Arkansas Isn't Leaving, but What if?

This is a follow up to the earlier post about conference expansion. The Big 12 is the target du jour with Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas linked to the Big Ten in various levels of seriousness and Colorado linked to the Pac-10. The normal replacements being mentioned are the good mid-majors: BYU, Utah, TCU, and Boise State.

The biggest name being thrown around for the Big 12 is Arkansas. As SWC refugees, the Razorbacks have more in common historically with most of the Big 12 South teams than anyone in the SEC. There seems to be a small but vocal group of people out there convinced that Arkansas is just waiting for an opening to reunite with the Texas teams over in the Big 12.

Reality check time.

SEC member schools get just over $17 million a year from the conference's TV contracts. Big 12 schools get $6.6 million a year from the networks. The Big 12 would basically have to triple its TV income to surpass the SEC's payout, and that's not happening any time soon. Unless Jerry Jones promises to make up the difference each year, which is a lot for even him, Arkansas isn't going anywhere.

But, it's the football off season and there hasn't been any basketball in two days, so let's play a what if game. What if Jones did promise to make up the difference and his beloved Razorbacks went to the Big 12. Who does the SEC go for next?

All but one of the following would geographically make sense as SEC East teams, so Tennessee probably would make the move to the SEC West should Arkansas fly the coop. Also, keep in mind that TV markets aren't a huge concern, as the SEC's reputation for quality brings national attention. Preserving the SEC's image as the best conference competitively is the top goal as that more than anything earned the league its massive TV contracts.

THE PRIME TARGETS

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Why? Clemson is already nicknamed "Auburn with a lake," and it has plenty of historical ties to various SEC schools. It's a seamless fit culturally as a football first school, it brings South Carolina's primary rival in house, and it allows a renewal of the dormant Georgia-Clemson series.

Why not? It's hard to say. If the SEC made an offer, there's no way Clemson turns it down. It feels like the conference could aim higher for a bigger fish, but it's not easy to foresee problems with a Clemson entry. I don't know if South Carolina would try to block it, but I also don't know if South Carolina has that much clout within the conference.

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Why? Virginia Tech fits in a lot of the ways Clemson does, but there would be no potential objections like South Carolina might have. The Hokies have gone bowling every year since 1993, and they have a reasonably high national profile. There would be an adjustment period as everyone gets acquainted, but the SEC members would find kindred spirits in Blacksburg.

Why not? VT doesn't have much in the way of historical greatness, and it has no real ties to the SEC. It also has little to offer in the way of basketball, not that Clemson has a whole lot or anything. There is also the issue of Virginia Tech just having jumped conferences a few years ago; one wonders if they'd do it again so soon.

THE BACKUP

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Why? West Virginia would be a cultural fit, even though it doesn't have much history in regards to the SEC. The school has a respectable level of national interest, and its inclusion wouldn't raise any issues with existing members. WVU also would be an attractive candidate on the hardwood as well as the gridiron.

Why not? West Virginia would be fairly remote geographically, and the lack of history with the conference means it wouldn't be a perfect fit. It also has a reputation as being the place to go for guys who can't get in anywhere else (see: Devine, Noel), and the SEC already struggles with a national perception of being lax on academics.

THE LONG SHOTS

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Why? Georgia Tech was a member of the SEC until Bobby Dodd pulled the school out of the league in 1963. It has plenty of history with the SEC, and its inclusion would only strengthen the conference's hold on Atlanta. It brings something to the table in basketball as well as football, and it would boost the SEC's academic standing.

Why not? For one thing, it's hard to see Georgia ever allowing it to happen. For another, there might still be some hard feelings over the school's exit, as Dodd was feuding with Bear Bryant at the time. It also has a relatively small home football capacity.

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Why? Florida State is a program with a national brand, and it drives TV eyeballs. Despite the struggles at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, it still has the potential to be a juggernaut. Adding FSU would help bolster the league's reputation as the toughest in the land. And, quite frankly, the school could use the money.

Why not? FSU turned down the SEC for the ACC back when the SEC was expanding in the early '90s. The arrangement has worked out well, though an extra $12.5 million a year in TV money speaks volumes. Hard feelings over that episode might eliminate FSU from contention, and I'd imagine that Florida would raise some kind of objections.

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Why? When Miami is in good coaching hands, it's harder for it not to compete for championships. Like FSU, it's a national brand that brings large amounts of interest with it. I'd also imagine that all the recruiting-mad coaches in the SEC would love the chance to showcase their programs in South Florida every other year. It could use the money as well, just like the folks in Tallahassee.

Why not? There's a lot of bad blood with Florida over both football and basketball, so UF would probably try to block it. Beyond that it's a bad fit culturally, and it has a reputation of lawlessness that would not help the SEC's "if you're not cheating, you're not trying" image. It also is a small school that plays in a half empty NFL stadium far from campus. The idea of Miami is much better than the reality.

FORGET IT

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Why? There are few fish out there as big as Texas, as it's a financial, academic, and athletic powerhouse across the board. Procuring Texas was be a huge coup, and it would give all the SEC a strong foothold in the state of Texas. The SEC getting the Longhorns would be as big as, if not bigger than, the Big Ten adding Notre Dame.

Why not? There are too many reasons to list, but here's a few. The Texas state government wouldn't allow it. Texas already makes more than any other university, so the siren song of the SEC's TV dollars isn't as alluring. Why fight with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn for conference supremacy when now its just fighting with Oklahoma and sometimes Nebraska? Also, why give the SEC's great recruiters inroads into the state's recruiting grounds when Texas basically just gets to pick who it wants now?

And the most obvious: Arkansas wouldn't jump to the Big 12 if Texas had any intention of leaving it. The spot wouldn't be open for Texas to take.

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