Yesterday I wrote an expansive article on pending expansion. You can read it and participate in the ever–expanding commentary here .
Today, I'm going local, and will get into the effects of expansion in the eyes of the Florida Gators.
While many of the ideas will be similar between the two articles, I'm severely limiting the scope in this one.
The SEC is currently positioned as the top power–conference in college football. It holds the most respect in the eyes of voters, analysts, and fans. It also generates the second highest gross–revenue in college football, barely trailing the Big 10.
To say that the SEC needs to play catch-up in this arms race is laughable. Commissioner Mike Slive knows that he holds the most cards right now, and there's a good chance that the SEC does absolutely nothing.
Still, with other major conferences participating in College Football's Supermarket Sweep, it wouldn't surprise me to see the SEC throw itself in the mix. Since this is all far–down–the–road conjecture, this article will rest on a few assumptions.
Assumption No. 1: Texas is off the table
Other writers have made plenty of "what if" articles covering SEC expansion over the last few weeks. The consensus put the Texas schools and FSU at the top of the list of possible candidates.
With the Pac-10's pending offer to the Big 12, the Texas schools are likely out of play. Even if Texas refuses Larry Scott's deal, it is likely that the Big 10 will provide a counter offer before the SEC attempts to expand West.
Writing them out of the picture clears things up for the directions which the SEC may expand in. Without the allure of Texas, it is far less likely that the conference will expand westward.
Now, Florida State becomes the most likely candidate. FSU doesn't expand the SEC brand in any direction, but it does fill a major hole right in the middle of SEC country. This wouldn't be expansion so much as it would be strengthening the borders.
Florida State is the most popular football school in the ACC by a long shot. Adding FSU to the SEC gives the conference total control of the Southeast.
Depending on which side of the SEC that FSU lands, this could prove to be a major shakeup in the Gators' schedule.
Assumption No. 2: The SEC will keep it even
Why expand if you're not going to keep the current balance? There's no reason to go to 13 teams. The SEC will expand in duos until it reaches whatever the magic number is.
The teams will still be split geographically, with one new team going to each conference (or the conferences being redrawn, with old members switching sides).
Regardless, expansion will either be to 14, 16, 18, 20, etc., teams.
Assumption No. 3: The SEC will raise the number of conference games scheduled
Without knowing how far the SEC is willing to go up, it's still safe to say that eight conference games will not cover expansion. Before getting into anything new, let's recap the SEC schedule.
Right now, SEC teams play five intra–division games and three inter–division games. Of the three inter–division games, one is a permanent cross–divisional rival and two are home–and–home series, which rotate through the remainder of the conference.
Basically, each SEC team plays the entire conference every six years.
If the SEC expands to fourteen teams, it will take twelve years to complete a full SEC cycle under current scheduling.
If the SEC expands to sixteen or larger, the cycle never completes.
The current structure puts a soft cap on the number of teams at sixteen, with nine conference games per year.
That gives each conference eight teams apiece. That's seven intra–divisional games plus two inter–divisional games and allows for one inter–divisional rival and one rotation.
The speed of the scheduling cycle slows down considerably, but it keeps traditional games in place. The SEC could always go to ten conference games (ideal at sixteen teams), but we'll get into the consequences of that in a little bit.
A potential problem arises for the Gators at nine games. Florida State is the farthest–west team that I could see the SEC adding. Either the SEC will move current teams to the SEC West, or more likely, FSU will join the SEC West.
At that point, LSU would be dropped from its current rival position in favor of Florida State, a more intense traditional rivalry.
Losing LSU isn't the end of the world. They were at best, fourth rival, and some would argue that Saban–Meyer has made the Alabama–Florida games a near–rivalry overshadowing anything that LSU–Florida has.
Rivalry or not, I look forward to the big game that LSU–Florida provides. Adding FSU to the SEC removes a yearly big game from the Gators' schedule.
Assumption 4: Nobody's adding a 13th regular season game to accommodate expansion
Right now, four out of conference games may be too many. Outside of the SEC, the Gators play FSU, a rotating Florida school, an FCS school, and a crappy mid–major each year.
Adding FSU as a conference game takes the Gators down to a rotating Florida school, FCS school, and crappy mid–major.
If the conference season were to be raised to ten games, the Gators would likely go to a rotating Florida school and an FCS school. That is pathetic.
Unless Florida gets over their Spurrierian fear of traveling for out of conference games, and this is unlikely to change, as the other potential close–ish non–SEC teams worth playing will likely be joining the conference in any expansion (I'm looking at you, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Miami/Va Tech).
That said, the Gators would be playing teams like Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Miami/Va Tech, so even if they're forced conference games, they still count.
Still, expansion will kill any semblance of a Gators non–conference schedule, which may or may not matter at all.
Overall, it will drive the SEC to be less open about scheduling, making the archaic national rankings system even harder to deduce as pollsters have to reach further for common opponents.
In case you're wondering, anything that makes the BCS more contrived is a bad thing.
So what does it all mean?
Expansion will likely force the Gators to lose a rival, but the Gators will gain quality opponents.
Complainers will justifiably talk about the Gators' lack of a non–conference schedule, but at the same time, the talent pool and strength of schedule within the SEC+ will be even stronger than it currently is.
Will it be better? I'd argue no. The games may get better for the Gators with more chances at quality opponents.
I don't see the SEC+ expanding far out of the current market like the Pac 16 is trying to do, so the gameday experience won't be altered much either.
This drives the overall sport into pockets though. You'll have the SEC brand, the Pac 16 brand, the Big Tenleventwelveteen brand, etc., all posturing for alpha status so they can get their team into the championship.
In the quest to have the best candidates, the Spurrierian mentality will take root everywhere. If you're only a fan of the Gators, that doesn't matter. We've been doing that for 20 years. Hell, the SEC+ might be a better option for you.
If you're a fan of college football as well as a specific team, this will suck. Expect fewer premier, regular season National Championship-type matchups. Texas–Ohio State isn't happening in September unless they're both in the same conference in the age of Super-conferences.
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