With all this talk of conference expansion, the focus is placed on how these new, potential schools will fit into the football landscape of the SEC. That makes sense because the majority of money generated from college athletics is done so through the football program. The biggest television deals, the biggest postseason payoffs and the largest single school revenues are made through football. However, we are proud members of a basketball school. UK does Our football program is a big deal, but it has nowhere near the excitement surrounding it that the basketball program has and it probably never will. So how does SEC expansion affect basketball?
The short answer is that expansion can only help the conference as a whole. Of the teams most often discussed as candidates for expansion – Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Florida State and Clemson – only Virginia Tech had a lower RPI than Alabama (the team with the highest RPI in the SEC West) and that was only by a tiny margin. The addition of any of these schools would serve to boost the overall RPI of the league. With just the addition of Texas A&M from last season, the SEC’s RPI jumps ahead of the Mountain West for fifth overall. With the addition of TAMU, Florida State, Clemson and Missouri (the teams listed in Doug Gottlieb’s initial rumor this morning) the SEC overtakes the ACC for fourth overall and greatly closes the gap between it and the Big East, Big Ten and Big XII. With the embarrassment that was the SEC West last season, the addition of any team that can say they were on the bubble at the end of the season is an improvement.
Another bonus the inclusion of new teams brings is the opening of previously untapped recruiting pipelines into the SEC. For John Calipari, this isn’t really an issue because he can easily recruit all across the country, but for other schools in the league, a team in Texas and Virgina opens up new recruiting ground for SEC coaches to pursue with greater legitimacy. Consider this: in the Rivals top 150 for the class for 2012 and the top 100 for the class of 2013 list a total of 36 players from Texas and Virgina (23 Texas, 13 Virginia) and 12 of those players are in the top 25 of their class (8 Texas, 4 Virginia). With the SEC being able to lay some claim to Texas and Virginia, every team in the league will have greater access to recruits previously committed to play in the Big XII or ACC. So, overall, recruiting should have the potential to improve in an expanded conference.
However, without the addition of a marquee name in basketball, the SEC will never be able to consider itself an elite basketball league, and I think most people outside of Kentucky are fine with that. Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) has been musing on Twitter about the potential for basketball in the SEC if a team like North Carolina were added. Certainly a program like North Carolina could catapult the SEC into the upper echelon of basketball powers, especially with teams Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama putting themselves in the national spotlight. Playing UNC twice a year would also alleviate another potential problem that Oscar raised: the increased number of in conference games. The addition of teams like TAMU and VT into the fold would expand the conference schedule to accommodate playing every team at least once and some teams twice. The casualty due to this increased slate would most likely be a rivalry game, probably that of either Indiana or UNC.
Despite the potential loss of a rivalry match up, the good of conference expansion for basketball seems to outweigh the bad. The SEC West has been terrible the past few seasons and it has only served to pull the rest of the league down. The addition of some new blood could rejuvenate the league as a whole and put the SEC on the path to relevancy in basketball and not just football.