It’s been another long day on the expansion front. Many of you are as sick of this mess as we at MrSEC.com are. There are simply too many variables to follow in a 24-hour period. And each variable seems to impact a dozen other variables. Trying to get a grip on how things will play out in this shuffle is like trying to figure out whether or not to move in for a first kiss. ”She touched my hand at dinner. But she seemed to dislike my choice of restaurants. Then again, the bottle of Night Train with our meal seemed to please her.”
A man could go crazy trying to read the signs and hidden messages involved in both activities.
Before we begin a quick run-through of a day’s worth of our thoughts on Expansion-palooza 2011, let’s first catch you up on some of what’s being written and said by pundits from all across the country. Without further ado, here are the reports, the rumors, and the ridiculous… enjoy:
Let’s start with the gang at CBSSports.com where everyone must’ve been drinking from the same coffee pot on Wednesday.
1. Tony Barnhart says college football “is imploding before our eyes.”
2. Ray Ratto says schools have been chasing the almighty dollar for years.
3. Gregg Doyel wants Congress to step in and stop expansion and realignment. (But wouldn’t that make Congress a bunch of Socialists trying to control the free market? How ’bout we let Congress worry about creating jobs and getting rid of debt. Let’s try to help them keep their eyes on what’s really important.)
4. Dennis Dodd runs through all the madness of the past week and asks that someone wake him when the “realignment nightmare” is over.
5. Over at ESPN.com, Andy Katz reports that the Big 12 board of directors will meet soon, that the league is starting to stabilize, and that Dan Beebe’s job as commissioner will be a hot topic. (CBSSports.com says Chuck Neinas is already being kicked around as a possible replacement… which is good practice for when he spends the next 12 months being kicked around by Texas. And before we could even post this story, news leaked that Beebe is working on a deal to resign.)
6. Pat Forde writes that the Big 12 has been to the brink and back. Again.
7. Heather Dinich has a suggestion for the ACC’s divisional set-up after Pitt and Syracuse join. (So do we: Drop the nonsensical Atlantic and Coastal Divisions and split the league along a North/South line. That would enable fans to figure out which games matter most. Are you paying attention, Big Ten?)
8. UConn and West Virginia released statements on Wednesday, but neither pledged to stay in the Big East. (Most believe UConn still wants into the ACC while WVU would be thrilled with either an ACC or SEC bid.)
9. Meanwhile, East Carolina is applying for membership in the currently-on-life-support Big East. (So it’s safe to say that Mike Slive never called? Shocking. But here’s hoping the up-and-coming Pirates get the bid they seek.)
10. Andrea Adelson lists some other potential Big East targets.
11. Adam Rittenberg says the Big Ten anticipates no movement despite Joe Paterno talking about “speculation” that Penn State might need to move East, presumably to the ACC. (Paterno wants an Eastern partner for PSU in the Big Ten and this was likely his way of angling for Rutgers, UConn or WVU to be included in Penn State’s current league.)
12. Ted Miller reports that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott says his league absolutely could have expanded, “but the deal didn’t make any sense at the end of the day for us.” (That doesn’t mean a new deal couldn’t change the Pac-12′s mind.)
13. Texas president Bill Powers says the Longhorns would consider re-working the money split in the Big 12… but AD DeLoss Dodds says the cash from the Longhorn Network is untouchable. “That’s never been in play, that’s not in play,” Dodds said while stroking a bag of cash and calling it “Precious.”
14. Matt Hayes of The Sporting News says that everything’s gone perfectly according to the SEC’s master plan. (Let the spin begin. We’ll have more on this below. But we’ve been predicting that the SEC — like everyone else — would emerge and claim that things worked out just peachy for them.)
15. According to The Kansas City Star, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel doesn’t sound like he’s fully onboard with his chancellor’s “Save the Big 12″ push:
“We have problems in our league and we all know what most of them are. But we don’t solve them. We’ve lost three really good members in a year and a half and we think we’d maybe wake up and try to fix the problems so that we could have a great league. Because until the problems are fixed this stuff’s going to be happening. In my opinion, it’s going to go on and on and on and it’s not a whole lot of fun to be part of it.”
16. The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas’ Dodds scoffed at rumors of an OU-UT rift. (Nevermind that whole list of demands thing turned in by the Sooners.)
