Archive for November, 2012

The ACC washed away any rumors of expanding up to 16 by sending out a single invitation to Louisville this morning while also indicating a sea change in the thought process of the conference’s leadership. For years, the ACC refused to consider schools such as West Virginia on the basis of academics, which meant that Connecticut would have been a virtual lock over the likes of Louisville and Cincinnati to have received an invite from the conference if this situation had occurred even one year ago. However, the brand value of the ACC’s football side has diminished so greatly over the past several years that conference commissioner John Swofford and company took a different tact this time around. Even the chancellor of the University of North Carolina (which is to the ACC what Texas is to the Big 12) admitted flatly that the addition of Louisville was completely about athletics as opposed to academics.

Kudos to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich for getting his school into this position. He has proven himself to be one of the top athletic directors in the country in turning a basketball school that was in Conference USA not too long ago into a comprehensive top-to-bottom sports program that made sure it wouldn’t get left behind in a new football-driven world. Louisville already would have the largest athletic budget in the ACC outside of UNC, which is quite amazing considering that the Big East’s conference distributions are completely paltry compared to what the ACC has been doling out to its members. Out of all of the schools that have moved in conference realignment over the past couple of years, no one has gone out and made their own luck like Tom Jurich and Louisville. This is a big-time athletic department that should have been in an AQ conference long before it was invited to the Big East in 2003 and certainly shouldn’t have been sweating it out in the current round of realignment.

Unfortunately, the ACC’s decision left behind another school that deserves better than a watered-down Big East: UConn. I rarely blame the leadership of schools for failing to get spots in different conferences since so much is out of the control of those individual institutions. However, the ACC invite should have been UConn’s to lose. UConn had the academic profile and better geographic fit for the ACC along with a larger immediate TV market (#30 Hartford vs. #48 Louisville) and entry points to two massive metro areas (New York City and Boston). Yet, UConn somehow got characterized as a weaker football addition and athletic department overall compared to Louisville in the past week despite going to a BCS bowl and winning a national championship in men’s basketball in the same season only two years ago. That’s an accomplishment that not even Texas and Ohio State have been able to achieve. I told several UConn fans late last week that their school was doing an extremely poor job in addressing the negative public perception issues and Louisville had taken ownership of being a “football move” for the ACC (never mind that Louisville is the highest basketball revenue generator in the country and it’s not even close). What really wasn’t that large of an athletic achievement gap between UConn and Louisville became perceived as a massive gulf in the eyes of the media and fans and, faced with the increasing scrutiny of whether the ACC ought to maintain its power conference status in football, this might have been the one time that the university presidents were won over by public sentiment in an expansion decision. This is an instance where the UConn leadership can’t take an “it is what it is” look at what has occurred. My impression is that they believed (as I admittedly did) that the ACC was going to vote in UConn over Louisville and Cincinnati on academics just like it did in all of its other raids of the Big East previously. They didn’t bank on the ACC’s mindset changing, failed to address what the ACC was concerned the most about in the college conference landscape and, as a result, got burned. It’s a shame since Connecticut ought to be in a better home than the new Big East, but they whiffed on their best (and possibly only) opportunity to move on up.

I know a lot of expansionistas out there are just waiting for the next defection from the ACC to cause a chaotic exodus beyond Maryland (with names like Florida State, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State moving around), but I’ll reiterate that I don’t see that happening. Conference realignment isn’t necessarily a zero sum game. The Big Ten will likely be able to gain more value out of Maryland than the ACC lost from that school defecting, just as the Big East is losing more value from Rutgers and Louisville leaving than the Big Ten and ACC will respectively gain from those schools. UNC and UVA, in particular, still see themselves as Southern schools culturally (hence a negative reaction toward the Big Ten at this time) along with top notch academic standards (which means that notwithstanding the ACC’s addition of Louisville, this is a large mark against the SEC), and as long as those two schools are there, the ACC is going to receive favored status from the college sports powers that be and that decreases the likelihood of others (such as Florida State) going anywhere else. As with all things in conference realignment, we always have to say “never say never”, but it will likely take years for UNC and UVA to get to the point where they’d seriously consider leaving the ACC.

In the meantime, get ready for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to continue tomorrow night on ESPN, as Rutgers plays Louisville for the Big East football championship.

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

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After a pause in the conference realignment action over the Thanksgiving weekend, there was a flurry of activity from all fronts on Tuesday.  Let’s get to it:

(1) Big East Invites Tulane for All-Sports and East Carolina for Football-only – With the defection of Rutgers to the Big Ten and the anticipated loss of at least one other member to the ACC (UConn, Louisville and/or Cincinnati), the Big East went forward with the addition of Tulane as an all-sports school and East Carolina as a football-only member.  While Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is essentially just trying to preemptively cushion against further anticipated blows to the conference, these are additions along the lines of what the league could reasonably expect.  Tulane hasn’t performed very well on the football field (or basketball court, for that matter) for quite a long time, but people should already know by now that on-the-field performance is only tangentially related to whether a school is an attractive expansion target.  What Tulane has going for it is that it fits the Big East institutional profile (to the extent that it has one) for all-sports schools: an urban school in a large market and great athletic recruiting area.  At the same time, Tulane is an excellent academic institution (AAU member and #51 in the U.S. News undergraduate rankings) with a new on-campus football stadium being built.  I’m honestly not very surprised by this move at all by the Big East, even if a lot of fans are wondering whether the school will ever be competitive in football or basketball.

