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The latest expansion rumor du jour is that the SEC is prepared to add West Virginia as the league’s 14th member. Y’all are blowing up my Twitter feed asking about this and it seems to have taken on a life of its own on the message boards across the South. So let me put this as clear as possible — based on what I hear there is no truth to West Virginia to the SEC. There are many reasons that this addition makes no sense — which I’ll detail below — but the primary one is this — the SEC is inundated right now with inquiries from schools seeking to join the conference. Mike Slive’s goal is to set the SEC in a firm position for decades going forward and his preferred goal is to bring in new markets.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — this expansion will be Mike Slive’s SEC legacy, something that he cares deeply about. He wants to leave the conference in better shape than he found it because he views the SEC as a public trust to Southerners, something that connects us all. Adding Texas was akin to Richard Nixon going to China, it opened a new avenue of growth that the league had long coveted. Slive’s goal is to expand the SEC so that the conference’s standing increases the league’s academic respect while also adding to the athletics.
West Virginia does neither of these.
Let’s dive in and I’ll explain why.
1. West Virginia adds nothing to the SEC’s television contracts.
Keep in mind that the SEC has to increase payouts to existing schools in order for expansion to make financial sense. That is, I’ve been told that SEC schools will not vote to add any school if it means that the conference will bring in less revenue per school with the additional teams.
That’s why Texas A&M made so much sense financially, the SEC presidents were assured that their conference distributions should, at minimum, remain the exact same. (The reality is that Texas A&M will increase the SEC’s payout substantially). But adding West Virginia would mean that SEC schools have to take less money to do so.
2. West Virginia would be the worst ranked school in the SEC per U.S. News and World Report.
This is a bigger deal than most of y’all realize. Who is voting on SEC expansion? The Presidents. The presidents are aware that one criticism of the SEC is that it exists only for athletics. That’s why adding Texas A&M, which becomes the third AAU school after Vanderbilt and Florida, was such an easy sale to the presidents. Texas A&M increases the SEC’s profile both academically and athletically.
U.S. News is not an infallible record of collegiate selectivity, but it’s a rough approximation.
Here are the 13 SEC schools right now:
Texas A&M 58
South Carolina 111
Ole Miss 143
Miss. State 157
That equates to an average of 96. (An average school ranking, by the way, that is better than the current Big 12. Which is why Texas’s academic argument is such crap. The Longhorns are just the 45th best school in the country. Or, to put Texas snobs in their place, the fifth best public university in California. Texas is a fine college, but it’s nowhere near the top schools in the country. Hell, it’s nowhere close to Rice, which is, contrary to Longhorn belief, actually the best school in Texas).
West Virginia is 164th. Who is just behind the Mountaineers? Azusa Pacific, Biola University, and Edgewood College. Have you even heard of these schools? The Mountaineers are barely ranked as a national university.
Academics may not matter if you’re one of the middle-tier schools, but the SEC’s schools are all improving pretty rapidly thanks to the influx of population to the South. The presidents want that to continue. Adding West Virginia would be a bad direction for the conference to go from an academic perspective.
3. West Virginia has a population of 1.8 million.
That would be the smallest state in the SEC by over a million people. What’s more, the state had virtually the same population in 1930. At a time when SEC populations are exploding, West Virginia is akin to much of the Big Ten, facing a demographic problem that leads to a slow drip of population South.
Since 1940 West Virginia’s population has actually declined.
The Big Ten has a demographic problem, not the SEC.
4. West Virginia is on probation.
Let’s put it honestly — the SEC doesn’t need to add another school on NCAA probation for cheating.
It just doesn’t.
5. ACC schools are much more attractive to the SEC.
Some media would have you believe that the ACC is immune to poaching now that it has increased to a $20 million buyout and expanded to 14 schools.
They’re wrong. That buyout is actually less than what Texas A&M would owe to leave the Big 12. It’s not significant enough to limit movement. In fact, it only represents a $7 million increase over the old $13 million buyout. So do you really think $7 million is that significant of a dollar figure for a decision of this magnitude.
The ACC expanded not out of strength, but out of fear. The ACC knew the SEC and Big Ten might come calling for some of its big name schools. So it went ahead and killed the Big East to ensure its own survival. It was a preemtive strike.
But ACC schools remain in the SEC’s long-range plans. It’s a function of simple geography. North Carolina and Virginia are growing markets that fit the SEC’s footprint.
If 16 is the top-end number, why would you take a school that aces out your chances at a better prize?
Put simply, Mike Slive wouldn’t.
Also, you think it’s a coincidence that the ACC passed on West Virginia? If West Virginia isn’t good enough for the ACC, do you really think the SEC is going to add them?
6. This isn’t a rush.
The SEC is willing to play a season or more with 13 teams rather than rush to add the wrong team. If West Virginia was added, there’s nothing to call it but a panicked addition. The SEC doesn’t need to panic; schools want to be in the SEC. Could I be wrong and could the SEC panic to add West Virginia? It could happen — hell, anything could happen and anyone who tells you differently isn’t being truthful — but it would be a shocking and desperate move.
Recall that Mike Slive said at the SEC spring meeting that he could be at sixteen schools in fifteen minutes. Where else is West Virginia going? Nowhere. Not the Big Ten, not the ACC, not the Pac 12, no other major conference is adding the Mountaineers. So why would the SEC need to act with alacrity here? Put simply, it has all the time in the world.
This isn’t a numbers game for the SEC, it’s a search for quality and fit. West Virginia is not that fit.
7. Missouri and Kansas are both more attractive to the SEC.
I believe that Missouri, barring Big Ten pursuit, will be the SEC’s 14th school.
But if Missouri doesn’t work oout don’t forget about Kansas. The Jayhawks would have no other options other than remaining in a reworked Big 12/Big East. Could Kansas be an attractive addition to the SEC? Yes, potentially.
Missouri would be the first choice of the Big 12 schools, but Kansas is a much better addition than West Virginia would be. Just in case y’all are wondering, Missouri is the 90th ranked school in the country per U.S. News and Kansas is 101. Those rannkings are both much more palatable to the SEC presidents.
If you’re interested in FSU, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, et al. basically we’ve talked about how conference realignment impacts all these schools in the below articles. Just scroll through and you’ll be entertained and informed. I promise.
Read all of OKTC’s conference realignment stories here.