ATLANTA — In his first public media appearance since USC and UCLA announced their intent to eventually join the Big Ten, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on Monday his conference is in no rush to expand beyond 16 teams, but that the league will “be nimble” as it continues to monitor the landscape.
“There’s no sense of urgency, no sense of panic,” Sankey told reporters at SEC media days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “We’re not just shooting for a number of affiliations that make us better. Could they be out there? I would never say they’re not. I would never say that we will. We’re going to be evaluating the landscape. I’m not going to speculate. And I actually am watching a lot of this activity operating around us more so than impacting us directly.”
The decisions of two of the Pac-12’s flagship schools to join the Big Ten on Aug. 2, 2024, elicited public speculation about what conference — if any — will make the next move. Sankey said he was at his lake house in New York, an attempt at a summer vacation, when he heard the news. He said he waited a week to gather the league’s presidents and chancellors together to make sure he had all of the facts — but also to prevent any inaccurate reports that the meeting meant they were planning an immediate response.
“We wanted to be patient and wanted to communicate,” he said.
Sankey’s comments came a week after the Big 12’s media days, during which incoming commissioner Brett Yormark was candid in his comments about the Big 12 “exploring all options” regarding expansion.
“We’re open for business,” Yorkmark said last week when specifically asked about adding schools from the Pac-12. “And optionality is good. And we’re vetting through all of them. I think it’s fair to say I’ve received a lot of phone calls, a lot of interest. We’re exploring those levels of interest. Nothing is imminent.”
Yormark also left the door cracked open for Oklahoma and Texas to possibly join the SEC before the official date of July 1, 2025, as long as it is a “win-win” for everyone and is in the best interest of the Big 12. Sankey was asked about the possibility of the Big 12’s co-founders joining the SEC earlier, and he said it’s not up to him.
“That’s about the relationship between Oklahoma, Texas and the Big 12,” he said. “We are focused on the addition being effective July 1, 2025.”
Expectations are soaring for the SEC, as it prepares along with the Big Ten to become the first 16-team superconferences and separate as the largest and wealthiest in the country. While Sankey repeated that nothing is imminent, he did acknowledge “people call … and kind of hit around the edges.”
“There’s no sense of urgency in our league, no panic and reaction to others’ decisions,” Sankey said. “We know who we are. We’re confident in our success. We’re really looking forward to the expansion of 16 teams and don’t feel pressured to operate at a number, but we’ll watch what happens around us and be thoughtful, but be nimble.”
Sankey’s opening remarks on Monday hit a wide range of issues facing collegiate athletics, as he is heavily involved in the future of the NCAA as a member of its transformation committee, which has been tasked with reimaging how the NCAA should operate. He reiterated that discussions about expanding the College Football Playoff beyond the current four-team field are ongoing, and that he still opposes any model with automatic qualifiers for conference champions.
Sankey, who was one of the authors of the original 12-team proposal that was voted down, said that plan was a good compromise because while there was no guarantee for conference champions, it included spots for the six highest-ranked conference champions.
“We’re gonna take a step back from the model introduced and rethink the approach,” said Sankey. “Number of teams, whether there should be any guarantee for conference champions at all — just earn your way. There’s something that’s healthy competitively about that, and create expectations around programs.”