VOTE #1: Texas, Texas A&M, Clemson and Florida State say yes to SEC invites. Mizzou, Nebraska and Rutgers are aboard in the Big Ten. Does Notre Dame also accept the Big Ten's advances? DONE VOTE #2: Who is your 16th Big Ten member? DONE VOTE #3: By how many teams does the Pac-10 expand? DONE
VOTE #4 now at the bottom of the post: Who are you 11th and 12th Pac-10 members?
We're going to try a different type of post. There are so many different scenarios floating around regarding conference realignment, but I think we've only begun to scratch the surface with some of them. Everybody's talked about what might happen if/when the Big Ten decides to expand, but there's a topic that really hasn't been discussed, and I want to get the community's read on this: What if the SEC acts first? And more specifically ... What if the SEC acts first ... and snags Texas?
To approach an answer for this question, I'm going to set this up as a multi-poll post that will be updated several times over the coming days. I'll present scenarios, publish a poll, then update the post with more scenarios depending on the poll results, post another poll, etc. A Choose Your Own Adventure for the Rock M world, so to speak. Sounds fun, I hope. If this type of post is a success, we can explore other topics in the near future. And as with the Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was young, if the outcome is unsatisfying, I'll just back up a few decision points and try again!
So here's your scenario: The Big Ten is taking all of the 12-18 months it said it would use to determine if it will expand, and by how much. Meanwhile, the SEC is supposedly preparing its response if that happens. The SEC is a rather confident, aggressive bunch. So let's say the Big Ten is still in its discussion period, and the SEC decides, "You know what? We're moving." They invite the four teams rumored to be at the top of their list -- Texas, Texas A&M, Clemson and Florida State (with the goal of going after Georgia Tech and Miami if UT and ATM say no) -- and to many people's surprise ... Texas says yes.
(We've heard a lot about why Texas would say no to the SEC, but here is a pretty good post at BON discussing why they might say yes. I still think if Texas moves, it's more likely to the Pac-10, but we'll explore this scenario today.)
So starting in 2012 or 2013 (or whenever), here is your SEC lineup, with their final 2009 AP rank just for emphasis:
Auburn (finished #15 in 2007)
(Poor, poor Mississippi State...)
Florida State (finished #21 in 2008)
Georgia (finished #13 in 2008)
Tennessee (finished #12 in 2007)
So ... what happens next?
Vote #1: The Big Ten Looks to Respond
This is our topic of the first couple of polls. Honestly, I'm not sure how anybody adequately responds to this move -- the strongest conference in college football adding Texas, not to mention three other football-crazy schools -- but the Big Ten would probably try. With the SEC at 16, it opens the vaunted "16-team superconferences!" floodgates, and the Big Ten likely invites five teams of their own. And since the SEC would pretty much own the entire area of the country south of the Mason-Dixon line, from Richmond almost to Albuquerque, TV and TV markets (the "footprint," so to speak) become that much bigger a priority. Because of that, Rutgers and Missouri absolutely get invites, and they absolutely accept. And though they don't do much for the footprint, Nebraska is also invited and accepts. That's 14.
Who gets the other two bids? For our first poll, we will address the elephant in the room: Notre Dame. They have said that the only way they would consider joining a conference is if it looks as if the world is shifting even more uncontrollably toward the super-conference structure -- if not the perfect, four-conference, 64-team structure, then at least a series of 14- and 16-teamers. Does the SEC's grand slam spook Notre Dame enough into hopping aboard the Big Ten train? Personally, I actually lean toward yes. What say you?
Vote #2: The Roster is Complete
So the votes are in, and over 60% of you think Notre Dame panics and accepts a Big Ten offer. We can debate for a long period of time whether that would actually happen, but to keep things moving along, we'll go with what the voters say.
So the next poll question is simple: who becomes Member #16? The candidates at that point, even still limiting things to AAU members, would be widespread.
Pittsburgh: solid athletically and academically, fits the Big Ten culture like a glove ... but they bring absolutely nothing to the footprint.
Syracuse: solid athletically, nationally known program (at least in basketball), and with the death of the Big East seemingly imminent, they would almost certainly accept ... but they bring absolutely nothing to the footprint, outside of the vaunted Rochester market.
