Archive for August, 2010

A little over 25 years ago, the Coca-Cola Company was concerned that it was losing market share to Pepsi in the “Cola Wars” and hired an avalanche of consultants and scientists to concoct a new formula for its flagship product.  If you were a businessman that only made judgments based on specific metrics from market studies, it looked like the move would be a success.  Focus groups actually gave a ton of positive feedback to what would become known as “New Coke” and stated that they liked it better than both the original Coke formula and Pepsi.  Coca-Cola executives in Atlanta were convinced that this was what was going to overtake the “Pepsi Generation” by making a clear and bold break with tradition and the past.

New Coke was introduced to the public on April 23, 1985.  The public’s reaction was swift and visceral: they wanted to torch the company’s headquarters.  Oh sure, they said that they liked New Coke in blind taste tests, yet all of those highly-paid consultants didn’t factor in that there was a bond to the original flavor that went beyond the taste buds.  New Coke bombed in stores, boycotts occurred across the country, all of the original formula Coke left on store shelves was being hoarded and politicians started squawking.  Less than 3 months after New Coke’s debut, Coke brought back the original formula under the name Coca-Coca Classic.  David Keough, the president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola at the time, stated this (with emphasis added) at the press conference announcing the return of the traditional taste:  “There is a twist to this story which will please every humanist and will probably keep Harvard professors puzzled for years.  The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”

I’m a corporate attorney that has spent most of my career either working with or for large management consulting firms.  So, I have a ton of respect for consultants in general and personally have a lot at stake working within that industry.  I also have no qualms about bucking tradition when its appropriate in order to maximize revenue – most of the readers here came across my blog via a post advocating that the Big Ten go after Texas in a decidedly non-traditional expansion move.  According to Mike Gundy, I’m not even old enough to be a man yet.  The point is that I’m not an old fuddy duddy traditionalist that doesn’t think about finances and just wishes everything would go back to the old days.

Here’s the problem that I have and we’re facing as fans on the outside: no consulting firm on Earth will receive much in terms of hourly fees by telling Coca-Cola to stick with its original formula… or say that the Big Ten should simply have a logical East/West split in its divisions… or that moving the Michigan-Ohio State game from the last weekend of the regular season is so ludicrous that merely discussing is a waste of time since it is a slap in the face to college football fans everywhere.  Doing what’s logical can be summed up in a comment to a blog post (much less a blog post itself).  Making several million dollars in consulting fees requires to coming up with wacky division alignments, statistical analysis on “competitive balance”, test marketing, and multitudes of Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations explaining how there’s a double pot of gold if you can get Michigan and Ohio State to play twice in a single season.  Never mind that the ACC tried to do the same with Miami and Florida State and the football gods have crushed the prospect of that conference championship game matchup every year.  I’m sure that the Big Ten brass in Park Ridge has been poring over so much data over the past few months without public interaction that they’ve likely convinced themselves that the simple and logical answer to divisional alignment and treatment of the Michigan-Ohio State game can’t possibly be good enough, just like the people at Coca-Cola’s headquarters 25 years ago.

Alas, the very smart people at the Big Ten conference offices are completely outsmarting themselves here.  For whatever reason, the KISS formula of a logical East/West division split simply won’t do.  I can somewhat understand the desire to split the 4 “marquee brands” of Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska evenly amongst the divisions.  However, the thought of (1) sending Michigan and Ohio State to opposite divisions and (2) moving their rivalry game from the end of the season to the midseason is even worse than the idea of New Coke.  At least Coca-Cola wanted to shake things up because it was losing market share.  In contrast, the Big Ten is at the height of its power and has ZERO reason to eliminate a single rivalry game or mess with its most valuable regular season property.  Jim Delany, Barry Alvarez and other Big Ten representatives claiming that there isn’t a way to preserve all of the conference’s currently protected rivalries is complete B.S. (especially if it’s true that the Big Ten will have a 9-game conference schedule starting in 2015).  They can ALL be protected if the Big Ten chose the KISS alignment, but they are affirmatively CHOOSING not to use it.

