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SEC Presidents Meeting Tomorrow to Discuss Expansion

The New York Times' Pete Thamel is reporting that 11 of the 12 SEC presidents will meet tomorrow to discuss conference expansion. His source is a "high ranking SEC official with first-hand knowledge of the talks". In other words, it's solid.

This official went to great lengths to try to cool this story off. The person said chances are around 30-40% that Texas A&M would be denied entry if put to a vote. In order for a new member to be added to the conference, nine of the 12 current members must approve. The official also said that adding A&M would make a 14th team a necessity, adding that "[n]o name has been thrown out. This thing is much slower out of the chute than the media and blogs have made it." The official speculated that fighting over the 14th team might factor into whether A&M gets an official invitation.

The official also took pains to describe how Texas A&M came to the SEC, not the other way around. The SEC also warned TAMU that it won't be a party to contractual breaches, so it had to get out of its Big 12 TV deal before coming back.

That's the report. Here's where the editorializing kicks in.

The SEC is right to make it sound like it was Texas A&M's idea to switch conferences, because the Big 12 could have grounds to sue the SEC if the conference went to A&M first. It may sound like a CYA move, but it could save millions of dollars in a hypothetical court settlement.

Also, if I'm reading between the lines correctly, it sounds like fighting over the 14th team could cause the 13th team not to even get an invitation. The conference official who talked to Thamel hoped that wouldn't be the case but couldn't rule it out. Four schools have in-state rivals that they would prefer not to be in the league, and if they don't get promises that their counterparts won't get invitations, they could vote against admitting A&M. Four no votes is enough to kill an invitation to another school.

This story does lend some credence to all of the denials from ACC schools like FSU, VT, and Clemson who have said they aren't talking to the SEC. I would be surprised if some back channel feelers haven't gone out to them, but I don't think any serious talks have been going on anymore. If there is a chance, even if it's less than a coin flip, that fighting over No. 14 could prevent No. 13 from even coming aboard, then I doubt anything has gotten hot and heavy. The ACC schools have to deny anything anyway to prevent there from being hard feelings should they remain in the conference.

Candidates for the 14th team that wouldn't cause consternation then would probably include Virginia Tech, Missouri, and NC State. I'm now wondering how serious a candidate Mizzou however as Oklahoma officials told Berry Tramel that both A&M and Missouri leaving the Big 12 would doom that conference. The SEC doesn't want to be seen as an instigator, and inviting Mizzou then makes it look like the SEC is trying to blow up the Big 12. Chip Brown is reporting that the ACC has called a meeting for Monday for everyone to reaffirm their commitments to the conference, so that could give the SEC some pause too.

Ultimately, I don't think A&M and the SEC would have gotten this far if it wasn't very likely that they'll end up together. We'll know almost everything we want to know by the time football season starts. Waiting is just the hardest part.