Another Slant on SEC Expansion

PaulCorrespondent IAugust 29, 2011

Another Slant on SEC Expansion

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    In a previous article I argued that Missouri would be the logical choice to join Texas A&M in a new 14-team SEC.  After reading and hearing other commentary I began thinking further on the issue.  As a result I changed my mind. My reasoning remains the same, for the most part, as stated in my previous article.  

    There are two main criteria for the SEC inviting any team:

    1. The school must extend the SEC's media footprint.  In other words, some otherwise worthy schools such as Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech need not apply.
    2. The school must open fertile recruiting grounds to the SEC.

    Assuming Texas A&M is a given, let's consider other primary candidates.

Oklahoma

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    The Sooners are one of the all-time great football programs in the country.  After Notre Dame they rate with such all-time stalwarts as Michigan, Alabama and Southern California.

    What, if any, is the downside of adding Oklahoma?

    1. For political reasons, adding the Sooners would likely require taking Oklahoma State also.  This would defeat the purpose of having no more than one school per state.
    2. The population of Oklahoma is only 3.69 million, which is smaller than every state already in the SEC except Arkansas and Mississippi.  The conference does not need another small-population state.
    3. While the state produces an outstanding prospect from time to time, it is far from being a fertile recruiting ground.  In fact, both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State recruit most of their players from Texas.

    Granted the Sooners would be a major media draw playing in the rugged SEC, will that be enough?  (Especially if the Cowboys must come with them, splitting the SEC pie into one or two more slices.) 

Missouri

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    As I stated in my previous article, Missouri would be a very good addition to the SEC.  It is a good academic institution and has a well-rounded athletic program. Adding Missouri and its 5.99 million population, which includes St. Louis and Kansas City, would meet the adding media market criteria.

    Why not Missouri?

    1. The most important question to answer is: Does Missouri want the SEC?  Conventional wisdom is the Tigers are willing to hold out for an invite to the Big Ten.  It may require waiting until the conference expands to 16 teams, but at this time it seems they are willing to wait.
    2. Like Oklahoma, Missouri produces some good athletes, but is far from being a hotbed for football recruiting.

    As good an addition Missouri would make to the conference, I can't imagine the SEC waiting around for the Tigers to finally give up hope of joining the Big Ten. 

North Carolina or North Carolina State

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    Either school would be a real coup for the SEC.  North Carolina's 9.38 million population easily exceeds the media footprint requirement.  The state of North Carolina produces quite a few quality football players every year. Both schools have fantastic fan support and are competitive in a variety of sports.  

    What's holding them back?

    1. Both schools are charter members of the ACC.
    2. Both are part of the Tobacco Road basketball quartet in the ACC.  
    3. UNC would probably never be willing to give up its basketball rivalry with Duke.  Of the two, NC State would be the most likely to make the move.  
    4. Most importantly, it is highly unlikely the SEC would be willing to make an offer either school could not refuse.

    The combination of the school's reluctance to leave the ACC and the SEC's need to find a matching team for Texas A&M within a reasonably short time would likely preclude either team making the move.     

Virginia Tech

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    Of the ACC schools, Virginia Tech would seem the most likely candidate to make the move.  Virginia's 7.88 million population with the recruit-rich Tidewater area meets both the media and recruiting criteria for the SEC. Virginia Tech is a land grant college with more in common with schools such as LSU and Texas A&M than UVA or UNC.  Blacksburg is reasonably close to Knoxville, Tenn. and Lexington, Ky.  Except for Texas A&M, Virginia Tech is as close or closer to every SEC team as it is to Miami or Boston.

    Are there any reasons why not Virginia Tech?

    1. The Hokies spent the better part of four decades trying to gain entry into the ACC.  It took pressure from the state governor to get the University of Virginia to sponsor their membership.  It may be politically difficult to make the move even if VPI wanted to.
    2. Today they are a very big fish in a the relatively small ACC football pond.  Do the Hokies want to trade that for being a medium-sized fish in the much bigger SEC football pond?  Because of the SEC's numerous bowl tie-ins, the move would increase their chances of playing in a bowl every year.  The tradeoff would be, unlike now, they would rarely be invited to a BCS bowl.
    3. After Frank Beamer leaves the scene will the Hokies continue to be competitive or will they revert to being a football punching bag, which fills only about half of its seats for home games. 
    4. Is the SEC willing to make Va. Tech an offer lucrative enough to pull it away from the ACC?

    As good as the match may be, pulling Virginia Tech away from the ACC may be as difficult as luring one of the North Carolina schools. 

West Virginia

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    Since Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Bobby Petrino left the Big East, West Virginia has been the dominant team in the conference.  It is the only current Big East team with a BCS bowl victory.  In fact, the Mountaineers won two.  West Virginia has a well-rounded athletic program with rabid fan support.  It is the big dog in the state. 

    Why wouldn't the SEC be interested in such a competitive program?

    1. West Virginia with 1.82 million people is only about two-thirds the size of Arkansas, the least populated state in the SEC.  As is the case with Oklahoma, the SEC doesn't need another small-population state.  Despite being a good program, WVU doesn't come close to matching the Sooners as a media draw.  Consequently, West Virginia does not meet the media test.
    2. Only occasionally does West Virginia produce more than a very few BCS-caliber football players.

    Allthough the Mountaineers are very competitive and have a good overall athletic program, it is highly unlikely the SEC would have any interest in adding them to the conference. 

Cincinnati

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    Cincinnati has been a very competitive football team for most of the last 10 years.  Over the years, the Bearcats have done well in almost every sport, especially basketball.  Ohio's population of 11.54 million more than meets the media footprint requirement for the SEC.  Next to the big three (Florida, Texas and California), Ohio is one of the top producers of football talent in the country.  The Bearcats would be a natural rival for Kentucky, which is virtually just across the river.  To make matters better, adding Cincinnati would give the SEC a toehold in Big Ten country.  

    So, why not invite Cincinnati to join the SEC?

    1. Would adding the Bearcats accomplish more than poking the Big Ten in the eye?  
    2. Much like Louisiana is LSU country, Ohio is Ohio State country.  Would the Bearcats really enhance media coverage outside the immediate Cincinnati area?  
    3. Would the SEC be able to make major recruiting inroads into Ohio?
    4. With Brian Kelly gone to Notre Dame, will the Bearcats sink back into mediocrity and become Vanderbilt North?
    5. Would being part of the SEC give Cincinnati the cachet that being in the Big East does not, thus enabling it to compete with Ohio State on more even footing within the state of Ohio?  Is the SEC willing to help Cincinnati within reason in their battle with the Buckeyes?

    While there are many questions, it seems when the pluses and minuses of all the probable candidates are considered,  Cincinnati is the best option in the East to balance Texas A&M in the West.