SEC's Future Will Include 16 Teams, Four Divisions of Four
For a couple of years now I've been writing that the ultimate future of the SEC is a 16 team conference with four divisions of four teams each. As you've seen from OTKC's articles so far this week, the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri added over $100 million in revenue to the coming SEC Network, a network that we showed you would likely be worth in excess of a billion dollars a year in a decade or less. Now the question that immediately arises is this, which two teams will the SEC add to the conference to get to 16 teams?
But first, let's discuss the primary obstacle to the SEC expanding to 16 teams -- an existing NCAA rule that allows the conference title game to take place.
126.96.36.199 (c) Twelve-Member Conference Championship Game. [FBS/FCS] A conference championship game between division champions of a member conference of 12 or more institutions that is divided into two divisions (of six or more institutions each), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division;
Right now you have to play a round-robin divisional schedule.
With SEC athletic directors and coaches adamantly opposed to nine conference games, this makes an eight game SEC schedule a complete mess. Why? Because you can't follow the 5-2-1 format of SEC divisional play. In this present format you played the five teams in your division, two rotating opponents, and a traditional rival from the opposing division. That meant that every five years you completed a cycle through the entire SEC.
With seven team divisions, a required six division games means if you keep the traditional rivals it would take 12 years to complete the cycle. That means big regular season games between traditional powers like Alabama and Florida or Georgia and LSU wouldn't even occur every decade. If you don't keep the traditional rivals then you make millions of SEC fans steaming mad by replacing them with divisional games lacking any historical context.
Even if the NCAA rule was changed to eliminate the requirement for round-robin play you'd still face a mess, what if two teams from the same division both finished undefeated without playing one another? How do you decide who goes to Atlanta? And how angry would the undefeated team left behind be? (Or in the existing BCS would the undefeated team left behind have the advantage since it might advance to the title game without playing).
Put simply, it isn't enough to change this rule, you need to modify it for conferences that are larger than 12 teams.
The SEC, the first major conference to 14 teams, is already hinting that it will seek a change to this existing rule.
What's the smartest possible move the conference can make?
Get a new rule that allows conferences with 16 or more teams to set up divisional play with at least four teams each. Then permit those four divisional winners to play in the SEC's own Final Four. Play the SEC West game annually in the Cowboys stadium in Dallas and play the SEC East's game annually at Nashville's LP Field. Then the two winners would play in Atlanta.
Barring an immediate eight or 16 team playoff -- which won't happen -- this is the future of the SEC, a football final four within the own conference.
So who will be teams 15 and 16?
Here's a hint, it won't be teams from the existing 11 state SEC footprint.
Back in August OKTC was the first place to tell you that the SEC wasn't going to add additional teams from states where it already had teams. Remember when everyone was clamoring about Clemson and Florida State to the SEC -- in fact, remember when ESPN even reported this? -- and OKTC told you that was dead wrong?
We were right.
And we're right about this, the SEC's 15th and 16th teams will come from the states of North Carolina and Virginia.
It's all about the additional money those states bring to the SEC Network.
North Carolina has 3.4 million cable and satellite homes. Virginia has 2.8 million cable and satellite homes.
Combined that's 6.2 million additional cable sets for the SEC Network, or about $75 million in additional revenue at the $1 a month network cost.
Expanding in to North Carolina and Virginia would put the SEC's cable and satellite footprint at nearly 37 million subscribers.
At just $1 a month, that puts the SEC's annual revenue at $444 million.
Double that to $2 -- as we've shown you that's not the least bit expensive given what other regional sports networks receive -- and we're talking about $888 million a year.
And when the SEC Network hits $3 a month which it would do within a decade you'd be talking about $1.3 billion a year.
That's $83 million a year per team just for TV money. (This money will have to be divided up with ESPN, but I think the SEC will get the vast majority).
An amount that no other conference will be able to remotely approach. That kind of money would make just about any school think about leaving its conference.
So, which teams will be the lucky duo?
(By the way, if you're wondering why the ACC suddenly leapt at the opportunity to snag Pittsburgh and Syracuse it's because the ACC suspects it will lose two teams to the SEC eventually. The ACC wanted to ensure it had 12 teams when that happened).
I've written before that North Carolina and Duke are a package deal. It seems unlikely that both teams, particularly Duke, would be willing to join the SEC. If the SEC could make a play for both, it might be willing to forego Virginia based on the national pop that would come from adding two programs of such stature in the state of North Carolina.
Lacking that, North Carolina State, the perpetual step-child of the Tarheel State, work its way into contention. Unless North Carolina could be pried away without Duke, which seems unlikely, I think N.C. State's future will be in the SEC.
Which leaves us with Virginia, which of the two programs, the Cavaliers or the Hokies will join the SEC?
Based on cultural fit and football prominence I believe it will be the Hokies. (I think Virginia -- as well as Maryland's -- ultimate future may well lie in an expanded Big Ten).
At 16 teams the SEC will reformat to four divisions of four teams each.
Here's what that could look like:
a. I tried to keep in-state rivals in the same divisions.
b. The primary goal of the divisions has to be mixing up the would-be powers of the conference. That is, they can't be too top-heavy.
c, The two parenthetical teams are an attempt at yearly rivals. You'd follow a 3-2-3 model under this idea. Three teams from your own division, two yearly rivals, and three rotating opponents which would allow you to complete the entire circuit every six years. As you can see, the top teams have the toughest out of division rivals. The goal is to keep any one team from having too easy of a path. As is presently the case in a 12-team SEC, the toughest teams in conference have the toughest SEC matchups from other divisions.
These are two teams from the original SEC east melded with two new additions. I'm trying to keep the relative strength of the divisions somewhat equal, but this one is definitely a bit top-heavy. It could make sense to switch out Vanderbilt/Kentucky with N.C. State, but I've also tried to balance the top-heavy nature of the divisions by setting up South Carolina with Vanderbilt as one of its consistent rivals. That way the Gamecocks get a relatively easy yearly opponent which helps to balance out the toughness of the division.
Georgia (Florida and Auburn)
Tennessee (Florida and Alabama)
Kentucky (Miss. State and Texas A&M)
Vanderbilt (Ole Miss and South Carolina)
Four of the six teams of the original SEC East remain minus the two teams that went to the SEC South. Georgia and Tennessee are the traditional powers in this division. As you can see, the top teams in this division, Tennessee and Georgia, have absolutely brutal rivalry games every year against top teams from outside their own divisions while Kentucky and Vanderbilt have easier rivalry games.
Alabama (Tennessee and LSU)
Auburn (Georgia and LSU)
Ole Miss (Vanderbilt and Arkansas)
Miss. State (Kentucky and N.C. State)
The name is also flexible here, I've abandoned the SEC North (since these teams aren't north) in favor of the SEC Central, but as you can see, four of the original teams from the SEC West are actually included in this division.
All season long the Iron Bowl would still loom as the ultimate challenge, although now it would likely determine who wins the division and advances to the Final Four of the SEC.
Missouri (Virginia Tech and N.C. State)
Texas A&M ( Kentucky and Virginia Tech)
Arkansas (South Carolina and Ole Miss)
LSU (Alabama and Auburn)
A bit of the old Southwest Conference brought to the SEC.
Meet the SEC's own Football Final Four, the future of college athletics.
With the success the SEC would have putting on its own Final Four eventually every major conference would move to 16 teams and adopt the same format.
But if you want to know the future of the SEC, you've just seen it.
OKTC's future of the SEC series -- read on if you want more details about the SEC Network.