Archive for September, 2011

As actual conference realignment news has taken a breather over the past week (although the speculation runs rampant everywhere), I sat down with Adam Jacobi and Patrick Vint of Black Heart Gold Pants last night for a podcast about what’s happened so far with various leagues and schools and where we’re headed.  While Adam and Patrick are full-blown Iowa Hawkeyes, this Illinois alum definitely respects their unrequited love for all things J Leman.  Enjoy!

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

(Image from Bitten Bound)

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As most of you all know by now, THE BIG 12 WON’T DIE.  Let’s get right to it:

(1) Pac-12 grants a stay of execution to Big 12 – Last year, I wrote the following about the Big 12:  “While the Big 12 isn’t safe in a warm and fuzzy family way, it looks like it’s safe in a maximum security prison way.  No one’s getting out of there even if they want to very badly.”

Texas A&M looks like it’s pulled off an Andy Dufresne escape (although they’re not quite out of the sewer yet as a result of Ken Starr), but Oklahoma is still stuck in Shawshank.  I’m not surprised that the Pac-12 ultimately didn’t agree to taking on the Longhorn Network with Texas, but for Oklahoma to not end up moving west is a shocker and an instructive note on how there’s still a fair bit of inertia in college sports (despite all of us here going through scenarios of how everything is supposed to blow up).

Back in January, I noted that the Longhorn Network was actually going to save the Big 12.  That looked like that was going to be a very wrong prediction for the last month (and A&M is obviously out the door), but what we’ve seen is that Texas now has golden handcuffs to the Big 12 as a result of the LHN, thereby giving it prison-like stability.  No other conference that could conceivably be attractive to Texas (Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten) was willing to budge on the LHN and equal revenue sharing issues, which meant that saving the Big 12 was always the end goal for the Longhorns.

One Oklahoma source claims that the school was simply using the Pac-12 to obtain more leverage in the Big 12.  If that’s the case, it failed spectacularly.  The latest developments have effectively provided Texas even more of a hammer than it did previously.  The Oklahoma demand to fire Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe looks like it will be fulfilled, but that was probably going to happen no matter what considering the breakdown of the league over the past year.  (All that I ask is that the @DanBeebe Twitter account continue to live on.  It’s my favorite fake Twitter feed outside of the now-dormant @MayorEmanuel.)  Other schools such as BYU, Louisville, West Virginia, Air Force and/or even TCU (which was the school that the Big 12 seemed to avoid as if it were though Patient Zero for the past 20 years) may be added to provide some more stability.

(2) My Partial Revenue Sharing Plan for the Big 12 – Now, let’s say that Texas actually decides that it wants to work in good faith to keep the rest of the Big 12 relatively happy (as it certainly has a large self-interest in keeping the league alive).  Equal revenue sharing for the national first and second tier TV rights is certainly a nice start to get some goodwill in the league, but that’s obviously ignoring the real source of contention of the LHN.  That being said, it has to acknowledged that the thought of Texas sharing all of its LHN revenue with the rest of the Big 12 is completely unrealistic.

So, what I’d propose is a local TV revenue sharing system based upon what Major League Baseball does today.  In MLB, all teams pay 31% of their local revenue into a pot that is then split up equally among all franchises.  As a result, the Yankees keep the lion’s share of their YES Network revenue (which is really where the team gets its financial power over the rest of baseball), but the Devil Rays get at least a little bit of benefit from the YES cash.  Just as the Yankees will always have an advantage in TV revenue in MLB due to its location in the New York City market, Texas has the same advantage within the Big 12.  No one can fault either the Yankees or Longhorns for maximizing that advantage, yet they also have to acknowledge that the fact that no one else can do the same (even successful programs like Oklahoma) is going to engender a ton of acrimony.  That might be fine for a school like Texas to say, “So what?!” in a pure free market business setting, but in a sports league (whether pro or college), the wealthy teams still need the plebeians to be competitive or else such wealthy teams aren’t going to be able to offer a very compelling product (interesting games) in the long run, which ultimately hurts revenue down the line.

Once again, it’s unrealistic to think that Texas is going to submit to equal revenue sharing for the LHN and third tier TV rights in the Big 12.  However, a partial revenue sharing plan for those third tier rights where all Big 12 members put in 31% (or some other agreed upon figure) of their local TV revenue which would then be split equally could go a long way in creating stability in the league and may actually make the league attractive to expansion candidates (outside of those that would take an AQ invite anywhere at anytime).  Regardless, the Big 12 lives, whether it deserves to or not.  BYU could logically be plugged in and the league could move along merrily, except…

(3) Remember the SEC: Realignment chaos isn’t over – Much of the media would have you believe that conference realignment has halted as result of the Pac-12 announcement, but there are the small matters of the SEC standing at an uneven 13 schools along with a possible collapse of the Big East that could put Notre Dame into play (which I’ll get to later on).

