Nick Saban: 'Made our league better'

Updated: October 17, 2013, 1:25 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Halfway through the 2013 season, sophomores Texas A&M and Missouri have just one loss between them, proving that bigger does mean better in the competitive Southeastern Conference.

[+] EnlargeL'Damian Washington
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesL'Damian Washington and the Tigers have taken the SEC East by storm this season. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he had no doubt Missouri has its "sights on playing for the championship in Atlanta."

When the Aggies and Tigers began SEC play a season ago, few doubted the addition of the two schools would bring more television viewers to the league's games from Texas and Midwest. Still, there were questions about whether adding a pair of Big 12 teams would dilute the quality on the field in the mighty SEC, winner of seven straight football national titles.

"It made our league better," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

Added Florida coach Will Muschamp, the former defensive coordinator at Texas: "It doesn't shock me at all."

While some saw it coming, others have been a bit surprised by the quick ascension of the newcomers in the league standings.

"Both Texas A&M and Missouri are much improved from when I was in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State," LSU coach Les Miles said.

The promise of greater TV ratings seems to be playing out as predicted. A few weeks ago, CBS announced its broadcast of No. 1 Alabama at then-No. 6 Texas A&M -- the Aggies' only loss -- earned the highest ratings for a CBS regular season college football game in 23 years.

Next year, the conference and ESPN launch the SEC Network, which is expected to be picked up by cable providers in every team's market -- meaning millions more viewers which the network might not have had if not for expansion into the states of Texas and Missouri.

Expansion did not come without some logistical concerns. Saban said he's still concerned about how scheduling will work out. Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said the new travel itineraries will take some getting used to for the teams and fans.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsFootball games at SEC stadiums have played to 98.7 percent capacity this season. That figure was at 95.8 percent before Johnny Manziel and the Aggies -- as well as the Missouri Tigers -- joined the SEC.

"There's always things that you sort of have to get over the hump and you know adding two more teams, there were a lot of logistic problems," Williams said. "But all of the other stuff is great. Two outstanding universities. They've brought a lot of excitement, a lot of fans to the SEC, good teams. So yeah, I think the expansion has worked real well."

If travel has become more onerous for fans, it hasn't really shown up in terms of attendance. If anything, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel's star power has provided an attendance boost in every stadium the Aggies have visited.

In 2011, the last season before expansion, SEC stadiums were at 95.8 percent capacity. In 2012, that figure rose to 97.4. So far this season, it's at 98.7.

"Competition-wise, they both have added something to our conference," said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who has two defeats at the hand of the Aggies. "It gives us another market and expands the financial benefits that we all reap.

"The only negative I have is that you just don't get to see the other half of the league enough. I haven't seen any negative other than that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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