“Wait and see.”
That’s the approach everyone seems to be taking when it comes to the idea of conference expansion.
Fans and media aren’t taking a wait and see approach. They’re way out ahead of things… to the point of looking pretty foolish everytime another “report” turns out to be nothing more than incorrect speculation.
But the folks actually involved in possible conference expansion — university presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners, etc — well they are taking their time. Everyone seems to be waiting for the Big Ten to make it’s Big Move.
That includes the Southeastern Conference.
Down south we like to think of the SEC as the juggernaut to end all juggernauts. And it is pretty close to being that. But as we continue this series over the next few days (it’ll be a multi-parter), we’ll show why the Big Ten actually has more chips on the table right now than your beloved local league.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive made it clear a few weeks ago that his league would be ready to move if forced. To paraphrase him, the conference plans to maintain its perch near the top of the college sports world.
But I would suggest to you — and to the commissioner — that the movers and shakers in the SEC had best be figuring, factoring and planning for the future right now. They shouldn’t be waiting around for the Big Ten to tip over the first domino.
That doesn’t mean the league should rush out and grab up the first two or four schools it can find. Heck, it doesn’t mean that the league should expand at all.
What it means is that the SEC power-brokers should be doing their research this instant. Reports should be drawn up. Outside companies should be hired to give analysis. Behind-closed-doors phone calls should be placed.
The SEC’s decision-makers should be considering every school in the United States as a potential dance partner. If there are schools out there that the SEC feels would be of help to them, then they shouldn’t wait for the Big Ten to snap them up.
And if the SEC feels that one league moving to 16 teams does NOT shift the balance of power in college athletics too far toward that new behemoth league, then it should do nothing.
Either way, the Southeastern Conference should do what it usually does — lead the way. It should act rather than react.
Waiting for the Big Ten to announce its plans could leave the SEC without a dance partner when the music stops.
Let’s say that the Big Ten does max out as a 16-team super-conference. Let’s say they grab Missouri and Nebraska from the Big 12 and Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh from the Big East, as has been much speculated.
That leaves the Big 12 in a precarious spot. But already that league’s leaders have held meetings with their counterparts in the Pac-10 to discuss a possible partnership. That’s not a merger, mind you, but a partnership. The two leagues’ schools would play more often. The television rights for both conferences would be negotiated together as part of one massive deal.
Perhaps Utah and TCU would be added to the mix, as well.
If that were the case, a television network would be able to secure the rights to 22 schools’ games in one swoop by dealing with a Big 12 / Pac-10 consortium. That network would be able to effectively control college sports west of the Mississippi and it could lock up markets like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Kansas City, Dallas and Houston in the process. Not bad for one negotiation, eh?
Now let’s suppose that the folks on the East Coast get the same idea. In order to survive, the remaining Big East schools might forgive the ACC for its past transgressions and try to work out a media/on-field partnership with their brothers to the south.
Let’s also suppose that the ACC — currently in need of a new television contract — decides that its best way to fend off possible SEC expansion is to pair up with the folks up north.
A television network (or networks) reaching a single agreement with an ACC / Big East syndicate would lock up the best college basketball package in the nation. It would also grab hold of some of the country’s biggest television markets: New York, Boston, DC, Baltimore, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami.
So where would that leave the SEC? As a regional player at best.
The Big 12 / Pac-10 combo would stretch from Canada to Mexico and from the Pacific to the Mississippi.
The new Big Ten would cross the northern part of the country from Omaha to the Atlantic.
A Big East / ACC merger would claim the eastern seaboard from New England to the Florida Keys.
Meanwhile, the SEC would basically be left in the footprint of the old Confederacy, outnumbered, just as its predecessor was.
Effectively, the SEC would be the smallest “big” coalition of schools left on the landscape. The league already features mostly small television markets. To make matters worse, the population of most of the SEC’s states are small compared to the giant states of California, Texas, Ohio and New York. That means that each year, more and more children would be raised as Big East / ACC fans, Big Ten fans or Big 12 / Pac-10 fans than SEC fans.
Consider that a bit of cruel arithmetic. To quote the evil king in “Braveheart,” “If we can’t drive them out, we’ll breed them out.”
In just a few quick moves — moves that are much more likely than some of the far-fetched expansion theories already being floated — one of the nation’s most powerful conferences could become one of the nation’s smallest and least influential.
Ah, yes, influence. How much sway do you think a 12-team, regional SEC would hold when it came to BCS or NCAA decisions? Think an expanded Big Ten and partnered-up big-market leagues wouldn’t have more pull than their country cousins down south?
None of this is to say that the SEC must expand right away just for the sake of expansion. But it is to say that the league needs to be considering anything and everything, including quick expansion.
Everything should be on the table right now. Not in two months, now. And if the Southeastern Conference feels that Move X would benefit the league long-term, then by all means, it should make Move X before anyone else has a chance to.
Things can change quickly in this world. If you don’t believe the SEC could go from the top dog to the runt of the litter, you’ve not been paying attention to just how quickly they can change.
Ten years ago newspapers were still powerful and successful. Ten years ago all 12 SEC schools had different football coaches.
And ten years ago you’d never heard of Twitter, Facebook, iPods, or some group of militants called the Taliban.
Things change quickly. Mike Slive and the SEC’s presidents need to keep that in mind.