Archive for February, 2010

I attended Illinois for undergrad, so my heart will always be with the Fighting Illini first and foremost, but as a DePaul Law graduate, I also keep close tabs on the state of the Big East.  The fan base of the Big East is by far the most skittish of any conference regarding expansion issues because it was obviously the main victim of the last major conference realignment in 2003 (when the ACC poached Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College).  This resulted in the Big East scrambling to protect its automatic bid to the BCS by inviting Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida for all sports (including football) along with DePaul and Marquette as non-football members.  In that round of expansion, Louisville was already an obvious BCS-ready school that was within striking distance of the Big Ten footprint, which made it a logical choice for a replacement member, while Cincinnati and USF were in the midst of building up their own programs.  USF ended up putting together some great seasons in the all-important Florida market while Cincinnati came within a couple of seconds massaged by a Jerry World time clock operator of making it to the national championship game this past season.  The problem today for the Big East is that if it loses any member to the Big Ten (which, if you’ve read my previous blog posts regarding the Big Ten Expansion Index, isn’t necessarily as likely as the general public believes since I believe that the Big Ten is looking toward Texas and the Big XII), there isn’t any Louisville-type school located east of the Mississippi River that’s a logical “no-brainer” replacement.  There are some schools comparable to USF and Cincinnati circa 2003, but the conference enters dangerous territory by adding more “project” schools in terms of keeping the top-to-bottom strength of schools high enough to justify inclusion in the BCS.

Before anyone can even get to talking about additional Big East schools, though, the overarching question is “WTF does the Big East want to be?”  Should the football members (hereinafter defined as “Big East Football”) split off to form a separate all-sports conference?  Are the Catholic basketball members (hereinafter defined as the “Big East Catholics”) too valuable for the football members to leave?  Is it worth it to risk breaking up arguably the nation’s best basketball conference under the current hybrid structure in order to have a maybe good/maybe not that good football conference?  The purpose of this post is to provide a more high-level examination of the choices between Big East Football splitting off or keeping the Big East Catholics in the fold.  I’ll name some expansion candidates in hypothetical scenarios that I’d personally favor if I were in charge of the Big East, but it’s not worth it as of now to provide an in-depth examination of each of those candidates in the same manner of the Big Ten Expansion Index since it’s largely pointless without knowing out what the Big East wants to do structurally.  In fact, I’ll state upfront that I’m sincerely 50/50 about whether the Big East ought to split whether or not it even loses anyone from Big East Football (with the caveat that the way that my split proposal is far more aggressive than what I see typically proposed).  Thus, I’m giving everyone two options that I would examine if I were Big East Commissioner along with the pluses and minuses of each.  Then, you can decide which one you like better – think of it as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for Big East expansion.

I’m using the following assumptions:

(1) The Big Ten does NOT take a Big East member – I’m going to examine this from the perspective of the Big East as presently constituted because I don’t believe the high-level analysis really changes that much even if a school like Syracuse or Rutgers leaves.  The issue of whether the Big East should split exists as of today and will be applicable regardless of the actions of the Big Ten.

(2) The Big East won’t kick out Notre Dame – About every 3 or 4 hours on any Big East message board, you’ll see a brand new thread stating, “WE MUST GIVE ND AN ULTIMATUM!!!!!! JOIN US 4 FB OR GTFO!!!!!”  It’s about as predictable as Amy Winehouse ignoring all 12 steps of all of her rehab programs on a random Friday night.  Let’s put aside the fact that such a suggestion usually entails “threatening” probably the most famous and powerful athletic department in the nation in order to invite a school like Memphis or East Carolina.  First off, if Notre Dame refuses to join the Big Ten for football where the school would maintain its rivalries against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue and actually make more money in the process, then I can’t really see the Irish taking a pay cut to play USF and Cincinnati annually.  I’ll let Domers like Sully comment further on this, but that’s just my gut feeling.  Then, as a practical matter, let’s simply count the votes in the Big East to gauge the interest of kicking out ND.  The other Big East Catholics absolutely fall all over themselves to be associated with the nation’s preeminent Catholic sports program, so that’s 7 votes against kicking out ND right there.  Pitt has a longstanding relationship with Notre Dame for football which it isn’t going to mess with – I would imagine that ND would easily go back to playing Penn State annually and drop its games with Pitt if the Panthers ever supported kicking ND out.  Syracuse and Rutgers are also holding out hope for Big Ten invites.  Since any kicking out of Notre Dame could possibly nudge the Irish into the Big Ten and close off that 12th conference spot forever, SU and RU aren’t going to want to do anything to ND, either.  Those are 10 schools right there that will automatically support Notre Dame, which means that ND will be in the BE as long as there is the current hybrid structure.

(3) The Mountain West Conference will NOT receive an auto-bid to the BCS – There’s a dangerous assumption percolating out there that the Mountain West becoming an automatic-qualifying (AQ) conference with respect to the BCS is a foregone conclusion.  This is based on the MWC reaching certain numerical criteria that the BCS previously set out to evaluate conferences.  There’s kind of big hitch that too many people are forgetting, though: the current BCS conferences have the final say and they don’t really have any incentive to let the MWC into their club at all.  It’s the equivalent of me trying to obtain membership into Augusta National Golf Club.  If I’m a scratch golfer that can afford to pay the initiation fee (not that either one of those things are true, but bear with me here), that’s still not enough to get an invitation – the people at Augusta have to REALLY REALLY REALLY like me on top of all of that.  In another real life example, think of it as achieving a really high SAT score.  Even though that score might indicate that you could get into Harvard on paper, the fact of the matter is that Harvard’s admissions committee evaluates bunch of other byzantine factors, such as whether you’re a native female Alaskan who moved to Kenya that can play the oboe at a professional orchestral level.  In the case of the MWC, the BCS conferences might have set the criteria, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to follow it.

Here’s the bottom line for the MWC: the Pac-10 and Big XII aren’t going to approve AQ-status for the MWC because they don’t want to empower direct competition in their home markets and that conference is a prime target for their own expansion and/or replacement plans.  The Big Ten and the SEC are virtually guaranteed 2 BCS bids every year under the current system, so they don’t have an incentive to potentially give up one of those spots to the MWC.  The Big East is the most vulnerable of the current BCS conferences, so it doesn’t want to give any opportunity to let the other BCS members remove AQ-status for the Big East while bringing the MWC in as a 7th member.  I guess the ACC doesn’t have quite as much of a dog in this fight, but as you can, the other 5 BCS conferences have direct incentives to say “No” to the MWC regardless of how well the conference performs.  That’s not really fair (and my feeling is that they’re more bothered by letting the likes of Wyoming and San Diego State into the fold than harboring any grudges against Utah and BYU), yet it goes back to the cynical version of the Golden Rule (“He who has the gold makes the rules”) as applied to the chasm between the AQ and non-AQ conferences.  You’ll see pretty clearly in a moment why the MWC’s continued non-AQ status is very important to the Big East’s options.

