Just when we thought this year’s time between the end of recruiting and the start of spring practice would be spent with the usual—articles on every class not in Rivals Top 25 being underrated; on every team’s returning starters being underrated; and on every team’s NFL Draft prospects being underrated—the Big Ten went and blew it all up with expansion talk.
It is as though the Muse Clio herself abandoned her playground just to whisper in our ears that history can be forsaken and rules have no spot in the realm.
Suffering no constraints, sports writers—both professional and aspiring— have caught the Devil’s Fever, producing volumes on exponential possibilities.
But in the blitz to concoct 24 team super-conferences and dismantle the Big East, some very pragmatic moves have been overlooked.
Like TCU moving to the SEC.
In the final wash, remaining questions on the topic have moved further from the unlikely prospect of change occurring towards the “Who’s left without a chair?” end of the spectrum.
The more comfortable conferences get with the idea, the more it makes sense for the SEC to reach out first to grab the best fits from what is available instead of what is left.
Clemson is the easy pick to add to the East Division.
ACC fans have long complained that the Tigers are more of an SEC team anyway: they sell out their 80,000 seat stadium; they do not have much of a basketball program; and they are geographically trapped in a triangle cornered by Columbia, Knoxville, and Athens.
The question has always been who to court for the West. Obviously, it is fun to write about the impact The University of Texas would have, but more prudent analysis has revealed an impractical fit between the two.
TCU, on the other hand, has a pretty good argument.
Places the SEC in Texas
Texas is one of the few places in the country that national championship teams can be fielded entirely by in-state prospects.
The depth of talent across the state is only challenged by Florida and California. Though it should be noted that Texas had the most FBS players on rosters with 408; Florida’s 355 were second; and California’s 323 came in third.
SEC schools—particularly nearby LSU—have pulled in a few recruits, but the fact that no good son of Texas is guaranteed a game in front of friends and family if they go to the SEC is a recruiting obstacle for out of state programs.
Texans love being Texans in case you did not know.
Having a member school in Texas is oft cited by SEC coaches and athletic directors as the best move the conference could make to aid recruiting in the state.
Texas is also one of 16 “No Pass, No Play” states that ties extracurricular activity to academic performance. Moreover, the Texas policy requires participants to maintain a minimum 70 percent grade in each academic course.
In contrast, most other states—including the five SEC states with such a policy—base eligibility on the cumulative average or GPA. For instance, while Louisiana does have a "No Pass, No Play" stature, students are only required to have an overall GPA greater than 1.5 to qualify.
If you pay close attention to such things, you know why you never hear Mack Brown talking about how many of his recruits will actually qualify.
Dallas-Fort Worth is the Fifth Largest Television Market in the Country
Quick question: Which SEC Team’s hometown has the biggest TV market?
That would be Vanderbilt; Nashville comes in at No. 29 on the list.
The lack of a team in a large television market was the only bargaining chip played against the SEC when negotiating its 15-year, $2.25 billion contract with ESPN (which co-exists with a 15-year, $825 million deal with CBS).
The ESPN deal in particular changed the face of college football: there is more TV money going to Starkville than finds its way to South Bend. For all the bluster and sycophancy surrounding the Notre Dame deal with NBC, the last place team in the SEC pockets almost twice the TV cash—$9 million to $17 million—as the Irish.
Rub that on your golden dome.
Furthermore, having TCU in conference puts an SEC stamp on the Horned Frogs non-conference schedule as well, that has historically included matchups with other Texas programs like Texas Tech and rival SMU. The bad blood shed with Utah in the last few years could also be a game moved to the OOC schedule.
Considering that the Longhorns tend to play a much softer OOC schedule, an argument can be made that even with a much smaller fan base, TCU’s location and historical opponents offer greater value to the multiple platforms both the SEC and ESPN are using to push their agreement.
Example: ESPNDallas.com would carry SEC news as part of local coverage.
It is that kind of strategy—strengthening media forms other than TV—that could give the SEC even more leverage than it already has in creating revenue streams from advertisement and syndicate deals.
There are rare opportunities for conferences to consider that have an upper-tier football program in a Top 5 television market. TCU is one of those opportunities, and the SEC should move to the front of the line of courting conferences.
Correct the Vandy Problem
Vanderbilt’s lack of overall success on the gridiron has led to quite a bit of bashing, especially from those who forget that the SEC would have had a hard time getting together without Vandy’s help.
Vanderbilt remains the only private school member of the conference, with the smallest undergraduate enrollment and highest academic standards. In a decade that has seen enrollment at public universities grow substantially—and the associated revenues grow even more—Vanderbilt has an inherent disadvantage in fielding teams comparable to the one their peers produce.
TCU, very similarly, is a private school with a smaller undergrad enrollment and routinely places in the 95th percentile of national academic rankings. Though classified as a doctoral and research university, TCU was founded on a strong liberal arts platform and maintains much of that tradition in its current academic design.
As tempting as it is to consider another, much larger, public university, the SEC needs to bring a bit more balance to its membership. As a charter member of the SEC, Vanderbilt’s positioning to add another private institution with above average academic standards should be more respected.
The fact that such a school can be found inside a major metropolitan market and still be a good football program should be a no-brainer.
Bloodlines and Mythology
Arkansas has been a bit of a stepchild since joining the SEC in 1992, in the sense that the long time Southwest Conference School does not enjoy a mythic, lore-creating rivalry in conference.
Not that Arkansas-TCU is on par with the Iron Bowl, but the teams spent the greater part of the last century sparring on athletic fields. Adopting part of the SWC tradition bolsters the living memory of SEC schools, many of whom have bloodlines that often mix with Texas schools.
Famed Ole Miss Coach Johnny Vaught is just one example. Vaught was an All-American guard for TCU.
TCU also produced Sammy Baugh, Davey O’Brien, Bob Lilly, and LaDainian Tomlinson to name the most prominent few. That’s a pretty good group.
The SEC prides itself on the cultural identity its teams enjoy among its fans and surrounding populations. Adding a team from Texas, where football enjoys—at the very least—the same iconography just makes sense.
For a conference—hell, a people—that openly ties itself to its history, in both physical and philosophic senses, bringing TCU into the SEC conference is almost a rekindling with a distant cousin who just moved back to town.
SEC fans will love going to Fort Worth, to visit the Stockyards or grab fajitas at Joe T. Garcia’s. The more adventurous might even take in the One-Armed Dove Hunt in Olney, TX (the birthplace of Johnny Vaught).
For all the reasons SEC schools and fan bases think themselves the best in the country, it is time to catch up with someone you have not thought about in a while.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to visit his profile page for other articles.