Kansas: brings national basketball name and all the requisite academic credentials ... but they bring nothing to the footprint that MU and NU wouldn't already bring.
Maryland: my own personal favorite. LOVED my time in College Park. They're obviously a step behind in football right now, but basketball's still decent, and the overall university and athletic department are strong. Most importantly, however, they would bring the DC market into the footprint. With the Big Ten suddenly needing to hit a larger home run than they expected after the SEC went crazy, I think Maryland would become a much more viable option because of the DC market. Remember, the idea of the footprint is subscribers, not ratings. They make exponentially more money off of subscribers within the footprint, and being able to count DC subscribers at the higher rate of return would be wonderful from a money perspective. Of course, they would also be at least a bit more likely to turn down the offer, sticking with their ACC ties (since the ACC will most likely survive in this scenario, pilfering Big East teams to fill their roster). A vote for Maryland in this poll has to keep that in mind.
Georgia Tech: When Big Ten folks dropped the Sun Belt's rising population into conversation last week, people started trying to figure out who that might bring into the equation, and really, brand spanking new AAU member Georgia Tech is one of the only options. For one thing, population in much of the South isn't rising -- it's only in certain states like Florida, Georgia and I think North Carolina. So if the conference is intent on expanding into the Sun Belt (and honestly, I don't think they are), then GT at least makes it onto the candidates list. Academically, they would fit in just fine. Plus, they would bring fast-growing Atlanta into the footprint, which would be gigantic. But ... their closest conference rivals at that point would be, if I'm reading Google Maps correctly, Mizzou and Indiana. Yikes. Texas/ATM joining the SEC and Nebraska/Mizzou joining the Big Ten would begin the disintegration of historical conference rivalries, which really wouldn't impact a Ga Tech program that has switched conferences twice in the last 45 years. But the simple geography of such a move would be a hindrance. If the money is right, maybe it's not enough of a hindrance?
Virginia: While we're looking at the South, UVa has to be thrown into the mix as well. It's a great university (another favorite of mine at which I've spent quite a bit of time) and carries with it a great history, but a) the Richmond/Charlottesville market doesn't have as much of an impact on the footprint as Maryland or Georgia Tech would, and b) most of the "They're too far South" indicators that impact Georgia Tech would impac UVa as well. They would lose 100% of their historical conference rivalries. But again ... if the money's good ...
Perusing the list of AAU members, there is really only one other viable option...
The University of Toronto! Call me crazy, but it might be a slight step up for a UT football team that went just 1-7 last year, including a 36-0 loss to something called Wilfrid Laurier University. But if you're truly looking for a home run, inclusion of the Varsity Blues (LOVE that name ... LOVE it) would be the outside-the-box choice. The city is ginormous, and it fits with the region, to be sure.
(Yes, Toronto is in the poll. No, they will not be selected even if they win the poll.)
Vote #3: The Pac-10 responds
The voters have spoken, and with twice as many votes as any other program, Pittsburgh is the 16th team in the Big Ten.
So we're looking at probably the following divisions. And yes, Notre Dame just looks odd on this list, which alone makes me think they probably won't end up accepting any bids under any circumstances. But that's what the voters have chosen.
So the SEC and Big Ten both have 16 teams. Now it's time for the Pac-10, Big 12 (what's left of it) and ACC to respond. First up, in my opinion, is the Pac-10. They will expand to at least 12 teams, but before we can get to the candidates, we have to ask the next poll question: Does the Pac-10 stop at 12, or do they expand to 16 even if it means adding programs that are less academically suitable (in other words, do they annoy Stanford by going to 12, or do they completely piss Stanford off by moving to 14 or 16)?
The rumor is that, 15 years ago, when Texas was mulling its options, the academics at Stanford in one way or another halted any chance of Texas moving to the Pac-10 because it wasn't a good enough research institution (again, this just what I've heard ther. This may be a restless athletics conference, but it's a pretty content group of academics. Do athletics rule the day, or, like the Big Ten insisting on bringing in only AAU members, do academics still play a bit of a role? None of the supposed Pac-10 candidates perfectly fit the bill in terms of both academics AND athletics, so I'm curious how this one goes.
