IAmThe12thMan.com is the blog to watch now, as Texas A&M appears to have become the most interesting piece of the puzzle. With Colorado in the Pac-x, Nebraska to the Big 10+x, and more word coming today that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all heading west next week, A&M has the next big choice to make: do you follow your Texas brethren to the Pacific, or do you seek freedom and head for the SEC?
We don't have enough facts to say whether or not A&M will come to the SEC...but it is safe to assume that the SEC isn't going from 12 to 13. If the Aggies come, at least one more team will come with them. So let's say A&M breaks away from the Texas schools and joins the SEC, and the league doesn't go totally insane and only seeks to add one more team to get to 14. Who would you like to see that 14th team be?
Here are what we consider to be the Top 10 options - John Pennington at MrSEC.com has done the best job I've seen of ranking all the candidates. There are obviously several factors involved here, but in this game money is king, and at the end of the day the dollar is going to win over any other factor.
Here are the teams - some thoughts on the process after the jump, and of course feel free to leave all of your thoughts on who and why in the comments as this story progresses throughout the weekend.
The easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same thing
If Mike Slive wants to be reactive - which at this point, he is with the Big 10, Pac-10, and Mountain West all already making moves - there's a sense that it would be an easy move to go to 16 by adding Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Miami. Three of those are good cultural fits, and the fourth puts more of the Miami market in play.
But really, what does adding those four schools do for the SEC?
Florida State and Miami, I get. And even if A&M decides not to come play, adding those two and staying at 14 would be okay. But what do Clemson and/or Georgia Tech really do for the Southeastern Conference?
I think those two schools only serve to water down the product. And in some respects, the product is going to get watered down regardless of who we add: competition is going to go up unless we add Tiger High and UAB. A 12 member SEC just saw half its best teams finish 7-5 in a round robin bloodbath.
But if it's going to get watered down, we need to make sure we're getting something positive in return. Clemson and Georgia Tech have solid programs, and Clemson especially has passionate fans. But so do several other teams who can also offer expanded TV markets, new recruiting territory, increase the footprint, etc. Clemson and Georgia Tech make the most sense on face value, but they make the least sense when you really look at it.
How Southeastern does the Southeastern Conference have to be?
Again, there are more important factors than geography here. The conference already stretches more than 900 miles east to west from Columbia to Fayetteville, and more than 700 miles north and south from Lexington to Gainesville. For instance, Columbia, Missouri is actually closer to Knoxville than Fayetteville, Arkansas. The presence of the Razorbacks shouldn't make anyone shy away from Missouri. Likewise, Louisville isn't too far north.
This is another place where Clemson and Georgia Tech make sense on face value, but Missouri is a much better play. Should the conference expand by two to the west and pickup A&M and Missouri? That would certainly screw with divisional alignments (Alabama & Auburn to the East, Vanderbilt to the West anyone?)...but the expanded footprint and the inclusion of the St. Louis/Kansas City markets would be attractive.
On the other hand, are Maryland and/or Miami too far outside the culture for our taste?
What about basketball?
A school like Kansas would be an excellent complement; if A&M says no, a Missouri/Kansas combo might be interesting. But Kansas cannot be the main attraction. Nor can West Virginia or Louisville. You're not bringing enough to the table overall with those schools, no matter how much they bring to basketball.
SEC Basketball is going to be okay no matter who the conference adds. It can certainly get better (and I'm eager for the A&M/Kentucky Billy Gillispie series) but it's not a big enough factor in the overall decision making process.
The best move may not be the sexiest move
If you assume expansion is going to happen and the SEC isn't going to stay exactly where it is...I think the best case scenario is going to 14 teams, and adding Texas A&M and Virginia Tech.
Will that raise eyebrows, or make other fanbases shudder in their boots? Probably not. But if you're after an expanded footprint, new television markets, and the greatest chance to increase the product, don't those two schools do that better than any other combination still left on the table?
The last time we played this game in 1992, Arkansas and South Carolina weren't the sexiest moves on the table. But that move, along with the creation of the conference championship game, has done wonders for the SEC. The borders were expanded, competition increased but didn't become overwhelming (though Carolina and Arkansas may disagree), and both the SEC and the new schools won in the end.
A&M and Virginia Tech wouldn't be the sort of overwhelming addition the way Texas and Oklahoma would've been. But you can have too much of a good thing, and I think had we put those two schools in what's already the best conference in college football, life would've been awfully tough for everybody.
With A&M and VT, you're adding two great football schools in two brand new states. In more ways than not, Virginia Tech is a better fit than even Florida State - the Hokies have been more successful recently, and while FSU certainly still has some level of national appeal, we already have a school in the state of Florida, and there would be much less strife among the existing schools in adding the Hokies.
You don't have to get crazy and go to 16. Add A&M and VT, and you can keep the same divisions, and either go to a 9 game SEC schedule (yes please), or play one annual rival and one rotating opponent from the other division. Competition increases, but not to the point of total insanity. And the state of Texas, all of southwest Virginia, and a good chunk of Washington DC now all care about the SEC.
Will it happen? Who knows. But with Texas and Oklahoma off the board and two conferences already expanding, I think this is where the SEC should go from here.