Archive for August, 2011

As we come ever so closer to something official somewhere about Texas A&M moving to the SEC, the college football world has naturally turned to speculating on who is going to be SEC school number 14.  I can buy that the SEC might spend a year or two at 13 schools, but with divisional play having long been in place, an odd number of members is not going to work long-term in the same manner that it did for the Big Tweleven.

Mr. SEC had a nice breakdown of the SEC’s realistic expansion options last week and I agree with his overarching point that there are not nearly as many choices for Mike Slive as the average college football fan believes.  (Note that Mr. SEC is as close to that conference as anyone, so he’s not some biased and blasphemous Big Ten blogger like yours truly.)  I’ll reiterate my belief once again that the ACC is much, much, much stronger than so many people that just see the recent results on the field, current TV contract cycle, and preponderance of hookers and blow in Miami seem to give it credit for.  The ACC has extremely strong academics (which, whether sports fans like it or not, actually matter to academic institutions) along with a core of UNC, Duke and UVA that’s never going to realistically leave.  Mr. SEC’s contention (and I once again agree with him) is that when you’re not including ACC schools (although I’ll evaluate a few of them as cursory measure in a moment) and it should be assumed that the Big Ten and Pac-12 aren’t poachable, then the list of schools that can (1) add value to the SEC and (2) aren’t tied down by home state politics (i.e. the Oklahoma – Oklahoma State situation) is cut down to Missouri, West Virginia and Pitt.  That’s it.  As a result, Mike Slive just can’t start blowing up other conferences like Emperor Palpatine (not that it’s in his best interest to do so, anyway).  Let’s take a look at those 3 schools along with a handful of specific ACC members that often get mentioned as potential SEC candidates:

VIRGINIA TECH

Virginia Tech is probably the most oft-rumored addition to the SEC these days and it certainly makes sense from a financial perspective.  The Hokies have a large fan base that also opens up a brand new fast-growing Southern state for the SEC while providing access to the Washington, DC market.  Here’s the problem (and I know many readers believe I harp on this too much): Virginia state politics.

Let’s take a look at the historical timeline of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s ACC members:

1819 – The dude that wrote the Declaration of Independence founds Big Brother University.

1872 – Little Brother University is founded.

1953 – Big Brother becomes a founding member of the ACC.  Little Brother kicks around in the Southern Conference and then as an independent later on.

1991 – Little Brother joins the Big East.

2003 – Big Brother’s league raids Little Brother’s league.  Little Brother then gets Virginia politicians to pressure Big Brother to scuttle the league’s expansion plans entirely in order to have Little Brother join instead.  It works!

Does that timeline really look like a situation where Little Brother can go and completely screw Big Brother only 8 years when Big Brother directly called in favors to get Little Brother into the ACC?  Make no mistake about it – UVA would be screwed in this situation.  The notion that UV A would be unscathed if Virginia Tech left is a fallacy.  If we believe that the ACC would lose TV money with Virginia Tech leaving (very possible) and/or even worse, the long-term stability of the ACC that UVA founded (another strong possibility), then Virginia legislators are going to put the smackdown on that move.  It’s not just about the ACC or UVA simply surviving here.  At least in the case of Texas A&M, leaving for the SEC wasn’t ever going to damage Texas financially at all and in a strict political sense, the Aggies is closer to UT’s equal in terms of power.  The Commonwealth of Virginia, however, is heavily ACC country and it wouldn’t go over well to see a Virginia-based university that begged politicians to force it in then turn around and completely destabilize it less than a decade later. As a result, I don’t believe that Virginia Tech going to the SEC is realistic.  It’s the best combo of new markets and solid football for the SEC, but that doesn’t mean that they’re attainable.  There’s NFW that a public flagship university that was founded by Thomas Jefferson is going to get screwed by a fellow in-state institution here.

(It’s certainly ironic that a school that the ACC didn’t originally want in 2003 may end up being the key to the conference’s long-term stability.  Just as UVA had circumstantial veto power when the ACC last expanded due to the UNC/Duke bloc against any type of addition, Virginia Tech has ended up in the position where it may singlehandedly determine whether the ACC stays intact.  That’s the type of position that legislators love to pounce upon.)

NORTH CAROLINA STATE

Here’s a link to the website of the  University of North Carolina system.  If you look at the list of institutions controlled by the UNC Board of Governors, you’ll find North Carolina State University listed there.  This means the UNC system has to ultimately approve any conference move by NC State.  If you haven’t figured out by now why UNC and NC State will never, ever be separated, I can’t help you.  Considering UNC isn’t going to ever head to SEC for academic and control reasons, NC State isn’t going anywhere, either.

