Presidents within the Southeastern Conference, the nation's first league to expand to 16 member schools, feel that number is plenty — for now.
“We’re positioned at 16 for a robust future,” an SEC athletic director told Saturday Down South. “The need just isn’t there.”
Two additional sources told SDS that potential future moves on the expansion front could change that “need," but conference presidents believe the SEC is positioned well for the future growth of college football.
“I don’t see any [expansion] move as threatening to us,” an SEC source told SDS.
Not even Notre Dame to the Big Ten, which recently announced it too will expand to 16 members with the addition of UCLA and USC in 2024. When asked if Notre Dame to the Big Ten would be a threatening move, the SEC source said, “Why? I’ll put our product versus. anyone’s product. So we’re going to just add schools to add schools? There’s no value in that.”
However, if the the Big Ten were to add not only Notre Dame, but additional Pac-12 or ACC schools, and become a 20-member league, the SEC landscape could change yet again.
As important as big ratings games are for future media rights deals, SEC presidents believe the success of the product on the field — and the resulting exclusive nature of the product — has been the critical factor in booming growth over the past two decades, SDS reported.
In 2002, the SEC distributed $95.7 million in media rights revenue to its 12 schools ($7.97 million per). In 2022, that number was $777.8 million for 14 schools ($55.5 million per), according to SDS.
"Any addition to the conference would have to be a significant addition that checks multiple boxes, including a blueblood brand, an elite television draw and the right fit," Matt Hayes of SDS wrote. "Texas and Oklahoma checked all the boxes last year when they applied for admission. Many administrators outside the SEC believe those moves kickstarted this latest round of expansion, forcing the Big Ten to add USC and UCLA to keep pace.
"The SEC’s simple response: Any other conference would’ve accepted Texas and Oklahoma. If the SEC would’ve said no, Texas and Oklahoma would’ve searched for higher monetary ground — likely in the Big Ten or Pac-12."
While Notre Dame could conceivably be another "fit" for the SEC, it appears the Irish first want to test the market to determine independent value. ND’s current NBC contract ($15 million annually) expires in 2025, and one industry source believes Notre Dame’s value could “at least be doubled” with NBC, CBS and multiple streaming sites bidding, SDS reported.
While there may be a few remaining schools outside Notre Dame — including Florida State and North Carolina — that could make sense for the SEC , the preference of conference presidents is to keep college football intact moving forward, an industry source told SDS. This includes involving all FBS schools in a football playoff format, whether that remains four teams or expands to eight.
“We talk about value all the time. Well, there’s great value in college football as a whole,” another SEC source told SDS. “I don’t think any of us, in any conference, can ignore that. There’s too much empirical data that shows it.”