The possibility of Texas A&M joining the SEC probably creates as much concern as excitement among Tennessee fans. A natural response: UT's rebuilding job in football just got tougher.
Maybe. But that's dependent on who's next.
You would expect the conference to balance its business by assigning the Aggies to the West Division and recruiting another school to the East. If that other school is Florida State, UT's climb back to the top of the division would be tougher than anticipated.
Virginia Tech would be a more likely choice. Like Texas A&M, it would expand the SEC market. Also, it wouldn't be objectionable to Florida. And while it would be competitive, it wouldn't have FSU's recruiting advantages.
Let's table that discussion for now and focus on Texas A&M, the SEC's supposed expansion ringleader. Put it in a division that placed five teams in the top 15 nationally in 2010, and the division immediately would surpass any conference outside the SEC in football.
Texas A&M wouldn't have the same impact on the East. For example, UT's non-divisional schedule couldn't get any more difficult than it is in 2011 unless the conference increased its schedule from eight to nine games. This season, the Vols will play three teams from the West — LSU, Alabama and Arkansas — that have national championship aspirations.
The advantage of adding Texas A&M is as obvious as the billion-dollar television contract the SEC already has. But the Aggies wouldn't just expand the SEC television market. They would open up Texas recruiting.
Don't dismiss the significance of that for every school in the SEC and especially for UT, whose limited in-state recruiting base forces it to recruit nationally as well as regionally.
Give SEC football a Texas presence, and the exposure might do wonders for the Vols, whose game-day experience is one of the best in the country. Exposure leads to recruiting visits, which lead to signees.
It would take only one visit for a Texas high school player to appreciate how much football matters here. He would feel right at home.
I've lived in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Louisiana — all of which produce outstanding college football players. But I realized Texas is in a league of its own when it comes to high school football long before "Friday Night Lights" became a good read and a hit TV series.
While covering high school football in South Central Texas in the 1970s, I was impressed as much by the fan interest as the level of play. A player who grows up in that environment couldn't help but have an affinity for the SEC once he was exposed to it. Going from Texas high school football to SEC football would be a natural progression.
Arkansas, a former member of the old Southwest Conference, and LSU, whose campus is only 300 miles from Houston, have a history of capitalizing on Texas recruiting. The Razorbacks currently have 15 Texans on their roster; LSU has 10.
UT fans should keep that in mind when they weigh the hazards of increased competition. If the Aggies come, they won't be alone.
They will bring Texas high school football with them.