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Coaches, ADs mull possible SEC expansion

These are anxious times for some college presidents and athletic directors.

Since the Big Ten's announcement in December that the 11-member league would study expansion, a number of schools and conferences have been on red-alert, concerned what a super-sized Big Ten expansion would do to their league.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive has taken a proactive stance, saying he would have a plan to counter any "significant shift" resulting from Big Ten expansion. And though details of Slive's plan have been closely guarded during the first two days of the SEC's spring meetings, the conference's coaches and athletics directors have expressed confidence in Slive's ability to maintain the SEC's position as one of the best and richest conferences.

"The SEC is as good a conference as there is out there. History has shown the last four years that we know how to win the national championship and can be very profitable for all the schools in the conference, which helps our university," Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino said.

"I have all the trust and confidence in the commissioner and front office in Birmingham that whatever happens, we'll be out front and we'll do the right thing."

There has been little more than speculation about which schools were being targeted and what leagued could get raided in the six months since Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced his league would study its expansion options.

South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman believes the question is not if the Big Ten will expand, but by how many teams?

"With the Big Ten, obviously, and knowing Jim Delany, there's going to be some movement. I've looked at the demographics. I've looked at the television (numbers), and talked to a lot of different people, and there are probably a couple of leagues that have vulnerability," Hyman said Wednesday. "I think the landscape will change. Now what kind of impact it has on the rest of the country? That's to be determined."

According to published reports, the Big Ten pays each of its schools about $22 million per year, compared to approximately $17 million for SEC schools. The Big Ten revenues have been boosted by the success of the Big Ten Network, which will become more profitable if the league grows into new markets and adds subscribers.

The SEC just completed the first year of its 15-year, $3 billion deal with CBS and ESPN. But without mentioning the SEC's specific deals, Slive said this week that most TV contracts have out clauses in the event a conference expand or contract.

Given the conference's success and rabid fan following, Slive believes the SEC is well positioned.

"Given our success over the last decade, we are very comfortable where we are. Having said that, if there's a significant shift in conference paradigm, then we're certainly going to be strategic and thoughtful about that," he said. "Our goal is to maintain our primacy."

Alabama coach Nick Saban believes the Big Ten is targeting one school - the same school the conference had its sights on when Saban coached at Michigan State in the 1990s.

"Even when I was back in the Big Ten, and I really think that's the key to all this stuff, it was always about Notre Dame then," Saban said. "Each year, there was a big discussion about trying to get Notre Dame to join the Big Ten, and I think that's a lot of what it's about now."

USC coach Steve Spurrier has said repeatedly that he believes Notre Dame belongs in the Big Ten. If the Big Ten added only the one school necessary to split into two divisions and hold a championship game, most believe the SEC would stand pat.

But if the Big Ten were to add three to five schools - Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers and Texas are among those that have been mentioned - the SEC likely would grow to 14 or 16 teams, as well.

"This is just one man's opinion, but I kind of like the way things are," Florida's Urban Meyer said. "The SEC has elevated itself to one of the top conferences, if not the top conference, in the last five years. ... I can't imagine making it a little stronger, a little tougher to win a few games. I don't see it happening."

Spurrier said 12 teams is the right number for the SEC, and believes adding more would dilute division races and rivalries. But if the SEC were to add teams, Spurrier said Miami and Florida State would seem to be natural fits.

But he added that expansion "doesn't seem to follow geography much anymore. I mean, we're probably more suited for the ACC territorial-wise, and we're in the SEC."

And what about Clemson, which also has been mention as a possible target should the SEC expand?

"I don't know. I guess they could (be a fit)," Spurrier said. "They've got a big stadium, big crowd. But I don't see that happening."

While a few of the coaches say they have thrown around names of schools that could be added to the SEC stable, they all have more pressing issues. They are leaving expansion in the hands of Slive, the former attorney who negotiated one of college sport's most lucrative TV contracts months before the economy tanked.

"I think he has a plan," Ole Miss' Houston Nutt said. "And that's why I don't worry about it that much."