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What’s the SEC’s ultimate dream scenario in expanding to 16 teams? I’ve gotten this question from a ton of you so far. I think the answer is simple — Texas A&M was a part of that dream and it looks like that dream is going to be fulfilled. But what other schools would make Mike Slive and the 12 current SEC presidents salivate? I’ll tell you, Duke and North Carolina as a pair. Don’t laugh. I’m about to sketch out how both teams could end up in the SEC if future situations break correctly for the conference.
Aside from crippling the ACC, Duke and North Carolina’s addition would ensure that the SEC owned the state of North Carolina — a rapidly growing population of nearly 10 million that is highly desirable to the conference. Here’s another bonus, the two schools would make football coaches happy since neither school is a football powerhouse. At the same time the addition of Duke and North Carolina would put the SEC in the argument for the nation’s best basketball conference. You telling me that a yearly power trio of Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky wouldn’t equal the trio of any basketball conference in America?
This idea hasn’t gotten a lot of national play yet, but it’s definitely the SEC’s dream scenario.
Let’s sketch out how this happens in three easy steps:
1. The Big East and the ACC go to expansion war.
I’ve got a column for later in the week outlining this battle to decide which conference will be the fourth superpower. Ever since the ACC raided the Big East and stole away Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami, there has been a general consensus that this is the ACC’s battle to win.
I’m not sure that’s entirely true.
Boston College has never fit in with the ACC, and there are rumblings that it remains a poor cultural fit for the conference. Having been to college in Washington, D.C., I can tell you that Maryland has a lot more in common with the East Coast than it does the South.
That’s why it’s not surprising that sources have told me the Big East is flirting with both Maryland and Boston College.
What would happen if the Big East struck back and swept away both Maryland and Boston College to get to ten teams (11 assuming TCU doesn’t get grabbed by the Big 12) and the ACC fell back to ten teams as? Suddenly all bets would be off about whether the ACC or Big East would become the fourth major conference power.
2. Where would the ACC turn for teams if the Big East made a counter raid?
I suppose the ACC could make a run at South Florida, West Virginia, or Louisville and exacerbate the tension between the two conferences. But would West Virginia, South Florida, or Louisville leave with the ACC’s future in doubt? I don’t think so. (This is even assuming that the ACC would be able to persuade Florida State and Miami to allow USF into the conference, which I don’t think it would be able to do). If that’s the case then the ACC would be left with no BCS-level replacements for those two schools.
Let me just forestall these emails — no SEC school is ever leaving for the ACC.
That’s a huge dropoff in team quality for the ACC. It would need to expand to keep its conference championship afloat and that might leave it with relatively mediocre options — snag two of Memphis, Central Florida and East Carolina to get back to 12. But there would be conference blood in the water.
Everyone would be looking around for better options.
3. Fearing for the viability of the conference, the SEC would be able to pounce on Duke and North Carolina’s vulnerability.
That’s why it wouldn’t shock me for the SEC to sit at 13 or 14 teams for a year or two if necessary. Expanding with the right 16 teams is more important to the SEC than panicked expansion. The long and short term trends favor the SEC.
Indeed, the television payout may be greater if the league expands in multiple years. That way renegotiation of the television contract would happen more than once. Given the rapid rise in college TV rights having more than one window could be ideal.
And if the Big East and ACC fight for survival materializes — which it will — the ACC may be an awful lot more vulnerable than most people expect.
If Duke and UNC face a decision between an endangered ACC that is hemorrhaging members or the most powerful conference in America, which way do you think the Tar Heels and Blue Devils would lean?
I’ll tell you, the SEC would snag the second best rivalry in sports behind Alabama and Auburn and Mike Slive would laugh all the way to the bank.
Read OKTC’s prior coverage of SEC conference expansion here:
SEC expansion candidates and discussion of why league won’t expand in existing markets.
Why ESPN Is Dead Wrong: FSU and Clemson have no shot at the SEC.
How ESPN is Complicating Texas A&M to SEC
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