president David Boren, himself a former senator.  And that’s when this happened.

Suddenly, West Virginia politicians had to protect their phony-baloney jobs, too.  Senator Jay Rockefeller said:

“The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program — period.  Now the media reports that political games may upend that.  That’s just flat wrong.  I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits.”

Fellow West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin then took things further:


“If these outrageous reports have any merit — and especially if a United States Senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made — then I believe that there should be an investigation in the US Senate, and I will fight to get the truth.  West Virginians and the American people deserve to know exactly what is going on and whether politics is interfering with our college sports.”

Somebody give the Senator an harrumph.

5.  Naturally, some of this mess reportedly ties back to a rift between Oklahoma and Texas.  (And people wonder why Missouri wants to put that league in its rearview mirror.)  Oklahoma wants Louisville.  Texas wants West Virginia.

6.  Orangebloods.com – the Rivals site covering Texas — reported this morning that WVU is still the pick to replace Missouri.  (Of course that’s the Texas the viewpoint.)  The site also claims that it would take a “miracle” for the Big East to free WVU to leave immediately.  If that doesn’t happen, the Big 12 won’t free Mizzou to leave immediately.

Again I ask: How strong is the language in these contracts?  If the pact states that a school will remain in the league or pay an exit fee to leave, then paying an exit fee to leave should fulfill the contract.

7.  While the Longhorns are saying WVU is still the pick, The New York Times reported yesterday that the race between the Mountaineers and Cardinals was “too close to call.”

8.  And now Oklahoma State mega-booster T. Boone Pickens says he needs to be “convinced on West Virginia.”  His concerns about the school?

“Morgantown… as I remember, you’ve got to fly into Pittsburgh and then drive a couple hours.  That’s pretty isolated.”

Said the man whose school is in Stillwater, Oklahoma… an hour and 15 minutes outside of Tulsa.

9.  (UPDATE) Just to show how dysfunctional the Big 12 is, OU’s president said yesterday that he doesn’t understand how that league could create its own TV network when Texas already has a channel of its own and the Sooners plan to keep their Tier 3 rights, too.

10.  As The Charleston Gazette perfectly puts things today: “Big 12 brings the circus to town.”

Amen.  There is no greater joke in the current college landscape than the Big 12 conference.  Quick, tell me the last time you heard of a Big Ten or SEC or ACC booster weighing in on what their league should do.

Oklahoma and OSU are good together.  They should grab the remaining old Big 8 schools — Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State — and beg their way into something else, anything else.

Texas — and the remora who cling to them — should all head in another direction where the Longhorns can rule and their peasants can, well, be peasants.

And to think there are those who think Missouri and Texas A&M are making a mistake.  The only mistakes were made by the other Big 12 schools who didn’t crawl on their knees toward Mike Slive begging for entry into his cozy conference.

Regardless of what the Big 12 does next, it will be blow apart as soon as its much talked about media-rights deal ends in six years.  Adding Notre Dame would only bring in another poor fit with its own massive ego and its own way of doing things.  There would be Texas.  There would be Oklahoma and OSU.  There would be Notre Dame (in some sports).  And there would be “the rest.”  With everyone pulling in different directions.

Congrats to Mizzou for breaking free.  Even if it takes longer than we expected, the Tigers are making a very, very wise decision.

Now somebody tell McConnell, Manchin and Rockefeller to get back to work.

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Tuesday Explodes With Rumors And Tweets, But Mizzou Still On Target For SEC

Things got nutty yesterday, didn’t they?  Way too nutty.

We in the media have a tendency to feed like sharks.  If there’s a drop of blood (or truth, in our case) in the water, everyone starts working to get their piece of it.

The media feeding frenzy is matched only by fans’ desire for immediate information and a pulpit from which to share their own views, theories and wishes.

Example: Website tied to school files report from left field.  Media jump on report.  Fans take report as gospel.  Fans post thoughts and theories on messageboards.  Reporters tweet about thoughts, theories and rumors they’re seeing on messageboards and blogs.  Fans mistake tweets from reporters as dispersals of fact, not “hey, here’s what’s being said.”  Circle continues, etc, etc, etc.

It’s a mess.  And as someone who works in the media, it’s shameful.

We didn’t post our own follow-up last night because we wanted to check with our contacts before chiming in on yesterday’s rumor frenzy.  And because we know when stories build and build and build on one another in rapid succession — as happened yesterday — there’s usually more hot air than fact involved.

So after finishing our radio and CSS duties yesterday, we hit the phones.  The word we’re getting in simplified form: Not much changed yesterday from an SEC perspective.

* Missouri still wants into the SEC in 2012 and is working to make that happen.  MU chancellor Brady Deaton wasn’t blowing smoke last Friday when he told a press conference that any move Mizzou makes will be made with next year in mind.

