UGA president cautious on expansion
Adams quick to remind that SEC hasn't been aggressor but will examine options
Like each of his fellow SEC presidents, Georgia's Michael Adams voted last week to approve Texas A&M for conference membership should it gain approval to leave the Big 12.
Adams insists, however, that he would be content if the SEC's 12-school configuration remains unchanged.
"I think all of us were happy with the way life was, has been, the last 17 years," Adams said, referring to the last SEC expansion, when South Carolina and Arkansas joined in 1992. "This issue did not start with the SEC. It started with undulations in the Big 12. I'm not sure that message has gotten out there as clearly as we might wish it had."
The Aggies' planned departure spawned rampant speculation that the Big 12 is on the verge of implosion, with additional conference members potentially leaving for more appealing destinations, and that this could be the first step toward the existence of four 16-team superconferences that would widen the gap between college athletics' haves and have nots.
For that reason, Baylor President Kenneth Starr -- whose school probably would struggle to find another major conference to call home should the Big 12 dissolve -- has attempted to derail Texas A&M's departure. Open-records reporting revealed that Starr reached out to other university presidents, including Adams, to block the Aggies' move, and he now refuses to waive Baylor's right to sue the SEC and its commissioner, Mike Slive, for their interference if Texas A&M joins the league.
And since the SEC's acceptance of Texas A&M was contingent upon the Aggies gaining approval to leave without the threat of legal action by any Big 12 member, the plan remains in limbo.
"The way things currently stand is the Big 12 is trying to figure out what the future is, and I don't see the SEC acting with finality until all of that is done," Adams said after Friday's UGA Athletic Board quarterly meeting.
In his remarks to board members during the meeting, Adams called conference realignment "the elephant in the room," but offered few specifics on the presidents' and commissioners' deliberations. One of the nation's most active university presidents in the realm of athletics, Adams, formerly the chairman of the NCAA's executive committee and the president of the SEC, told the board he has attended all of the SEC leadership's meetings concerning Texas A&M, reiterating that the conference does not wish to bring about the Big 12's demise.
"I want to make it clear that the SEC did not initiate this process, had and still has no desire to see the Big 12 break up," Adams said, "and yet it's clear that if they are freed of both legal and conference commitments, the SEC has high regard for Texas A&M as an institution, and, as has been in the papers recently, would likely take them if they are clear of those affiliations and legal obligations, which is something they're working on."
Should Texas A&M eventually gain approval to join the SEC, there will be no shortage of questions concerning what major moves will follow.
Would the SEC remain at 13 schools or would it attempt to add at least one more in order to have an equal number in each division?
"I think we can make anything work," Adams said.
Will the dynamics of the SEC's revenue-sharing agreement change?
"I don't think any school wants to basically lessen the revenue that's coming to them. So the financial model is a concern," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. "But really everything else, you just don't know. Is it 13 [schools]? Is it 14, 15, 16? You don't know."
How might the expanded conference roster affect the traditional SEC football out-of-division rivalries?
"I'm just guessing here, but I think your traditional rivalries will always be maintained," McGarity said. "I don't think the league's gonna do anything with Tennessee and Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. Those are steeped in tradition."
Finally, will the four superconferences eventually form, and how might they affect the landscape of college sports?
Adams and McGarity were hesitant to offer a prediction on the last question, taking a wait-and-see approach toward conference roster changes that would change the business model of college athletics.
"There's been no secret that the media has been [predicting the formation of superconferences] for some time, but there are multiple individual decisions that would have to take place before you could say that," Adams said. "The Big Ten has said publicly they're happy with life as it is. The Pac-12 has not said it quite that way. And so I think some of the reports have gotten ahead of the reality."
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott insisted at Friday night's Arizona State-Missouri game that his conference does not wish to expand its membership, but only a year after Scott was a driving force in the superconference movement when he aggressively pursued numerous major institutions -- including some Big 12 powers -- many skeptics refuse to take him at his word.
Most of those skeptics believe superconferences are inevitable, but Adams said it was too early to speculate publicly on whether they will come to exist or whether they would be beneficial or harmful to the SEC and Georgia.
"The thing that matters most to me is trying to do what's best for the University of Georgia, and that's what I've tried to do through this whole thing. I've cautioned all of us to be responsible, to not get ahead of the process," Adams said. "I think top to bottom, this is the strongest conference in America. And I think if some of the speculation were to happen, we'd want to protect our interests, but I don't think we have to do anything."
David Ching covers University of Georgia athletics for DawgNation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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