If Big Ten Expands Will SEC Follow? Ranking the Expansion Candidates
Over the weekend the Chicago Tribune reported the Big Ten could make a move on conference expansion as soon as June of this year. Now the big question becomes whether the conference will choose to add one, three, or even, amazingly, five teams to its existing 11- team conference. As the Tribune reported:, "I don't think 16 is scaring anyone off, as long as you can find (five) that are a good enough fit," said one source who has been consulted during the exploratory phase. "They're looking long-term, across the horizon. What gives them the best shot at keeping value at a high level?"
At FanHouse, we've ranked the Big Ten expansion candidates already, but what we haven't considered at all is the shockwave the Big Ten's expansion would send reverberating throughout the rest of the college football universe. Namely, the Big Ten's move could bring about the end of two of the six BCS conferences: the Big 12 and the Big East. Suddenly those conferences would experience a run on their desirable members and, by the time the conference expansion dust settled, there might be four expanded mega-conferences and nothing else: the Big Ten, the SEC, the ACC and the Pac-10.
As the conference dominoes prepare to fall, it's time to look at how the SEC would respond to the Big Ten's expansion and, in particular, which teams the conference would consider adding in an effort to keep up in the cold war arms race between America's two premier conferences. So let's dive in with expansion possibilities for a 14-team SEC and a 16- team SEC.
First, a few preliminaries to set the scene. Recall that the last two teams added to the SEC were South Carolina and Arkansas. Geographically, culturally and fan-base wise, both made sense. Each school also ranks in the top 27 in athletic department size, so they're spending the money necessary to be competitive at the top of the college athletics world. But in terms of dollars gained by the conference as a whole, that is, providing a rich television market or a new frontier to expand the SEC brand, neither school advanced the conference's interest that substantially. Both schools are regional powers lacking top-fifty television markets entirely within their state footprints. As a general rule, future conference expansion is likely to be driven by television--witness Boston College joining the ACC-- more than by cultural connection since television rights fees are the highest growth properties from a business perspective..
Second, we have to assume that no existing conference member will be booted from the SEC. That should make people at Mississippi and Mississippi State very happy. Because these Magnolia State schools are by far the weakest link in the SEC in terms of television markets and the overall size of the athletic departments. Some numbers for you? Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the 65th and 68th largest athletic departments in the country with 2009 revenues of $34 million and $30 million, respectively. Putting that into context Vanderbilt's athletic department had revenue of $45 million in 2009 and Florida, the tops in the SEC, brought in $106 million. Nine of the 12 SEC schools ranked in the top 27 athletic departments in the country. You can view all of the FBS revenue figures here. Why do I mention this? Because if college conferences were making a purely business decision, cutting teams would be on the board as much as adding them. But that's off the table, so we're only talking about addition.
Third, look to the television markets, stupid! Here's a breakdown of television markets with the colleges located inside those markets' borders. Some of these cities feature teams that really don't bring much in terms of viewership. For instance, Temple in Philadelphia or San Diego State in San Diego, wouldn't move the dial in those cities, but as a generally instructive tool, it's valuable to consider how a school's addition might increase television revenue. Right now the SEC would have large fan bases in these top 30 markets: Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Nashville. (Does the Florida Gator prominence on national television make more sense now? The Gators are by far the most valuable team in the SEC from a television perspective). Keep in mind these markets as we move forward in our breakdown. The SEC and the Big Ten are going to be intent on claiming as many of these big cities as possible because of potential viewership..
Fourth, the Big 12 and Big East are going to crumble as viable football conferences beginning with the Big Ten's raid, and their teams are going to be most likely to join other conferences. Assume that all Big Ten and Pac-10 teams are off the table, and that only selective ACC teams could be pried away.
Okay, here goes with my 10 hypothetical additions. I've ranked them in order of benefit to the conference. Feel free to play along and construct your own league.
Expansion to 14 (The SEC Adds Two Teams):
1. Texas and Texas A&M
Looking at the television markets and the athletic department revenues, the SEC's top target has to be Texas. In 2009, Texas was the largest athletic department in the country, at $120 million in revenue. Texas A&M was the 21st largest. Adding these two teams would give the SEC 11 of the 27 largest athletic departments in the country according to 2009 figures. The next closest, currently the Big Ten, would have six teams in the top 27.
What's more, you gain the Houston and Dallas television markets, two of the top ten in the country, as well as San Antonio and Austin. That's two more in the top 50.
There was a lot of talk about whether the Texas state legislature would allow Texas to join the Big Ten when reports surfaced that the Big Ten was looking at Texas. But here's the deal: By taking the two top football programs in the state, you'd win enough political support to allow the move.
Sure Texas Tech and Baylor fans would be steamed, but they don't have the political capital to overcome a move that Longhorn and Aggie fans would support.
Culturally, this would be a perfect fit. These schools belong in the SEC already.
Adding these two would be a home run for the SEC and, given the continued growth in the Sun Belt regions, demonstrate that the conference would be tops in the nation for decades to come.
