When the SEC expanded in 1992, it was a football-driven move. Roy Kramer knew what he wanted, personally drove the train and pushed it through. I don’t think anyone questions that it worked brilliantly.
Fast forward to the present round of expansion. My impression has been that Mike Slive saw (or, just as likely, heard from his constituents) that the groundbreaking TV contracts he’d negotiated just a few seasons ago had lost some of their shine and the conference needed a reason to reopen them. Moving to do so, Slive didn’t control the process as Kramer saw fit to do. Instead, he operated more as a collaborator.
But according to Slive, that’s not what drove this round of expansion at all. Instead, it was about something completely different.
But Slive and the school presidents were also interested in their reputation.
They know that nationally there is still the perception of the SEC as a conference that doesn’t take academics seriously. They are aware that some in other conferences, such as the Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC, look down on the SEC’s reputation.
“Often times this league is under-appreciated for the quality of our institutions academically,” Slive said.
Only two of the 12 schools — Florida and Vanderbilt — are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities, a research consortium. By adding Texas A&M and Missouri, the SEC doubled its membership in the 61-member AAU.
The hope for SEC presidents is that by adding two good schools, the larger image of the conference improves. It may sound silly to fans, but to school presidents who sit in rooms and make decisions, it is a major factor. [Emphasis added.]
“I think at the core of it it’s the most important thing,” Missouri athletics director Mike Alden said. “From the surface of that many people see that window of athletics and in particular football. But I think once you get down to the core of it, and what you’re trying to do as an institution to really raise the awareness of your brand, academically and research-wise.”
Slive was asked if he hopes this helps improve the image of the SEC.
“Yes, the answer is yes,” he said. “But I would put it more in context. We weren’t really gonna expand. And we were not out looking to expand. But when institutions of these quality come, and they bring the outstanding academic institutions, they have commitment to broad-based athletic programs …”
It’s not that it sounds silly to fans. It’s that the conference has essentially butchered its football and basketball scheduling over an ill-conceived move (given all the angst leading up to and through the spring meetings, there’s really no other way to characterize it) that was driven by little more than the collective egos of the SEC presidents. You can already hear the peals of “I’ve left the SEC in better shape than I found it when I became Georgia’s president” in Michael Adams’ farewell speech, can’t you?
I’m so glad it’s made them feel better. Because if we fans don’t share their satisfaction by continuing to support the game in the way we have since 1992, at least they’ll have their enhanced academic reputation and new TV moneys to keep them warm at nights.
It’s a helluva way to run an athletic conference.