When news broke that the Southeastern Conference was potentially annexing both Texas and Oklahoma, the college football news cycle exploded with narrative twists and turns. For most rank and file coaches in the SEC, it was another Thursday.
While the potential impact of such a large move is still yet to be fully understood — Is the Big 12 dead? Will the Big Ten respond? Is the SEC done adding teams? — the level of competition inside the existing league has numbed most assistants.
“It’s certainly big news because of the logos on those helmets,” one head coach said via text. “But this is the only league where those guys would have to adjust to the league and not the other way around.”
Expansion doesn’t bother SEC coaches, so long as the playoff expands, too
The coaches we spoke with all mentioned the College Football Playoff’s potential expansion to up to 12 teams as a major reason why an expanded SEC, potentially one with a nine-game conference schedule, makes sense.
“We talked about it briefly as a staff. A lot of us, right away, love the idea. In this league, if you’re playing nine conference games and there’s a[n expanded] playoff, that makes resumes stronger and the game better,” one SEC football staffer said.
And despite the fact the news has moved quickly (Texas and OU went from ‘rumored’ to officially intending to join the league in a week’s time), actual football coaches in the league have little interest, because it’s not something they’re conditioned to do anything about. In the realm of coachspeak, “control the controllables” is the order of the day.
“We don’t control schedules anyway, so why should this be any different? Honestly, it’s not something we can do anything about,” one assistant said.
No one thinks Texas A&M is mad — at least their coaches
When news of the Red River invasion initially broke, leadership at Texas A&M looked to be caught flat-footed that their most hated rival was headed east for a reunion. A&M athletic director Ross Bjork told the SEC Network the Aggies were happy being the only SEC program in the Lone Star State, but then a few days later refined his message to the more amenable “We’re ready” when asked about the Horns and Sooners joining the league.
That kind of public positioning doesn’t carry into coaching. As many coaches we spoke to pointed out, A&M is already going head-to-head with OU and Texas in recruiting players in areas like Houston and Dallas, so there’s not a discernible gain or loss based on conference affiliation.
Also, Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies have something far more urgent ahead of them: The 2021 season.
“They’ve got a really good team this year. I think that’s all they’re worried about,” an SEC West assistant said.
Coaches don’t care about rivalries or schedules. They care about recruiting
Don’t waste your time asking an active SEC football coach about schedules, divisions or anything else that would chew up an hour on "The Paul Finebaum Show." If you want a response about realignment, talk about recruiting. The mindset for active coaches, especially assistants with dedicated recruiting territories and reputations as ace recruiters, is that this expands an already borderless map of the greater “South.” And that goes for the league’s traditional haves, and the have-nots.
“If you’re Arkansas or LSU, you’ve always recruited Texas. If you’re a smaller school like Missouri or Ole Miss, I think you benefit. Missouri did well in Texas when they were in the Big 12. If you’re a [Western division school] like the Rebels, you’re probably going to rotate games and play in the state of Texas every year now. That’s a benefit.”
“The bigger question I have,” asked one SEC West assistant, “is how you take advantage of this at a place like South Carolina or Kentucky. Oklahoma doesn’t need to come fight you on a kid in Charlotte or Cincinnati, because they’re Oklahoma. But can you start raising your profile hundreds of miles away in Dallas?”
When the addition of OU and Texas is boiled down to personnel, SEC coaches are only looking at marginal gains or losses in rosters. Because the level of talent is so high on every league roster to begin with, absorbing a perennial contender like Oklahoma is akin to having another game vs. a Florida or Georgia, “and that’s just life in this league,” one assistant said.
“But I don’t think anyone in coaching, Texas A&M or anywhere else [in the league], is worried about Texas dominating the SEC.”
— Written by Steven Godfrey. Follow him on Twitter (@38godfrey).
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