Opinion among the converted —current SEC fans — holds no need for the conference to expand as the quality of football played nowadays is the best in the country.
“Why tinker with anything,” the chorus goes, “nothing transpired makes any difference to our position as the top football conference in America.”
While arguably true in the current state of affairs, that judgment is limited by its lack of vision, and requires that positional moves by other conferences be universally unsuccessful, both on the field and at the bank.
The basis of this viewpoint is that realignment of other conferences is solely based as a counteroffensive to the SEC’s run of four national titles, dominance in recruiting, and receipt of the best television money not requiring network creation.
It is an easy argument for SEC advocates to buy into because it feeds the ego while simultaneously being concise, repeatable, and hard to countermand.
It is also a trap.
The final grade on conference realignment is not the next three or four years, a time frame that has the SEC well-positioned to continue its run.
Conference alignment is about what college football will look like twenty years from now and how effects from outside the sporting world influence money and other supports.
Failing to expand the SEC right now is little more than the traditionalist’s chant that what is true now always will be, ignoring a history littered with corpses proving the sentiment false.
Possibilities Are Not Infinite
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s position that the conference would let other conferences make the first move and react accordingly does have— potentially —a fatal flaw:
That all the other teams in the region not currently in the SEC would jump at the chance to do so.
One of the winners in the early rounds of conference realignment has been the ACC.
Their teams have not been raided, and as what is currently left of the Big 12 is a much weaker conference than before, the ACC has obviously moved up the ladder of best football conferences in America.
I wrote on Friday that staying put in times of change still makes you different than before; the ACC is a perfect example of that.
However, the same benefit is hard to apply to the SEC.
Whether or not the ACC is part of Slive’s close-to-the-vest strategy we do not know, though media sources have quoted administrative members of both conferences as saying that Florida State, Miami, Clemson, and Georgia Tech —the four most popular hypothetical additions —are not on the SEC’s radar.
That leaves only four teams —Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Duke — as truly possible candidates to be pursued.
If rhetoric from the Virginia legislature is to be believed, those teams may not be separable.
We know the SEC will not add another private school to the East Division before it finds one for the West, knocking the Blue Devils out of the picture.
That leaves the Tar Heels.
Could such a thought be probable?
I can rationalize an argument that says so, but it would digress from the argument that I am trying to make:
There are not as many choices out there for the SEC as is commonly believed.
That is the main reason why the SEC should promptly invite Texas A&M into the fold.
No matter what or where you start a SEC expansion premise, drilling down the pick reveals fewer opportunities than many realize.
Take the argument to the other side of the conference with the idea that two teams—one being Texas A&M—are added to the West.
If Oklahoma is not the other team, where do you go?
A move by the Aggies to the SEC effectively ends any late proposals by Big 12 Commissioner Dan Bebbe at keeping the league together at ten teams, an attempt predicated solely on the idea that the conference already has BCS status and that carrot should not be squandered.
No Boomer Sooner means that they—along with Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State—move to the Pac Whatever as was reported by the Carl Berstein-esque Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com.
Think about what that leaves as true possibilities:
TCU, Houston, and Baylor.
While I started arguing for consideration of TCU three months ago, Friday’s development of Boise State joining the Mountain West has put that conference in excellent condition to become part of the BCS in the next couple of years.
That is, if the Mountain West does not seek a merger with the remaining Big 12 schools, one that joins under the flag of the Big 12—which already has a spot at the BCS table—and not the MWC, which would still need to obtain one.
So now we are down to Houston?
I am not necessarily trying to create a dark horse candidacy for any of the schools I have mentioned. I am just trying to point out that the SEC is not in a position of having premium choice and should not act as though it does.
There are just not as many pretty girls at this dance as the marketing posters imply.
La Republica del Norte
The myth of television revenue is that supply is increasing in the United States.
The amount of money available in television contracts is pretty finite. Broadcast companies do not own blank checks when it comes to signing deals with athletic conferences.
The move for privately held conference networks in partnership with broadcast companies—such as Fox, with stakes in the Big Ten Network and the upcoming Pac Whatever Network— are not solely about conferences finding ways to maximize the money on their products.
It is also about the reduction of costs for the broadcast company in the development and production of those products, and being able to subsidize remaining costs of high-ticket items — like football — by creating platforms for revenue off of sports that historically have had little or no value.
The byproduct of creating an infrastructure that could support the broadcast production of football games within a conference is that the same infrastructure can then be applied to other seasonal sports like basketball, baseball, softball, etc. at little additional cost.
The revenues those sports then generate become highly profitable, as the margins are so high on them, due to large tickets costs being written on the books against the high revenue stream of football.
Furthermore, as these broadcast networks are financial partnerships with the conferences themselves, the costs that are incurred are not borne solely by the broadcast company as they are with traditional broadcast agreements, like the one the SEC has with ESPN.
Now, all that is a primer for why the SEC cannot allow this opportunity of moving into the Texas market pass it by.
The only new money in college football revenue over the next twenty or so years is going to come from south of the Mexican border.
Failing to grab Texas A&M means that a revamped Pac-10 controls — without competition — all the major television markets in parts of the country most affected by immigration.
I touched on this in Friday’s piece but wanted to put the argument in clearer picture here.
When the 2010 U.S. Census is finalized and experts begin to look for applicable trends, most of them already agree that three of the most important trends will show:
1. The largest percentage increase in population will be of Hispanic origin.
2. The largest percentage increase in buying power will be of Hispanic origin.
3. The largest percentage increase in undergraduate education will be of Hispanic origin.
The trend toward a larger Hispanic middle class is thought by many experts — economic, political, sociological, etc. — to be one of the great questions of this century.
The SEC cannot cede the hot zones for this growth and expect not to be adversely affected in the long run.
I am not arguing that the SEC wins this fight outright, but it should do everything it can to recognize what the football world looks like twenty years from now and the importance of having a flag in the State of Texas.
The major broadcast deal that is the plum of the SEC revenue empire is not guaranteed to be better the next time around.
Broadcast monies are going to be spent in and on conferences that have most appeal to people with money to spend on the product.
By not snatching up Texas A&M while the opportunity is there, the SEC risks marginalization by regionalisation, of becoming a closed circuit whose power and influence is cut off from the rest of the system.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to view his profile page for other articles.
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