As the conference realignment train barrels forward toward the inevitability of four "super conferences" composed of 64-80 teams, the Big Ten has taken the lead in shaping the future of the college sports landscape.
The B1G's first move was to add Nebraska, which prompted the SEC to react and add Texas A&M and Missouri. Publicly, the B1G espoused that it was perfectly content to remain as a 12-team league. Then a funny thing happened. Notre Dame announced it was leaving the Big East (R.I.P.) for the ACC in all sports except football and would even be dipping its toe into ACC football with five games each season against ACC foes. In the process, the Fighting Irish would be ending their longtime rivalry with B1G stalwart Michigan. This did not sit well with the B1G and commissioner Jim Delaney.
In response to losing coveted Notre Dame to the ACC, Delaney decided it was once again time to make a move. This time the B1G poached Rutgers and the NY/NJ television market from the Big East (R.I.P.) and Maryland with its D.C. and Baltimore markets from the ACC. From all indications, the B1G is not yet finished. As Maryland has shown, the ACC's $50 million plus exit fee is no real deterrent, so it's logical to assume that any ACC member is a potential candidate for future membership in the B1G, SEC or Big 12.
The Big 12 itself, which seemed on the precipice of collapse a mere eighteen months ago, managed to solidify its standing by having league members enter a grant of television rights agreement with the conference for over a decade going forward. So far this has proven to be a much more effective deterrent than any exit fee. With that in mind, it would appear that it is the ACC's head that is on the chopping block next as the race to claim more television sets across the nation pushes forward.
It is time for Mike Slive and the SEC to become proactive in this push. Even in the coming era of the super conference, not all super conferences will be created equal. It is clear that the SEC and B1G will emerge from this chaos as the two greatest powers in college athletics. At this point there is really only one prize remaining in this race for the two leagues to contest -- the state of North Carolina. Rumors have circulated in the past week that the SEC has at least had some preliminary contact with UNC and Duke.
Adding the Tar Heels and Blue Devils is the right move for the SEC. The league should not hesitate in making this a reality in the coming months. Yes, the SEC could potentially still gain a presence in North Carolina by adding N.C. State, but it is not a national brand like UNC and Duke. It's also a chance to shut the B1G out of the state of North Carolina. The B1G would be much more hesitant to extend an invite to N.C. State with its much more modest academic pedigree than their aforementioned Tobacco Road brethren. If the SEC were to add Duke and North Carolina it would likely mean sacrificing a presence in the state of Virginia. That is a price worth paying to keep the University of North Carolina out of the B1G.
The B1G is the only real threat to the SEC's dominance in college football and a foothold with a flagship state university in the SEC's traditional geographic region would be a major step toward that goal. If UNC is lost, the B1G would likely target the University of Virginia and Georgia Tech as its next additions. Yes, that would give the B1G a base in SEC hotbed Atlanta, but the Georgia Tech brand does not carry the weight in the city or the state that University of Georgia enjoys and would not be nearly the threat to the SEC in the southeast that North Carolina would pose.
The addition of North Carolina and Duke would not necessarily move the needle as far as competitiveness in football, but there are other significant benefits beyond the obvious television footprint the schools provide. The SEC Network is not necessarily a question of if, but rather when at this point. And when that day comes the network is going to need programming beyond just football to fill the airwaves.
Basketball is the clear No. 2 in college sports programming. There is a helluva lot more basketball games to be televised than football. A conference that can boast Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina as members could potentially have a basketball game with a national brand on each week.
The games I'm referring to aren't Kentucky vs. Duke or even North Carolina vs. Florida, but rather games such as Duke vs. Auburn or Kentucky vs. Ole Miss. These games aren't going to have ESPN and CBS salivating, but they could potentially move the needle for a regional SEC Network. Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina are the three biggest brands in college basketball. Fourth place is a distant fourth. The three programs also bring 90 minutes of weekly coach's shows to the network featuring John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. Again, that's three nationally recognized names to add quality weekly programming to the SEC Network.
With billions of dollars in revenue at stake as well as dominance in college athletics, the time to be reactive is over. The SEC needs to aggressively pursue expansion talks with North Carolina and Duke and not wait for the B1G to make a serious inroad into the SEC's neighborhood.
Time for SEC to be proactive
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