* The Big 12 has thrown up more resistance than expected — including the declaration that the league cannot play with nine teams next year (even though some schools and coaches had campaigned for that very thing) — and that resistance could slow down an MU-SEC announcement, but the SEC office knew there would be some snares.

* It’s still possible Missouri and the SEC will announce a union this week, but MU will have to clear the legal hurdles being tossed around — just as Texas A&M did — first.

* Could this lead to a 2013 SEC entry for Missouri if all goes wrong?  Yes, but the SEC had obviously anticipated that, too.

The feeling I get from talking to people around the league is one of calm.  If Missouri’s in by 2012, great.  If they’re in the following year, the SEC will survive one season as a 13-school league.  (But it’s clear landing a 14th school for next season is still heavily preferred.)

There also didn’t seem to be a whole lotta fear regarding talk that the Big 12 might grab Notre Dame which might, in turn, convince Missouri to stick around.  We said yesterday that that plan had a large number of moving parts that would all have to interconnect perfectly if it were to come to fruition.  As an official with one SEC school told me last night via text: “Too many egos, too much redtape.”

Our gut feeling?  We believe the Big 12′s latest protests might slow the announcement process down by a week, but we still feel Mizzou has a pretty good shot of exiting by 2012.

If a contract states that a school must remain in a conference or pay a buyout fee, there are two ways to fulfill the contract — stay in the league or pay the buyout fee.  If Missouri pays the buyout fee, it should be clear to leave.

The problem, however, is whether or not Big 12 schools (like Baylor) would sue Missouri for damages should the league lose network television dollars.  But speaking to a friend who happens to be an executive in the sports side of one of the Big 3 networks, the assumption is that if Fox or ESPN were to pull money from a nine-team Big 12, they would pull back only Missouri’s share… which would leave the other members at their current levels of income.

We’ll see where things shake out moving forward, but here’s a whole wave of expansion reports from around the country, complete with our take on most of them:

1.  Here’s the Orangebloods.com report (behind a paywall) that sent the media world into a tizzy yesterday afternoon.  It claims that Notre Dame “is seriously considering” moving it’s non-football sports to the Big 12, which — coupled with a promise of Irish-Missouri football games — could lead Mizzou to stay in the Big 12.

2.  Yesterday, Mike Slive spoke to the Huntsville, Alabama Quarterback Club and jokingly told the audience they weren’t going to get the information that they wanted — a yes or no on Missouri.

“I realize you’re anxioius to know what happens next with regard to conference realignment.  There’s a lot happening over the intercollegiate landscape, especially the last several weeks.

But with respect to the SEC, I don’t have anything new to report at this time.”

Slive also reiterated a point that we have made on this site many, many times.

“We were very happy with 12 (members).  When Texas A&M contacted us, it’s a great institution and we were willing to take them.  We’re willing to be at 13 for a short period, if that’s what it takes.  Obviously 14 is much easier, but it’s never been for us a goal to move to 16.  It’s never been about numbers for us.”

Despite what you read elsewhere, the SEC is not planning to go to 16.  That would only happen if the college football landscape changed further.  Slive does not want his league to be the first league to 16.  Not when it’s making so much money and having so much success in the present.

Missouri News

3.  MU’s chancellor spoke about his school’s expansion plans during a radio interview yesterday (and we’ve already covered most of this on the site).  Among his comments:

“We’ve reached firmness in where we are headed, where we want to analyze and focus our attention.”  (If that were the Big 12, the school would have simply said, “We’re staying!”)

“Our head has to outweigh our heart in achieving some of the objectives because the heart won’t necessarily in this case lead to where the University is going and needs to be going.”  (Kinda obvious what that means.)

“These issues, such as stability, take on very, very important long-term meaning.  We’re trying to look ahead at where we’re going as a university, and where the Big 12 is going, or the SEC is going, and where the world of sports entertainment is going.”  (Again, when it comes to stability there’s an obvious choice.  Deaton might as well have said, “We want to surround ourselves with people who speak with a drawl.”)

Mike DeArmond of The Kansas City Star further discusses that interview here.

4.  Vahe Gregorian of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was also listening in on Deaton’s radio interview and picked up on these comments:

“Our hopes (for making an announcement) were days, possibly a week or two.  We’re hoping the sooner the better.”

“Involved in these steps that are being taken at this point are two conferences, two boards of directors, two sets of legal counsel, two sets of financial analyses, or three, if you count the University separate from the Big 12, and then you have a commissioner in whichever conference you’re dealing with.”

5.  Deaton was asked by the radio host if he would make his announcement on that show.  We’ll let Gregorian take it from there:

“Deaton declined (the host’s) invitation to announce it during the show, albeit with a slight slip.

‘I’d loved to come back, as soon as we annou. …’

He caught himself before completing the word and added, ‘as soon as we’ve reach conclusion on this, I’d love to be back here with you.’”

