SEC Expansion: SEC likely to stop at 14 teams this fall

With the SEC facing a 13-team membership next season, there is some action that could send Missouri heading to the SEC.

Just moments ago, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told the AP what everyone already knows—the SEC will expand again beyond 13 teams. Hart said the league would have discussions on expansion “in short order.” (Source)

No kidding.

It appears the mood in Missouri is looking favorably toward the SEC. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, “Multiple sources have indicated there’s a strong preference for MU to join the SEC — especially from the Governor’s mansion and within the athletic department — but Missouri officials and curators will have to weigh the financial costs and benefits of leaving the Big 12.” (Source)

Missouri’s Board of Curators is expected to meet Tuesday to consider Missouri’s conference affiliation.

It is likely a decision is imminent. Whether Missouri joins the SEC or stays with the Big 12, something will likely be known not too long after the Tuesday board meeting.

Why so soon? This is one of many questions about SEC expansion and conference realignment. Here are a few thoughts on these important conference realignment questions:

Will the SEC stop at 14 teams?
Yes. The SEC will stop expansion once it revisits its television contracts. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive indicated the television contract “look-ins” would be utilized with ESPN. Also, Slive mentioned an important part to the conference expansion story—a fall negotiation with CBS.

During a Tuesday press conference, Slive said: “As to CBS, we are in the process of scheduling a negotiation with CBS sometime this fall. Obviously we will sit down and talk to them about the change in our league and how we believe that impacts the current relationship that we have in all of its aspects.”

Once this discussion with CBS concludes, further expansion seems unlikely. Furthermore, it is unlikely the SEC could expand beyond a team like Missouri or West Virginia before conclusion of the television talks.

Another reason against more expansion, The SEC and its television partners will want stability.

That is unless the SEC is able to land a team from North Carolina or Virginia. Those schools would provide new television markets in states without an SEC presence. The only other scenario I could see with the SEC expanding beyond 14 teams would be another Big 12 implosion that sent Oklahoma looking for a real conference. However, it appears unlikely Oklahoma would ever consider leaving Texas’ shadow. This means it is likely the SEC expands to 14 and then stays at 14 for some time—perhaps permanently.

What will a 14-team SEC look like?
The most likely scenario would be the plan floated in the Birmingham News—shifting Auburn to the SEC East. (Source)

The best way to visualize this divisional scenario is through this map from Mizzou2SEC.com.

Potential SEC Divisions with 14 teams

Potential SEC Divisions with 14 teams graphic via Mizzou2SEC.com

Other plans floated on the Internet seem too convoluted. The SEC would likely prefer the simplicity of moving one team to the SEC East. This maintains the most continuity for the conference.

The longstanding rivalry games could be in jeopardy under this type of plan, but such is the price of signing billion dollar television deals. The league could always increase the number of conference games, but who really wants to play another SEC game? Such a move would almost certainly end great out-of-conference games that Alabama has played over the last few seasons—games like Penn State, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson and next year against Michigan.

Why Missouri and not (insert name of some super powerful football team)?
Missouri makes financial and academic sense.

Big markets mean more television dollars. More eyeballs appeal to the people at CBS and ESPN when television contracts are discussed.

Missouri would bring several good athletic programs along with good academics to the conference.

Fans who want a Miami should deal with a simple reality—nobody wants a tainted program like the Hurricanes. Fans who want FSU should consider this—what school would you rather play? A good Missouri program or a juggernaut FSU program?

Would you rather Missouri get a boost to its recruiting from being in the SEC? Or, would you rather FSU get the boost—and remember, FSU is already recruiting at an impressive level.

Fans should also think about other sports. Missouri brings many good programs to the table in sports as diverse as basketball and women’s softball. Missouri is a complete package. While other schools like FSU or another team close to the east coast are also good schools with good programs, it is hard to see a school with more positives.

Ultimately, the conference expansion drama could be drawing to a close at least for the SEC.