So, let’s review the two divergent roads that the Big East can take Robert Frost-style.

OPTION A – KEEP THE HYBRID STRUCTURE

Here’s the reality for the Big East:  Penn State isn’t walking through that door.  Boston College isn’t walking through that door.  Maryland isn’t walking through that door.  While the presumption is that college conference choices revolve almost entirely around football (as indicated by how I gave Football Brand Value three times the weight of Basketball Brand Value in the Big Ten Expansion Index), if there aren’t major pigskin programs that are willing to join the Big East, it may very well be in the best interest of the conference to continue to focus on what it’s exceptional at: basketball.  If the Big East were to split, the usual suspects of candidates from Conference USA wouldn’t really add that much financial value to the football side of the ledger while it could destroy much of the greatness of the basketball side.

At the same time, the value of the Big East Catholics is as a collective instead of individual schools.  You’ll see plenty of comments from bloggers and message board posters out there that they don’t understand what schools like newer member DePaul and original member Providence bring to the Big East.  The point is not what DePaul and Providence bring as individual programs, but rather the 8 Big East Catholics happen to deliver the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston/Providence markets, which are all top 10 TV markets.  For all of the ragging that Big East Football schools might have on the Big East Catholics, you can be guaranteed that the number of top 10 markets that are in the conference as a result of the Big East Catholics are on PowerPoint slide #1 in any Big East presentation to ESPN or other TV networks.  That staggering large market PowerPoint slide goes away if Big East Football separates themselves from the Big East Catholics.

In fact, it could be argued that if Big East Football loses a member to the Big Ten or another conference (i.e. collateral damage if the Big Ten takes a school from the ACC, who in turn will look to the Big East for a replacement), the Big East Catholics would be more valuable than ever.  Any reasonable replacement that could be out there may not bring as much as value on the football side as keeping the basketball side as elite as possible.  While football is going to rule the day for the other BCS conferences in terms of revenue and expansion, the Big East simply “is what it is” – a great (if not the nation’s best) basketball conference that happens to play some football.  As long as the Big East maintains its BCS AQ status, maintain the current hybrid structure could be making the best of a situation where the perfect scenario isn’t a viable option.

OPTION B – SPLIT (BUT DO IT IN A BIG WAY)

The Big East split advocates often argue that as long as the Big East stays in its current hybrid form, it can never hope to achieve the stability of the Big Ten or SEC.  Of course, the Big XII, an all-sports conference which has Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma in the fold, is unstable, too, with members openly talking about moving to the Big Ten or Pac-10.  So, a split for the sake of “stability” is an unreasonable goal – other than the Big Ten and SEC, no conference will be completely safe in this next round of realignment discussions.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t split scenarios that could add value to the Big East immediately.

The problem with most of the Big East split advocates is that they are making the classic sports fan mistake of thinking in purely geographic terms.  This leads them to only considering some “meh” schools from C-USA located east of the Mississippi River such as Memphis, East Carolina and Central Florida or maybe even MAC schools like Buffalo and former Big East football member Temple.  Those are all schools that bring in various positives to the table, but none of them are anywhere close to slam dunks where it would be worth it to split away from the Big East Catholics for those “usual suspects” alone.  So, if the Big East is finding only ho-hum choices of schools east of the Mississippi, why isn’t the conference looking west?  Specifically, the Big East needs to be taking a hard look at Texas Christian University.

I know what a lot of you are thinking – here’s a d-bag Chicago lawyer that has argued that the Big Ten ought to invite Texas for several weeks and now is saying that the Big East should add TCU.  WTF is going through that crack-induced head of his with him adding Texas-based schools to Eastern/Midwestern conferences?!  Doesn’t he know that the schools, politicians and fans in the Lone Star State just want to beat up on each other (because the old SWC worked so well) instead of dealing with a bunch of Yankees?!  Well, as you can tell from my blog posts, I’m not hung up on geography when it comes to conferences.  I know that will simply be a fundamental issue for a lot of people, but we live in a world where Penn State is in the Big Ten, Boston College is in the ACC, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida are in the Big East, Louisiana Tech is in the WAC… and TCU is aligned with a bunch of Rocky Mountain schools in the Mountain West.  It appears to me that the long distance conference cherry was popped long ago.

Regardless, TCU going to the Big East isn’t a novel idea.  Jake, a regular commenter on this blog who has a fear that TCU could get screwed in this realignment process (and I’ll explain why that’s a legitimate fear in a moment), has mentioned the possibility.  ESPN’s Big East blogger Brian Bennett addressed his thoughts on the prospect of TCU in the Big East (who, as you’ll see, I disagree with).  Finally, the very knowledgeable denizens of BigEastBBS have discussed TCU a number of times.

There are a couple of items that impress me about TCU.  First, its revenue in 2007-08, which was a “normal” season where it didn’t receive a jackpot of funds from participation in a BCS bowl like this past season, was $43.4 million, which was by far the highest figure of any non-BCS school.  This was greater than in-state Big XII competitor Texas Tech, in the same range as schools like Syracuse and Miami, more than 3 Big East schools (Pitt, USF and Cincinnati) and greater than the next highest non-BCS school (BYU) by nearly $7 million.  Second, guess which school has had the most NFL draft picks in history out of any non-BCS program?  TCU, who is ahead of an entire slew of BCS programs on that measurement.  Those two factors show that TCU isn’t just a fly-by-night program that got hot this past season.  Its long-term revenue levels and history of churning out quality players mean that TCU is a legitimate BCS-level program as of today that also happens to be in the major market of Dallas-Fort Worth (even if it doesn’t deliver that market in the manner of Texas or Texas A&M).

The opportunity for the the Big East is that TCU probably can’t get into the Big XII (whereas too many people assume the opposite, including Mr. Bennett from ESPN.com).  As I explained in point #4 in this post, TCU’s chances to get into the Big XII are almost a carbon copy of Pitt’s chances of getting into the Big Ten: they’re too much of a geographic fit (where they’re already within the conference footprint) in a world where expanding the conference footprint into new markets is more important for TV purposes.  If you’ve followed my posts examining the prospect of Texas joining the Big Ten, you know that the #1 reason why the Big XII has issues is that it has TV revenues due to the lack of markets outside of the state of Texas.  Thus, if the Big XII were to lose one or more members, adding TCU as a replacement doesn’t address that conference’s main problem that has caused such instability in the first place.  As I’ve stated before, the only legitimate shot that TCU has to get into the Big XII is if both Texas and Texas A&M leave that conference.

