If Texas A&M Is SEC's Lucky No. 13, Who's No. 14?
Let me be the first to suggest that SEC commissioner Mike Slive show up at the announcement ceremony and stand behind a large curtain, like the Wizard of College Football Oz. A&M's athletic director, Bill Byrne, should sit down at a table with three hats representing the Big 12, the SEC and the Pac-10 on a table in front of him (this was suggested to me by a follower on Twitter). After a fake reach in the direction of the Pac-10, the president of A&M should put on the SEC hat and Slive should ride out on a white horse with a 10-gallon hat atop his head. Slive should also be wearing a six-shooter on his holster. When he arrives at the table, he should pull the trigger on his six-shooter and have the SEC's offer of conference affiliation pop out.
Assuming it happens, the SEC's expansion to 13 teams raises several interesting questions that we will dive into throughout the week. First, and driving the most interest in all the conversation henceforth, will be this question: Who would the SEC add as a 14th member?
The second most prominent question is if the SEC added a 14th member, would it expand further and get to 16?
I don't think 16 is in the cards right now and I'll write why later this week. (Hint, it has to do with the fact that the Pac-16 will eventually collapse).
So for now let's focus on what school should be the SEC's 14th team.
I'm ranking these teams in the order I think makes the most sense.
You talk about suing for peace? If A&M bolts for the SEC and Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and likely A&M replacement Kansas all leave for the Pac-16, Missouri is screwed.
Maybe the most screwed team in the annals of major college athletics.
With the remaining "Big 12" schools of Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri, you tell me which conference in America is salivating for any of those as a package.
Even Conference USA is turning up its nose at some of them.
Would Iowa State even get an offer to the Mountain West?
My point: Missouri is the best of an otherwise putrid lot.
What's more, the Tigers bring several major, if unconventional, assets.
a. A solid television presence in a new market
St. Louis is the 21st largest television market in the country. That would be the fifth largest current media market for the SEC. But that's just part of it. The state of Missouri, which the Tigers dominate unlike any other available state university -- that is, there is no fungible alternative at the collegiate level within the state borders -- would also be the fifth largest state in the SEC behind Texas, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
It's nearly six million residents are an untapped market.
With Missouri you'd also get a significant reach into the Kansas City media market.
b. The Tigers aren't very good at football, at least traditionally, and don't infringe on anyone's territory
This means the addition of Missouri wouldn't anger anyone in the conference. Can the same be said of Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson or Miami?
That's a big deal given that Slive has said time and time again that one of the things he most loves about the SEC, a conference with $50 annual membership dues and no buyout should a team depart, is the collegiality among the members.
Many fans focus on the strength of the teams as a determinative factor. Actually, in a league as competitive as the SEC, adding teams is likely to make some teams uneasy because many feel the league is already tough enough. But adding Missouri, especially in football, doesn't really alter the balance of power in the conference because none of the traditional powers will see the Tigers as a threat.
Add up these factors and Missouri offers the best profile for number 14.
2. Virginia Tech
Starry-eyed SEC fans who have never lived in Washington, D.C., constantly e-mail me pointing out that Tech would "bring the D.C. television market to the SEC."
I lived in D.C. for four years and let me tell you something: Tech may not even be in the top 10 for most covered teams in the region. I doubt whether the addition of Tech even moves the meter in D.C. In college sports coverage alone, Tech falls behind Maryland, Georgetown, Virginia, George Washington and George Mason.
Toss in the Washington Redskins, the Wizards, the newly resurgent Nationals behind Stephen Strasburg and the Baltimore Orioles, and you're seeing the low man on the totem pole. It's Tech. Being in the ACC has raised Tech's visibility in that area. The Washington Post even has a beat writer stationed in Blacksburg. But it won't ever be the big dog in that market.
The Hokies aren't covered less than those other teams in the D.C. market because the D.C. media is biased against them, it's because they don't move the ratings meter locally.
Plus, Tech isn't even that close to D.C. Don't believe me? Blacksburg is a half-hour closer to Knoxville, Tenn., than it is to Washington. And it's not close to either.
I've been to Blacksburg several times. It's a beautiful location, nestled in the middle of the New River Valley.
But it's remote. Like, Fayetteville, Ark., remote.
As if that wasn't enough, D.C. media coverage tends to extend north, along the East Coast since Washington, due to its population, is much more of an east coast city than it is a southern one.
Virginia Tech doesn't bring much in the way of the D.C. media market.
True, adding Virginia Tech would bring in the 12th largest state in the country to the SEC and leave North Carolina, the 10th largest, as the only former state of the Confederacy not represented in the SEC. But the latter isn't necessarily a noble factor and Tech doesn't translate in large percentages of households outside of the Southwestern part of the state.
Finally, unlike Missouri, it's the second richest team in the state, ranking just 37th overall in athletic revenue. The Tigers have no competition in state. I think Tech would come, I just don't think it deserves an offer over Missouri. Especially considering that this would be Tech's third football conference in less than 20 years.
