John Clay: Joker unafraid if SEC adds a few more sharks

But more SEC sharks can't be good news

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 14, 2011 

University of Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF

As if the job description wasn't already tough enough.

Kentucky football hasn't posted a winning SEC record since 1977. It hasn't won an outright league football title since 1950. Even during its current string of five consecutive bowl games, it has lost 10 more conference games than it has won.

And now, the conference is adding more sharks to the water.

Texas A&M is all but in. The SEC presidents meet Sunday. Official announcement is expected Monday. Tired of Texas' long(horn) shadow, the Aggies are shaking free. The home of the 12th man will be the SEC's 13th member, maybe as soon as next season.

On Friday, UK Coach Joker Phillips appeared unperturbed. Asked about impending expansion, he claimed he didn't sweat it out in 1992 when Arkansas and South Carolina signed on. He said the only difference now is the number of speculators.

"We're in a world where everybody wants to say, 'Guess what I know,'" said the coach. "It's not a big deal. If we expand, I'm all for it."

True, over the past five years, Texas A&M is a mere 35-29 in football while Kentucky is 36-29 over that span.

But the Aggies have the fertile recruiting ground that is the Lone Star state. Texas prepsters wishing to play in the nation's best football conference will no longer need to migrate to an Arkansas or an LSU. College Station calls.

Plus, surely pledge chairman Mike Slive will continue the new membership drive. Possible candidates for spot No. 14 are all the buzz. Florida State. Virginia Tech. Oklahoma. Missouri. All have been mentioned.

Meanwhile on Friday, John Calipari continued his call for four 16-team super conferences. Cal's plan involves a post-season basketball tournament consisting of just those leagues, with the proceeds being split among the 64. Bye-bye, NCAA.

It's a corporate idea and a bad one. Remember Butler, the school that has reached the NCAA Basketball Tournament title game the past two years? And VCU, which made a surprise Final Four appearance last year? Both would be omitted by the Calipari criteria. Neither play football. And football is what this is all about.

Actually, TV dollars are what this is all about. Football drives the money train. The college basketball post-season produces cash, but college football's regular season, coupled with the bowls, is a monetary monster. It's the reason Slive was able to ink a 15-year, $2 billion deal with ESPN back in 2008.

By today's standards, however, 2008 is ancient history. The Pac-12 signed a 12-year, $2.7 billion deal with ESPN in May. At SEC Media Days, Slive indicated the SEC contract with the World Wide Leader could be revisited under certain circumstances.

Adding new members — better yet, new TV markets — would appear to qualify as just such a circumstance. Texas A&M delivers the numerous Nielsens associated with Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Audience penetration, and all that.

That is also what could stop the league from inviting a Florida State, or a Clemson or a Georgia Tech, whose home states already include league members.

As for new territory, Oklahoma has tradition but not the demographics. Oklahoma City is only the nation's 45th-largest TV market. A better bet is Missouri, which would bring St. Louis (21st) and Kansas City (31st) to the table. Virginia Tech could command remotes in Washington, D.C. (ninth) and Baltimore (26th).

If you are a Kentucky football fan, none of these names are particularly encouraging. (The prospect of a near-certain nine-game league schedule is none too appealing, either.) Florida State and Clemson have each won national titles. Virginia Tech played for a national crown. Missouri is 40-14 over the past four years.

Of course, none of those schools has faced the demolition derby known as the SEC football schedule.

Kentucky already knows a thing or two about that.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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