Today, the presidents of the 14 SEC member schools unanimously voted for SEC expansion, allowing Texas and Oklahoma in as the conference’s 15th and 16th members.
Eleven of the 14 presidents needed to approve the move, and for a while it appeared Texas A&M would try to block it. Last week, some insiders believed a few other schools like Missouri, Arkansas and possibly LSU could join the Aggies.
But, in the end, the money that the SEC stood to gain was simply too great:
It’s abundantly clear that the “unspoken gentlemen’s agreement” that the late SEC commissioner Mike Slive made with Texas A&M to bar Texas to the SEC is null and void.
Still, some SEC football fans think allowing OU and Texas in is a mistake.
Count Caleb Calhoun, writer for Fansided’s Tennessee site, among them.
Calhoun made a strong case why voting for SEC expansion was not in Tennessee’s best interest, and it has some interesting parallels to Arkansas football’s situation.
The Tennessee football program shares some similarities with Arkansas’ — both are coming off of 3-7 seasons, both have large fan bases who recall bygone eras of glory and have experienced long years of rebuilding and a revolving door of head coaches and both, it turns out, have something to lose in an SEC expansion.
Yes, Arkansas has much to gain in an expansion, too. But Razorback fans are blithely optimistic if they think OU and Texas’s entry will be a total win-win.
Below are Calhoun’s reasons why Tennessee should have opposed SEC expansion, and why those reasons apply to the Hogs as well:
Texas is Toxic
Texas has a well-earned reputation for being a conference-killer.
Although former Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles wanted to bring Texas into the SEC alongside Arkansas in 1992, that doesn’t stop the fact that Texas’ arrogance still played a role in the old SWC’s ultimate dissolution.
Then, in the 2010s, Texas’ Longhorn Network “broke apart the Big Eight roots of the Big 12, which had stood for over 100 years,” Calhoun writes.
“The Nebraska Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, the Colorado Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 and Mizzou joined the SEC. Texas A&M also joined the SEC. Now, a Texas move again will kill the Big 12 permanently.”
As Calhoun sees it, the Longhorns coming to the SEC would “wreck the brand of a conference.”
Arkansas football fans will not argue the basic premise that Texas has a outsized ego that has caused problems in the past.
Many, however, would stop short of believing that the Longhorns will “wreck” the SEC’s brand when the Hogs would welcome back its annual rivalry with the Longhorns.
Risky Realignments in SEC Expansion
Tennessee, which is in the SEC East, will likely see Auburn and Alabama join their division when OU and Texas arrive in the SEC West.
Running the risk of playing Alabama annually isn’t fun for anybody.
Even moving to a 4-team pod, there are still plenty of ways things could go amiss.
“They could also end up in one with the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs,” Calhoun writes. “If the league goes with four divisions, UT could be in one with Florida and Georiga while still playing Alabama annually.”
“This is all just too brutal to think about.”
The same dynamic is at play for Arkansas, but to lesser degree because Auburn and Alabama would be moving away from the SEC West.
Still, if the Hogs are put in a pod with Oklahoma, Texas A&M and, say, LSU, things could get ugly in a hurry.
Don’t discount this possibility. The SEC, after all, handed Arkansas Georgia and Florida as its two “bonus” games in the conference-only 2020 season.
“Although plenty of realignment scenarios could work in their favor, UT should not vote on this expansion without the knowledge of those scenarios,” Calhoun writes. “Add in the factor of the SEC potentially raiding the SEC and Big Ten to further expand, and there’s know way of knowing where the Vols will land in all of that.”
I hope Arkansas leaders including athletic director Hunter Yurachek got intel along these lines on the front end.
More UT/Arkansas Football Competition is Harmful
Calhoun makes no bones about it.
He wants Tennessee to run from tougher competition.
He makes a solid point about the SEC, already the toughest conference ever, becoming even harder:
“One of the things that built powerhouse programs in the 20th century was their ability to celebrate winning their conference championship and representing it in bowl games. That became an attainable goal for all of the top 25 historical programs nationally.”
“Well, of the 25 winningest FBS programs of all time, 10 are now in the SEC.”
“Sorry, but an SEC title will get even harder than a national title at this point. Sure, college football is changing, and with a 12-team playoff likely in the future, the bowl games are about to become irrelevant. However, shouldn’t a conference title still be something worth playing for?”
Arkansas hasn’t won a conference title in football since its SWC days, though it has played in the SEC Championship Game three times.