6.  Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star took a shot at the SEC yesterday stating: “Missouri is as good as gone, of course, off to the Southeastern Conference and its voluntary class schedules for football players and disregard for the NCAA rulebook…” The league has brought rulebook cracks upon itself, but when it comes to class schedules, the SEC will soon have more AAU schools than the Big 12.  Time for the Dust Bowlers to drop the academic barbs.

West Virginia News

7.  Meanwhile, it was widely reported yesterday that West Virginia — passed over by the ACC and the SEC for its small population and academic reputation — will replace Missouri in the Big 12 at some point.  The Associated Press reports that the Big 12′s board of directors unanimously approved inviting WVU “when Missouri’s spot comes open.”

8.  Taking business issues out of the equation — though those are why conferences actually expand — this writer believes West Virginia is a more than adequate replacement for Missouri.  (Of course, he also states that WVU to the Big 12 is no more “absurd” geographically than Missouri joining the SEC.  I’ll agree just as soon as someone shows me where West Virginia borders Kansas, Iowa, or Texas.)

9.  A statewide radio network in West Virginia reported yesterday that WVU’s “move to the Big 12 will happen regardless of whether Missouri stays in the league or applies for membership in the SEC.”

10.  That contradicts The New York Times story by Pete Thamel which claimed a “West Virginia official said the Big 12 would remain at 10 teams.”  (The Big 12 has been pretty clear that 10 teams was its first goal and that 12 might be a possibility down the road.  If it’s adding WVU now, that means it knows — as does the rest of the world — that Missouri is SEC-bound.  The chances of anyone ever seeing a Big 12 featuring both Mizzou and WVU are extremely remote.)

Notre Dame News

And here’s where things get interesting.  Orangebloods.com — which often puts out just what Texas officials want put out — started this ball rolling with its initial report on a possible Irish-Big 12 union.  Several people have since picked it up and ran further with it…

11.  Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman says Notre Dame joining the Big 12 as a part-time member is “probably a long shot” and that it would be “in many ways a dubious arrangement,” but it could save the league.

12.  Lenn Robbins of The New York Post says that the Irish are weighing the Big Ten (full-time membership), the ACC (full-time membership) and the Big 12 (non-football membership).

13.  Former Notre Dame AD and ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan — whose son coaches lacrosse at UND — believes the Irish and the ACC would be a perfect fit and that Notre Dame has to take full-time membership in a conference seriously at this point.

We’ll stop on 13 — coincidence? — and make just a couple more observations to conclude:

* Missouri’s exit and exit fees would be helped if West Virginia could extricate itself from the Big East.  Ironically, both schools are all but set to move, are trying to negotiate their exits even as we speak, yet can’t really say that they’re on the move.

* Fair or not, Missouri is being viewed as a villain in all of this by some SEC fans (and media).  Those who don’t understand all that’s involved with the Big 12′s legal threats, believe Mizzou is simply dragging its feet or somehow leveraging the SEC.  I can guarantee you that SEC presidents are not about to be leveraged by Missouri.

* From a short-term, football-only perspective, the Big 12 will get more kudos than the SEC if expansion finally breaks as it appears to be breaking.  TCU and West Virginia are viewed as a stronger combo — right now — than a Texas A&M/Missouri combo.  Of course, conference realignment involves more than just drafting football teams.  Compare the universities, their alumni bases, their television pull and the SEC is getting the better deal.  But that won’t matter to the messageboard crowd.

* I keep seeing Big 12 fans ripping Missouri for trying to leave.  Hopefully, these aren’t Texas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State fans because all three of those schools have tried to escape the Big 12 in the past 20 months.

* Regarding Notre Dame — An entry into the Big 12 is a long shot and even it eventually comes to pass, it will have no impact on Missouri’s move to the SEC.  Despite what’s being tossed around on Big 12 websites today.

We’ll have more as real news develops.  Hopefully this breakdown condenses everything into a nice, neat, clear package for you.

And as we stated at the top, from speaking with our sources, we still believe it’s likely Missouri will find its way to the SEC for 2012.

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Report: WVU “Accepted” Into Big 12

Boy the rumors and reports are flying today.  I can’t type a word before someone else makes a new claim.

Pete Thamel of The New York Times is now reporting that West Virginia has “applied and are accepted” into the Big 12 “leaving only legal entanglements from making the move official.”

The fact that WVU is already accepted — if Thamel’s source is correct — shows that Missouri is already “unofficially” out the door.  But according to Thamel:

“Legal problems are holding up Missouri’s move, as it has to negotiate an exit fee, and there is a concern among Big 12 teams about how to fill the void in their schedules that Missouri would leave.  That creates two problems, as universities will have to scramble to find another opponent, perhaps from the Football Championship Subdivision.  A victory over a team from that level would not count toward a Big 12 member’s bowl eligibility.  It will also cause the Big 12 to fall short of fulfilling its television contract.  Both could be costly for the league.”

