The Southeastern Conference became a league of 13 teams when it added Texas A&M on Sunday. Reports of the SEC being content to remain at 13 teams have circulated among various media outlets. I'm a bit skeptical regarding those reports, thirteen teams really make little sense for the SEC.
Football is the primary revenue driver in college athletics. The SEC's two division format has been a huge revenue source for the league since its inception. The SEC abandoning a divisional format in football isn't going to happen, period.
In addition to the generated revenue from the SEC title game one also needs to consider that the SEC title game has often been a determining factor in the SEC's participation in the BCS championship game.
Since the BCS was formed there have been 13 games that have matched the top two rated BCS teams in a national title game. The SEC has won 6 BCS titles of the 13 played, including winning four consecutive titles
With 13 teams the divisions would be unbalanced, and scheduling could become an issue. Each week during the middle portion of the season we have been accustomed to seeing as many as six games between SEC foes. With 13 games there would be one SEC team each week that would either have a bye week, or would face a non-conference foe.
Adding a fourteenth team would balance the divisions into groups of seven, and allow for the possibility of as many as seven SEC games on any given Saturday during the season.
Perhaps even more appealing would be a 16 team league with four divisions, with a four team playoff over the span of two weekends that would determine an overall champion. In order for that to happen there may need to be a change in some NCAA legislation, but a 16 team league would likely be able to get the legislation pushed through, especially since other BCS conferences are currently flirting with 16 team conferences.
The biggest appeal for a four division format with a four team playoff is the additional money it would bring to the SEC, and to SEC members. The format would add two nationally televised games that will be popular among all college football fans.
Why no mention of 15 teams? Fifteen teams would potentially create three divisions, in order to maintain balanced divisions. A three division playoff system to determine the SEC champion could potentially harm the SEC's national title opportunities. A team could potentially lose a playoff game and still win the conference title. Late season losses often harm BCS rankings, and have dashed the title hopes of many teams.
My take is that the SEC will end up with either 14 or 16 teams. 14 is more likely near term, but ultimately I expect the league to expand to 16 teams.
One thing is definite, media markets will drive expansion as much as on the field success of programs being admitted to the league. That means that teams within the existing SEC geographical footprint aren't going to be considered for SEC entrance, no matter how successful those teams have been on the field. Teams like Miami, Florida State, Clemson and Louisville will do nothing to add to the geographic footprint. I would be shocked if the SEC showed any interest in adding any of those programs.
SEC unlikely to remain at 13?
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