The conference watched the chaos at every place else and sat back and sipped some good old southern bourbon. They saw the Big Ten mess with a television deal not exactly done because the previous commissioner made promises he couldn't keep. They watched the ACC brass look like a Hatfield and McCoys showdown over its future. And the Pac 12...well, who knows what their future is at all.
So as the SEC gathers for its annual spring meeting they do so in a position of power and support, right? The conference will hand out big checks for their successes on the field and on TV over the last year. While it will settle in as the second highest conference in revenue distribution for years to come, the SEC is the best football conference in the country and the results bear that out. The league is about to bring in two massive brands in Texas and Oklahoma. There's a new media deal with Disney/ESPN to get even more exposure. Life is good in the SEC. So why does it seem like the conference is just like everyone else? Because it is.
The SEC has won a lot of national championships in football and other sports. It has some of the most passionate fan bases in the country who choose college sports over pro sports. Its commissioner is arguably the most powerful executive in college sports but they have the same issues all conferences and families have. The bigger you get the more agendas you deal with the harder it is to get a consensus.
Texas and Oklahoma are in Sandestin but only to listen and give input but not voting on any issues and there are issues the SEC faces.
The league has yet to settle on whether to play an eight or nine game conference schedule in football. That has become a very hot topic. Nick Saban once favored playing nine games but after hearing who the league had in mind as annual opponents(Auburn, Tennessee, LSU) Saban has flipped to supporting an eight game model. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M were among the most vocal about playing nine but then the many voices started chirping and suddenly it's no longer a done deal. Some coaches won't say it publicly but they don't want nine conference games because you can lose more games. Those middle and bottom tier schools who know they might get lucky one year and compete for a title prefer to get to bowl eligibility as soon as possible and a ninth conference game doesn't help that. Others have whispered that if ESPN isn't going to pay more for additional content then why do it. And with soon-to-be 16 agendas it's getting harder and harder to get a supermajority.
But the conference schedule is not the only issue up for debate this week. While the SEC may be better than anyone at the pay-for-play game(or NIL as the industry likes to call it), each state has their own laws and some give their schools a competitive advantage over others. Oklahoma is the latest state to pass a law(overriding a governor's veto) that basically allows its schools to support collectives and in many ways direct the money and the law is pretty clear that the NCAA can do nothing about it even if they create a national NIL standard. Arkansas and Texas have similar laws and expect every other state with an SEC to do the same. After all, you can't let your opponents have something you don't have. Greg Sankey might want to push for SEC guidelines when it comes to NIL but does he really want to go there? How much support will he get from the many voices on that one?
And there will be whispers in those corners of the pool and bar outside of the regularly scheduled meetings where the word expansion will come up. I don't believe there is any interest among the conference to grow a league that is just getting to 16 but there will be talk about what to do if the angry ACC schools find a legal way out of their Grant of Rights and negotiate an exit. That is not likely to happen any time soon and Disney/ESPN is not in the business of adding more money to the yet-to-start deal with the SEC while it's slashing billions and laying thousands of people off. But there will be plenty of "let's just say....." talk about what if Clemson, FSU, Miami, North Carolina and anyone else should become available in the coming years. That would kick off a whole new set of rumors but know that any current SEC team in a state where they are the only SEC team will fight against anyone else coming into the league.
And there is the battle of money. It's always about the money. While the ACC has their internal battles, the league did announce they will be rewarding postseason success in football and basketball and that could mean millions more for some schools. It would be crazy to think no one will bring that up at the SEC meetings. As we head into the 12-team playoff world the SEC and Big Ten will certainly fight for a great share of the media money and not want the P5 split from the current deal where all five got the same amount. If you are Alabama and Georgia and expect to be in the expanded playoff every year for the foreseeable future, why would you want schools like Vanderbilt and Missouri to benefit from your continued success?
The SEC is still in a great place. They are two of the biggest brands in college football. They have a massive media deal in place. Their fans are as rabid as anyone and it's good to be in the league. There will be plenty of money to make and more to earn in the coming years. But by getting bigger the conference may indeed be getting better but it also gets tougher to get things done and harder to get a larger group to agree on issues where everyone comes with their own agenda. I have said for years now that at some point as conferences grow they no longer become a conference they become a convention and it gets harder and harder to get all on the same page...
Final note: The average American eats about 60 hamburgers a year.