Thus, TCU looks a lot like Louisville circa-2003: a BCS-ready program whose immediately geographically-close BCS conferences (in Louisville’s case at the time, the SEC and ACC) will probably never invite it.  Even worse, the thoughts of the MWC becoming an AQ conference diminish dramatically if the Big XII and/or Pac-10 start picking off schools like Utah and BYU.  Meanwhile, an expanded Big East that includes TCU looks a whole lot better than being limited solely to its standard C-USA options.  Take a look at this hypothetical 12-school conference with North and South divisions:

NORTH
Syracuse
Rutgers
UConn
Pitt
West Virginia
Temple

SOUTH
Cincinnati
Louisville
Memphis
USF
Houston
TCU

In my opinion, that’s a pretty solid football AND basketball conference from top-to-bottom that covers a multitude of major markets.  For the people that still care about geography, this league actually bears little difference to the old C-USA when Army was still a football member, where the league stretched from Texas to New York.  Still, please don’t get hung up on the non-TCU schools that I inserted since they are really gut-level choices.  I chose Temple (despite its horrid experience as a football-only member of the Big East where it was kicked out even when the conference was in search of warm bodies in the wake of the 2003 ACC raid) simply because if the Big East is going to split, I feel that the conference is going to need a presence in the Philadelphia market (even if it’s more for the basketball side of the equation).  Memphis is sort of a natural extension for the Big East after having added Louisville and Cincinnati.  The Tigers from Memphis with respect to the Big East feel a lot like the Tigers from Missouri with respect to the Big Ten – the geography works and there are some pre-existing rivalries, but it’s not exactly an exciting game-changing move.  Houston provides a large market and travel partner for TCU.  Regardless, you can exchange ECU and/or UCF for any of those choices I’ve mentioned above if you’re so inclined.  The overarching point is that a Big East split looks a whole lot better with TCU involved than without.  If the Big East were to lose a member to the Big Ten or another conference, then including TCU is even more vital for the conference in terms of maintaining its BCS AQ status.  Maybe it would behoove the Big East to make the first move here by inviting TCU immediately so that it doesn’t even give an opening to the Big XII to potentially grab them in the event that both Texas and Texas A&M go to the Big Ten or Pac-10.

What would happen to the Big East Catholics?  I’d envision a 10-school all-Catholic league league that would consist of the legacy Big East members plus Xavier and St. Louis University.  That would be a legitimate major basketball conference in great TV markets with a side benefit of DePaul possibly winning multiple conference games in a season.  (Actually, the Blue Demons still wouldn’t with that lineup.)  If Notre Dame were to take a Big Ten invite, you could plug in Dayton (who might very well have the best college basketball fan base in the nation that no one seems to know about) and continue to have a fantastic 10-school conference.  That’s not a bad ending for the Big East Catholics in a split situation.

I don’t know if the Big East Football schools are bold enough to go forward with Option B, but it’s at least a colorable argument for a split if TCU is included.  If TCU can’t be brought in, though, then I don’t think a split would be wise.

With all of that in mind, which scenario would you choose if you were running the Big East?

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

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Lots of people have been discussing in the comments section on the “Template for Shooting Down Any Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten” post a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel stating that the Big Ten has hired a research firm to evaluate an “initial list” of 15 schools, with a quote from Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez saying that Texas isn’t on that initial list.  (H/T to WolverinePhD, among others, for sending in the link.)  I don’t interpret this study as Texas not being a target.  As Dennis Dodd stated on CBS Sportsline (who has voiced skepticism about Texas joining the Big Ten):

[I]f Notre Dame and/or Texas showed a willingness to join the Big Ten, there wouldn’t be much research to do.  The two schools are seen as the only slam-dunk candidates in an otherwise muddied expansion picture.

Exactly.  The Big Ten doesn’t need to pay presumably tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) to hire a research firm to say that “Adding Texas and Notre Dame would be sweeeeeeeeeet!!!”.  The conference knows that already and its university presidents don’t need to be convinced of the attributes of those schools.  Instead, you hire a research firm to evaluate the schools that you AREN’T sure of and look at the positives and negatives of them.  A research firm that’s providing value is going to look at issues that aren’t obvious, such as whether Syracuse or Rutgers can really deliver the New York City market or Nebraska’s national brand name can compensate for its small home market.  It’s a waste of money to have someone come in and state that “Texas would really add a lot of eyeballs to the Big Ten Network while being awesome in sports and academics.”  No shit, Sherlock.  Tell me something that I don’t know.

The fact that the Big Ten has a list of 15 schools that it’s looking at is an indication that the conference is looking at numerous schools that are significantly outside of its conference geographic footprint.  To me, this exercise looks a lot more like an evaluation of “Who do we add on top of Texas and/or Notre Dame if we’re willing to go to 14 schools?”  From a realistic standpoint, schools from the SEC aren’t going to ever move while the 2 schools that the Big Ten would want from the Pac-10 (USC and UCLA) are no-brainers in the same category as Texas and Notre Dame where there’s no point in even examining them because they’re in if they want to join.  Here is my semi-educated guess as to who is on that list of 15 schools as well as the key questions that the Big Ten ought to be asking about them:

1.  Syracuse – Does it really bring in the NYC market?  Can it bring in the NYC market when it’s combined with Penn State?  If yes, does Syracuse or Rutgers do this better?

2.  Rutgers – See comment for Syracuse.

3.  UCONN – Can it make inroads into both the NYC and Boston markets?  It’s not an AAU member but its overall rankings are pretty solid, so is that good enough academically?  Is the youth of the football program at the Division 1-A level a complete non-starter?

4.  Pitt – Great for both academics and athletics, but can they really add much in terms of TV viewers with Penn State already delivering the Pittsburgh market, especially when there are other candidates that are similar but can bring in new markets?

5.  Maryland – Is it more trustworthy in its ability to deliver the DC and Baltimore markets than the other East Coast candidates with respect to their own markets?  What does a Maryland/Penn State combo do for the conference in terms of delivering the Mid-Atlantic region?  Is there enough commitment to the football program in terms of long-term competitiveness?

6.  Virginia – An unequivocal academic superstar, but are its athletic programs good enough to add more value?  Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland?

7.  Virginia Tech – Rising in terms of academics but not an AAU member, so is that satisfactory?  Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland or UVA?

8.  Boston College - Can it really deliver the Boston market?  Is the fan base large enough to justify inclusion?  Very strong undergrad program but isn’t an AAU member, so will it fit academically?

9.  Miami – Can it deliver the Florida market by itself?  It’s not an AAU member and doesn’t have great graduate programs, but it’s a top 50 undergrad school.  Is that enough in terms of academics?  Is the poor attendance and traveling fan base for the football program trumped by its extremely strong national TV drawing power?

