SEC should be eyeing further expansion to brush up on football skills – on one condition

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey borrowed from Bob Dylan last summer during the media days of his conference, when he teased what would soon become sharp: “I’m going to leave you with this final reminder: ‘Times changeSankey said then. “It’s not just any lyrics. It’s a reality.”

Two days later, news broke of the SEC looting of the prized pieces of the Big 12, Oklahoma and Texas. That lit the fuse during a round of conference rescheduling that the Big Ten proved is far from done when he… grabbed Southern Cal and UCLA from the Pac-12

With their new additions, the SEC and Big Ten will feature 16 teams.

Now another Dylan song title, recorded decades after the hit Sankey was referring to, seems appropriate: Things have changed

And they’re not done changing yet.

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Expect the SEC and Big Ten to continue their quest to build bigger, richer and more powerful mega conferences that turn the Power Five into the Super Two, while other conferences fight over scraps.

To maintain his place on the throne of college football, SEC should be open to additional expansion optionsbut fragile

January 7, 2019;  Santa Clara, CA, USA;  Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney and Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban smile on the field before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game at Levi's Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

January 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney and Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban smile on the field before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t add just to add. Focus on quality over quantity, nurturing the SEC’s well-groomed brand rather than diluting it.

Ask any SEC football team fan what they like about the sport and the conference, and they’ll notice the rivalry, the culture, the pageantry, and the tradition. Those elements, combined with a quality product on the pitch, make SEC football special.

SEC football is red Solo cups in the Grove.

It sings Tom Petty in The Swamp.

It’s Kyle Field literally shaking in the noise.

To be Legend from Alabama sounding like “The Paul Finebaum Show.”

It gets lit and eats crawfish at a Louisiana tailgate.

It’s a black dress and cowboy boots in South Carolina.

They’re boats on the Tennessee River.

SEC football is intertwined with the tapestry of the South and vice versa.

USC and UCLA are increasing the value of the Big Ten (hello, Los Angeles media market) and, unlike previous additions to Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska, they can boost the overall product. But the Big Ten’s continued expansion efforts have not cultivated a defined identity or footprint.

Rutgers and UCLA are 2800 miles apart. They will call home the same league. Imagine you are a volleyball player from Maryland and need to travel to USC for a midweek conference game.

The SEC’s various expansions have expanded its footprint without surpassing large areas of the country. Welcoming Texas and Oklahoma to a conference that houses Arkansas, LSU, and Missouri makes sense in a way it doesn’t to bring Piscataway and Hollywood under the same roof.

As the The remnants of Pac-12 are looking for an exitleave them to the Big Ten or Big 12 to consider.

You won’t find a single Cracker Barrel or Waffle House in Washington State. Sorry Huskies, your football program is respectable, but the SEC is not for you. Same for Oregon.

So, which schools would make sense for the SEC? Let the additions of Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Texas serve as a model for how to improve the product while keeping the brand.

Clemson would be a slam dunk, though the ACC’s granting of rights deal running until 2036 could complicate an exit. Also within the ACC, Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech would fit the identity of the SEC. Miami would increase its footprint and break with the southern college town form, but the Hurricanes have a football background and would offer rivalry games against Florida and FSU, should the Seminoles enter.

The SEC has corralled the Oklahoma City media market by welcoming the Sooners, but Oklahoma State remains up for grabs. The Cowboys would be a good match, and locking Bedlam into a conference clash would please fans and television executives alike.

Things have changed, but some things remain the same.

The SEC still has a well-made, recognizable, cherished and valuable brand, and when it looks at expansion opportunities, it must keep that brand in mind.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: SEC football must consider further expansion on one condition

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