It’s hard to argue that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive isn’t the Midas of major college football…because everything he touches turns to gold.
Yes, not only has Slive guided the SEC to the land of dominance, he has also engineered what could be the most successful conference expansion effort in the modern history of the game.
Slive took over the reins of the SEC in 2002, and under his direction, the league has won seven consecutive national titles in football. Only three times in his 12-year tenure has the SEC not won the BCS championship.
But what may go down in history as Slive’s greatest achievement is managing to wrangle Texas A&M and Missouri away from the Big 12, a move that will bolster the SEC’s power base for many years to come.
And this isn’t just about wins and losses, it’s also about finances and long-term competitiveness.
Comparing it to Past Expansions
Since 2011, each of the five “power” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) have welcomed new members, either expanding their membership or replacing schools that moved out.
While it’s easy to see the impact Missouri and Texas A&M have had on the SEC picture from a football win/loss standpoint, what’s less evident is what it has done to the league’s revenue stream and competitiveness.
Here’s an interesting comparison, by conference, of overall impact.
|Big-Five Conference Realignment Since 2011|
|Moved In||vs. Ranked Since Move||%||2012 Revenue|
|Sports Reference/College Football & USA Today|
This makes a clear case that in athletic department revenues, Texas A&M is the biggest score in the conference realignment sweepstakes. According to USA Today, the Aggies’ 2012 revenue is the sixth-highest in the country and the third-most in the SEC behind Alabama ($124 million) and Florida ($120 million).
Even big-dog Nebraska lags $70 million behind Texas A&M.
The table illustrates that not only have the Aggies and Tigers done well against ranked opponents, they’ve already—in fewer than two full seasons—faced 18 ranked teams combined.
Compare this to Colorado and Utah, who have squared off with 17 ranked opponents in almost three seasons.
The other stat worth noting is that of the 18 ranked teams A&M and Mizzou have faced, 10 (or 56 percent) came against Top 10 opponents.
Compare this to Nebraska, a team which has faced four total Top 10 opponents since 2011. Of these, two (or half) came in bowl games against SEC teams (South Carolina and Georgia), both resulting in losses.
The battle for the most successful—and lucrative—expansion project, has been won by Slive and the SEC.
Comparing it to Future Expansions
The one sure thing about conference realignment is that it’s not over. On the cards for 2014 are three key moves among the big boys.
First, the Big Ten will add Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the American Athletic (formerly the Big East). Next, Louisville will also leave the American Athletic, but it will go to the ACC.
Here’s how these moves compare to those detailed above.
|Big-Five Conference Realignment in 2014|
|move date||vs. Ranked since 2012||%||2012 Revenue|
|Sports Reference/College Football & USA Today|
While Louisville is a financial win for the ACC (ranked 20th in 2012 revenue), Maryland's and Rutgers’ income puts them at the bottom of the Big 10 in revenue, after Indiana and Purdue, which both haul in more than $70 million.
What’s interesting about the three programs' performance against ranked opponents is that there has been either a total lack of success or a total lack of opportunity.
The Big Ten gets the Terrapins, who haven’t beaten a ranked team since edging No. 21 NC State in Nov. of 2010 and the Scarlet Knights, who last drew blood against No. 23 USF in Nov. of 2009.
The ACC, on the other hand, gets Louisville, a program that has played only one ranked team in two seasons.
That needs to be quantified by remembering that the single ranked team was No. 4 Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, a game the Cardinals won 33-23.
Other than that, the last ranked opponent for Louisville came in Nov. of 2011 at No. 24 West Virginia (a win) and before that, it was Sept. of 2010 at No. 25 Oregon State (a loss).
Clearly, the Big Ten and ACC aren’t getting the “Texas A&M and Missouri” gift package.
What sets Slive’s expansion plan apart from his peers in the ACC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten is the approach: He’s not been afraid to go after programs that provide solid competition for its membership.
In other words, he’s building a long-term power base with formidable opponents, not just patsies with lucrative cable TV markets to draw from.
Though the move will make the SEC more difficult to win, it will foster its growth, protect it financially and it will likely extend its reign of dominance further into the future.
Because if the top dogs (Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia) begin to falter—a natural result of a cyclical sport like college football—quality programs like Texas A&M and Missouri will step in to provide national championship-caliber teams.
This is how a conference extends its string of national championships.
And it’s not something you can imagine happening with Pitt and Syracuse in the ACC, Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12 or Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten.
The key to Slive’s success is that he’s not just run out and added teams to “keep up with the Joneses.” No, that’s because the SEC are the Joneses.
Take a look at what Slive had to say in a Dec. 2012 interview with USA Today’s George Schroeder about expanding for the sake of expansion.
When the question gets asked about super conferences, the sense I get is it’s not asked about the quality of the conference, it’s about the number (of members). For us it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the quality of the conference and its institutions…
For me in adding Texas A&M and Missouri, it was not whether or not they were going to be able to compete this fall or next fall, but a long horizon about whether or not we felt that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we would be better served to maintain our position as a preeminent league if we were to have them than if we weren’t. And the decision was, we felt we would be better off in the very long term by adding them.
This statement—and the mindset that it illustrates— goes a long way in explaining how the SEC came to power and why it will stay at the apex of college athletics.