Mike Slive sat down for an extended chat with USA Today this week and the paper/website continues to roll out snippets from their Q&A with the SEC’s commissioner. This morning, they share the portion of the conversation dealing with conference expansion and realignment.
Here are a few of the highlights from their piece — which you should read in its entirety right here — as well as our thoughts on Slive’s comments…
“Q: What’s your take on the recent events in the Big East? Is there further realignment coming?
A: Really, just following it. We read what you read and we read what you write. And maybe to go back a little bit, because this is probably where you’re going, we were very comfortable at 12 (member schools). We were successful. We weren’t looking to expand. And then Texas A&M came to us and subsequently Missouri, and at that point our folks evaluated the institutions. We were obviously looking to the future, and decided to take them.
We’re pleased to have 14 (members). Scheduling is not easy and we’re integrating that into our planning. But I think we’re at the same place at 14 that we were at 12. So needless to say, we’re aware, we watch what’s going on around us with interest. At this point in time that’s all we’re doing.
Q: Is 14 members viable for the long haul?
A: Yeah, we think so. You know, scheduling is not easy with 14. But we’re well down the road (scheduling).”
The SEC was well down the road with 12-team scheduling, too, when Texas A&M and then Missouri came aboard. If the landscape changes and forces the league to move… and if the SEC can find a way to move that would add money and power to the conference, you better believe it will do so.
“Q: We’re all chasing realignment now. Where do you think college sports will be in five years? Would we be talking about super conferences? Could we see a separate subdivision or a breakaway from the NCAA?
A: When the question gets asked about super conferences, the sense I get is it’s not asked about the quality of the conference, it’s about a number (of members). For us it’s not about numbers. It’s about the quality of the conference and the institutions. From my observation, is there a concerted effort among conferences to get to a (certain) number? I don’t think so. I can’t speak for individual conferences, but to me, I don’t have any sense that there’s this master plan that governs the athletic universe that’s marching toward getting conferences with 16 teams. We’re all very different, we’re all very competitive, we all have different cultures.”
“For us it’s not about numbers.” Well, the commish is obviously talking about hitting a specific number of schools and teams and we believe he’s right that there is no “master plan” driving every league to a 16-school limit. We’ve been saying that for a few weeks now. If things continue to move — and at this point it certainly looks like we’re headed in that direction — there could be some leagues with 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 or more schools.
That said, Slive knows full well that expansion is all about numbers. Not the number of schools, but the number of dollars a league can make from television. And if those numbers go up for the existing members by adding valuable new schools from elsewhere, then the number of schools in the league will indeed jump from 14 to 15 or 16 or beyond.
We’ve also written in recent weeks that this latest expansion outburst — brought on this time around by the Big Ten — will drive the biggest leagues to go ahead and create their own “super-division” within the FBS ranks. USA Today asked Slive about that very idea…
“Q: Is there a move toward a clear separation within the FBS level?
A: I don’t think there’s a move toward anything. I think there’s a reality but a movement implies some intended purpose. That’s not the case at all. Each of us, we are who we are. The SEC has been 80 years in the making. The Big Ten has been longer than that in the making. The other leagues have been in the making nearly as long. So it’s not about any movement. It’s about the fact that there’s a reality. All of us are who we are.
There are some matters of concern to some of us, like full cost-of-attendance scholarships. And there is a level of frustration over the difficulty we’ve had in getting it through the system. And so there are some differences between some conferences. It’s just our hope that we can work through that in this system. I know Dr. (Mark) Emmert (the NCAA president) is trying very hard to do that.
Q: But at this point, nothing would be surprising, including a breakaway from the NCAA.
A: I agree that it’s hard to be surprised in this era, but certainly I have not been involved in any conversation of that nature. We have as much in common at the NCAA as we do differences. We believe that everything can be worked out within the NCAA, and it should be.”
Slive hit at the crux of the issue. Full-cost-of-attendance scholarships are going to be the ultimate divider between the haves and the have-nots. Breaking away from the NCAA would require too many people from too many different leagues to come together and agree on a new partnership, a new rule book, a new enforcement process, a new everything. That’s not going to happen.
What will happen is a fifth division of college football will be born. That division — consisting of 70ish teams in four or five major conferences — will provide full-cost-of-attendance schollys while the remaining FBS teams do not.
Slive refused to answer a question about possible expansion because he doesn’t “do hypotheticals.” But then he did just a bit…
“Q: But if you were to expand, what are the imperatives or goals for adding members?
A: I’m not going to answer it in the context of ‘if we were to expand.’ I’ll just tell you that for me in adding Texas A&M and Missouri, it was not whether or not they were going to be able to compete this fall or next fall, but a long horizon about whether or not we felt that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we would be better served to maintain our position as a preeminent league if we were to have them than if we weren’t. And the decision was, we felt we would be better off in the very long term by adding them.”
Since last Friday, we’ve been discussing on this site the Big Bang that we believe we’re barreling toward at the moment. First, we provided an overview of the situation. Next, we launched our Big Bang series and looked at which schools will likely be angling for a revenue boost. Then we looked at those schools to see which ones really had a chance to catch the eye of a rising super-conference.
Part Three and Part Four of our series will hit the website next week.