FLORIDA STATE

Florida State is really the only ACC school that I could realistically see heading to the SEC.  Its Big Brother is the one that’s already in the SEC, so this isn’t a situation where Little Brother would somehow be abandoning Big Brother like Virginia Tech or NC State.  It’s probably up to the University of Florida as to whether FSU would get an invite.  The rumored “Gentlemen’s Agreement” among SEC schools to not add any expansion candidates in current SEC states seems more rooted in giving deference to fellow in-state institutions as opposed to some type of outright ban.  FSU doesn’t bring a new market, but the Seminoles clearly have the top national football brand in the ACC and that may trump any territorial overlap concerns with the Gators.

CLEMSON

Clemson is one of the other ACC schools that may accept an SEC invite despite the difference in academics, but the issue is whether Clemson actually brings much to the SEC.  I find Clemson to be more of a fan-based wish as opposed to a financially-sound addition.  To be clear, Clemson has a great fan base and solid athletic programs across-the-board.  However, I think that the SEC looks at them in the same manner that the Big Ten looks at Pitt: a great fit in everything but straight cash homey.  The SEC already has the flagship in Clemson’s home state of South Carolina with a relatively low population while the Tigers don’t have the national name of FSU to compensate.  If you could move the Clemson campus to virtually any state outside of the current SEC footprint, then it would be a top target.  Unfortunately, the one thing that a school can’t change is location unless it’s an online diploma mill.  Speaking of Pitt, by the way…

PITTSBURGH

Even as a guy that is largely known as the blogger that wrote about the possibility of Big Ten adding Texas, the thought of Pitt going to the SEC feels geographically out of whack even though the actual distance may not actually be as far as you think.  It’s a strange thought on the surface and not a cultural or institutional fit, although with the footprint and mishmash of different types of schools in the Big East now, we’re probably at the point where it doesn’t matter.  Pitt has everything checked off that you’d want in a school with great academics, a long football history, and a top tier basketball program.  This would be purely a money play for the SEC to get into Pennsylvania, though, and while money is certainly factor #1 in any conference decision, those types of moves generally don’t work out without some intangible cultural and institutional ties, too.  Pitt might end up being the beneficiary of the domino effect in the event that the SEC takes Florida State and then the ACC needs a replacement (where the Panthers would be a much better match).

WEST VIRGINIA

A year ago, I couldn’t see any reasonable way for West Virginia to end up in the SEC.  Now, though, the Mountaineers might be the most realistic frontrunner with the way everything has played out.  WVU is pretty similar to Iowa – a rabid statewide fan base in a small immediate market but whose grads disperse to major markets nearby and have an incredible traveling reputation.  (Differences: WVU has a functioning basketball team along with top tier rifle and couch burning programs.)  The Mountaineers would be a great cultural fit with the SEC while getting the conference some exposure in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Whether the SEC can get over the school’s small market the way that the Big Ten got over Nebraska’s low population base is another story.

MISSOURI

Ah, Mizzou.  I know that there are a lot of Missouri fans that are convinced that I have it in for them as an Illinois alum, but to be honest, it would’ve been great strictly from an Illini perspective to have had the Tigers as a conference rival in the Big Ten.  The issue was that Mizzou is the kind of school that makes a lot of sense in a multi-school expansion (good TV markets, academics, football and basketball), yet they aren’t necessarily stellar enough in any category to make them the lone addition.  The SEC is probably going to look at Mizzou in a similar fashion, where they likely weren’t going to make the Tigers the primary target but could be very attractive in a pairing with Texas A&M.

My somewhat educated opinion is that the ACC is going to stay intact, so it’s going to come down to a choice between West Virginia and Missouri for the SEC.  Mizzou has the advantage in TV markets and recruiting areas, while West Virginia has the edge in cultural fit and fan base intensity.  If I were in Mike Slive’s shoes, I’d choose Missouri, but I’m getting the impression that Mizzou may stick around the Big 12 minus 2 minus 1.  That’s what happens when your university president heads up the Big 12 expansion search.  As a result, West Virginia is who I’d wager on becoming SEC school #14.

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

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Before we get to the latest conference realignment news of Texas A&M sending an effective break-up letter to Dan Beebe and the Big 12, let’s take a moment to pour out some Cris in memory of the Cy-Hawk Trophy Version 2.0.  It lived for less than a week, but it left an indelible image in the minds of Americans the same way that the chick from The Exorcist warms your heart the first time you see her head turn around 180 degrees.  Only this trophy could make the Altoona Senior Bowling League Trophy with a Mold-a-Rama Lion Pasted on the Side (known in some circles as “The Land Grant Trophy”) look like the freaking Stanley Cup by comparison, which was a phenomenal achievement.  It’s a shame that it received a Suge Knight cap in its ass before it even had a chance to explore the world.