(Technically, the NCAA allows one win against an FCS school to count toward bowl eligibility, depending on the situation.)

Thamel also reports that the Big 12 is planning to stick at 10 schools for now.  (Talk of a push to 16 teams is nonsense.)

Isn’t it amazing how schools can jump from the Big 12 and MWC to the Pac-12, from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, and from the Big East to the ACC without massive threats of lawsuits?  Yet let anyone talk to the SEC and they’re going to be forced to lawyer-up.

At this point, Missouri is still trying to work out its departure from the Big 12.  As stated earlier, we still believe MU will be able to buy its way out of that league and we believe MU will be playing in the SEC East in 2012.  That’s the goal for all involved.

A collapse of the Big East would certainly speed up the process, though, allowing WVU to fill Mizzou’s slot in the Big 12 as soon as possible.  Anybody else out there want to finish off the Big East?

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WV Writer: WVU Not A Fit With The SEC

As internet rumors swirl about West Virginia possibly joining the SEC — even rumors that Mike Slive was in Morgantown yesterday — one writer for The Charleston Daily Mail believes WVU would be a better fit in the Big 12 than the SEC.

According to Jack Bogaczyk, the sports editor for his paper:

“As for the SEC, it’s a dream by many among WVU fandom, and it might soon become a reality.  It also could be a nightmare for the Mountaineers.  I don’t think WVU should make that very large football leap.

If the SEC chooses WVU and the Mountaineers say yes, well, I’m wrong or now… but I’ll be right about what it will take for WVU to compete.

Simply put, West Virginia will not be as nationally relevant in football — on a consistent basis — in the SEC as it would with its other options.

Yes, WVU can make about $10 million more annually in SEC revenue sharing than it does in the Big East now.  But the expense is greater, too.  The Mountaineers would need to build, build, build.  They would need a new baseball field; they may need to add sports, like golf an softball…

Let’s put it another way: If WVU goes to the SEC, in order to compete on a perennial basis in football, it would probably be time to end that tired, oft-repeated line about “a self-supporting athletic program” in Morgantown.  It would need state help, seriously.”

Question: Couldn’t many of those same arguments be used if WVU joins a league with Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas?  Just asking.

Doing a radio show in West Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised at the fear factor shown by an ex-player co-host on the program.  Many along the country roads of the Mountain State don’t believe their school could keep pace in the SEC.  It’s not just this writer.

From my perspective, WVU could compete in the SEC, but the word “consistent” is key.  Ask big name schools like Georgia and Tennessee how easy it is to consistently compete in the SEC.  Florida lost five games last year.  Alabama and LSU have each suffered through dry spells over the past few decades.  No one competes for titles in football year-in and year-out.  No one.

So if Mountaineer fans believe their school could win at a Big East clip in the SEC, they would likely be in for a rude awakening.

That said — and as we’ve stated numerous times before — we have been told by multiple people inside multiple SEC athletic departments and administrations that WVU remains a fallback/emergency choice only.

(And for the record, the writer of the above column called the SEC offices and found that Slive has been in Birmingham — not Morgantown — all this week.)

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Mizzouri Meets; Rumors Swirl About WVU

Just a quick couple of notes on potential SEC expansion this morning.  We’ll turn west first.

Missouri’s board of curators will meet at 5pm ET in St. Louis and it’s expected to either announce that the school is all-in with the Big 12 or that the board has given chancellor Brady Deaton the power to look at all of Missouri’s realignment options.  If that happens, it seems likely that Deaton will have to remove himself from his role as chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.  How can a man explore other conferences while simultaneously trying to hold the Big 12 together?

While Missouri folks continue to debate the trustworthiness of the Big 12, the league’s interim commissioner Chuck Neinas continues to beat the “They’re Midwestern, not Southern” drum regarding the Tigers.  He has also stated that he believes Mizzou will stick around because the school sees how the league is working toward greater revenue-sharing and expansion.

“I do think they’ll consider what we’re doing,” Neinas said.  “We have some things in mind that I’m not prepared to reveal at this point.  We’re working in a positive way to improve the conference.”

“I think they have to look at not only what the future best interests are for the University of Missouri, but for the state of Missouri.  There’s a lot to be considered not only for the institution but for the state.  You know they have the Big 12 conference basketball tournament in Missouri, they’ve got the long-running games with the University of Kansas which is their traditional rivalry, going back to, what, 1893?  The other thing is it’s one thing to talk about the Southeastern Conference, but how many people are going to be able to afford the travel to Gainesville, Florida, or Columbia, South Carolina, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama?”

(Probably about the same number who could afford to travel to Provo, Utah, — the Big 12′s most rumored expansion candidate — to Lubbock, Texas and to Austin, Texas.)

