SEC decides against expansion for time being


Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive talks with reporters in July. (Dave Martin/AP)
August 14, 2011

The Southeastern Conference on Sunday decided against extending an invitation to Texas A&M or any other school at this time, a development that at least temporarily quiets speculation that Texas A&M’s departure from the Big 12 and widespread conference realignment upheaval is imminent.

Following a meeting of SEC presidents and chancellors, Florida President Bernie Machen, the chair of the SEC presidents, said the league reaffirmed its satisfaction with its current 12-team alignment.

“We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league,” the statement said. “We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution, including Texas A&M.”

The Texas A&M board of regents was expected to meet Monday to address conference alignment.

And the Higher Education Committee of the Texas state House of Representatives was scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the situation as well.

The public’s fascination with Texas A&M, a mediocre football team unlikely to pose a serious threat in the SEC (home to the last five national champions), has had everything to do with the residual effects from such a move.

If Texas A&M at some point jumps to the SEC, the SEC likely would want to add a 14th team for balance, or add three more teams to create a 16-team superconference.

The realignment doomsday scenario was that schools would quickly try to jump to the most lucrative or attractive conference, as if in a high-priced game of musical chairs.

The statement released by the SEC concluded a dizzying weekend of frenzied media reports, including one by ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb that cited a high-ranking Texas A&M source saying that Clemson, Florida State and Missouri were also likely headed to the SEC.

Officials at each school were quick to douse rumors.

In today’s world, football is the engine that powers all of college athletics. Basketball, however popular, is almost irrelevant.

Never was that more apparent than last summer, when Rutgers, a school devoid of virtually any basketball tradition in the past 30 years, was considered a more attractive school for conferences looking to expand than Kansas, one of the nation’s most prestigious basketball programs. The reason: the New York City metropolitan television market that Rutgers brings.

To that end, Missouri would be an attractive school for an expanding SEC because of the television markets in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Florida State football, meantime, is a nationally recognized brand and the program is poised to be national contender again this season under Coach Jimbo Fisher. But the SEC already is well entrenched in the television markets in the state of Florida because of the Florida Gators.

The same logic applies to Clemson and the state of South Carolina. What’s more, SEC presidents may be hesitant to add more schools in states where SEC schools already reside.

The feeling in recent days has been similar to the one that resonated through the chaotic summer of 2010, when many braced for significant conference realignment that could have spurred the creation of four, 16-team superconferences. As it turned out, five schools of consequence changed conferences — most notably Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Pacific-12, respectively — but the superconference scenario was averted.

If Texas A&M at some point leaves the Big 12, questions will again emerge about that league’s future. After Nebraska and Colorado departed, the 10 remaining members pledged to stay together in a conference that in April announced a 13-year television contract with Fox Sports worth more than $1 billion.

Last summer, Texas A&M considered moving to the SEC as the Big 12 was on the verge of a breakup but ultimately remained in the league along with longtime rival Texas, which considered a jump to the Pac-12.

But Texas’s new television sports channel, the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network, has proved a divisive force in the Big 12.

Texas A&M was among the schools that took issue with the network’s intent to televise high school football games because of a potential recruiting advantage for Texas.

With Texas A&M remaining in the Big 12 for now, this should only intensify its rivalry with Texas. A move to the SEC would have threatened the rivalry that began in 1894. Mack Brown, the longtime Texas coach, told ESPN radio on Sunday morning that “a lot of people are worried about that. Texas will be fine. I think the Big 12 will be fine regardless of what comes out of this, and we will move forward.”

If Texas A&M does eventually join the SEC, attention will quickly turn to other leagues. Does Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany respond by trying to poach some Big East teams, namely Pittsburgh and Rutgers? And does the Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott take another shot at Texas? And what about Notre Dame?

But for now the focus remains on the nation’s most dominant conference. Last month, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was addressing the subject of possible expansion when a reporter asked if it would be possible to expand to 16 teams.

Slive’s response: “We could get to 16 teams in 15 minutes.”

Apparently the league is not quite ready to do so.

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