Well, it's looking more and more like Texas A&M to the SEC is inevitable. And it seems like the only thing holding things up at this point is who the 14th team will be. It is widely assumed that Mike Slive will want to keep an even number of teams and create balanced divisions, so if A&M joins, then someone else does, too.
But who could that 14th school be?
Follow after the jump and we'll look at a few names that have popped up over the last couple of days.
I've split the teams up into different categories based geography, and their relationships with teams already in the SEC
Category 1: Eastern teams without a current SEC team in their state
In my opinion, these are the most desirable teams for SEC expansion. They can bring in an eastern team, so as not to create a scheduling nightmare while at the same time not offering any competition to current SEC members.
- Pros: Football school with rich tradition and passionate fans; Would be competitive right away, especially in the weak East; Gets the SEC into Virginia and, more importantly, Washington D.C. TV markets
- Cons: Are there really any cons? None immediately come to mind.
- Pros: Brings in D.C. and Maryland TV markets; Gives the SEC another basketball school.
- Cons: Not much football history; Would most likely give Vanderbilt and Kentucky company as bottom feeders in the SEC East; Travel a big issue, especially for non-revenue sports.
- Pros: Geography; Academics; And uh.... yeah, academics.
- Cons: Pretty much a non-factor in football - occasionally competitive in basketball;
North Carolina, Duke, NC State
- Pros: Excellent academics; Natural geographic fit; Historic rivalries, especially in basketball; NC State and UNC competitive in football.
- Cons: I put these three together for a reason. Because of their rich history together, the SEC would almost certainly have to take all three or none to get them to budge. I highly doubt that would happen as they also have historical ties to the ACC. As much as we'd like to dream about plucking UNC or NC State, it just doesn't appear very realistic.
Of that group, Virginia Tech appears to be the only legitimate candidate. They'd also make the most sense out of all of the teams in talks to join. If I'm Mike Slive, I'm inviting Virginia Tech into serious discussions about joining the SEC.
Category 2: Eastern teams with a current SEC team in their state
There have been reports floated around that schools like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina would veto any proposal that involved in-state rivals joining the conference, so while these teams will get serious looks from Slive, they may not make the final cut.
Florida State, Miami
- Pros: Good fit geographically; Both with rich football tradition and an historic rivalry; FSU appears to be heading toward national title contention under Jimbo Fisher, would be the favorite to win the East as it currently stands; Miami currently middle of the pack, but will be back eventually; Expand the Florida TV market.
- Cons: Tough to see Florida signing off on either of these moves. They already play FSU every year, and don't have any desire to play the 'Canes. Miami with a history of scandal - is the SEC going to take that into consideration in the current climate?
- Pros: Both already smack dab in the middle, location-wise; Both competitive in football; GT is a former SEC member; Already established rivalries with Georgia/South Carolina
- Cons: As with FSU and Miami, it's been reported that the league feels they're already doing well enough in curent TV markets that they don't feel a need to add teams in states where they already have teams.
- Pros: Both mid-tier football schools nationally, but who have had an occasional run or two of greatness; Louisville gives SEC another legitimate basketball school.
- Cons: Where do we even start? These are pipe dreams of the two schools' respective fanbases - nothing more.
FSU, UM, GT, and Clemson would all be great fits - athletically and academically - in the conference, but right now it appears their geography may get in the way. Could it still happen though? Absolutely.
Category 3: Another Big 12 School
These teams probably make the most sense on the field, especially accompanying Texas A&M, but will cause a massive headache for those creating the schedule and conference alignment. Does the league care? We'll soon find out.
- Pros: Elite football tradition (especially OU); Would create a natural rival with A&M; Expanded TV market into Oklahoma; Oklahoma an instant co-favorite in the conference.
- Cons: Like UNC/Duke/NC State, it appears that one won't go without the other, and if the SEC wants to take both they'll have to add one more, in addition to A&M, and create the first 16-team "super conference" - something I'm not quite sure the league is ready to do yet. Also, the travel is an issue, again especially with the non-revenue sports.
- Pros: St. Louis TV market; Competitive football team - would be right in the middle of the pack this year;
- Cons: Geography/travel; May want to keep their rivalry with Kansas, but that could be played as an out of conference game a la FSU/Florida or Clemson/South Carolina.
Missouri definitely makes the most sense out of these teams, as it would be difficult to pry Oklahoma out of the Big 12 without taking Oklahoma State with 'em. Missouri really has no deep ties to the conference and is kind of stuck in the middle geographically between the Big 12, Big 10, and SEC. But again, scheduling and division alignment become big factors when one starts talking about adding a second Big 12 team.
If I had to rate the expansion candidates listed above in terms of their likelihood of actually joining the SEC, I'd rank them like this:
- Virginia Tech
- Florida State
- Georgia Tech
- Oklahoma/Oklahoma State
- UNC/Duke/NC State
- South Florida
My bet is on Virgina Tech, as it would create balanced divisions, while also adding a legitimate contender to the SEC.
What say you? Who would you like to see as the 14th team in the SEC?