SEC should feel good about expansion, but these teams might feel a bit uneasy
The SEC should feel good about its recent expansion — as a whole. As for individual programs, that’s another conversation entirely.
We don’t know exactly when Oklahoma and Texas will join the SEC. It could be in time for the 2022 season, but it won’t be any later than after the 2025 season. Most expect the move to happen sooner. Strings could easily be pulled. In the interim, there are some programs that need to up their game if they want to remain in the SEC.
This wave of expansion didn’t result in the SEC turning away some of its athletic programs, but if the SEC is indeed turning into a super conference, commissioner Greg Sankey and university presidents need to consider trimming some fat.
Let’s imagine that the SEC could woo a couple of big-name programs like Clemson and Notre Dame. Would any fan not take those two over, say, Arkansas and Vanderbilt? Would any fan not want to take a road trip to Clemson and South Bend, Ind., over Fayetteville and Nashville? Nashville is certainly a fun, thriving, growing city, but traveling and sitting through an actual game there is brutal. The game may be the worst part of a Vandy road trip and that’s the Commodores’ fault. It’s traditionally lopsided and the stadium is the worst in the SEC.
Vandy has had plenty of opportunities to upgrade its facilities. Until recently, that notion was met with disdain more times than not. Sure, Vanderbilt gives the SEC academic prestige (and a baseball juggernaut), but that’s a fleeting thought for fans sitting in Vanderbilt Stadium in November.
Arkansas has a far different challenge and it’s all about talent. The Razorbacks just don’t have the type of in-state talent base to compete with other SEC teams on a consistent level and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The glass ceiling already was low before Oklahoma and Texas decided to join the SEC.
Arkansas has had varying levels of success recruiting against the Sooners and Longhorns in their home state. Selling the SEC surely was part of the pitch to prospects who were considering Arkansas. That leverage is gone. Prospects in Texas and Oklahoma can play in the SEC and stay close to home.
If the SEC is, indeed, turning itself into a super conference, Arkansas and Vanderbilt should be skittish if the SEC considers other programs. The Razorbacks and Commodores don’t exactly exude that super conference feel. Perhaps Vandy could join the Ivy League.
What about loyalty you might say? With hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, it’s hard to imagine any businessman — and ultimately that’s Sankey’s job — turning down powerhouse programs just for the sake of being a good guy.
Clemson and Notre Dame aren’t the only programs the SEC should be considering. How about Florida State or Miami? Even UCF would probably fare better in a newly bolstered SEC than Arkansas or Vandy will.
Adding FSU and Miami would be a huge addition to recruiting. Florida is one of the most talent-rich states in the nation. Imagine having three SEC schools in the Sunshine state. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. That means the SEC would get even stronger. The Seminoles and Hurricanes haven’t been elite lately, but that could change quickly if they ever got in the SEC. Of course, both have legal hurdles in the ACC, and the University of Florida would fight that as best they could, but ultimately the SEC has proven it is not afraid to ruffle some feathers.
To take this a step further, imagine all 4 of those schools (Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame) joining the SEC. That would be a super conference that no other conference could have imagined and, likely, would ever surpass. There’s no reason that the SEC can’t continue to upgrade since most believe an expanded Playoff is on the horizon. Being a 2-loss SEC team might be more impressive than running the table in the Big Ten or Pac-12 or whatever is left of the Big 12.
In the end, this will all be determined by money. No ACC member is going to be loyal to that conference just for loyalty’s sake. Loyalty doesn’t result in better facilities and Playoff spots. Money does. Notre Dame, being pretentious as always, likes the idea of being independent. It will like the idea of more money even more.
If the SEC invites those programs, it would be like Fred Astair or Ginger Rogers asking you to cut a rug. Just don’t ask questions and hit the dance floor. Sankey and the university presidents hold all of the power and they’ve shown they are not afraid to use it.
If I were Arkansas or any SEC West team not named Alabama, I wouldn’t have been too pleased with the SEC’s recent decision to expand. Athletic directors will fall in line publicly, but there is no way that adding Oklahoma and Texas can help most of the SEC West programs recruit in those areas. Certainly, the secrecy surrounding the decision to add OU and Texas surprised just about everybody.
Another shocking secret would be if Sankey and university presidents plan to jettison some long-time SEC member schools. Or made the new environment so competitively difficult that they decided to leave. However, shocking doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If that were the case, Oklahoma and Texas would have never joined the SEC.
Losing Vanderbilt in any fashion could ding the SEC in television ratings, which are extremely high in Nashville. However, the argument could easily be made that those ratings are from SEC alums moving to that city and not living down the road from Vandy.
Could it happen? Could the SEC actually boot some members? Or would some SEC programs choose to leave? Not now, but the simple fact is that the SEC would be a better football product with Clemson, Miami, Florida State or Notre Dame than with Vanderbilt and Arkansas.