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June 11, 2010

SCS.comMaybe I'm getting old and don't like change, but I'm not a big fan of this whole conference expansion thing - unless it ultimately leads to a college football playoff. However, if other conferences are going to expand, and if the SEC chooses to be one of those adding teams to its roster, this is how I think it should be done.

There is much debate and the number and nature of teams the SEC might consider inviting, but in my opinion, if the SEC is going to expand, the league needs to add four teams rather than just two. Sixteen is simply an easier number to work with mathematically when it comes to setting up divisions, scheduling, and that sort of thing. Plus, it seems to be the direction those conferences who have made their expansion intentions known are heading. Yes, that means splitting the conference earnings 17 ways (including one for the SEC office) rather than just 15, or the current 13, but like the old saying goes, "if you're going to do something, you might as well do it right."

So with that in mind, which four teams? (Keep in mind, I'm simply looking at this from a "best-case scenario" viewpoint and not necessarily looking at the agreeability of all parties involved in making it happen.)

In my mind, the top two choices would obviously be Texas and Texas A&M. The Longhorns and Aggies bring two of college sport's most passionate fanbases and one of college sport's most intense, competitive rivalries. They also bring with them one of the largest, most sports-passionate states in the country. With absolutely no research done at all, I would estimate that 75% or more of the state's citizens align themselves with either UT or A&M, and the Houston and Dallas TV markets are also attractive from a monetary standpoint. Both schools are also not a geographic stretch as the SEC expands just one state westward.

So that brings the conference tally up to fourteen but who then?

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are certainly deserving considerations if you're looking west, while teams like Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech are attractive options on the eastern side of the Mississippi. I even think Louisville is worth considering, though the Cardinals' name has yet to be brought up among those spreading expansion rumors.

I personally like the idea of keeping the league balanced geographically and therefore prefer to look eastward for the final two teams. That being said, my third choice would be to add Florida State. The Seminoles - though they've struggled at times in the last decade or so - are one of the nation's most recognizable football programs, which seems to be the driving force behind this whole expansion concept. FSU also brings in an added element of rivalry to the league thanks to their relationship - or lack thereof - with the University of Florida, and when you consider the population make-up of the state of Florida, one would imagine the SEC would control the majority of that state, especially considering the general apathy of the city of Miami in regards to sports.

So there's one spot left, and I truly do not know in which direction to go with it. If you add Miami, the SEC controls the state of Florida top to bottom. But as previously mentioned, I think the addition of FSU pretty much takes care of that already.

If you add Georgia Tech, you've added another rival of a pre-existing SEC member and also added a team from one of the largest TV markets in the country, both positives. But the citizens of the state of Georgia seems more apt to align themselves with the Bulldogs rather than the Yellow Jackets, and Athens' close proximity to Atlanta means the SEC already holds a stronghold in that city (not to mention the presence of the SEC football and basketball championships already in Atlanta).

Virginia Tech would undoubtedly be a solid addition, but the Hokies just don't "feel" like a good fit. Geographically, Blacksburg is a bit of a stretch, and the campus is located too far from Washington D.C. to offer much of a presence in that market.

While VT would easily be a runner-up for my final spot, I think I would extend the final invitation to Clemson. The Tigers just feel more like an SEC school, and like the other additions, they bring in an element of in-state rivalry with the University of South Carolina. Geographically, Clemson is an ideal fit, though the concern is that the Tigers don't bring in the well-known name and football prowess like Virginia Tech would.

Bringing in four new teams - two each from the east and west sides of the Mississippi River - not only expands the league to sixteen members but also provides the conference with a unique possibility for organization in the way of division alignment.


Rather than having two congested eight-team divisions, a sixteen team format offers the opportunity to have four divisions, each consisting of four teams. Ideally, with the four additions noted above, this is how the conference would align itself:

Texas A&M
Mississippi State
Florida State
South Carolina

Four four-team divisions provides a unique opportunity for football. Each year, rather than having one conference championship game in Atlanta, there would be two semifinal games in one week, followed by the conference championship game the next week. This keeps more teams in championship contention and adds both excitement and money for the SEC. The West and South division winners would meet in the Superdome annually, while the East and North winners would go head-to-head in the Georgia Dome each season, with the next week's title game to rotate between New Orleans and Atlanta every other year. This results in more than 150,000 additional fans in person watching games thanks to the semifinal matchups, plus two additional primetime TV games sure to bring in big bucks.

In addition, a sixteen team conference sets itself up perfectly for basketball scheduling. Each team plays every other SEC team once, plus its built-in league rival a second time (one home, one away) each year. The annual conference basketball tournament would still involve all league members and be formatted like the current Big East Tournament.

Obviously much of this expansion talk involves the domino effect as certain teams - like Colorado and Nebraska - begin making their intentions known, plus rumors of others (including Texas to the Pac-10) doing the same. As those schools change leagues, it will force the hand of others, possibly influencing the SEC as the conference looks to remain the king of all leagues. If expansion is to happen in the SEC, there is the opportunity to add firepower, TV prominence, and mucho dinero to the league's plate by adding the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Florida State, and Clemson.

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