When it comes to Big 12 expansion, Deaton is not the chairman of the Big 12′s expansion committee as had been previously reported by other sites.  At least not according to Neinas.  He still holds the chair for the board of directors — though he had to shoot down rumors he was abandoning that post last week.

But according to Neinas, Deaton has pulled back in some areas.  PowerMizzou.com — the Rivals site covering the Tigers — reports that MU’s chancellor took part in the recent board of directors meeting but “he recused himself from a certain part based on legal advice from his counsel.”  Neinas would not specify what topic Deaton avoided.

Meanwhile, to the east, messageboards are humming with rumors regarding a new West Virginia-to-the-SEC movement.  But those same boards were filled with ridiculous rumors last week that the Big 12 — a league that can’t seem to get its own ducks in a row — had given WVU a 48-hour window to join the league or else.

Former Mountaineer quarterback Major Harris was quoted yesterday as saying that he was “hearing a little buzz about the SEC” but “that’s just people talking.”  Could that be all it took to spawn the new chatter?  Possibly.

Speaking to a well-positioned source inside an SEC institution today, we have been told — again — that the SEC did not deny WVU’s entry into the league when the school reached out to conference brass last month.  But they weren’t bearhugged as Texas A&M was, either.

WVU remains a fallback choice due to the small population and small number of cable households inside its state borders.  Academics are also an issue with some presidents in the league.

However, if Missouri stays in the Big 12, the rest of the landscape stabilizes, and the SEC faces multiple years as a 13-school league… then WVU might become a lot more attractive.

If that occurs, expect the SEC to tout WVU’s fan passion, similar culture, and its close proximity to Pittsburgh and other major metro areas as part of its spin.

For now — from what we’re hearing — it’s Missouri or bust.  And the SEC isn’t sweating Mizzou’s decision.  West Virginia remains a deep fallback option.  The only other school that our sources continue to mention as a possibility is Florida State.

We trust our sources because they’ve been right in the past and because they’re coming from different areas of the league.  But when it comes to the many variables and politics involved in conference expansion, we wouldn’t be shocked if the SEC announced the addition of North Dakota State this afternoon.

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Expansion By The Numbers 1: Grading Potential SEC Partners

Admit it.  You’re as tired of reading about conference expansion and realignment as we are of writing about it.

It’s a confusing topic.  Half the sports fans and media members out there don’t seem to get it.  They reach for their atlas, look at last year’s bowl results, and trumpet schools that don’t add a dadgum thing to the SEC from a business perspective.  You can’t really blame them, of course.  When you’re sitting on a barstool next to your buddy talking football, do you spend more time talking about wins and losses or cable households and “geographic footprints?”  I know when I’m talking about the AAU with my pals, we’re not discussing the top research schools in North America.

But for those of you who in the last 18 months have come to understand that business factors really are driving this boat, it’s frustrating to hear people say it’s all about wins.  It’s confusing to hear someone on the radio push for 18- or 20-team leagues when the SEC has no desire to take on more than 14 schools.  It’s irritating for someone to claim academics have nothing to do with expansion, when the college presidents who’ll do the final voting in these matters are increasing entrance requirements and cutting down on oversigning, all for the sake of academic reputation.

So we’re going to try and put some hard and fast data together to help explain why School A is probably more attractive to SEC presidents than School B… even though School B might be able to whip School A’s rump on a football field.  We want to take all of those variables that are floating around out there and condense them into one, simple, quick series of posts.  A series of posts that you can use to draw your own conclusions.

Our “Expansion By The Numbers” series is based on some of the same information we used in May 2010′s “Expounding on Expansion” series.  You can go back and read that long piece in full right here.

At the time, the Big Ten had announced that it was looking to expand.  Many felt Jim Delany’s league would get to 16 teams.  As a result, the vast majority of writers put forth Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech as the most likely SEC partners in mega-expansion.  We crunched some numbers — much like the numbers we’ll be crunching this year — for 18 different schools and found that Texas and Texas A&M were far and away the most valuable from a cash perspective, not the four nearby schools that were viewed as “naturals.”  In May 2010, A&M was viewed as a tag-along that the SEC would take if it meant landing Texas.  Our numbers showed that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Eighteen months ago, Missouri wasn’t being mentioned as a potential SEC partner by the mainstream media at all.  But our review suggested they might be an excellent fit.  Turns out, the things we mentioned last year have now turned into key arguments for Mizzou’s potential acceptance into the conference.

And while most still thought the AAU was a summer basketball league, we showed that academics do matter in expansion… even from a financial perspective.

