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An Unlikely but Interesting Scenario: UNC to SEC

A couple of weeks ago two different people whose work I admire told me they were hearing rumors of the SEC talking to UNC. They didn’t reveal their sources, so I can’t evaluate the merit of these rumors. However, like the Texas to the ACC rumor, I thought it was crazy. Today on Twitter (follow me @SportsBizMiss) someone asked me what school that was the least talked about was the most likely for the SEC. Then I started thinking about it….

Sure, go ahead and lock me up in a padded room in a straight jacket. I’ve officially lost it. I’m considering UNC to the SEC. Do I think it’s likely? No. Do I think it’s interesting to consider? Of course. This is why I love conference realignment.

If it were all about money, UNC should jump at the chance to join the SEC. The Tar Heel’s athletic department turned a paltry $140,000 profit on the backs of students who funded nearly 10% of the budget with $6.9 million in student fees. It also took $14.6 million in contributions to reach that profit.

Over in the SEC, only one school needed 10% of their budget to be funded by student fees: Mississippi State. Yet, Mississippi State managed a nice $1.9 million profit in the athletic department without pulling a single dime from the booster club for the 2009-2010 school year.

That’s the power of being a member of the SEC.

The simple truth is football makes more money than basketball. BCS payouts are bigger than March Madness payouts to the athletic department. Television contracts are driven by football, not basketball and mean bigger money for the SEC than the ACC. Most football programs turn larger profits than basketball programs.

Joining the SEC would easily mean $5-6 million more each year in conference distributions for the Tar Heels. Likely far more with a reworked television contract. Being a member of the SEC would also improve UNC’s football recruiting, and an improved football program means big money for any athletic department.

But, it’s not all about money or football for some schools. UNC is likely one of those. They have power in the ACC. The conference needs them more than they need the conference. The same would not be true in the SEC. UNC has to ask itself: does it want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond with a healthier bank account? What’s more important: history, tradition and power or the ability to be a self-sufficient athletic department? Fans yearn for the former and then criticize schools for not being the latter. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t have it both ways.

In the end, I don’t see UNC moving to the SEC. Is it the right choice? It depends on what you believe a school should value most highly.

Author

  • Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more

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