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All That and a Bag of Mail: Ranking the SEC Expansion Candidates

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Conference realignment talk is proof that God loves sports websites, it’s Shark Week meets college football. It’s also proof that you guys love conference realignment talk as much as I do. Because all week long you’ve been inundating me with emails relating to conference realignment. As the dance between Texas A&M and the SEC continues to percolate — we’ve even got Presidential candidates in Texas commenting now via Governor Rick Perry — the realignment frenzy that took place last summer is upon us anew.  That’s why I’ve decided to turn this version of the mailbag over to ranking the ten most likely SEC expansion candidates. Now, note two things, first I said most likely. This isn’t a list of who I’d like the most for competitive purposes or of who would make the most geographic sense or anything like that. It’s simply a ranking of the most likely additions to the SEC given the current environment. Second, ten schools is clearly way too many to have on the list as I don’t believe there is anywhere near that many presently under consideration. 

I do think, however, that ultimately the SEC is heading towards 16 schools at some point in the next decade. It could happen sooner, it could happen later. This list of ten schools is my attempt to respond to all your emails, suggestions, and questions about a variety of schools you’ve emailed about.

 

But before we get into a special expansion mailbag, it’s beaver pelt trader of the week time. This week’s winner is easy — my wife Lara. We’ve now been married for seven years, and along the way have added two boys, ages 3 and 11 months, to our family. I can’t tell you how amazing it is every morning to wake up in our house. Before breakfast I get to wrestle both boys — they’re turning into quite a tag team duo — then once we’re done wrestling I step into my office and get to read, write, and talk about sports for a living. Occasionally I take a “break” — as much as you can take a break from something you love doing — for a mid-morning game of hide-and-go-seek. 

I hope sometime you guys get to experience how much fun working from home with little boys is.

So thanks to my wife Lara for seven great years. 

Okay, sappiness out of the way, let’s dive in to ranking the SEC expansion candidates. 

As a preliminary I want y’all to remember one thing — television is the driving force behind expansion. We know that the SEC receives an additional payment in its contract if the membership changes. So television will dictate most decisions at this point. The coolest breakdown of television market size in conjunction with colleges and universities located in those markets can be found here.Some of these cities feature teams that really don’t bring much in terms of viewership. For instance, Temple in Philadelphia or San Diego State in San Diego, wouldn’t move the dial in those cities, but as a generally instructive tool, it’s valuable to consider how a school’s addition might increase television revenue and viewership.

Right now the SEC would have large fan bases in these top 30 markets: Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Nashville. (Does the Florida Gator prominence on national television make more sense now? The Gators are by far the most valuable team in the SEC from a television perspective). Keep in mind these markets as we move forward in our breakdown.

Here’s my top ten most likely SEC expansion list:

1. Texas A&M

A&M to the SEC is question of when not if. I’ve been telling you guys this since last year. The SEC wants to be in Texas so badly that it would be willing to just take A&M and sit with seven teams in the SEC West for the time being.

Why does the SEC want into Texas? Because there are 25 million football crazy Southerners there. I think, if anything, the college football passion of Texans gets lost in all the high school and NFL stories. College football is like the neglected middle child. Let me use this website as an example — three of the top ten cities most visiting OKTC are in Texas — Houston, Dallas, and Austin. That’s despite the fact that prior to this week we hadn’t written about Texas schools.

And if you’re one of those people who isn’t impressed by population figures, let me give you a sense of what 25 million people means. Texas has more people than Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi combined.

So, yeah, A&M will be huge for the SEC when it arrives.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma is one of the ten most storied programs in college football history and culturally has always had a lot in common with the SEC. And by “culturally in common” I mean, is willing to cheat like hell to win football games.

More seriously, the addition of Oklahoma would fit the SEC’s footprint and if A&M leaves the Big 12, the Sooners wouldn’t have a lot of viable options. Either you follow Texas and attempt to become independent without the huge population base of Texas, cobble together the leftovers for an incredibly weak Big 12 remnant, or you join the SEC.

We already know that Oklahoma had an offer from the SEC last year. If A&M leaves, I think it will bring Oklahoma with them.

3. Oklahoma State

If Oklahoma joins the SEC, it’s likely that Oklahoma State may end up as a price of admission. Would the SEC be willing to take on Oklahoma State for the prize of Oklahoma? It’s a good question for debate. That’s why I’ve said the SEC would be willing to only add one team, A&M, and wait to see what happens elsewhere.

If the SEC only wanted A&M and Oklahoma, could it sign up A&M and then play a waiting game with Oklahoma to see whether or not the Sooners could divorce themselves from their in-state rivals? The SEC could.

Would it want to play hardball and insist on Oklahoma without Oklahoma State? I have no idea, but time and money would work in the SEC’s favor.

4. Missouri

If the SEC took A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State from the Big 12, the SEC would probably want to go to 16 members.

So from Missouri on down we’re ranking the most likely team to be the 16th addition to the SEC. Next week I’ll unpack why I think 16 is the number that the SEC will eventually settle on, but in the meantime let’s dive in to who that 16th team might be.

