Florida president: One condition could move SEC to expand

The Southeastern Conference is a calculated bunch. If the league stayed at 14 teams in the coming years, even if future conference expansion swirled around it, that wouldn’t exactly shock.

If the allure of more inventory for the looming SEC channel or the clumsiness of scheduling for 14 teams pushed the league to increase, perhaps that shouldn’t surprise either. Whatever happens, the league will consider options in a thoughtful manner.

Apparently there’s only one factor that would trigger expansion in the South, according to the SEC’s chairman of the board of directors.

Florida’s president, Bernie Machen, told CBSSports.com the league will eschew the 16-team superconference model unless "some ace jewel called us and said, 'Can you help us?'"

"We haven’t had any calls like that," Machen said. "We haven’t made any calls."

The "ace jewel" reference could apply to 13th member Texas A&M, which called in 2011 looking to create its own identity after frustrations with Big 12 rival Texas and the Longhorn Network.

Machen said he hadn’t thought about what he considers an "ace jewel" or the criteria involved because expansion isn’t a priority.

If a school feels it qualifies, perhaps it can call the SEC office? Sounds entertaining just thinking about it – Hey, Mike Slive, I believe your magic is real and I want to be a part of it.

Machen maintains realignment is more media-driven than conferences hungry for change.

"It’s not that simple to assimilate two more teams into the league," Machen said.

Nearly five months since the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers, major conference realignment is in a hibernation period of sorts. The 14-team Big Ten could bolster its East Coast presence with two more teams eventually, but the league isn’t formally discussing such matters or planning any presidential votes at the moment.  

Basically, the Big Ten is wondering if the Big 12 will expand to 12, while the Big 12 thinks the Big Ten will be next to strike. It’s this weird game of chicken that way.

Many in the industry believe Maryland’s ongoing legal battle with the ACC over the league’s $50 million exit fee plays a pivotal role in future realignment. If Maryland escapes for $30 million instead of $50 million, that could change the way schools look at leaving a conference – and into the arms of the Big Ten’s $40-million-per-year television projections for each school by 2020.

Realignment can be a divisive topic, so I try to ask university officials about their takes on the matter as I come across them.

Northwestern's president, Morton Schapiro, has a unique perspective as a leader of a private school of more than 8,000 students and a top-25 academic juggernaut.

Schapiro admits he doesn’t lead such Big Ten presidential discussions, but he believes the Association of American Universities -- an "association of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada" -- is a crucial criterion. Thirteen AAUs are in the Big Ten (Nebraska is the only non-AAU Big Ten team), while Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke, UNC and Pitt rep the ACC (Maryland excluded).

This gets Schapiro thinking: If the Big Ten added again, would he have a direct counterpart?

"Is there a private AAU we can add?" Schapiro asked. "I’d guess Vanderbilt is very happy in the SEC."

There’s an argument the Commodores would have a better shot at a conference title in the Big Ten than the SEC, but by all accounts Vandy appears happy with its league affiliation.

Without direct knowledge, Schapiro openly wonders if the Big Ten will one day try again for Notre Dame. In September, Notre Dame joined the ACC in most sports and will play five ACC football games per year while maintaining independence. Notre Dame reportedly nearly joined the Big Ten more than a decade ago.

Nebraska athletic director emeritus Tom Osborne, who plans to retire in the summer, wouldn’t be surprised if the Big Ten gets to 16 in the next few years.

"From the way things are going, I would assume there may be some desire to add a couple more schools," Osborne said. "This is strictly opinion, no hard data or anything like that. Where exactly they would go, I don’t know. I’d imagine there would be some interest to the East. I think the Big Ten’s wide open to looking to other places, too."

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