2. Miami and Florida State
The SEC would own the state of Florida and no other conference would have any entrance into the market. (South Florida and Central Florida don't count.) Already the Gators are the biggest draw in the state, but locking down Florida State and Miami would ensure that the SEC's biggest state is locked down. Florida is more than twice as big in terms of population than Georgia, the next largest state in the SEC..
Plus, you'd add two schools that have major football bona fides in the country.
But, and this may qualify as the most surprising stat in the article, Vanderbilt had more athletic department revenue in 2009 than either Florida State or Miami.
Red flag as to the strengths of these programs in the competitive SEC?
3. Texas and Oklahoma
To hell with hewing to the state of Texas legislature's will, why not go ahead and snag both crown jewels in the Big 12's arsenal -- Texas and Oklahoma? Both schools fit the culture of the SEC and fit geographically, you'd get an awful lot of the Texas television benefit even if you left behind the Aggies, you'd add two of the top 17 largest athletic departments in the country and you'd get one of college football's best rivalries to boot.
Could it happen?
Should it happen?
4. Texas and Miami/Florida State
All of the benefits of the above mergers, but with the added benefit of a nice fit for the SEC East and SEC West divisions. If keeping the divisions geographically sound is the goal, Texas easily slots into the SEC West and the additional Florida school fits nicely into the SEC East. You'd lose a rotating opponent because each school would now play six division games, one rival, and one rotating school, but you'd more than make up for that in revenue.
What you're seeing here is that the addition of Texas to the SEC is invaluable, worth hundreds of millions of dollars in added revenue over the next couple of decades solely based on the value of the Texas television market.
I would love to see an actual analysis of the economic benefit of Texas.
5. Virginia and Virginia Tech
Another political move. Snagging both schools in the state would be possible when taking only one would not. Recall that then-Governor Mark Warner basically insisted that Virginia Tech be included in any ACC expansion. So you'd make a run at both schools to keep everyone politically happy.
Culturally, both schools would fit. The athletic departments rank in the top 37 in the country, and the state of Virginia would bring a solid addition to the SEC's television network while simultaneously weakening the ACC's position. You'd reach into the Washington, D.C., media market, the nation's seventh largest, while adding the third-biggest state to the SEC footprint and not scaring away the other teams in the SEC over the strength of the programs.
Suddenly Maryland, and particularly Boston College, would look isolated on the eastern seaboard and the SEC would have grown geographically while maintaining the SEC connection.
Expanding to 16 teams
1. Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Nebraska
Voila, a sixteen team conference whose future would be so bright that all in the immediate vicinity of the conference would have to shield their eyes lest they be blinded.
You take the four traditional powers of the Southwest region and combine them with the Southeast's behemoths. You get the Texas television market, and the college football cachet of Oklahoma and Nebraska. Arkansas is reunited with its old foes in the Southwest Conference and a reconfigured SEC West now includes the four above teams with Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama.
Then you could switch Auburn and Mississippi State to the SEC East. You're talking about an SEC East that would feature Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Auburn?
And an SEC West with Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and LSU?
Good Lord, this conference might be so powerful that it could set up its own playoff featuring its own schools and crown a national champion each year.
2. Texas, Texas A&M, Miami and Florida State
Just barely second to the top four teams from the Big 12, these four teams would offer easy transitions within the existing divisional format. Slot both Florida schools into the SEC East and both Texas schools into the SEC West.
If you own the state of Texas and you own the state of Florida, you ain't losing too many football games.
And everybody is going to be rich as hell.
3. Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech
Texas legislature too persnickety to allow the departure of two Texas teams from the Big 12?
Why not go ahead and snag all four Texas schools and ensure that the SEC owns the state of Texas for all eternity by taking the Big 12's Texas properties?
Sure, Baylor and Texas Tech aren't really sexy properties. Isn'tt the state of Texas worth it? Especially since Baylor and Texas Tech have more athletic department revenue than either of your Mississippi schools.
Don't you think the SEC schools would like to recruit the state of Texas football players with the top four schools in the state firmly allied with the conference? Don't you think the crazy football fans of Texas would love to be playing the SEC schools?
Yes and yes.
4. Virginia Tech, Virginia, Miami and Florida State
Also known as the destroy the ACC move.
College sports is big business and the ACC didn't show much compassion when it raided the Big East for Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami.
Why should the SEC show any compassion when it can go out and destroy the ACC, the SEC's only regional foe in the South, for decades to come? Bump Tennessee and Georgia to the SEC West and add these four teams to the SEC East and you've created another conference behemoth while further solidifying your position in the South.
The ACC would be left scrambling for the likes of West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida to remain viable.
5. Memphis, Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati
A reactionary move by the SEC should the ACC and Big 12 fend off advances. These are geographically connected regions that would allow you to place a flag in the Big Ten's backyard with Cincinnati, add two decent-sized cities in Louisville and Memphis and bring in West Virginia, which culturally should be in the SEC.
But is the expansion really worth it?
Memphis and Louisville are already SEC markets, Cincinnati's football future is uncertain and West Virginia brings little in the way of television markets.
This would be the weakest possible expansion for the league.
Think any of these make sense? Have your own theories? Let us know.
In the meantime, know this: Once the Big Ten makes an aggressive move toward expansion, the SEC is not going to be far behind.