Making it even that far is going to be very hard, though arguably not as hard if Auburn and Alabama go to the SEC East.
Hog fans, for the most part, embrace tougher overall SEC competition. They don’t want to run from it.
But there’s also no running from this plain fact: The chances of actually winning an SEC title go significantly down with Texas and especially Oklahoma entering the scene.
Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
Calhoun’s next reason partially applies to Arkansas.
He writes that one of Tennessee’s competitive advantages in the past has been its ability to drum up obscene amounts of cash from its masses of fans — enough to dwarf fantasy football outlet like Awesemo NFL DFS.
“In 1996, the SEC’s original TV deal with CBS went into effect,” he writes. “At that point, UT had just expanded the North End Zone and had the largest stadium in the nation. That allowed them to recruit at a high level for two more years and win back to back SEC and national titles.”
This ability to generate large streams of revenue definitely helped the program in the late 1990s.
That advantage tapered off in the 2000s and especially in the 2010s, though, as new TV deals put more money in the pockets of all SEC members. Tennessee hasn’t had a 10-win season since 2007.
Adding Oklahoma and Texas will just erode Tennessee’s one-time advantage even more.
“The more money flows into the conference, the more it evens the playing field, and the less Tennessee football can exploit its one advantage, which was always revenue. Adding the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners will explode that revenue even more with the new ESPN deal coming, and UT will continue to suffer as a result.”
Arkansas has a smaller fanbase and so has never been close to leading the SEC in revenue generation.
However, for many years it did hold its own advantage: proximity to the recruiting hotbed that is the state of Texas.
For years after entry into the SEC, Arkansas football coaches could use that proximity as a selling point with Texan recruits who wanted to join the SEC but didn’t want to go far from home.
That advantage took a significant hit when Texas A&M (and Missouri to a lesser degree) joined the SEC a decade ago. Since then, notwithstanding an elite pickup like Jalen Catalon here and there, Arkansas’ recruiting in the Lone Star State has suffered.
Throw Texas and Oklahoma into the mix and the entire of state of Texas will become “SEC Country.” That theoretically dilutes Arkansas’ long-held advantage there, as Nate Olson details in this SEC expansion column.
Yes, there are counterarguments.
SEC expansion “helps Arkansas. It can’t hurt.”
“First, it expands their recruiting territory. Now there is little doubt in my mind that Oklahoma and Texas are going to continue to get five-star players. But there are lots of good players left and Arkansas has won with those good players before and will again.”
“What it does most is hurt Oklahoma State a hell of a lot. And that helps Arkansas.”
It’s definitely likely, if things fall right, Arkansas will reap some good recruits leaving former Big 12 programs like OSU.
But that’s a “rising tide lifts all boats” type dynamic that will help all new SEC teams, not just Arkansas. The Hogs are still going to need to fight the likes of Missouri, Ole Miss and even LSU and Texas A&M for these three-star type players who no longer want to play for lame-duck programs in the Big 12.
Listen to Clay Henry break it down SEC expansion at 7:40 here:
And make sure to watch Pig Trail Network’s Ty Hudson break it all down here:
Cost of SEC Expansion: Loss of traditional rivalries
Calhoun also listed a reason why Tennessee should have opposed Texas’ entry that doesn’t apply to Arkansas:
Tennessee, which plays in the SEC East, lost out in its annual rivalries with Auburn and Ole Miss when the SEC expanded into two divisions back in 1992 when Arkansas and South Carolina joined the league.
This time around, OU and Texas would likely cause two large 8-team divisions or four 4-team pods. Either way, the realignment would mean Tennessee loses one of their annual matchups, either against Alabama, Georgia, Florida, the Vanderbilt Commodores or the Kentucky Wildcats.
“They’ll probably lose at least two of those,” Calhoun writes. “Sure, Florida, Georgia and Alabama don’t seem like real rivalries right now. But Vandy and Kentucky never seemed like rivalries either.”
Arkansas, meanwhile, would likely regain its most traditional and heated rival with the entry of Texas.
It’s likely that the SEC would make sure Arknasas stays in the same division or pod with other “far west” SEC teams like Missouri, LSU, Texas A&M and/or Oklahoma. Even if Arkansas loses out on its annual game with LSU, arguably its most heated SEC rival, it would likely make that up with the addition of Oklahoma.
If Arkansas can improve its program enough to beat Oklahoma every now and then, that annual series has the potential to become extremely heated.