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Conference Expansion Part Two – Yah! Speculation!

Yeah, Buzz.  I'm worried too.
Yeah, Buzz. I'm worried too.

As our loyal reader(s) are aware, I'm an expansion junky and certified expansion worrier.  Marquette has a great gig in the Big East, but due to the Big East's football versus basketball membership split, MU is in a precarious long term membership situation.  This is not just about football, this is also about being the new kid in the block in the league and fielding the minimum required number of Division athletic teams (before lacrosse comes on board).

The new rounds of Texas A&M-to-the-SEC rumors have spawned various potential threatening situations for Marquette.  So, let's look at the convoluted possibilities after the jump.

If Texas A&M bolts for the SEC, the SEC would almost certainly bump their membership total to fourteen to even out their divisional count.   A sixteen team super-conference is also a possibility.  So, who is the likely 14th member?  SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has said he wants to expand beyond the SEC's current geographic footprint.  That leaves out Georgia Tech, Florida State, Louisville, Clemson and Memphis.  I don't believe that Louisville and especially Memphis were viable candidates to begin with due to UL's testy relationship with Kentucky and the smoking crater that is Memphis football.

That brings the following schools to the plate: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Missouri, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State.

OU and Oklahoma State may be a package deal, especially with T. Boone Pickens' clout.  Oklahoma is really tied to Texas and the state doesn't have enough television sets to justify bringing in both schools, so I don't see OU moving. 

Adding Texas Tech would lock down the state of Texas, but I don't think they bring enough cache.  Missouri brings the Kansas City and St. Louis TV markets and solid football and basketball programs, so they are a solid candidate. 

Virginia Tech brings the Virginia market, a rabid fan base, a successful football program plus a respectable basketball squad, so they are also a strong candidate.  There is surprising talk about NC State.  NC State is kind of overshadowed by UNC and Duke and maybe they make the move to stake out on their own.  The Wolfpack obviously bring the state of North Carolina into the SEC, which is attractive.

If A&M is added, I think the SEC adds an "East" team so they don't have to realign the football divisions.  The SEC has had great competitive football balance between their divisions and will strive to maintain that.  Adding a "west" team and "east" team will also preserve the protected cross-division football pairings.  The Big XII offers a cautionary tale on the ruinous efforts of an improperly balanced league.  Competitive balance was also the most important criteria when the Big Ten devised their divisional split.  For those reasons, I believe that points to either 1) VaTech or 2) NC State. 

Now, what does that mean for the Big East?  Adding either school would whittle the ACC down to 11 schools.  The ACC would need to replace the lost member to allow for a conference title game in football.  An obvious candidate would be West Virginia to get back to 12 members.  They may even go after Louisville, Memphis or Cincinnati, but that strays a bit from their geographic footprint.

Losing West Virginia would hurt, particularly in football, but the bigger concern is what goes on with the Big XII and Big Ten.  If the Big XII can stay together at 9, which is a great number of members for football, the Big East would be in decent shape.  Additionally, if the Big Ten stands pat, the Big East would still be in decent shape. 

Now, for the scary stuff.  I see three potential worrying scenarios.

  • Big East proactively raids the Big XII,
  • Big East conducts a secondary Big XII raid after the Big Ten
  • Big Ten raids the Big East

In any of these situations, MU could be in trouble.  The first two scenarios would bloat the conference membership to 20+ members.  That is likely untenable and Marquette and DePaul, as the Big East's two most vulnerable members, may get the boot.  The Big Ten raid scenario would likely include a combination of Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers.  That would further weaken the Big East's football standing, endangering the conference's automatic BCS berth and may force a raid of Conference USA.  This scenario would be safer for MU, but leave it in a much less desirable Big East.

After all this irresponsible speculating, where does this leave us, as MU fans?  Hope like hell the Aggies get cold feet again or the Texas legislature gets involved.  Otherwise, we could be looking at a super-conference, football only era.