Late-night shuffle, Texas A&M to SEC

Here’s how fluid the conference expansion situation is. I wrote a column tonight, and before the press run was complete, the landscape had already shifted again. [Read my Monday column here, saying that the slower other leagues move the more it helps U of L and the Big East, so long as the Big East moves to shore itself up.]

Texas A&M appears headed to the Southeastern Conference, according to Texas A&M’s Aggieyell.com (Rivals) and The Houston Chronicle [Read story here].

It’s a bold move for Texas A&M, breaking away from Texas (and out of the Longhorns’ shadow) and bucking what looks to be a mass Big 12 exodus to the Pac-10 — though the Big 12 is making a last-ditch effort to stay together by presenting new TV projections to existing members.

For the SEC, it opens the Houston TV market — ranked No. 9 in the U.S.

And of course, it brings the SEC to 13 schools, meaning that it must add one more.

Who are the candidates? My top candidate is Maryland. Washington D.C.-Baltimore is the largest (semi) southern television market not tapped by the SEC. After that, it becomes less clear. The SEC is such a strong brand that candidates who bring any major contribution to the table are few and far between. I suppose you can also throw Virginia Tech in as a candidate. Missouri would like to be considered, but I don’t know what that does for the SEC. And then there’s Miami, but you don’t know how Florida would feel about that.

FYI, here are the top southern television markets (and I’ll use a loose definition of southern) — 1. Dallas-Fort Worth; 2. Atlanta; 3. Washington D.C.; 4. Houston; 5. Tampa-St. Petersberg; 6. Miami-Fort Lauderdale; 7. Orlando; 8. Charlotte; 9. Baltimore; 10. Raleigh-Durham; 11. Nashville.

So where do we stand?

The Big Ten has added Nebraska, reached the 12-member threshold for establishing a conference championship game and announced that it won’t make further moves for a year to 18 months. If it holds to that timetable, it injects some stability into this process and allows leagues like the Big East and ACC to assess things. Because it has one eye on its cable network, I do expect the Big Ten eventually to expand to 16 teams.

The SEC needs another member to get to an even 14. But the SEC does not necessarily need to get to 16. There are some diminishing returns with adding schools. Unless one really brings a solid contribution, you’re diluting your payout as much as improving your value. I don’t expect the SEC to expand to 16. I think it will find one more member and then hold.

If that’s the case, the ACC should sustain limited damage. It might lose one member to the SEC.

The Pac-10 has made its play to go to 16. Big 12 schools should decide soon whether they will go, after a last-ditch presentation by the league to stay in business. I’m betting the Big 12 is on life support, with the plug about to be pulled.

And the Big East? It is in a precarious position. With the Big Ten still covetous of an entry into the New York market, the flirtation with Syracuse and/or Rutgers probably isn’t over. With the ACC potentially needing to add a member, Pitt and West Virginia would probably be the first candidates. All of which means the Big East, as suggested here earlier and in my column today, might need to seek some safety in numbers. There aren’t any big-time candidates out there to lure, but exploring options with any leftover Big 12 schools, and pondering the candidacy of Memphis, could be matters of survival. Of all the leagues, the Big East may have the most work left to do if it wants to remain viable.

At least, that’s how it looks right now. It may be completely different by morning.

For all my updates, blogs and columns on conference expansion, click this link. Also follow me on Twitter @ericcrawford or Facebook by clicking here.

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