By the time you read this, Texas A&M may officially be the SEC’s 13th member. The not-yet-announced race to be the 14th member has already begun, at least in the realm of Internet and media speculation. Since it appears the 12 current members do not want to add schools within existing SEC states, let’s examine — and arbitrarily rank — the contenders for the 14th position.
1. Virginia Tech
Why it’s a fit: Like most of the SEC, Tech football has its roots in the old SIAA/Southern Conference. After a quarter-century as an independent, Tech has already made two conference moves in the last 20 years and its ties to the ACC are by no means secure. Under Frank Beamer’s long tenure Tech football has a distinguished record — seven straight 10-win seasons and 19 consecutive postseason appearances — and it is based in a football-focused small town that fits the SEC’s profile perfectly.
Why they would join: Tech gives the SEC not just Virginia’s flagship football school — sorry, Cavalier fans — but arguably the most marketable college football brand in the northeastern/mid-Atlantic corridor. Tech’s alumni base extends well into the DC market and its consistent level of success makes it television mainstay. Adding Tech also restores the balance between the SEC’s East and West divisions without the need for further realignment. For Tech, SEC membership would solidify a football identity that has been in flux since it first joined the Big East in 1991.
Why they won’t join: Tech is a big fish in the shallow waters of ACC football. Moving to the SEC may be too hard a transition on-the-field.
Why it’s a fit: In purely football terms, Oklahoma may be the biggest prize available. Onetime Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops has led the Sooners to an 80% winning record, seven Big 12 championships and a BCS title in 12 seasons. Norman is as crazed as any SEC hometown boasting an 82,000 seat stadium.
Why they would join: The departures of Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M has left Big 12 competition lacking. Given Oklahoma’s football pedigree and ambition, trading Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech for LSU, Auburn and Alabama seems like a no-brainer.
Why they wouldn’t join: Many observers believe Oklahoma won’t make a conference move without Oklahoma State. But the bigger issue is Texas. Unlike Texas A&M, Oklahoma doesn’t appear eager to cut its ties to Austin. Oklahoma-Texas is the axis of southwestern college football and Oklahoma is more likely to pursue a reconstituted Big 12 or a package move with Texas (and Oklahoma State) to the Pac-12.
Why it’s a fit: The football has been good under Gary Pinkel, but the real attraction here is Missouri’s two main television markets, Kansas City and St. Louis, that would give the SEC greater leverage in future television negotiations.
Why they would join: Missouri isn’t wedded to the Big 12 or the Oklahoma-Texas axis and it would likely be the easiest school to add right away. It would also be a strategic move to keep Missouri away from the Big 10.
Why they wouldn’t join: Missouri may have great television markets but it’s not a football-first state. Culturally, the school is a better fit for the Big 10.
Why it’s a fit: The SEC has pined for Texas since the 1991 expansion and with the Big 12′s imminent collapse, there would never be a better time to make what would be the biggest move in recent college football history.
Why they would join: Because the Longhorn Network fails to build an audience, thwarting Austin’s reputed desire for Notre Dame-like independence. Rather than rebuild the Big 12 or become an afterthought in the Pac-12, joining the SEC gives the conference a one-two punch in Texas and likely secures the SEC’s dominance for decades.
Why they wouldn’t join: The SEC is an “all-for-one, one-for-all” conference, and Texas doesn’t play nicely with other children. Just witness how they’ve wrecked the Big 12. Adding Texas introduces an unstable element into a stable, well-functioning conference.
5. North Carolina
Why it’s a fit: Butch Davis left the program in a lurch, and Carolina is a basketball-first school, but culturally, UNC fits in better with the SEC than almost any other school on this list.
Why they would join: Charlotte is a good television market and a UNC-South Carolina matchup is far more attractive than an ACC game against Boston College. Geographically, UNC falls right into the SEC East, avoiding any awkward realignment discussions.
Why they wouldn’t join: Leaving the ACC means turning your back on nearly 60 years of basketball-first tradition and the close alliance of the fourth North Carolina schools at the conference’s core. That’s a lot to give up just to be an also-ran in SEC East football.
6. West Virginia
Why it’s a fit: Outside of the SEC and Texas, it’s hard to find a more football-crazed fan base than West Virginia. The school’s football tradition dates back to 1891 — no school has won more games without winning a national title than West Virginia — and in recent years the Mountaineers have claimed six conference titles.
Why they would join: The Big East is likely the next conference to implode after the Big 12. West Virginia, an independent before Big East football began in 1991, can move into the SEC without much of a fuss.
Why they wouldn’t join: There isn’t much that ties West Virginia to southern football. The school’s biggest rivalries are in the northeast. And the Moutaineers’ recent coaching drama doesn’t bode well for the program’s immediate future.
7. Oklahoma State
Why it’s a fit: Like Texas A&M, the Cowboys may be ready to step out of their in-state rival’s shadow and forge a new identity in the SEC.
Why they would join: Oklahoma State has an excellent stadium and a wealthy booster in T. Boone Pickens who will likely ensure the program is competitive in the SEC.
Why they wouldn’t join: In the end, politics and tradition likely keeps Stillwater and Norman together. SEC leaders may also be weary of settling for the second-best school in yet another state.
8. North Carolina State
Why it’s a fit: The SEC really, really wants a foothold in North Carolina and the other school won’t join.
Why they would join: N.C. State is arguably the weakest link in the ACC’s core and it would sacrifice the least by switching conferences.
Why they wouldn’t join: N.C. State football still aspires to mediocrity. The Wolfpack hasn’t even managed an ACC title since 1979.
Why it’s a fit: It’s not. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports floated Maryland as a possible 14th member.
Why they would join: Maryland probably wants out of the ACC. The school has a new athletic director, basketball coach and football coach, and there’s long-simmering animosity within the alumni base towards North Carolina bias of the conference.
Why they wouldn’t join: Like Missouri, Maryland really aspires to the Big 10, where the football is boring and indifferent. College Park in the SEC makes about as much sense as, well, Boston College in the ACC.
10. Texas Christian
Why it’s a fit: Like Maryland, TCU is on this list because one media member suggested it, in this case Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports. Of course, that was before TCU lost to Baylor 50-48, an offense against football that probably warrants the NCAA’s death penalty.
Why they would join: Wetzel’s only real argument here is that TCU is located in Dallas-Fort Worth, which is great television market.
Why they wouldn’t join: TCU is a small, private university. It doesn’t fit the SEC’s profile at all. Wetzel notes the exception of Vanderbilt. But Vanderbilt is a founding member. It’s like the Green Bay Packers and their public ownership structure; it’s not something the SEC is likely to replicate anytime soon.