Ranking the fourth most likely team to join the conference is tough because the SEC would like to double down on Florida. Clearly, Florida State and Miami are more desirable additions in a vacuum than Missouri is.

But would either of those Florida schools actually join the SEC — keep in mind they both rebuffed the SEC once before — and would either school be able to get out of the ACC in a timely fashion? When you consider that Missouri’s conference would have just imploded, it would be begging to join the SEC.

That’s why I think Missouri, which would bring the number 21 St. Louis and number 31 Kansas City television markets to a certain extent, is the most likely addition to the SEC’s sweet 16.

That means the SEC could end up looking like this:

5. Florida State

Florida has 18 million people making it the fourth most populous state in the union. Right now the Florida Gators are the biggest television draw in the SEC. Doubling down in the Sunshine State would solidify the SEC’s grasp on the two biggest athletic programs in the state. 

As a public school with a rabid fan base, FSU would fit the SEC’s profile. Plus, other SEC schools would probably like the FSU addition because it would undercut Florida’s ability to have the entire Sunshine State to itself for SEC recruiting purposes.  

6. Miami

Not as sought after as FSU, but still gives the SEC a chance to double down on Florida.

The Hurricanes are a great television draw smack dab in the nation’s 16th largest television market. While the fan base is fickle, the Hurricanes would probably be worth serious coin when it came to bringing crowds to television screens. Plus, the football ain’t bad.

7. Virginia

Assume the North Carolina schools — UNC, Wake Forest, Duke, and N.C. State — are all locked together. (And if you could pry one of these schools away, it would probably be N.C. State, and does the Wolfpack really bring much to the table?) If the SEC needed to add a sixteenth member and wanted to make a bold strike into a new region, UVa would be that bold strike.

Charlottesville would bring some attention from a top ten media market in Washington, D.C. and could send SEC shockwaves up the Northeast corridor that extends from Boston to D.C. (Okay, shockwaves is a massive exaggeration. I lived in this region and college football ranks somewhere beneath curling as a cultural obsession).

Now, would UVa be able to break away from Virginia Tech? Potentially not since the ACC’s last expansion required the governor to get involved and insist on Tech’s inclusion in the ACC. Would Virginia political types let the schools split up anew? Here’s a tentative vote for yes since both would still be in major conferences. 

Would UVa, a school that has always considered itself much above Virginia Tech in the pecking order, want to leap away from the ACC?

Perhaps.  

8. Virginia Tech

But if UVa wasn’t willing to leap to the SEC, would Virginia Tech be willing to do so?

Hell, yes.

The Hokies are the nouveau riche of college football. Big East in 1991, to ACC in 2004, to the SEC’s Sweet 16 in…

It could happen if the SEC wanted to strike out in a new geographic direction, but with Virginia Tech you’d have to be a bit leery of what market they’d bring with them. Blacksburg would join Fayetteville, Arkansas as two schools that are truly in the middle of nowhere.

9. Georgia Tech

Georgia dominates the SEC’s largest media market, Atlanta, but could it make sense for the SEC to woo back an original member and lock down the largest metropolitan area in the current league footprint?

Definitely.

Let’s say Georgia Tech has 30% fan interest in the Atlanta metro area. Well, that 30% of Atlanta metro interest is more valuable than the entire state of Mississippi or Arkansas’s fan base, for instance.

You hear all the time that the reason the SEC keeps having the title game and the basketball tournament in Atlanta is because of lingering fear of ACC invasion in the city. Well, this would eliminate that fear forever.

10. Clemson  

Unlikely since South Carolina is already in the conference and the state of South Carolina isn’t very big or lucrative for television markets. But if the five more attractive ACC schools all balked at becoming the SEC’s 16th it’s likely Clemson would leap at the chance to join the conference.

Okay, guys that’s my ten. If you want to discuss it publicly or toss in other teams, feel free to do so in the Facebook comments below. Slowly but surely the quality of the Facebook comments has been improving and that’s thanks to y’all. 

I’m really pleased with the OKTC community we’re growing and I’m really enjoying seeing what you guys have to say under your actual names.  

 …. 

The mailbag is now brought to you by Counsel on Call, which is one of the best legal companies in the country.

I’ll tell you why. Because when I was writing Dixieland Delight I needed a way to make a living as a lawyer while still taking the risk of going on the road to write a book that hadn’t been sold to any publisher. That’s a terrifying decision to make because most lawyers don’t have any schedule flexibility and most of us don’t have the financial wherewithal to quit the law cold turkey.

So how could I write the book and still have money to live on? Counsel on Call was the answer.  

I had to write this book. So I took the risk and Counsel on Call provided me the safety net. I knew if the book idea bombed, or my CBS column tanked, I could always practice law with them while continuing to pursue my harebrained writing career. And while I was writing the book I was still practicing law.

Basically what I’m saying is, if you’re a lawyer and you have a dream of doing something other than practicing law — which is every single one of the lawyers reading this column right now — consider sending your resume to Counsel on Call and at least pursuing that dream.

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Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.