Why the SEC Should Invite UNC & Duke To Join, and Why They Should Accept

Paige Michael-ShetleyCorrespondent IJune 12, 2010

Unless you have been living under a college sports rock, you know that an Armageddon of conference realignment was kicked off this week with official announcements that Colorado and Nebraska would be leaving the Big 12 to join the PAC-10 and Big 10, respectively.

On the heels of the news is the report that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma St. are set to follow Colorado to the PAC-10, which will effectively destroy the Big 12 conference. 

Driving the seismic shift in conference alignment is the ever increasing power of the almighty dollar in college sports. With money flowing to conferences through major television contracts — including, in the Big 10's case, its very own network — conferences have a major incentive to expand their inventory of schools to major markets.

Coincidentally, schools have a self-evident financial incentive to explore opportunities to join big money conferences like the Big 10 and SEC. 

Conference realignment won't stop if the Texas and Oklahoma schools join the PAC 10.

The Big 10 has long been thought to be the conference in the best and most active position to expand given that it generates the most revenue, and it will surely not stop with Nebraska when it's mammoth enterprise can surely snatch schools from bigger markets like New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., or St. Louis.

The SEC, the second most powerful conference financially, will not sit idly by while this action takes place. At some point, they will use their status as the best football conference in America — with the network television contract it entails — and the launch of their own SEC network to lure schools into their fold. And with their status, any move they make should be huge, and it likely will be. 

Which is why their two primary targets for expansion should be North Carolina and Duke. 

The Triangle area of North Carolina is one of the fastest growing markets in America — and certainly the fastest growing market in the southeast. As such, its combination of financial and geographic appeal to the SEC is intuitive, especially considering that North Carolina is one of only two southeastern states not currently represented in the conference while perhaps emerging as the most prominent of all.

Taking not one, but both of the most prominent schools from the area would amount to piracy unparalleled by Blackbeard. 

But the markets for UNC and Duke expand well beyond the Triangle area. Alumni from both prominent universities are spread throughout the country and are concentrated in many of America's largest urban markets.

The high concentration of Duke alumni in New York, for instance, allows it to draw sell-out crowds when it plays its annual game — sometimes multiple games — in Madison Square Garden. 

Looking beyond market expansion, however, the SEC would surely be sitting on a financial goldmine should it land two of the three most prominent college basketball programs. Obviously, the Carolina-Duke rivalry in basketball — which many sports analysts consider the greatest rivalry in all of American sports — is a gold mine.

Throw in the fact that the SEC has the third of the three most prominent college basketball programs — Kentucky — and one can see the scale the SEC's gain by successfully recruiting the Triangle schools.

Not only would the SEC have the best football conference in America, but overnight it would go from having a middling basketball conference to immediately becoming the marquee attraction in college roundball.

In financial terms, it would leave the Big 10 and the rest of the NCAA in the dust if it was somehow able to poach North Carolina and Duke. 

The SEC would also benefit greatly from the academic reputation of the two schools. Duke is mentioned in the rarefied air of Ivy League schools, North Carolina is considered one of the nation's "Public Ivies."

A conference with a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being a collection of easy southern hick schools could surely use an image boost in this respect. 

Both schools have rather intuitive reasons to accept an invitation to join the SEC, as well. Obviously, the financial gain that both would see by doing so is massive.

At a time when the state government of North Carolina is taking the axe to the finances of the state University system, such a financial gain has obvious appeal particularly to UNC, who could use money wherever it can find it at the moment. 

Furthermore, both traditionally basketball powerhouses have signaled their intent to build respectable, if not top, football programs. While they'll have a rougher go of pigskin in the SEC than they would in the ACC, introducing their programs to another stratosphere of competition in the best football conference in America can only benefit their development in the future.

In the case of North Carolina, it may be the next step it needs to take to cement its program as a regular part of the BCS conversation. Joining the SEC will also elevate the recruiting competitiveness of both the Heels and Devils.  

Some would argue that the two schools are too steeped in the tradition of the ACC to ever leave.

I would argue, however, that their status in the ACC makes it easier for them to leave. 

At the moment, North Carolina and Duke ARE the ACC. Their basketball rivalry totally eclipses the rest of the conference, and it is much more important to the two schools that their rivalry remain intact than that they stay in the league.

The ACC needs both schools much more than they need the ACC. 

The sea change that has begun in Division I of the NCAA is bound to end in spectacular fashion. There wouldn't be much more of a spectacle than the UNC-Duke tandem joining the SEC.

It's self-evidently a match made in Heaven, and if all sides aren't thinking and talking about it as we speak, they'd be smart to start doing so.