As for Texas A&M changing its status to “Single” on its Facebook account, it’s been something that’s been coming down the pike for the last couple of weeks.  What’s interesting is that my questioning of the financial parameters on the SEC side was confirmed by a conference official in the New York Times:

The official acknowledged that because of the length and structure of the SEC’s current television contract, adding Texas A&M and a 14th member would not be financially beneficial from a rights standpoint.

Texas A&M and Team No. 14 are expected to receive a pro rata share equal to what the SEC’s 12 current universities are making: an average of about $18 million in league payouts. (Individual universities can make more money from their separate television deals.)

The SEC deal, which ends in 2025, has a few windows when it can be renegotiated but no one from the SEC or the networks expects any radical change.

So, this move is NOT about the SEC being able to reopen its television deal in order to gain more money than what the United States currently has on hand to pay Social Security checks (as so many people have assumed).  Maybe the SEC sees this as the one opportunity to get A&M in the next couple of decades and that’s why they’re moving now despite not being able to realize much (if any) TV revenue from their addition until after 2024.  Whatever the reasoning might be, it seems that since the SEC can’t just open up its TV contracts again by expansion, such expansion is going to be kept at a minimum for now.  As a result, the obituaries being pre-written for the Big 12 and ACC from the SEC supposedly going into 16-school superconference mode immediately are way too premature.  The SEC will need to find a school #14 fairly soon, but who knows who it will be.  (I do NOT believe for a second that it will be Virginia Tech, but I’ll write about that more extensively in a separate post.)  Right now, appears that either (a) the Big 12 will lose another school to the SEC on top of A&M, such as Missouri or (b) the Big 12 and one of either the ACC or Big East (maybe West Virginia) may lose a school to the SEC, yet in each event those leagues will still continue to live.

This gets to this question: who the hell would join the Big 12 after losing A&M and maybe another school?

Let’s start by putting some asinine “Notre Dame to the Big 12” proposals to rest.  Somehow, a friendship between Jack Swarbrick and DeLoss Dodds with a 4-game football series over the course of 8 years has been transformed by some in Big 12 country to signal Texas and Notre Dame working together to split up the college football universe.  (Examples of this aren’t just in Texas, but the Kool-Aid is spreading all the way to St. Louis, too.)  Putting aside the fact that Notre Dame would effectively throw away, well, ALL of its rivalries in this scenario in order to play Texas Tech, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and friends (as opposed to the more simple solution of just playing the two schools that are of interest them of Texas and Oklahoma as an independent… which ND happens to be already doing), I’ll reiterate what I’ve stated several times on this blog before: independence is a school identity issue for Notre Dame, NOT a TV money issue.  It continues to amaze me how many people think the money that ND is getting from NBC is somehow special when Northwestern and Washington State are absolutely murdering the Irish on that metric in their respective conferences’ equal revenue sharing arrangements.  The point is that ND isn’t independent in order to maintain an NBC contract.  Instead, it’s the other way around: ND has an NBC contract as a means to maintain independence.  In other words, the endgame for ND is independence in and of itself (not the money that is made from being independent, as the school has plenty of money from its alumni base).  Thus, all of the suggestions that the Longhorn Network shows how the Big 12 could offer ND a way to keep its NBC contract are completely irrelevant, as even if that were the threshold issue (and it isn’t), the Big East would gladly take in ND on that basis or, better yet, they could just stay independent.  Now, if we get to a model where there are 4 16-school superconferences and you structurally MUST be a member of one of those 4 leagues in order to have access to the national championship game, then that’s the point where ND would join a conference.  It won’t be a moment before that point, though.

Getting that out of the way, let’s take a look at some realistic candidates to join the Big 12:

1. BYU – This is really the Big 12’s best target that would almost assuredly accept.  I’ve gone over why I believe that BYU would actually be fairly successful as an independent and that translates into being a viable addition to an AQ conference like either the Big East or Big 12.  Based on fan base size and long-term TV value, BYU is clearly the most valuable school available in the non-AQ ranks.

2. Louisville – While conference realignment is all about football, it should be noted that UL was #2 in the country in basketball revenue in its last season in Freedom Hall.  With its new Yum! Center (or as I like to call it, the “KenTacoHut Center”) revenue, the school will almost assuredly be #1 on that list when last year’s figures come out.  At the same time, UL has a solid football fan base that has simply been beaten down by some horrible coaching over the past few years.  If I were Dan Beebe, my plan would be to extend invites to BYU and Louisville immediately after A&M makes it exit.  The issue with Louisville is that they may prefer to stay in the Big East, although that particular league may not come out unscathed if the ACC takes a replacement school or two from there.  I’ve talked to a number of Louisville alums who, at a fan level, do not support a move to the Big 12, but if we’re talking about a league that’s reasonably assured of keeping both Texas and Oklahoma, UL’s leadership might see things differently.

