An Unlikely but Interesting Scenario: UNC to SEC

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

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.


  • Kristi Dosh

    Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of 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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  • Steve from Cow Bayou
    September 27, 2011

    Conference expansion can create crazy scenarios. In Texas, I’d never have believed that A&M and Texas would be in different conferences, but that will happen in 2012. Never say never on anything related to expansion, even something as wild as UNC to the SEC.

  • John
    September 27, 2011

    As someone who lives in NC but is an SEC fan, I can asssure you NC will never, under any scenario leave the ACC. For the vast majority of their fans the basketball rivalry with Duke trumps anything else. No matter how much sense it may make. NC would be a huge asset to the SEC but my guess is that the powers that be at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would consider joining the SEC beneath them. To say that UNC has a rather high minded opinion of itself would be an understatment. I actually think that NCST would be a good fit. Being less than thirty miles from Chapel Hill and Durham makes it extremely difficult for them build any type of brand. NCST actually supports football more than UNC and being in the SEC would help them escape the shadow of it’s two smaller neighbors to the west. The state of NC has roughly the same population as GA, which makes only FL and now TX larger in the SEC. It is also larger than the state of VA and MO. Geographically bringing the state of NC into the SEC makes more sense than VA and MO.

  • Chip (@user7145)
    September 28, 2011

    I think what John said above about the Duke – UNC basketball rivalry is absolutely correct. That and other reasons make it a non-starter for UNC leaving the ACC.

    For anyone interested, I’ve written an article (on the Bleacher Report) detailing all the reasons why NC State is not only a good candidate for the SEC but the BEST candidate for the SEC. I think I included every reason John listed.

    The BR article is here:

    I actually hate the idea, because I’m an ACC fan and I don’t want the SEC to have any team in North Carolina. But I can’t deny that it makes sense.

  • superdestroyer
    September 29, 2011

    UNC has hangers-on fans (Wal-Mart Alumni). NCST does not. The SEC is a conference of schools that have hangers-on fans except for Vanderbilt. It makes sense that UNC move into a conference of schools with hangers-on fans instead of being in a conference with schools like Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, UVA, Boston College, Miami, Duke that do not have hangers-on fans for football.

    UNC, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State are the only schools in the ACC that have hangers-on fans. Two of those schools will eventually be in the SEC and UNC and VT make the most sense financially.

  • Still Incredulous...
    September 29, 2011

    Let’s be honest: UNC academics way too strong for it to consider going to the SEC.

    • superdestroyer
      September 29, 2011

      Vanderbilt’s is better and Florida is comparable to UNC.

      • Still Incredulous
        September 29, 2011

        Very true, but only Vandy, Florida and soon to be A&M are AAU designated schools. The rest of the conference just not strong academically….

      • Ace
        October 7, 2011

        Florida is not comparable to UNC.