Which schools would be targets for (unexpected) SEC expansion?
Before the basketball scandal broke out I thought Arizona could be a great target. They have a good basketball team (for now) and the football team looks poised to do better with the addition of Kevin Sumlin. Financially the SEC would grab the Phoenix market and potentially Southern California. Is Arizona too west and is the basketball baggage too heavy? Other possible western candidates could be Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Okie State, etc.
To add to my bevy of questions, do you think the future of the SEC is west or northeast? Could we penetrate ACC rich North Carolina and Virginia?
– Nickolas W. King
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always loved this parlor game. So I’m very happy to entertain your question — but that’s all it really is, entertainment. There appears to be no major conference realignment decisions on the horizon.
The SEC is too strong financially for anyone to want to leave. Ditto for the Big Ten. The ACC appeared ripe for the picking, but its schools entered the grant of rights deal a few years ago, making it really hard for anyone to leave until at least 2036. And with the coming ACC Network, the conference’s schools should be on sound economic footing.
The schools that always struck me as the most plausible fits for the SEC were Virginia Tech and one of the North Carolina schools, probably N.C. State. Those are schools, especially Virginia Tech, that would be better cultural fits for the football-first SEC. So would Clemson and Florida State, but those would be harder sells for the SEC schools in their states. Virginia Tech and North Carolina would expand the SEC’s footprint.
But it’s also fantasy at this point because of the grant of rights deal. And I would look at the Pac-12 the same way. I see what you’re saying about Arizona, but that’s a real stretch geographically.
The lone remaining Power 5 conference, on the other hand …
The Big 12 also has a grant of rights deal, but it only goes through 2025. And the conference’s schools, other than Texas, aren’t in as great of shape economically. The creation of the Longhorn Network set up Texas as an economic behemoth, which left animosity that remains. It can’t happen in the next three years, but as 2025 nears I could see the Big 12 being ripe for the plucking.
Let’s say you’re the SEC and you want to expand to 16 teams. Realistically, you have two pools of possibilities:
- Group of 5 schools (listed in my own order of strength of résumé): Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Houston, East Carolina, Appalachian State, New Mexico, Hawaii (slightly out of SEC footprint but think of the road trips!).
- Big 12 schools.
If you’re the SEC, rich and successful and happy, you don’t need to add a school just for the sake of it. You add a school that brings most everything to the table — athletically, academically and economically. And yes, geography helps, too.
None of those Group of 5 schools make much sense, unless the SEC and its existing in-state schools are OK adding UCF, Memphis or Houston. There could be a case for Cincinnati, which is only an hour from Kentucky, but academically it might not be a strong fit.
The Big 12 is the most likely target. If you go big or go home, you target Texas. But the entire reason Texas A&M is in the SEC is the acrimony with the Longhorns, so that would be a major hurdle. Oklahoma is the next big fish, but would you also have to take Oklahoma State … and would you be OK with that? Maybe you would.
Maybe you go grab TCU and get the Dallas market, since Texas A&M is closer to Houston.
I’ve always kind of liked the idea of Kansas, which has a major national following and would give the SEC a second basketball blue blood to go with Kentucky. Yes, the Jayhawks stink in football, but they would just be one of 16 schools. It’s a good academic school, and is Southern enough to make some geographic sense.
West Virginia also would expand the footprint, and is good enough in football and basketball. It also doesn’t make geographic sense in the Big 12. But West Virginia is not a major market and the academics aren’t strong. Realistically, if the SEC really wanted West Virginia it probably could have had it already.
Anyway, this is very much a fun parlor game, but almost certainly several years from having any basis in reality. Sadly, it also appears, is the idea of Auburn moving to the SEC East, which as I’ve written before makes sense on a number of levels.
But good news: It’s now spring, and Auburn-to-the-SEC East now comes up every spring, so get ready!
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