The impending changes in the Southeastern Conference bring back memories of the expansion of 1991. There were plenty of questions balanced with excitement then. At the time Arkansas and South Carolina were not well known to me. I knew of the Arkansas heritage but other than George Rogers had no idea what a Gamecock was.
South Carolina and Arkansas pushed the conference to twelve teams and into two divisions. With the addition of a conference championship game, the SEC forced the hand of the entire college football world. If the system couldn’t pick a champion on the field, the most competitive conference in the land would lead the way. “Hell yea!”, we said.
As an Auburn student at the time I had mixed emotions about the new plan. Long-time rivals Tennessee and Florida were being removed from our annual schedule and being replaced with games against Arkansas and Mississippi. Those games couldn’t replace the intensity of the traditional rivalries being lost. Still, the opportunity to be champions on the field was appealing.
For a Southeastern Conference fan the addition of South Carolina was out of left field. South Carolina didn’t have a winning football tradition and routinely lost to SEC and ACC rivals each year. It seemed the new SEC East was getting another easy “W” while the teams in the West would have a longer time adapting to the new schedules. Even while living in Columbia in the mid-90’s the local media focused more on basketball and ACC play than they did football season. “This isn’t a SEC town,” I told myself.
It took ten years but the move to the SEC has turned out well for all. South Carolina not only is competitive on the gridiron but is winning championships in other sports. Arkansas too has done well. As I initially thought the SEC East dominated football for years. The West has now caught up as the two divisions have balanced out. The SEC Champ in football has been the National Champ for five straight seasons.
Fast forward five years and throw Texas A&M and Missouri into this recipe. It’s much harder to visualize these two schools enhancing what we already have. It’s also hard to see how the divisions would be aligned to incorporate the new schools without sacrificing rivalries decades old. One or more current schools will come up on the short end of the stick.
Here’s a few other questions/thoughts on this as we approach the climax of the football season:
- Missouri?! We’ve lived in St. Louis for a few years and never – NEVER – got the impression that college sports were important. The only sport that gets media coverage there 365 days of the year is St. Louis Cardinals baseball. University of Missouri anything gets back page sports coverage at best. This is a much worse media and competitive climate than Columbia, South Carolina ten years ago. The SEC vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. I’ll take the Cardinals going away. Don’t underestimate that.
- Yes, Missouri. What do Missouri sports have to bolster SEC competitiveness? Who will Missouri beat to maintain current SEC standards of excellence? What SEC fan will look forward to traveling to Columbia, Missouri? These guys flood their BBQ with sauce. What kind of tailgating is that?
- Does it raise a flag to anyone else that Texas A&M is running away from the Texas rivalry? Ok, so what if Texas is the latest media whore pimped by ESPN? What if it were Auburn and Alabama? The country wouldn’t allow it to happen I don’t think. But for money, we’ll allow this rivalry to die. The SEC is picking up the pieces on this one.
- Texas A&M actually makes more sense to me aside from the cautionary political signals. Games against LSU, Arkansas, Alabama are attractive even if it takes A&M five years to be competitive. What concerns me more is the division alignment. A&M clearly is a West division school. Missouri and A&M have history. Does Missouri too make it in the West? If so, what teams go East?
- Why not more options back east/why expand to the west? The Big East, Conference USA, and the ACC all have schools that would be interesting programs to add. Just consider a few of these schools: Louisville, West Virginia, South Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, East Carolina, and Central Florida. Aren’t there other options back east?
It’s clear the SEC will be 14 schools headed in to the 2012 football season. How much are changes with other schools and conferences driving the urgency to expand in 2011 is not clear. In 1991, the SEC acted quickly to secure it’s hold on America as the most competitive conference. In doing so they caused the rest of the organized college world to follow. I hope they are carefully considering today’s decisions’ impact on the next ten years.