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Just Say No to Texas, But What About Their Little Sister?

I didn't really want to take about conference realignment until after the baseball season because it would have made a nice topic to pass away the summer, but the recent report of the Pac-16 mega-conference forced the issue up the old agenda. 

I have liked the SEC's general wait-and-see approach.  Over-expansion killed the WAC, made C-USA an unworkable mess, and has not exactly been great for Big East basketball.  The SEC has national brand even without expanding into new markets based on the quality of its teams.  And while most conferences talk of adding the cream of the crop to their conference (read: Texas), the SEC's ascent to the top was keyed by adding depth to the conference, not more heavyweights.

The SEC has no shortage of great football programs.  Forget the recent run of national championships for a quick second, but look at the SEC in historical terms.  According to CFB Data Warehouse, the SEC is home to the #1 program all-time (Alabama), three top ten programs (Bama, LSU and Tennessee), five of the top 15 programs (add Georgia and Florida), and six of the top 20 (the previous schools plus Auburn).  While we can quibble over their methodology for ranking programs all-time, it does give us a good idea not just of the SEC's current strength, but historical strength.  This is not a flash in the pan, SEC teams have been among the nation's best throughout the conference's history. 

Note that Arkansas and South Carolina, the teams added in the SEC's most recent expansion are not among those power programs, though in fairness, Arkansas is knocking on the door of the top 20.  By any reasonable measure, the SEC's expansion was wildly successful, and I think it's instructive to look at that success before jumping into the next round of expansion.  The SEC doesn't need another power program, we need more depth.  That means the SEC should be more interested in Texas A&M than Texas.

Both schools can deliver the Texas market.  As anyone who has ever met an Aggie can tell you, they are slightly fanatical.  They are a better cultural fit in the SEC than Texas, they already have a historic rivalry with LSU (and let's face it, we could use a conference rival), and they actually, you know, WANT to be in the SEC.  They have many of the positives of Texas (loads of money, dedicated fanbase, huge media markets in Texas, tradition) with none of the negatives of Texas.  While Texas is the prettiest girl at the ball, the Longhorns would be a terrible fit for the SEC.

Most importantly, Texas doesn't want to join the SEC.  Why should they?  I don't buy Texas' academic objections to the SEC for one second because I don't think grant money has ever been denied to a university due to who their football rivals are.  It's also just another way for the national media to call Southerners stupid, when the AAU is really about attracting research grants (read: money), which is more about the graduate schools and not the undergrad academics.  Also if I buy the argument that not being in the AAU means your school sucks, I guess that means Dartmouth is a lousy school.  The academic issue is just a cover for the real issue: money. 

There's a reason the Big 12 is collapsing like a flan in the cupboard (HT: Eddie Izzard).  It's because the revenues are not evenly distributed as they are in the SEC, but unevenly distributed in favor of those that bring in the most money.  Which is great for Texas, but not so great for Nebraska.  The simmering resentment of Texas and their political dominance of the Big 12 is driving conference realignment.  The other programs feel like they are in a conference which exists to funnel money to Texas (and maybe Oklahoma).  Look at what Nebraska has given up in the new Big 12: the historical Big 8 is officially dead and this is new conference, their annual rivalry game with Oklahoma no longer exists, the conference title game has shifted to Texas, and they make a lesser share of the conference revenues than Kansas, much less Texas.  And we wonder why they are playing footsies with the Big Ten? 

The only thing holding together the Big 12 is the fear of what comes next.  The Oklahoma and Kansas schools in particular have no other natural home than a "Great Midwest" conference, as they don't really fit in the Big Ten, SEC, or Pac-10.  But damn, it looks like Oklahoma's gonna try.

Texas' preferred option is to keep things as they are in the Big 12, but that doesn't seem possible as the northern schools become more difficult to pacify.  They could agree to an equal revenue split, but that's about as likely as hell freezing over.  Texas would like to launch its all-Texas TV network, which would further increase the revenue disparity in the Big 12.  Since this doesn't seem like a feasible option, Texas wants the next best thing: a similar revenue arrangement in the Pac-10.  Texas still gets its license to print money, and it gets rid of those troublemakers in Nebraska and Mizzou. 

Does the SEC really want this?  Texas' desire for a greater share of the revenue is a poison pill.  Texas doesn't want to join the SEC and get its "equal share" when they can make more money in the Pac-10 or the Big 10.  Nor should they.  But the SEC shouldn't be so desperate to get Texas to like us that we destroy our incredibly successful economic model in an effort to entice Texas to join the conference.  The SEC doesn't need Texas, nor does Texas need the SEC.  Texas' best interest is joining a conference that will submit to its demands regarding revenue distribution and the SEC's best interest is maintaining the model of equal distribution.

In the end, Texas just doesn't make sense for the SEC and vice versa.  But Texas A&M does, and they also follow the previous model of SEC expansion.  Don't add the elite, add more depth.  Texas A&M is at a historic low, but it is still a top 20 program all-time.  They "fit" in the SEC and expanding into Texas has two other benefits, one for the SEC and one for LSU, specifically. 

LSU has always been on the periphery of the conference.  A lot of that is geographic, but LSU's traditional rivals have tended to be to the west, not in the east.  In its history, LSU has played 199 games against teams from the former SWC (including Arkansas) and 217 games against the teams currently in the SEC East.  LSU has played Rice and Texas A&M, respectively, more times than any SEC East team save Florida and Kentucky.  Hell, LSU's played A&M more times than they have played Auburn, who wasn't a rival until conference expansion.  While the rest of the conference looks east, LSU's traditional rivals are in Mississippi and Texas.  Would it kill the SEC to throw us a bone? 

The other hidden benefit is that adding A&M and another team would allow the SEC to shift Alabama and Auburn to the East Division.  Auburn in particular is a better fit in the Eastern division, but both teams have a majority of their rivals to their east.  Expanding west allows the conference to consolidate its eastern powers.  The problem here is that without Texas, the SEC West would be a far weaker division, but that's why we could always extend an invitation to Oklahoma as well. 

Or the SEC could do nothing and stay at 12 teams.  Texas may be a pipe dream, but I fear the reality of having Texas in the SEC would never match up to the dream world.  Texas has already been at the epicenter of two different conferences' destruction, do we really want to invite that into the SEC?  Texas A&M might not be the prettiest girl at the dance, but she might be the one you'd rather marry.