17. The Chronicle also reports that Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp says it’s all systems go for a move to the SEC:
“There is no doubt A&M is going to the Southeastern Conference. In our minds, we’re already there – already working out the schedules… I’m not going to have too many comments about Baylor wanting to sue everybody, but I have never seen a situation made better by a lawsuit… We are going to the Southeastern Conference to play with the big boys.”
18. Sharp also said that A&M wants to continue to play Texas and if that doesn’t happen “it will be because Texas decided not to.” Alas, UT’s Dodds says it would be “problematic” to work around both schools’ new conference schedules. (Yep, that’s certainly stopped Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, and Florida-Florida State from playing. How cowardly.)
19. More spin: An Oklahoma source says the Sooners never really wanted to go to the Pac-12 anyway. (Again, everyone will claim to come out of this mess a winner, but more than a few will be about as victorious as Charlie Sheen. And for now, that includes the snubbed Sooners.)
20. USA Today points out that the SEC’s options for a 14th school sure seem limited.
And now, some random thoughts and ruminations from a day spent staring at a laptop screen with a cellphone pushed against my ear:
1. There are secondhand reports from the Show Me State that a move to push Missouri into the SEC has begun within the Tiger fanbase. We’ve received a number of emails from Mizzou fans claiming that MU’s chancellor might’ve put himself in some hot water by working so hard to save the Big 12… while an opportunity to move to the Texas-less SEC was on the table. We’re not saying that this is accurate or not, we’re just pointing out that the pro-SEC vibe seems to be growing across the Mississip. This is what happened at Texas A&M, if you recall. Aggie brass voted last summer to stay in the Big 12, but the more they and their fans thought about the potential of an SEC jump, the more it seemed like a smart idea. Tiger fans may be experiencing that same moment of enlightenment right now.
2. Now here’s a totally random thought for you. When asked about rumors that Florida State might move to the SEC, president Eric Barron said last month that he liked the ACC and that he hadn’t spoken with anyone in the SEC. He didn’t deny interest, however. Then, FSU board of trustees chairman Andy Haggard said last week that his school was putting together a committee to study expansion/realignment possibilities (a claim he flip-flopped on a day later). Then this week, while in the process of stating that he loves the ACC’s recent expansions and that he doesn’t see any possibility of his school moving to the SEC, Haggard said point blank that FSU would listen if the SEC called. So… could it be that Florida State is interested in the SEC but the league doesn’t have the same feelings for FSU? We’ve been told that some in the SEC offices still resent the fact that State picked the ACC over the SEC 20 years ago. And while we’ve also been told repeatedly that there is no official policy to blackball schools located in current SEC states, you have to wonder if there is some backlash among league schools. That said, it would be shortsighted and stubborn of Slive’s league not to chat with one of the few “national brand” programs in the South that doesn’t belong to the SEC right now, so we’re not buying this theory. But it did cross our minds. And since we so often say that anything is possible in the expansion/realignment game, we thought we’d share it. So what do you think? Is FSU angling for an SEC phone call that just won’t come?
3. There’s been a lot of talk that the ACC didn’t do very much to help itself in terms of expansion. Pitt and Syracuse are good schools with good tradition in football and basketball, but they’re not mega-brands like Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State or Florida. At least that’s the thought. But it’s been clear for years that eventually — in a super-conference world — there would be only one league on the East Coast… either the Big East or the ACC. Just a few weeks ago one major blog predicted that the Big East would gobble up and undo the ACC. But by grabbing two founding members of the Big East — to go along with the three Big East members the ACC nabbed earlier this decade — the ACC this week assured itself of being the ultimate survivor in its death struggle with the Big East. Even if it’s someday raided by another league, the ACC has enough schools and big media markets to survive. The same cannot be said for the Big East. So the ACC’s expansion wasn’t a good one? Please. The ACC just guaranteed itself a future. That’s a pretty good move in our book.