Vote #4: Who does the Pac-10 choose?
Surprisingly (to me), the voters have decided that the Pac-10 will only expand to 12 teams. The academics win! So now the question obviously becomes ... who gets the nod?
Remember that with the Pac-10, pairs matter. From Washington and Washington State, to USC and UCLA, the Pac-10 works with pairs across the board, so when we're voting today, we're voting on pairs.
BYU and Utah: BYU has stated that it will not play on Sundays no matter what conference it is in, and they are the most academically perfect school in the world, but Salt Lake is still a decent-sized market, and BYU is a pretty competitive athletic program across the board. Football and basketball are usually good, and smaller teams usually do well too -- softball made the Super Regionals this weekend, for example. Meanwhile, Utah is the obvious pair with BYU. They are a nice, big state university, they have a nice foundation for athletics success, and ... well, they already hate BYU, which most of the rest of the conference will learn to do as well. So there's that. Really, I think BYU is the biggest impediment with the addition of this pair, but I still think it's one of the more likely duos.
Utah and Boise State: This is stretching the "pairs" concept quite a bit (they are separated by 341 miles and aren't natural rivals), to the point where I almost don't want them to do this. But if they're looking for a powerhouse pair of football programs, then choosing these two schools is the obvious move. While the SEC would still get credit for the biggest homerun swing by adding Texas, and the Big Ten apparently will have fulfilled its century-long quest to nab Notre Dame, by choosing this pair, only the Pac-10 would be taking on two teams that have won BCS bowls in just the last two years. Boise doesn't bring a lot to the table beyond football, but that's like saying Jack Nicholson doesn't bring much to the table other than being a great actor. Football is driving the show here, and that alone makes Boise attractive. (And ... can you imagine the hype and excitement surrounding USC's first trip to the blue field?)
Colorado and Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico or Utah: Obviously Colorado is a natural choice because of the Denver market, and though their athletic department is not in wonderful shape at the moment, they have been mighty successful at football in the last 25 years and have shown promise at a lot of the smaller sports. Plus, in terms of pure "fit," Colorado fits with the Pac-10 as much as MU likes to think it 'fits' with the Big Ten. It feels like a good long-term addition, even if CU isn't doing so hot on the field at the moment. The problem is ... who gets paired up with CU? Colorado State is the most natural choice as a "rival," but ... really? Colorado State? Don't see it happening. So that leaves either another major stretch to the "pair" concept (Utah, which is 530 miles away from Boulder) or a stretch to the "competition" concept (New Mexico or Air Force).
Most people assume CU and Utah is the most likely pair, and maybe that's true. It would introduce some discontinuity into the concept of pairs and rivals ... but in just two moves, you could add basically the two biggest markets in the Mountain and Pacific time zones that the Pac-10 doesn't already have. Guess that makes it the most likely. But I do love the thought of Air Force coming aboard.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State: Ahh, yes. Oklahoma. If the SEC adds Texas, OU could well be screwed. Their two options at this point would be praying for a Pac-10 bid or ending up in whatever basketball-heavy conference forms with the remnants of the Big 12 and some Conference USA schools. They would likely push hard for a look from the Pac-10 ... and you have to admit that OU would be a pretty good consolation prize for a Pac-10 conference that failed to land Texas because the SEC is the SEC and made the super-aggressive move. Obviously there are some drawbacks -- OU and Washington are over 2,000 miles apart, for one. OU is not the perfect academic fit, but of the options we're presenting here, they're as good or better than anybody else. Plus, they do have a history (not a good one) with USC, played Washington recently ... and there's a potential rivalry waiting with Oregon, with whom they are still bitter for the screw-job that took place in their 2006 trip to Eugene.
And obviously, if OU goes, so does Oklahoma State. They're not an academic powerhouse obviously, at least from a national rankings perspective. They're really good at some thing (i.e. ag), but it's not a perfect fit. But the growing athletics budget promises a pretty good overall athletic program for the coming years, and ... let's be honest: if the Pac-10 wants OU (and I think there's a pretty good chance they do), then OSU comes along.
This would be the homerun swing, but I'm curious if the long-term fit is a good one.
So there you go. Time to vote!