3.  TCU – A Big 12 with both UT and A&M has zero need to add any other Texas-based schools.  With A&M leaving, though, quality becomes more of a concern than markets and it may be more beneficial to go even further into the Texas market compared to some of the other non-BYU non-AQ options out there.  I had been pushing TCU to the Big East for a very long time and was happy to see that marriage happen, yet there’s a chance that they’ll never move in together.  Like Louisville, though, the Big 12 may actually not be that attractive compared to the Big East right now. Adding TCU would be a good football move for the Big 12, but the good (and/or forced) political move would possibly be adding…

4. Houston – There seems to be two schools of thought regarding Houston going to the Big 12.  The first is that this would be a nice move from a political perspective, where the leaving of one Texas-based university from the Big 12 opens up an AQ spot for another school from the state.  If we also believe that UT enjoys tons of control, this is yet another school that it can lean on for the long-term.  The other school of thought, though, is that UT would want nothing to do with Houston.  In essence, it’s almost too easy of a political bailout for A&M while UT ends up being forced to always take care of UH down the line if the Longhorns ever want to explore other options (i.e. heading to a Pac-16).  We’re already seeing some Texas politicians getting into the act on this front.  A year ago, I would’ve put UH near the bottom of the list of any possible Big 12 candidates.  Now, though, they may very well be the most likely next addition.

5.  UNLV - Location, location, location.  This market ought to have a pro franchise yet all of the leagues are still spooked by the tiny bit of gambling that occurs here.  Nevada is also the most populous state that doesn’t have an AQ school.  I’m always surprised that UNLV doesn’t get a little more love in these conference realignment scenarios.  As far as the non-AQ schools go, they have some fairly nice attributes with virtually no local competition (albeit with more value on the basketball side as opposed to football).

6. Air Force – National following and generally performs the best out of the service academies.  From a pure financial perspective, Air Force might be right behind BYU in terms of desirability.  As for actual football, though, there’s a big-time risk that the Falcons will have competitive issues at the AQ level in the way that Army couldn’t even handle C-USA.  There’s simply always going to be a limit to how well Air Force could ever perform (not that this is unjustified, as its students have far more important duties than playing football).

7.  New Mexico – Flagship university of a fast-growing state with an excellent basketball fan base.  The problem: they’re to football what Rebecca Black is to singing.

8.  Memphis – Ditto, only it’s not a flagship.

9/10.  SMU/Rice – All you need to know is here.

Purely throwing crap against the wall right now, I’d say that A&M is the only loss from the Big 12, which will spur DeLoss Doss… er… the conference to invite BYU, Houston and UNLV to get back up to 12.  In other news, we have real football games being played next week.  It can’t come soon enough.

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

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Well, I strive on this blog to be 100% right approximately 1% of the time.  I’ll have to co-sign this column by Stewart Mandel: it’s looking more and more like I was wrong about the Texas A&M to the SEC rumors (as he also admitted), but it still doesn’t quite make sense to either of us from a rational perspective.  Up until literally a few hours ago, it has all looked like completely fan-based chatter.  I’m honestly taken aback that it now appears that the SEC university presidents are going to meet on Sunday to discuss an A&M invite and the school’s Board of Regents will follow up with a meeting on Monday.  (We’ll address various rumors regarding schools like Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Missouri if necessary if something actually happens next week.)  I’ve always understood why Texas A&M fans wanted to go to the SEC and frankly, never disputed that it would be a good move for them.  The SEC is absolutely a superior conference to the Big 12 (both competitively and financially) and any Longhorns that think A&M wouldn’t benefit from moving are being disingenuous.  That’s the whole reason why that I argued in my last post that it would be UT people more than those from Baylor or Texas Tech that would work to block such a move.  I certainly understand the resentment/anger factor, as well.  As an Illinois alum, I’m still envious of Michigan’s central connection to the The Big Chill, which is a landmark achievement in the history of white people dancing.  Despite some interesting comments from various A&M factions about my loyalties or biases, I personally have nothing against the Aggies at all.

