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Clemson, UNC joining the expansion rumor fray

With it reportedly all but a done deal that Texas A&M will become the 13th member of the SEC, with the first bit of official news on that front coming perhaps as early as Monday, the attention can now shift slightly to who will follow the Aggies and become the SEC’s 14th member. And, yes, if there’s a 13th there will be a 14th, if not a 15th and 16th as well at some point.

A report surfaced Friday that Florida State has been flirting with the SEC for months and that the conversations have gotten serious of late. FSU president Eric Barron subsequently denied the report, with Tony Barnhart of CBS writing on Twitter that “Barron has given ACC commish John Swofford his personal assurance that there has been no contact with [the] SEC.” Virginia Tech has been the subject of rumors as well, but, like their conference brethren, they quickly moved to shoot those down as well.

Chris Level of, however, reported yesterday that, according to a high-ranking Texas Tech official, an unnamed member of the ACC is currently in talks with the SEC along with A&M. So, if Level’s source is correct, and if it’s not FSU or Tech as officials at those schools have very publicly and vehemently stated, which current ACC member could it be?

Well, good morning Clemson! How ya doin’ North Carolina! Welcome to the expansion rumor mill fun!

According to a report Friday from Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, Clemson, along with Louisville (?), would be at the top of the SEC’s to-do list, provided the conference is unable to swipe Oklahoma from the Big 12. Hayes writes that “Clemson would strengthen the overall sports program of the conference,” although the overriding criteria for any addition the SEC makes would seemingly be some combination of a school’s football stature and geographic footprint.

While Clemson sort of makes sense on some levels, especially the football one, the complete out-of-hand dismissal of the Seminoles and Hokies by Hayes while at the same time placing Louisville on any SEC expansion list, let alone at the top, is beyond head-scratching and stretches the bounds of reason to the point of snapping. And that’s no offense to the fine institution in Louisville; relative to FSU and Tech, they just don’t do much to add to the SEC brand where it matters most: on the football field, although they would bring in the nation’s No. 48 television market. (For comparison’s sake, Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson, of which Clemson is considered a part of, is the No. 36 TV market in the country.)

For what it’s worth on the Clemson front, Travis Sawchik of the Charleston Post and Courier writes that "[t]rustee chairman David Wilkins [said] Friday that no discussions of conference affiliation have taken place dating back to last summer when conference realignment talk was rampant.”

Another ACC name on the periphery of the SEC discussion, although even less so than Clemson, has been North Carolina. Perhaps because of the recent NCAA issues involving the football program that bled onto the academic side of the institution, there has been little talk of any type of Tar Heels-to-SEC scenario, although the expansion talk in May/June of 2010 predated the NCAA problems and there was little chatter regarding UNC leaving the ACC even then. More than a year later, however, the Tar Heels are the subject of at least one rumor connecting them to the SEC.

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For those unfamiliar with, it’s the Texas A&M website that broke the damn earlier this week and opened the floodgates on all of the Aggies-to-SEC talk that has subsequently been confirmed, if only through the school’s actions at the most upper levels of the institution. Thus, Tarpley’s words carry a certain amount of credibility, at least in the here and now.

That said, UNC is first and foremost a basketball school, and it’s almost unfathomable that the school would give up their rivalries in that sport with North Carolina State, Wake Forest and, especially, Duke in order to move to what’s in essence a football conference.

As we’ve learned from the A&M turn of events, though, you can’t really dismiss anything when it comes to shifting conferences.

Well, you can dismiss one thing: the notion that the SEC will stand pat at 13 teams if/when they add the Aggies. There will be a 14th if there’s a 13th; just which school that will be remains to be seen.