Tuesday Question - The 14th SEC Program

Posted Sep 27, 2011

Tuesday Question - Now that A&M is in, who should the SEC add to round out the league?

Tuesday Question 

The 14th SEC Program ...

Who should the SEC bring in as the 14th SEC program?

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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If I'm SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, and I plan to be in my next life, I get the presidents and the athletic directors of all 13 members into a room and I have a little heart-to-heart explaining the seriousness of whatever the next move is going to be.

I demand that everyone check their football egos at the door and to not worry about whether or not the 14th member is a football powerhouse that'll make the league that much nastier.

I explain that this is a one shot deal, because once the music stops and everyone has a seat, that's it. There's only one chance to go really bold, really big, and really daring, and I push the idea of not just being a better conference; I sell the idea of being the only conference that matters.

Everything has to be done on the hush-hush so that no one faced a public rejection, and first, I have a very secret, very serious meeting with Notre Dame.

I explain that as big as the SEC is now, it'll only become more important over the next decade. By 2020, either you'll be in the SEC, or you won't, and since Notre Dame doesn't want to be just another Midwest team in the Big Ten, and the Pac-16 doesn't work beyond the USC rivalry, the SEC might appeal to the school's massive ego.

At the same time I'm talking to Notre Dame I make a pitch to both Oklahoma and Texas. I explain that while it might be noble to want to stay attached to Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, respectively, this is too big a deal to mess around with political loyalties. There's too much at stake now.

I sell the SEC members on the idea of trying to go nuclear and end the expansion and conference realignment wars now. Texas, keep your Longhorn Network and your extra money from it; the $350 million will be pocket change compared to the mega-TV dollars that will roll in for a 16-team SEC with Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M added to the mix. We get those three, and our billion-dollar deal turns into billions and billions.

If I get one of the three, then there's the 14th member. If I get two of the three, fine. We go to 15 and figure the rest out later.

But let's assume that'll never happen. Let's assume that Texas and Oklahoma are going to stay put, Notre Dame isn't budging, and the current SEC schools refuse to make their football league that much harder.

The only logical choice is Virginia Tech.

The SEC already has the geography around Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson locked up. Missouri is a curious choice to expand to a different area, but St. Louis is only the 21st ranked media market and Kansas City is 31st, while Virginia Tech has a huge fan base in the ninth-ranked Washington D.C. area and big in 26th-ranked Baltimore. Getting Tech would also help the SEC tap into the fertile Virginia recruiting base, and now, the SEC can start to do more to tap into players from Houston all the way up to northern Maryland.

Blacksburg is just four hours away from Knoxville, just under five hours away from Columbia, just over five hours away from Lexington, and seven hours away from the SEC epicenter, Atlanta.

Virginia Tech is the perfect next piece of the puzzle, but only if the SEC doesn't get the bigger pieces.

By Richard Cirminiello 

Go for the jugular, SEC.

The Southeastern Conference isn't the most prestigious league in college football because it's timid or tends to take the foot off the gas in the name of fair play. No, the conference is dominant because it has a killer instinct, from its fan base to its athletic directors. And that's why the buzz about certain smaller programs, like West Virginia or Missouri, becoming No. 14 just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Why would it invite the Mountaineers? And as large as the St. Louis market may be, it's not as if the SEC is in dire need of expanding its reach in order to hike up TV revenues. It's already the game's version of a Hollywood A-lister.

The SEC ought to approach this process like the GM of a Super Bowl champ with the 32nd pick in the first round; take the best program available. No matter how unrealistic it may be league, officials ought to start with Notre Dame, Texas and Oklahoma, and don't budge until all three say no. The next tier would be the southern region of the ACC, namely Florida State, Clemson and Miami.

Who cares that the conference already has a footprint in those regions? Can you imagine the Seminoles, for instance, as the seventh team in the East Division, going up against Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every fall? I can, and it looks very appealing. Oh, and that season-ender with the Gators could have much more than just bragging rights hanging in the balance each November. Not only would the move add another marquee program to the mix, but it would also rob the ACC of a key player.

I'd stop with those six candidates before even moving forward. When you're the SEC, you get to call the shots. Fishing for the likes of West Virginia and Mizzou does more good for the invitee than the inviter, which is not the way this kind of a negotiation should develop.

By Matt Zemek

Who should be the 14th team in the SEC, aka "SEC 14"? Well, the first thing that needs to be said is that any answer will have ramifications for a whole host of communities, thereby meaning that any answer could do harm to a specific corner of the country. In an ideal world, none of this would be happening, and the dislocation occurring in the world of college sports is a profoundly lamentable development.

Now, if you held the gun to my head and forced me to give an answer… it would be West Virginia.

Culturally, the SEC – a cutthroat football conference that locates its soul in the province of pigskin – is a better match for the Mountaineers than Missouri or Florida State, the other two schools that seem to be in the conversation. West Virginia fans are pretty intense about everything – they live and die by their ‘Eers – but football certainly carries the most hopes (and anxieties) in Morgantown.

