What SEC Expansion Could Mean For Auburn

Before the 2010 season, the topic of discussion for the off-season centered around conference expansion and realignment. There were a few changes made with the Big 12 (now with 10 teams), Big 10 (now with 12 teams), Pac-10 (now the Pac-12), and Big East (still not good at football), but in terms of anything that directly impacted the SEC, nothing happened.

Cheating scandals filled the headlines this summer as any talk about conference changes took a back seat. That was until a few days ago when the ‘Texas A&M to the SEC’ rumors began to pop up like they had a year ago.

Due to the University of Texas and ESPN partnering in the Longhorn Network, many teams in the Big 12 feel as though they are getting the shaft, especially Texas A&M. There are many other reasons that all Big 12 teams outside of Austin want out that I won’t get into, but it sounds like some major moves are possible.

In fact, last night the Texas A&M Rivals site AggieYell.com reported that the deal was done, the Aggies were leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC, and it would be announced on August 22nd. In true 2011 journalistic fashion, a few hours later the reports were denied, but most said that it was just a “not yet” denial. It was going to happen, it just wasn’t official yet.

Regardless of what we’re hearing now, it’s going to happen eventually. The Big 12 will dismantle soon, and some of those teams will want to get into the SEC. Teams from other conferences will want in, too. Why wouldn’t they? Sure, they’ll lose more games playing an SEC schedule, but eventually they’ll catch up. Not to mention the fact that the extra money will make those extra losses feel a little better.

So we know Texas A&M is in the mix, but that would leave the SEC with 13 teams. I’m too OCD to allow an uneven number of teams, so the conference is just going to have to pick up another. It just has to happen.

Since the rumors began again, the airwaves, Twitter, and the blog-osphere have been ablaze with thoughts on the possible schools to take the spot. Teams like Oklahoma and Missouri have been named from the Big 12. Teams like Florida State, Clemson, Miami, and Virginia Tech have been named from the ACC. I threw out Georgia Tech as a candidate, but nobody really liked that idea, so I decided to let other people make this decision.

With the additions of teams, some moves within the conference would possibly have to be made. Would divisions be completely realigned? Would we use cheesy names like “Champions” and “Everybody Else?” Would annual rivalries fall to the wayside with so many teams in the mix? All good questions, let me try to answer them.

You may or may not be aware that Auburn is the easternmost team in the SEC West. Vanderbilt, of the SEC East, is actually further west than Auburn. Some have argued that Auburn should be in the East anyway because of the traditional rivalries with Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia. I’m not sure about how I feel about that, but more on that later.

I made a pretty little Google Map that shows the current SEC West teams in blue, SEC East teams in red, and the aforementioned candidates in yellow to give you a good look at what the additions would mean geographically. You’ll just have to figure out which ones they represent. Hopefully it’s not too hard. I was surprised to see that Florida State would be almost as close as a trip to Athens or Tuscaloosa. I guess I’ve just never paid attention.

I don’t know how many cartographers we have out there, but it’s pretty obvious that if a team comes from the Big 12, they would automatically be put in the Western division. The natural thing to do would be to grab an ACC team and put them in the East to balance out the divisions. However, I highly doubt division alignment is anywhere in the minds of the men making these decisions. It’s all about TV markets, also known as money. But because we don’t have anything to do with that, and we really only care about what adding teams and moving others around means for future schedules, let’s take a look at what could occur.

The way I see it, there are four possible outcomes:

1. A team from the Big 12 is added to the SEC West, a team from the ACC is added to the SEC East, the conference moves up to 14 teams (7 West, 7 East), and we go about our normal business, while beating welcoming the new teams aboard.

2. Two teams from the ACC are added to the SEC East causing one current East team to move to the West. The best geographical choice would be Vanderbilt. Gee…I hope this one happens… o_O

3. Two teams from the Big 12 are added to the SEC West causing one current West team to move to the East. This team would have to be Auburn given the geography. Auburn would lose their annual game with LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss, while picking up the older annual rivalries of Florida and Tennessee. Georgia would obviously stay on the schedule and Alabama would as well, taking over the permanent inter-divisional spot that Georgia currently holds.

This scenario would obviously make for an easier road for Auburn to get to the SEC Championship, at least right now. Tennessee is not the Tennessee we once knew. Florida is in rebuilding mode. Georgia, in recent memory, has never been too dominant to scare anybody. But more importantly, Auburn’s traditionally weaker division opponents would become Vanderbilt and Kentucky, which are obviously a step down from Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Sorry, it’s just the truth. They would of course be adding Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, or whoever, but so would everyone else, so you can throw that out.

Now the problem with all of this is Alabama. With Auburn and Alabama now being in separate divisions, it brings about the possibility of the two playing in the SEC Championship Game one week after the Iron Bowl. You think things are bad now? Can you imagine either team losing twice to the other in one year? Poisoning Toomer’s could end up looking like child’s play. What if the teams split the two games? Who gets bragging rights? How can one brag about winning a game when the other week they lost? My head hurts just thinking about the arguments that would be had over that scenario.

But speaking in terms of real issues that the SEC may consider, do they really want to split up the nation’s biggest rivalry? I always thought it was cool that the Iron Bowl could determine who goes to Atlanta. With the teams split, the Iron Bowl could lose its luster. Nobody wants that.

The Big 10 recently did something similar by putting Ohio State and Michigan in separate divisions, but we won’t know how that pans out for a few years, especially since Michigan is down, and Ohio State is likely to go down. It could be a while before a match-up between the two occurs in the conference championship game, so we may not be able to gauge how this scenario would work by watching how someone else handles it first.

Whatever happens, this is my least favorite option.

4. Two teams from the Big 12 are added to the SEC West, Auburn AND Alabama are moved to the East and Vanderbilt is moved to the West. This scenario works geographically and it gets around the issues I mentioned in the previous scenario. Plus, Saban wouldn’t have to go to LSU every other year. I’m sure he’d love that. At least that’s how I’d sell it to him.

One thing that would have to happen regardless of which scenario occurs is the addition of a 9th conference game. Currently, each team plays five divisional games, two rotating inter-divisional games, one permanent inter-divisional game, on top of four non-conference games. A new team in each division would obviously add a divisional game, which likely means that a rotating inter-divisional game would be taken away. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a definite change that would have to be made.

Some of this excites me, some of this scares me. I like tradition, but it would be fun to add a few new opponents. Basically, I don’t really know what to think about this just yet.

One thing that’s for sure is that the college football world is changing. The SEC we know now probably won’t be the SEC we know in 15 years, but as long as the big boys stay around, I’m fine with that.

So, which scenario do you like? If the SEC does expand who do you want? Who do you not want? Let me hear it.