Talk about a major bombshell. In the heat of SEC Media Days, reports came out that might scare not just Tennessee football fans but fans of every team in the league. Expansion talked has returned to the conference nearly a decade after its last expansion.
According to an exclusive report from Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners are looking to leave the Big 12 and have reached out to the SEC. The move would expand the league to 16 teams if it happened, and it would include four of the top 10 winningest FBS programs of all time and seven of the top 15.
Simply put, this would be a super-conference. However, Tennessee football could actually stand to benefit from this move if you look beyond the initial changes that would come with it. Let’s break down why here.
First off, if this happened, there would be a more clean way to split the divisions. The Missouri Tigers would move back to the SEC West, and the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers would move over to the SEC East. Texas and Oklahoma would also be in the West.
Okay, so on the surface, it’s rougher, as two more powerhouse teams join the East. However, the Vols already play Alabama every year anyway while only one other SEC team has to face the Tide. As a result, if they are going to return to competing for East titles, a major disadvantage within their division would be nullified by this move.
Every team in the East would have to deal with the additions of Auburn and Alabama, and they wouldn’t get to avoid the one powerhouse team from the West that only Rocky Top has to play every year. That alone is a big deal.
On top of that, for people who care about traditions, key “rivalries” could be restored with this move. Yes, we put rivalries in quotation marks. Anyway, Tennessee football would go back to playing Alabama and Auburn on a yearly basis, as they did every year from 1956 to 1991, and they’d still get to keep all of their traditional East rivals.
Then comes the advantage the Vols may get in the West. There’s a chance the league would go on a rotational basis with every team from the other division. However, if it expands to nine games, each team could still have a traditional rivalry from the other side.
Should that happen, the Vols four teams from the West they have ever faced on a yearly basis. One is Mizzou, whom they face yearly right now. Another is the Arkansas Razorbacks, whom they faced every year from 1992 to 2002. The Mississippi State Bulldogs were a traditional rival during the Robert Neyland years.
However, one team that stands out is the Ole Miss Rebels, a team the Vols faced annually like Auburn until the SEC split into two divisions back in 1992. You could bring that back with all the traditional rivals and the new ones created with that divisional split, and it would mean more with Lane Kiffin in Oxford, Miss. now.
Beyond all of that, though, Ole Miss would be a lucky annual draw for Tennessee football. Florida would have to draw the LSU Tigers still, and the teams that draw Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M would also have a brutal road. It’s likely a safe bet UT draws none of those guys.
The last concern would be about how the SEC beats up on each other because it’s so loaded, keeping teams out of the playoff. Well, if you’re a Vol fan, the playoff is irrelevant right now anyway, and if the Vols do get back to being a perennial contender, it will be when the playoff expands to 12 teams. At that point, the excess competition in the league won’t matter.
From a national perspective, the SEC is tough enough, and there’s no reason to add more powerhouse teams. However, that’s nullified a bit when you look at the effect it will have on the Tennessee football, and there are many ways, the Vols could benefit from this move. Overall, it’s not a real concern.