SEC Expansion: League Unlikely To Add Members In Current States
Thursday night the first official reports emerged that Texas A&M to the SEC for the 2012 season was a “done deal.” Multiple telephone calls laterI was able to Tweet this out just before I hopped on a plane to Las Vegas for the weekend:
Anyone who was suggesting that A&M to the SEC was a done deal had put the cart well before the horse. In fact there still remain several hoops that must be jumped through before anything is official. And if we learned anything at all last year it’s that you can’t trust all the reports you get – even from reliable sources. Why can’t you trust these reports? Because expansion is the college equivalent of the NFL Draft, everyone is using the media to increase their own leverage. Effectively every school in question is an agent trying to create the most advantageous situation possible for their school.
Last year we heard that the Pac16 was a certainty. The Pac16’s “certainty” ended up making Texas a whole hell of a lot of additional coin from the Big 12 and ESPN. So might it make sense for A&M to convince people that you’re off to the SEC in advance of your actual departure? It could. Especially if the goal is simply to extort more money from the Big 12. (Whether the fan base would comply with being jerked around for a second consecutive season is another interesting question. The Aggie fan base wants in the SEC badly and if the A&M braintrust walks to the edge of the SEC cliff and then backs away again there is going to be hell to pay with them).
Indeed, leaking that A&M was headed to the SEC as a "done deal" has already gotten the politicians to act, an August 16th hearing has been scheduled in front of the Texas House Higher Education Committee per Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com.
But now A&M has bumped up a scheduled meeting for August 22 to Monday, August 15th. What's included in that meeting? Check Item 15, authority for the A&M President when it comes to conference affiliation. I've also heard from sources that the SEC presidents are gathering this weekend to vote on A&M. So how quickly could A&M to the SEC go down? Very quickly.
A&M and the SEC may attempt to sign an agreement before the Texas House can hold any hearings on the matter.
Indeed by next week A&M could be officially announced as a member of the SEC for the 2012 season.
With that in mind, here are eleven things that every SEC fan -- and probably every college football fan -- interested in expansion needs to know. These points of analysis come from recent conversations with multiple people who would have knowledge of this situation.
1. Last June on the first day of the SEC's spring meetings I asked Mike Slive about the SEC's currently existing television contracts with ESPN and CBS.
In particular I asked him whether television payments would increase in the event the SEC added teams. Here was Slive's lawyerly answer: "Let me try to answer that in a way that's consistent with our contractual obligations," Slive said. "There are confidentiality clauses in almost all of these contracts. Having said that, it's not unusual in a contract to have a clause that talks about the composition of the league, what it is at the start and then what might happen if the league were to get smaller or grow larger."
Then he laughed. "You can figure that out," Slive said, "That's a Casey Stengel kind of answer."
I've since been told that there is a rough framework that would increase payments based on television markets added. That is, the two sides already contemplated expansion might occur in the current contract.
2. A&M approached the SEC, not vice versa.
This is an important distinction because it suggests that A&M already has the votes on its Board of Regents to make the move to the SEC. This then is not a matter of the SEC extending an offer to A&M so much as it as decision on whether or not to accept the Aggies' request to join the conference.
It also suggests that A&M was so frustrated with the current situation in the Big 12 that they reached out to the SEC. This makes me think that when A&M reporters have said that the Aggie move to the SEC is a "done deal," it means that from A&M's perspective it already is done.
But the SEC still has to act.
3. The SEC presidents must vote to accept A&M.
So far this has not happened. That’s why reports that this is a “done deal” are completely inaccurate.
What kind of vote is required to add a member? Nine of the 12 of the SEC presidents must vote in favor of expansion, but, and here’s the kicker – those who I talked to said that the SEC would expect the presidents to act unanimously. This would square with Commissioner Mike Slive's typical management style. When the SEC undertakes an expansive step, it wants to assure that everyone is on board, not just the majority.
I've been told that a single dissenting vote might be acceptable, but that if any two presidents opposed the inclusion of a new school, it would be unlikely that school would join the conference.
4. The SEC is unlikely to add any schools in states where they already have teams.
The reason is simple, the SEC believes it is already doing well enough in those markets. This means all the Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech talk is just that, talk. Similarly for all you Memphis and Louisville fans holding out fond hopes of joining the conference, you have no shot either.
For a school like Florida State -- which has been trying, off and on, to join the SEC since the 1950's -- this exclusion is a big deal. Incidentally, you need to read that link to all the stories about FSU joining the SEC. It shows what a hot-button expansion has been for fifty years.
Now, is this playing negotiating hardball or will the SEC truly not take Oklahoma if Oklahoma State is a part of the price?
I'm inclined to believe what I've been told, that Oklahoma State is too steep of a price given the fact that the state of Oklahoma only has 3.8 million people. Effectively the SEC would be doubling down on the second smallest state in the league's footprint. There's a belief that doesn't serve the long-range interests of the league.
