Think of the fans

Think of the fans

Here's a suggestion for SEC officials as they continue to mull expanding the league: Do what's best for the fans.

I know that's a radical concept but the fans do, after all, put up the money that pays for all of those 80,000-seat stadia and seven-figure coaches ... not to mention the salaries of the executives employed by the league office in Birmingham.

Since the financial support of the fans is the main reason the SEC is the NCAA's premier football league, they deserve some consideration. That's why I hope commissioner Mike Slive will maintain some semblance of geographical integrity if he chooses to add teams to the league.

Sure, Boston is a huge television market but bringing Boston College into the SEC would mean a 934-mile trek for a Knoxville-based Tennessee fan who wants to attend a Vol-Eagle road game. That's a 31-hour round-trip drive to watch a 3-hour football game. A Gainesville-based Florida fan would be looking at a 48-hour round-trip drive to watch the Gators play at BC and a Baton Rouge-based LSU fan would be facing roughly 51 hours on the road.

Granted, Texas is a lucrative television market but bringing Texas A&M into the SEC would require a 973-mile drive to College Station for a Tennessee fan wanting to attend a Vol-Aggie road game. This would mean 30 hours on the road for a Knoxville-based Big Orange fan. Worse, a Columbia-based South Carolina fan would need 35 hours (not counting bathroom breaks) to make the round-trip trek to College Station.

One of the most charming aspects of the SEC's current setup is the relative proximity of the schools. Thousands of fans can hop in their cars on a Saturday morning, watch their favorite team play a league road game and return home within 24 hours. Consider these easy-to-reach destinations for a Tennessee fan based in Knoxville, based on mileage and drive-time estimates provided by MapQuest.com:

- Kentucky (Lexington) is 170 miles, roughly a 3-hour drive

- Vanderbilt (Nashville) is 180 miles, roughly a 3-hour drive

- Georgia (Athens) is 234 miles, roughly a 4 1/2-hour drive

- South Carolina (Columbia) is 263 miles, roughly a 4 1/2-hour drive

- Alabama (Tuscaloosa) is 316 miles, roughly a 5-hour drive

- Auburn is 318 miles, roughly a 5-hour drive

- Mississippi State (Starkville) is 401 miles, roughly a 6 1/2-hour drive

- Ole Miss (Oxford) is 416 miles, roughly a 5 1/2-hour drive

The only SEC road trips that present a bit of a hardship for Knoxville-based Tennessee fans are Gainesville, Florida (549 miles ... 8 1/2 hours), Baton Rouge, Louisiana (658 miles ... 10 hours) and Fayetteville, Arkansas (709 miles ... 11 hours).

From strictly a Tennessee perspective, here are the schools that would be great fits, decent fits and bad fits geographically for joining the SEC:

GREAT FITS

- Clemson is 195 miles and a 3 1/2-hour drive from Knoxville

- Georgia Tech (Atlanta) is 214 miles and a 3 1/2-hour drive from Knoxville

- Virginia Tech (Blacksburg) is 236 miles and a 4-hour drive from Knoxville

- Louisville is 246 miles and a 4-hour drive from Knoxville

DECENT FITS

- West Virginia (Morgantown) is 422 miles and a 7-hour drive from Knoxville

- Florida State (Tallahassee) is 488 miles and an 8-hour drive from Knoxville

BAD FITS

- Missouri (Columbia) is 610 miles and a 9 1/2-hour drive from Knoxville

- Kansas (Lawrence) is 773 miles and a 12-hour drive from Knoxville

- Kansas State (Manhattan) is 854 miles and a 13 1/2-hour drive from Knoxville

- Oklahoma (Norman) is 863 miles and a 13-hour drive from Knoxville

- Oklahoma State (Stillwater) is 863 miles and a 13-hour drive from Knoxville

- Miami is 876 miles and a 13 1/2-hour drive from Knoxville

- Boston College is 934 miles and a 15 1/2-hour drive from Knoxville

- Texas A&M (College Station) is 973 miles and a 15-hour drive from Knoxville

- Texas (Austin) is 1,039 miles and a 16-hour drive from Knoxville

The SEC is America's premier football conference, and likely will continue to be - with or without expansion. If the league chooses to expand, however, I hope it will maintain a geographical makeup that pleases the fans. After all, they're the ones who pay the bills.

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