With respect to the SEC, Missouri was reportedly given an invite on Tuesday that was conditional upon the breakup of the Big 12.  What’s unclear is whether the SEC will still try to get Missouri into the league now that the Big 12 has survived or if the Baylor lawsuit brigade has given Mike Slive a reason to keep it on the down-low for awhile.  My impression over the past year is that the Missouri fan base had the most vitriolic collective anger toward the Big 12 besides Texas A&M, so if Mizzou effectively turned down an invite to the stable and wealthy SEC in favor of staying in the Big 12 prison (which I would personally characterize as the dumbest business decision in the history of college sports if that’s the case), I’d expect a whole lot of pitchforks in Columbia.  Missouri alums may very well push the school over the coming months to approach the SEC again just like the Aggies just did and we’ll go through realignment chaos all over again.

As long as the SEC is at 13 schools, there’s inherent instability in the same manner that the Big Ten having 11 schools always had other conferences on edge.  I thought the ACC was safe long before it added Syracuse and Pitt, but I’ve stated previously that Florida State is the one school from that league that I could see taking an SEC invite.  (Forget about Virginia Tech and NC State for political reasons.)  West Virginia from the Big East may also end up being a target again after being supposedly rejected by both the SEC and ACC (which happened before the Big 12 got its reprieve, meaning that Mizzou might not move).  Speaking of the Big East…

(4) Service academies in the Big East? – A list of targets for the Big East to replace Syracuse and Pitt is reportedly topped by Navy and Air Force as football-only members with the hope that Army could be convinced to join, as well.

With football-only members being the primary targets, this means that the Big East football members (at least for now) want to maintain the hybrid format with non-football playing Catholic schools.  The Big East would be looking for all-sports members if the schools really wanted to split.  In turn, this makes Notre Dame extremely happy as it looks like the Big East will continue to be a viable home for its basketball and other non-football programs and allow the Irish to maintain football independence.

I’ve seen a number of comments on Twitter and elsewhere openly wondering whether the Big East ought to keep its BCS AQ status if it ends up adding some combo of Navy, Air Force and/or Army.  What those commenters need to do is look at the big picture (AKA the entire BCS system).  The Big East is going to have its AQ status through 2013 as long as it still exists.  The published “AQ criteria” for ranking conferences does NOT apply to the 6 AQ leagues, who all have their status due to a combination of bowl and TV contracts.  Thus, that criteria is SOLELY a mechanism to see if there could be a 7th AQ conference and NOT to kick out any current AQ league.  This means the Big East can’t be yanked of its AQ status prior to 2013 unless it actually dissolves.

What’s important is what happens to that AQ status after 2013.  Let’s assume that the Big East has added all 3 service academies as football-only members.  Considering all of the constant political scrutiny with respect to the BCS, if you were a BCS commissioner, would you feel very comfortable going into a Congressional hearing and trying to explain why you just screwed over a league that has Navy, Air Force and Army?  I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that position.  See where I’m going here?  Adding all of the service academies would provide a ton of political protection for the Big East when its AQ status is reviewed in 2013.  That’s worth more than any other expansion candidates the Big East could possibly consider.  The other BCS leagues are likely going to end up continuing granting the Big East an AQ auto-bid as the cost of doing business to keep massive political heat of them.  It’s chump change compared to putting the entire tiered BCS system at risk.

So, don’t worry if you’re hooked on realignment crack.  There’s still plenty to come over the next few weeks.

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

(Image from Alexander Palace)

There’s obviously tons of conference realignment news out there from a lot of different fronts, so let’s get right to it (and I’ll warn you ahead of time that I’ll be jumping around a bit):

(1) ACC officially adds Syracuse and Pitt – I don’t know if adding Syracuse and Pitt alone makes financial sense for the ACC, but it’s a great move from a cultural fit standpoint.  Neither Syracuse nor Pitt were likely going to receive Big Ten invites, so it made sense for them to jump at the chance to move to the more stable ACC.  (Personally, I’ve long been a proponent of Syracuse receiving a Big Ten invite and thought that if Pitt could just trade locations with Rutgers, they would’ve been invited to the Big Ten many years ago.  Alas, the Big Ten is looking for football grand slams, which I’ll get to later on.)  This might not be a great football move on paper, yet from a market and academic standpoint, it still makes the ACC stronger than where they were a couple of days ago.

(2) Is 14 (not 16) the new 12? – With the Pac-16 looking like it might come to fruition (Oklahoma seems to be steamrolling over there) and speculation turning to the ACC supposedly not being done and planning to move up to a 16-school league (with candidates like Texas, Notre Dame, Rutgers and UConn being thrown around), the argument is that we are on the precipice of the full-fledged superconference era.

Call me skeptical right now.  The Pac-12 is on the verge of going up to 16 with both Texas and Oklahoma, which certainly justifies an expansion to 16.  For the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, though, there isn’t quite as compelling of a financial argument to move beyond 14 (or even 12 in the case of the Big Ten) simply for the sake of getting to 16… unless we see Notre Dame join one of them.  I’ll have more on that in a moment.  Otherwise, there’s just not enough firepower available for spots 15 or 16 in these leagues to justify large-scale expansion.

Regardless, there are a bunch of schools in the Big East and Big 12 (i.e. Rutgers, UConn, Louisville, maybe West Virginia, maybe Kansas, etc.) that are better off either with as little change as possible (i.e. Texas deciding to stay in the Big 12, which makes that a more palatable destination) or full-fledged realignment Armageddon with 4 16-school superconferences (of which those schools would presumably be in the “top 64″ to be included).  What’s NOT good for them is a “tweener” superconference era of 14-school leagues, as they’ll likely end up in a league with Big East and Big 12 retreads without any football kings.

