DESTIN, Fla. -- Amid speculation of a massive shakeup in some of college athletics' major conferences, the SEC quantified Friday just how well the current structure is working for its members.
The SEC completed its four-day spring meetings by announcing that it will distribute a record $209 million to its 12 members this year, $17.4 million per school -- up 58 percent from last year's distribution of $11 million per school.
The increased payout, which is slightly higher than most projections, stems largely from the SEC's new TV contracts with ESPN and CBS. The payout also includes funds generated by the league's football championship game and bowl games, as well as its men's basketball tournament and its cut from NCAA championship events.
The financial bonanza is particularly notable at a time when at least two major conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10, are trying to add schools and another, the Big 12, appears in danger of collapse.
Rumors of conference realignment and expansion have permeated college athletics for six months, gaining volume the past two days with reports that the Pac-10 is on the verge of inviting half of the Big 12 to join its ranks.
The presidents and chancellors of the SEC schools discussed the issue of expansion at length during a three-hour meeting Friday, emerging with no change from the league's oft-stated position that it will analyze any moves by other conferences "strategically and thoughtfully" and act or react if appropriate.
The consensus among the presidents and chancellors seems to be that they like their league as currently constituted but will not rule out adding members if the landscape changes substantially.
"‘Strategic and thoughtful' could mean doing nothing, no matter what anybody else does. And it could mean doing something," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said after the meetings adjourned. "It's just designed to say that we have maximum flexibility in how we approach this issue.
"We are very comfortable where we are now. If nothing happened [in other leagues], we would be very comfortable [staying] where we are now. And no matter what happens, we may find ourselves very comfortable where we are now. But we may not."
Slive declined to say whether the SEC has talked with any school(s) about the possibility of joining the league, but he suggested it's no coincidence that most of the expansion talk is emanating elsewhere.
"In fact there may be some other leagues that have some needs they're trying to fill," he said.
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said "circumstances" nationally could influence the SEC on expansion but added that the league's financial strength gives it flexibility on how to approach the issue.
"If the world changes in the future," he said, "then I guess we'll have to be there to see it."
For now, the SEC is expanding in one area: revenue.
While conference-to-conference comparisons on revenue distributions cannot be fairly drawn because leagues are inconsistent in what revenue they share and how they divvy it up, the SEC was celebrating its financial results.
"This meeting, with the new [TV] contract and all, may be as much a celebration as any one I've seen in 13 years," University of Georgia President Michael Adams said when he arrived at the Sandestin Hilton at mid-week.
Of the $209 million the SEC is distributing, 72 percent was produced by football, including $109.5 million from TV contracts, $26.5 million from bowl games and $14.5 million from the conference championship game in Atlanta.
The remainder of the money came from basketball television ($30 million), the league's men's basketball tournament ($5 million) and NCAA championship events ($23.5 million).
The leap in the cumulative distribution from last year's $132.5 million to this year's $209 million marked the 21st consecutive year the payout has increased. The distribution has more than doubled since 2003.
"It's an extraordinary growth," Slive said.
The league expects the growth to continue, with or without expansion, although the major bump from the new TV contracts came this year. The contracts do have provisions allowing for renegotiation if the number of schools in the league increases.
The SEC approved a one-year compromise allowing Mississippi State football fans to continue their tradition of ringing cowbells despite the league's ban on artificial noisemakers. The cowbells will be limited to pregame, halftime, postgame, timeouts and following a score.
It'll be up to Mississippi State to persuade fans not to ring the bells during game action. "We'll have to do a ring responsibility campaign," athletics director Scott Stricklin said. The SEC will revisit the issue next year.
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