As we come ever so closer to something official somewhere about Texas A&M moving to the SEC, the college football world has naturally turned to speculating on who is going to be SEC school number 14. I can buy that the SEC might spend a year or two at 13 schools, but with divisional play having long been in place, an odd number of members is not going to work long-term in the same manner that it did for the Big Tweleven.
Mr. SEC had a nice breakdown of the SEC’s realistic expansion options last week and I agree with his overarching point that there are not nearly as many choices for Mike Slive as the average college football fan believes. (Note that Mr. SEC is as close to that conference as anyone, so he’s not some biased and blasphemous Big Ten blogger like yours truly.) I’ll reiterate my belief once again that the ACC is much, much, much stronger than so many people that just see the recent results on the field, current TV contract cycle, and preponderance of hookers and blow in Miami seem to give it credit for. The ACC has extremely strong academics (which, whether sports fans like it or not, actually matter to academic institutions) along with a core of UNC, Duke and UVA that’s never going to realistically leave. Mr. SEC’s contention (and I once again agree with him) is that when you’re not including ACC schools (although I’ll evaluate a few of them as cursory measure in a moment) and it should be assumed that the Big Ten and Pac-12 aren’t poachable, then the list of schools that can (1) add value to the SEC and (2) aren’t tied down by home state politics (i.e. the Oklahoma – Oklahoma State situation) is cut down to Missouri, West Virginia and Pitt. That’s it. As a result, Mike Slive just can’t start blowing up other conferences like Emperor Palpatine (not that it’s in his best interest to do so, anyway). Let’s take a look at those 3 schools along with a handful of specific ACC members that often get mentioned as potential SEC candidates:
Virginia Tech is probably the most oft-rumored addition to the SEC these days and it certainly makes sense from a financial perspective. The Hokies have a large fan base that also opens up a brand new fast-growing Southern state for the SEC while providing access to the Washington, DC market. Here’s the problem (and I know many readers believe I harp on this too much): Virginia state politics.
Let’s take a look at the historical timeline of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s ACC members:
1819 – The dude that wrote the Declaration of Independence founds Big Brother University.
1872 – Little Brother University is founded.
1953 – Big Brother becomes a founding member of the ACC. Little Brother kicks around in the Southern Conference and then as an independent later on.
1991 – Little Brother joins the Big East.
2003 – Big Brother’s league raids Little Brother’s league. Little Brother then gets Virginia politicians to pressure Big Brother to scuttle the league’s expansion plans entirely in order to have Little Brother join instead. It works!
Does that timeline really look like a situation where Little Brother can go and completely screw Big Brother only 8 years when Big Brother directly called in favors to get Little Brother into the ACC? Make no mistake about it – UVA would be screwed in this situation. The notion that UV A would be unscathed if Virginia Tech left is a fallacy. If we believe that the ACC would lose TV money with Virginia Tech leaving (very possible) and/or even worse, the long-term stability of the ACC that UVA founded (another strong possibility), then Virginia legislators are going to put the smackdown on that move. It’s not just about the ACC or UVA simply surviving here. At least in the case of Texas A&M, leaving for the SEC wasn’t ever going to damage Texas financially at all and in a strict political sense, the Aggies is closer to UT’s equal in terms of power. The Commonwealth of Virginia, however, is heavily ACC country and it wouldn’t go over well to see a Virginia-based university that begged politicians to force it in then turn around and completely destabilize it less than a decade later. As a result, I don’t believe that Virginia Tech going to the SEC is realistic. It’s the best combo of new markets and solid football for the SEC, but that doesn’t mean that they’re attainable. There’s NFW that a public flagship university that was founded by Thomas Jefferson is going to get screwed by a fellow in-state institution here.
(It’s certainly ironic that a school that the ACC didn’t originally want in 2003 may end up being the key to the conference’s long-term stability. Just as UVA had circumstantial veto power when the ACC last expanded due to the UNC/Duke bloc against any type of addition, Virginia Tech has ended up in the position where it may singlehandedly determine whether the ACC stays intact. That’s the type of position that legislators love to pounce upon.)
