TV drives conference expansion talk

Published 12:03am Sunday, September 25, 2011

Let’s talk a minute about SEC expansion.

Many have misconceptions about what’s driving these expansion talks, so getting to the bottom of the motivating factor — and what it means for the future of college football — is important.

When Nebraska bolted from the Big 12 to join the Big 10 last year, and Colorado and Utah also left the Big 12 for what is now the PAC-12, things got a bit hectic. Rumors of Texas A&M joining the SEC began, and there were even talks of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State heading out west as well.

Ultimately, the Texas and Oklahoma schools opted to stick with the Big 12 for at least another year. But this year, Texas announced the Longhorn Network, and all hell broke loose.

The Longhorn Network broadcasts Texas athletic events, as well as other Texas-related programming, and initially planned to show up to 18 high school games a year. The high school broadcasts were eventually postponed another year, but the rest of the Big 12 didn’t like the idea of the advantages this network would give Texas over the other member schools.

As a result, Texas A&M finally mustered up the courage to get itself out of the Longhorns’ shadows, and at the end of August announced plans to leave the Big 12 next year. The Aggies are expected to join the SEC. On a slightly related note, Pittsburgh and Syracuse recently joined the ACC.

All of the realignment hoopla has caused endless speculation as to which other schools the SEC should target for membership. Bloggers and fan forums have tossed around the idea of Florida State being added to the SEC East, Georgia Tech returning to its roots and/or Clemson being invited.

When it was announced this past week that the SEC expressed interest in Missouri joining the conference, many fans of SEC schools cried foul. “What does Missouri add to the conference? They don’t fit in culturally, they aren’t strong in football, all they have academically is a good football school, etc.”

Here’s what Missouri would potentially add to the league: New TV markets in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. In the same light, Texas A&M opens up new TV markets in Texas, which is why the SEC wants to add the Aggies.

And that, in a nutshell, is what’s driving these expansion talks: new TV markets. It’s the only thing driving these talks, in fact.

It’s not about the SEC adding strong football (or even basketball) teams into the mix. It’s not about creating new and exciting rivalries, or renewing old ones. It’s not about finding “cultural fits.” You might argue that adding strong academic institutions would benefit the SEC. That’s about the only argument you could make aside from the obvious: It’s all about the money.

The SEC wants to open new TV markets so it can re-negotiate its TV deal, which currently pales to the PAC-12 and other conferences. Schools like Florida State, Clemson or Georgia Tech don’t do that. None of those guys are coming, because the SEC already owns the markets in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Whether you like it or not, conference expansion is coming. We might as well go ahead and get used to the idea.

MICHAEL KEREKES is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or at michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.