(3) What should the Big Ten do? – Since I’m a Big Ten guy, lots of people have been asking me what Jim Delany should be doing right now.  My unequivocal response: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING UNLESS NOTRE DAME AND/OR TEXAS WANT TO JOIN.  The Big Ten has a tight-knit conference with a national TV network, huge fan bases, great academics and four football kings (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska).  There is absolutely no reason to have Big Ten expansion without Notre Dame (and/or the much less likely Texas) involved.  If the Irish come calling, then my feeling is that the Big Ten would look to add Rutgers to provide a direct New York City market presence (even though I believe UConn has the better overall athletic department).  The Big Ten seems to like Rutgers but not enough to add without Notre Dame.  With the amount of money that the Big Ten is splitting already, the standard is massively high.  Speaking of the Irish…

(4) Notre Dame has to start thinking again – Let’s be clear about one thing: from a pure football perspective, Notre Dame will never be forced to give up independence.  As long as the BCS exists, it’s going to deal with Notre Dame on favorable terms.  When BYU can get a multi-year multi-million dollar TV contract from ESPN, it shows that Notre Dame is not within one iota of being in danger of losing its NBC contract (or having someone else like ESPN pick it up instead).  TV networks and bowls will always want Notre Dame while power schools such as Michigan and USC will continue to schedule the Domers no matter what.

The irony is that the main way to get Notre Dame to join a conference has nothing to do with football.  My reader M pointed out a blog post that I wrote back in June 2010 that could almost be written verbatim again today (Pac-16 on the horizon, Texas A&M going to the SEC and the Big East in danger).  In that blog post, I referenced a source that had knowledge of the Big East conference agreement, which states that in the event the league loses 2 football members, the football and non-football sides can split and maintain their respective revenue distributions (i.e. NCAA Tournament credits).  At that time, what I was told was that the Catholic members were actually the ones looking to opt for a split in the event of the loss of any members.

It’s unclear whether there’s the same understanding now, but either way, Notre Dame’s overall athletic department has progressed to the point where a league with only the BE Catholic schools wouldn’t be satisfactory for a program of the size that’s in South Bend.  Basketball would be fine, but it’s everything else that would be a large problem.  While Notre Dame’s alumni base might be willing to throw all non-football sports under the bus in the sake of football independence, Jack Swarbrick and the rest of the leadership at the school aren’t going to have the same perspective as they have to weigh the interests of a whole lot more student-athletes.  Like Texas, Notre Dame was in the position of having its cake and eating it, too, with football independence coupled with a BCS-level league for non-football sports.  Now, it’s probably going to have to give up one or the other, and considering that Notre Dame was on the verge of joining the Big Ten in 2003 when the remaining Big East schools were much more attractive than whose in place now, it’s an indicator that independence is in danger.  It would be great if the ACC could offer them non-football membership outlined in my last post, yet that seems extremely unlikely now.  Granted, independence is still an institutional identity issue for the school more than a money issue (which is contrary to what a lot of college football fans believe), so you never know where the Irish might come out on this.

One thing to note (and I’ll have to give credit to one of the Northwestern posters on a Purple Book Cat thread on Wildcatreport.com for pointing this out, but I can’t find the link right now): keep a close eye on what Notre Dame is doing (or not doing) with respect to hockey conference membership.  The college hockey world experienced its own Conference Realignment Armageddon this past summer after the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference and a new league that siphoned off many of the best of the remaining WCHA and CCHA programs.  Notre Dame, though, hasn’t announced a single thing about joining a different hockey league even though everyone else had done so a couple of months ago.  If you see Notre Dame announcing that it’s joining the Hockey East next week, it’s probably a pretty good indicator that the Irish aren’t joining the Big Ten.  However, the longer that Notre Dame doesn’t say anything about hockey, the more likely it means the Big Ten is a viable option.  Consider the Notre Dame hockey program the college football realignment canary in the coal mine.

(5) Mergers and Acquisitions – A couple of mergers might be on the horizon to create even more mega-conferences.  CBS Sports is reporting that the remaining Big 12 and Big East football schools are exploring a potential merger.  This makes sense in a number of ways since as long as the Big East and Big 12 are existence, they will have BCS AQ bids through 2013.

Someone that had worked with a conference office told me a couple of weeks ago that a merger between the Big 12 and Big East would be a smart move for the leftover schools.  A conference merger actually occurred in 1991, where the American South Conference merged with a wounded Sun Belt Conference that was on the verge of collapse after losing nearly all of its members.  Why did the American South step in to save the Sun Belt?  It’s because in the event of a merger, it meant that the Sun Belt wouldn’t dissolve and therefore, the NCAA ensured that the new merged league (which would decide to keep the Sun Belt name) would retain all of the NCAA Tournament credits of the departed schools.  In the cases of both the Big 12 and Big East, there’s an even stronger incentive for both conferences to avoid dissolution in order to preserve the NCAA Tournament credits of the schools that left their respective leagues (which are actually quite substantial with schools like Syracuse and Pitt involved) along with AQ status for football.  At the same time, the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC all have fairly strong incentives to see a merger occur as it lowers their potential legal exposure from schools such as Baylor and Iowa State that might otherwise be left out of the AQ level.

