With approval of Texas A&M's addition to the SEC now official and the continuing drama unfolding in the Big 12, the SEC has cast its gaze in the direction of Missouri. As OKTC was the first to report, Texas A&M initially approached the SEC to inquire about membership in the conference. The SEC, worried about a potential lawsuit for tortious interference, insisted that A&M handle its Big 12 divorce before the school would discuss further engagement. As part of the discussions the SEC also clamped down on the idea of adding any additional Big 12 schools because it did not want to be blamed for the collapse of the Big 12 conference. With Oklahoma and Oklahoma State openly flirting with the Pac 12 -- and with Texas and Texas Tech on the cusp of departure as well -- the SEC has now increased the courtship of a new Big 12 target, Missouri.
Sources say that Missouri is attractive for many reasons. Chief among them: it opens a new market -- a primary goal of the SEC as OKTC has informed you throughout -- provides entree into St. Louis, the nation's 20th largest television market, and Kansas City, the nation's 31st, and it's an AAU school, a point that can't be lost in the conference expansion race. One of the selling points on A&M's addition to SEC presidents was that it would increase the academic prestige of the conference, becoming the SEC's third AAU school after Vanderbilt and Florida.
There's also the belief that Missouri's addition would allow the SEC to take a step firmly into the Big 10's turf and keep the Big 10 from expanding in this direction at any point in the future.
It's important to note that Missouri's addition would, however, be predicated on the collapse of the Big 12. Namely, the SEC is waiting to see whether or not Oklahoma will follow through on its flirtations with the Pac 12 and consummate the west coast union. If the Big 12 survives, it becomes most likely that the SEC will sit at 13 teams for a season and then decide what to do afterwards. But if the Big 12 dies, Missouri is likely to be the SEC's 14th member for 2012.
Let's look at five ramifications if Missouri becomes available. (All of these ramifications are football related. Basketball and other sports would be considerably less complicated).
1. The Big 12 buyouts don't exist if the Big 12 explodes.
All that needs to happen is Oklahoma bolting and the conference crumbles.
That's hugely valuable in this era of mega-conferences, lawsuits, and television contracts.
2. If the SEC adds two western schools, Texas A&M and Missouri, then what happens to the conference divisions?
There are two primary options for realignment, each with advantages and drawbacks.
a. Move Auburn to the SEC East.
Don't worry, nothing is happening to the Iron Bowl. But the Iron Bowl would become the yearly cross-divisional game for both schools.
Auburn would lose a heated rivalry with LSU. It would also mean that Alabama's rivalry game against Tennessee, one of the South's oldest and most storied, would become a casualty of realignment. But it would mean that the Auburn rivalry, also one of the most storied in the South, would return for the Vols.
It would also preserve the balance of football power in the two divisions. You'd have four traditional powers in the East: Georgia, Florida, Auburn, and Tennessee.
And four traditional powers in the West: LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M (the assumption being that A&M would flourish in Texas), and Arkansas
Now, are you noticing anything? The East powers look a bit more powerful to me. So there would be some push back on this.
b. Move Kentucky or Vanderbilt to the SEC West, shifting Mississippi and Mississippi State to the SEC East.
Does this balance look more fair? SEC East powers: Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, ?
SEC West powers: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, ?
Now the west is a bit harder with Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas A&M hanging out there compared to Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt/Kentucky, but you've added a lightweight football program in Kentucky or Vanderbilt. Plus, historically, Missouri is not much in football.
Right now the SEC East and SEC West divisions are perfectly balanced. Adding two Big 12 teams would complicate the situation.
I've been told these are the two most likely scenarios if Missouri is 14. Play around with the divisions as you see fit, but know that football is the driving force here. I personally think Auburn comes over to the East and that's the new divisional line-up, but I think either could work.
3. There's the belief that Missouri offers the least complicated set-up for 2012.
With no buyout and no conference, the Tigers could begin play alongside A&M in 2012.
ACC bylaws are complicated -- it would be very difficult, I'm told, to add a team for 2012 -- but this way the SEC could later expand East to snag two ACC teams en route to a 16 team super conference. Still, most likely, those expansions would be in Virginia and North Carolina.
But that would be in the future. For now a 14 team schedule would make much more sense than a 13 team schedule.
4. For all of you asking about West Virginia, the new hot candidate, I don't buy it.
The SEC wants to expand in to Virginia and North Carolina. West Virginia might complicate that, plus it isn't an AAU school, doesn't have a large state or a natural city base that's attractive for television markets, and there are buyout issues with the Big East.
The only reason that West Virginia would make sense is if the Big 12 doesn't break up and the SEC is absolutely desperate to avoid a 13 team 2012 slate.
I'm told the SEC would rather sit at 13 teams than risk adding the wrong team.
So I don't buy the West Virginia talk.
5. What if the Big Ten awakes from its hibernation and contemplates finally adding Missouri as well?
Then Missouri becomes a prize with two suitors.
And what does Missouri want to do? Join the SEC or the Big Ten?
But if the Big Ten doesn't come calling, then Missouri is in a tough place. There's no room at the Pac 16 Inn. The Big East would be a huge travel mess and a perpetually unstable conference. The ACC is unlikely to make an offer. So Missouri would probably leap at the opportunity to be the SEC's 14th team.
But would the Big Ten let that happen?
Ah, conference realignment I love you so, the male soap opera continues.
If you're interested in FSU, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, et al. basically we've talked about why those schools are likely or unlikely to join the SEC in the below articles. Just scroll through and you'll be entertained and informed. I promise.
Read all of OKTC's conference realignment stories here.