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Joe Burrow (9) drops back for the pass in the first half of LSU's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl game with Oklahoma on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

HOOVER, Ala. — It takes a lot to eclipse Nick Saban Day at Southeastern Conference football media days.

A bombshell report from the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday afternoon did just that. A report that says Texas and Oklahoma have reached out to the SEC about the prospect of hitching their wagons to one of college sports’ biggest stars (some would say the Death Star). It drowned out all else.

The story launched what they referred to in the Watergate movie “All the President’s Men” a flurry of “non-denial denials” from officials at Texas, OU and the SEC. Commissioner Greg Sankey, who coincidentally had just introduced Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher in the main interview room when the story broke, said he was focused on talking about the 2021 season.

But clearly just about everyone else’s focus is on the more distant future, not only of the SEC but what it could mean for the entire landscape of college football.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, who accompanied Fisher here, firmly told reporters that his school wanted to be the only SEC school in the state of Texas. The new commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, George Kliavkoff, chipped in on Twitter with what may eventually qualify as gallows humor: “Just when I thought my first month on the job could not get more interesting …”

This could be a lot bigger than what a 16-team SEC would mean for divisional alignment (more on that later). This could be the first preliminary tremor in an earthquake of plate shifts that radically alters the landscape of college athletics.

With the NCAA as we know it on the verge of disintegrating, what if we are about to see top-shelf college athletics coalesce around a collection of 30 to 40 major football programs? Programs for which, say, an 80,000-seat stadium is the minimum bid for getting in. Picture something resembling the NFL model of 32 teams.

Twelve-team college football playoff? How about 16 or even more? Suddenly, Mississippi State coach Mike Leach’s statement Wednesday that he’d like to see the CFP expand to 64 teams doesn’t sound quite as radical.

Not quite.

I think LSU, which despite its challenges, is well positioned to remain a major player in big-time college athletics. Those three national titles since 2003 carry just a bit of weight. If I was Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, N.C. State or Oregon State, I would probably be more nervous that when the music stops that they could find themselves without an overstuffed leather chair.

But back to the immediate prospect of Texas and OU in the SEC. Texas A&M can object, but it is one school with one vote. According to SEC bylaws, it would take a three-fourths vote of the conference presidents and chancellors to add schools. That doesn’t appear to be too steep a climb.

Texas A&M’s objections aside, it makes sense for those schools to want to be in the SEC. As even Fisher said with a chuckle, “I bet they would (want to join). We’ve got the best league in ball.”

With apologies to Baylor and Kansas and their basketball programs, Texas and Oklahoma are basically the Big 12. The SEC, which is about to be so flush with cash from the looming ESPN football contract it distributed $23 million to each school in May to mitigate their pandemic pinch, is a veritable gold mine. One so rich it could make Texas even forsake its ESPN-based Longhorn Network.

There are a lot of associated issues to consider, too. The Dallas Morning News’ Chuck Carlton said one thing to keep in mind is that the Big 12 TV contracts with ESPN and Fox run for another four years (the SEC’s new deal with ESPN starts in 2024). ESPN might not balk at a move that would happen, say, July 1, 2023, but I imagine Fox would be none too pleased.

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But for the sake of argument (and boy would there be plenty of those) let’s consider what the addition of Texas and Oklahoma would mean for SEC divisional alignment.

Hopefully geographic sanity would prevail starting with shifting Missouri — the third western-most campus in the SEC — being properly placed in the SEC West. Alabama and Auburn would then get moved to the SEC East, where Bama would finally have Tennessee as an intra-divisional rival and Auburn could have Georgia.

The SEC West would look like this: LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M. The SEC East would look like this: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Maybe in a traditional sense the SEC West wouldn’t look quite as sexy from an LSU perspective. Missouri and Arkansas haven’t ever moved the LSU needle very much. But getting Alabama out of the division could, even with Texas and Oklahoma’s arrival, enhance LSU’s chances of becoming an even more dominant team within the division.

All that said, I’m not convinced the SEC wouldn’t wind up more geographically jumbled than ever.

Is the Texas/Oklahoma annexation definitely going to happen? Too early to say at this point. But it’s plausible and profitable for both those schools and the SEC.

Oh to have a time machine and leap forward to SEC media days in 2024. Saban, though 72, looks even younger somehow. The pandemic is finally over (fingers crossed). And the first thing I would want to see is that iconic SEC pinwheel logo, to count how many teams are in it.

Remaking the SEC landscape

If Texas and Oklahoma joined the SEC, this is how Advocate sports columnist Scott Rabalais would realign the divisions:

SEC WEST

  • LSU
  • Arkansas
  • Ole Miss
  • Mississippi State
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • Texas A&M

SEC EAST

  • Alabama
  • Auburn
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Vanderbilt

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com

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