The SEC, the PAC-10, Recruiting and an Opportunity

The SEC commissioner on the SEC's willingness to expand:

http://blog.taragana.com/sports/2010/04/26/slive-sec-exploring-possibility-of-expansion-_-in-case-conference-landscape-changes-96882/

Why would the SEC be interested in expansion?  They aren’t hurting for money.  The Big 10 applied a great business model for a conference network, and marketed the heck out of it to get their huge TV rights payments.  The SEC merely put an “Open For Business” sign up to get theirs.  They do not have to expand.  So, why would they?

I think the answer is found in the excessive conference pride the SEC members are known for.  I think that SEC pride in having the best football conference has gone from a bragging point to a foundation of their marketing strategy.  They don’t fear an expanded Big 10 competitively, but they do not want to allow anybody else the boast of having the biggest and best conference.  Their concern is that a super-sized Big 10 would have so much media content out there that it might eclipse the sun that is the SEC.  They would rather expand than cede their current position as the unrivaled conference.  Is there any more to why they might expand?

Why does Texas not want to join the SEC?  The overt answer is academics, but that is just the shell of the argument.  Here’s the core- at some schools, the Athletics Department reports to the university president, and the athletic mission is subordinate to the athletic mission.  At others, the Athletics Department has more power than the administration, and the athletic mission is dominant.  The Big 10 and PAC-10 have many more of the former type schools than the latter.  The SEC has many more of the latter type schools (athletics first).

Texas is an academics first school, nevermind our recent athletic success.  We have the 1980s and 1990s, with all of the losses to Baylor, Rice, and TCU, to prove our commitment to academic integrity.  We shared a conference with schools that were unconstrained by recruiting ethics, and were beaten up by them.  If we joined the SEC, we would be inviting that group of unrestrained recruiting machines, boosters and all, into our recruiting territory, and I believe we would start having as much luck against the SEC schools with Texan recruits as we currently have in recruiting battles in Florida.

I guess we could do well if we were using the same recruiting tactics as the other schools.  That would involve having boosters pay street agents, having boosters pay players, taking care of recruits’ families, and never talking about these activities (or similar activities by rivals).  Personally, I would be chagrined if we did so, but not as much as if we voluntarily and unilaterally refused to meet our (proposed) SEC rivals head on.  I also have significant doubts that the university would condone UT participating in such shady recruiting.  That’s why I think the best solution is to not invite the SEC into Texas in the first place.  In short, my choices in order of preference are:

1.  Texas be in a conference with an honest and open recruiting environment, where our natural advantages will allow us success.

2.  Texas stay in our current recruiting environment where some of our rivals are a little shady, but we have enough stature to allow us to recruit very well.

3.  Texas be in a conference with a shady recruiting environment, and we hold our noses and participate (again, I don’t see the Tower actually allowing this).

4.  Texas be in a conference with a shady recruiting environment, and we get killed by our refusal to participate.

I think Bellmont probably shares these concerns, and that is why we are resistant to the charms of the SEC.  And it does have charms.  It really does play the best football in the country.  However, a deep dig into “why” it has the best football reveals an opportunity for Texas.

Here is a website that stores NFL draft data for the last 23 drafts…

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/draft-history-graphic.htm?loc=interstitialskip

In that period, 6160 players were drafted.  977 (16%) of them originated (played HS ball) from Big 12 states.  985 (16%) came from Big 10 states (note- Iowa counted as Big 12 and Big 10).  890 (14%) came from the PAC-10 states.  1818 (30%) came from the SEC states!  Granted, the SEC share a few states with the ACC and Big East, but still- do you see why they have the best teams?  They get to recruit from the best concentration of players.

Let’s dig a little deeper.  The SEC East states (Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina) contribute about twice as many players as the SEC West states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas), 1194 – 624.  Yet, the SEC West seems to be as competitive as the SEC East.  Why? 

Look at draftees from schools.  The SEC schools (not states) have had 854 players drafted the last 23 years.  The SEC East has had 425 drafted, and the SEC West has had 429 drafted.  In other words, the disparity in regional talent has been overcome in the recruiting process.  

Let’s look at the Big 12, similarly.  The Big 12 South states (Texas and Oklahoma) contributed 702 players to the draft, and the Big 12 North has contributed 275.  Really, it’s Texas- 624 Texas schoolboys have been drafted, compared to 78 Oklahoma kids.  Similarly to the SEC, Big 12 South schools have had 376 players drafted, and the Big 12 North schools have had 341 drafted.  The schools in the talent poor states raid the talent rich states.

The Big 10 schools have had 775 players drafted (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois are the talent rich states).  The PAC-10 schools have had 654 players drafted, the lion’s share coming from California (745 California schoolboys were drafted, the most of any state.  Washington, Oregon and Arizona produced only 223 drafted HS players combined).

What would happen if Texas and Texas A&M were added to the SEC?  Two things:

1.  The two schools’ football reps would immediately get a boost, by virtue of joining the best (and getting…bester?) conference.  They would immediately recruit better (marginal improvement for Texas, since it is already recruiting at an elite level).  The remaining Big 12 schools would recruit a little poorer in Texas.

2.  The SEC would get better, because the available talent pool would get broader and deeper.  The SEC would become a conference properly placed between the NFL and D-1A.

This would really shake up the college football world.  Now, what if Texas and Texas A&M joined the PAC-10?  And it split into two divisions, with Texas, TAMU, Arizona, ASU, UCLA, and USC in one division, and the rest in another?  You would then have a talent base that could rival the SEC.  What about the Big 12 remnants?  They would be hurt.  Consider these two schedules for Texas in the PAC-10 and OU in a reconstituted Big 12 (UH, TCU, Utah, and BYU replacing UT, TAMU, NU, and Mizzou):

Texas:

Rice (H)

ULM (H)

@UTEP

UCLA (H)

OU (Dallas)

@Ariz

ASU (H)

@USC

@Cal

Oregon (H)

@WSU

TAMU (H)

Now, OU:

UNT (H)

@Cincy

UCF

TCU (H)

UT (Dallas)

BU (H)

@TT

@UH

Col (H)

@ISU

BYU (H)

@OSU

Yeah, OU would tear through that schedule.  They would still be considered a less big-time team, and struggle recruiting against UT and TAMU.  It would be like Penn State recruiting against Pitt.  But wait- what if OU joined the SEC?

(Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha!)

Yeah, the SEC wants to add a team that provides few extra TV sets, and adds a recruiting base slightly larger than Arkansas’.

So, you say, TaylorTRoom, the PAC-10 is the way to go, right?  I’m not so sure.  I would feel a lot better if I knew USC and Oregon would recruit by the same rules (i.e. the NCAA rules) we do.  The Big 10 is the conference that really has the ADs managed by the administrations.  However, the nation’s demographics are heading south and west.  The PAC-10’s big advantage is the number of direct flights to Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, the bay area, and Seattle.  It can also present a clear vision for the near term (the Big 10 is scary the way it keeps suggesting 12 teams, no 14 teams, no 16 teams).

What do you think is best for Texas?  It may be the Big 12, but I am adamantly opposed to letting Beebe put a poison pill into the membership agreement.  I think Texas will be fine in either the Big 10 or PAC-10, and TAMU would get a big boost from either move.

This has been a long post, and I still didn’t get into issues like the impact on opening up the state to recruiters from out of state, nor the impact on TV contract revenues from conference realignments.  The Executive summary- any move by Texas and Texas A&M will help their new conference, and hurt the Big 12.  The Big 12 needs to consider how important recruiting and money is to it, and then decide appropriately going forward.  What do you think?

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