In Sprints yesterday, cocknfire mentioned a story about how things are looking as though the process of Big Ten expansion is gaining steam. I've already thrown out my speculation on how the SEC might expand, but that was only in the extremely (and I mean extremely) unlikely event that someone left the conference.
I've also sacrificed many pixels to state my skepticism about the Big Ten's expansion prospects, but it appears as though things are indeed moving forward. If the Big Ten did blow right past 12 members and go up to 14 or 16 members, would the SEC react? Here are the main rationales to the positive and what might stand in their way.
The SEC must keep up.
Keep up with what? The SEC was the originator of the big conference plan in the modern era, being the first to expand to 12 teams. Things have worked brilliantly ever since.
"Keeping up" is an awful reason to expand. Only two conferences have gone past 12 members recently. The WAC went to 16 in the '90s and imploded shortly thereafter. The MAC expanded to 13 by adding Temple when it was kicked from the Big East, but that's presented scheduling issues. The existing test cases for football conferences larger than 12 members are not promising.
Let's also remember that no one has even pulled off the 12-member conference as well as the SEC has. The Big 12 is plagued by the fact that the South division has dominated the North for much of the decade, and the ACC can't even give tickets away to its championship game. The SEC meanwhile has two balanced divisions, the perfect championship game locale, and the majority of its traditional games intact. No one else can boast that, and expanding beyond its current state disrupts it.
Money, of course.
The SEC just signed an absurdly rich, 15-year contract with ESPN. It was negotiated before the real extent of the current recession was known. Expansion might give the conference the opportunity to renegotiate, but could it be sure that it would get the same money per school now as the recession has deepened?
The Big Ten has to look at expanding because it runs the Big Ten Network. The only way for that baby to grow significantly is to add new markets. The SEC owns no network, so it is under no such pressures for expansion.
Did you miss the tag line of this site? "SEC Football: Home to the last four national championships. And counting." Fans from around the country rate the SEC as having both the highest quality and the most enjoyable brand of football, and it's not even close. The conference has the best and highest paid collection of coaches in the nation.
In short, the SEC is at the top of college football. Inflating the Big Ten with any number of the rumored candidates (Pitt, Missouri, UConn, Rutgers, Syracuse, etc.) will not change that. It might come close if it adds both Notre Dame and Nebraska somehow, but the Irish's stock has never (and I mean pretty much never) been lower.
So nothing, huh?
Yeah. The response will be to wait and see. The SEC has dollars and goodwill in spades. It doesn't need to act. The Big Ten wants to act precisely because it's not where the SEC is at right now.
Besides, if the superconference Armageddon comes and everyone starts scrambling for corners, the SEC is in fine shape. Teams will be running to it, not from it. With Big 12 South refugees in the west and ACC and Big East defectors in the east as possibilities, the SEC will have more applicants than openings.
Prudence will require Mike Slive and the league office to look into expansion possibilities to be prepared if the time ever comes. A knee jerk reaction to whatever the Rust Belt Conference does won't be in the cards though,