More important than what Greg Sankey said about SEC expansion was what he didn’t say. All eyes are on the ACC.
Greg Sankey lamented the destruction of the Pac-12, he subtly jabbed at the Big Ten and he bragged about the SEC. He repeated his line that the conference is focused on 16 teams.
The SEC’s 2021 seizure of Oklahoma and Texas became “the envy of everyone in college football,” he said, and the SEC doesn’t need to stretch beyond two time zones to generate global interest. (There’s that familiar Sankey elbow directed at the Big Ten.)
“We’re in an enormously healthy place,” the SEC commissioner said Tuesday on “The Paul Finebaum Show.”
More important than what Sankey said about expansion, though, was what he didn’t say.
He didn’t say the SEC is closed for business. In fact, he left the door open to additional growth.
“We're always going to be attentive to what's happening around us,” he said. “And perhaps there'll be some opportunity, but it needs to be a lot of philosophical alignment. And it's not something where we're actively out recruiting institutions right now.”
The boss of the nation’s most powerful conference speaks in code, so let me put it clearly: The SEC isn’t going to napalm the ACC, but if that conference’s fissures lead to fracture, the SEC won’t be a spectator while the Big Ten invades the South.
“I’m not a recruiter. I’ve said that repeatedly,” Sankey said. “We have a responsibility to look, from an interested standpoint, at what’s happening around us.”
For more than a year, the Big 12 posted an “Accepting new members!” sign in its storefront, and the ACC is now picking through leftovers. That’s not the SEC’s style. It’s too cocksure to look desperate. The SEC’s expansion playbook is one of stealth growth.
Sankey might not be a recruiter, but he’s an opportunist. When Texas and Oklahoma wanted out of the Big 12, the SEC made sure it was the landing place for those two elite brands.
Unlike the Big Ten, SEC expansion is mindful of the conference’s well-crafted identity built on the pillars of Southern culture and football pedigree. The conference historically expands into neighboring terrain.
North Carolina, Florida State and Clemson remain ACC brands that mesh with the SEC’s culture and geographical footprint.
The ACC’s grant of rights runs through 2036, and I believe Sankey would prefer that contract continue to glue its membership in place, just like I believe he wanted the Pac-12 to fend off raids.
The status quo is good for the SEC. But if the ACC cracks despite Sankey’s wishes, I think the SEC would pounce.