COLUMN: The Ole Miss community gets its fair share of participation in most of the national conversations surrounding college athletics, but none of the years-long tumult involving conference realignment has been much in the way of concerning to the Rebels.
That’s because for any and all woes this athletic program has suffered — bad coaching hires, small budgets, little resources, etc. — they’re still in the SEC, the most stable, healthiest, most successful conference in all of collegiate athletics. That’s why programs like UConn (a national title winning basketball program) or Cincinnati (two BCS bowl appearances) would gladly trade for Houston Nutt and the division schedule from hell if it meant they’d share in the SEC’s revenue, recruiting luster and overall appeal.
However, there has been a potential threat to the Rebels this entire time: over-expansion in the SEC. Because of the Rebels’ standing in revenue, fan base size, recruiting location and resources relative to their conference competition, any expansion of the SEC inherently hurts its smaller schools like Ole Miss.
That’s why last week’s announcement that the ACC would enact a grant of rights among its members was such important news to the Rebels. A grant of rights basically means that if a team leaves the ACC, all of its TV revenue would stay with the ACC, no matter where they went.
This move — not including the departure of Maryland to the Big 10 and the arrival of Louisville from the Big East / American — essentially ends the speculation that the SEC and Big 10, the warring super-conferences, would gut the ACC to expand to 16 teams each and allow Clemson and Florida State to join the Big 12.
In other words, massive realignment is likely over, at least for a few decades.
The addition of schools provides an increase in revenue on the TV side. That’s why the Big 10 grabbed Rutgers and Maryland — for their respective viewing markets, not their illustrious history. For the SEC, that’s a relative non-issue now that they’ve procured a Texas school, and you’d be hard pressed to argue that any Carolina-area TV market would really bolster ratings for what’s already the highest-rated college football product on the air.
There’s plenty of logical reasons why ending realignment is smart: 16 teams scheduled to play in football is a nightmare. As the SEC is still learning, 14 is proving to be a task. Add in the competition in basketball and baseball that almost any ACC team provides and it decreases the Rebels’ chances at doing things like winning the SEC Basketball Tournament.
But for all the complexities of college athletics, the simple fact is that the more you make of something the less valuable that thing becomes, and Ole Miss has to value its SEC status more than a Florida or Alabama would. Membership to this particular conference is what separates the Rebels from the C-USA schools of the world, and while they’re not in danger of losing their SEC affiliation, the more schools who receive it lessen its unique value.
What good would come for Ole Miss if N.C. State or Wake Forest got the same national exposure and recruiting advantage in playing Florida on CBS? How would having to travel to Clemson or Virginia Tech (both are an awesome gameday experience, no doubt) on top of playing every other team in the current SEC West help annual bowl eligibility?
They wouldn’t. For the little-guy Rebels, things are as good and really as tough as they need to be from here on out.