"Clemson in the SEC."
It has an interesting ring to it, doesn't it?
Before you either have dreams (or nightmares) about playing every other year in "The Swamp," making the 90 mile trip to Athens, Ga. or heaven-forbid facing Nick Saban, again, first consider this entire argument is based around one thing and one thing only - Big Ten expansion.
And we're not just talking about one team either. We are talking the kind of expansion that would make the ACC's invasion of the Big East five years ago look like a walk in the park.
With rumors surfacing this week about the possibility of the Big Ten potentially talking with Notre Dame, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and even, Nebraska or Maryland, the ramifications of such moves would change the face of college athletics for the next 100 years.
Sure, most of what has been reported thus far centers around "off the record" conversations, which can often blur the line between fact and fiction. It's worth discussing because there could a series of dominos that would fall that would eventually impact Clemson University.
Confused yet? Here's what could happen should the Big Ten expand to 15 or 16 teams:
For starters, a 16-team Big Ten would form the first true 'super conference.' The league would split into two eight-team divisions and finally have a conference championship game, similar to what the ACC, SEC and Big 12 have done now for years.
By creating the first super conference, the rest of the athletic world is left scrambling to pick up the pieces. The Big East stands to lose at least one team, as does the Big 12 and even the ACC.
Immediately, those leagues look to fill their new and somewhat unexpected holes.
In addition, the formation of the first super conference surely would create angst among the other conference commissioners. With the new television markets in place for the new Big Ten (perhaps to be called the Big 16) after expansion, TV revenue increases. The money that each school receives for being a part of that conference, which comes as a result of bowl tie-ins, sponsorships and NCAA Tournament revenue, also increases.
Other conferences then start to plan their futures, identifying possible schools that could help them become the next super conference.
The Pac 10 looks to Boise State--maybe Utah and Colorado, among other schools, so that it too can split into two divisions, play a championship game and finally gain the revenue it has missed out on all of these years.
The Big 12 considers adding TCU and/or Arkansas, or possibly other schools from the SEC West or Pac 10.
The SEC, once considered the kingpin of college football (before Big Ten expansion) also becomes active as it looks towards the ACC or the Big 12 to become the next great super conference and assume its place back at the top of the college football landscape.
Texas, Clemson, Texas A&M, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have all been rumored to be the schools the SEC would target first. Again - all of these schools are 'rumored' to be a super-secret list locked away deep inside SEC headquarters in Birmingham.
The ACC, which started this trend of recent conference expansion by adding the Big East's Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, returns to the conference to talk about acquiring schools like South Florida, Rutgers or Syracuse.
The Big East would then be left looking for the scraps left under the table from Conference USA or the Sun Belt.
Obviously, predicting which school would go to which conference is impossible at this early juncture. But if you have a half a football IQ, it doesn't take long to realize under the right scenario, Clemson could be left in a basketball-first league, while the other four super conferences fight it out every fall for college football supremacy.
Before you sell your tailgating tents and cancel your season tickets, read on.
What it all boils down to is this: if the Big Ten does indeed become the first super conference, leaving the SEC a hole to fill because Arkansas (or another team) wants to rejoin its old Southwest Conference rivals in the Big 12, or because the league wants to become the next Super Conference, Clemson could very well get the call to join that league.
And under that scenario, like it or not, ACC lovers, the sports future of Clemson University is brightest for playing in the SEC.
It makes the most sense because Clemson simply couldn't afford not to make that jump, especially if ACC rivals FSU, Virginia Tech and/or Georgia Tech/Miami do.
Why it makes sense:
1) From the SEC's geographic perspective, Clemson already rests in a state in which an SEC school is located. Clemson would not be to the SEC what Boston College is to the ACC - an outsider, hundreds of miles away from the other schools in the league. Georgia, a traditional SEC power, is also less than 90 miles away. Proximity is important.
2) South Carolina also happens to be Clemson's biggest rival, giving the SEC another marketable matchup between bitter enemies. The revisiting of an annual Clemson/Georgia game also provides intrigue as well.
3) Sorry, Coach Brownell. As many games as I think you are going to win at Clemson in the next five to 10 years, football is still king in Tigertown. The environment at Clemson is that of an SEC school, not Wake Forest, not Duke, not Boston College, not Maryland. Simply put, the landscape at Clemson matches that of many schools within the SEC. Duke or Wake Forest wouldn't be a natural fit here - Clemson and the other football schools in the ACC would be.
4) From Clemson's perspective, it comes down to money. Schools in the SEC have more of it than those in the ACC, That trend unfortunately shows no signs of changing--thank you ESPN and your multi-billion contract.
But the real reason is simply because Clemson can't afford not to be a part of this conversation. If the current trend of big money going to the SEC gets worse than it already is, it becomes more difficult to stay on an even playing field with those schools and Clemson has to recruit against in the SEC.
Think about it like this: if the four major conferences outside of the ACC form their super conferences, and the SEC raids the ACC, excluding Clemson from that mix, the football future in Tigertown looks, well, pretty lame.
What if FSU, Miami and Virginia Tech were to leave the ACC for the new Southeastern Conference? How inclined are you going to be to buy a ticket to the Clemson - Rutgers game in 95 degree heat in mid-September?
If the SEC expands for any reason, Clemson officials should not turn their back on any kind of interest from that league.
Sure, it would be a major culture shock for fans, school administrators, coaches and even players. Thoughts of winning division championships year and year out (like what is talked about around these parts in the ACC) would be gone faster than you can say Urban Meyer.
Clemson's administration would also have to adjust its thinking as well - meaning the entrance requirements would have to change in a major way. You can't jump ship into the SEC and not recruit the same players as the other schools in the league and expect to be successful - you have to be able to easily sign prep school and JUCO players without sweating bullets about academic advisory committee members jumping off of buildings at the site of a transcript.
Sure, there's the argument other schools like Florida State or Virginia Tech could be as good, or even a better fit in the SEC than Clemson.
I get that. Those schools have their traditions, their fan support and even more success in recent history when it comes to winning conference championships, but that's not we are talking about here. We're talking about Clemson, a football school in a basketball league that's stuck in a part of the country that football dominates.
While this is dangerously close to getting light years ahead of what has actually happened so far, I still submit this opinion: if the SEC comes calling, Clemson can't afford to walk away from that conversation.
Hey - for all we know, the Big Ten may only add one or two teams, which could quickly eliminate this discussion. Case closed.
But if I'm Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips or associate AD Billy D'Andrea, all of this talk about expansion would certainly have my attention.
If Big Ten makes the equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase of college football, nabbing teams from the Midwest to the Northeast, this is something that has the potential to impact Clemson sports forever.
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