Well, if the Big Ten isn’t going to go with the KISS formula (which I continue to believe is the right way to do it), it should at least try to mitigate the damage that it’s going to do to its fans and traditions.  My hope is that the Big Ten realizes that it’s not worth it to whore itself out for $150,000 per school (as determined by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo!) in the hopes of a Michigan-Ohio State rematch in a Big Ten Championship Game.  That’s right: a whole $150,000 per school, which is less than the annual interest on John Calipari’s slush fund.  Seriously, though, to put that in perspective, mgoblog calculated that Michigan could raise $150,000 by increasing ticket prices by twenty cents.  Also, Ohio State is paying Colorado $1.4 million to visit the Horsehoe for a PACrifice blood money home game in 2011.  So, the complete destruction of the century-old tradition of the Michigan-Ohio State game will pay for less than 7 minutes of Colorado’s time on the field.  WTF?!

Let me hammer home for the second time in this blog post that the ACC has tried this exact same thing with its gerrymandered divisions that look like a rottweiler tore into a Rand McNally road atlas in order to setup a Miami-Florida State championship game and HAS FAILED.  The fact that the national media doesn’t immediately point out immediately how AWFUL the ACC divisions are (as opposed to the constant bitching about the red herring of the perceived Big 12 North/South “imbalance”) is one of my biggest pet peeves in all of this.  LOOK AT THE FAILURE OF THE ACC HERE.  I will beat this into everyone’s head until it becomes a reflexive response.

Before I get angrier about this, let’s try to put together a reasonable alternative to the KISS formula that keeps Michigan and Ohio State together while also making a good faith effort toward the amorphous concept of “competitive balance”.  To me, there are 3 “pods” of schools in the Big Ten:

POD A:
Michigan
Ohio State
Penn State
Michigan State

POD B:
Illinois
Northwestern
Indiana
Purdue

POD C:
Nebraska
Iowa
Wisconsin
Minnesota

Here are my division alignment parameters:

(1) 2 teams from each pod are in each division
(2) 1 permanent intra-pod cross-division opponent
(3) Michigan and Ohio State are kept together (meaning Penn State and Nebraska must be together)
(4) Don’t let either Penn State or Nebraska be on islands
(5) Equal access to prime recruiting territories means as much as competitive balance

So, here’s my proposed division alignment:

DIVISION A
Michigan
Ohio State
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Northwestern
Purdue

DIVISION B
Penn State
Michigan State
Nebraska
Iowa
Illinois
Indiana

PERMANENT CROSS-DIVISION RIVALRIES
Michigan – Michigan State
Ohio State – Penn State
Wisconsin – Nebraska
Minnesota – Iowa
Northwestern – Illinois
Purdue – Indiana

Under this, Michigan – Ohio State continues to be played at the end of the regular season and the conference sets up another marquee end-of-the-year matchup between Nebraska and either Penn State or Iowa.  The 4 marquee brand schools are split up evenly and every school has direct annual exposure to at least 3 of the 4 top recruiting territories within the Big Ten region (Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania).  Finally, except for Wisconsin – Iowa (which was most in danger because they are both such natural pairs with Nebraska and I’ll be damned if the Floyd of Rosedale, the most bad-ass trophy in sports, gets cut), EVERY SINGLE CURRENTLY PROTECTED RIVALRY WILL LIVE ON.  Once again, don’t let anyone sweet talk you into thinking that “competitive balance” had to kill multiple rivalries – that’s complete bunk.

Whatever your thoughts are on this issue, I encourage you to email Jim Delany at jdelany@bigten.org (h/t to super commenter Adam) and the president/chancellor and athletic director of your favorite school.  Even better on top of that, email the groups of people that can really make the aforementioned people squirm: the members of the board of trustees of your favorite school that sign the paychecks and the applicable state legislators that control public university funding.  Be sure to mention if you donate to your school or hold season tickets and what will happen to such donations and season ticket payments if the Big Ten continues to ignore its fans that provide financial support to its member institutions.

I hope that Jim Delany and the powers that be within the Big Ten remember the thoughts of the former Coca-Cola president that screwed up by introducing New Coke:  All of the time and money that the Big Ten is paying consultants to figure out its division will NOT measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to the conference’s traditions by so many people.  If the Big Ten is going to make a grave error in its divisional alignments, at least make it only a Crystal Pepsi mistake instead of a New Coke nuclear bomb on history.

