Just finished up a radio hit in Charleston, West Virginia. Have one more to do on a show that’s syndicated across the state of Mississippi… and then I’ll be chatting with Bob Neal and the gang on CSS’ “SportsNite” at 6pm ET.
In between, I thought I’d lay out some of my random thoughts regarding the many various expansion reports we’ve seen today. Here goes with some serious stream of consciousness stuff:
1. I have been told by a solid SEC source that the league has not yet extended an invitation to Texas A&M. Now, that could be a case of semantics. It could be that a handshake agreement is already in place with a formal invitation already drafted and ready to be handed over when the time is right. But from what I gather, not even a solid handshake deal is in place. The parties talked at length last year. They’ve also talked since then. But A&M is still waiting for an invitation.
2. As Tony Barnhart wrote today and as we’ve written previously, Mike Slive does not want to be the guy who lights the fuse on the radical realignment bomb currently buried beneath Big 12 headquarters in Dallas. For that reason, if Slive and the SEC do extend an invitation to A&M, they’ll want to make it look as though the Aggies came to them.
3. As we reported earlier today, we received confirmation through one SEC president’s office that some sort of super secret meeting has been called for Sunday. Now, we could find out Monday that the meeting was called in order to discuss gas prices and their impact on travel costs in the SEC this fall, but it likely has something to do with expansion. In our opinion — and this is just opinion — the SEC might be gauging interest in how best to respond to the furor that A&M has created. “Do we extend an invitation at this point or do we wait until some time down the road?”
4. Texas A&M officials have really said very little in the past couple of weeks. But everyone else has been putting plenty of words in their mouths. If it’s true that the Aggies have decided that the SEC is the best place for them, it’s possible they’ve put themselves in a precarious position. Last summer, Missouri burned bridges across the Big 12 as it postured for a berth in the Big Ten. But an invitation never came and the Tigers were left in no man’s land, praying that the Big 12 would be saved. Obviously, their prayers were answered. A&M is no danger of being booted from the Big 12 if the SEC decides that now is not the right time to expand, but they could wind up with an omelette on their face — like Mizzou — if Slive and the league’s presidents decide not to move at this moment.
5. You have to feel for A&M. Last summer, the SEC made a strong run at them — using board of regents member Gene Stallings from the inside — and nearly cajoled them into jumping east. Instead, Fox and ESPN backed up the Brinks truck and duct taped the Big 12 back together again. A&M couldn’t have been truly happy as no one in the Big 12 really likes or trusts one another. But they stuck around their old home because it was simply the easiest thing to do. Within months, however, they saw the SEC win yet another national title in football and they saw Texas launch a full-scale offensive with its Longhorn Network. As all this played out, Aggie fans and administrators had to begin wondering if they wouldn’t have been better off just jumping to the SEC in Summer 2010.
6. The NCAA has put the kibosh on Texas’ plans to air high school games on its new television network, but if you’re A&M how much solace do you take in that fact? In what other league does one member have to put up such a squawk that the NCAA has to step in and smack down another league member. Oh sure, in the SEC everyone accuses one another of cheating, but when the chips are down, the schools and their presidents lock arms and march together. That kind of all-for-one mentality has to look pretty inviting to anyone living in the Big 12′s version of South Fork. JR and Bobby Ewing never backstabbed each other as much the Big 12′s schools have in the past 16 months.
7. The SEC’s willingness to work together is one reason I don’t think Florida would stand in the way of a potential Florida State entry into the league. In the end, the vote on an FSU bid could be 11-1 against the Gators. And it’s likely that the always persuasive Slive would simply provide Florida president Bernie Machen with a chart showing what the league brings in without FSU… and what it would bring in with FSU. Money talks.
8. Florida State and the SEC have flirted for decades. When the SEC came calling in the late-80s, early-90s, the Seminole brass chose to go the ACC route in large part due to academics. (For those who continue to say academics doesn’t play a role, name me the last school to move from a conference with a good academic reputation to a conference with a lesser academic reputation. It doesn’t happen.) Well, the ACC is still viewed as a much stronger league academically than the SEC. State may well jump in order to make more money, but someone will have to convince those people who care more about the school than they do the football team that leaving the ACC (5 AAU members) for the SEC (2 AAU members) would be a good thing for the school’s overall academic prestige.
9. Do we believe that the SEC and FSU have been chatting? The president of Florida State says that he’s not been part of any such talks, but we would still be surprised if someone representing the SEC hadn’t picked up a phone and talked with someone representing FSU. Face it, that’s just good business. For more than a year the college athletic landscape has been unstable. It makes sense to chat with everyone and anyone. “What will you do if this happens?” “Here’s what we’d like to do if that occurs.” But those types of discussions don’t necessarily mean a deal has been struck. As we’ve noted many times, Slive made it clear last year that he does not want to raid a stable league. The ACC is currently a stable league. So if something’s going on, it’s likely that FSU initiated the contact with Slive. Now, do you believe Florida State officials did that? That’s the million dollar question.
10. If the SEC extends an invitation to Texas A&M in the coming days and the Aggies accept, know that the SEC has already received assurances from some other school that it will be School 14. I don’t believe the SEC will extend an invitation to A&M without knowing who else will join them at the new guy’s table. Even if one school is announced before the other, is doubtful the SEC’s presidents would risk going into a season with 13 teams.
11. If the SEC could land A&M and Florida State — and again, we’re talking about a lot of rumors right here — the league should stand pat and be happy with its additions. A&M would bring new eyeballs, a huge new fanbase, new television markets, a new recruiting ground, and solid athletic and academic reputations (A&M would be the SEC’s third AAU member institution, by the way). Florida State wouldn’t bring anything new to the table, but it would provide the league with one of the biggest, most valuable brands in all of collegiate sports. When we graded the expansion candidates last year, we weighted the math to favor schools that “grew the footprint” of the SEC. FSU still ranked 6th out of 18 schools that we examined. That’s because State is a near perfect match with the league’s existing members. State fits the profile of an SEC school. Ditto A&M. If Slive could pull in Texas A&M for the West Division and Florida State for the East Division, there would be no need to expand to 16 teams. Let someone else take a shot at that one. The SEC would have further solidified itself as America’s top football conference. (A&M and FSU play pretty good hoops, too.)
12. We’re guessing CBS would be a lot happier with A&M and FSU joining the SEC than ESPN would be. The four-letter network has a piece of every conference’s television package already. If A&M and FSU were to join the SEC, ESPN would find itself reworking television contracts with the Big 12, the ACC and the SEC. If nothing else, that would be a pain in the rump. CBS on the other hand has only the SEC as its college football partner. Sure the Tiffany Network would have to fork over more dough for SEC rights, but adding two powerful, national brands like FSU and A&M would be great for the value of their college football package. Most importantly, CBS would suddenly start pulling much stronger ratings in the Lone Star State — Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. That’s money, money, money for CBS when it comes to selling ad packages. Some of it would kick back to Slive and his gang of SEC fat cats, but the network would still be better off in the long run.
That’s it, folks. Gotta get ready for some radio and television.
Oh, and in case you haven’t seen it, Texas A&M has now called a board of regents meeting for Monday afternoon. On the agenda is this item: “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.”