That being said, I share Mandel’s befuddlement about what’s in it for the SEC (although for slightly different reasons).  Let me be clear: my opinion has nothing to do about the value of Texas A&M itself.  As I’ve stated many times before, Texas A&M is extremely valuable and I could see why the SEC would want them in a vacuum where there is no domino effect on the rest of the college football landscape or there’s a clean slate in terms of TV contracts.  However, there’s a fairly good chance that we’ll see significant domino effects if this move occurs and, more importantly, it continues to be unclear to me how the SEC can monetize expansion with the length of its current TV contracts with ESPN and CBS.  Dennis Dodd yesterday stated that all conferences have a “look-in” provision that Mike Slive had described, so it’s not as if though that the SEC has some unique terms here where they get to expand at will in a manner that other conferences aren’t able to do.  At the very least, it’s not as easy as “expansion = look-in trigger = more $$$”, or else we’d see conferences expand every single time that their own TV contracts fell behind by a little bit.  To paraphrase a wise little green dude, that leads to fear, and fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.  To the extent that the SEC can open up its current TV contracts by expanding, every other conference can do it, too.  If it’s that “easy”, then the conference with the most incentive to expand is the ACC considering that the deal that they signed last year is looking quite outdated and could get outpaced by the Big East next year if the status quo holds.  It’s for those reasons why conferences only have a “look-in” when they expand, but networks have an explicit termination right in the event of conference contraction.

From a long-term perspective, Texas A&M certainly adds a ton of value to the SEC.  The Aggies have a rabid fan base and truly bring in the entire state of Texas as a market.  The recruiting benefits are also unquestioned.  Still, I still haven’t hard anyone explain how the SEC is going to cajole ESPN and CBS to throw more money around when their TV contracts last until the mid-2020s.  It’s one thing for those networks to maintain a good working relationship with the SEC, but entirely another to have to throw hundreds of millions of more at contracts that are locked-in for over a decade. Maybe ESPN and CBS could ensure that the SEC schools still get the same per-school share (so the current SEC members end up being revenue neutral), but those two networks, who have dealt with much larger entities like the NFL, aren’t simply going to be pushovers and provide some type of massive financial incentive that would encourage expansion.

I also know that a lot of readers believe that I overemphasize state politics, but I’ll continue to disagree on front.  Texas A&M might procedurally be able to get around Texas politicians by approving the move to the SEC on Monday in a year when the legislature is not in session.  (And I thought Illinois legislators were lazy! We’ll still take down anyone in blatant corruption, though.)  However, as a practical matter, the A&M Board of Regents are going to have to work with these legislators in the long-term, so it’s not as if though they can just ignore them.  Besides, if I’m a state legislator, do you think I want to put out more sound bites about crushing budget deficits, ignoring entitlement/pension reform and and failing to cure stagnant job growth?  Fuck that shit.  I’d be all over talking about college football like white on rice under any possible tangential hook.  (The federal guys in Washington certainly do it regularly when they complain about the BCS.)  Maybe it’s a moot point and the Aggies know that they have the requisite political support, but that’s to be determined in the maybe-too-late Texas House Higher Education Committee meeting that’s supposed to take place on Tuesday.

Last year, the entire world was convinced that the Pac-16 was a “done deal” on a Friday without any doubt in anyone’s mind, but after a weekend of rampant discussions, it ended up collapsing within a few days.  In conference realignment discussions, absolutely nothing is a done deal until you see an announcement with both the inviter and the invitee at a press conference with signed paperwork.  This goes double in the case of public universities located in the state of Texas.  Also note that Tony Barnhart (about as plugged-in with Mike Slive as anyone) and Mr. SEC seem to intimate that it’s not necessarily full speed ahead from the SEC side with a lot more smoke coming from College Station as opposed to Birmingham.

So, while it looks there’s a good chance that I’m going to be eating some crow with a Texas A&M move to the SEC, let’s just wait to see if we get some Stevie Wonder signed/sealed/delivered action on Monday.  After that, we can get back to doing what we do best here: engaging in rampant completely unsubstantiated speculation!

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

(Image from Mr SEC)

Nature abhors a vacuum and with a month to go until football season starts, conference realignment talk is back at a fever pitch even though there’s nothing really going on. The latest scuttlebutt is that Texas A&M is dancing with the SEC again with the rest of the Big 12 getting all hot and bothered about their high school recruiting targets getting TV time on the Longhorn Network (which has been placated… for now).

Believe me – I loooove conference realignment talk. It’s the reason why 99% of you are reading this blog in the first place. However, the “Texas A&M to the SEC” rumors are driving me up the wall, not necessarily because it would never happen (even though that’s what I personally believe), but that so many commentators on this subject simply argue that “Angry Aggies = SEC Move” without any further analysis. (For the purposes of this blog post, I will focus on Texas A&M, but the same principles can be applied to rumors involving angry Oklahoma and Missouri fans.) I went through a fairly detailed look at why I didn’t believe that A&M could go to the SEC several months ago and think that all of those arguments still hold true.