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

(Image from Virgin Media)

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Nothing too off-the-wall to start out the season with my first BlogPoll ballot:

The preseason poll is always a bit of a superficial guess as to where teams stand, but my main overarching thought is that the general love for Boise State in other rankings is a bit overboard.  I have a hard time seeing the Broncos getting out of the first week without a loss (with a de facto road game again Virginia Tech in Landover) and that’s a team that isn’t going to keep a sky-high position in the rankings if they’re not undefeated (even if they beat Oregon State in their third game of the season).

More importantly for me, will the Illini provide me with any type of excuse to submit a semi-justifiable homer vote at any point this season?  Anyone?  Bueller?

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

While the realignment action at the BCS conference level has come to a standstill, BYU is aiming to be a next-tier combination of Notre Dame and Texas and possibly causing a massive upheaval at the non-AQ level with its reported proposal to become a football independent and become a member of the WAC for all other sports.  (The Salt Lake Tribune is calling this a “done deal”.)  If BYU pulls the trigger on going independent, I believe that it would be a brilliant move for the school and, interestingly enough, a great opportunity for the BCS conferences.

BYU has long been one of the most interesting potential players in the college conference realignment story.  From a pure financial and fan base perspective, BYU should’ve been invited to a BCS conference many years ago.  The Cougars sell out every home game, travel en masse to bowl games, and garner a national TV audience with LDS members.  Political factors, though, have killed BYU’s chances of getting into the Pac-10 (as the California-based schools have a myriad of issues where it has clashed with LDS positions) and its no-playing-on-Sunday rule has been a nagging problem for other conferences.  With its in-state rival of Utah heading down the yellow brick road to BCS AQ status in 2011 and the Big IIX unlikely to expand for several years, BYU has been at risk of getting left behind.

Count me in as someone that believes that BCS AQ status is far from a sure thing for the Mountain West Conference.  If there is a way for the other BCS conferences to avoid inviting in the MWC, it will absolutely exploit it – they have ZERO desire to give up $18 million per year and an at-large BCS bowl slot.   If BYU’s leadership has been evaluating everything realistically, they have realized that this is the case and came to the conclusion that if it wants any reasonable chance of becoming one of the insiders to the BCS, it would need to become independent.

Is BYU on the level of Notre Dame in terms of casual fan popularity?  Of course not.  However, BYU has an asset that no other school in the entire country has (and what Texas has banked its entire future upon creating): its own television network.  This isn’t some type of fly-by-night operation.  BYU-TV has a state-of-art studio, the most advanced HD live event production truck in the entire Western half of the United States, 60 million U.S. subscribers (including every single DirecTV household) and 40 million subscribers outside of the U.S. While I have never actually watched BYU-TV and presume that its programming lineup currently consists of telecasts of church services, stories of mission trips, a reality TV show featuring Jim McMahon visiting and reviewing every single bar in Chicago, and the Steve Young edition of “The Bachelor”, the key point is that BYU already has a ready-made and widely distributed cable TV platform to take its sports properties in-house.  My understanding is that BYU makes approximately $1.5 million per year from the current MWC TV deals.  That is a fairly low threshold to cross if the school turns BYU-TV into a revenue generator for sports events (currently, the network relies on donations and subscriptions similar to PBS) since it has 100 million international households already in the fold.  This isn’t even counting the fact that ESPN or another network would likely be willing to pay a premium for BYU’s top games.  If Army and Navy can strike deals on their own with national networks, there’s no reason that BYU wouldn’t be able to do it even better.

That’s all fluff compared to the big picture, though.  Maybe it’s because I have spent my entire life (other than my college years in Champaign) living and/or working in Cook County, but when Slant reader loki_the_bubba posted the initial rumors about this BYU story last night, my immediate thought was this: “Political payoff.” As we all know, this is perfectly legal under Federal law.

