What would be a brilliant move by the SEC is to offer Texas, OK State and Oklahoma membership. Wow, SEC establishes complete dominance of the Texas market! And Texas _should_ be overjoyed to rid itself forever of the Baylors and Texas Techs and, soon, Texas Christians of the state.
It’s a confusing topic. Half the sports fans and media members out there don’t seem to get it. They reach for their atlas, look at last year’s bowl results, and trumpet schools that don’t add a dadgum thing to the SEC from a business perspective. You can’t really blame them, of course. When you’re sitting on a barstool next to your buddy talking football, do you spend more time talking about wins and losses or cable households and “geographic footprints?” I know when I’m talking about the AAU with my pals, we’re not discussing the top research schools in North America.
But for those of you who in the last 18 months have come to understand that business factors really are driving this boat, it’s frustrating to hear people say it’s all about wins. It’s confusing to hear someone on the radio push for 18- or 20-team leagues when the SEC has no desire to take on more than 14 schools. It’s irritating for someone to claim academics have nothing to do with expansion, when the college presidents who’ll do the final voting in these matters are increasing entrance requirements and cutting down on oversigning, all for the sake of academic reputation.
So we’re going to try and put some hard and fast data together to help explain why School A is probably more attractive to SEC presidents than School B… even though School B might be able to whip School A’s rump on a football field. We want to take all of those variables that are floating around out there and condense them into one, simple, quick series of posts. A series of posts that you can use to draw your own conclusions.
Our “Expansion By The Numbers” series is based on some of the same information we used in May 2010′s “Expounding on Expansion” series. You can go back and read that long piece in full right here.
At the time, the Big Ten had announced that it was looking to expand. Many felt Jim Delany’s league would get to 16 teams. As a result, the vast majority of writers put forth Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech as the most likely SEC partners in mega-expansion. We crunched some numbers — much like the numbers we’ll be crunching this year — for 18 different schools and found that Texas and Texas A&M were far and away the most valuable from a cash perspective, not the four nearby schools that were viewed as “naturals.” In May 2010, A&M was viewed as a tag-along that the SEC would take if it meant landing Texas. Our numbers showed that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Eighteen months ago, Missouri wasn’t being mentioned as a potential SEC partner by the mainstream media at all. But our review suggested they might be an excellent fit. Turns out, the things we mentioned last year have now turned into key arguments for Mizzou’s potential acceptance into the conference.
And while most still thought the AAU was a summer basketball league, we showed that academics do matter in expansion… even from a financial perspective.
Were we right at every turn? Nope. (And we certainly didn’t spend enough time weeding out our typos.) But our series did put forth some fresh views that have turned out to be right on the mark 18 months later. That’s thanks to the good sources we spoke to, not our own ability as seers and futurists. We were told to look here, consider this, investigate that. We did. And it turns out the response to our research piece was very positive from other people who have worked inside BCS-level athletic departments. The categories we broke down were the areas that they say college administrators do consider when deciding on expansion.
This time around, we’ve spoken to more people — ’cause we’ve got more than a year’s worth of new sources — and we’ve decided to add some categories to the mix. Are these criteria meant to definitively show you which schools the SEC should pursue? I’m sorry, did I say pursue? I meant “hope apply for membership.” (You never know when Kenneth Starr is listening.) No, this is not meant to say School A should be and will be the SEC’s 14th school. It’s just meant to provide you with some information. We’ll draw our own conclusions, but you can blow them off if you like. We’re not trying to jam anything down anyone’s throat. While Slive sits on his porch with a glass of whiskey and a cigar, he’s most likely not making notes off our website.
But from the people we’ve spoken to at the television network executive level, the senior management level of a leading media rights group, administrators at SEC institutions, former athletic department officials at BCS-level schools, and a couple of contacts inside the SEC offices… the categories we cover would’ve likely run across Slive’s mind at some point.