To be clear, I believe Texas A&M is an extremely valuable school and if the SEC could add them with no conference realignment repercussions elsewhere, then I could see it happening. A&M has a lot more value than the average UT fan would likely admit. The problem is there could be major conference realignment repercussions that the SEC will not want to witness happen (i.e. its main competitors getting even stronger with the Pac-12 adding Texas and/or the Big Ten adding Notre Dame) – the SEC wanting to add A&M as a reactionary move in 2010 is much different than pulling the trigger and causing the dominoes to fall in 2011. At the same time, A&M’s value is exactly why UT won’t just let them walk away.

Regardless, there’s a segment of the college football fan population that’s simply always going to believe that Texas A&M is heading to SEC just because the Aggies are pissed off. (Remember Missouri was pissed off at the Big 12 last year, too. Also look at all those Big East schools that are supposedly pissed that the conference won’t split. Tons of options for all of them, right?) That’s fair enough, but all I ask of this segment of the population is to address the following roadblocks to that ever happening:

1. The SEC can’t just rip up its TV contracts simply because it expands – A decent number of columnists/bloggers have taken SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s comment that there are periodic “look-ins” for its contracts with CBS and ESPN and came to conclusion that the conference could set fire to those deals in the event of expansion. While the terms of the SEC TV deal are not public (and that’s the case for any conference), this is a dangerous assumption that I would wager is 99.99% incorrect. (The .01% allows for the slight chance that Slive has compromising pictures of various CBS and ESPN executives with Casey Anthony.) ESPN certainly doesn’t believe that the SEC’s “look-ins” can reopen the TV deal:

The agreement with ESPN calls for a “look-in” review after the first five years but can occur sooner, said Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice pres ident of college sports programming.

“We knew when we made a 15-year deal that time was not going to stand still so we purposely built in these look-ins,” Magnus said. “They don’t reopen the deal. There’s no outs. It’s an opportunity for both of us to really take stock of where we are and see what we could be doing better.”

It is standard operating procedure that these types of contracts have provisions that protect the network, NOT the conference, in the event of membership changes. In a post by the excellent college TV sports blogger mattsarz about the C-USA/ESPN lawsuit, he attached the underlying TV contract that was made public as part of the complaint that was filed. Here’s the language about regarding membership changes:

10. CONFERENCE COMPOSITION

(a) Essential Institutions. The participation and availability for televised play of the following academic institutions shall be deemed to be of the essence of this Agreement: University of Texas El Paso, Rice University, University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of Tulsa, University of Southern Mississippi, Memphis University, Tulane University, University of Houston, Marshall University, University of Central Florida, East Carolina University and Southern Methodist University.

(b) Unavailability. If any Conference team leaves the Conference or is otherwise unavailable for televised play as authorized by this Agreement (in either case, “Unavailable”) for any Season during the Term then ESPN and Conference will negotiate in good faith after such Unavailability comes to ESPN’s attention to determine appropriate adjustments to this Agreement. In such negotiations, the parties shall take into account, among all other relevant factors, any new members that are added to the Conference in replacement of the Unavailable members. If the parties cannot agree on the appropriate adjustments, then ESPN will have the right in its sole discretion to elect by the May 1 prior to the affected Season (unless such Unavailability occurs thereafter, in which case ESPN will have the right to make its election within 30 days after it is notified by Conference of the Unavailability) to reduce the rights fees hereunder in the same proportion as the number of Unavailable teams bears to 12. ESPN will also have the right at any such time to terminate this Agreement if the Conference has in any season fewer than ten member institutions that are NCAA Division I-A members and that are available for televised play as provided above. In addition, if additional institutions join the Conference (i.e., bringing the number of member institutions to 13 or more), then within 30 days after ESPN is notified by the Conference to that effect, ESPN and Conference will engage in good-faith negotiations regarding potential increases to the rights fees due hereunder.

As you can see, ESPN was able to get a concrete reduction in fees or even completely terminate the agreement if C-USA lost enough members, but if C-USA added any members, all that the parties would be obligated to do was to engage in “good-faith negotiations”, which as an attorney I can say is Kumbaya B.S. with no real meaning. ESPN was the only entity with a legitimate stick here. A conference would only have power if it actually had concrete termination rights in the event of an expansion, which wasn’t the case in the C-USA contract.