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Here’s a link to the website of the University of North Carolina system. If you look at the list of institutions controlled by the UNC Board of Governors, you’ll find North Carolina State University listed there. This means the UNC system has to ultimately approve any conference move by NC State. If you haven’t figured out by now why UNC and NC State will never, ever be separated, I can’t help you. Considering UNC isn’t going to ever head to SEC for academic and control reasons, NC State isn’t going anywhere, either.
Florida State is really the only ACC school that I could realistically see heading to the SEC. Its Big Brother is the one that’s already in the SEC, so this isn’t a situation where Little Brother would somehow be abandoning Big Brother like Virginia Tech or NC State. It’s probably up to the University of Florida as to whether FSU would get an invite. The rumored “Gentlemen’s Agreement” among SEC schools to not add any expansion candidates in current SEC states seems more rooted in giving deference to fellow in-state institutions as opposed to some type of outright ban. FSU doesn’t bring a new market, but the Seminoles clearly have the top national football brand in the ACC and that may trump any territorial overlap concerns with the Gators.
Clemson is one of the other ACC schools that may accept an SEC invite despite the difference in academics, but the issue is whether Clemson actually brings much to the SEC. I find Clemson to be more of a fan-based wish as opposed to a financially-sound addition. To be clear, Clemson has a great fan base and solid athletic programs across-the-board. However, I think that the SEC looks at them in the same manner that the Big Ten looks at Pitt: a great fit in everything but straight cash homey. The SEC already has the flagship in Clemson’s home state of South Carolina with a relatively low population while the Tigers don’t have the national name of FSU to compensate. If you could move the Clemson campus to virtually any state outside of the current SEC footprint, then it would be a top target. Unfortunately, the one thing that a school can’t change is location unless it’s an online diploma mill. Speaking of Pitt, by the way…
Even as a guy that is largely known as the blogger that wrote about the possibility of Big Ten adding Texas, the thought of Pitt going to the SEC feels geographically out of whack even though the actual distance may not actually be as far as you think. It’s a strange thought on the surface and not a cultural or institutional fit, although with the footprint and mishmash of different types of schools in the Big East now, we’re probably at the point where it doesn’t matter. Pitt has everything checked off that you’d want in a school with great academics, a long football history, and a top tier basketball program. This would be purely a money play for the SEC to get into Pennsylvania, though, and while money is certainly factor #1 in any conference decision, those types of moves generally don’t work out without some intangible cultural and institutional ties, too. Pitt might end up being the beneficiary of the domino effect in the event that the SEC takes Florida State and then the ACC needs a replacement (where the Panthers would be a much better match).
A year ago, I couldn’t see any reasonable way for West Virginia to end up in the SEC. Now, though, the Mountaineers might be the most realistic frontrunner with the way everything has played out. WVU is pretty similar to Iowa – a rabid statewide fan base in a small immediate market but whose grads disperse to major markets nearby and have an incredible traveling reputation. (Differences: WVU has a functioning basketball team along with top tier rifle and couch burning programs.) The Mountaineers would be a great cultural fit with the SEC while getting the conference some exposure in the Mid-Atlantic region. Whether the SEC can get over the school’s small market the way that the Big Ten got over Nebraska’s low population base is another story.
Ah, Mizzou. I know that there are a lot of Missouri fans that are convinced that I have it in for them as an Illinois alum, but to be honest, it would’ve been great strictly from an Illini perspective to have had the Tigers as a conference rival in the Big Ten. The issue was that Mizzou is the kind of school that makes a lot of sense in a multi-school expansion (good TV markets, academics, football and basketball), yet they aren’t necessarily stellar enough in any category to make them the lone addition. The SEC is probably going to look at Mizzou in a similar fashion, where they likely weren’t going to make the Tigers the primary target but could be very attractive in a pairing with Texas A&M.
My somewhat educated opinion is that the ACC is going to stay intact, so it’s going to come down to a choice between West Virginia and Missouri for the SEC. Mizzou has the advantage in TV markets and recruiting areas, while West Virginia has the edge in cultural fit and fan base intensity. If I were in Mike Slive’s shoes, I’d choose Missouri, but I’m getting the impression that Mizzou may stick around the Big 12 minus 2 minus 1. That’s what happens when your university president heads up the Big 12 expansion search. As a result, West Virginia is who I’d wager on becoming SEC school #14.
(Image from The Movie Mind)