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Tennessee athletics director says Southeastern Conference will expand

Thursday, September 29, 2011 | 5:40 p.m. CDT; updated 6:06 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 29, 2011

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart says the Southeastern Conference will expand again and officials at each school need to have a number of frank discussions before moving forward.

The addition of Texas A&M as the SEC's 13th team was a good one, Hart said, but the league's leaders must take their next steps deliberately.

"I think a lot of the conversation is just where we go from here, obviously, because at some point 13 will not be the number," Hart said. "There are a multitude of components to this that we have yet to really delve into. We will do that in relatively short order, but it's very complex in nature."

The SEC announced Sunday that Texas A&M will join the conference in July after leaving the Big 12. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said later in the week that the league's presidents and chancellors are not currently considering any other schools for admission and that he anticipates having no additional members for the 2012-13 season.

The SEC split into divisions after adding South Carolina and Arkansas in 1992, and the addition of just Texas A&M would leave those divisions unbalanced. Possibilities of a 14th member include the Big 12's Missouri and West Virginia or Louisville of the Big East.

Hart, who was hired by Tennessee on Sept. 5 after spending three seasons at Alabama assisting athletics director Mal Moore, declined to say who he would like the 14th school to be. He said he anticipated a number of conversations would take place in the coming weeks among the SEC's leaders on topics such as scheduling, division membership, academics and the "business aspect" of realignment. He added that those conversations will help Slive determine the future of the conference.

"I think to say the least, this is and will be a fluid situation for weeks to come, maybe months to come," Hart said." No one can really pinpoint that at this moment, and that's just inherent to the whole conference realignment scenario. ... There are too many variables. People understand to some degree the complexity, but they really don't understand the magnitude of the complexity. It's ongoing in nature."

NCAA President Mark Emmert is encouraging conference officials to consider factors besides revenue when weighing whether to change conference allegiances. Emmert said he was concerned about the perception that money is driving the decisions, declaring "this is not the NFL, the NBA, it's not a business."

Hart disagrees.

"You can't be reactive in this business, and that's what it is," he said. "I know sometimes people are offended by the term 'business,' but there is a business aspect to intercollegiate athletics that you have to be cognizant of and be ready to position yourself as well as you possibly can."

Hart has a point. The SEC distributed a record $18.3 million to each of its 12 schools earlier this year.

Although business is certainly one aspect of expansion, Hart said there are many factors to consider. The SEC wasn't actively seeking to expand, but when Texas A&M approached in July with its desire to join, conference leaders not only recognized that expanding into Texas was a smart financial decision but thought the Aggies' academic profile and fan base was a good fit for the league, he said.

"As Mike (Slive) has said many times, we were not in the market to expand, but when Texas A&M called the commissioner and expressed their strong desire to be a member of the Southeastern Conference, the landscape changed — as well it should have," Hart said. "I think you have to have vision."


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