If Invited, Should State Leave For The SEC?
Well, Texas A&M, you done done it again.
You've threatened to leave the Big Roman Numerals because I guess it suddenly dawned on your school's leadership that Texas wields all the power in your conference. Like Holden Thorp, you've come to a decision you probably should have made many months ago. You want out, so now you're trying to take your talents to the SEC and join the most powerful football conference in America.
That's great, but guess what: Now the rest of the college sports world is in an uproar because–like we saw about this same time last year–the leaders of universities across the country are scared their schools will be left out of a massive reorganization that may result in four "mega" conferences of 16 teams.
Fans are scared too, naturally, as no team wants to be left behind in a shell of a former conference that has no BCS bowl tie in. Whether or not basketball fans want to admit it or not, all the cash to be made by schools these days comes from football…BIG football. And big conferences that play big football make big money for the big schools within them.
We all know the SEC, the PAC 12 and the Big 10(ish) should be pretty stable throughout any reorganization process. They'll be the poachers, not the poachees.
But members of the Big XII, ACC and Big East have to be sweating bullets. As the Hungry, Hungry Hippos of college football start gobbling up schools, these three conferences stand to be the ones decimated or destroyed in the process.
The SEC is at 12 teams, requiring four to get to 16. Texas A&M decreases that required number to three.
There are several teams in the ACC that look appealing as football properties: Florida State, naturally. Clemson seems like a solid fit, as well. Virginia Tech is playing great football now. Georgia Tech and Miami are possibilities, but neither bring the large-state-school football feel that FSU and Clemson would. Miami, in particular, seems particularly weak relative to where it was just a decade ago.
If Mike Slive, SEC Commissioner, plucks FSU and Clemson but decides to pass on GT and Miami, where would he turn for the 16th team?
Among the ACC schools, could N.C. State edge out Virginia Tech to be that 16th team?
It almost seems silly writing(typing) it out, but there are some factors that could make State an appealing product to the SEC.
Most crucial to the SEC and the biggest thing in State's favor is its location. It's in the captial city of North Carolina, a southern state with no SEC representation as of yet, located in a broader television market (the Triangle) that's still stable with plenty of room for growth. The population in Wake, Orange and Durham counties–plus five of the surrounding counties (Johnston, Granville, Chatham, Harnett and Franklin)–now totals 1.78 million per the 2010 census, with five of those counties (Wake, Johnston, Chatham, Harnett and Franklin) all posting growth rates beyond 25%.
Those are serious household numbers, representing lots and lots of potential SEC Network viewers.
Virginia Tech on the other hand, while a large school that pumps out a lot of graduates, is not located in an attractive television market. The metropolitan area surrounding Blacksburg only amounts to 158,000 or so folks, and while there might be a lot of viewers to be had in the Virginia Beach area, the real jewel would be northern Virginia south of Washington, DC. I could be wrong, but I don't see the SEC picking up a ton of new viewers in NOVA/DC.
Here's another potential roadblock for VT to the SEC: The Virginia legislature. If you'll recall, they played a large part in getting VT in the mix during the first round of expansion from nine teams to 12. Virginia Tech partisans lobbied for their inclusion into the ACC…could Virginia partisans block their rapid exit?
As for the other potentials, Atlanta is solidly UGA territory and adding GT to the league wouldn't do much for increasing network subscribers. And Miami…well, Miami's just hit or miss. If Miami football is surging, sure, I bet the SEC would get a boost in subscriptions. But if Miami continues on their current path, why would a fair-weather Miami fan plunk down the extra cash for the SEC Network? Besides, hardcore SEC fans in Miami probably already subscribe to follow the Florida Gators. Subscription numbers from Miami would be feast or famine, and in the here-and-now when decisions are being made, it's looking like famine for the foreseeable future.
It seems to me the SEC stands to gain the most new subscribers in The Triangle, not Virginia.
Does that mean Duke and Carolina are potentials? Perhaps, but State holds an advantage over a Duke or UNC with a stronger ingrained football culture.
Basketball has been king for so long at UNC and Duke that football is a past time, not a passion, for much of their fanbases. In Raleigh, however, State fans have long embraced football passionately, particularly over the last 30 years as their basketball program has waned relative to their blue neighbors. State's fan base would be more likely to travel to bowls in greater numbers–a bonus to any conference looking to strengthen their bowl tie ins–and I think would be much more likely to subscribe to a premium conference network package to keep tabs on their team's new conference mates.
And lest we think this expansion talk is 100% about football (even if it's in the ballpark of 99%), the SEC would gain a significant basketball property in NC State with a rich tradition to beef up the conference's sub-par basketball image. Yes, the SEC would do better to go after Duke or UNC if expansion were more about basketball than football, but if Slive is looking to improve there aren't many options for the SEC to explore with both a football-rabid fanbase AND two national titles and 16 conference titles on their resume.
While NCAA tournament money is peanuts relative to the revenue from a conference network and national television revenue, money is still money. Adding a team with the potential to generate conference revenue outside of football is a plus in State's favor.
All that said…would State make that leap? Should they?
I think the answer is a clear "Yes" if given that opportunity.
While we pine for the venerable ACC of yesteryear and curse the thought of leaving a league founded in large part because of the vision of Everette Case and N.C. State, the cold, hard facts are these: Expansion is inevitable, and there will be those left out who suffer tremendous financial consequences because of it.
If State's leadership makes decisions based on the past without considering the evolution of college athletics, we will be left even further behind than we are now.
Forget the notion of sticking with UNC, Duke and Wake to preserve the Big Four. In a post-expansion world, Duke and Carolina will get along ok on their basketball money while Wake and State wither on the vine along with any other hapless ACC programs left behind. The SEC or Big 10(ish) poaching multiple teams would almost certainly result in the loss of the ACC's BCS bowl tie in, along with it all the BCS financial windfall. What's left of the ACC would shrivel into a mid-major, and while the erstwhile ACC programs in the new Mega-conferences are building shiny new facilities, State's non-revenue programs will be stuck reusing practice uniforms from three years ago, lobbying Debbie hard to buy some new cleats. That's if their sports aren't discontinued altogether.
If it seems like this whole post's main theme is "money, money, money," you're spot-on. It is. It's not impossible to win from time to time without financial resources; it is impossible to build a consistent winner without it.
Consistent winning comes from coaching. Great coaches cost money. Retaining great coaches costs even more money. Recruiting costs money. Facilities to lure recruits costs money.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening, not shrinking, and at an accelerated rate.
If State's leadership passes up an opportunity to join the SEC, it will unwittingly decide to remain among the have-nots, dooming the entire athletics program to second-class status relative to those who left us behind for the soon-to-be Mega-conferences.