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The history of expansion in the Southeastern Conference

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/ˌanekˈsāSH(ə)n/ — (noun) : the action of annexing something, especially territory

New York Times

Hello, ye wearied and disturbed traveller, and welcome back to our corner of the internet.

Today, I have decided to take you down memory lane, namely, the progression of the addition and subtraction of schools to and from the Southeastern Conference. This seems especially timely since Oklahoma and Texas are expected to join us in this purgatory as early as tomorrow and as late as 2025, so I appreciate you joining me on this quest.

I have divided this story into sections (“subheads” as we call them in the industry) for clarity purposes, and I hope you find this tool useful as we watch history repeat itself here soon.

With that preamble out of the way, let’s dive in.

From humble beginnings (1932—1966)

The Southeastern Conference, like all great things, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1932 when 13 schools broke away from the Southern Conference to form its own league. These 13 schools were as follows:

  • The University of Alabama
  • Auburn University
  • The University of Florida
  • The University of Georgia
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)
  • The University of Kentucky
  • Louisiana State University (LSU)
  • The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
  • Mississippi State University
  • The University of the South (Sewanee)
  • The University of Tennessee
  • Tulane University
  • Vanderbilt University

As you’ll notice, only 10 of these schools are still members of the SEC. Sewanee left the league in 1940 and is now [checks notes] a DIII school. Which is odd.

Georgia Tech left the SEC in 1964 followed by Tulane in 1966. These two schools would become charter members of the Metro Conference which is no longer in existence. They no longer factor into our story.

WAVE ONE OF ANNEXATION. MANIFEST DESTINY, Y’ALL... (1990—2012)

The SEC added the Arkansas Razorbacks and South Carolina Gamecocks in the early 90s to raise its league total to 12 members. This is the conference I recall from my childhood, and it opened the door for the SEC to have a conference championship game which is fun. It seems foreign to me that these two schools haven’t been in the SEC for incredibly long (although I suppose it’s been over 30 years). Arkansas left the Southwest Conference (which is no longer a thing) to join the SEC, and South Carolina was AN INDEPENDENT from 1971 until 1991.

Imagine the recruiting pitch for the Cocks today if they were still an independent in football. “Yeah you can come to Columbia. It’s great! We don’t play in a conference and haven’t for the last 20 years wait why are you laughing what’s going on?”

MANIFEST DESTINY (pt. 2) (2012—2020)

This is the first realignment of the SEC that I actually remember.

Texas A&M and Mizzou (sure?) joined the ranks of the conference in 2012 with TAMU joining the SEC West and Mizzou joining the East (again, sure?). Of the schools in the SEC, many would agree that Missouri is the least-fitting as far as school culture is concerned, but, hey, the conference expanded its footprint. This was likely step one in a multi-faceted process that will probably end in the demise of the Big 12 in the next few years. Which leads me to...

M A N I F E S T D E S T I N Y (PART THREE) (Now)

With Oklahoma and Texas recently announcing their willingness to join the SEC (and with the SEC liking this thing called “money”), we will probably see the league expand to at least 16 teams by next fall. I’ve never been to Austin or Norman, but I’ve heard that both towns and fanbases are pretty geeked up about leaving the rotting carcass of the Big 12 and joining the ranks of the most prolific conference in college athletics.

Sure, the competition will increase for everyone involved, but it’ll be fun and good for everyone as far as finances are concerned.

As illustrated by this cleverly-woven tale, this isn’t the first time the SEC has expanded its footprint, and some theorize that it won’t be the last. It has felt weird at times, but ultimately, the conference has made moves that have solidified itself as the top dog in the college landscape, and this move in 2020-2021 will only further that narrative.