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A new Big Ten media rights deal might make SEC expansion an attractive option again

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday came rumbles that Fox is preparing to give the Big Ten a whole lot of money for media rights. Obvious snarkiness aside -- gee, it sure is good that Jim Delany wasn't serious about that whole "moving to Division III because this money thing is gross" nonsense -- it was reminder of how attractive the Big Ten is as a collection of media markets and how, despite cord cutting and whatnot, giant companies are still willing to bet on live college sporting events as a major money maker.

It was also a reminder that the SEC's own deal with ESPN is really, really long. And if the Big Ten jumps far ahead of the SEC financially, the league might be looking at how to renegotiate. Our friend Senator Blutarsky came up with the most realistic scenario for doing that.

Delany is obviously betting that the market for broadcast rights will be just as hot in six years as it is today. If he’s right – and before you start down the "it’ll be an unbundled world by then, ESPN’s on the ropes, etc." road, remember that we college football fans will need our fix in six years just as much as today, so all we’re really arguing about is the manner in which the drug will be delivered – imagine the way Greg Sankey is going to be pressed to react to the news of the latest deals the Big Ten strikes then as the SEC presidents are forced to make do (yes, I’m being sarcastic, but the presidents won’t be) with the 20-year deal Mike Slive left them saddled.

Then try to imagine the way Sankey negotiates his way out of the existing 20-year deal. Actually, that doesn’t take much imagination at all. Just think back to what Slive did when he renegotiated, which was to expand the conference by adding two new members, with all the attendant scheduling issues that brought with it. Along with the extra money, of course.

Can you say 16-team conference? I thought you could. Honestly, were I an astute school president with ambitions for my football program, I’d start working my way into getting Sankey’s attention and consideration in the next few years. Because this has the feel of inevitability to it. This aggression will not stand, man.

I've talked before about the kabuki dance that is college athletics -- we say we're doing this, but it's just an elaborate, transparent step for eventually doing this -- and I don't think anybody actually thought the SEC/ESPN deal was going to last its full 20 years. Hey, I guess it still could. But you figure the odds of expansion as means for renegotiation are pretty good (just as the odds of Sankey virulently denying this will remain right up near 100 percent, right up until a new SEC program is announced).

There are only so many semi-Southern states left for expanding into, and assuming the same "a new state is preferable" rules apply five or six or seven years from now as they did when the SEC was moving from 12 teams to 14 (and from 10 to 12), that means the ready made candidates list looks something like programs from these states:

  • North Carolina (UNC, NC State, Duke)
  • Oklahoma (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State)
  • Virginia (UVA, Virginia Tech)
  • West Virginia (WVU)

The league could always choose to double-dip and look at another school from Florida (FSU?), Texas (TCU or, uh, I guess Texas), or South Carolina (Clemson), but otherwise those are your options. I've always been a fan of the "bring in every little brother with a chip on its shoulder" strategy of inviting Oklahoma State and NC State, but I assume those two wouldn't be the first on the list.

We'll see. We're obviously speculating about what might happen a few years from now in an industry where the rules are changing constantly. But let's just call this educated speculation. We kind of know how the dance goes this time around.