- First, I like Texas A&M. No matter who - well, almost - a Texas team is a boon to the conference. The state's population addition on its own, 20 million+, is enough to make a Lone Star add-on worthwhile, but the Aggies in particular are an attractive draw. A large chunk of that number is A&M fans. In fact, the Aggies have a large fanbase across the entire country; a little over 2 mil, actually. That makes it the largest fanbase in the entire conference. How is that not a great addition? The Aggies also have tradition. They played their first game in 1894, have an overall winning record, a National Title, and a Heisman winner. And, for you academics, they're an AAU school (making it only the 3rd in the SEC after Vandy and Florida) and would enter as the second highest ranked school after Vandy. It's the complete package and will make beaucoup cash for an already dominant conference.
- Who should be the 14th team? I say screw 14, go 16. A sixteen team, four division conference is where it's at. As the first conference to go to twelve, split into divisions, and add a championship game, the SEC should be the first to add a divisional semi-final round. Of course, there's the revenue argument again; lots of money would roll in off those two extra games. Especially if they were played at neutral sites and operated as mini-"bowls" for the conference coffers. But you also add a whole new experience to the game. Conference championships are fun, imagine the fan experience in a play-in scenario. Bayou Bengal fans traveling and tailgating in Atlanta, Dallas, Jacksonville, Tampa, Charlotte, Memphis, wherever - it's awesome.
- Criteria: My choices for expansion candidates are based on a few things. I want states contiguous to the current SEC but avoid those that are distinctly "northern" or already too culturally aligned with a traditional power. So, West Virginia and Missouri schools are fine, Indiana or Ohio schools not so much. I'm thinking stay east of the Brazos River and south of the Ohio River. Next, I want schools in states where there is no current SEC member - states that already have SEC schools bring nothing to the table. Money comes from untapped areas, not states already firmly under SEC control; we're empire building, not adding on a breakfast nook. Besides, the current members are ready to block any in-state expansion. SoCar will block Clemson, Florida will block FSU, UGA will block GT (and GT should not get an invite on principle - they had their membership and quit. Losers.), so why even open that can of worms? I'd also like better academics if we can get it, but it's not a back breaker if the other factors fit.
- Before I give you my picks, a quick note on TV/money/expansion. The real money for television rights doesn't come from your big games - it comes from the small ones; the Tier 3 games. The entire country can watch Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEC games on CBS or ESPN. The extra money comes from selling the smaller games. Right now, each school handles their own T3 games themselves - think the Peachtree TV nooner - and they bring in a decent amount of money doing it. Outside of SEC territory, it doesn't make as much - almost 20x less. If you could package them into a new TV deal combined with the rebidding/renegotiations caused by expansion, you could really increase profits across the entire league. You also prevent ESPN from trying to ruin another league like they did with the Longhorn network. For more on this aspect, check out this Clay Travis piece; he explains it better than I can.
So, if we're going sixteen, who do we get? My votes using my criteria above: Missouri, NC State, and Virginia Tech.
- There are A LOT of Mizzou haters out there, but I don't think they're thinking about everything that makes up the game today, especially on the business side of things. The state has a population of 6 million and a lot of that is concentrated in two major urban areas: St. Louis and Kansas City. That's a whole new state - arguably two with KC straddling the border the way it does - watching, consuming, and buying subscription rights to SEC games. As a football program, they'll be healthily competitive in the middle of the pack with only one direction to grow with new conference pipelines into states like Louisiana and Florida. True, Oklahoma is a powerhouse dripping with tradition, but with Missouri, you get to add to your middle class, you don't have an annoying in-state add-on (OK St.) to worry about, and you don't get any prima donna preconceptions. Oh yeah, Mizzou's also an AAU school with academic standing higher than most SEC'ers. You can argue geography, and it's certainly a legitimate concern, but it's not big enough of a problem to exclude the Tigers. They're further east than College Station and not that much further north than Lexington. Do they fit perfectly? No. Could they blend in sooner rather than later? Absolutely. Plus, most people don't realize that Missouri shares a border with Tennessee - imagine the fun cross-division rivalry you could build there.
- On to NC State. Yes, they're a weaker draw than UNC and Duke who would bring strong basketball. But let's be real, this is a football decision and we all know it. Any added basketball incentives are just icing. And, the fact that they don't quite blend in with the other two makes them a good pick-up. UNC-Duke will never leave the ACC. State might. Once again, you get a new state in the conference footprint, but one that's geographically viable for the SEC. They bring a population over 6 million and the markets of Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham. Not too shabby. Not only that, but they're a solid middle-class addition, program wise, and should be easy to get. I'd bet they're tired of living in the athletic shadow of Tobacco Road and would enjoy finally having something the other guys don't. Academically, they don't bring much, but I'd be willing to overlook that for how good of a fit the Wolfpack are otherwise. They feel just like South Carolina did back in '91.
- Lastly, Virginia Tech. This should be pretty self-explanatory. They always field a good team, and it would only get better with new pipelines into the recruit rich SEC. They'd become another natural rival for Tennessee and they haven't been in the ACC long enough to truly feel at home. It's almost too perfect. As far as we know, there's no rabid legislators waiting to force a Virginia tag-along so it seems now that it's just a matter of an invitation. The high academic standing, large state population, and access to new markets doesn't hurt anyone, either.
As a consolation prize, I would accept West Virginia. The school's fair at best, the state's small, secluded, with a small population, and no major markets, but the Mountaineers have a rabid fanbase and a solid program.