There seems to be this growing assumption that an independent BYU won’t be able to receive the same type of preferential treatment from the BCS system as Notre Dame does today.  However, I vehemently disagree with this notion, and it has little to do with college football games themselves and everything to do with Capitol Hill.  Which politician has spent more time bashing the BCS system, calling for hearings on the issue and demanding regulation more than any other?  Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).  What school did Sen. Hatch attend?  Brigham Young University.  Let’s list out the potential scenarios:

SCENARIO A: BYU stays in the MWC.  In 2 years, the MWC meets the BCS AQ numerical criteria and the BCS conferences decide to let the conference into the party.  This means that the BCS conferences have to give up at least $18 million per year and an at-large bowl slot.

SCENARIO B: BYU stays in the MWC.  In 2 years, the MWC meets the BCS AQ numerical criteria, but the BCS conferences decide to keep the MWC on the outside because it makes zero financial sense to invite them in.  Sen. Hatch raises a political and legal shitstorm unlike anything seen before and puts the entire BCS system in jeopardy.

SCENARIO C: BYU becomes a football independent, but the BCS conferences don’t give the school a Notre Dame-type deal.  Sen. Hatch raises a political and legal shitstorm unlike anything seen before and puts the entire BCS system in jeopardy.

SCENARIO D: BYU becomes a football independent and the BCS conferences extend the school a Notre Dame-type deal.  With both Utah and BYU now within the BCS system, Sen. Hatch suddenly has a new-found love for the BCS bowls and Washington leaves college football alone entirely.  Meanwhile, it cuts the legs out from under the MWC and any other viable non-AQ upgrade possibility.

I don’t know about you, but it looks like paying BYU a couple of million bucks per year as an independent under Scenario D in order to preserve a cartel of hundreds of millions of dollars, extinguish its most prominent opponent in Washington AND destroy the MWC’s chances of ever moving up to AQ status makes a whole lot of business and political sense if you’re running the BCS.  Plus, it’s going to be fairly rare that BYU will garner a top 8 final BCS ranking (which is where Notre Dame needs to rank in order to receive an automatic BCS bid), so it virtually preserves an at-large BCS slot for the current AQ conferences.  It’s a win-win-win for BYU, Sen. Hatch and the BCS system overall.  Unfortunately, the MWC will find a new definition of pain and suffering, as it is slowly digested over a thousand years in the Sarlacc pit of the non-AQ world.

In summary, BYU has an international TV network, a widespread built-in following with the LDS, and political clout of the highest order that can be leveraged into BCS access on par with Notre Dame.  From where I’m standing, it almost makes too much sense for BYU to declare its independence.

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

(Image from Deseret News)

Yes, I’m alive and so is this blog.  With the slowdown in conference expansion news, it was a good time to take a summer break after going non-stop for the first 6 months of the year.  However, the start of the football season is only a couple of weeks away, so the activity will be picking up once again (less on expansion and more on actual football).  I’ll be voting in the BlogPoll (which will likely continue to be found on CBS Sports.com) this year, so there will be a weekly post during the season with my selections at the very least, which all of you can rip apart with impunity.  If you want to lobby me on behalf of your favorite team, please feel free to do so, as well.  To keep you occupied until that starts up for the year, here’s my look at where the BCS conferences stand regarding realignment issues using the Department of Homeland Security Advisory System:

OSCAR THE GROUCH THREAT LEVEL

BIG TEN

The Big Ten continues to be in control of any future conference expansion nationwide.  With the addition of Nebraska, the conference now has a championship game and can expect to receive a large uptick in its national TV revenue in the next few years with the popularity of the Huskers.  The East Coast bastion of the Wall Street Journal, which one might have expected to push the Big Ten to grab Rutgers or Syracuse, showered a ton of praise on the conference’s marriage with Nebraska last week and pointed out that this was a significant shift in college football that has flown under the radar with all of the Texas/Big IIX drama.  I believe that I speak for the majority of Big Ten fans in being incredibly excited to see Nebraska start Big Ten play in 2011.

