It was quite the few days. It had been thought that this year’s Conference Expansion Season would contribute to a mostly-uneventful Dead Zone everywhere but Chapel Hill. That proved to be incorrect thinking.
The major Expansion Wars of 2003 and 2010 that provided roughly the same amount of movement as Churchill’s redrawing maps of the Middle East following WWI looked to have subsided as schools and conferences digested the results of the most recent moves. Then, suddenly, it exploded like a Gaza uprising.
Texas A&M, chafing, like all members of the Incredible Shrinking Big ? except for one, had finally grown weary enough of the insistence by Texas that it be allowed to treat its conference ‘brothers’ like hardened lifers treat prison newbies to decide it wanted to do something about it. That ‘something’ translated into the Aggies joining the SEC.
Webmasters everywhere smiled as the Internet exploded in yet another frenzy of conference expansion speculation. Fueled by a report on ESPN that aTm would move to the all-powerful SEC where they would be joined by fellow Big ? refugee Missouri and the ACC’s Florida State and Clemson, it was pronounced that collegiate Armageddon was upon us and it was every ‘U’ for itself.
Blogs and message boards, those two important resources for sober and thoughtful analysis [especially my own], received record numbers of hits as every possible scenario, no matter how illogical or ill-conceived, was tossed out as inevitable fact. They ranged from the wild claim that the ACC would invite some Directional Florida, the Cousins and all of the rest of the Li’l E, creating an 18-team monstrosity in order to ‘survive’ to Texas and Notre Dame forming a conference of two, presumably playing each other twelve times a year to steadily-increasing ratings on an Irish Longhorn Network carried by 0 cable systems. It was quite the spectacle.
There seemed only one minor detail to be taken care of before the Brave New Superconference World was unleashed upon us. As the lords of the SEC descended upon their cell phones to usher in the new collegiate reality, a funny thing happened: No invitation was extended to Texas A&M to join the club. Oops!
It sure made for an anti-climatic Monday meeting of the A&M Board of Regents, whose members were prepared to bid the Big $ Adios with the extension of their collective middle finger in the direction of Austin. aTm’s president was last seen stammering that perhaps the Big ? and its odious Longhorn Network wasn’t so bad after all.
We are assured that this is merely a minor glitch in the machinery and in a few weeks all the i’s would be dotted and the t’s crossed and the Aggies would soon be swapping Baylor and Iowa State on their schedule for Alabama and LSU [and the bids to the Cotton Bowl for whatever spots will be occupied by the new SEC's 11th and 12th finishers]. Many of those doing the assuring are the same people who were telling us Saturday and at least through Sunday morning that the Aggies’ move was the proverbial ‘done deal.’ Perhaps they are right, this time.
There do seem to be a few stumbling blocks in the way of SEC hegemony over college football. One is the legal ramifications of one conference ripping off another. See Expansion War I back in 2003 for proof of that. While the boys at Skaddern Arps are no doubt chomping at the bit for more giant fees that come from conference realignment [in one notable instance, representing both sides], presidents of existing conference schools are perhaps mindful of Little Johnny’s Folly and what that ended up costing.
Then there is the SEC realization that maybe 13 isn’t the optimum number for conference membership. There might be a rub involved in determining #’s 14-16. With the massive amounts of cash promised yearly by ESPN and its wannabes to the SEC, Big Teen and Pac-12 and even the slightly-lesser bags full slated to head to the ACC and all members of the Big ? not named Texas, A&M or Oklahoma, everybody invited to switch leagues would have to bring around $20 extra-large per year to the table. aTm by allowing the SEC to obtain a beachhead in Houston and Dallas, maybe. Ditto Florida State with their national appeal, provided Florida would swallow hard and accept them. But Clemson? Really?
Especially amusing were all of those Tech fans who have spent years laughing about the only Boston Market being delivered to the ACC by Fredo was the chicken brought to AD meetings suddenly reversing course and declaring that the Hokies could deliver the entirety of the market known as perhaps the ultimate NFL town.Who cares about consistency of argument when we are talking conference expansion?
Then, and perhaps most significant, is the announced intentions of Texas state politicians to get involved. Many don’t seem to share Aggie enthusiasm for breaking up the long conference ‘fellowship’ of Texas and aTm, or Texas Tech, or Baylor. Tech fans should certainly remember what political involvement meant back in EWI, or what, a mere 8 years after the monumental fight to finally achieve ACC membership, abandoning the league would mean. It is not to be discounted.
It does seem inevitable that one day we will find four 16-team mega-conferences in their own NCAA division, with the 4 conference championship games setting the stage for the equally-inevitable football playoff. However, with the SEC’s decision last Sunday to step back from the brink, take a deep breath and observe the scenery for a while longer, at least, it has not happened yet. Instead, it is almost time for actual football.