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SEC officials say focus is on 13-team schedule

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 | 7:42 p.m. CDT; updated 9:42 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — SEC athletic directors and Commissioner Mike Slive met Wednesday to discuss the logistics of Texas A&M's entry as the 13th member even though No. 14 might soon be on its way.

The meeting comes a day after UM System curators voted unanimously to consider leaving the Big 12 — likely to join the Southeastern Conference — instead of committing to the league for the long term.

However, SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said the AD meeting at league headquarters was scheduled several weeks ago and was "to integrate Texas A&M into the Southeastern Conference and plan for a 13-team schedule for all sports in 2012-13."

SEC school administrators have indicated that adding a 14th school is likely, perhaps imminent. And though the vote by Missouri curators makes the Tigers a leading contender, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said the conference is in a wait-and-see mode on further expansion. He said there were no discussions about a 14th team on Wednesday.

"The commissioner has done such a great job of positioning us, and we continue just to kind of look for his guidance and for him to lead us in whatever direction we decide on," Stricklin said. "When he says, 'Hey, here's an idea,' we're going to listen to him.

"Until then, I think we are all very comfortable with where we are at 13 for the time being."

Mississippi AD Pete Boone said a 14-team schedule would be preferable, but he and his peers focused on a 13-team schedule because that's how many schools they have right now.

"Certainly, we've discussed that conceptually, it would be nice to have a 14-team league and to have a 14-team league sooner rather than later," Boone said. "But I don't believe anything is imminent at this time."

Other athletic department staffers and the transition team formed after Texas A&M's admission into the league also participated in the four-hour meeting in a conference room in the downtown Birmingham offices.

"It was just about the schedule going forward and how we integrate what we've got," Stricklin said. "We're still excited about Texas A&M and what they bring to the table.

"As the commissioner has said, we anticipate being a 13-team league next year, and we want to make sure we have a plan in place that's fair and equitable."

Stricklin said the transition team presented ideas and got feedback, but there wasn't a vote or decision on scheduling or division setups.

"Any time you start talking about schedules, you want to make sure there's fairness involved and that rivalries where we can are protected," he said. "We've got such a great league, every matchup is a good matchup. It really doesn't matter who you play. Mainly just make sure we keep the ideas of as much balance as you can. I think we've done that traditionally as a league, and I didn't hear anything today that made me think we weren't going to go in that direction."

Slive has said he would prepare to go into next year as if there will be 13 teams, which would create unbalanced divisions. As for adding a 14th, he has emphasized that the SEC would be "strategic and thoughtful" in expansion, but shed little light otherwise on the league's plans.

Several athletic directors declined comment or referred questions to Slive.

"We can't talk about it," Florida AD Jeremy Foley said. "We were talking about A&M."

Nonetheless, there has been plenty of talk about a 14th team.

South Carolina President Harris Pastides has said he doesn't "think 13 is a sustainable number, but I think 14 is." He added that he doesn't advocate growing to a 16-team league.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has also previously said the SEC will expand again but that members need to be deliberate in taking that next step.


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