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Report: SEC Already Eyeing Six Teams For Possible Expansion

Jimmy Hyams of WNML-AM 990 in Knoxville — citing a source close to CBS — has reported that SEC commissioner Mike Slive has already met with officials from that network regarding his league’s plan for expansion. 

Those plans, as Slive has stated publicly, are contingent upon the Big Ten making a major move that would change the balance of power in college athletics.

According to Hyams, Slive told CBS executives in a recent meeting that the league’s goal would be to keep pace with a 16-team Big Ten by pursuing Texas, Texas A&M, Florida State and Clemson.

If Texas and Texas A&M cannot be lured in, then Miami and Georgia Tech will join Florida State and Clemson on the SEC’s wish list.

In the latter case, the league’s goal would be to “own the region.”

You might remember that a week and a half ago, WHB-AM 810 in Kansas City reported that the Big Ten had already extended invitations to Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska and Rutgers.  All parties involved denied the story and it appears now that the report was inaccurate, even though numerous other news outlets (and websites) ran with WHB’s report.

With that in mind, I want to make it clear that we have no problem reporting to you what Hyams reported on his own sportstalk show.  Hyams has covered the SEC for three decades in both Louisiana and Tennessee.  Knowing him, I would say it’s very, very unlikely that he would run with a story if he was not certain of its accuracy.  In other words, he’s got a darn good source inside or close to CBS.

That said, I would expect Slive or someone with the SEC to issue a denial on this one.  That’s what commissioners do when stories like this leak out.  Especially when the story involves one league planning to invade another.

Hyams, before making his radio report, put in a call to the league office, but Slive did not get back with him.

If Hyams’ source is correct and Slive has already thrown out to CBS the six teams mentioned above, it tells us a few things about the SEC’s current thinking:

1.  Texas and Texas A&M are the true goals in all of this.  Everyone in America knows the money and eyeballs that the Longhorns can bring to a new league.  There’s a reason that most expansion scenarios include a move by Texas to the SEC.  In fact, word of the SEC’s interest in the Longhorns is not so much revelation as it is confirmation of what most already believed.

2.  If the SEC has a fallback plan of Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami, it’s likely that the league is eager to simply maintain the status quo.  The Big Ten and Pac-10 are talking expansion because they want to add territory, population, television markets and money.  If the SEC goes with the “obvious” choices above, it locks up nothing new.  My first question would be — Why expand at all?  All four of the schools mentioned are located in states that are already considered to be SEC states.

3.  Would the SEC be able to increase the amount of money each school makes on a yearly basis by adding four schools from inside its own footprint?  That would seem doubtful, but the SEC could be contemplating anything from expanded in-conference schedules to a four-division set-up that might eventually lead to an in-league playoff system.  Or — and this is probably more likely — the SEC feels it would simply have to match the Big Ten in size, regardless of the short-term impact on revenue.  The league’s schools might be willing to backpedal a bit in the short-term, if in the long-term being one of only two 16-team leagues in existence would benefit the league financially.  And if an SEC expansion to 16 schools would completely pull the cork out of the bottle and lead to the creation of four 16-team superconferences, then it’s probably best to handpick the league’s new members as soon as possible rather than wait and pick through everyone else’s leftovers.

4.  The only benefit of the “own the region” plan would be the near destruction of the ACC.  If the four southernmost members of that league departed, it would likely force the ACC northward into Big East country.  So while this type of expansion wouldn’t add TV households, fertile recruiting ground or population/fans to the SEC, it would likely take all of the above from the SEC’s neighbor to the East.  Is that reason enough to expand?  Apparently the SEC believes so.

5.  The SEC’s meeting with CBS took place prior to the ACC-ESPN television accord that was reached earlier this week.  And that deal might have a significant impact on what the SEC is able to do should it be forced into expansion.  Prior to this week, the SEC could have offered ACC schools a yearly income boost from television revenue of about $11 million per school if they jumped conferences.  That’s an awfully big lure.  But with the ACC doubling its own television revenue, the potential TV boost would likely now be only about $4.5 million per year.  That’s still quite a difference, but considering all of the headaches involved in switching leagues — exit and entry fees, fan reaction, potential legal stumbling blocks from one’s last league — it’s possible that the $4.5 million boost in television dollars wouldn’t be viewed as being “worth the hassle.”  Could the SEC still land some ACC schools?  Probably.  But it won’t be as easy now as it would have been prior to the ACC’s surprisingly rich ESPN pact.

6.  If the SEC is already tossing out names, it shows that either A) the league has done a lot of research on expansion in the past few years or B) the league is simply taking what appears to be the simplest route of growth.  While the Big Ten and Pac-10 have hired outside groups to do feasibility studies and research projects, it looks as though Slive and the SEC’s presidents are taking a more fan-centric view of things, saying, “Well, these schools kinda fit.”  If that’s the case, it’s a dangerous play by the SEC. 

If the SEC has to expand and it cannot land the Lone Star State schools, then Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami do “fit.”  But those schools don’t expand the geographic footprint of the league.  And everyone from former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer (who oversaw the league’s last expansion) to the commissioner of the Big 12 to athletic directors in both the Big Ten and Pac-10 have recently gone on the record to say that “growing the footprint” is key for any league looking at expansion this summer.

Only the SEC appears to feel good about keeping itself to its own little neck of the woods.  That’s certainly a safe play.  Most fans would probably approve.  But folks rarely strike it rich by making the safe play.

Right or wrong, I think all this tells us that — if the above report is true — Slive and the league’s presidents are hoping that the Big Ten adds just one team and does nothing else.  The SEC clearly does not want to expand.  Why mess with a good thing?

But if the Big Ten does change the landscape and does force the SEC’s hand, Slive and the presidents he works for should think long and hard about what they hope to gain from expansion.  If it’s added television revenue, new recruiting ground or additional population base then the league’s current fallback plan won’t deliver.

To read our on-going series on the possible SEC expansion, you can find below:

Part One — Why The SEC Should Be Working Right Now

Part Two — How We Got To This Point

Part Three — Unfounded Fears

Part Four — If The SEC Is Going To Act, It Should Act Boldly

And Part Five — Don’t Forget About Academics And Politics

UPDATE — The SEC has issued a denial and a statement.

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