By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 5, 2011
Texas A&M already has its membership paperwork stamped and approved. Missouri is supposedly next. And allegedly, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is looking at two other teams as the conference rushes to be the first mega-conference among those with BCS privileges.
But if the SEC continues down this path, it needs to be mindful of the reality of current Division-IA football: Undefeated records still mean more than anything else.
Despite most pundits continuing to talk about Boise State as an also-ran due to the Broncos’ regular-season schedule, Boise still finds itself smack in the middle of the national title picture largely as the result of inertia. If you want a prediction, here’s one: Boise will be one half of the BCS Championship Game this season, because the Broncos won’t lose again.
The two most important factors governing college football at the moment are overall record and opinions of voters. It doesn’t matter that Boise State would go 8-4 or worse if it played every week against SEC opposition, its win over a flagging Georgia team notwithstanding. What seems to matter to the voters is simply whether a schedule, any schedule, has a zero after the hyphen.
And voters are quick to pounce on this, especially in the case of recent “BCS busters” like Boise State and TCU. Associated Press voters with an agenda push would dearly love to anoint Boise State as national champion – not necessarily because of Boise’s on-field prowess, but in order to point out what they believe to be the injustice of top-level college football not having a playoff.
In the BCS formula itself, undefeated teams like Boise enjoy the benefits of a computer grading system that penalizes heavily for losses, despite whether those losses come against better competition. The BCS could simply avoid the problem altogether by requiring that any competitor for its title be domiciled within a BCS conference, but saber-rattling on the part of politicians in Texas and Utah have stalled that idea.
Meanwhile, the SEC continues to rush headlong into its expansion plans without much thought given to the environment it is creating. There’s nothing wrong with Texas A&M or Missouri, but adding those teams probably pushes the SEC to a nine-game schedule. Replace a directional school with Texas A&M or Missouri and try to tell everyone it won’t make the goal of finishing with a spotless record a lot harder to accomplish.
The smart money says the SEC won’t stop at 14 teams, either. There’s a good possibility the conference will continue to expand to 16 teams. One of those seems possibly to be West Virginia, although the WVU program doesn’t bring much in terms of television interest, which is what is driving the expansion process. The SEC’s main goal, whether stated or not, is to sign up as many new television markets and then renegotiate its TV deals. Getting Missouri gives the league the St. Louis market (21st largest nationally) and Kansas City market (31st), while Texas A&M brings in Houston (10th) and Dallas-Fort Worth (5th, which would be the largest in the SEC). The largest market covered by West Virginia’s addition would be the Charleston-Huntington market, 65th overall.
As for the 16th team, it could be anyone from Maryland to North Carolina to North Carolina State to Virginia Tech to Florida State to Louisville to Kansas. But one scenario a lot of fans seem to like is adding Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as the 15th and 16th teams.
While football-hungry fans would love it, the pragmatists hate the idea. Imagine an SEC West with Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Missouri in it. Then imagine playing Florida as a crossover opponent. Undefeated record, you say? Forget it.
If the SEC wants to go for 16 strong football teams, it should only do so if it can reasonably be assured that a playoff or plus-one system is just around the corner. Otherwise, all it is doing is adding television markets so that it can add fans who can watch as the SEC churns out an endless supply of 10-2 teams that get left out of the BCS Championship Game.
It’s all about what’s important. Fans seem to be howling loudly at the prospect of adding West Virginia and other mid-level programs, complaining about the damage it would do to the league. On the contrary, that might be what saves the league.
The value of someone’s entertainment dollar is irrelevant. The goal is a trophy. If the SEC forgets that, its fans run the risk of getting neither.