INDIANAPOLIS — The news broke from the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, as a small leak from a massive dam followed by a flood that quickly blanketed the entire college sports world. Texas and Oklahoma called the Southeastern Conference to inquire about the opportunity to join the competition, and their calls weren’t just sent to voicemail.
Kevin Warren spoke less than 24 hours after the first report on the Big Ten football media days, so it was unreasonable to assume that the conference would already have a definitive answer as to which move or moves might be wise in response. If applicable.
“I think from what we’ve seen, we’re at a turning point in college athletics,” Warren told reporters gathered at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Whether it’s name, image and likeness, whether it’s the Alston case, whether it’s a potential extension of the College Football Playoff, whether it’s schools from one conference joining another – this are the kind of problems we will all face this year. and for many years into the future. That is the world we live in now.
“I know where we are, we are always constantly evaluating what is in the interest of the conference. It will be interesting to see how that story develops, where it ends up.”
It was the politically smart response. His new special counsel on football affairs, legendary Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, could afford a bigger dose of honesty.
“My first reaction was: why?” he said. “The timing seems a bit odd. Out of nowhere.”
It’s more than odd, given the impending expansion of the College Football Playoff, in which the proposal calls for the six highest-rated conference champions to get automatic entry. If ever there was a time to be the biggest fish in a small pond, it would be in the 12-team playoff universe.
However, when the right rich man conjures up a bad idea, it can be hard to grasp, as FOMO inevitably shapes the decisions made in college sports. If Texas is interested because board chairman Kevin Elfite wants it, Oklahoma feels compelled to go along for fear that another congressman would be happy to do it, and for fear of what the Big 12 would become commercial and competitive without the Longhorns. If Texas is interested and has Oklahoma in tow, the SEC feels compelled to agree to this for fear that another league would embrace the Sooners and Horns.
That’s where SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey might begin to fill the leadership gap he lamented during his comments at the competition’s media day earlier this week. He attacked the NCAA for tampering with a variety of issues, from enforcement to running championships to sports governance. And it’s almost impossible to be wrong when the subject one is essentially criticizing is NCAA President Mark Emmert.
However, if Sankey wants to do what’s best for college sports, and not just a bigger SEC getting a bigger check from its TV partners, he’ll just have to say no. College sport is no better with the remaining eight Big 12 members either looking for a new home or looking for some measure of relevance. There are serious athletic programs in that group, from Kansas and its basketball juggernaut to the Texas Tech football program that brought us Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes and a 2019 NCAA Tournament finalist in hoops.
College sports are no better with the SEC so overloaded with elite brands that programs like Ole Miss and Mississippi State are relegated to perpetual insignificance. It will be less fun for many shows whose fans will have to adapt to shows that don’t win like they used to. It may not seem like much, but it’s a long way from 7-5 to 5-7.
Look back a decade at the latest conference reshuffle maelstrom that ravaged the college sports world. Forget who gets bigger TV checks and the like – whose football team is empowered by a move? Whose basketball team? Everybody? Texas A&M likes to think so. It’s just over .500 in SEC competitions, with an average ranking of seventh.
Here’s one: Villanova’s basketball. The Wildcats were an excellent program in the 16-team Big East, making it to the Final Four in 2009. However, after that league broke and Nova landed in a basketball-focused new Big East, it became a national power. In essence, however, they got better by standing still.
The SEC recently signed a $3 billion television deal with ESPN, a long-term contract worth $300 million annually. There will be no shortage of revenue when that starts in 2024. A true leader would understand this, and that just throwing money at the 14 current members won’t really improve their position.
Would a bigger SEC be better? It would of course have more good football teams. However, by definition, it would also have more bad ones. In a competition with 16 teams, someone finishes 16th. That’s not fun, not worth it, even if there’s more money in it.