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Greg Sankey’s Eye-Opening Conference Expansion Comments

Greg Sankey made numerous eye-opening comments regarding conference expansion in the SEC prior to a speech before the Jacksonville Sports Council August 20th.  I was a member of the media group questioning him.

“My focus has not been on expansion,” Sankey said. “It’s about transition right now and the conversation is about, ‘how do we meet the expectations upon us in such a great way that people continue to want to be affiliates with the SEC?’ I think excellence is attractive but expansion is not a front burner issue for us at the present time.”

No surprise there.

I didn’t expect him to say he had a productive conversation with University of Oklahoma President David Boren on the issue last week and the two sides will continue to talk.

I thought it was revealing that Sankey described conference expansion as “not a front burner issue for us at the present time.”  Perhaps I’m reading more into that quote than belongs there, but to me, that means the issue is still on the stove and will be picked up at a future time.  However you read or hear the comment – and I was two feet from him when he said it – it’s clear the issue is not dead and buried.

Sankey could have easily “guffawed,” thrown up his hands, admonished the handful of media assembled for making an issue out of nothing and said it was a matter the league was not even considering or some other such definitive language.  He didn’t go there which I find telling.

More revealing, however, was what he said when I followed up the initial expansion question with one of my own.

“What is your general philosophy as it relates to expansion for the SEC,” I asked.

I was rewarded with a better answer than I expected.

“Acknowledge it’s not a front burner issue,” Sankey said.  “We added two great universities in Texas A&M and Missouri, both members of the American Association of Universities. Great athletics traditions. Contiguous states. There’s probably some information in there that’s useful.”

Ka-BOOM!

A coy response that speaks volumes.

“There’s probably some information in there that’s useful.”

That’s the key sentence.  He’s not just whistling Dixie, he’s foreshadowing.

Greg Sankey identified the criteria for the SEC’s next expansion targets if and when that occurs.

  1. AAU membership. I’ve written all along that academics play a larger role in these decisions than fans or media recognize.  Sankey mentioned academics first in his comments.  How much more clearly can he make the importance of that factor?
  2. Great athletic traditions.
  3. Contiguous states. This encourages me to believe what most commentators have long speculated and that is any further SEC expansion will not come from schools inside the league’s existing footprint.

Find me an AAU school with a great athletic tradition contiguous to the existing SEC and I’ll find you a likely candidate for expansion.

Don’t worry, I did the legwork:

  • Duke
  • Indiana
  • Ohio State
  • Purdue
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia

Let’s be reasonable and take the Big 10 schools off the list as they have no reason to seek another conference affiliation.

That leaves you with Duke, North Carolina and Virginia from the ACC and Kansas from the Big 12.

Duke, UNC and UVA, particularly the Tar Heels, have long been prominently discussed as potential SEC targets.  Remember, merely being targeted by the SEC doesn’t mean these schools would be interested in joining.  This is not a hostile takeover; it’s an invitation.  I continue to have a hard time imagining a world where the University of North Carolina – or Duke or Virginia – would cheerfully leave the ACC and break those bonds simply because it received a richer financial offer.

At no point has Kansas ever been a prominent public talking point among these conversations.  The Jayhawks should be from this point forward.

It is also important to remember that the Big 12 and ACC both have long-term “grant of media rights” agreements with their current membership.  These contracts tie a schools media rights – the ability to broadcast a school’s sporting events – to the conference.  Until these grant of rights expire, 2024-2025 for the Big 12 and 2025-2026 for the ACC, I don’t expect to see a Power 5 conference school leave one conference for another.

Greg Sankey’s predecessor Mike Slive added Texas A&M and Missouri to the conference.  Slive’s predecessor Roy Krammer welcomed Arkansas and South Carolina to the league.  If history serves as a guide, Sankey will have his chance to augment SEC membership and his comments from August, 20th 2015 provide great insight into who he’ll be looking at.

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