I just hope that the Big Ten doesn’t f**k things up with a wacky divisional alignment.  I’ll repeat what I noted in my post from a few weeks ago: Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS).  Most proponents of a gerrymandered divisional alignment like to point out the dominance of the Big 12 South over the Big 12 North over the past several years as an example of the danger of a pure geographic alignment, yet forget that the Big 12 North was the dominant division for the first few years of that conference’s existence.  I’m exponentially more fearful of the aimless ACC divisional alignment which has no logic and broke off natural rivalries.  Karma has been a bitch for the ACC since it has never ended up its intended result of a Florida State-Miami championship game.  I don’t want to see the Big Ten make the same mistake.

I’m not surprised by the choice of Indianapolis as the site of the first Big Ten Championship Game, although my preference would’ve been Chicago, which is the conference’s marquee market and has a cross-section of alums from all of the Big Ten schools.  Personally, I don’t think cold outdoor weather really should be an issue for Big Ten football from a competitive standpoint, but it does matter to TV interests.  The Big Ten and ABC likely want to place the Big Ten Championship Game in a prime time slot, and while the cold weather is bearable when at least the first half is played in the daylight, it is a rough experience at Soldier Field or Lambeau Field for a typical December night game.  I blame all of this on the choice of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois to drop a UFO in the middle of the Soldier Field columns instead of building a brand-new domed/retractable-roof stadium for the same cost (or even less) that could’ve been in the rotation for Final Fours and Super Bowls.  (Cost to renovate Soldier Field from 2001-2003, which reduced seating capacity by over 5,000: $625 million.  Cost to build University of Phoenix Stadium from scratch from 2003-2006 with a retractable roof and North America’s first roll-out grass field: $455 million.  Which taxpayer base got its money’s worth?)   It is ridiculous that Indianapolis is consistently beating out Chicago for top-tier sports events – this is the equivalent of Hartford getting marquee properties over New York City.

As for future expansion, the Big Ten would likely be able to grab any school other than Notre Dame and Texas.  The issue, of course, is that it’s doubtful that the Big Ten really wants any school other than Notre Dame and Texas right now.  If Rutgers or Syracuse can go on a run of BCS bowl appearances to generate New York/New Jersey interest in college football again, then that could change things, but all indications right now are that integrating Nebraska is the top priority unless the Irish or Longhorns change their minds.

Notre Dame still remains a Big Ten expansion possibility in the long-term for one major reason: academics.  The leadership at the school has continued to be open to joining the Big Ten because it believes that could aid Notre Dame into gaining membership with the American Association of Universities.  This top-line academic priority for the university directly clashes with the Irish alumni base’s unwavering need to retain independence at all costs.  Notre Dame’s leadership is in a bind since the school arguably grants more power to its alumni base over university affairs than any other BCS school, which means that crossing them results in putting their own heads on the chopping block regardless of whether they believe moving to the Big Ten makes sense academically and financially.  I don’t envy the people in charge of Notre Dame at all – independence is an integral part of the school’s identity, which is why the alumni base fights so hard for it, but it may hold the school back from achieving its ultimate academic goals and, as the Big Ten and SEC continue to expand their revenue advantages over everyone else, will negatively impact the athletic program’s success, as well.  Eventually, there will be a group of leaders at Notre Dame that will be willing to risk career suicide by having the school join the Big Ten, but those people will likely be from the current undergraduate population’s generation that cares more about ND being an academically elite school than its football status.  That group likely won’t come into power for another two decades.

Texas, on the other hand, is going to ride its proposed Bevo TV like Zorro for the foreseeable future.  I’ll get to more about this later on, but suffice to say, there won’t be any marriage between the Big Ten and Texas with the school’s approach to using and abusing conferences.

So, a 12-school Big Ten is going to be the new status quo for awhile.  There will still some long-term demographic challenges as the US population continues to move to the Sun Belt and the coasts, but as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, the addition of Nebraska is one of those rare moves that will make both the financial bean counters in Park Ridge and the fans in the stands and living rooms happy.