Florida State has a lot of terrific, knowledgeable fans and Missouri owns an impressive degree of longevity in collegiate athletics, but West Virginia seems to be the athletic program with the best and most reasonable chance of generating big crowds on a weekly basis as it entertains the SEC's best. West Virginia could very well become another South Carolina in the sense that it might not win big on a regular basis, but will still pack people into the seats on fall Saturdays.

Yes, this is a football-centric conversation. Did you think it was going to focus on education or any of that other holistic stuff?

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb

A: Missouri. But prepare yourself…this is going to be messy no matter how it's done.

Option 1. Take a property from the West to pair with Texas A&M. Remember, if its goal is to get to 16 teams, the SEC must eventually match a team with A&M out West or long-term the conference is out of balance. Unless the SEC's goal is to eventually migrate into four groups of four teams, it must stay balanced throughout this expansion. If not, it has to split UT/Vandy, UA/AU or Ole Miss/Miss State – which is unpalatable given the likelihood that with an eventual eight team division and a 12 game season, we'll lose the perennial cross-division game.

Moreover, with geography playing a role, there are fewer value-add, non-overlapping properties/markets for the SEC to go after in the West than you might think. The conference doesn't want Oklahoma State, and OU has made it clear that's a package deal. The SEC only needs one team, and it is highly unlikely Texas could swallow its ego to play in the SEC.

So, if not Missouri, now or later, who do you take for eventual balance?

By the way, that clock is ticking… Given the pressure Missouri is facing, if you don't make this deal quickly, and choose instead to take one team from the East for short-term balance, it's quite possible the "Show Me" state Tigers might no longer be available.

One last note with this option…IF the SEC takes Missouri for now and stops at 14, it would have to split Auburn/Bama for a year, as ugly as that might be, until it gets two teams lined up from the East. Though the Iron Bowl would have to be guaranteed.

Option 2. Take one team from the East for short-term balance. Factoring for geography, who would you take?

The only one-off, non-ACC, value-add, non-overlapping property out "East" that's even slightly attractive is WVU. We have usually been impressed with Mountaineer football, and the region (Pittsburgh/Morgantown) and alumni (Pennsylvania/Washington DC) markets are attractive. Also don't kid yourselves, the flashy 4.0 rating the LSU/WVU game earned turned a lot of heads on Monday.

However, we continue to hear that WVU is not regionally attractive "enough", and doesn't push the economic needle "far enough", to be worth the bid.

Remember also, the SEC has to eventually pick two teams from the East. When you actually break down all the available regional properties outside of the ACC, there aren't two that are attractive enough to move the needle and drive enough revenue. Which means poaching the ACC.

That's unlikely to go over well with the big money TV executives (not to mention the ACC); so like a Band-Aid, you do it once and quickly… And if that happens, then the conference is now a team short on the West. Nice huh.

All of which is why we think Option 1 the more likely of the two choices.

BOTTOM LINE. The SEC is not playing the 2012 season with only 13 teams. When all is said and done, and with geography playing at least some role, I believe the SEC woos Missouri now to pair with A&M, and eventually takes North Carolina State and Virginia Tech to balance out the East (though that likely means splitting AU/UA in the short-term). If it instead takes one team from the ACC now and waits until expanding further, it irritates a lot of folks only to have to do the same thing again, IF the ACC team it wants is then even available, and likely makes it harder to find a pair for A&M out West.

There is an Option 3: move to 16 teams now. That day is coming…period. There's too much money in it. It may not be tomorrow, it may take a few more years, but the day is coming. With it, the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten will have to keep pace.
Barrett Sallee
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It's not a popular pick in SEC circles, but the 14th team will and should be Missouri.

Say it with me, and say it with feeling - this isn't about football prestige, it's about money, plain and simple.

By adding Missouri, the SEC would add the St. Louis and Kansas City television markets, the No. 21 and 31 markets, respectively. More eyeballs equal more money; and more money will make everybody happy - even if you have to travel to Columbia, Mo.

But let's take this a step further. I have a hard time believing that the SEC will stop at 14 teams. Mike Slive is the type of commissioner that gets what he wants, and if the SEC only stops at 14, it will signal the gold rush, and the SEC would run the risk of not getting the teams that it wants. Now that the SEC has made the move to expand, it has no choice but to swing for the fences and go for the full 16.

If the SEC does go to 16, I'd go with Virginia Tech and N.C. State. Virginia Tech would get the Washington, D.C. market (No. 8) and N.C. State would get Raleigh-Durham (No. 24). Yes, I know, N.C. State isn't a football power (actually, it's dreadful), but this isn't about football, it's about money; and getting into the Research Triangle would be very lucrative.

Sure, the administrators have denied expansion rumors, but that's expected. Deny until the ink is dry. The ACC even increased it's buyout to $20 million, but that's chump change compared to what a 16-team SEC would bring in with a new television contract.