10.  Missouri - Has the ability to draw in the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, but is that enough considering that there are options in more populous regions like the Northeast, Florida and Texas?  Many assume that it’s an academic fit as an AAU member, but it’s actually lower in the US News rankings than Nebraska, so does it really meet the Big Ten’s academic requirements?

11.  Nebraska – Is the national drawing power of its football program enough to compensate for its tiny home TV market?  Lots of questions as to whether it would be an academic fit even though it’s an AAU member already.  Does it meet the Big Ten’s academic standards?

12.  Colorado – Long assumed to be a top Pac-10 target, but could it be a viable Big Ten candidate since it’s actually a better academic and cultural fit with the Big Ten than anyone in the Big XII besides Texas?  Is the population growth trend in the Denver area more attractive than adding presently larger markets like the state of Missouri when looking at this decision 20 or 30 years down the road?

13.  Oklahoma – Obvious national football power, but without AAU membership (unlike Missouri or Nebraska) or high academic rankings (unlike UConn), can it fit in academically?

14.  Kansas – 99% of these decisions are about football, but Kansas isn’t any ordinary basketball school (where only Duke, UNC and Kentucky can compare nationally).  Is the elite status of its basketball program enough to compensate for a historically weak football program that no longer has the services of Baby Mangino?

15.  Texas A&M – Is the Big Ten truly fine with the thought of Texas A&M coming along with Texas in a package deal?  Are the Aggies really a threat to go to the SEC if the Big Ten doesn’t invite them?  What do they bring to the table that Texas doesn’t bring alone?

The Big Ten will NOT expand unless it adds Texas and/or Notre Dame.  The conference is in a financial position where it doesn’t make any sense to settle for anything less.  This “initial list” is examining who might come along for the ride on top of the main targets.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

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It appears that the Earth is now 70% covered by water, 25% covered by schlocky Black Eyed Peas TV appearances and 5% covered by Big Ten expansion Internet ramblings.  I really didn’t think that I could cover too many more angles regarding the positives and negatives of Texas moving to the Big Ten, but the general ignorance of much of American public on the issues at hand that I’ve seen in various newspaper columns, blogs and message boards has brought up a number of additional thoughts.  I guess this should’ve been as predictable as the NFL ignoring all musical acts from the past half century for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Regardless, many Texas alums themselves have debunked a lot of the popular misconceptions themselves (such as well-informed posters like Ice Man on Orangebloods, who went over a lot of the points I’m going to be making in this post), which should serve any non-Texas Big XII fans notice that Texas is NOT joking here.  (By the way, multiple Facebook groups supporting Texas joining the Big Ten have popped up here and here.)  The feedback that I’ve been receiving is that Texas is looking at every possible scenario, ranging from joining the Big Ten or Pac-10 to even becoming an independent.  Let’s reiterate some of the arguments that I’ve seen from Texas alums along with a few more tidbits of my own that ought to blow every common objection to this out of the water.  I’ll warn you ahead of time that this blog post will be almost as long as Greg Oden’s third leg.

1.  More reasons why travel costs are a “penny wise, pound foolish” concern – It’s still the most common financial argument against Texas making a move to the Big Ten, even though I began to address travel costs in this post.  As people continue to bring it up as an issue, I actually went to the Texas Longhorns athletics site to see exactly which sports need to travel for conference games or matches.  Contrary to popular belief, Texas isn’t going to have to send the vast majority of its teams traveling any more in the Big Ten than they do today in the Big XII.  Out of the 16 non-revenue varsity teams that Texas supports, only 5 of them involve substantive conference schedules: baseball, softball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer.  Remember that these teams still have to get onto a plane for every place they travel to in the Big XII other than College Station and Waco, so it’s not as if though they are really losing many bus trips (where the costs savings are really accrued).  As I’ve stated before, once you have to get onto a plane, the actual distance that you have to travel is irrelevant in terms of costs since commercial flights are dependent upon supply and demand on that particular route (where a plane flight from Austin to Oklahoma City could easily cost much more than a plane ticket from Austin to Chicago), while the largest cost for chartering a jet is the fixed expense of having to charter it in the first place.

Meanwhile, the following 11 teams travel to regional non-conference meets for the bulk of their schedules: cross country (men and women), golf (men and women), swimming and diving (men and women), tennis (men and women), track and field (men and women) and rowing (women).  Just take a look at their schedules for yourself.  In almost all cases, the only time that any of those teams face inter-conference competition is for the weekend of the conference championships, which would be the same whether Texas was in the Big Ten or Big XII.  So, Texas moving from the Big XII to the Big Ten would only have a material impact on 5 non-revenue sports with the other 11 non-revenue varsity teams experiencing no real change in travel.

When it comes to the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, let’s not forget the obvious example of why travel costs are certainly irrelevant to a wealthy athletic department: Notre Dame.  I believe that we all can agree that Notre Dame isn’t hurting for revenue, even though we’ve established that Notre Dame’s NBC contract ($9 million per year) is actually only worth less than half as much as the TV revenue that each Big Ten school receives ($22 million per year).  What’s interesting is that part of the reason why Notre Dame wants to keep its NBC contract and avoid joining the Big Ten or another conference is exactly the opposite reason why a lot of travel-obsessed people think that Texas shouldn’t join the Big Ten: the Irish play a true national football schedule with games that literally stretch from coast-to-coast annually.  In fact, Notre Dame is even scheduling “home” games in locations far from South Bend, particularly in… wait for it… the state of Texas.  A number of Notre Dame alumni have stated to me that the NBC contract is just a means to an end, where the point is that it’s more than enough revenue to allow Notre Dame to remain independent and keep its national schedule.

At the same time, Notre Dame’s non-football teams play in the incredibly dispersed Big East, which ranges from Milwaukee over to Providence and down to Tampa.  As a result, Notre Dame has to get onto a plane for every conference opponent except for DePaul and Marquette.  For all of this trouble, Notre Dame receives about $1.25 million per year from the Big East in TV revenue.

Let’s put this all together: Notre Dame makes about $10.25 million per year total from its NBC contract and the Big East basketball TV contract.  It plays a completely national football schedule each year where they have games in California, Texas and the Northeast corridor.  As part of the Big East for other sports, the Irish are required to get onto a plane for 13 out of its 15 conference opponents.  Through all of this travel, Notre Dame has leveraged itself into becoming one of the most profitable athletic departments in the entire country.  That shows you how much more powerful television revenue is compared to travel costs.

Seeing that Texas would be making, at a minimum, $22 million in TV revenue per year in the Big Ten (and it will probably be closer to around $30 million) compared to Notre Dame’s $10.25 million per year, yet Notre Dame endures a travel schedule in all sports that would be more than comparable to Texas in the Big Ten, there is absolutely no rational way to think that the Longhorns’ increased travel costs would come even close to approaching the increased revenue or be of the slightest financial concern.

