First of all, a message to Texas A&M University: thanks a lot. The 2011 season kicks off Thursday night after one of the most dreadful, frustrating offseasons in this beautiful, ridiculous sport's history.
Yet, even though the world learned about the Longhorn Network months ago (and Texas' plans for world domination decades ago), you only now decided that you could no longer stomach life in the Big 12. Not six months ago, not last summer (when you pledged loyalty to the very conference you are now leaving), but now. So here I am, still writing about conference realignment instead of giving everybody what they really want: a 3,000 opus on the ins and outs of tonight's epic New Hampshire-Toledo matchup.
So here's what we know:
A) The SEC is willing to bide their time and hang out with 13 teams for a while because they do not have to scrounge around in the scrap heap for a target. And no, that wasn't a dig at SMU and the Big 12; it only sounded like it. Go 'Stangs. There are no perfectly obvious targets, so they have no problem being pragmatic at finding No. 14.
B) The SEC will absolutely go to 14 teams at some point. Thirteen is just a scheduling and divisional nightmare. Ask the MAC. Of course, they could also just treat this like an elevator, skip 13 altogether, and announce A&M as their 14th program. That would solve a couple of different problems.
Whether No. 14 presents itself next week or in 2013, it will present itself, and we are all speculating as to who it will be. So let's dive in.
If There Is A Gentlemen's Agreement...
Are you of the mind to believe the "There is a gentlemen's agreement that the SEC will not add a team from a state that already contains an SEC school" rumor? It makes a little bit of sense, but I'm not fully convinced. We'll say there's a 50 percent chance this is the case. The odds below reflect that.
Would The SEC Take Them? If you believe Dennis Dodd on Twitter (and I know you do), Maryland is one of four programs the SEC will truly consider when the time is right. Of course, if you believe others, the SEC has had no conversations whatsoever about No. 14. So ... yeah.
Maryland would certainly make for an interesting get. In teams 13 and 14, the SEC could introduce itself to both South Texas and the Washington DC market. That's not a terrible draw. Plus, Maryland is a program with solid footing, potential Under Armor money, and a strong recent basketball history. And, you know, they are below the Mason-Dixon line, so they still qualify, at least somewhat, as southeastern. You could do worse, in other words. And this does allow us to envision the most unlikely bidding war of all time, a battle between the Big Ten, ACC and SEC over the fightin' Turtles.
Would They Go? I honestly do not know. I have spent quite a bit of time on the Maryland campus through the years, and it never once struck me as a football-crazy, southeastern college. Their love of lacrosse and basketball screams ACC, and the cultural fit would not be strong. Culture is such a large part of the SEC that I could see this being a sticking point in both directions.
Armageddon Level (on a 1-to-10 scale): 3. If the SEC takes an ACC squad with No. 14, then it causes the fewest overall ripples. Oklahoma doesn't get scared into the Pac-16's arms, the ACC fills the gap with either a Big East or Conference USA program, and life goes on. It would still result in three or four further moves, so it registers on the Armageddon scale, but we've come to dream of much more.
Chances: 11 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? Missouri is a fascinating mix of midwestern and southern. I have always considered it half-Illinois, half-Tennessee. That makes it a reasonably solid cultural fit (perhaps better than Maryland, anyway).
Plus, they are in possession of two attractive things: a Top 20 football program (the Tigers are 17th in four-year F/+ performance) with a solid following (they averaged 62,000 per home game last year and are threatening to sell out five of six home games this season), and inroads into two strong television markets. No, Mizzou does not own either Kansas City (shared with Kansas, Kansas State and a bit of Nebraska) or St. Louis (shared with Illinois and a good portion of Big Ten country), but right now, neither of those markets are in any way SEC country, and adding Mizzou would absolutely increase the footprint.
Plus, their softball program is world class and would fit in just fine in Softball Country. And no, I do not actually believe this would be a point of consideration.
Would They Go? Honestly? I'm not sure. I know, I know, this is the team that allegedly threw itself at the Big Ten last year and have always carried the would-leave-at-the-drop-of a-hat reputation, but there are a number of factors that might preclude a Missouri move.
First of all, Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton is now the president of the Big 12 board of directors, and he has spent the last year emphasizing Big 12 survival at all costs. If Armageddon were upon us, then Mizzou would sell itself as hard as anybody, but in this case, there is no Armageddon. They would be creating Armageddon, and after last summer's relative debacle, I'm not sure they're of the mind to initiate the move. We'll see.
Armageddon Level: Eleventy billion. As I mentioned on Monday, a Missouri move would possibly spook Oklahoma into heeding Larry Scott's advances. And if Oklahoma leaves, the chaos truly begins.
Chances: 15 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? Possibly. Obviously the SEC is a football-first conference, but there is certainly something attractive to the thought of featuring annual Kentucky-UNC basketball battles. Plus, the Tar Heels certainly have a lot of the components of a solid football program ... at least depending on how badly the fallout from the John Blake saga is.
I am not sure about the cultural fit here -- Carolina is southeastern, but it is also its own culture, really -- but one figures they deserve to be on the list of candidates.
Would They Go? I lean towards no, even if UNC guy Michael Felder thinks otherwise. Yes, the Heels could continue to play Duke in non-conference basketball play, but in so many ways, North Carolina is the ACC, and the ACC is North Carolina. I don't see it.
