Conference Expansion, the SEC, and the Texas A&M Aggies: Was the 2009 Independence Bowl, Like the 1991 Independence Bowl, a Preview of Conference Clashes to Come?

How hot has the conference expansion talk gotten? Hot enough for Spencer Hall to host a midday live chat, but not so hot that ESPN’s Big 12 and Pac-10 bloggers felt the need to offer weekend updates; in other words, not as hot as a Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich, but still plenty hot enough. The Baylor wild card has made recent reports even more intriguing, particularly since the Pac-10 could have its cake and eat it, too, by taking Baylor and Colorado while removing Oklahoma State from the list of six invitees . . . provided, of course, that the West Coast BCS league is comfortable including the Bears, which I believe is a very big "if."

The possibility that the Cowboys could be the odd man out in the Big 12 South ought to make SEC fans go, "Hmmmm . . ." While the Pokes wouldn’t be the best fit for the league, they wouldn’t be among the worst options, either, for a conference that, however regrettably, needs to look to the west and could do worse than putting more trips to Stillwater on the docket. (For the record, I have eaten at a Chick-fil-A in Stillwater, although one of the Oklahoma State fans with whom I ate referred to it as the "Chick-a-Fil.")

Into this stew of speculation and skullduggery, Poseur has tossed a hand grenade by suggesting that the SEC balk at Texas but bring Texas A&M into the fold. Are the Aggies, rather than the Longhorns, the lynchpin of league expansion? Writes one of SB Nation’s stable of LSU bloggers:

Note that Arkansas and South Carolina, the teams added in the SEC's most recent expansion are not among [the SEC’s six historic] power programs, though in fairness, Arkansas is knocking on the door of the top 20. By any reasonable measure, the SEC's expansion was wildly successful, and I think it's instructive to look at that success before jumping into the next round of expansion. The SEC doesn't need another power program, we need more depth. That means the SEC should be more interested in Texas A&M than Texas.

Both schools can deliver the Texas market. As anyone who has ever met an Aggie can tell you, they are slightly fanatical. They are a better cultural fit in the SEC than Texas, they already have a historic rivalry with LSU (and let's face it, we could use a conference rival), and they actually, you know, WANT to be in the SEC. They have many of the positives of Texas (loads of money, dedicated fanbase, huge media markets in Texas, tradition) with none of the negatives of Texas. While Texas is the prettiest girl at the ball, the Longhorns would be a terrible fit for the SEC.

I’m not necessarily persuaded by that argument, but I find it plausible enough to be worth exploring. My problem, though, is that Poseur has ulterior motives, which (to his credit) he more or less admits up front when he acknowledges:

LSU has always been on the periphery of the conference. A lot of that is geographic, but LSU's traditional rivals have tended to be to the west, not in the east. In its history, LSU has played 199 games against teams from the former SWC (including Arkansas) and 217 games against the teams currently in the SEC East. LSU has played Rice and Texas A&M, respectively, more times than any SEC East team save Florida and Kentucky. Hell, LSU's played A&M more times than they have played Auburn, who wasn't a rival until conference expansion. While the rest of the conference looks east, LSU's traditional rivals are in Mississippi and Texas. Would it kill the SEC to throw us a bone?

The other hidden benefit is that adding A&M and another team would allow the SEC to shift Alabama and Auburn to the East Division. Auburn in particular is a better fit in the Eastern division, but both teams have a majority of their rivals to their east. Expanding west allows the conference to consolidate its eastern powers. The problem here is that without Texas, the SEC West would be a far weaker division, but that's why we could always extend an invitation to Oklahoma as well.

While I agree that Auburn belongs in the SEC East, I cannot square Poseur’s suggestion that we add the Sooners with his recommendation that we add teams in the middle of the conference instead of at the top. Besides, while Lone Star State legislators probably would be comfortable with Texas standing astride the inland division of the Pac-16 and Texas A&M comfortably provided for in the SEC, the Longhorns likely would balk at having to play a nine-game Pac-16 slate plus annual non-conference outings against both the Aggies and the Sooners. Oklahoma joining the SEC without Texas is a non-starter.

Provided we can agree to substitute Oklahoma State in place of Oklahoma for the sake of logical consistency, though, does Poseur believe the Bayou Bengals are being thrown a bone rather than served a steak?

If I were an LSU fan, I’d want Alabama and Auburn moved out of the Western Division, too. Heck, if we’re going to adopt an addition-and-subtraction model, how ‘bout if we add Clemson and Georgia Tech to the SEC East and shift Florida and Tennessee to the SEC West? Looking at the Bulldogs’ won-lost records against those four schools in the last two decades, I have to think that’d be a good trade for the Red and Black, right? Come on, SEC, throw the ‘Dawgs a bone!

That, however, would be problematic for about 87 different reasons, not the least of them being that, since it is not necessary to make such a change, it is necessary not to make such a change. We can honor the reasonable portion of Poseur’s request while growing the brand and preserving balance, both geographically and competitively. Taking Poseur’s position for our starting point, we can simply do this:

Add the Oklahoma St. Cowboys and the Texas A&M Aggies to the SEC West. Add the Clemson Tigers and the Virginia Tech Hokies to the SEC East. Keep the current twelve teams in their present divisions. Those are four programs that make fair degrees of sense in terms of conference strength, cultural compatibility, and market expansion.

Is it a perfect scenario? No, of course not; it has any number of flaws. If we accept Poseur’s reasonable premise as a starting point for discussion, though, it represents about as beneficial an outcome as we are likely to get in an era of emerging sixteen-team superconferences. I’m still not entirely convinced that the first domino is going to fall, but, if it does, this might be the best real-world prospect if it turns out that the Texas Longhorns are in play for other conferences but not for ours.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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