On the surface, this makes no sense. We just made the case last week against Tennessee football voting to admit the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners into the SEC. We’re sticking to our reasoning on that, which you can read about here.
However, that’s a done deal, and the SEC is set at 16 teams. Now, though, a new report is out that the Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles have reached out to the SEC, according to Marc Ryan of ESPNU.
With the league the way it is right now, this is something Tennessee football should actually root for. Although it makes the league tougher, that’s not what’s relevant to the success of the Vols. What’s relevant is how tough their path is in the league individually.
Now, the Vols could find themselves in an easier path to navigate the conference if the SEC reverts to pods or divisions with Texas and OU in the league. If Clemson and Florida State join, however, it becomes a certainty.
There’s no way the league can stick at 18 teams. It’s too many for two divisions, so if the SEC added Clemson and FSU, it would be forced to add two more teams. As a result, it would likely expand to 20 with five teams in four divisions or four pods each, meaning two more would have to be added.
If that were to happen, the league would add two more teams from the ACC or Big 12, as the Big Ten is too stable and there are too many other issues preventing it from expanding to the Pac-12. It wouldn’t look into the Group of Five just yet, especially given how connected to other in-state schools teams from the American Athletic Conference would be.
Looking at the most recent revenue reports from colleges in USA TODAY, a total of 12 combined Big 12 and ACC teams create more revenue than any Group of Five school, six each. That report is from 2018-2019. It’s likely the SEC would pick from that group.
Those schools are the Louisville Cardinals, Kansas Jayhawks, Virginia Cavaliers, North Carolina Tar Heels, West Virginia Mountaineers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Iowa State Cyclones, Oklahoma State Cowboys, N.C. State Wolfpack, Kansas State Wildcats and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. They are listed in order from most to least revenue generated.
Well, if this happens, the only way the Vols would get stuck in a tough division would be if Georgia Tech and the SEC agree to reunite, as the Vols could find themselves in a league with the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, FSU and GT. However, GT generates the least revenue of the schools we named, so they are the least likely to join.
Assuming that doesn’t happen, one clear division would be Florida, FSU, Georgia, Clemson and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Another obvious division would be the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Ole Miss Rebels, Mississippi State Bulldogs and LSU Tigers. That would be the East and the South divisions in the league.
At that point, any division combination would have the Vols in a division with the Vanderbilt Commodores and Kentucky Wildcats. The other two teams would be two of the new potential ACC teams we mentioned, one of the new potential ACC teams with WVU, one of the new potential ACC teams with the Missouri Tigers or Arkansas Razorbacks, or just Mizzou and Arkansas.
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That would be the North division, and no matter how you put it together, Tennessee football would be the most storied program in that division. The Vols would also be the most well-connected to recruit outside of the North Carolina school that joined.
Suppose just the top two revenue-generating schools we named join UT. Well, at that point, the four divisions include the South and East divisions that we broke down. Then there’d be a West division with Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas or Missouri. UT, Vandy and UK would be in a division with Louisville and, once again, Arkansas or Missouri.
Let’s say you add the top two Big 12 schools, Kansas and WVU. Then you’ve got the exact same layout as we just mentioned except WVU replaces Louisville. If you add just two Big 12 schools out West, you’ll have Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and those two schools. UT, Vandy, UK, Arkansas and Mizzou will then be in a division.
Heck, you can add just the top two ACC schools, or any ACC schools for that matter outside of GT if Clemson and FSU join. It’ll make the most geographic sense for the Vols to be in a division with those two ACC schools along with Vandy and UK.
Simply put, geographically, there is no way to slice it in which Tennessee football wouldn’t be the most storied program and honestly the program best positioned to win at a high level long-term i its own division if you did this. It’s impossible.
With the College Football Playoff expanding, becoming a division champion in a 20-team SEC will be the equivalent of being a conference champion back in the old days. UT will be in a great position to do that regularly, and it’ll help them recruit on a major basis.
As a result, Tennessee football fans should root for this type of expansion. It’ll open a new set of doors for the program not seen since the league initially expanded to 12 teams back in 1992. The possibilities will be endless.