SEC

The SEC stands alongside the Big Ten as the most stable and powerful conferences in the country.  Whether the SEC can realistically grow is an open question.  Unlike the Big Ten, which was at an unstable 11 members without a championship game and positioned in the middle of the country where it could conceivably expand anywhere except for the West Coast, the SEC hasn’t had an urgent need to get bigger.  It doesn’t really want to expand unless there’s: (1) a large market added and (2) an upgrade to the conference’s academic profile.  The lingering perception that the SEC wants to tear apart the ACC (or can actually do it) is a ridiculous notion.  The two schools that would add the most to the SEC from the ACC, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, are two of the least likely schools to ever consider an SEC invitation (as I’ll discuss in a bit).  West Virginia has the Big East’s best traveling fan base but its worst TV market, so that doesn’t make very much sense, either.

As a result, the state of Texas is the only potential goldmine left for the SEC, but as we’ve seen with the stunning non-breakup of the Big IIX, pulling off anyone from that conference would entail adding a bloc of schools en masse (and the Pac-10 found out that not even that could work).  The SEC really only cares about Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma – virtually everyone else in the Big IIX is worthless filler from a financial perspective.  The conference wants nothing to do with Texas Tech, Baylor and/or Oklahoma State, which may all be political requirements for those that want any of the Big III from the Big IIX.  Missouri is in the same position with the SEC as it is the Big Ten – decent market with a decent sports program, but not revenue accretive enough to justify expanding for.  ESPN’s analysts will continue to slob the knob of the SEC on the field, yet there really isn’t that much that it can (or should) do off the field.  Mike Slive might engage in some saber-rattling about the conference maintaining its power if other conferences expand beyond 12 teams, but realistically, he knows that the SEC has a great set-up today and is never going to expand just for the sake of keeping up in terms of sheer numbers of members.

COOKIE MONSTER THREAT LEVEL

PAC-10/12

The Pac-10 went for the proverbial jugular with its offer to invite half of the Big 12, but ultimately ended up with only Colorado and Utah.  These are decent additions for the Pac-10 as geographic and cultural fits, but they don’t really raise the national profile of the conference in the Eastern and Central Time Zones.  The Pac-10 is obviously performing its due diligence on forming a new TV network with former Big 12 Commissioner and Big Ten Network president Kevin Weiberg in the fold.  However, there is valid skepticism out there that it could ever come close to being as financially successful as the BTN (fan intensity is lower, , which means that the conference might not add that much more TV revenue taking games in-house compared to signing a larger comprehensive deal with ESPN or other established cable networks.

Still, the Pac-10’s main disadvantage from a TV perspective is a great advantage from a conference alignment viewpoint: its West Coast location.  The Big Ten and SEC won’t even think of touching any of the Pac-10 schools, which means that the Western conference is safe from any possible poachers.  The Pac-10 is safe and stable for the foreseeable future, which means that it’s worth any exit fee that Colorado may have to pay to the clusterf**k of the Big IIX.  As with the Big Ten and SEC, the state of Texas is really the main market that actually can move the meter for the Pac-10, and considering the manner in which talks broke down between the Pac-10 and the University of Texas harem, it may forever be an unattainable goal.

BERT THREAT LEVEL

ACC

I’ll repeat what I’ve stated several times on this blog: the ACC is MUCH safer than the general public gives it credit for.  Even though the SEC and Big Ten could theoretically offer more money to any of the ACC members, it may not be enough of a difference to overcome the charter member status of schools such as Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina (who have been mentioned at various times in connection with the Big Ten and/or SEC) or the academic prestige gap between the ACC and SEC.  Note that the ACC is the only conference other than the Big Ten that has an academic consortium and, for lack of a better term, it has “snobby” members and leaders that aren’t very willing to jump to the SEC compared to football-focused fans.  Virginia Tech on paper would seem to be the main school that might have some interest in the SEC, but with the way that the University of Virginia was hamstrung by Virginia politicians to force the Hokies into the ACC back in 2003, VT leaving the ACC and the commonwealth’s flagship university that expended a ton of political capital several years ago for more money in the SEC is not going to work with the Virginia legislature.

The new TV deal that the ACC has in place with ESPN cements the ACC’s stability even further.  Really, the only reason why the ACC is at “Bert Level” is that Maryland could very well fit into the Big Ten and there might be at least a tiny bit of mutual interest, but the Big Ten’s desire in going toward the East Coast appears to be predicated on Notre Dame coming along, too.  There is definitely nothing that the Big East could offer to draw Boston College back – Eastern fans might constantly bemoan the geography, but that school is clearing so much bank compared to what it had before that its leaders don’t care.  Thus, the ACC is in good shape overall.

