SEC braces for expansion

semerson@thestate.comApril 28, 2010 

Chick Fil A Bowl Golf

Alabama football coach Nick Saban reacts to his tee shot to the par-3 eighth hole as he competes in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge golf tournament at Great Waters, Reynolds Plantation, in Greensboro, Ga., on Tuesday, April 27, 2010.(AP Photo/The Journal & Constitution, Curtis Compton) ** MARIETTA DAILY OUT, GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT **

CURTIS COMPTON/AP

EATONTON, Ga. - A decade ago, Nick Saban was coaching in the Big Ten and thought the league should have expanded.

Now that it almost certainly will, the Alabama coach is confident the SEC will do what it needs to continue to thrive.

"(The SEC's) Mike Slive is a great commissioner; he's always ahead of the curve in what's going on," said Saban, who coached Alabama to the BCS championship in January and was at Michigan State in the late 1990s. "I'm sure that he's gonna do the due diligence to make good choices and decisions about what our league should do in the future."

Saban spoke Tuesday at the Chick-fil-A Bowl golf challenge, where he was one of a dozen coaches from the SEC and ACC.

The Big Ten and Pac-10 are considering adding schools to get to the minimum 12 needed to hold a football championship game.

But both leagues could go beyond that - possibly to 14 or 16 teams - in part to gain exposure to new television markets.

Among the scenarios being mentioned are four 16-team "super" conferences: SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-10.

Slive said this week that while the SEC has not contacted schools, the league is examining the advantages and disadvantages of expansion in case there is a "significant shift in the conference paradigm."

Saban said super conferences could be feasible. But he added that he wasn't necessarily for or against it, believing it was important for the SEC to "protect" what it has, such as natural rivalries and the passion of its fans.

"I think whatever's best for the fans and whatever's best for the interests of college football would be what would be the best thing we could do," Saban said. "The more good teams you have in the leagues, and they play each other, you probably have less controversy at the end."

Teams from the SEC have won four consecutive national football titles and have TV deals with CBS and ESPN that will pay the league $3 billion over 15 years.

Several ACC coaches refused to predict which schools could end up going where, but everyone agreed change was afoot.

"There's gonna be realignment, there's no question about that," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "It's just a question of where everybody falls."

Georgia Tech is a school that has been mentioned as candidate to change leagues, given its proximity to the SEC and its football history. Johnson said he was happy in the ACC, calling it "a great league," b acknowledged that wouldn't stop people from talking.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he hasn't been paying much attention to expansion talk. His school is a charter member of the ACC but also has been talked about as a candidate to move.

"Somebody called (and asked me) me about us joining the Big Ten. Nobody's talked to me about it," Friedgen said. "But I'd probably be the last to know anyway."

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has been through this before, when the school moved from the Big East to the ACC in 2004 along with Miami and Boston College. He said this round of expansion could be much more widespread.

"If anything happens, dominoes start falling. I think if the Pac-10 gets involved the same way, there's a lot of dominoes falling," Beamer said. "I think it could be a real different time in college football in the next couple years."

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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