4. When we discuss expansion, we often talk about “brand.” The brand of a school is important. So is its population base. Its alumni base. The number of television viewers that it will bring to a league, as well as academic reputation and resources. But what’s most important to one league or school one minute might not be most important to that league or school a minute later. Take for example the Pac-12. That league views itself as an academic juggernaut. Oh, sure, they’ve got Arizona State in their ranks, but UCLA and Southern Cal and Stanford and Cal and Colorado and Washington are all AAU institutions. This week, Pac-12 presidents weren’t pleased with the idea of Texas fouling up the league’s money share plan, with the geography issues presented by an Oklahoma/Oklahoma State entry into their league, or by the potential addition of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, two schools that might sully the league’s high-brow academic rep. But just last year, racing to reach 12 schools, the league voted to include Utah. No offense to that school, but it’s not exactly Yale by the Salt Lake. Last summer, the Pac-12′s commissioner told his presidents that adding Utah and reaching 12 schools would enable him to cut a ridiculous television deal. So Utah was voted in and Scott made good on his pledge to get more money. A lot more money. With that new contract in hand, the Pac-12′s presidents could afford — quite literally — to be more finicky when it came to this year’s applicants. The point is this: After cash, branding and television markets and academics all play a role in expansion. But the importance of each of those factors can change from situation to situation and day to day. There are no hard and set rules for this stuff. (Aside from making more money, of course.)
5. As we noted above, Matt Hayes of The Sporting News reports that “multiple SEC sources” have told him that everything that’s happened so far has gone according to Slive’s grand plan. The league wanted Texas A&M and it got Texas A&M. If another school fell into the league’s lap, super. If not, the SEC is aces with the idea of remaining a 13-school conference for a while:
“The sideshow of who would be the SEC’s 14th team, or the possibility of expanding to 16 teams with three other superconferences and the collateral damage that would follow, was simply background noise.
The SEC was never going to 16 teams. The SEC was never interested in schools within the borders of its current schools. And more important, the SEC was never interested in driving the expansion train.”
“All you need to know is SEC commissioner Mike Slive was on the sidelines coaching this clown act from the beginning. The SEC wanted the state of Texas for television expansion, recruiting gains and general dominance of all things oblong.
Who cares about No.14? If it’s Missouri, and the league can gain the St. Louis and Kansas City television markets and get more involved in Midwest recruiting, so be it. If not, it will find someone else.”
“Cool, baby. It’s all good. What? Us panic. We knew how this would all play out.”
Question: What the heck are SEC sources going to say? We’ve said all along that if the SEC reeled in a 14th school, it would quickly claim that it had had its eye on that school all along. And if no one came knocking, well, then the league would leak word that it really just wanted a 13th school from the get-go (despite what numerous SEC sources told numerous other outlets — including this one — when the A&M story first broke).
But here’s hoping Slive really is sipping a boat drink by his pool right now. Here’s hoping he does know that the SEC will land a mega-brand to go along with A&M. Here’s hoping the college sports world really is Slive’s personal stage and that the rest of the presidents and commissioners out there are just puppets on his strings.
But as of yet, the SEC hasn’t named a mega-brand. In July, when Slive said his league could get to 16 schools in 15 minutes, we don’t think he was talking about adding West Virginia, East Carolina and TCU to A&M. We believe the most powerful commish in sports thought that some big name schools would knock his door off its hinges in order to gain entry into the SEC. And if that actually happened, then it means the SEC has for some reason turned down major names like Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Oklahoma in order to stick at 13.
Ya really think that’s what’s happened?
We like Hayes and we know he’s got some good sources inside the Southeastern Conference. He’s one of the national writers we most enjoy reading. But we’re not buying the spin coming out of Birmingham anymore than we are the spin coming out of Norman, Oklahoma or Austin, Texas right now. No one knows what’s going to happen when dozens of people with large egos and big money on their brains start playing high-stakes poker. And that includes Slive and his team of presidents.
So if the league could have grabbed A&M and Virginia Tech a month ago, the SEC would be at 14 schools right now. Period.
Now, do we think Slive should be desperate to find School #14? No. Desperation isn’t good. Desperation is the Big East and the Big 12. Desperation is how girls wind up facing first-kiss scenarios with guys like me.
We do, however, believe the league should be motivated to bring in another big-name school. Like right now. Conference brass can pitch the positives of a 13-school league all they like, but the truth of the matter is this a league where fans lose sleep over how many coming-off-open-date opponents their favorite school will face. So if Slive and crew think an unbalanced divisional format with an unbalanced schedule won’t cause many, many, many people to scream “Conspiracy!” at the top of their lungs, they’re dreaming. Heck, it could be argued that going the 13-team route is more a sign of desperation than trying to lure a 14th school from an existing league. (You know, like the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC have all done in the past 16 months.)
Everything’s gone according to the SEC’s plan? Sorry. We don’t believe that one, in part because of what our own SEC sources have told us. But that doesn’t mean things won’t turn out well for the SEC when the music stops. Under Slive’s leadership they usually turn out very, very well. Even if they don’t go exactly according to his master plan.