ERNIE THREAT LEVEL

BIG EAST

Here’s where the conference realignment discussion gets interesting again.  From one perspective, the Big East could be considered extremely vulnerable due to its geographic proximity to the Big Ten and ACC, fairly good academic institutions, large markets on paper and disjointed sports membership.  On the other hand, if none of the individual schools are actually revenue positive to the Big Ten or ACC, then they aren’t going to be expansion targets and the conference is de facto safe as no one has anywhere else to turn.  As I mentioned in connection with Maryland above, the Big Ten’s East Coast strategy is tied in with Notre Dame, so as long as the Irish stay independent, the Big Ten is not likely to expand again in the near future.

As a result, the Big East is somewhat safe, but it’s also stuck.  There isn’t an obvious football expansion candidate east of the Mississippi River (Memphis, UCF, ECU and Temple are usual “meh” suspects) and even if there was, the hybrid football/non-football membership complicates anything getting done.  Villanova moving up from FCS to FBS has been thrown around as an option, yet even if the school decided to upgrade tomorrow, it would take several years to make that transition.  Futhermore, if Villanova somehow completed the upgrade, it’s hard to see why the school could really draw more or perform better at the FBS level than its Philly neighbor of Temple, which got kicked out of the Big East as a football-only member even when the conference was looking for warm bodies in the wake of the 2003 ACC raid.

I’d still recommend that the Big East go after TCU plus one other school to go up to 18 overall members and 10 football members since I believe that TCU is the main school in the country besides BYU that is a true BCS-level program that’s stuck in a non-BCS conference and it’s never going to get an invite from its regionally-friendly Big IIX (as it has no need for yet another Texas-based school).  The other usual suspects for Big East expansion typically use the “If we were in a BCS conference, we’d be SOOOOO much better” argument, which is akin to saying that you’re a no-talent ass clown that can churn out hit records with the aid of a vocoder.  (I’m looking at you, Kei$ha.)  The Big East doesn’t need project programs – it needs greater respect immediately and a material improvement to its national TV contract.  TCU at least provides a chance for the Big East on those fronts.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Big East leadership is forward thinking in that way at all.

A split between the football members and the Catholic schools has long been blog and message board fodder, yet the fact remains that the Big East basketball contract (which is larger than the football contract) depends upon the large markets that those Catholic universities provide.  Therefore, a split won’t happen unless there’s a big-time incentive to do so (i.e. the Big IIX splits apart and a bunch of BCS programs need a new home).

As for the prospects of a Big East TV network, call me EXTREMELY skeptical that it could work.  If the Pac-10 is going to have a tough time making a network pay off financially, and that’s a conference with significantly better market penetration on the West Coast than the Big East on the East Coast, then I don’t know how a Big East network could ever get off the ground.  The Big Ten Network had a perfect storm of a top-level cable partner (Fox) that provided national carriage immediately (Fox had control of DirecTV at BTN’s launch) plus large schools with large alumni bases that REALLY care about college sports located in large markets that don’t have a lot of regional cable network competition.  It’s a different proposition to attempt to get a network onto basic cable in the New York City area, which already pays for YES, SNY and MSG, when the Big East isn’t even the clear dominant conference in that region.  (The most popular conference in the Mid-Atlantic according to a 2007 NCAA study: the Big Ten.)  Without NYC, the Big East network simply won’t come to fruition (and conference helper Paul Tagliabue apparently agreed when he bashed the notion of people on Long Island watching Rutgers after their tennis matches).

So, the Big East is in a stalled car.  Individual members that want to get into the Big Ten (Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt) might actually wish that things were more fluid again, but until Notre Dame wants something other than independence, the Big East will talk publicly about “exploring” plans for a TV network and expansion and implement absolutely none of them.

