Gazzolo: After the Aggies only question is: Who’s got next?

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Now that it’s official and the SEC is a baker’s dozen, one question remains: Who’s next?

In the world of soon-to-be superconferences, the addition of Texas A&M leaves the SEC in an odd position.

Thirteen doesn’t have to be an unlucky number, but it does cause scheduling problems. So again, the question remains: Who’s next?

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While conference officials are saying all the right things about being happy with what they have now, the Big Ten said the same when it was at 11. But when that league got a chance to grab a big name, Nebraska was gobbled up and the arms race in college football was on.

So it would seem that even if the SEC doesn’t swell to 16, it is very likely that 14 could become the magic number, so who’s next is the perfect question.

First of all, the conference needs to find the right school to add, not just the deepest pockets. Texas has the cash, but it is not likely that schools with smaller revenue opportunities like Alabama, Tennessee and LSU would want to try and compete with the Longhorns’ big bucks, big markets and television network.

There is always the chance the SEC could steal a team like Florida State or Clemson, but last week the ACC upped the ante by raising its buyout from the conference to $20 million. Ouch.

So who’s got next remains the question.

It would seem the Big 12, which is down to nine and has all the looks of the former Soviet Union days before the Berlin Wall came crashing down, would be a likely place to look.

Oklahoma wanted out as recently as last week, and little brother Oklahoma State seems to be tied with the Sooners in a package deal. That’s good if the SEC wants to remain with an odd number, so the problem won’t be solved by those additions.

Missouri seems to make some sense. It is the perfect rival for Arkansas since it seems A&M will become the natural rival to LSU. Missouri wanted out of its Big 12 deal last year, looking to head to the Big Ten with Nebraska. However, the Big Ten wasn’t all that willing to bring along Mizzou.

And that’s one party you just can’t crash.

So the SEC might make sense for Missouri, but a year ago when asked, university officials said they were more academically in-line with the Big Ten than the Southeastern Conference.

Since when has academics mattered in any of this?

Then there is the question about does the SEC really want to head north to find competition.

It is hard to believe that Alabama’s Nick Saban would want to have to play a game in the cold of Norman, Okla., for instance just to get a chance to play in a conference title game. That would mean Saban’s Tide could conceivably have to roll through a snowy night in Norman, play an intense rival in Auburn and then win a conference championship game in Atlanta just to make the national title game.

If you don’t think playing in weather is tough for southern teams, ask the New Orleans Saints. The last time they took on a team up north for a key playoff game in the cold, the Chicago Bears snowed on their parade in the NFC title game.

Odds are long that the Tide would want to have that gauntlet to run so unless they were given a boatload of money, the guess here is they just might vote no.

So, as the conference welcome wagon filled with goodies makes its way to College Station, the bigger question remains unanswered by the SEC: Who’s next?