On the non-AQ front, the Mountain West and Conference USA are considering a football-only merger in an attempt to procure BCS AQ status.  It will be interesting to see whether a mega-league would be persuasive to the BCS powers-that-be on that front since the issue has largely been about the weakness in the bottom halves of those 2 conferences, which won’t go away (and might even be exacerbated) with a merger.

(6) The Geography of Conference Realignment – Finally, as a political junkie, one of my favorite analysts out there is Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog.  So, I was ecstatic to see him post a massive analysis of college conference realignment to determine the different values of various schools.  I actually wrote about the CommonCensus Sports Map Project several years ago (prior to when most of you had stumbled onto this blog) that Silver used in his posting and had noticed at the time that the SEC schools were largely underrepresented in the college football fan numbers.  Regardless, both the Nate Silver piece and the CommonCensus Sports Maps provide a starting point and an incredible amount of data points to examine for anyone interested in how fans of sports teams are distributed by market.

Over 1500 words about the latest in conference realignment and I’ve barely talked about Texas.  Don’t worry – I’ll be writing much more about the Longhorns soon.  Until then, enjoy the hourly changes in the rumor mill.

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

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What have I kept saying for over a year now? The ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for.  Pete Thamel of the New York Times is reporting that the ACC is in discussions with Pitt and Syracuse.  This rumor had been floating around in some circles for a couple of days and then confirmed by this story on Friday night.  The latest news is on top of word that the respective Boards of Regents for both Oklahoma and Texas are meeting on Monday to authorize their presidents to negotiate and make decisions about conference membership.  This was a step that Texas A&M took right before it received its SEC invite last month, so a board action is more of a signal of the end of a process as opposed to a beginning.

Now, if we want to look at Thamel’s report as a straightforward story, we can just surmise that the ACC simply wants to go up to 14 schools with two institutions that are fantastic fits athletically, academically and culturally.  However, I’m going to put my tinfoil hat on for a moment (to the extent that all of you don’t already believe that I wear one 24/7/365).  We already know that one monster from Austin is looking at the ACC.  What are the repercussions for that other monster that lives in South Bend?  Let’s go through two scenarios that deal with two separate rumors that are circulating heavily in the blogosphere/Twitterverse/message board world (I’m not claiming either are valid, but rather performing a mental exercise in seeing how various dominoes can fall):

SCENARIO 1: TEXAS GOES INDEPENDENT FOR FOOTBALL AND TO THE ACC FOR NON-FOOTBALL SPORTS (AKA BAD FOR THE BIG TEN)

The hot new rumor via Orangebloods (from a connected insider but not Chip Brown) is that Texas is looking to go independent for football and will then place all of its non-football sports in the ACC.  As part of this deal, Texas would play 4 ACC schools per year while ESPN would effectively be footing the bill on all fronts by increasing the currently below-market ACC contract along with paying a gargantuan amount of cheddar to the UT to televise all of its home games on one of its networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or LHN).

My initial knee-jerk reaction to this: there’s absolutely NFW that UNC or Duke would sign up for this.  The ACC is as much of an “all for one and one for all” conference as the Big Ten and it would be massively out of character.  Plus, it would seem to make little sense for the ACC to take in UT without football (which is where the ACC needs the most help, especially to ensure schools like Florida State don’t leave).

After thinking about this rumor a little bit, though, I posted this comment on my previous blog post connecting Notre Dame, Texas, Pitt and Syracuse (which happened to be several hours before the New York Times broke the Pitt/Syracuse to the ACC story).  Here’s an updated version of it encompassing the latest developments (follow the chain):

CONFIRMED: Pitt and Syracuse are speaking with the ACC.

RUMOR 1: Texas and Notre Dame have been keeping each other apprised of each other’s plans and each school is the biggest potential lure to the other school if there’s Conference Armageddon.

RUMOR 2: ACC is looking to offer UT membership in non-football sports and allow the Longhorns to be independent in football.

GENERAL PERCEPTION: Out of all of the Big East schools, Notre Dame is closest to Pitt and Syracuse. Not shockingly, those are the 2 Big East schools that Notre Dame has regularly scheduled on equal terms with (unlike their 1-and-done blood money games with the likes of USF and UConn). I have been told that these 3 schools were intertwined last year in conference discussions, including with the Big Ten.

FACT: Notre Dame sought non-football ACC membership in 2003 when the Big East was about to implode, which the ACC reject.

THEORY: IF the ACC is going to go down the hybrid route, then it’s no longer going to have an objection to Notre Dame joining on a non-football basis. Notre Dame would easily and happily fulfill a 4-game requirement to play ACC teams with Boston College, Maryland and Miami already on the schedule in coming years, Big East mates Pitt and Syracuse already regular opponents and historical series with Georgia Tech and Florida State.  So, the Irish would have a much easier time providing the ACC 4 games per year than giving the Big East 3 games per year (which it promised back in 2003 but never fulfilled) as there are a number of ACC schools that ND would play as an independent, anyway. It could have a new annual series with Texas and essentially keep the rest of its traditional schedule with Navy, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Stanford intact. A full ACC football schedule would never make sense for ND (as I argued separately here), but a partial one certainly could.