2.  When did at least an extra $10 million per year become “not a big deal”? – It is amazing to me when I see comments, especially from the mainstream media that ought to have the cursory ability to do some research on Google, stating that at least $10 million extra payout per year isn’t a big deal or, even better, that Texas supposedly has “enough money already”.  One Omaha columnist that epitomizes the “N stands for Nowledge” stereotype went so far as to call the extra money “measly”.  Well, I think guys ranging from Omaha native Warren Buffett to Jerry Jones have more than enough money, too, but you don’t see them standing around not trying to make more.  In fact, I don’t know too many high achievers that are satisfied with the status quo – they’re always looking to add to the coffers.  It’s also incredulous to me that the myth that Notre Dame wouldn’t join the Big Ten because it supposedly makes too much from its NBC deal is often advanced yet again.

So, the general argument that we’ve been seeing a lot in the mainstream media is that an extra $10 million per year supposedly isn’t enough of an incentive for Texas to join the Big Ten, yet the approximately $10 million total that Notre Dame is receiving from NBC and the Big East is “too much to give up” to join the Big Ten.  These are completely contradictory statements that any random person (such as a lawyer that writes a blog in his spare time) could instantly debunk by performing a couple of searches on the Internet.  There’s little wonder why I previously wrote about how the newspaper industry was being run into the ground.

Suffice to say, an extra $10 million per year (and I have to emphasize again that this is the MINIMUM that Texas would enjoy because it would likely by closer to an extra $15-20 million based on projections) is the equivalent of a school adding more than the entire value of the Notre Dame NBC contract that allows the Irish to be independent and that people seem to think gives them great power.  That’s definitely a big deal for any school, even one that’s as financially flush as Texas.

3.  The largest slice of the pie in the Big XII is still smaller than an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten – Further to point #2, it continues to perplex me that a lot of people still advance the argument that Texas won’t leave because the revenue sharing in the Big XII favors them.  This is the equivalent of saying that you don’t want to move to a mansion in Beverly Hills because you own the largest house in Compton.  Once again, every Big Ten school in its equal revenue distribution model, from Ohio State down to Indiana, made $22 million in TV money last season.  In contrast, Texas, in an unequal distribution model that completely favors them in the Big XII, with the most national TV appearances and a BCS bowl berth, only made $12 million.  You don’t need to have been a math major to understand that $22 million > $12 million.  I’m not sure why Texas cares about getting the largest slice of the pie in the Big XII when an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten is so much bigger.

4.  Texas has the nation’s wealthiest athletic department IN SPITE of the Big XII (not because of it) – Following up on points #2 and #3, the notion that Texas won’t move because it already has the nation’s richest athletic department is the same thing as arguing that a minimum of $10 million extra per year isn’t a big deal and the Longhorns should pass that up so that they can preserve road trips to Lubbock.  Texas isn’t competing with Texas Tech and Baylor in order to win the Texas state college championship.  On the national scene, it’s competing with Florida, Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State, all of whom will each take in about $100 million more than Texas over the next decade just for showing up to play if the Longhorns stand pat.  That’s going to have a material long-term impact on Texas competing at a national level.  Texas might be the wealthiest athletic department in the nation today, but that’s IN SPITE of the Big XII and its poor prospects for television revenue as opposed to because of it.

5.  The Pac-10, with its own expansion plans, is REALLY helping the Big Ten out – Out of all of the BCS conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10 arguably have the closest relationship with very similar academic institutions and, of course, the connection through the Rose Bowl.  Whether intentional or not, the rumors that the Pac-10 is considering to add Colorado and Utah has started to really make the Big XII look incredibly unstable and ripe for the picking by the Big Ten.  I explained in the Big Ten Expansion Index post that Missouri was essentially a “stalking horse” in this expansion process, where the threat of Mizzou leaving for the Big Ten (which would take away the most populated state in the Big XII other than Texas) would cause Texas to engage in CYA measures of its own and consider bolting the conference instead.  The practical issue, though, was that the Missouri-to-the Big Ten rumors never really seemed legitimate other than to some sportswriters and fans that still see conferences as purely geographic exercises and the pining has almost been completely coming from Mizzou as opposed to the Big Ten.

Colorado going to the Pac-10, on the other hand, is a different story.  Check out this interview of CU’s Phil DiStefano chancellor in the Denver Post, where he is already talking about weighing the exit penalties for leaving the Big XII and the school’s better alumni base in the Pac-10 region.  Remember my mantra that you need to think like a university president instead of a sports fan when talking about expansion?  Well, CU’s chancellor, who is the actual person who will be making the decision to switch conferences, has come out talking publicly about the machinations of moving to the Pac-10 when the normal answer to a newspaper reporter at this point in time would be “No comment.”  That’s about as clear of a sign that Colorado is ready to bolt to the Pac-10 ASAP without actually saying, “Smell ya later!” and there are a lot of indications that the interest is mutual.

Losing Colorado is just as damaging to the Big XII as losing Missouri (and from the Longhorns’ perspective, CU is the closest cultural and academic match that Texas has in the conference).  Colorado represents the second largest population base in the conference in the Big XII outside of the Texas along with the largest single TV market (Denver) in the conference other than Dallas and Houston.  This sets up the scenario that Texas blog Barking Carnival has brilliantly described in this post examining what should be the thought process of University of Texas president William Powers.  Here’s a great quote:

Even though the Big 10 began expansion discussions first and needs to add just one school, expect the PAC 10 to move first. Importantly, the PAC 10 will be useful to Texas when it breaks the seal of the Big 12 with the recruitment of Colorado.

While inside the mind of Powers, take note of how important it will be for Texas not to make the first move. Powers’ job description involves managing a complex brew of relationships, not the least of which is big-P Political (versus small-p political, which is a rich tradition in universities of all sizes and reputations). Were Texas to initiate the move that drops the value of Texas Tech’s share of a TV deal in half, the talk in the capitol building will be about Texas’ greed and complete disdain for other parts of the state. The West Texas lobby may not be strong enough to keep the deal from going forward, but a university president can die from a thousand papercuts.

You want more control over tuition? You want relief from the top-10% rule? Cry me a river, Mr. Ivory Tower. We’ll show you who runs the show in this state. Sorry that we can’t afford to fund your building maintenance requests. Better luck next year.

Some historians will note that Texas had a hand in leaving TCU, SMU, Houston and Rice in limbo when the Big 12 was formed. The way former K-State president Jon Wefald has told the story, the Big 8 made an initial overture to form the Big 16, and that it was Texas president Robert Berdahl who indicated his preference to split the pie twelve ways rather than sixteen. But it is also important to note that UT already had very poor relations with the Legislature at that time, something Larry Faulkner and now Bill Powers have worked effectively to improve.

