Slive, a practicing attorney for many years, answered the question as only a lawyer can.
"Let me try to answer that in a way that's consistent with our contractual obligations," Slive said. "There are confidentiality clauses in almost all of these contracts. Having said that, it's not unusual in a contract to have a clause that talks about the composition of the league, what it is at the start and then what might happen if the league were to get smaller or grow larger."
Then he laughed. "You can figure that out," Slive said, "That's a Casey Stengel kind of answer."
SEC Basketball: Calipari Peeved by Bledsoe Question
Parsing that language, limited as it is by contractual confidentiality provisions, it appears clear the SEC would, in fact, receive more money from its television partners in the event the league chose to expand.
That's tremendously important, and I'll tell you why. But first, if you're so inclined, you can listen to Commissioner Slive's eight minute interview that aired on our station by clicking here.
My favorite line from our interview: Slive dismissing my suggestion that having a legal background offers much help as the commissioner of a league. "There's an old saying," Slive said. "Anyone who represents themselves has a fool for a client."
Whether expansion would lead to an increase in television revenue was never a question for the Big Ten since the primary driving force behind the television revenue for the Big Ten is its own network. As soon as the Big Ten expands, it adds television markets and with those markets comes more revenue payments for cable networks that carry the Big Ten on their channel lineup. (The higher up on the pecking order in the channel lineup the Big Ten can move, the more revenue it receives as payment for being carried.) The result? Big Ten expansion is likely to be immediately revenue positive for the league.
That's why Big Ten expansion is, from a business perspective, a no-brainer.
But the SEC's position has been more uncertain.
That's because the league has a 15-year contract with CBS and ESPN and, until now, no one has explored whether television revenue would increase in the event of SEC expansion. If television revenue would not grow, then it would be hard for the SEC to expand because any expansion would dilute the amount of payments each school would receive from the league. But thanks to Slive's answer, in combination with the fact that he's too damn smart not to protect the league in the event of expansion and the fact that CBS and ESPN are too damn smart not to protect themselves in the event of league contraction, we can now be virtually certain those two networks would pay more money to the SEC in the event of league expansion (and less in the incredibly unlikely event of contraction).
How much more?
Well, that remains unclear to anyone who hasn't read actual contract.
That's a question that may not be answered until (if) the SEC chooses to expand.
What is now clear is whether the SEC will act to expand before the Big Ten.
That answer is no.
"Given our success over the past decade," said Slive, "we're very comfortable where we are. For obvious reasons. But having said that, if there's a significant paradigm shift in conferences, we will be thoughtful and strategic in maintaining the fact that we're one of the best leagues in the country."
In Slive's terminology, a "significant paradigm shift" is the Big Ten expanding. Now, what remains unclear is how much of an expansion represents a paradigm shift.
Slive then unpacked some of his own language, "When people say to me, what do you mean by a significant paradigm shift, I say to them, 'Well, I'm not sure I know today, but I'll know it when I see it, like Justice Potter Stewart once said in the Supreme Court (regarding the definition of obscenity)."
"Not to compare the two (expansion and obscenity)," Slive quickly interjected.
We can surmise that a significant paradigm shift, one Slive knows when he sees it, would require a Big Ten expansion to 14 or 16 members. Why? Because if the Big Ten only expanded by one member, to 12, it would merely equalize the SEC's paramount position and not represent an altering of the collegiate landscape.
Only by going to 14 or 16 will the Big Ten's punch provoke a counterpunch from the mild-mannered Slive.
Immediately upon ending our conversation, the media converged upon Slive, the small white-haired man at the center of the college football storm. Slive repeated his talking points, grinning slightly, eyes shrinking up occasionally in great thought.
In a hotel placed firmly upon the sunny beaches of Florida, you couldn't help but get the sense that Mike Slive was playing chess while the rest of us were playing Uno.