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Athlon editors Patrick Snow and Braden Gall debate SEC expansion.
Debate: Should the SEC expand?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I do not think the SEC should expand, and that’s mainly because I do not think it’s good for college football for any power conference to go past the 12-team threshold. It seems inevitable that the collegiate world is headed to the land of ‘Superconferences’, with last year’s Pac-12/Big Ten/Big 12/MWC realignment just the tip of the iceberg. I think the popularity of college football lies in its regional rivalries and ultra-passionate fans. The arms race towards 16-team leagues with national footprints is a path to becoming “NFL Junior” in my opinion, and I think that would damage college football in the long term. Do you really want to see league games between Rutgers-TCU and Washington State-Oklahoma State? How are you going to structure a sensible football schedule with 16 teams in a conference?
As far as the recent ‘Texas A&M to the SEC’ rumors, I just don’t see why Mike Slive needs to be in a hurry to secure the Aggies. What’s the urgency to move to an unbalanced 13 teams, with an obvious 14th school soon thereafter? The SEC is about as strong as a conference could be right now, with five straight national titles in football and loaded television deals. If another power league ups its membership to 14 or 16 teams in the future, then Slive could determine a possible expansion at that time. After all, where do you think Texas A&M is going to go? The SEC will always be a better fit for the Aggies than any Pac-16 scenario, and I don’t see the Big Ten inviting them. If the Big 12 falls apart because of the uber-greedy Longhorns or a lack of 12 teams, then A&M will be available at that time. We all understand the benefit for the SEC to capture Texas television markets, but it’s not like Slive can immediately renegotiate the recently signed TV contracts if the Aggies joined next year.
The SEC is a leader. The conference model that former commissioner Roy Kramer and staff set up in 1992 seems to be what every league has followed in subsequent years. Here’s hoping that college football’s toughest league does not cross the 12-team line on the gridiron, and then force other power leagues to try and keep up. ‘Superconferences’ probably sound great to ESPN and bean counters in conference offices, but a college football landscape where you don’t play half your league makes no sense. I hope my favorite game keeps its unique regional rivalries and doesn’t lose its special identity in the pursuit of a few million dollars more.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): College football is an arms race. It is a brick and mortar business. Teams build seven-figure athletic facilities, locker rooms, luxury suites, dorms, cafaterias and hire the best personal trainers, chefs and tutors to make sure athletes are well cared for at all times.
This theory extends upwards towards the conferences and the conference commissioners. Jim Delany, Larry Scott and Mike Slive had made massive powerplays in the form of TV networks, tv contracts and conference expansion.
So in light of Big East expansion rumors, and its own extremely lucrative television contract, Slive needs to be proactive. Delany pressed the issue and lured one of the single most powerful football programs in the nation into the fold when he landed Nebraska. Scott "acquired" two solid programs in Utah and Colorado and then upped the ante with the most creative and profitable television contract in the game today.
Slive and the SEC have no choice.
Is the SEC the top dog? Yes. Does it own the on-the-field bragging rights? Yes. Is it the most "dedicated to winning" conference in the nation? Yes. But heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The massive bull's-eye permanently located on the chest of the SEC shouldn't worry fans, coaches and players too much. But it certainly should have Presidents, boosters, Mike Slive and, most importantly, the beancounters conscious of future earnings potential, growth opportunities and creative revenue streams.
Would the SEC even have a chance to land superpowers like Texas, Oklahoma, Florida State or Miami? Does Missouri offer enough eyes and ears with the Kansas City and St. Louis markets? Would Virginia Tech or Maryland offer up the Richmond-DC-Baltimore-Tidewater markets? Does Texas A&M give Slive the DFW metroplex and Houston he so desperately craves?
The SEC needs to land a prestigious program(s) with a powerful athletic department dedicated to success on the field. But make no mistake, it is always about money. So if the top conference in college football can go first-to-third on a single to right and force the other leagues to make the play, and do so in a timely, efficient and profitable manner, Slive has to pull the trigger and force the hand of Delany and Scott.
If 16-team super-conferences are inevitable, the SEC might as well be the first to step off the ledge.