On the other hand, if Colorado or Missouri make the first move (and both could make a move without directly impacting another university in their respective states), then Powers will have the moral authority to make the move that best serves Texas. Adding TCU to replace a defector will result in a net loss to Texas. While Powers may be politically prohibited from initiating a move, he will be held blameless for reacting to one.

While I’m personally not a fan of the 16-school conference proposal described at the end, everything else in that post is spot-on.  In fact, it elevates the “think like a university president” rule to the maximum degree.  Colorado, Missouri and now even Nebraska are beginning to look like the first actors here, which can give Texas the political cover to make a move first.  The Pac-10 making overtures to Colorado has now given even more incentive for Texas to move and the Big Ten gets a lot of leverage from it.

6.  Texas isn’t doing this for leverage because the Big XII can’t give anymore – Another common argument that I’m seeing is that Texas is only talking to the Big Ten and Pac-10 in order to get more concessions from the rest of the Big XII.  The problem with this argument is that it only works if the other Big XII members can actually give anything more to Texas.  The Longhorns already receive the most TV money in the entire conference.  The football conference championship game is likely to be played at Jerry World in Arlington more often than not.  The Big XII headquarters are already in Dallas.  There’s virtually nothing else that Texas can extract from the Big XII, yet as reiterated in point #3 above, it still pales in comparison to what it could receive in the equal revenue sharing model in the Big Ten.

Kansas State blog Bring on the Cats, using an apt poker analogy, brought up a well-written argument that Texas might be doing this in order to scare Missouri and other schools back into line so that the Big XII status quo and the unequal revenue sharing that favors the Longhorns isn’t disturbed.  Indeed, as I mentioned in the comments to that blog post, Missouri badly misinterpreted its bargaining position in the expansion process.  Mizzou likely thought that it was in a “no lose” situation where it could either extract more revenue concessions from Texas and other Big XII members in order to stay in that conference or bolt to the Big Ten.  Instead, Mizzou has spurred Texas to make a move first (just as the Barking Carnival discussion that I linked to in the Big Ten Expansion Index post predicted), which wind up leaving Mizzou in a much weaker Big XII without any chance of moving to the Big Ten.

However, the issue with the poker analogy in Bring on the Cats is that I don’t believe that Texas is bluffing at all: they have the nuts in this scenario and all of the other Big XII schools are going to lose one way or another (either through not getting any type of better revenue sharing in the conference or Texas actually leaving).  At the same time, while Missouri might be scared back into its place since a Big Ten invitation really isn’t imminent, Colorado could leave for the Pac-10 anyway and take down the proverbial house of cards itself.  In that case, Texas would bolt anyway.

7.  The Big XII won’t magically sign a new TV contract that is anywhere close to what the Big Ten and SEC are receiving today – Another popular argument from non-Texas Big XII fans is that the Big XII will supposedly sign a much better TV contract over the next few years that will be competitive with the Big Ten and SEC.  While I’m not a television executive, let me point out exactly why this is not a reasonable proposition whatsoever.

First, let’s take a look at the population bases of the states comprising the 5 BCS conferences other than the Big East (which I’m only excluding because they have large states on paper but don’t really deliver the key ones that well for football), with the numbers coming from the always reliable Wikipedia:

Big Ten 67,379,505
ACC 59,697,664
SEC 58,581,019
Pac-10 54,047,294
Big XII 44,097,046

The Big XII, as of today, has over 23 million less people than in its footprint compared to the Big Ten.  What’s worse is that it’s not even diversified, where around 24 million of those people reside in the state of Texas.  The reason why the Big Ten and SEC have such massive TV revenue is that they are able to combine intense passion for their schools with fairly large population bases.  There might be some intense passion within the Big XII, but it has nowhere near the population base to even come within the vicinity of the deals of the other conferences.  Not only that, but Texas has to compare any prospective Big XII revenue to what the Big Ten revenue will look like with the Longhorns included, where the Big Ten’s population base would catapult to over 90 million people.  On a financial level, the Big XII simply will not be able to compete with the Big Ten.

Second, there aren’t networks out there that would pony up that type of money.  The main entity that can afford to pay the most in rights fees, ESPN, already has its best time slots locked in with – guess who – the Big Ten and SEC.  The Big Ten dominates the 11:00 am CT time slot on both ESPN and ESPN2.  At the 2:30 CT time slot, the Big Ten is guaranteed nationwide reverse mirror coverage on ABC/ESPN, where if a Big Ten game isn’t shown in a particular region on ABC, it is guaranteed to be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 in that region (which effectively gives the Big Ten nationwide coverage for all games in that time slot just like the SEC on CBS).  Meanwhile, the SEC is guaranteed to have a prime time game on ESPN or ESPN2 every single week.  As a result, ABC/ESPN simply doesn’t have any more room and, as a result, doesn’t have much incentive to pay much more than it does now for Big XII games.

With respect to the other networks, NBC is satisfied with Notre Dame football and, frankly, is the cheapest network out there when it comes to paying for sports rights.  (Please note that the NHL is actually paying NBC for airtime as opposed to the other way around.)  CBS has its own massive deal with the SEC for 2:30 CT national games, so it’s definitely not looking for any more college football games.  Fox is committed to Major League Baseball for most of the college football season, so it doesn’t have any time slots on Saturday for college football along with having much less incentive to broadcast the sport after giving up the rights to the BCS bowls.

So, unless the Big XII thinks that Fox Sports Net or Versus is going to come through with a massive new offer, there’s literally not much upside to look forward to in the next conference TV contract.

8.  The Longhorn Sports Network (which is why there isn’t a Big XII network today) is an open question mark – Further to point #7, lots of non-Texas Big XII fans have suggested building a Big XII network modeled after the Big Ten Network.  Of course, that was an idea that was proposed several years ago but was vetoed by – guess who – the University of Texas.  Texas has looked into starting the Longhorn Sports Network where it would build its own TV network and keep all of the revenue itself.  This is actually probably the only financial argument that could possibly support Texas staying in the Big XII as opposed to moving to the Big Ten.  However, let’s take a reasonable look at how viable this network could be.

Starting up a new cable network, while it looks like easy money on paper, is not for the faint-of-heart.  Here’s a list of major sports organizations that have endured one year or more involved in nasty carriage disputes:  the NFL with the NFL Network, the New York Yankees with the YES Network and the Big Ten with the Big Ten Network.  These only happen to respectively be (1) the most powerful and highest-rated professional sports league in the nation, (2) the wealthiest Major League Baseball franchise and most popular sports team in the nation’s largest media market and (3) the most powerful college sports conference that has the largest population base.  If you could pick any 3 organizations in the country that would have the most leverage in cable negotiations, those would likely be at the top of the list.  Even with all of that leverage and, more importantly, a whole lot of high value programming to offer in the form of exclusive coverage of live sporting events that a critical mass of fans deem important, it took an extremely long time for all of them to get the desired cable carriage and they all ended up having to accept lower subscriber rates to get their deals completed.