ELMO THREAT LEVEL

BIG IIX

Oh, the Big IIX.  The more that I think about how this conference is still alive, the more that I understand how guys like Bernie Madoff can steal millions from otherwise smart people.  Dan Ponzi Beebe sold a handshake deal to academic leaders holding degrees galore with millions of dollars of unwritten promises based on (1) supposed future TV income that won’t be negotiated until a few years from now and (2) exit fees from Nebraska and Colorado that will be tied up in litigation for years and will likely be significantly discounted from the current sticker price.  Not only that, but some Big IIX people have actually deluded themselves into thinking that Arkansas would leave the SEC and Notre Dame would give up its entire identity as an independent to join this “conference” based on future revenue that doesn’t yet exist and isn’t in writing ANYWHERE.  WTF?!

How schools like Texas A&M bought this bullshit (and that’s what it is – complete bullshit) is beyond me.  The Aggies have good reason to get quite restless without ANY paper trail regarding these promises.  Of course, who knows why the heck the school would’ve agreed to all of this without something in writing in the first place, which makes it harder to defend a new “F**k you, pay me” stance.

Outside of A&M, I firmly believe that the University of Texas will rue the day that it spurned the Pac-10’s offer to add half of the current Big 12 (even if Texas A&M went separately to the SEC) – it will NEVER get a better opportunity to be in an upgraded academic conference with larger markets AND bring along a bunch of its regional rivals.  Instead, UT has banked its entire future on its own TV network and has even started making non-conference scheduling decisions based upon it by killing off a series with Minnesota over a video rights dispute.  Texas better be damn sure that this TV network is going to work because I’m still flabbergasted that this is the route that it chose to take when it had virtually every single option (Pac-16, Big Ten, SEC, independence, even the ACC) on the table.  In a few years, when everyone figures out that the TV revenue that Ponzi Beebe promised won’t ever materialize, Texas may not have any choice other than the Big IIX because no other conference is going to turn over the requisite TV rights that would make Bevo TV viable.

Plus, the Texas legislature made sure that everyone respected its authoritah.  For all of the power that UT is supposed to have in the college football world, it was made clear in this realignment process that it will be forever shackled to at least Texas Tech, which is much more problematic than being only paired up with the fairly attractive Texas A&M.  As a lone free agent, Texas is arguably the most valuable program that any conference can get (even above Notre Dame), but when it has to bring along 4 or 5 others, then it’s a completely different value proposition and the school isn’t nearly as enticing.  The Pac-16 deal was the main chance that Texas could break away from at least Baylor and let Texas A&M go its own way, yet now it has foreclosed a whole bunch of long-term options unless things happen outside of its control (i.e. A&M bolts to the SEC by itself).  The Big Ten and SEC aren’t going to offer to add schools en masse like the Pac-10 did and if the Texas legislature freaked out about UT separating from its other in-state brethren to go to another conference, I don’t see how it could ever try to go independent (which is probably the situation the school is best suited for in a perfect world).

Essentially, the Big IIX is held together by Bevo TV, some Texas politicians and a bunch of unwritten promises from Ponzi Beebe.  No wonder why Nebraska and Colorado ran out as quickly as possible and Missouri has been begging for a Big Ten invite for months.  I guarantee you that NU and CU are going to settle for a whole lot less than what the Big IIX is demanding in exit fees since UT will have zero desire to allow what they’ve done behind the scenes over the past several months to be aired out publicly in court.  Big IIX could possibly add some schools from the Mountain West or C-USA if it wanted to, but with the reprieve from ABC/ESPN where it will pay the current level of TV rights fees even with two fewer members and no conference championship game, the financial incentive isn’t there.  With the Longhorns’ first-priority needs to have league leadership control and its TV network above all else, I believe that the only conference other than the Big IIX that they might end up in over the next few years is a brand new one that they create from scratch as opposed to an existing BCS conference.  Therefore, Texas isn’t going to be the first mover in any future conference realignment scenarios (just as it was the case this past summer).  It will be up to a school such as Texas A&M to have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the legislative powers that be and act in its own interests as a university if it wants to leave the Big IIX.

As of today, all is quiet on the conference realignment front.  That’s not a bad thing as we can watch some actual football again.

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

(Image from flicker)