The Southeastern Conference is now a Baker’s Dozen. Or, at least it will be next season
But is it a lucky, or unlucky 13?
That may depend on who eventually ends up being 14. And 15. And 16.
With Texas A&M formally joining the conference, the league has 13 members for next season. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has said he does not anticipate any more members joining anytime soon That means the league may be anticipating a season with 13 members. That makes divisional alignments somewhere between awkward and impossible.
For a year or two, perhaps that could work, but Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart said it best when he told the Associated Press “at some point 13 will not be the number.”
Which brings us back to the question, who is No. 14. Or 15 and 16?
And what will it all mean to LSU?
Missouri is reportedly close to joining the league but with the Big 12 poised to survive the loss of Texas A&M and the previous losses of Nebraska and Colorado to the Big 10 and Pac 12, respectively, an SEC move into the “Show-Me State” is in some doubt now.
If not Missouri, where next?
The SEC has had a recent flirtation with West Virginia, but some reports said the SEC was not interested. Any of a number of ACC schools have been mentioned, but evidently leaving the ACC comes with a heavy cost that makes wooing its members seem like a bit of a longshot.
So maybe it’s time for the SEC to look back to where it got its 13th member, with an eye on what the Big 12 is doing.
A big part of the reason why Texas A&M was so attractive to the SEC is it opens the floodgates for SEC schools to recruit talent-laden Texas with the promise that players will be able to return to Texas to play a game in their career. It might even make sense to play the SEC championship game in Dallas so Texas prep stars can be sold on the possibility of returning home to play for a conference title and, quite possible, a chance to play for a BCS national championship.
But here’s the thing: As the Big 12 looks toward finding a viable future, it too will look to expansion, possibly only back to 10 teams, but likely back to 12 where it can, despite Texas’ objections, get involved in a conference championship game again.
There’s more than a decent chance that long-term viability for the Big 12 can’t be achieved within looking back to Texas for a school like TCU that makes geographic sense.
If that were to happen, then A&M would become a bit of an anomaly in its own state. The Big 12 could return to four Texas members - maybe even five if the league opts to invite another former Southwest Conference member like Houston - while A&M is alone in the SEC, maybe becoming a bit marginalized by its own bold move.
Given that, perhaps it would be smart to throw a preemptive strike and invite TCU to the SEC.
TCU would bring to the SEC a second Texas school in a major market (count Houston as an A&M town) while putting the future of the Big 12 in doubt because it would lose arguably its best regional expansion option. TCU won the Rose Bowl last season and is two years removed from winning three games at the College World Series.
It is not, however, a slam dunk for the SEC. Texans will tell you that TCU is somewhat of an afterthought in its own Fort Worth market, a distant third behind Texas and Texas A&M. So it’s not like the Horned Forgs would “deliver” the DFW market to the SEC.
It would, however, give the SEC chances to send its teams into DFW once every two years. If LSU is in DFW every two years, the SEC becomes more and more in the mind of Texans. Same with Arkansas and Alabama. And with both A&M and TCU in the fold, the SEC would have a huge presence in Texas’ two largest markets and not just from the Big 12 members from said markets.
If the SEC wanted to really be bold, it would not only add TCU, it could get to 16 by adding Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, then going to four-team divisional pods. As much as the two Oklahoma schools rely on north Texas for recruiting and support, the SEC would be the preeminent league in the state, especially since the departure of the Oklahoma schools would surely mean the end of the Big 12. And the Texas A&M-TCU-OU-OSU four-team pod would very much keep a regional flavor.
For that to happen, Missouri would have to be out of the picture because the tea leaves say state politics won’t let you land OU without also landing OSU.
One thing’s for sure, staying at 13 is not practical. Don’t be surprised if, regardless of what Slive has said, the league ends up at 14 by the summer.
As an LSU fan, just make sure you know your way west to Texas.