Potential SEC Expansion & the Conference Realignment Trickle-Down
With the Texas A&M to the SEC talks heating up there was enough to think about. But with the potential that the SEC would expand again a year later, to 14 schools by adding Florida St., well that turns a small wave into a tsunami.
Let’s start with the immediate effects of SEC expansion under the assumption that they were to add Texas A&M from the Big 12 and Florida St. from the ACC:
Sources have said that if Texas A&M does indeed leave for the 2012 season, that they will likely remain at 9 members for that year and consider their options afterwards. Yet other sources say that an A&M loss would be enough for the Big 12 to seek an immediate replacement. And yet others say that in addition to a replacement, there is the outside chance that they would bring in 3 schools to regain the ability to have a championship game.
The reality is that while losing a strong program like Texas A&M would be impacting, it’s Texas that runs the Big 12 show. And they’d still have their #2, Oklahoma, there as well. The financial hit would seemingly be limited with the loss of TAMU as long as those two schools remained and were happy. In essence, the Big 12, with the loss of TAMU, would be not much different that Notre Dame independence for football. Texas remains the clear big fish, gets it’s own network, but has the luxury of being in an all-sports conference. Just they are in a conference that they reap the largest proportion of the revenue.
Should Texas A&M leave and the Big 12 remain at 9 members, it would seem things wouldn’t need to change much. However, there is the opportunity to expand back to 10 members if they see fit.
Potential Expansion Candidates:
Houston: not the sexiest of picks for sure. But Houston would allow the Big 12 to have some presence in the Houston market, which is presently controlled by Texas A&M and even LSU…both of whom would be in the SEC. It is a safe assumption though that membership in the Big 12 would be an immediate boost to the Houston programs.
Louisville: would push the footprint further east, something that would make members such as Iowa St. and Missouri happy about, add a school with a committed athletics department (funding), a strong basketball program that Kansas would appreciate seeing in conference).
BYU: the school made a splash when the left the MWC for football independence. But the Big 12 would be likely a bigger financial gain for BYU if they joined. Basketball would get another boost, leaving the WCC for the Big 12. The Big 12 would gain some of the mountain region that was lost when Colorado left and gain the national support of the nation-large BYU fanbase.
Air Force: not a sexy pick, but a national following and would help replace the loss of the Colorado market. In the event of a 2 school expansion, would be a perfect bridge for BYU.
Others: TCU, SMU, UNLV, New Mexico, Boise St., UTEP
All these others would seem very unlikely in the case of the Big 12 expanding by only 1 school
Not exactly what the ACC brass expected to see happen.
When the initial “TAMU to SEC” talk happened a year ago, Virginia Tech was considered the top target for #14. It would give the SEC a push up north in their footprint in the process. But with the political pressure to get Virginia Tech into the ACC in the first place, it became clear that it would take a major coup to get the state of Virginia to allow them to leave UVA behind.
But if TAMU does join the SEC as #13, it is likely that a 14th school could be added. And with reports that Florida St. would be such a school, it leaves the ACC in a spot where they would need a 12th school in order to maintain their conference championship game.
Make no mistake: the Big 12, at ten members, is actually in less of a rush to expand than the ACC would be at 11. While the new ACC television contract is strong, the revenue generated from the championship game is necessary for them.
So if you’re the ACC, you likely look back to the region that can provide you with the most revenue: the northeast.
Sure, if a more attractive option existed in the south, it would be worth it. But even with the potential instability in the Big 12, it might be a stretch for the ACC, potentially losing a single school, to look all the way west to say, Kansas for a replacement. It makes much more immediate sense to look at the Big East pool of available schools.
Potential Expansion Candidates:
UConn: many felt that had UConn upgraded in football earlier, they would have been a target of the 2003 ACC expansion. Fast forward less than a decade and UConn continues to win national championships in basketball and just got off their first BCS appearance this past year for football. UConn would provide Boston College with a much need rival and provide the ACC even more access into New England…and their toes in the New York market via the UConn influence.
