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Crank up your truck, grab a pair of boots and slip on your cowboy hat, because the Southeastern Conference is heading West. Well, potentially.
A report from The Houston Chronicle on Wednesday afternoon suggested Texas and Oklahoma are interested in joining the Southeastern Conference.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey provided a no comment to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd on the matter minutes after the report dropped.
Texas gave The Advocate’s Brooks Kubena the following statement regarding the Houston Chronicle’s report: “Speculation always swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation.”
Shortly after the report surfaced, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher took the stage at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.
“I bet they would,” Fisher said when asked about Texas inquiring about joining the conference. “We got the greatest league in ball.”
Conference realignment discussions are like cicadas — you forget they’re a thing until they actually happen and then all hell breaks loose.
So what would the SEC look like if Texas and Oklahoma did become full-fledged members? It’s time I put on my commissioner hat and take a stab.
A new look SEC
The first order of business is geography. The SEC’s current footprint is, as the kids say, “whack.” Missouri is the third-westernmost school in the conference, so, naturally, the Tigers play in the SEC East. Auburn, which is among furthest east SEC schools, currently resides in the SEC West. I’m no cartographer (though I did win a middle school geography bee in my youth), but that doesn’t add up.
Next comes maintaining rivalry games. Auburn and Alabama need to play every year. So do Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Oklahoma-Texas also has to remain an annual endeavor. Alabama and Tennessee? For the sake of those on Rocky Top, the Volunteers should probably let that one go by the wayside, but we’ll go ahead and keep it for now.
Rivalry matchups are at the crux of what makes the SEC and college football special. States that lack sports at the highest professional levels like Mississippi and Alabama give games like the Egg Bowl and Iron Bowl platforms that are as grand as any. It’s pure pandemonium in the best way possible (See the 2019 Egg Bowl as further evidence).
With those thoughts in mind, my process for determining the new SEC divisions — which basically entailed sitting on my couch for 10 minutes and making sure I accounted for every team — I landed on this:
▪ SEC East: Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia
▪ SEC West: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Missouri, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU
A recent history of conference realignment
Prior to Missouri and Texas A&M’s additions, South Carolina and Arkansas were the most recent SEC newcomers in 1991.
The latest round of significant conference realignment came in the early 2010s and resulted in both Missouri and Texas A&M joining the conference, while Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers were added to the Big Ten at varying times.
Nearly a decade later, the moves have come with mixed results. Missouri, to its credit, won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014. Texas A&M hasn’t won a division title, but the Aggies have been to nine consecutive bowl games, won 11 games in 2012 and finished the 2021 season 9-1 — their lone loss coming to eventual national champion Alabama.
The Big Ten, on the other hand, has had its issues with its newest members. Nebraska continues to be treated like the red-headed stepchild of the conference, while Maryland and Rutgers have been mediocre at-best since joining the league.
“My feelings about Nebraska football have always been strong, have always been positive, and they’ll remain strong and positive,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told The Omaha World-Herald in January. “Nebraska’s an incredibly valued member of the Big Ten.”
In practice, this experiment is likely moot. The SEC is probably better off doing away with divisions entirely if it moved to a 16-team league. But hey, the thought of South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer having to face off against his former boss in Oklahoma and head coach Lincoln Riley is a fun game to play.
Ticket sales in Columbia would certainly go up if USC stayed competitive against a schedule that would include Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Georgia every year (in addition to the yearly meeting with Clemson). More likely, it would make the Kilimanjaro-esque bank South Carolina is already climbing in the SEC East Everest-like.
“I’ll say this though,” Fisher said on Paul Finebaum later Wednesday afternoon when asked again about realignment. “Be careful what you wish for when you jump in this league.”