Ultimately, the ACC would have a 14-school football conference that connects more fluidly up the East Coast and a 16-school league for all other sports with the 2 most powerful brand names in college athletics  (Notre Dame and Texas) as members.

RATIONALE: Why would the ACC do this? Because the conference that the ACC is truly scared of poaching them isn’t the SEC. Instead, it’s the Big Ten expanding that mortifies them as Jim Delany can offer academic prestige (which is key for the ACC) on top of a war chest of football dollars.  I’ve long stated that the Big Ten isn’t going to be expanding with Notre Dame and/or Texas (and in turn, could try to go up to 16 with schools like Maryland, Virginia and/or Virginia Tech).  Therefore, if the ACC provides homes to those superpowers where they basically have no football incentive to join the Big Ten, it means that Big Ten expansion might be precluded virtually forever.

This is just me thinking off the top of my head. I don’t know if the ACC would actually go for this since they are very much an “all members are equal” league, but we can’t discount anything these days when schools like Notre Dame and Texas might be on the move and ESPN possibly offering Pac-12/Big Ten/SEC dollars to the ACC to give them incentives to make concessions.

SCENARIO 2: PURPLE BOOK CAT MOVIE COMES TO LIFE IN THE “FUCK YOU, PAY ME” CONFERENCE (AKA GREAT FOR THE BIG TEN)

Let’s flip Scenario 1 on its head.  Once again, we’ll assume that the ACC takes Syracuse and Pitt.  However, the ACC refuses to deal with a hybrid model (which would probably be wise).  Regardless, the ACC’s move will obviously create a great amount of instability in the Big East, which is what many of us believed the Big Ten would try to do last year by targeting other members of that conference in order to lure Notre Dame.  Ultimately, there are really only two scenarios where Notre Dame joins a conference: (A) there are 4 16-school superconferences with a playoff system and the Irish need to join one of them in order to structurally compete for the national championship or (B) the Big East collapses and Notre Dame has no option better than the Atlantic 10 or a league made up of the Big East leftovers to put its non-football sports in (which some alums might say would be fine in order to preserve independence, but I know others with connections there that have said otherwise).

This gets us to the famous (at least in conference realignment circles) Purple Book Cat scenario of the Big Ten having invites out to Notre Dame and Texas.  As stated in Scenario 1, the theory all along is that the presence of Notre Dame would be the single biggest attraction to Texas in terms of joining a conference and vice versa.  However, Notre Dame ain’t joining the Big 12 and any hypothetical new conference formed by them (which is a popular option among many Texas fans) likely would contain largely a “meh” combo of Big 12 and Big East leftovers, anyway.

With the Big 12 and Big East collapsing (and none of it done at the initiation of the Big Ten), it plays right into Jim Delany’s hands to put the Purple Book Cat scenario into motion.  From a financial and national exposure standpoint, there’s no conference combination that would be more powerful than what I had affectionately called The “Fuck You Pay Me” Conference featuring the Big Ten plus Notre Dame and Texas.  Maybe the Big Ten could add two more schools to get up to 16, but there might not be any point in doing so (especially if 14 becomes the new revenue maximizing conference membership number the way that 12 is today).  Notre Dame and Texas would see that even equal shares of “Fuck You, Pay Me” Conference revenue would make their respective NBC and LHN contracts look like pocket change and thereby be convinced to join.

Once again – is this happening?  No one knows.  It’s still hard to see the Big Ten making any concessions on the LHN, but this conference realignment process has already seen a lot of leagues and schools do the unexpected.

OTHER SCENARIOS THAT ARE WAY MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD AND BEING REPORTED BY THE NATIONAL MEDIA

Boooooooooring.

Enjoy the games this weekend.  (Go Illini!  Go Bears!)  Come Monday, we might be looking at a completely different college sports world.

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

(Image from LastFM)

In the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen stories that Texas is saving the Big 12, moving west with Oklahoma to the Pac-12, joining the Big Ten with Notre Dame and now the ACC is the new frontrunner for the Longhorns.  The only constant seems to be that Texas wants absolutely nothing to do with the SEC (even though that conference might most easily be able to take on the Longhorn Network without disruption to the rest of the league’s revenue and TV rights structure) because of a combination of academics and cultural fit.  (It’s NOT about “being scared” of the SEC, as Clay Travis suggests.  I like Clay and he normally avoids the fanboy-type of arguments you’ll find on a lot of message boards, but he’s way off base here.  No school moves from or avoids conference because they’re “scared” or really much of anything to do with results on the field.)

THE POSITIVES FOR TEXAS

There are a few items that seem to make sense for Texas in a possible move to the ACC:

(1) ESPN controls all ACC TV rights – Out of the three main contenders for the services of Texas, the ACC has a clear advantage over the Pac-12 and Big Ten in that ESPN controls all ACC television rights at all tiers.  In contrast, the Pac-12 Network that will be wholly-owned by the conference has control of a large chunk of football and basketball inventory while Fox is the Big Ten’s partner on the BTN.  While ESPN sublicenses syndicated packages of ACC games to Raycom, the Worldwide Leader is still ultimately in control of all of that conference’s content.  This makes it much easier from a pure TV rights perspective for the ACC to take in the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network.  There would need to be some maneuvering with Raycom, but certainly not to the extent that would need to occur with the respective networks run by the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

(2) Top Tier Academics – If Texas is going to leave the Big 12, then academic reputation of the destination conference is an important factor and a big reason (if not the top reason) why the school has never been interested in the SEC.  On this front, the ACC is arguably the best of all of the BCS conferences at least on the undergraduate level, where 7 of its schools reside in the top 50 of the latest US News rankings.  (The Big Ten generally gets the nod as the top academic BCS conference at the graduate level.)  Note that when I talk about academics, I mean overall institutional reputations as opposed to, say, the classroom performance of football players in Miami that reek of stripperfume.