Were we right at every turn?  Nope.  (And we certainly didn’t spend enough time weeding out our typos.)  But our series did put forth some fresh views that have turned out to be right on the mark 18 months later.  That’s thanks to the good sources we spoke to, not our own ability as seers and futurists.  We were told to look here, consider this, investigate that.  We did.  And it turns out the response to our research piece was very positive from other people who have worked inside BCS-level athletic departments.  The categories we broke down were the areas that they say college administrators do consider when deciding on expansion.

This time around, we’ve spoken to more people — ’cause we’ve got more than a year’s worth of new sources — and we’ve decided to add some categories to the mix.  Are these criteria meant to definitively show you which schools the SEC should pursue?  I’m sorry, did I say pursue?  I meant “hope apply for membership.”  (You never know when Kenneth Starr is listening.)  No, this is not meant to say School A should be and will be the SEC’s 14th school.  It’s just meant to provide you with some information.  We’ll draw our own conclusions, but you can blow them off if you like.  We’re not trying to jam anything down anyone’s throat.  While Slive sits on his porch with a glass of whiskey and a cigar, he’s most likely not making notes off our website.

But from the people we’ve spoken to at the television network executive level, the senior management level of a leading media rights group, administrators at SEC institutions, former athletic department officials at BCS-level schools, and a couple of contacts inside the SEC offices… the categories we cover would’ve likely run across Slive’s mind at some point.

Here are the categories we’ll examine and why:

 

1.  Top 40 television markets within 200 miles of a campus — the more new TV households the better

2.  Total state population — the bigger a school’s footprint, the more potential viewers, fans, t-shirt buyers, future students, future alums, and future donors

3.  Proximity to Birmingham — the idea is to grow the league’s footprint when possible, but unlike some leagues, the SEC has shown no desire to go completely cross-country

4.  Fertile recruiting ground — this isn’t a deal-deciding issue, but it’s certainly a supplementary topic that deserves mentioning

5.  Athletic budget — let’s face it, if a school’s not serious about athletics, it doesn’t belong in the SEC

6.  Director’s Cup standings / Bowl and NCAA Tourney bids — it helps for said school to also be competitive in athletics

7.  Football stadium size — this provides a glimpse into a school’s overall quality of facilities as well as to its dedication to the SEC’s #1 sport

8.  Academic Fit / Cultural Fit / Powerhouse Brand — we’ll finish up with bonus points awarded to those schools that best fit the SEC’s existing profile

 

We’ve compared 35 different schools across these categories.  That’s twice as many schools as we examined last year, and frankly, we have no idea what the final tally will show.  You’ll be discovering right along with us.

And if there’s anyone out there — and we know there will be — who thinks we’ve either fixed the numbers to hurt your school’s score or finagled them to help some other school’s mark, think again.  We’ve barely had time to crunch the numbers period.  We certainly haven’t compiled them, ranked them and then tossed a few out for kicks.  We weren’t going to waste our time doing that.

So why 35 schools?  Because we wanted to cover every possible base.  In the last few weeks, we’ve been hounded by East Carolina fans — yes, we’ve all seen the “Undaunted” video by now.  We had to field questions because someone got the wild notion that Navy would be a good fit for the SEC.  Heck, last week even Joe Paterno mentioned rumors/thoughts that Penn State might want to turn east and leave the Big Ten.  So they’re all on our list.

All the schools from the ACC — including Pitt and Syracuse — are included.  All the Big 12 schools are counted (we’ve left Texas A&M in that group just to see how they would’ve stacked up against everyone else).  The six remaining Big East schools are tossed in for good measure.  We’ve also kicked in some oddball choices like Notre Dame and TCU just for kicks.

Will the SEC expand to Connecticut or Navy or Baylor?  No.  But it might be fun to see how they’d measure up against the Texas A&M’s, Missouris, and Florida States of the world.

Finally, it’s important to remember that while we believe that these categories are very important (because people in the business of expansion have told us so), this whole situation is fluid.  One league’s focus on academics might be stronger than another’s.  One league’s concern about television households might be huge today, not so huge tomorrow.

Let me give you an example.  In 1980, George Bush referred to Ronald Reagan’s economic plan as “Voodoo Economics” during the Republican primary campaign.  Bush lost.  But Reagan’s people knew he could provide the state of Texas and some much-needed foreign policy expertise to Reagan’s ticket.  Suddenly, that “Voodoo Economics” thing wasn’t real important anymore.

So how could that apply to the SEC’s situation?  We wrote weeks ago that West Virginia University was unlikely to be a top pick of the SEC because of its so-so academic reputation and the small number of residents and television households inside its state’s borders.  After getting blasted by a few WVU fans for disparaging their school — something we weren’t trying to do — word then leaked out that WVU had approached the SEC (and the ACC) and had been rebuffed.

But things can change.  Let’s say Missouri stays in the Big 12, the ACC remains stable, and next summer the SEC is staring a second-straight 13-team season in the face.  Suddenly, WVU’s #164 ranking among universities and its population of less than two million might not look so bad.

