Mr. Robitusun: "I wrote a character just like you once. He was a spy."
Joseph: "I'm not a spy."
Mr. Robitusun: "That's what the character said."
Hector Elizondo and Patrick Richwood in The Princess Diaries.
It occurred to me this afternoon that the above exchange is the perfect allegory for the current swirl of rumors surrounding SEC expansion. Clemson's President says his school "has had no contact at all" with the SEC and "is committed to the Atlantic Coast Conference."
Florida State President Eric Barron on the other hand issued the most prospectively equivocal of unequivocal denials: "I don't think there is anything to talk about right now. I don't speculate when there is no conversation. Which of course means that there might be a conversation. There simpy hasn't been yet (at least not officially). And Florida State is happy in the ACC, just like Clemson, at least until it becomes clear that they could be happier somewhere else.
Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden is strenuously denying that his school has had any discussions with the SEC. This seems to be bolstered by Pete Thamel of the New York Times who says that a high ranking SEC Official "angrily" denied "any report" regarding Missouri, Florida State and Clemson.
Virginia Tech meanwhile "is exceedingly pleased with our membership in the ACC" according to a university spokesman because "It is the perfect conference for us."
What does it all mean? Well, there are a variety of possibilities. One is that Texas A&M is about to take a long walk off a short pier, with its Board of Regents voting to allow its President and Athletic Director to pursue admission to a conference which either will not or, for lack of a 14th team, cannot or will not accept them even if they do have a super secret meeting tomorrow at Mike Slive's hidden underground mancave. Another is that Monday's A&M board meeting is simply exploratory in nature, and that this thing is moving more slowly than the blogosphere and 24 hour news cycle are supposing. If that's the case there may still be time to change minds and win hearts in Tallahassee, Columbia, Clemson and Blacksburg.
I'm not sure how it will play out. But I will say this: Mr. Robitusun was right. The spies never tell you they're spies. There's a lot of misinformation out there. People are floating trial balloons, and guys who don't really know what's going on are anonymously swearing that they know exactly what's going on. Make no mistake, if negotiations are going on with schools other than Texas A&M, they are the kind of negotiations that athletic department functionaries lose their jobs for leaking information about. God bless Pete Thamel's scoopy little heart, he's not getting the whole story right now. Neither am I.
What I know is this. There has to be a 14th team. Right now it doesn't look like there is one ready to go. That doesn't mean there won't be. But Mike Slive is under pressure from his constituency (University Presidents and AD's) to deliver teams that meet two main criteria: a) no one wants to approve an addition from within their own state (Florida will object to FSU, we'd veto Tech, etc.) which would hurt recruiting and b) any addition has to add something to the league's marketable TV package. That's a tall order.
My considered opinion is that there's still a reasonable chance that the SEC in 2012 is still composed of the same 12 teams it encompasses today. This is because it's becoming apparent that getting a 14th team may be difficult, and getting the right 14th team may be damned near impossible. The question at this point is exactly how far Mike Slive is willing to look for that 14th team, and whether any of the potential candidates could gain approval from league schools. It became clear during last year's expansion drama that the SEC has a remarkable amount of cohesion for an organization of its size. Slive will not expand at the expense of that cohesion.
All of which is to say that one of the basic laws of probability is that the more contingencies required for an event to happen, the less the chance that something happens. And there are still a lot of contingencies required for SEC expansion. Until later . . .