Why SEC’s Proposed Expansion Is Good For Tennessee

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    Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

    Reports that Texas and Oklahoma were exploring options to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC sent shockwaves around the college football world Wednesday. Things escalated quickly on that front with reports coming Friday that the two schools intended to inform the Big 12 they would be leaving early next week.

    The move, which needs 11 votes from SEC schools to be approved, seems incredibly likely and will be a massive change to the collegiate athletics landscape.

    Whether the move is a good or bad thing for the sport is up for debate, but one thing that should be kept in mind is that Oklahoma and especially Texas were leaving the Big 12 whether the SEC took them or not.

    That decision from the Big 12’s biggest powers inevitably was going to spark another round of conference realignment. Greg Sankey and the SEC deserve credit for being proactive with that reality and getting the SEC the two most attractive candidates.

    On paper, adding two teams to the SEC that are better than Tennessee at football would seem to be a bad thing for a Vols’ program trying to regain its footing. However, after thinking about it this week I think the move will be beneficial for Tennessee.

    There’s a lot of details in the expansion that have not been resolved and will change how the expansion affects Tennessee, but let’s look at the two most likely outcomes.

    The first outcome is the SEC staying divided into two divisions with Oklahoma and Texas joining the west, Missouri moving to the west and Alabama and Auburn moving to the east.

    The first thing that jumps out about that is Alabama joining the east, making Tennessee’s path to a divisional title more difficult. But frankly, Tennessee isn’t anywhere close to competing with Florida and Georgia at the top of the east right now and if/when they are it’s made much more difficult by the fact that Tennessee has to play Alabama every season anyway.

    Since Nick Saban’s Alabama program competed for the SEC title the first time in 2008, Georgia and Florida have both played Alabama three times in the regular season— Florida will play them for a fourth time this fall. Tennessee has played its oldest rival 13 times in that stretch.

    Tennessee’s SEC East rivals having to play Alabama every season would be good for the Vols.

    I also think Tennessee playing Auburn every season— like the school’s did before SEC expansion in 1992— would be good for Tennessee and fans. While Auburn’s football program is ahead of Tennessee’s right now, the Vols are closer to catching the Tigers than they are Alabama, Florida or Georgia.

    The big question in the two division system is whether there would be permanent crossover opponents. That doesn’t seem like the most likely outcome, but if it did happen I believe Tennessee’s current state would allow it to get an easier opponent while Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Auburn permanently face some version of LSU, Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma.

    The other possible SEC outlook would be the 16 teams dividing into four, four-team pods. The SEC Network released how those pods could look this week.

    On first glance, Tennessee getting Auburn and Alabama both in its division seems like a major disadvantage. But what is winning your pod even going to mean? With the playoff likely expanding to 12-teams, the pod system would kill the SEC Championship game or any possible four team SEC Tournament.

    Under this module, team’s would play the three teams in its pod, a permanent crossover opponent in each pod and one other team from each pod every season.

    With Tennessee being in Auburn and Alabama’s division, I again think that permanent crossover rivals would set up favorably for Tennessee.

    In Pod A, Tennessee would almost certainly play Florida— retaining that rivalry as well as Auburn vs. Georgia. 

    In Pod C, Alabama and Auburn would play some combination of LSU and Texas A&M, Vanderbilt would retain its current crossover rival Ole Miss and Tennessee would play Mississippi State every season.

    In Pod D, and this is the one that is more debatable, I believe Auburn and Alabama would play some combination of Oklahoma and Texas every season and Tennessee would play either Arkansas or Missouri.

    With the pod system, Tennessee would go from playing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt plus one other SEC team each season to playing Alabama, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State and either Arkansas or Missouri plus three other SEC teams each season.

    Those set opponents are slightly easier and with the overall talent of the league increasing I think that is going to be a good sized positive on the aggregate. 

    Adding Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC in basketball and baseball as well as getting to play non eastern division teams more often would also be positives for fans. 

    Don’t forget the financial aspect of expansion either. There’s a reason Texas A&M is the only SEC team opposed to expansion. Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC will increase the TV value of the conference. That additional money will allow Tennessee to continue to increase its financial commitment to basketball and baseball.

    Tennessee returning to football prominence will first and foremost depend on what they do within the walls of the football facility. However, the likely expansion of the SEC would be a positive for Tennessee football, despite two better programs joining the conference.

    Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.