3. Florida State
The Seminoles would be the top pick if adding the best available football program was the goal. Plus, they allow the SEC to remain in an East/West conference division without moving any teams from one division to another. (Moving teams is something we'll discuss later this week).
But adding the best football team isn't the sole determining factor because of the territorial issues discussed above. Slive wants to maintain a collegial environment in his league. As if that conflict wasn't enough, there is a real debate about what strength the Seminoles bring in the television market.
Are Florida State fans really avoiding watching the SEC games as is? Many believe their fans are already watching. Would the Seminoles really bring many more eyeballs to the conference? That's debatable.
On the flip side, Florida is the SEC's territorial jewel and taking the two top programs in the state goes a long way toward shutting off the state for the SEC.
As if that weren't enough, some SEC schools may push for the addition of the Seminoles in an effort to undercut Florida coach Urban Meyer's ownership of the most talent-rich state in the SEC. Rival schools need the Gators' recruiting strength to decline and there's a school of thought that making Meyer compete for recruits with another Florida SEC power, either Florida State or Miami, would weaken the Gators enough to make a hard push for the Seminoles worthwhile.
Florida State fits the SEC formula: large, powerful state schools with a passionate following. But the Seminoles have to overcome the opposition of the Gators to make their way into the SEC.
That seems unlikely.
4. Georgia Tech
I know, I know, the Georgia Bulldogs already dominate the city of Atlanta, and Georgia Tech already made the idiotic decision to drop out of the SEC. But Atlanta is the largest market in the SEC. Booting the ACC entirely out of the city makes some sense because even if Georgia Tech only snags a quarter of the college football rooting interest in Atlanta that Georgia does, those numbers are still a valuable prize.
Not only does the SEC add, but it subtracts from the ACC, the only rival the SEC has in its own conference footprint.
There's a school of thought that the SEC could go to 16 by taking on the southernmost ACC schools -- Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech and Clemson. Doing so would force the ACC north and would mean that the SEC owned the most fertile, passionate and committed viewers in the country by itself. Not to mention it would force the ACC to sign on Louisville, West Virginia, Syracuse and whoever else it could pry away from the Big East.
I think Clemson is the worst of these options and I've not even included it in my top six most likely additions because South Carolina already gives you the state market. But each of these ACC schools comes with preexisting rivalry baggage with an existing SEC school. In other words, it might take selecting multiple state rivals into the conference rather than picking only one. That way Georgia, Florida and South Carolina would all feel as if they weren't alone in taking on new-found rivals as competition. Or, conversely, taking on multiple teams might be impossible since the SEC requires nine president votes to expand and those three schools could oppose any expansion that added rivals to the conference. Then those three schools could woo away another team to block Slive's move.
I think that's unlikely because Slive would know the votes before he pursued any acquisitions, but it's still interesting to think about.
Regardless, Georgia Tech's assets in the television market have to make it the top target after Florida State.
Every SEC school wants into the Miami recruiting pipeline.
There's a school of debate that adding Miami would open up that pipeline even more. Of course, there's another school of debate that allowing Miami into the SEC shuts that pipeline down since SEC coaches could no longer sell prospects on the need to leave behind their home city to play the best football competition in the country.
Miami's also a small, private school with a limited fan base. The only private school in the conference now is Vanderbilt. But Miami is nowhere near the academic institution that Vanderbilt is. Given that Miami fans are fickle when the Hurricanes aren't very good, and that there are tons of Florida Gator fans in Miami already, many wonder whether the 'Canes bring much to the table in terms of increased interest in the SEC.
I think that's a valid concern, but the Miami program, the recruits, the continuing growth of South Florida, the fact that Gainesville and Miami are 350 miles apart and the television market conspire to still make "the U" an attractive candidate.
6. N.C. State
The University of North Carolina isn't coming to the SEC.
Stop e-mailing me about this.
The only reason I included N.C. State on this list was so people stopped e-mailing me about the North Carolina move. Here's why UNC isn't coming: The four North Carolina schools -- UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and N.C. State -- are wedded together via basketball.
Duke and North Carolina would never move. In fact, those schools actually voted against the ACC expanding when Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech were added to the conference. So there's no way they join a weaker academic conference. UNC is tied to those schools culturally. While you're right that basketball doesn't drive the college athletics revenue, it is a cultural touchstone in the state.
Plus, under Butch Davis the Tar Heels appear on the verge of turning the football corner.
UNC has no reason to move.
So why is N.C. State listed?
Because of the similarities State shares with Texas A&M. Only State is in worse shape because the other three ACC schools in the state are all better known and more successful than State.
Could State succeed in the SEC?
But would State have a better chance of success in the SEC just because it would finally have an object of differentiation from the other three ACC schools?
That makes State an intriguing idea, but, likely to remain that, just an idea.
If the SEC goes to 14, you can pretty much guarantee, barring an Oklahoma Sooner surprise, that it's one of these six schools.