Monday, October 3, 2011

Texas A&M and Georgia Tech

For starters, allow me to go on the record that I'm a proud alumnus of the University of Georgia. However, I believe that Georgia Tech would be a great addition to the Southeastern Conference, if coupled with Texas A&M. Therefore, I present to you my case and a plan for adding Tech to the SEC:

1. Georgia Tech is a founding member if the SEC and established many heated rivalries within the conference, most notably with Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama.

2. In the early 1960s, legendary Tech football coach Bobby Dodd voiced concerns about the "140 Rule," which some league members were exploiting to over-sign football recruits (in essence, creating try-out camps). For years, Tech lobbied to alter the rule, but to no avail. In January 1964, after Tech's measure for change was voted-down yet again, the pot boiled over and the school promptly announced that it was leaving the league in protest, effective June 30th. Of course, Georgia Tech and Bobby Dodd were right. I can think of no better way to make amends than to offer Tech the courtesy of an invite. Furthermore, the SEC would make the statement that it is serious about addressing similar issues in the present day.

3. Adding a school with Tech's academic standing would be a coup for the conference's overall reputation, and likewise make a powerful statement that athletics isn't everything with regard to conference expansion.

4. Having Georgia Tech in the Southeastern Conference would put a stranglehold on the Atlanta media market (5+ million people), just in case the Big Ten decided to court the nerds at some point in the future. Also, the SEC would not want another super-conference having a recruiting foothold in Atlanta - it would open the door to the entire Big Ten (just like the SEC's foray into Texas via Texas A&M). Sometimes, the best offense is a good defense.

5. Georgia Tech Athletics Director Dan Radakovich served as associate AD at South Carolina and senior AD at LSU, while Tech President Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from none other than Texas A&M.

6. Due to Georgia Tech's high academic standards, they will never be an athletics recruiting threat to the University of Georgia. Even with SEC membership, Tech would still not compete for most of the state's top athletes. Hey, it is what it is.

I guess I should be more territorial, but if Alabama and Auburn can be successful in a state with less than half the population of Georgia, I'm not too worried about Tech gaining a few extra in-state recruits. I believe Clemson and Florida State - two schools perched on Georgia's border - would pose much greater threats to UGA's recruiting efforts if invited into the league (possibly as members 15 and 16 - keep reading).

In order to achieve a fair divisional balance, in addition to placing Texas A&M in the west and Georgia Tech in the east, Vanderbilt and Auburn could be switched. Besides, most of Auburn's traditional rivals are in the east anyway:

EAST
Georgia
Florida
South Carolina
Kentucky
Tennessee
Georgia Tech
Auburn

WEST
Alabama
LSU
Arkansas
Mississippi
Mississippi State
Texas A&M
Vanderbilt

In football, the league could go to a NINE game conference schedule, with each team playing all six divisional foes, one rotating cross-divisional opponent (different every year; five season cycle) and TWO permanent cross-divisional rivals. Therefore, the Alabama-Tennessee and Alabama-Auburn games would remain intact, as would the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Vandy's second cross-divisional rival could be Georgia Tech, setting the stage for a great, urban "battle of the nerds" rivalry. As a Georgia fan, I wouldn't mind adding Ole Miss as one of our two cross-divisional rivals. Below is my "power balanced" proposal for a two cross-divisional rivals format, which maintains existing annual rivalries and reignites a few former ones (new cross-divisional rivals in bold):

EAST
Florida: LSU, Miss State
Tennessee: Alabama, Vanderbilt
Kentucky: Miss State, LSU
South Carolina: Arkansas, Texas A&M
Georgia: Ole Miss, Arkansas
Auburn: Alabama, Ole Miss
Georgia Tech: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M

WEST
Alabama: Tennessee, Auburn
Miss State: Kentucky, Florida
LSU: Florida, Kentucky
Arkansas: South Carolina, Georgia
Ole Miss: Auburn, Georgia
Vanderbilt: Tennessee, Georgia Tech
Texas A&M: Georgia Tech, South Carolina

I understand that Georgia Tech wouldn't increase the conference's geographic "footprint," but again, it would bolster its academic reputation and it's just the right thing to do. Of course, adding the state of Texas to the league's western footprint would make it MUCH easier to do the right thing in the east. And it's worth noting that Auburn's move to the east adds three annual marquee games (vs. Florida, Tennessee and Georgia Tech) for the TV networks to divvy up, while subtracting only one (vs. LSU).

The Dr. Adams Wild Card

It's foolish for everyone to assume that they know the mindset of SEC school presidents. If you know University of Georgia President Dr. Michael Adams, you know that:

- He is an outside-the-box thinker and is always mindful of "the big picture."

- He is all about academics and was a leading candidate to become NCAA president.

- He loves to make statements and be respected as an influential leader.

- He does not shy away from upsetting hard core DAWG fans. (See the Vince Dooley saga.)

- If he endorsed Tech, he knows that he would be seen as the gatekeeper that allowed Tech back into the league, be the center of positive national attention and create a legacy for himself (and rightfully so).

Also, it's important to keep in mind that Texas A&M and Georgia Tech are both members of the Association of American Universities and Dr. Adams would love for UGA to join this elite academic group on his watch. So, not only would these two schools make nice academic bookends to a conference in search of academic respect, they would also bolster (and Georgia Tech might, just perhaps, sponsor) the University of Georgia's application to the AAU.

(On the other end of the academic spectrum, West Virginia University is rated as a "third-tier" institution, which would place it at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. Unless member school presidents are comfortable downgrading their league's academic reputation, I doubt that WVU receives an invite.)

Clemson and Florida State

In the future, if / when the Southeastern Conference expands again to 16 schools, there should be enough member votes to add Clemson (Howard's Rock rocks) to the east and Florida State to the WEST, which would give both divisions valuable exposure within the Sunshine State and perhaps - not likely, but perhaps - provide the University of Florida with enough separation and a slight measure of solace. (The Gators actually sponsored FSU's application for league membership every year from 1964 to 1970, but I wouldn't bet on it happening again.)

Again, I know the naysayers will keep coming back to the "increase the footprint" argument, but the most important thing the SEC has going for it is the integrity of its BRAND. Missouri, N.C. State and Virginia Tech are fine institutions and would bring a lot to the league, but they do not fit in with the SEC's steeped in tradition, football frenzied brand.

For example, CBS and ESPN are not paying boatloads of cash to broadcast conference football games because the Southeastern Conference has saturated the Alabama and Mississippi media markets. No, they are paying because the SEC offers an unmatched brand of competitive, passionate, "to hell with my rival" football that transcends the region and captivates a national audience. The value is in the mystique.

Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State would enhance the tradition rich, rivalry filled Southeastern Conference brand. Mizzou, N.C. State and Virginia Tech would not.

We're the SEC. We can do better than the Missouri compromise.