Armageddon Level: 5. Because of the effects of blowing up UNC-Duke, I give this a slightly higher score than Maryland, but still, it would not be a truly nuclear move.
Chances: 7 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? Not unless they are turned down by others. They are neither a marquee football or basketball school at the moment, and while there is decent potential in the size and voracity of the fanbase, one has to figure the Wolfpack would be behind UNC and perhaps Maryland in the ACC-to-SEC hierarchy.
Would They Go? Absolutely. Like Texas A&M, they are not the No. 1 program within their own state, and they do not define their conference. There is less reason for them to stay.
Armageddon Level: 3. See Maryland.
Chances: 4 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? Absolutely.
Would They Go? Absolutely not. Oklahoma has won seven Big 12 titles and has as clean a path to the national title game as any regular contender. They will not leave the Big 12 right now, and the only way they will is if SEC team No. 14 spooks them into action.
Armageddon Level: Eleventy billion squared.
Chances: 3 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? The 'Pokes are a bit screwed by proximity. Though a potentially better athletic program, at least when weighing football quite heavily, than many other programs on this list, Oklahoma State is better known in this process by their other name: Not Oklahoma. They have a decent amount to offer at the moment, but they probably are not a serious candidate.
Would They Go? Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are somewhat connected when it comes to conference realignment, and since we're only talking about one spot here ... well ... they probably wouldn't go, even if they wanted to.
Armageddon Level: See Missouri.
Chances: 2 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? No, but since Mr. SEC mentioned them here, I thought I would too. The only thing Pittsburgh is southeast of is Cleveland.
Would They Go? Sure?
Armageddon Level: 1. Once the laughter died down, the Big East would call up UCF or Memphis or Houston and call it a day.
Chances: 1 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? I think so. The Hokies are no better a cultural fit than Missouri, and they don't have a ton to offer beyond football, but ... football, football, football, football, football.
Would They Go? If you believe the university higher-ups, no. I don't completely believe the higher-ups, at least not yet, but it does knock down their odds by at least a bit.
Armageddon Level: 4. Chances are, the fallout is the same as it would be for Maryland and everybody else, but Tech is a stronger football program right now, and for that reason and no other, I bump them up one point.
Chances: 15 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? Good question. WVU is football-crazy and solid. Granted, their couch-burning tendencies fit them more with Detroit and Michigan schools than the SEC, and their rivalry with Pittsburgh is not a point in the southeastern column, but ... well ... they would fit in perfectly fine in the SEC. They just would.
Plus, they have an often formidable basketball program to boot. They don't have much to offer beyond that, but that's a lot.
Would They Go? Absolutely. The Mountaineers do not have a long history in some other conference; they were long an independent.
Armageddon Level: 3. It would be a solid get for the SEC, but see Pittsburgh for how the Big East would react.
Chances: 15 percent
If There Is No Gentlemen's Agreement...
If you don't believe in the aforementioned gentlemen's agreement, then there are some other rather obvious candidates.
Would The SEC Take Them? If being in the same state as South Carolina isn't a hindrance, then there is a lot in Clemson's favor. They draw huge football crowds, they put a good product on the field (even if the results don't always match the quality of the product), and ... I'm not going to lie: I thought Clemson was an SEC program for a large portion of my upbringing. Their rivalry with South Carolina and their once-strong rivalry with Georgia would both be lovely draws here.
Would They Go? I cannot think of one reason why they would not.
Armageddon Level: 3. See Maryland, N.C. State, etc.
Chances: 10 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? The Florida State of the 2000s was not the Florida State of the 1990s, but they are still a marquee name, they still draw large crowds, and they are slowly moving back toward the elite level. If being in the same state as Florida isn't a hindrance, one has to figure they're a strong name.
Would They Go? I cannot think of one reason why they would not, other than if they think they are more likely to reach the national title game playing against an ACC schedule.
Armageddon Level: From a perceptions level, this would be the same type of get as Nebraska was for the Big Ten. No, Florida State is not an elite program again yet (ask me again in three months), but it would feel like a home run, and even if it weren't really a home run, a stand-up double is always good too.
Chances: 10 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? The Cardinals came within three points of a national title game bid in 2006, and they are a strong basketball power that already has a strong rivalry with an SEC school (Kentucky, obviously). They share a state with an SEC squad, and the football fanbase is questionable -- they averaged 50,000 attendance in 2010, and they averaged 41,000 in their elite 2006 run.
They have grown by leaps and bounds over the last 25 years, but they do not have the tradition that so many SEC schools have. Call them a backup option.
Would They Go? Um, yes.
Armageddon Level: 3. See everybody else above from the ACC and Big East.
Chances: 5 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? No, but Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel thinks so, so they make the list. But while I would certainly admire the creativity of the move ... no, absolutely not.
Would They Go? Of course.
Armageddon Level: 3. Big East, ACC, yadda yadda.
Chances: 1 percent
Would The SEC Take Them? Probably not, no, but they are football-crazed (if a bit small) and would come custom-built with A&M hatred. So they've got that going for them.
Would They Go? Well, yes, but they're not going to get an offer.
Armageddon Level: 9. This would upset both Oklahoma (since the Big 12 would be losing another team) and Larry Scott (since the Pac-12's expansion options are geographically limited already and would be even more with Tech off the board).
Chances: 1 percent
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