(3) ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for – I’ve said this in the majority of blog posts that I’ve written on conference realignment for the past year because there have been so many rumors about certain ACC schools (particularly Virginia Tech) going to the SEC and I’ll repeat it again: the ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for.  Academics matter to the university presidents that make conference decisions and the ACC is solid from top-to-bottom on that factor.  At the same time, the likelihood of the core of the conference (UNC/Duke/UVA) ever leaving the ACC is about as likely as Michigan and Ohio State leaving the Big Ten, which means there’s much greater stability factor in the ACC compared to the Big 12 or Big East.  No one that is thinking straight believes the ACC is going to disappear like the Big 12.  At the same time, the reason why the SEC or Big Ten would ever want any ACC schools in the first place is because the league certainly has valuable assets in terms of flagship schools and desirable demographics.  The conference has a lot to work with even with direct competition with the SEC in a number of markets.

Now, the main exception to all of this is Florida State.  I’ve stated previously that it’s the one ACC school that I believe would take an SEC invite, so it didn’t surprise me that the Seminoles are forming an expansion/realignment committee to evaluate their options.  An ACC-less Florida State certainly changes the equation for Texas and anyone else that might consider heading to that conference.  For what it’s worth, if Florida State is truly available, Jim Delany and the Big Ten should be on the phone to Tallahassee immediately.  That’s a discussion for another day.

THE NEGATIVES FOR TEXAS

(1) Equal Revenue Sharing – The ACC has long shared all TV revenues equally among its members and there’s plenty of people that believe (including me) that it’s a fundamental tenet of a strong and unified conference (even if the actual dollar differences might not be that large in an unequal system).  Texas would need to get to move the ACC from this position, which may be just as difficult in Greensboro as it would be with the Big Ten and Pac-12.  North Carolina and Duke have disproportionate power within the ACC and it won’t be easy to get them on board with providing special concessions to Texas (although they weren’t able to stop the conference’s expansion in 2003).

(2) Lower Conference TV Revenue Compared to Big Ten and Pac-12 – Compounding the equal revenue sharing equation (not even taking into account the LHN) is that the ACC has lower overall conference TV revenue compared to the Big Ten and Pac-12 and it will be the case until at least 2023.  The ACC will be making an average of $155 million per year ($12.9 million per school) while the Pac-12’s new deal is worth an average of $250 million per year ($20.8 million per school) and that’s without including the Pac-12 Network.  Meanwhile, every Big Ten school received almost $8 million last year in equal distributions from the Big Ten Network alone.  That’s on top of the average of $100 million per year ($10 million per school) that the Big Ten is receiving in its current ABC/ESPN contract that is due to be replaced in 2016 (and will likely be substantially higher than the Pac-12) plus reportedly over $23.3 million per year ($1.94 million per school) from Fox for just the Big Ten Championship Game.  With all of the focus on the third tier rights of the LHN, many people are forgetting that the value of the first and second tier rights at the conference level are ultimately even more important.

UPSHOT

Texas may very well be making less TV revenue with the combination of the LHN and ACC conference TV package than it would in an equal revenue sharing system in the Big Ten or Pac-12.  (The LHN is going to provide UT about $11 million this year.  The oft-reported $15 million per year figure is an average over the 20-year life of the contract.)  Considering that the BTN figures don’t include the new revenue from the addition of Nebraska, one could only imagine what adding all of the households in the state of Texas (and beyond if a school like Notre Dame joins, too) would do to those figures.  It would be the same type of calculation if the state of Texas was added to the Pac-12 network.

As a member of the Big 12, it makes sense that Texas would want an “eat what you kill” approach to TV revenue since the main market of value in that conference is the state of Texas.  In the Big Ten, though, there are marquee markets such as Chicago and Philadelphia that are being brought to the table, while the Pac-12 has the state of California.  For that matter, the ACC brings in the state of Florida and a whole slew of fast-growing Southern and Mid-Atlantic markets.  From a TV revenue perspective, it’s not necessarily an easy call for Texas to give up access to dollars coming in from other Big Ten or Pac-12 markets compared to the non-Texas Big 12 markets.  This is a point that a lot of commentators are missing when evaluating the financial aspects of the LHN – the money isn’t really that mind-blowing compared to what every single Big Ten and Pac-12 school (from Michigan to Northwestern and USC to Washington State) already receives.

However, the value of the LHN seems to be more about branding than money (similar to Notre Dame’s contract with NBC).  It puts Texas into that “special” category as the one school that can carry its own cable network… besides BYU, of course.  Seeing the reports coming out of Austin, the intangibles of the LHN could outweigh greater revenue potential in equal revenue sharing conference networks.  So, that’s why Texas is searching for a conference that allows the LHN to stay as-is (or as close to as-is as possible) and if the ACC is the one league that makes concessions on that front, they can get the Longhorns.

