SEC Should Be Vigilant For Raids

It's a sign of the times that the SEC's status as the top football conference in America is suddenly being threatened by the ACC, a conference that a mere decade ago was more likely to produce homecoming opponents than national champions.

The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech to an ACC lineup that already includes Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech along with rising powers Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and N.C. State is potent. Duke and Wake Forest won't scare many opponents but neither will Vanderbilt for that matter.

The biggest threat to SEC supremacy is member No. 12 of the ACC. Make no mistake that's the direction the ACC is moving so that it may divide and conquer, following the division format and title games started by the SEC in 1992.

While the ACC has certainly strengthened its lineup, it has a long way to go to catch the SEC or the Big 10 in terms of attendance and tradition. Gaining a 12th member that can further galvanize the ACC's gridiron lineup is a clear objective that was undermined by Syracuse's decision to remain in the Big East. That would have been a coup for the ACC not only because Syracuse is the reigning NCAA hoops king, but because it is solid in football and is located in one of the largest TV markets in America.

The ACC is severely limited in its search for a 12th member that meets its qualifications in terms of both status and geography. That most likely signals another raid on the horizon and the SEC is the most likely place to seek a 12th member. Florida would seem the most likely school to receive an offer since the ACC already has two members of the Sunshine State's Big 3 and it's harder to find a program that better fits the Atlantic coast profile.

South Carolina is the next most likely to be recruited since it has less seniority in the SEC than any member of the East Division and it meets the locale requirements in addition to bringing a large and vibrant fan base.

Georgia's long standing in the conference would likely preclude any approach or interest. However Kentucky's great basketball tradition would make the Wildcats a nice fit in the ACC, and it couldn't be any harder than competing against Florida, Tennessee and Georgia every year in football. In fact, Kentucky could likely leverage its way into a Northern Division along with Wake Forest, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Duke.

Admittedly raiding the Big East, which has now been reduced to the midsize east, is a lot different than dipping into the SEC and plucking a prize member. However conference officials should still remain on guard. The ACC gave no warning before raiding the Big East and is likely to continue on its clandestine course to propagate further program piracy.

That's particularly true now that Miami is a driving force in the conference and former Clinton administration cabinet member Donna Shalala is the president at Miami. When last under the public spotlight, Shalala was one of the bobble head dolls who defended Slick Willie ad nauseam, nodding her head and proclaiming "I believe the President" after exiting a cabinet meeting with the chief executive. That makes Shalala either one of the worst judges of character in modern political history or one of the most disingenuous government officials ever. Regardless, she's not to be trusted where the future of the SEC is concerned.

Essentially, a chain reaction has been set into motion which means more change will take place. The Big East is now looking for members to replace VTU and Miami with Conference USA the most likely first stop.

Should the ACC succeed in robbing the SEC, that will send conference officials scrambling for a replacement. The urgency will exist because the loss of a single member would leave the conference unbalanced, the schedules incomplete and prohibit conference from holding a championship game.

It's putting the cart before the horse, but let's allow ourselves to consider a suitable replacement for the SEC East Division in event a member jumps ship. In truth, the SEC would have more of a problem finding a team for the East than the ACC since going to the northeast would make little sense.

Louisville is a possibility being in the state of Kentucky and given it's sound basketball program and population base. The Cardinals don't have the football following or stadium capacity of most conference programs but it is growing.

Division I schools like Southern Miss, Memphis and Alabama Birmingham wouldn't work because two SEC programs already exist in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Former SEC member Tulane is a possibility but fits better in the West with LSU.

The SEC could attempt to raid the ACC in return luring Clemson or Georgia Tech into the fold. Georgia Tech is a former member of the conference and would be a natural with Georgia. Clemson better fits the stadium size and fan base and would give the SEC two schools in South Carolina.

The most ambitious plan would be to expand by adding more than one team. Texas and Texas A&M would be ideal although it would require some realignment. It's no secret that Texas considered an offer to join the PAC 10 as did Colorado. The Big 10 has had it's eye on Nebraska as a second choice after Notre Dame.

The ACC's predatory posture has set the tone for other raids, defections and acquisitions. Ultimately, we're headed for several super conferences which will be the forerunner of a Division I playoff.

Certainly tradition will no longer stand in the way or obligations to bowl games. It's all about money and there's a lot more money to made with a playoff than with bowl games.

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