What if stories are part of sports history. What if Shaq never left Orlando? What if Nick Saban got Drew Brees with the Dolphins? What if Drago beat Rocky?
But this what if might be one of the biggest regret moves ever and it is not about one person or team but two.
In the late 1920s and earlier 1930s the Southern Conference had more than 20 teams that played college football. The size of the league was too big for some and the cost of traveling for games was too high for others. So an idea came about where schools that were west and south of the Appalachian Mountains would breakaway and become a new conference- the Southeastern Conference.
The original SEC included: Alabama, Auburn(not yet known as Auburn), Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, MIssissippi State, Sewane, Tennessee, Tulane and Vanderbilt.
For eight years the 13 members all got along. By 1940, Sewane was the doormat of the league and chose to de-emphasize football and left the league. The remaining dozen stayed together until 1964. It was then when two members made decisions that have to rank among the biggest what if stories in college sports.
Georgia Tech and Tulane opted to leave the conference. Tech went first in 1964 and the Green Wave left two years later. Imagine today if a school chose to leave the SEC.
Why would these two schools leave? Both had issues with what was known as the "140 Rule." The rule allowed schools to have up to 140 players on scholarship in both football and men's basketball combined. Football programs could sign as many as 45 players per year.Then Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd felt other schools were overrecruiting and getting rid of players not good enough to play so they recruit other players. Dodd believed if he recruited you to play and you weren't good enough it was his fault, not the player. He refused to take a scholarship away from a player he recruited.
Georgia Tech thought they had convinced others in the league to change the rule. But Alabama's Bear Bryant liked the rule and in fact wanted no cap placed on the amount of players a team could have and in the end more teams in the league did as well and the Yellowjackets ended up announcing they would leave the conference and become an independent and stayed that way until 1983 when it joined the ACC.
Two year after Georgia Tech left the SEC, Tulane departed for the same reason. The Green Wave felt too many other SEC schools were running off too many players and the spirit of the 140 Rule was being violated. They chose to become an independent as well until they joined Conference USA in 1996.
Can you imagine if neither had left? At the time Georgia Tech left the SEC they were one of the biggest schools in the league. Teams outside the conference prefered to travel into Atlanta for a game than Oxford, Starkville and Auburn. Instead of a 50,000 seat stadium in downtown Atlanta on campus, it might be 80,000 and could be as big or even bigger than Georgia's program.
As for Tulane, the private school was viewed as a key educational member. Along with Vanderbilt, Tulane had wealthy backers and donors and New Orleans was a destination city. The original Tulane Stadium had a capacity of 80,000 and hosted the Saints for seven seasons and three Super Bowls. Tulane/LSU and Georgia/Georgia Tech were viewed as big rivalries. While Georgia and Georgia Tech still play their annual game, the Green Wave and Tigers have not played since 2009 but have played 98 times and played every year from 1919 to 1994.
What would have happened if the two never left? How would that have impacted future SEC expansion? Would South Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas A&M be in the league today? We will never know. We do know if they had stayed, each would be making a lot more money today, especially Tulane.
The decision to leave the SEC by Georgia Tech and Tulane over the amount of scholarships schools could offer has to go down as one of the biggest what ifs in college sports.
Final thought: Althaiophobia is the fear of marshmallows.