Time for an SEC switch up
Adding teams the only reason to hold off on realigning divisions
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has grown into, arguably, college athletics’ best league. It wins championships (almost) annually in multiple sports and is noted for its schools’ dedicated fan devotion. But, it needs a tweek.
The SEC was established by teams in the Deep South in 1932. While some, notably Tulane and Georgia Tech, left the conference, it remained relatively stable with 10 teams for decades. Twenty-five years ago Arkansas and South Carolina joined, and the conference split into eastern and western divisions based on geography, except for Auburn and Vanderbilt. In 2012, Texas A&M and Missouri joined. Rather than upset the established divisions, the SEC took the path of least resistance. TAMU, the school furthest to the west, joined the west division, but Missouri, the school third furthest to the west, joined the east division.
It’s time for the conference to make a change that makes greater financial and geographical sense for the universities and their fans. It’s simple; draw a north/south line just west of Nashville. If your school is to the east, it’s in the east division. If it’s to the west, your school is in the west division.
The result would directly impact just two schools. Auburn would move to the east, and Missouri to the west.
Things wouldn’t change too much for Auburn. It sits near the geographical center of the conference and its travel wouldn’t be altered dramatically. But the benefits to Mizzou would be tremendous. Instead of travelling half way across the country to face programs like Florida (a 15-hour drive to cover the 1,006 mile distance) and South Carolina (a 13-hour drive over 870 miles), its furthest opponent would be LSU (773 miles away or an 11 and a half hour road trip).
The change would be economically beneficial to the schools and their fans, as shorter trips require less fuel and time to make the journey.
Of course, the only thing that could halt the divisional realignment is if the SEC is seriously considering increasing its membership to 16 schools. With the advent of the College Football Playoff, there is talk that four 16-team super-conferences will emerge, creating a potential field of 64 teams to vie for the four, maybe (likely) eventually eight, postseason slots for college football’s national championship.
If the SEC is considering expanding again, it will likely follow a plan similar to the last expansion. A&M and Mizzou were picked because they have large fan and alumni support and draw from major television markets. TAMU has viewers in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. Mizzou brings in viewers from St. Louis and Kansas City.
If the SEC expands, don’t be surprised if it targets schools in Texas (same cities as above, but more fans), Oklahoma (Oklahoma City), North Carolina (Charlotte), Virginia or West Virginia (Washington, D.C./Alexandria) for membership.
The University of Texas would be a big get, but may not be the easiest to merge financially. Where the SEC has its own television network, Texas, as a school, has one, too. Oklahoma or Oklahoma State might be an easier fit to join the west. A North Carolina school would be great, but it has to be the right one. North Carolina would be a great addition to the east. Virginia, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia might also be in play due to viewership in the Washington, D.C. region.
No matter what the conference decides to do, Commissioner Greg Sankey and league administrators will have to protect the league’s old rivalries while introducing new ones. Auburn and Georgia play the “Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.” They first met in 1892, and have met nearly every year since. A move to the east would ensure the matchup continues. If the Tigers do go east, their game with Alabama – arguably the biggest rivalry in the country – would have to be preserved.
There is also talk that the league could scrap the divisions, with the two best teams playing for the conference championship. This could allow teams to set conference rivalries annually with a rolling schedule of conference opponents to ensure each team plays within a set period.
Missouri’s addition to the SEC East has never made sense logically. It’s too far away from division rivals, and would be better suited to play teams in the west, which are much closer and bring the games within reach of the fans. Their inclusion in the east was easy on the conference leadership, but it’s been difficult on the member schools and their fans. One way or another, a shakeup is needed to benefit those who keep the programs going.