The lesson?  The categories we’re about to discuss matter.  All things being equal, some matter more than others.  But all things are seldom equal.  So instead of saying, “This is all about televisions; count those up and go with the biggest number,” it’s best to take a broader view.  It’s best to look at the whole picture.

We’ve tried to take our biases out of this.  That’s why it’s all about the numbers.  I personally would like to see the league stop at 14 schools and happily that’s what I’ve been told Slive wants to do.  But if the SEC went to 16, I’d like to see the following brought in: Texas A&M (it really was a perfect fit), Notre Dame (biggest brand in the country and who wouldn’t want to see the Irish come to town), Georgia Tech (an old school pick because I love the SEC history, Buckhead and The Varsity), and Virginia Tech (it’s Texas A&M to the east).

But Notre Dame’s a non-starter and Georgia Tech brings nothing new to the table (I suspect).  What I would like to see has no bearing on this series.  It’s all about the business.  And the business of television is a key force in expansionpalooza.  That’s where Part 2 will pick up next.

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SEC, Texas A&M, And Other Expansion Headlines

Just a few headlines for you on this Tuesday morning…

1.  Here’s a transcript of Mike Slive’s Q&A with the media on Monday night.  (Highlights — The SEC has received no assurances that Baylor won’t sue… the SEC isn’t racing to find School #14, etc, etc.)

2.  Mike Slive says the addition of A&M will allow the SEC to renegotiate its television contracts.

3.  Prior to Slive’s Q&A, Aggie brass held what amounted to an SEC-A&M “marriage” ceremony in College Station.

4.  Here’s more on the celebration, complete with a video clip or two.

5.  Gotta make room on the SEC’s old banner/wheel logo for the Aggies.

6.  Big 12 coaches weighed in on A&M’s move Monday.

7.  Here’s more reaction from coaches and ex-players from across the country.

8.  This writer says the Big 12 is the best fit for Missouri.

9.  MU chancellor Brady Deaton probably realizes by now that the Big 12 is down to four AAU members while the SEC has three.  In other words, Mizzou could make the SEC more academically reputable than the Big 12 simply by moving.

10.  Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel isn’t backing of his criticisms of the Big 12 which puts more pressure on Deaton and MU administration.  For all the writers who say the Tigers should play chicken and avoid the SEC, it’s interesting that their coach seems to have a totally different view.

11.  This writer says Texas was more interested in the ACC than the Pac-12… and that UT had zero interest in the SEC or Big Ten.  (Last summer, however, Texas and Big Ten officials were caught exchanging emails.  Where was Kenneth Starr then?)

12.  Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference are considering a merger in football in the hopes of landing a BCS bid.

13.  The governor of Connecticut says UConn wants into the ACC… but it looks like that league is waiting to see what other leagues do before expanding to 16 teams.

14.  Don’t miss our breakdown of how a 13-team SEC schedule might look next year.  (It ain’t real pretty.)

15.  And finally, former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen thinks the Mountaineers still have a shot at landing in the SEC.  Unfortunately, he also says he can’t understand why the ACC picked Syracuse and Pitt over WVU when those schools “can’t bring 5,000 to a (road football) game.”  That statement shows that he fails to grasp what expansion is really about.

For those who haven’t read our take before — and it’s a take shaped by the input of SEC sources and one senior television network executive — WVU is a good fit with the SEC in terms of athletics and fan culture.  It’s a bad fit in terms of population, television households and academics.  The SEC is no doubt keeping WVU’s application on file, but the fact they didn’t jump at it tells you all you need to know.  Sadly, the Mountaineers are a fallback choice and nothing more.

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SEC Headlines – 9/22/11 Part Two

1.  So much for getting clearance… juco transfer receiver Duron Carter will sit out the entire season at Alabama with an academic issue.  (He’ll have two years of eligibility with Bama.)

2.  Bama’s defenders will be looking to harass Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson on Saturday.

3.  Here’s an excellent, in-depth, must-read breakdown of Alabama’s defense with some help from Nick Saban himself.

4.  Ya know who’s to blame or Auburn’s struggles this year?  AD Jay Jacobs suggests Tommy Tuberville.

5.  Auburn cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley is getting back to basics with his troops.

6.  Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette is making progress from a hamstring injury, but it’s still not known if he’ll play this weekend.

7.  Razorback receivers will have to stand up to the intimidating style of Bama’s defensive backs.

8.  Les Miles believes his team will be at full strength health-wise Saturday at West Virginia.

9.  The Tiger offense is trying to prepare for WVU’s complex 3-3-5 scheme.

10.  Four alleged victims and several witnesses from a Baton Rouge bar fight testified before a grand jury looking into the charges against Jordan Jefferson and Josh Johns.

