Most of the fun in these conference expansion talks is in theory; everyone is trying to figure out what the college landscape will look like once the final domino falls, and we're all getting these ideas out here before the first domino gets pushed.
But ultimately, we'll care most about how all of this impacts us directly. If/when the Big (10+x) makes the move to expand to 16 teams, chances are the SEC will look to expand as well. There are a bunch of different scenarios for SEC expansion that have been and will continue to be discussed, and several teams that are crucial to the entire process, like Texas and Arkansas.
There are several steps of assumption in this whole exercise, because again, it's all theory at this point. But most theories and scenarios, as they relate to Tennessee, end with a handful of new teams in the SEC, and a handful of new opponents every so often. If the SEC expands from whatever is left of the Big 12, those new additions will shakeup the conference from west to east. And from our standpoint, unless the conference just blew up the current divisional alignment and started from scratch (and again, everything is on the table at this point), relatively speaking, not a whole lot would change for Tennessee if the SEC picked up teams from the Big 12.
For instance, take a look at this scenario for SEC expansion:
SEC Expansion - Big 12 Version
- Big 10 expands to 16 teams, and takes Missouri and Nebraska as well as 3 Big East teams
- Pac-10 expands to 12 teams, and takes Colorado and Utah
- SEC expands to 16 teams, and takes Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, essentially breaking up the Big 12
Texas is the most important team in the entire expansion process. Any conference that says they wouldn't like to have the Longhorns in their fold is lying, and Texas would probably like to just stay put in a revenue-friendly system in the Big 12. But if the Big 12 loses three teams to the Big 10 and Pac-10 and the SEC comes calling, would the Longhorns say yes?
Others have already done a good job speculating on that question, but just for fun, let's assume the above scenario happens...which means if Mike Slive knows his geography, you could have divisions that look like this:
- SEC East: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
- SEC West: Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M
That looks crazy on paper, and would obviously cause lots of change for the conference as a whole...but for Tennessee, not a whole lot is different here. We already play Alabama every year. We used to play Auburn every year until the East/West divisional split in 1992. And depending on how they did it, the Vols might pick up a new annual rivalry from the other division.
But relatively speaking, a scenario like this one wouldn't be earth-shattering for the Vols.
This one, however...
SEC Expansion - ACC Version
- Big 10 expands to 16 teams
- Big 12 responds to poaching by adding Arkansas, among others, and keeps Texas
- SEC expands to 16 teams by adding five teams from the ACC
If Arkansas leaves for the Big 12, but for some reason the SEC decides not to expand but only to replace the Hogs, then it could be Vanderbilt that moves to the SEC West. But if the SEC adds five teams from the ACC and still wants to keep some form of the current geographical divisional alignment...the Vols could be heading west.
There's a scenario here where the ACC could lose five schools and then raid what's left of the Big East, and actually become a stronger basketball conference. The six schools that would probably be the most likely targets of the SEC are all football-first institutions: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. If the SEC added five of those schools - probably leaving out Georgia Tech, since the conference already owns Atlanta - the ACC could replace them with Louisville, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and two others, and improve their basketball profile while still being able to put an adequate football product out there.
So let's say the SEC loses Arkansas but gains those five ACC schools. Again, if you value geography and, to some degree, the current divisional structure, what about something like...
- SEC East: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
- SEC West: Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
These divisions are a little out of balance, favoring the East in football and the West in basketball. But there's certainly enough quality on both sides to keep it competitive...and this is the scenario that would impact the Vols the most.
Tennessee would be adding four new annual opponents, and potentially a fifth depending on who UT's annual rival from the other division was (where Virginia Tech makes the most sense geographically). What a scenario like this also means is that the huge rivalries we currently enjoy with Florida and Georgia would be at risk, as one and maybe both of those teams would come off our annual schedule.
An idea like that sounds jarring, but keep in mind that until 1992, Tennessee's second biggest rival was Auburn...and now, the Vols and Auburn are only mentioned in the same breath in conversations about who hates Alabama the most. Tennessee had no real existing rivalry with Georgia or Florida until 1992 - and you can see how quickly those took off in less than two decades. We would hate to lose all the passion (or whatever you want to call it) in those rivalries if those games were only played once or twice per decade...but believe me, we would find someone new to hate, and it wouldn't take long - Auburn and LSU becoming the most likely candidates.
Again...this is all wild speculation. But if the dominoes fall so that the SEC looks to the ACC for expansion, that scenario is a much bigger deal to the University of Tennessee than anything involving Texas.
Will any of this happen? Who knows...I'm still not totally convinced that this whole thing isn't a ploy we made up ourselves to give us something to pass the time during the long and barren offseason. Either way, I'm happy to contribute to the chaos.