Thursday, August 11, 2011

If the SEC expands, who would be aTm’s running mate?

image Talk of Southeastern Conference expansion has heated up again this week, with strong rumors that Texas A&M is fed up with Texas throwing its weight around and might be looking for a new home. While school and conference officials are publicly saying all of the right things, there’s enough smoke out there to conclude that there might be a five-alarm conflagration exploding sooner rather than later.

In a recent interview, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said that he could get the conference to 16 programs in 15 minutes, and it would be wise not to take that statement as so much false bravado. If the conference did indeed open the doors, it could probably get to 24 teams in 15 minutes. But the overnight creation of a 16- or 24-team Super Conference would initiate a 2012-like global seismic event, a polar shift that the quietly but intensely competitive lawyer would probably not want to be responsible for.

More likely is a more gradual expansion consisting of two programs now and possibly others down the road. The talk this week indicates that Texas A&M is a strong candidate for the ticket. But what program would be the running mate?

Late last night, I posted this tweet in my public timeline, and promptly started a firestorm of discussion:

If aTm were to join SEC West, SEC East would need to pick up a major market program from the east coast. I smell #FSU or #GT

My reasoning is simple: Texas A&M brings access to the HUGE media markets in that state. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are big time markets that the SEC would love having in its portfolio. Those programs make sense to me because they have large, enthusiastic fanbases. They also bring in large east coast media markets and they already have longstanding rivalries with current SEC schools. Yes, the SEC already has access to those markets, but doesn’t dominate them. Via the contracts with CBS and ESPN, the SEC already has access to every media market in the country. Access isn’t the issue.

My Tweet set off an hours long discussion on Twitter (still going as of 10:00 am CDT). Two of the schools mentioned in the discussion are Virginia Tech and Miami. Virginia Tech makes a lot of sense. That program also has a large and enthusiastic fanbase and brings in the Washington, DC media market. It’s not Houston and Dallas, but it’s big enough.

But, Miami? Give me a break. That would be like having another Vanderbilt minus the gazillion dollar endowment. Their finances are an absolute dumpster fire and their facilities couldn’t compete with those of a suburban Birmingham high school. They play in a 73,000-seat stadium located 20 miles from the campus in a metro area notorious for bad traffic and worse crime. In the last game of the 2010 season, they lost to South Florida 23-20 before an announced attendance of 27,000. When the program is in need of a new head coach, people throw out names like Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh and Kyle Whittingham and I giggle uncontrollably. Like those guys would ever leave comfortable gigs for a third-world program. The SEC might as well add UAB.

I think Virginia Tech makes a lucrative target, but I’m still thinking that if phone calls get made to east coast programs, both Florida State and Georgia Tech have to be on the short list. They lock down markets in Atlanta, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and yes, even Miami.

Even more fun to think about is today’s Exit Question: What if Slive makes a move for Texas A&M plus all three of the above? Jim Delany’s head would explode and Larry Scott would sit and weep.

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