During SEC Media Days, Greg Sankey stated SEC Football (and Basketball) have no expansion plans.
In a recent piece by Blake Toppmeyer for USA Today Sports, it was suggested Sankey has good reason to be cautious. Toppmeyer used what happened in the late 1990s to the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC was 16 teams in 1996 and went down to eight teams in 1999. According to Toppmeyer, the growth was done without adequate “vision.”
Greg Sankey does not need cautionary tales to determine what is best for the SEC. In the paragraphs that follow, every time ‘SEC’ is used, think football. No other SEC sport needs expansion, not even Men’s Basketball, which in the case of Alabama and most other schools, is the only sport besides football that makes a profit.
An emerging new reality is that SEC Football and Big Ten Football do not need to expand beyond 16 teams. There is one exception. The ultimate expansion plum is Notre Dame. Beyond the Fighting Irish, there are fewer than 10 programs that bring clear added value. None of them come close to matching the bang of the Fighting Irish.
Any added value must be measured against sharing a conference pie. The SEC is content with equal shares for its 14 members. At least half of the ACC is not.
In a future Pac-10 coming in 2024, there appear to be some teams that believe 10 teams, or even as few as eight, would be preferable to replacing USC and UCLA with less valuable brands. The programs most often suggested as replacements for the Bruins and the Trojans are San Diego State and SMU. SDSU was ready to bolt, but the Pac-12 still has not negotiated a new media deal.
As Stewart Mandel reported (published by SI.com’s Kevin Borba,) some Pac-12 schools don’t want added competition for spots in 12-team Playoff fields. Additionally, some in the to-be new Pac-10, seem to think adding teams and 12 pie slices is a bad business decision.
For SEC Football 16 is big enough
There is also a more practical reason for the SEC not to expand. Debate over a 2024, 16-team schedule has been contentious. Many SEC football fans might in the future welcome Clemson, Florida State, Miami, or one of the North Carolina schools into the conference, but established rivalries will suffer from the expansion to 16 and would suffer more at 18 or 20.
Greg Sankey provided insight into his thinking that chasing numbers is not a sound approach.
"For those who say you should just go to some number, I’ve never seen a sophisticated analysis of why. If you’re going to have 20 members, are you going to play 10 (conference) football games on a Saturday? Where are those going to be? Are you going to play Thursday, Friday and Saturday and crush high school football? I think the notion of a number is a completely incorrect objective."
The situation for the Big 12 is different. In 2024, the conference will have lost its two biggest brands. It could be a conference, with no marquee college football brands, does need to be at 16 or even 18. But Big 12 expansion to 18, carries no guarantee of a ‘Power’ brand.
More and more it is looking as though college football will be led by a Power Two, with maybe only 16 teams each.