Even though C-USA is relatively small player, we can deduce that the power conferences also have a similar clause. The Big Ten, for instance, gained a new marquee member in Nebraska last year and even added a brand new conference championship game (which wouldn’t happen in the case of SEC expansion). If the Big Ten had a termination right that some are assuming that the SEC somehow has, then Jim Delany would’ve called ESPN ten seconds after the new Pac-12 monster contract was announced and said “I’m out!” That obviously hasn’t happened – the Big Ten still has to wait until its current TV deals are done in 2016. It’s also instructive that both the ACC in 2003 and the then-Pac-10 in 2010 performed their respective expansions only a few months prior to their respective TV rights going back up for open bid. That shows that those conferences needed to time their expansions to coincide with their new TV deals (as opposed to the other way around, as the A&M-to-the-SEC believers are arguing) because that’s the only way that they could receive the financial benefits from expansion immediately.

Frankly, this all makes sense. Networks would never reasonably agree to tearing up TV contracts based on expansion because they want to know who the conferences are expanding with (not just expansion in and of itself), and even then, it’s almost impossible to assign a value to any prospective expansion candidates ahead of time. In turn, networks can definitely assign a value to a conference as presently constituted, so they have leverage to get out of deals (or receive relief) in the event that such conference loses members.

So, unless Mike Slive can produce some Casey Anthony photos, we should assume that the SEC has terms just like everyone else: the SEC is stuck with its deals until 2024 unless its TV partners willingly give it more money prior to that. This brings us to the next point…

2. ESPN isn’t going to willingly hand the SEC more money for expansion – Let’s take a quick look at where ESPN stands right now. First, ESPN worked extremely hard to keep the Big 12 together last year in order to block the formation of superconferences by going so far as to give that league the same amount of money even though it had just lost its most populous non-Texas state (Colorado), a marquee national name (Nebraska) and a conference championship game. Second, ESPN has just invested a ton of capital in the Longhorn Network, which essentially depends upon the Big 12 surviving as none of the other BCS conferences besides maybe the Big East would let that monstrosity live.

Call me crazy, but when considering those two points, it seems quite far-fetched that ESPN would actually provide an incentive to the SEC to expand with Texas A&M (and/or Oklahoma and/or Missouri and/or whoever else you want to throw in) that would directly kill off the Big 12 that ESPN has every incentive to save. Plus, with the amount that ESPN is paying the Pac-12 now and with the Big Ten contract going up for bid in a couple of years, it doesn’t make any sense that the network would give the SEC any ability to increase its rights fees prior to 2024. If the SEC’s contract was up in a couple of years like the Big Ten’s deal, then maybe I could see ESPN throwing more dollars in order to lock in an extension, but there’s no business logic for the network to re-open a deal that’s locked in for the next 13 years that the SEC can’t do anything about.

3. Objectors to high school games on the Longhorn Network are arguing semantics (and that’s ultimately a losing argument) – There’s a massive public flagship university located in one of the top football recruiting states in the nation that has entered into a multi-year multi-million dollar third tier rights deal with a regional sports network that is wholly-owned by a large multimedia conglomerate. There are some football and basketball games along with coaches’ shows and other promotions showing the university. The RSN also telecasts high school football games that potentially showcase that university’s recruits. Such public flagship university does not own any part of such RSN.

I’ve just described the contract that the University of Florida has with Sun Sports. It also describes the deal between the University of Texas and ESPN for the Longhorn Network. Structurally, the two deals are virtually exactly the same. ESPN completely owns the LHN, and therefore, controls its programming decisions, just like Fox owns and controls Sun Sports. The main difference is branding, where Florida is part of a network that also shows the Miami Cheat (among other teams) while Texas has its Longhorn moniker in the ESPN’s network’s name. So, does the NCAA come down on the LHN for a branding decision but doesn’t care about Sun Sports? If the LHN simply changed its name to “ESPN Austin”, would it make a difference? Is a network that has 10% UF content acceptable, but another with 90% UT content unacceptable?

Note that this is different than the BTN and Pac-12 Network situations, where the schools in the Big Ten and Pac-12 have actual equity interests in those channels. This makes it much easier for the NCAA to regulate those types of setups or, more importantly, regulate them in a way where the NCAA doesn’t lose in a court challenge. The Texas relationship with the LHN, on the other hand, is really just a straight-up traditional rights fees deal that Florida and a whole host of other schools have with various regional sports networks. As a result, the NCAA, the Big 12 and any other challengers to the LHN would largely have to rely on semantics (the name “Longhorn Network”) with subjective benefits as opposed to the ownership structure of the network itself that can objectively measured, and courts hate arguments about semantics. If ESPN thought the fight was worth it (and that’s a business question as to whether it would spend millions of dollars in legal fees in order to show high school games on TV), it would likely flatten the NCAA (quite possibly the most blatant example of an antitrust violation that we currently have in America, which is a subject for another blog post at some point) in court, just as the University of Oklahoma did in its landmark lawsuit where the Supreme Court struck down the NCAA’s control of TV rights (thereby opening up the ability for conferences and schools to freely enter into contracts with TV networks directly as we see today). The NCAA telling a network that isn’t actually owned by a member school what it can and cannot show on TV could be construed as an overstepping of its authority and, considering the inherently collusive nature of the organization (hundreds of schools making collective decisions that affect students, agents and media personnel that aren’t even employed by such schools), it needs to be careful on how it phrases its regulations.