The University of Texas has leverage in the state of Texas in theory, but the issue would be whether a potential Longhorn Sports Network would have much (if any) high value programming that would make it into a must-have for basic cable systems.  It took over a year for the Big Ten to get basic cable carriage and that was with a full slate of high value football and men’s basketball games from across the conference to offer viewers.  Texas might not have control to televise any live football games or men’s basketball games, which would likely result in the network not (a) getting full basic cable carriage in the state of Texas and/or (b) receiving a desirable subscriber fee.  On top of that, Texas would need to lay out a large amount of capital expenditures in order to get the network off the ground.  This is in contrast to the Big Ten Network, which Texas could enter into with no risk or capital expenditures and have an important stake in a true national sports network (as opposed to one that’s just confined to the Lone Star State).

There will be smarter people than me looking further into this issue.  Honestly, this is really the critical question for Texas other than politics (and definitely more than emotionally-based thoughts like rivalries): does starting up the Longhorn Sports Network trump the revenue that would be received from the Big Ten Network?  If the answer is no, then I think Texas moving to the Big Ten becomes even more likely.

9.  You think that Texas recruiting would be hurt by moving to the Big Ten because players would supposedly rather travel to Waco and Lubbock?  Seriously?!  Have you heard of the power of “national TV” in recruiting? – One of the more ridiculous arguments out there is that Texas would supposedly be hurt in recruiting by making a move to the Big Ten.  Deciding which college to attend, whether you’re an elite athlete or average student, depends upon a whole host of factors and is a highly personal decision.  That being said, the typical top football recruit isn’t going to attend the University of Texas just because it’s close to home.  If that were the case, top kids from the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas would end up attending places like SMU, TCU, the University of Houston and Rice instead.  Top recruits go to Texas because they want to play big-time games and big-time environments that are beamed across the country on national TV so that they can watch themselves on SportsCenter late at night.  I have a hard time believing that Mack Brown sold Colt McCoy on coming to Texas based upon trips to Texas Tech and Baylor instead of, well, the home-and-home series against Ohio State back in 2005 and 2006.  While there might be a handful of kids that will only go to where their families could theoretically drive to all of the games (which, by the way, doesn’t happen in the Big XII with the widely dispersed Big XII North states), it’s the games in the Big House, Horseshoe and Happy Valley that get the blood pumping for the vast majority of elite athletes.  These are guys that are going to prioritize getting maximum exposure in terms of getting to the NFL way more than worrying about how far the road games might be.  If top recruits cared that much about family road trips, USC would always have terrible recruiting classes since they have to travel by plane for every road game except for the UCLA game.  We obviously know that’s not the case.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if though the University of Texas at Austin campus would be physically moving to the Great White North.  If you reasonably assume that all 4 non-conference games would be played in the state of Texas (Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas, home-and-home against Texas A&M, and 2 patsies to play at home in Austin) plus 4 conference home games, that means that UT would still be playing 8 games in the state of Texas every season.  The road games that aren’t in the state of Texas are in some of the largest and greatest venues in all of college football that would get maximum coast-to-coast coverage.  Anyone that attempts to compare the road trip desirability of Waco and Lubbock to even the least picturesque Big Ten college towns (much less all-world places like Chicago, Madison and Ann Arbor) has literally no fucking clue about what he’s talking about.

At the same time, if I hadn’t made this clear before, every single Big Ten football game is available across the country via ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network in high-definition.  It seems to me that this is a much more important selling point to elite athletes, especially when you consider how many recruits the school might lose by making them pay $39.95 just to watch a third-tier blood money game in Austin itself against Louisiana-Monroe.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing your state rivals and they’re close by if the games aren’t available on television – last year’s Texas A&M-Texas Tech game wasn’t even televised!!!

For all of the consternation about the relative handful of athletes and families along with the few thousand fans that might be inconvenienced by the longer travel involved in the Big Ten, people have completely missed out on how appalling it is that Texas still has to have millions of its fans fork over nearly $40 just to watch a third-tier home game on pay-per-view.  That will absolutely never be a concern for recruits, families and fans in the Big Ten.

10.  The weather is actually pretty nice in Big Ten country during football season – This is another ignorant argument that I’ve seen in dozens of places: “Why the heck would Texas want to play in the snow in the Big Ten?”  Any person that writes this obviously hasn’t gotten out of his or her bunker to realize exactly what the weather is like in the Midwest from September through November.  The first two months of the season actually provides spectacular football weather for the most part – it’s not agonizingly hot like Texas can be in September while October normally provides great fall weather.  It can get colder in November, but you’ll virtually never see snow during that time.  Does the weather suck royally hard in the middle of February as I’m writing this blog post?  Absolutely.  However, football season is a completely different story.  Even if we grant that it can get chilly in the Midwest in November, Texas would likely only have one road game in that environment anyway every year (since you can presume the Texas A&M game will always be played Thanksgiving weekend).  This isn’t any different than Texas having to take a trip to a Big XII North school during that time of year.  The weather issue is both a red herring AND completely wrong.

11.  Texas A&M or no Texas A&M?  That is the question – I vacillate back-and-forth about whether I’d want Texas A&M in a hypothetical 14-school Big Ten if the Aggies are politically required to tag along with Texas.  Texas A&M is kind of like a girl that isn’t that terrible looking from certain angles, yet she seems a little bit off where you wouldn’t be surprised if she engaged in things like ritual animal sacrifices.  The Aggies don’t fit in with the Big Ten at a cultural level in the same manner that Texas does, although the main things that A&M has going for it is an excellent academic research reputation (much more so than other Big XII candidates like Missouri and Nebraska) and the combo of Texas and Texas A&M would truly lock down the state of Texas as completely Big Ten territory (which does carry a lot of long-term value).

In this post, I voiced my original skepticism as to the desirability to build a 14-school conference from a financial standpoint.  Frankly, I’ve been surprised by how many people out there like the prospect of 14 or even 16-school super-conferences.  In my opinion, there are just significant diminishing returns as you move past the 12-school conference model, not the least of which is that it doesn’t do much good to have Texas, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the same conference if they’re only playing each other a couple of times per decade because the conference is too large.  (This matters to both university presidents AND sports fans.)  Personally, I think that adding Texas alone for a 12-school conference would be the best thing from a competitive and cultural fit standpoint as well as being the per school revenue maximization point.

That being said, the prospect of the Big Ten adding Texas is just too great to pass up and I’m resigned to the fact that if it means Texas A&M has to come along, then the conference needs to pull the trigger. At that point, the Big Ten can give one last shot for spot #14 to Notre Dame (and I think that they’re probably going to be much more open to taking it than people generally believe with the knowledge that the Big Ten would truly close off membership forever) and if the Irish turn it down, then virtually every school in the country outside of the SEC will be gunning for that slot and the Big Ten can have its pick.

