Greg Sankey says SEC won’t panic over conference expansion race
ATLANTA -- The Southeastern Conference is a leading player in the dramatic changes to the national football landscape. New Louisiana State coach Brian Kelly likens them to a game of musical chairs, and warns there’s not enough chairs for every school.
“That’s the current state of college football,” Kelly said Monday at SEC media days, a high-pressure game to find a desired conference.
The SEC will become a 16-team conference in 2025 with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma. The Big Ten recently countered by voting to add Southern California and UCLA as conference members beginning in 2024.
Kelly’s former school, Notre Dame, may be the biggest prize in the expansion race. It continues to operate as an independent school in football but would be an attractive addition for any league.
Might the SEC have interest in another power grab? SEC commissioner Greg Sankey didn’t go that far: “It is a compliment that people from all across the country and all across the globe want to be a part of the Southeastern Conference.”
In an apparent reference to the Big Ten’s reach into California, Sankey said the SEC won’t be pushed into an expansion competition.
“There’s no sense of urgency in our league, no panic and reaction to others’ decisions,” Sankey said. “We know who we are. We are confident in our collective strength, and we are uniquely positioned to continue to provide remarkable experiences, educationally and athletically, along with world-class support to student-athletes.”
Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin, who previously was at USC, said he doesn’t like to see traditions and rivalries end.
“When you go to places, you’ve been to USC, all these different places, you see how passionate fans are about certain things, what matters, rivalries,” he said. “For those to be dismantled for money is kind of a shame.”
Kiffin also said the challenges for USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten are not the same as what Texas and Oklahoma will face when adjusting to the SEC.
“You know, they’ve been playing in great conferences and against great opponents,” Kiffin said of the four schools. “I mean, I just say how it is. I don’t know that there’s a huge jump into the Big Ten. I think going to the SEC is a whole another animal. ... Said it for a long time: The SEC just means more. And it does. It’s different, it’s ahead of the game.”
The SEC has won three consecutive national championships in football: Georgia beat Alabama in last season’s all-SEC championship game. LSU won the 2019 title, followed by Alabama in 2020.
Sankey was careful to mention those most recent championships before adding that four different SEC teams won four consecutive national titles in a stretch that began in 2007: LSU, Florida, Alabama and Auburn. A sixth SEC team, Tennessee, won the 1998 championship.
“I’ll let you make the comparisons between us and our colleagues as it relates to national championship success in football,” Sankey said.
The SEC is seeking to maintain its edge while other conferences are trying to improve their standing in the national title picture.
“In this environment, I’m proud to say in my view, I think in the view of our entire membership, the Southeastern Conference is stronger now than at any other time in our history,” Sankey said.
Clearly, the SEC is open to adding to that strength.
“We know who we are,” he said. “We’re confident in our success. We’re really looking forward to the expansion and being at 16 teams. Don’t feel pressured to just operate at a number. But we’ll watch what happens around us and be thoughtful but be nimble.”