Here are the categories we’ll examine and why:
1. Top 40 television markets within 200 miles of a campus — the more new TV households the better
2. Total state population — the bigger a school’s footprint, the more potential viewers, fans, t-shirt buyers, future students, future alums, and future donors
3. Proximity to Birmingham — the idea is to grow the league’s footprint when possible, but unlike some leagues, the SEC has shown no desire to go completely cross-country
4. Fertile recruiting ground — this isn’t a deal-deciding issue, but it’s certainly a supplementary topic that deserves mentioning
5. Athletic budget — let’s face it, if a school’s not serious about athletics, it doesn’t belong in the SEC
6. Director’s Cup standings / Bowl and NCAA Tourney bids — it helps for said school to also be competitive in athletics
7. Football stadium size — this provides a glimpse into a school’s overall quality of facilities as well as to its dedication to the SEC’s #1 sport
8. Academic Fit / Cultural Fit / Powerhouse Brand — we’ll finish up with bonus points awarded to those schools that best fit the SEC’s existing profile
We’ve compared 35 different schools across these categories. That’s twice as many schools as we examined last year, and frankly, we have no idea what the final tally will show. You’ll be discovering right along with us.
And if there’s anyone out there — and we know there will be — who thinks we’ve either fixed the numbers to hurt your school’s score or finagled them to help some other school’s mark, think again. We’ve barely had time to crunch the numbers period. We certainly haven’t compiled them, ranked them and then tossed a few out for kicks. We weren’t going to waste our time doing that.
So why 35 schools? Because we wanted to cover every possible base. In the last few weeks, we’ve been hounded by East Carolina fans — yes, we’ve all seen the “Undaunted” video by now. We had to field questions because someone got the wild notion that Navy would be a good fit for the SEC. Heck, last week even Joe Paterno mentioned rumors/thoughts that Penn State might want to turn east and leave the Big Ten. So they’re all on our list.
All the schools from the ACC — including Pitt and Syracuse — are included. All the Big 12 schools are counted (we’ve left Texas A&M in that group just to see how they would’ve stacked up against everyone else). The six remaining Big East schools are tossed in for good measure. We’ve also kicked in some oddball choices like Notre Dame and TCU just for kicks.
Will the SEC expand to Connecticut or Navy or Baylor? No. But it might be fun to see how they’d measure up against the Texas A&M’s, Missouris, and Florida States of the world.
Finally, it’s important to remember that while we believe that these categories are very important (because people in the business of expansion have told us so), this whole situation is fluid. One league’s focus on academics might be stronger than another’s. One league’s concern about television households might be huge today, not so huge tomorrow.
Let me give you an example. In 1980, George Bush referred to Ronald Reagan’s economic plan as “Voodoo Economics” during the Republican primary campaign. Bush lost. But Reagan’s people knew he could provide the state of Texas and some much-needed foreign policy expertise to Reagan’s ticket. Suddenly, that “Voodoo Economics” thing wasn’t real important anymore.
So how could that apply to the SEC’s situation? We wrote weeks ago that West Virginia University was unlikely to be a top pick of the SEC because of its so-so academic reputation and the small number of residents and television households inside its state’s borders. After getting blasted by a few WVU fans for disparaging their school — something we weren’t trying to do — word then leaked out that WVU had approached the SEC (and the ACC) and had been rebuffed.
But things can change. Let’s say Missouri stays in the Big 12, the ACC remains stable, and next summer the SEC is staring a second-straight 13-team season in the face. Suddenly, WVU’s #164 ranking among universities and its population of less than two million might not look so bad.
The lesson? The categories we’re about to discuss matter. All things being equal, some matter more than others. But all things are seldom equal. So instead of saying, “This is all about televisions; count those up and go with the biggest number,” it’s best to take a broader view. It’s best to look at the whole picture.
We’ve tried to take our biases out of this. That’s why it’s all about the numbers. I personally would like to see the league stop at 14 schools and happily that’s what I’ve been told Slive wants to do. But if the SEC went to 16, I’d like to see the following brought in: Texas A&M (it really was a perfect fit), Notre Dame (biggest brand in the country and who wouldn’t want to see the Irish come to town), Georgia Tech (an old school pick because I love the SEC history, Buckhead and The Varsity), and Virginia Tech (it’s Texas A&M to the east).
But Notre Dame’s a non-starter and Georgia Tech brings nothing new to the table (I suspect). What I would like to see has no bearing on this series. It’s all about the business. And the business of television is a key force in expansionpalooza. That’s where Part 2 will pick up next.