Commentary by David Climer | The Tennessean
The last time they stopped playing the "Realignment Rhapsody" and everybody scrambled for a seat, the SEC had 14 available chairs.
One year later, they're cranking up the band again. And don't be surprised if the SEC puts another couple of seats on the floor.
Even before the SEC holds a single sporting event as a 14-school conference, the possibility of further expansion is in the wind. With Florida State pondering its future in the ACC and batting its eyes at the Big 12, the intercollegiate deck soon could be reshuffled. Look for the SEC to do whatever is necessary to extend its footprint and strengthen its membership.
Although there is no official wait list, the SEC would have no trouble filling a couple of extra spots. Like Commissioner Mike Slive said last year when asked if schools other than Texas A&M and Missouri had expressed interest in the SEC:
"I could get to 16 in 15 minutes."
And frankly, that's where the SEC has been headed all along. Fourteen was just a convenient stopping point while the realignment smoke cleared. Sixteen makes much more sense.
Case in point: The SEC adjusted its 2012 football schedule to accommodate Texas A&M and Missouri but future schedules remain a work in progress. In other words, why map out a schedule for 14 teams when you might be upsizing to 16 in short order?
With 16 teams, the SEC could divide into four four-team divisions and adopt a scaled down NFL-style model for football scheduling purposes. It would be easier to maintain traditional rivalry games such as Tennessee-Alabama and Georgia-Auburn that are imperiled by the current division makeup.
So who's it going to be? If the SEC stays the course from its previous two expansions, it will attempt to broaden its borders rather than admit new members from areas that already have been annexed.
In short, why flirt with Florida State when Florida already gives you a toehold in the Sunshine State? And who needs Clemson when South Carolina is aboard?
A 14-member SEC extends to 11 states. A 16-member SEC figures to reach into 13 states.
If you're throwing darts, aim one at Raleigh, N.C. There, North Carolina State has struggled with the perception it is operating in the considerable shadow of North Carolina and Duke -- which it is.
While the SEC would prefer North Carolina or maybe Duke, those two figure to stick together in the ACC. N.C. State might be looking for an escape hatch, especially if the ACC is weakened by the exit of Florida State, which might take Miami and/or Clemson with it.
Enlisting N.C. State in the SEC would give greater exposure in North Carolina, including top-30 media markets Charlotte and Raleigh.
And then there's Virginia Tech, which long has seemed a better fit for the SEC. Adding the Hokies would give the SEC greater cachet in the Norfolk and Tidewater areas of Virginia while also edging into the Washington, D.C., market.
Stay tuned. It's not a matter of whether the SEC will expand. It's just a matter of when.
David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Reach him at 615-259-8020 or email@example.com.