6. This may well be the time when four 16 team conferences emerge.
The SEC is happy in its current position, but expects that four 16 team mega-conferences will ultimately emerge. Last year took us to the brink. This year could get us there. Or it could not. There are so many moving parts its hard to know what the SEC's position will be.
Could the SEC add A&M and then spring forward and add three more teams to get to 16?
Could the SEC merely add A&M and stick at 13?
Could the SEC add A&M and one more team and sit at 14 for a while?
Could nothing at all happen?
So you see the difficulty here. From a reporting perspective all of this changes so rapidly it's hard to know what to expect. You can be completely right one moment and completely wrong the next and then back to right again. So here's the big takeaway that I've been drumming into y'all's head for several years now -- eventually the SEC will have 16 members.
It's a question of when, not if.
7. A&M then what?
That’s unclear at this point because SEC officials are still not completely certain what schools are viable options. Most talks have not advanced to the point of serious contemplation. As I told you, A&M approached the SEC. The SEC hadn't been actively pursuing new members because it was comfortable at 12.
So anyone who tells you they know what the SEC is going to do after A&M is full of it.
Put it this way, Mike Slive is the most brilliant man in college athletics and I'm not even sure he knows for certain what his next move would be.
8. Would the SEC make a run at Texas Tech?
I'm told that's a point open for debate. Some SEC sources like the idea of doubling down in the state of Texas, while others were content with snagging A&M and not as excited by what Tech brought to the table.
Based on what I'm hearing, I would put Tech as the second most likely school from the Big 12 to end up in the SEC. (With the always added caveat that Tech's inclusion would be reliant upon A&M leaping first).
9. If the schools that are already in SEC states are out of the running, what does that suggest? That Virginia Tech is probably number two in line for expansion.
I was told by multiple people that there's a strong Virginia Tech push coming.
Yesterday I laid out my list of potential expansion candidates and tried to rank them based on likelihood of joining the league. You can read that piece here. If I had to rerank those schools today based on the conversations I had yesterday, Texas A&M would be first and Virginia Tech would be second.
Who would be third?
10. The state of North Carolina.
Conventional wisdom has been that the North Carolina quad of Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and N.C. State are all connected. Primarily because this is the only state in the South – Kentucky is not actually the South – where basketball interests predominate over football interests.
If those four schools are truly all committed to one another then there's no way the SEC could crack the state.
I’ve heard scattered talk that N.C. State might be willing to make the move, but does N.C. State really move the needle?
Moreover, is there anyway that the SEC could entice a school like Duke to listen to them? Don't laugh, I'm told that some of the SEC schools like the idea of going after Duke because it would give the SEC the two best schools in the South and inoculate the conference -- to a certain degree -- from the criticism that all the SEC cares about is athletics.
Vanderbilt and Duke would be a powerful duo to rebut that charge.
Plus, and this is key, Duke wouldn't make the football side of the ledger as difficult, which I'm told is an issue of concern for some coaches.
Now, would Duke come to the SEC?
I don't have any idea.
Would N.C. State?
Again, no idea.
But there's a strong thread of argument that if the SEC could get into the growing North Carolina market and Virginia in the east, that would be the most desirable play.
11. Which brings us back to Missouri.
The team I'd now put in the number five position is Missouri. Right now Missouri is the biggest beneficiary of Oklahoma being tied to Oklahoma State. What I've been told, as I stated above, is that the SEC isn't willing to take two Oklahoma schools and that SEC officials believe the political capital needed to separate the two schools isn't there.
So Missouri jumps up above the two Oklahoma schools. Now, how does Missouri square up against Texas Tech? Great question. Right now I'd put Texas Tech a nose above Missouri.
Again, this could fluctuate every day, but if I had to rerank the SEC expansion candidates based on my conversations yesterday, I'd rank them thusly:
1. Texas A&M
2. Virginia Tech
3. State of North Carolina team
4. Texas Tech
But by the time I click publish could it all change?
Which is why this is all so damn entertaining.
I'm in Las Vegas right now on a seventh-year anniversary trip with my wife. What did I do the first thing this morning when I woke up after four hours of sleep? Made calls, sent emails, and got to work on SEC expansion. We planned this trip because we thought it would be a dead period before football started in earnest.
My wife just shook her head. "Mike Slive," she said, "owes me a dinner."
The Commissioner will probably think that's funny, but right now the most powerful man in college athletics is working like a duck to make things happen for the SEC.
A duck, you might be wondering?
Here's what Slive told me last year when we talked about expansion in great detail: "Is it an analogy to say that we were a little like a duck? On the surface we were very quiet, careful, deliberate, and underneath we were working."
No doubt at all that there is serious work going on beneath the surface. And like the rest of y'all, I can't wait to see what happens.
OKTC will be with you every step of the way. But right now, we're heading to the Caesar's Palace pool.