Eighteen years ago there were probably people like me complaining about the idea of the Southeastern Conference expanding. Those people are now probably singing a different tune since what Roy Kramer did by adding two teams, splitting the SEC into two divisions and creating a Championship game revolutionized college football and started the SEC on the path as the premiere college football conference it is today. My argument against SEC expansion is not the same as it was back in the early nineties, but the premise is the same…adding two or four more teams to the SEC is a bad idea.
Bigger is not always Better
The goal of the original SEC expansion was not to be the biggest conference in the country; it was to create a format that allowed a championship game adding additional revenue and exposure for the conference. If a bigger conference would benefit the SEC, it would have already been done, but a bigger SEC is not a better SEC. The reason for expansion comes down to two topics, money and attention. The reason for the first SEC expansion was partially motivated by financial reasons but this time there aren't many markets the SEC hasn't tapped in the Southeast. Add in the fact that the SEC Network is run through ESPN and most SEC games are nationally televised, money really can't be the main factor here.
Attention is the other topic and after winning four straight BCS National Championship games it is hard to imagine the SEC needing more attention. The Big Ten desperately needs to expand because we stop talking about their conference the third week of November and the Pac 10 has become so irrelevant that if they were to add Boise State the Broncos might come in and be the second best program in the league. Since the SEC needs neither of those two things it makes the expansion discussion pointless.
Rivalries will be weakened
This will always be my biggest point of contention with expansion; I was in the minority disagreeing when the SEC began rotating two games from the opposing division relegating some of my favorite games to twice every six years. Auburn vs. Florida, Georgia vs. Ole Miss and Arkansas vs. Tennessee were always exciting games it is disappointing that we don't get them as often as we should. Adding more teams means that those games will be played even less and while any team from the South that is added will probably have some relationship with the conference, it isn't worth it.
Clemson seems to be a popular choice, but they play South Carolina every year anyway and was UGA/Clemson or Auburn/Clemson that much of a rivalry that you want to see it every year. Most UGA fans couldn't care less about playing Clemson; it has always been Clemson wanting to continue that series. There are programs in the south that each SEC school has a history with and would make good additions to the SEC, but they are not worth the watering down of the league at this time.
One more note, please spare me the emails about how you would trade Vanderbilt for "Insert Team Here." Vanderbilt has some of the best and most loyal fans in our conference, they love their program, they love their school and they love the SEC. I can't stand hearing people mentioning who should be traded for Vandy. They are here to stay and that is the way it should be.
12 is the Magic Number
Twelve is a perfect number for the SEC, fourteen or sixteen just doesn't make sense when looking at the current structure of college football. Twelve teams means that you get to play your entire division plus exactly half from the opposing side of the conference. It makes sense for a conference with ten or fewer teams to play every team in the league each year because it is then a fair comparison for a Champion but where does fourteen or sixteen put the teams?
Let's pretend that the SEC expands to fourteen teams and for this example they will add Clemson to the SEC East, Louisiana Tech to the SEC West and keep the eight conference game format. The teams aren't what are important, the schedule turns into six games in the division, one permanent game from the other division and one rotating game for the final slot. Adding that seventh team in each division would mean that teams could only play a team from the other division twice a decade. Twelve makes sense for all the major sports in College and it is perfect for football.
Learn from the SEC Network
The Big Ten started off the trend of college football networks and it began as a colossal bust with Big Ten Commish, Jim Delany, fought with the cable companies to get them to make their network part of the normal programming. That didn't happen and a year later the SEC negotiated their Network on ESPN. It is obvious the SEC came out ahead in this one and while the Big Ten games flounder in the special cable sports package, the SEC gets at least 3 games on ESPN/ESPN2 Saturdays during the fall and even more on local Cable channels and ESPNU.
The SEC took an idea that the Big Ten came up with and they perfected it, the SEC should let the Big Ten or Pac 10 be the guinea pigs with expansion and then see how it works. If bigger conferences add some value that doesn't seem apparent right now it would give Mike Slive or the next SEC Commissioner the opportunity to fine tune the process and make it better.
The SEC is not in any danger of losing teams to those two conferences, there is not an arms race over Texas or Boise State to worry about in the South. Any team that the SEC might want to talk to would not be discussed with any other conferences at this point so why rush? Clemson, Southern Miss, Florida State, Georgia Tech are not going to get calls from the Big Ten or Pac 10 and it makes a lot of sense to see how this plays out in other leagues before the SEC should seriously discuss it.
Do you want more teams in the SEC? Is it good for the conference or just a way to keep the SEC in the headlines? E-mail me Brian Harbach