11.  Ole Miss is trimming the ol’ playbook with Georgia coming to town.

12.  Barry Brunetti and Enrique Davis could possibly see some work for the Rebels on Saturday.

13.  UM’s poor offensive production puts an extra strain on the team’s defense.

14.  As its O-line goes, so goes Mississippi State’s football team.

15.  Kaleb Eulls is making noise for the Bulldogs from his defensive end spot.

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Miles Wouldn’t Mind Playing In Front Of Beer-Fueled Tiger Fans

Saturday night, Les Miles will take his unbeaten LSU Tigers into Morgantown, West Virginia for a battle with the Mountaineers.  WVU fans have a reputation for being as loud and rowdy as Tiger fans down on The Bayou.  This week — since their application for SEC membership was placed on the bottom of the Mike Slive’s pile — they might provide even more volume than usual. 

And speaking of volume, for the first time, WVU is selling beer at home games this season.  So by volume, a lot of suds will likely be consumed by the time kickoff rolls around.  Verdict: It could be a very hostile night for LSU at the end of West Virginia’s country roads.

Miles was asked what might happen if LSU were to follow WVU’s lead and start selling beer at Tiger Stadium:


“If they serve beer in Tiger Stadium, I fear that the upper decks might not hold it.  I certainly want to be politically correct and not be against serving beer in Tiger Stadium.  Certainly the athletic director and the chancellor would have to make that decision.  But I promis you, we would enjoy playing in front of a Tiger Stadium that occasionally had a beer.”


And that might not be outside the realm of possibility.  In July it was announced that LSU would be partnering with a Baton Rouge brewery to produce an LSU-branded blonde ale.

Our thoughts?  The V-Roys and Bluto sum ‘em up…



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OU Might Stay In The Big 12; How That Could Impact The SEC

I’ll be darned.  After all this there’s still a chance that the Big 12 could be saved.  All that has to happen is for Oklahoma to be treated like the king of the conference instead of Texas.  At least for a day or two.

Not even Captain Chaos could keep up with all this expansion nonsense.

A source has told The Oklahoman that OU brass will consider staying in the Big 12 – and saving that league — if Texas’ Longhorn Network is reeled in a bit and if commissioner Dan Beebe is whacked.  Well, not whacked, but they do want him fired.  You get the point.

“It’s going to take major, major reforms” for OU (and Oklahoma State) to stick around, according to the source.

That source also suggested that OU might ask for Texas to share a bit of its Longhorn Network loot with its conference partners.  Wow.

So OU’s going full-Texas with a list of its own demands.  How funny that UT is having to take orders from someone else for a change.  Kudos to Oklahoma for following Texas A&M’s lead and standing up for itself.

Speaking of A&M, the Aggies are saying they’re gone from the Big 12 no matter what.  OSU booster T. Boone Pickens tried to goad the school and Texas governor Rick Perry — an A&M alum — into sticking around, but an Aggie spokesman said: “Texas A&M has made our intentions perfectly clear.  We do not intend to be a member of the Big 12 past this season.”  Another school official said, “We are gone.”

If the Big 12 holds together, you can scratch Missouri from the list of SEC possibilities.  Where that leaves the league is anyone’s guess.

The ACC appears to be gaining strength and if the SEC had the ability to grab a school from that league it likely would have done so before playing footsie with Mizzou.

So if the Big 12 is saved, the SEC could be forced to remain a 13-school league for a while… which is a horrible scenario.  That or suddenly West Virginia could come back into play.  (We’re guessing the Mountaineers were gently rebuffed rather than out-and-out rejected by the SEC.  Never burn a bridge.)

But who knows if WVU would even be available should the SEC need it.  Representatives of the remaining football-playing members of the Big East will meet tonight to discuss the state of their crumbling conference.

It’s quite likely the SEC could offer WVU enough money to make it back out of any rebuilt Big East, but if that league puts in some sort of outrageous exit fee, who knows?

Bottom line: We don’t believe any deals are done when it comes to SEC expansion (with the exception of A&M).

For the time being, the only things we can be sure of are these five points:


1.  The ACC acted strongly and swiftly to upgrade its league and bring in more television viewers.

2.  The Pac-12 has already made more money than anyone dreamed without having adding Texas, Oklahoma and the rest.  And don’t rule this out — it’s possible OU is considering staying in the Big 12 because the Pac-12′s presidents aren’t in favor of expanding.

3.  The Big 12 is still in trouble.

4.  The Big East is in even more trouble depending on the future invasion plans of the ACC and the Big Ten.

5.  The SEC continues to play the nice guy role, owned at every turn by Baylor president Kenneth Starr.  History suggests Slive’s conference could still turn some heads with a couple of surprising, deft moves.  But as of right this instant, the SEC looks like a 13-school league that’s scared of litigation and incapable of luring in any “big name” expansion candidates other than Texas A&M.

But that could change.

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