âItâs good to be the king.âÂ
Alabama athletics would never go so far as to adopt that as an official motto, but as the reigning champion of the SEC’s two revenue-driving sports, the thought has probably crossed a few minds over the past year. Nothing is permanent, of course.
Football dominance, a long history, perhaps a little geography and a couple of other factors do, however, give Alabama a seat at the head table on many issues. Fans at other SEC institutions tend to micro-analyze that (âThe replay booth is in Birmingham!â), but this is about larger issues.
I donât know who was in the loop about these Texas-Oklahoma expansion discussions,Â but Iâd venture to say that Alabama wasnât out of that loop. Its opinion matters, and not just becauseÂ Nick Saban could be appointed Czar of College Football tomorrow by unanimous consent if he wanted the job.Â
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First, there areÂ other powerful institutions in the mix: Florida and Georgia, certainly, and others, depending on the power of their president. The league office under Greg Sankey has far more authority and autonomy than it did in the days when a call from Paul âBearâ Bryant could alter policy or schedules. Even a king can be cooperative towards a greater good. Alabama doesnât constantly flex. There is no need for it.Â
Fascinating dynamics will be at work if Texas and Oklahoma join the league. At least two individuals who were affiliated with or covering current SEC schools when they were in leagues that included Texas (that would be Arkansas, Texas A&M and Missouri, without narrowing it further) had the same message about adding the Longhorns. InÂ conversations at SEC Media Days in Hoover, both had essentially the same message: âBe careful what you wish for, because the (Texas) arrogance is huge.â
Thatâs been a common observation about Texas for years, so much so that it has reportedly caused one league (the old Southwest Conference) to fall apart and chased members out of another (the Big 12). The vote to accept Texas and OU, if and when it comes, may be 14-0 or 13-1. Money doesnât just talk, it shouts.
But donât think that any of Texasâ former conference partners, especially Texas A&M (the âoneâ if there is a 13-1 vote) are thrilled about seeing the domineering ex-partner show up in their new neighborhood.Â
None of this is to say that Texas or Oklahoma shouldÂ approach the SEC like orphans in a storm, humbly holding their 10-gallon hats in hand. They would bring a lot to any league, especially the Longhorns: a powerful national brand, a strong television draw, a high academic profile, a campus in a vibrant, growing town.
On the other hand, Texas would be getting as good (or better) than it gets. The Longhorns wouldÂ be part of a far stronger media rights package. The recruiting problem of more and more players leaving their state to play SEC football might be lessened. The Texas-OU rivalry would be preserved,Â Texas-Texas A&M would be renewed, the ancient feud with Arkansas rekindled, a new possibilityÂ with LSU (which may think it has enough rivals already) to say nothing of having Alabama or Georgia or Florida come to town instead of Kansas and Kansas State.
The nine-game football scheduleÂ which I (and, yes, Nick Saban) advocate would be inevitable, along with the 20-game league basketball schedule, the most workable model. SEC baseball would be strengthened, as would gymnastics.Â SEC softball would be nuclear powered, hotter than the melting core of Chernobyl. Most of this would be a welcome, mutually-beneficial arrangement.Â
The question is whether everyone can check their egos at the door. Historically, Texas has simply come through the door with its ego intact. But the SEC would be an entirelyÂ different room.