Of course, as we’ve seen in conference realignment many times over the past 18 months, nothing is a done deal until contracts are signed and there’s an announcement (and in the case of Texas A&M to the SEC, a done deal doesn’t even mean there’s a done deal).  In June 2010, Larry Scott was belting out “Free Fallin'” in his rental car after meeting with Bill Powers and DeLoss Dodds in believing that his Pac-16 mega-dream was going to come to fruition.  We ended up seeing that deal collapse in less than 48 hours due to forces beyond Scott’s control.  So, even if the ACC is the proverbial leader in the clubhouse right now for Texas, it doesn’t mean very much in such a fluid situation.

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

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It’s been a crazy couple of days to say the least.  We saw the SEC vote to conditionally accept Texas A&M, Baylor and a bunch of other Big 12 schools holding up the A&M move by refusing to sign some legal waivers, rumors stating the Pac-12 doesn’t really want to expand but will still add Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Texas and Notre Dame are heading to the Big Ten, and the Big East may pick up some Big 12 leftovers, and now it may be all for naught with the Big 12 possibly being saved (in part by BYU).  So, by the time you read this post, it might be completely outdated with how fast the news and rumor mill has been churning.  Anyway, I have few thoughts on the latest developments:

1. Can’t blame Baylor (and others) for legal stance – As a lawyer, if I was representing any institution in this scenario, whether it’s Baylor, Iowa State or Texas, there’s NFW that I’d let it sign a blanket waiver of legal rights to the SEC and if such institution wanted to proceed, I’d insist upon some type of considerable payment in return.  A waiver of this nature wouldn’t be enforceable without some type of consideration from SEC, anyway.

In the case of Baylor, there might literally be no amount of consideration outside of the preservation of the Big 12 itself (as long-term AQ status trumps short-term monetary payoffs) that could justify signing that waiver.  Whether Baylor actually has a case with respect to tortious interference against the SEC isn’t really relevant here.  At face value, this type of case is probably a loser.  The Big East attempted to sue the ACC on similar grounds back in 2003 and ultimately settled for $5 million total, which is effectively pocket change that wouldn’t even cover 50% of one year of conference TV revenue for just one Big 12 school.  However, Mike Slive would know that insisting upon a waiver of legal rights would cause an allergic reaction among Big 12 members as a legal principle.  I don’t think much of Dan Ponzi Beebe, but he was correct in his statement that it’s unprecedented for a raiding conference to ask for waivers of legal rights from those left behind in the raided conference.  It doesn’t make sense for the SEC to do this from a practical standpoint unless they have some other motives outside of the legal realm (which we’ll get to in a moment).  That being said…

2. Can’t blame Texas A&M for being volcanically pissed off – As a business man, I have a hard time seeing the value in attempting to keep around a school that clearly doesn’t want to be there.  As long as Texas A&M pays all of the exit fees that it has agreed to with the Big 12 (which by all accounts it plans to do), then the Aggies should be free to go as they please.  Whether Oklahoma or others might leave after the Aggies (thereby dissolving the Big 12) shouldn’t be the problem of Texas A&M or the SEC.  It’s in the best interests of everyone within the Big 12 to move on as quickly as possible.  Now, I believe that Aggies have some misplaced anger toward Baylor in the sense that the SEC is the entity that is requesting something that no other Big 12 school (unless it’s heading out the door for the West Coast) would reasonably sign.  Which gets to the next point…

3. SEC isn’t doing this for purely legal reasons – As I’ve done several times before on this blog, I’ll point to Mr. SEC, who I believe had a spot-on commentary on the SEC’s true motives in asking for these waivers: Mike Slive wants to see if he can cause Larry Scott and the Pac-12 to act first.  Personally, I doubt Slive will win this particular game of chicken since, by all accounts, the Pac-12 is only going to act if A&M moves first.  Still, it doesn’t really hurt the SEC to attempt this tactic, where the conference can just wait awhile and then decide to proceed with expansion without the Big 12 waivers.

4. Big Ten looking to form the “Fuck You, Pay Me” Conference? – The famous Purple Book Cat of the WildcatReport.com resurfaced last night with the following rumor: the Big Ten is looking to add Notre Dame and Texas with a bevy of conditions, including folding the Longhorn Network into a “BTN2″.  The proposed solution to the “LHN problem” actually makes some sense, although I don’t quite understand the issues that the Big Ten would have regarding ESPN supposedly pushing the UT-to-the-Pac-12 angle (as the channel actually has a much closer and wider-ranging relationship with the Big Ten compared to the Pac-12).  Chip Brown of Orangebloods separately stated the following, as well:

An outside the box option would be something like a conference such as the Big Ten allowing Texas to join the league and only make money off of LHN and not share revenue from the Big Ten Network. File that one away.

Should any of us really be giving this idea any credence?  Probably not.  I don’t see how the Big Ten is going to provide special arrangements to Texas when Jim Delany spent a TON of capital in convincing power schools like Michigan and Ohio State to sign up for the Big Ten Network instead of forming their own individual networks.