Syracuse: the upstate New York school was already approached by the ACC in 2003 and was set to join before Virginia legislators threatened to block any ACC expansion votes if Virginia Tech wasn’t involved. The political pressure lead to Miami joining and then followed by Virginia Tech. Boston College was ultimately selected over Syracuse for the final spot. But if looking to fill a single spot, Syracuse would get the nod over UConn due to their potential to deliver the New York market.
Rutgers: another NYC area school, Rutgers was on the Big Ten radar when the conference was considering all it’s options. Rutgers could have the potential to deliver all thouse NY/NJ TV sets, and serve as a geographic/market bridge to Boston College.
Pittsburgh: an urban school in a larger market. But it would be difficult to consider Pittsburgh when you have more potential for TV revenue in the above three schools.
WVU: a logical fit with nearby Virginia Tech and Maryland, strong historical football program, but little else in the sense of present day economics. A sad reality in the conference realignment landscape, for sure.
Louisville: a dedicated athletics program but perhaps a stretch when discussing a single ACC spot.
With the addition of TCU as the 9th member, all of the talk of late has been about who the 10th member would be: Villanova, UCF, Houston, Memphis or even a stretch like BYU. The other focus has been on the “will they, won’t they” split talk in regards to the football and non-football schools. First it appeared Villanova would join for #10, then nothing happened. Then Houston seemed to gain some support over UCF, adn then Army and Navy were brought up again…as they are every few years. Then the split talk happened again with the potential to leave the non-football schools behind and add 3 new all-sports members (such as Houston, UCF, Temple).
And now this.
It seems like destiny for the Big East…and not a good one. You shuffle your feet long enough, something bad happens. And if the ACC were to lose Florida St. to the SEC, then the Big East would almost certainly lose a school to the ACC.
How they would proceed under this hypothetical situation is as big a mystery as what their leadership is ever thinking about.
Would the loss of a school like Syracuse, Uconn or Rutgers put a final halt to any “split agenda”? Or would it be the final straw to push forward a split?
Regardless, the Big East would have to add at least one school to get back to 9. A move to 10 would seem likely as it’s been their plan thus far. We must remember that while losing a school would hurt, there are no “Miami” type of football programs in the Big East that would seem like a near fatal blow…as the Miami and Virginia Tech defections seemed to be.
Potential Expansion Candidates:
There isn’t much need for detail with each of these as the Big East has already looked at or is presently considering each for the 10th spot. So even if it were for the 9th and 10th spot, we know only the top two “move on” to the BCS:
Villanova: one day they are moving up, the next they aren’t. But until they are passed over officially, they remain on the list.
UCF: considered by many as the logical for for #10, UCF would provide further access into Florida and offer the Orlando market. If Florida St. were to join the SEC, there might be even more incentive for the Big East to add them as they would then have (2) Florida schools while the ACC only had 1.
Houston: with the addition of TCU and the Dallas/Ft. Worth market potential, Houston became much more attractive. While Houston might not currently offer the level of market penetration the Big East would want, that could change with an “upgrade” to the Big East, a BCS conference.
Memphis: still considered a longshot according to Big East admins. Would only be an option if 12 schools were the goal.
Temple: if Villanova is not the Philadelphia option, perhaps Temple would be since they would be willing to join for football-only, something UCF and Houston have publicly stated they would not do.
At this point in the falling of the dominoes, we find ourselves already where we would be if the Big East were to expand to 10 and if there weren’t any expansion in conferences above them. So CUSA, Sun Belt, MAC, MWC and WAC can wait for now.
Of course, the bigger issue to consider is again with the top conferences:
If the SEC is expanding to 14, will they set the tone for other conferences to follow?
Would the Big Ten reconsider expansion to 14 or 16 with the likes of Missouri, Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma, etc?
Would the ACC look to keep up with the SEC after potentially losing their top football program by doing something bold, like absorbing the top Big East programs and expanding to 14 or 16 as well…from the pool of UConn, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt, WVU?
Would the Pac-12 revisit their 16 school plan, albeit without Texas A&M and seemingly without Texas (due to the LHN)?
If the SEC does indeed expand to 14, it could start a new trend and lead to the birth of that mythical beast: the Super Conference.