DESTIN, Fla. -- Georgias Mark Fox had just emerged Wednesday from a meeting of the SEC mens basketball head coaches as they were trying to hammer out formats, a process necessitated by expansion. It had left him exasperated.
It might be a hell of a lot easier just to add two teams, Fox said.
He was only half-joking.
The topic of further expansion has not been a big one this week at the SEC meetings. There have been a few questions, such as when commissioner Mike Slive was asked if there were a hard cap on the number of teams the SEC could have.
Are you talking about a league even larger than 16? Slive said, smiling. Im struggling to make 14 work.
Thats evident. And thats why taking it all the way to 16 might become more attractive. Fourteen is an unwieldy number; As Fox pointed out, no major conference ever has dealt with that amount. Seven teams in two divisions hasnt been done either.
For all we know, the SEC may stay at 14 forever. It might prove to be just the right mix and new rivalries develop. Unlike, say, after the 1992 expansion, when South Carolina-Arkansas turned into such a rivalry that its now being replaced by South Carolina-Texas A&M.
The headaches around this round of expansion might also make a lot of people around the conference loathe to tackle it again. Florida president Bernie Machen referred Thursday to some digestion issues with going from 12 to 14. Its not just scheduling. The existing TV deals with CBS and ESPN are being re-opened, so that adding two teams to the pie doesnt make the pie smaller.
Thats why the SEC cant expand to 16 just for the sake of expanding. This is not an argument for taking two Sun Belt-type teams.
But if realistic options present themselves, the SEC is going to be ready to pounce. Machen pointed out Thursday that once the BCS/playoff situation is resolved, that could set more realignment in motion. Right now four conferences seem stable: the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12. And the Big 12 has made quite a rapid recovery after losing four teams in two years.
That leaves the ACC and the Big East, perpetually weak in football, where a number of teams have to decide if by staying in their conference they are risking their football futures. Florida State is doing that right now. Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami probably are, too. And any Big East team, even one that only has been in the conference for two hours, is one phone call away from jumping to a better conference.
Machen, the chair of the SEC presidents council, said he didnt see any reason to expand right now. He also called the idea of super-conferences a figment of the medias imagination.
You dont just react overnight, Machen said. While we dont want to be asleep at the wheel, these are big decisions. These are 100-year decisions, as weve described them. We just want to be in sync with whats best for our conference long term.
I mean, whats going on in other parts of the country is really not affecting us. If the whole world turns upside down tomorrow, wed probably get back in that mode. But we think its pretty calm right now for us, where we are. Were tickled to death with how expansion has worked for us.
But thats the thing. The SEC was doing just great at 12 teams. Then Texas A&M came calling, having been rubbed the wrong way by Texas and its Longhorn Network. The opportunity to get a solid football brand and get into the Texas market was too good for the SEC to pass up.
And then, because the conference added a 13th team, it needed a 14th. So along came Missouri.
So what happens when the next marquee school becomes available? If, as Machen points out, the world does turn upside down, the SEC will not let its rival conferences get bigger and stronger.
I dont have a master plan, Slive said Wednesday. We werent before and we arent now in an expansionist move. Were really now working hard to absorb these two teams. These two schools.
But make no mistake, sooner or later, it could be another two schools.
Contact Seth Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org