Once again, I’d much prefer just adding Texas alone for a 12-school Big Ten.  However, if A&M needs to come along, then the Big Ten has to take heed the words of the great Joel Goodson: “Sometimes you’ve got to say, ‘What the fuck, make your move’.”  Only instead of “Looks like the University of Illinois!”, it’s now “Looks like Agricultural & Mechanical!”

12.  How to sell this to the Texas Legislature: Better Academics + More Research Funding = More Jobs – Out of all the arguments against Texas moving the Big Ten, the one that truly has real validity is that Texas state politicians would block the move.  One major way to alleviate this concern has already been addressed, which is to take Texas A&M, too.  The other way is to make sure that it’s emphasized that a move to the Big Ten doesn’t just affect some football games in Austin.  The CIC, which as discussed before is the academic arm of the Big Ten (plus the University of Chicago), would likely invite the University of Texas Medical Branches located in Dallas, Houston, Galveston and San Antonio to participate as guest members, which is similar to how the University of Illinois at Chicago (which performs a large amount of biomedical research as the home of the U of I Medical School) is able to take advantage of the consortium.  The UT Medical Branches actually perform $1.4 billion of research annually, which is nearly three times as much as the Austin campus itself.  This means that the major medical centers in all of the largest cities in the state of Texas would have access to more research funding, which in turn translates into more jobs in those cities (and high value jobs, at that).

In this economic environment, Texas state legislators will be put on the defensive if the frame of the debate is that they are trying to protect a football conference at the expense of more research funding and jobs for the top hospitals in the state’s major cities.  As much as football might be a matter of the highest political importance in the state of Texas, there are concrete medical research and economic incentives that would apply to places outside of Austin with UT making a move to the Big Ten.

So, when you get into an argument about Texas joining the Big Ten at your local bar, I’ve provided you with a template to refute every knee-jerk response out there.  I’m getting a little more optimistic each day that this is the massive move that the Big Ten is going to make.

(NOTE:  The long-promised Big East analysis is forthcoming.  Until then, feel free to follow me on Twitter @frankthetank111.)

(Image from Doc’s Office)

The Lawrence Journal-World and News is reporting that the Big Ten has entered into preliminary discussions with the University of Texas.  (H/T to Josh for sending in the link.)  Please note that this is an actual newspaper article as opposed to a regurgitation of some Twitter feeds on Bleacher Report.  Maybe the Big Ten Expansion Index wasn’t so crazy after all.  Here’s the main quote:

“There have been preliminary exchanges between the Big Ten and Texas,” the source told the Journal-World on Wednesday. “People will deny that, but it’s accurate.”

So, if Big Ten and Texas officials deny this report, you can respond with, “YOU LIE!!!”  With the Pac-10 also looking at expansion (with the speculation centered on Colorado and Utah), a major realignment of college conferences looks more and more like a probability than just a theoretical exercise.  (That being said, as I explained in this post, any rumors about the Pac-10 expanding have a lesser chance of actually coming to fruition because of the conference’s unanimous vote requirement.)  Coming soon, I’ll have some thoughts on what the Big East ought to be doing regardless of what happens in this conference realignment process.  Until then, continue on with the great comments.

(Image from Double-A Zone)

I was planning on some non-Big Ten expansion material this week, yet a flurry of rumors about the University of Pittsburgh joining the Big Ten are flooding my inbox.  Let’s put aside my personal assessment of Pitt as described in the Big Ten Expansion Index post (where I said that the school fit the Big Ten academically and athletically, but the fact that it wouldn’t bring in a single new Big Ten Network subscriber would kill any chance for the Panthers).  The Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries has gone through the anatomy of this rumor (where Pitt athletes were supposedly told of the move in a closed door meeting) and correctly notes that it’s ridiculous.  At the same time, I just wanted to point out a few additional and very basic points to this story which would show why any reasonable person would conclude that this rumor is false:

(1) I negotiate large business deals with large corporations for a living.  In every business deal that I have ever worked on (whether it was for several thousand dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars), the parties enter into a confidentiality agreement at the beginning, where breaching such confidentiality would almost immediately kill that deal.  If Pitt’s administration was stupid enough to tell a couple of hundred teenagers and early-20s students the most highly confidential information that you could possibly think of and expect such information would be kept secret for a week when almost all of them wouldn’t even be affected (since the earliest that Pitt could join would probably be 2013, which would mean anyone older than a freshman would no longer be at the school by that time anyway), then the school (a) doesn’t deserve the financial windfall of joining the Big Ten since it can’t be trusted to keep such important information under wraps and (b) would have been an egregious breach of confidentiality that would likely nix the deal.

(2) Let’s assume that Pitt’s administration was indeed as stupid as described in point #1.  If at least several hundred people knew about such an important and Earth-shattering news story ahead of time (because if the athletes found out that type of information, it is reasonable to assume that they’re going to start telling their roommates and family members immediately), you wouldn’t see just a handful of random Tweets and Facebook statuses that were supposedly taken down and erased forever.  There would be literally hundreds of first-hand Tweets and Facebook postings (not just “I heard a rumor” references) confirming this information.

(3) The supposed deletion of web postings described under Point #2 only comes up if you actually think that Twitter and Facebook are going to start changing their entire user policies to cover up some Pitt rumors at that school’s request.  Seeing that these and other Internet companies constantly battle with the Chinese government over censorship issues (and thereby risking the potential revenue of over a billion users), I highly doubt either social networking site is going to all of the sudden start engaging in that type of censorship because the University of Pittsburgh SID called in a favor.  These companies’ business models are entirely based on the free flow of information.

(4) At the same time, as blind as the mainstream media might be at some points, an outlet such as ESPN or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette would’ve received some type of word if every single Pitt athlete knew what was happening.  It’s tough enough to keep 10 people from leaking information in areas of society way more important than college sports (i.e. the White House), so if you honestly believe that a few hundred students received first-hand information about a major conference move and absolutely none of them leaked that to the mainstream press that follows them everyday, I don’t know what to tell you.

All in all, the coaches might get a phone call a day or two before a possible announcement (like Mike Brey did as he described when Notre Dame almost joined the Big Ten in 2003), but it is unfathomable to me at multiple levels that (a) Pitt would tell its athletes of a conference move ahead of time at all in the first place and (b) even if Pitt wanted to tell its athletes, that it would do so an entire week in advance of an announcement.

UPDATE #1 (2/10/2010): Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune has stated that any “Pitt joining the Big Ten” report is “bogus” and cites sources from the Big Ten itself.

(Image from The Unofficial Visitor)