At the same time, if there’s any truth to the notion of Notre Dame joining a conference, I have faith that it will be smoked out by the school’s alumni base long before a decision is made.  They’re on a 24/7/365 Independence Watch over there, so this isn’t a matter that’s going to get agreed upon in a backroom at least as far as South Bend is concerned.

Regardless, assuming that no one knows what they’re talking about on anything regarding conference realignment (which is true), we can at least play along and put together a B1G 16 Fuck You, Pay Me Conference pod setup with, say, Syracuse and Rutgers (PURELY for discussion purposes – substitute Missouri, Pitt, Maryland, Boston College, or anyone else if it makes you feel better) in addition to UT and ND with each school having a protected cross-division rival (in parentheses):

NORTH
Michigan (Ohio State)
Michigan State (Rutgers)
Notre Dame (Texas)
Purdue (Indiana)

EAST
Ohio State (Michigan)
Penn State (Nebraska)
Rutgers (Michigan State)
Syracuse (Minnesota)

SOUTH
Texas (Notre Dame)
Illinois (Iowa)
Northwestern (Wisconsin)
Indiana (Purdue)

WEST
Nebraska (Penn State)
Iowa (Illinois)
Wisconsin (Northwestern)
Minnesota (Syracuse)

If the Big Ten has an 8-game conference schedule as proposed in the Purple Book Cat scenario, that means each school would play its 3 podmates annually plus 1 cross-division rival and then rotate through the other pods each year on an NFL-style basis.  From a Notre Dame perspective (who is really the one that needs to get pleased even more than Texas), this setup keeps their 3 traditional Big Ten rivals, secures an annual game with Texas, and then allows them to still schedule USC and Navy home-and-home in the non-conference schedule.  That’s about as close as you can get to a national schedule for Notre Dame while preserving the maximum number of rivals within the confines of a conference.  While that’s likely never going to be enough for the independent-minded Notre Dame alums (as independence is really an identity issue for that school as opposed to a financial stance), I doubt the Irish could get much better from a pure scheduling standpoint.

Anyway, this is all a hypothetical… like everything else in conference realignment.

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

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When it comes to choosing a conference, the University of Texas has a choice: does it want the nicest house in Compton or an average house in Beverly Hills?

The former is what it would have if it chooses to stick around the Big 12 to keep the Longhorn Network in a Big 12 that definitely won’t have Texas A&M, very likely won’t have Oklahoma and, by extension, Oklahoma State, and possibly won’t have Missouri, either.  UT could continue to be the richest person in the neighborhood by a mile and control the local scene.  Of course, the issue is that everyone in the area that has scrounged up enough of a down-payment is moving out to nicer places.  The latter is what it would own if it becomes an equal TV revenue sharing partner in the Pac-12 (or for that matter, the Big Ten or SEC).  In that case, UT would be another rich guy in a whole town full of rich guys, but it also won’t have to worry about the value of the house going down.

It’s a fundamental question about what UT wants/needs to be.  The Big 12 as saved last summer was really UT’s dream scenario: they essentially were earning independent-type TV money in a conference with their primary regional rivals.  Now that one of their rivals (A&M) might be headed out the door as early as tomorrow and their other main rival (OU) has all but declared it’s heading west to the Pac-12, is the Longhorn Network (which hasn’t even been on the air for a week) more important than UT’s conference?  Larry Scott knows, just like Jim Delany and Mike Slive, that equal revenue sharing is a primary tenet of strong conference unity, so he’s not going to let UT have a separate TV deal when the schools in California like USC have already given up unequal shares in the new monster Pac-12 TV contracts.

Now, I consider Bill Powers (UT president) and Deloss Dodds (UT athletic director) to be smart men.  The Longhorn athletic department didn’t become the wealthiest in the country (even before any LHN cash started coming) by accident.  They likely thought that they controlled all of the cards, where as long as UT stayed in the Big 12, the other big guns of OU and A&M would, too.  I certainly thought that way.  While it wasn’t a surprise to find that the Big 12 wasn’t long for this world, I didn’t believe that it would be killed off only a year after its Summer 2010 stay of execution.

I can’t blame UT for going out and getting the LHN deal.  Any other school that had that type of leverage would’ve done the same thing.  However, I also can’t blame either A&M or OU for looking out for their own interests.  Most people here know me as the guy that wrote about the possibility of Texas going to the Big Ten last year, and as much as I’d still love to see that happen in many ways, there’s really no better conference deal out there for UT than a Pac-16 that includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.  Neither the Big Ten nor SEC would ever grant spots to OSU and Tech and even if they’re not outright political requirements for OU and UT, they ensure that the two power schools won’t be complete geographic outliers.

At this point, I can’t see how OU could rationally stay in the Big 12 (particularly after OU president David Boren’s explicit statement of no-confidence in the conference).  (Note that rationality doesn’t always apply in conference decisions.)  The Pac-12 would certainly be willing to take them and OSU without having Texas schools coming along, as the Sooner are a top 10 college football brand.  It’s the LHN that makes what UT will ultimately decide difficult to predict.  There’s just no way that channel could continue to exist within the confines of the Pac-12 (at least as a UT-branded entity).  UT is going to have a really nice house no matter where it lives.  What will be instructive is whether it wants the nicest house on the block or a better neighborhood.  The Longhorns may not be able to have both.

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

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