When the LHN deal was first announced, I was initially puzzled when UT didn’t take an equity interest in the channel, but we now see one of the main benefits. Is showing high school games on the LHN shady? Absolutely! Can the NCAA or Big 12 regulate it? It could try, but at face value, I doubt it would withstand a court challenge. The Big 12 athletic directors themselves have put the kabosh on high school games on the Longhorn Network for this year, yet I’m sure we’ll see this issue come up again next summer and the conference could face the same legal scrutiny as the NCAA would. If ESPN believes the fight is worth it, the NCAA is a fairly easy lawsuit target.

4. People that keep ignoring Texas politicians will get fooled again – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, I’m in fucking denial. In the three major conference realignments since the 1990s, two have been heavily shaped by the whims of Texas politicians. The third was shaped by the Virginia legislature. I’ll point back to my “You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Aggies” post that goes through why it’s critical to take into account the irrational nature of Texas politicians with respect to anything regarding football. At the very least, it would be nice to see some other commentators on conference realignment that this is a very real impediment to change. Gov. Rick Perry might be a former Aggie Yell Leader, but if he wants to run for president, he’ll need to raise a lot of money from UT alums (and Texas Tech and Baylor alums), which brings us to the next point…

5. UT needs A&M in the same conference together – Many UT alums likely won’t admit it, but as I’ve stated before, Texas A&M is an extremely valuable school. That’s why UT simply isn’t going to let them walk away, and if it means making some financial concessions or telling ESPN to not show high school games on the LHN to keep the peace (along with applying their own political pressure plus the support of Tech and Baylor), then they’ll do it. There were a number of factors that went into play in the Pac-16 deal collapsing last year, but the threat of A&M heading to the SEC at that time was extremely high on the list. It’s instructive that the Pac-16 deal could’ve easily moved forward if UT was fine with only moving with Tech (and maybe having Utah or Kansas replace A&M in the Pac proposal) while A&M went to the SEC, yet it didn’t happen. I’ll always remember one of the first comments from a connected UT alum on this blog when the Big Ten first announced that it was exploring expansion almost 2 years ago and how he described that UT, in no uncertain terms, would not let A&M head off to the SEC as the Longhorns knew that opening up the state of Texas to that conference for TV and recruiting purposes would be a killer for their own program.

At the same time, count me in as someone that will always believe that the prospect of UT going independent is an empty threat. Money is important, but many commentators are ignoring how important institutional culture is in making decisions, too. Ultimately, UT needs an entourage like a Hollywood starlet. The school’s actions time and time again have shown that having power over others is how it gets it rocks off. It wants to have schools like Texas Tech and Baylor dependent upon it and it certainly doesn’t want A&M be in a separate higher profile league. UT doesn’t just want to make the most money – it wants to control college football in the state of Texas completely, and that requires A&M to be in the fold. Notre Dame is a J.D. Salinger-type recluse that doesn’t want any attachments to anyone, which is why they have chosen to be independent as an institution (even though they’d actually make substantially more television money in the Big Ten). UT simply isn’t like that – it has always positioned itself as the proverbial sun for a bunch of other schools.

UT and A&M have come very close to separating two times before over the last two decades, yet the leaders of both schools have never been able to pull the trigger (even if some their respective fans would love to use a machine gun on the relationship). A combination of politics, institutional culture and uniquely shared endowment money that makes football TV revenue look like pocket change (see the Permanent University Fund) has always kept them together.

Could Texas A&M end up in the SEC? I guess anything is possible, but let’s be clear that just because Aggies are angry doesn’t mean that they’ll move to the SEC. Any rational analysis needs to address (1) why the SEC would expand when it has no leverage to renegotiate its current TV contracts (meaning that the current SEC schools would be subsidizing any expansion until 2024), (2) why ESPN would help out the SEC on that front when it has direct interests in keeping the Big 12 alive, (3) how a court challenge to any restrictions on showing high school games on the Longhorn Network would turn out, (4) why Texas politicians would suddenly be wallflowers on conference realignment when history clearly indicates that they are not only not wallflowers, but completely interventionist and (5) why UT would just roll over and let A&M walk away. I would love to entertain arguments that address all of those massive roadblocks. “Aggies are steaming mad”, however, isn’t a valid argument.

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(Image from ThinkGeek)