Mike Slive loves the state of Texas. Over the years the SEC commissioner has eyed it, coveted it and plotted over it. All those television sets. All those blue-chip recruits. It’s the Promised Land just to the west of his conference’s traditional Deep South footprint.
The SEC is almost certainly headed into the Lone Star State soon, maybe as soon as Tuesday, when Texas A&M officially splits with the Big 12 and becomes available. The formalities and an exit fee need to be negotiated, but at this point it appears to be all over but the lawyer bills.
That leaves the SEC with 13 teams and desperately in need of either one or three more programs. The contenders have been bandied about, everywhere from Missouri to Virginia Tech to North Carolina.
All fine candidates, but first don’t leave Texas without grabbing another – this time Texas Christian.
Unlikely? Sure. Am I the only one who sees it? Probably. Is TCU a perfect choice? Of course it’s not, but unless Oklahoma changes its mind, who is perfect?
If you’re going to go with less than perfect, then why not do it in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, an area of recruiting perfection in which your schools are already desperately trying to establish a foothold?
Expansion is either about adding a powerhouse program whose presence immediately lifts the entire league or it’s about location, location, location, getting into a place that can aid everyone.
It’s one or the other.
The SEC has the luxury of not needing another Cadillac program. It’s won the last five BCS titles, courtesy of four different schools.
It’s got more than its fair share of national contenders.
What it needs is more recruiting ground, more big media markets, more places to spread out and tap into. It needs teams that bring more than just championship potential to the table.
If you can’t get Texas or Oklahoma and if you won’t take Florida State, then you grab what can help everyone, what can enhance the entire league.
You stay in Texas.
The SEC isn’t interested in A&M because it thinks the Aggies will walk in and win the league. I’m a believer that the Aggies will be competitive in the SEC due to their resources, proximity to talent and commitment. Their newfound sense of self-worth after stepping out of the UT shadow can’t hurt.
I’m sure the SEC hopes the same thing.
But A&M’s appeal to Alabama, Florida and the others is about allowing league television contracts to be renegotiated (this time with Houston, San Antonio, etc. in the mix) while offering entry into the legendary Texas high school ranks. You can now go to the SEC and still play at “home.”
No, the Horned Frogs don’t have a mammoth on-campus stadium, but 43,000-seat Amon G. Carter Stadium is in the midst of a $105 million renovation that will make it the so-called “Camden Yards of college football.” It can easily expand to 50,000.
No, TCU hasn’t drawn huge crowds, but when you’re playing New Mexico in a pro market, that’ll happen. Get Auburn on campus and it’s a sellout. And if they need more seats, well, glorious, 100,000-capacity Cowboys Stadium is just a few miles away.
Yes, budgets have to be increased, but that can be done almost overnight with an influx of SEC cash. The culture fits – it’s a Southern school that loves football, is emotionless about basketball and plays pretty good baseball.
TCU is winning now – it’s posted consecutive unbeaten regular seasons and won the Rose Bowl last year. Its coach, Gary Patterson, can keep them competitive, even in the week-in, week-out grind of the SEC. And once you throw an SEC membership card down, there is no reason the Frogs, hardly lacking for talent now, won’t attract better and better players. Patterson said he’s already seen an uptick just from joining the Big East in 2012.
There are only three other viable Texas options and the big one, UT, won’t come. Baylor and Texas Tech have major conference infrastructure but neither is better on the field than TCU. And playing in West Texas or Waco isn’t as appealing as getting into the big city.
Again, it’s about location.
Or you could consider this, it’s precisely the kind of move Texas and Oklahoma would hate. Not because they fear TCU, but at the idea of Nick Saban, Les Miles, et al in their backyard with improved chances of stealing a five-star recruit or three.
TCU is small and private, but so is Vanderbilt. And while Vanderbilt is rarely any good in football, Nashville lacks the recruits and the football passion of Fort Worth. It’s a whole different mindset. TCU wants to be great; when it needed that $100 million to improve the stadium it took just 95 donors to raise $143 million in a matter of weeks. This is the Little Sisters of the Rich.
As far as television, the best that can be said is TCU doesn’t hurt in the Dallas market. It doesn’t help much at this point either. The Cowboys rule and a half dozen other schools have far, far more impact. That isn’t likely to change.
It also doesn’t matter. The TV money will be huge no matter what.
Mostly TCU bolsters the SEC in Texas, bringing those old South programs right into the Metroplex, the ground they trip over themselves to get to now.
LSU is playing Oregon on Saturday in Arlington for a reason. Alabama is going there next year for the same one. Arkansas comes to town every year. The SEC already has a tie-in with the Cotton Bowl.
This is the state they salivate over, this is the recruiting turf they want to mine, this is the place they want to build off. Open your mind and see the big, long-term picture and Texas is where there is more of everything the SEC needs to sustain itself.
Which is why it ought to think long and hard about doubling down.
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