Meanwhile, East Carolina realizes its long-time dream of moving up to the Big East, albeit as only a football member.  The main attraction of ECU is that it has one of the strongest fan bases and attendance records of any school outside of the power conferences.  What has kept them back is essentially the opposite of Tulane’s biggest attribute, which is that ECU is located in the small and largely rural market of Greenville, North Carolina.  (While ECU boosters have long argued that their home TV market really ought to include Raleigh and other parts of Eastern North Carolina, that has always been a tough sell to conference commissioners, particularly with such a heavy presence of ACC schools in the state.)  The Big East is actually making a rare pure football move here, albeit treating ECU the same way that it’s treating western members (assuming that they’re still coming) Boise State and San Diego State where the league literally only wants them for football.

A common question that I’ve been seeing is about why the Big East would have Tulane as the all-sports member as opposed to East Carolina.  Well, look at which schools actually get to vote for Big East expansion as of now.  Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame are outgoing members, so they aren’t participating in the process.  Memphis, UCF, Houston, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State aren’t officially members yet, which means that they don’t have a vote.  Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati might be abstaining since they’re likely speaking with the ACC.  That leaves the 7 Big East Catholic members, Temple and USF as schools that are voting for sure.  Even if Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati are still voting, that leaves a 7-5 majority in favor of the Catholic members.  This means that any new all-sports member has to at least do something for them, meaning adding a new TV market and/or prime recruiting territory.  Tulane does this (just as Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis did previously) in a way that ECU doesn’t.  As a result, all Big East sports teams are getting ready for some trips to New Orleans in the future.

This obviously won’t stop any football school from bolting the Big East, but the addition of Tulane seems to reduce the likelihood of the Big East Catholic schools breaking off and forming their own basketball-centric league.  Tulane is exactly the type of football school that the Big East Catholic members would approve of, so extending an all-sports invite to them indicates that they want to stick around.

(2) BYU Rejects Big East Invite (and Air Force isn’t an Option, Either) – In what shouldn’t be a surprise, Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com is reporting that BYU rejected an invitation from the Big East.  Even before the Rutgers defection, I had been saying for quite awhile that BYU wouldn’t give up its independent TV deal with ESPN for Big East membership, and that has been sealed with the latest exodus from the Big East.  What might be a little more troubling for the Big East is that Fowler is reporting that Air Force is likely off the table for the conference, as well, which leaves fewer name brand options for a larger western expansion.  Fresno State is probably the best pure football-only option for the Big East in the west at this point, but the conference has seemed to look at FSU in the same manner that it had looked at ECU for years as a school without a large enough market.  The problem with the western options that have the most attractive markets, such as UNLV and New Mexico, is that they have horrific football programs (which might be OK if they were to bring along their solid basketball programs, but tough to justify as football-only members).  We’ll see if the addition of ECU as a football-only school is in lieu of additional western football-only members… or maybe it’s to compensate for the potential loss of the school that had promised to join in the future that we’re about to focus upon…

(3) ACC Rumors: Maybe Navy and Maybe Not – Last night, I had Tweeted that I had heard enough from different people that a 3-school expansion by the ACC was plausible (although it doesn’t mean that will happen). The assumption was that those 3 schools would be Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati (as discussed in my last post).  However, David Glenn of ACC Sports (an independent website not affiliated with the conference itself) indicated that instead of Cincinnati (which is engaged in its own lobbying effort), the ACC was looking at Navy as a potential target.  In response, David Teel (another plugged-in ACC reporter from the Daily Press) vigorously disputed the Navy-to-the-ACC rumor.  Obviously, there’s some disagreement in ACC country about this issue.

Putting aside whether the ACC would actually add Navy or not, I think there’s at least enough substantive reasoning behind why it would work for the ACC that it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  Navy obviously fits in with the ACC’s academic standards while providing a foothold back in the state of Maryland (which is a hole for the ACC now with Maryland having defected to the Big Ten).  In terms of national TV value, the Navy brand is still quite strong – to the extent that TV money (or lack thereof relative to other power conferences) is the overriding concern to current ACC members (and I honestly think that’s the main issue as opposed to the strength of the football league on-the-field), Navy is arguably more valuable to the TV networks than Louisville or UConn regardless of how the Midshipmen have performed football-wise lately.  With Notre Dame as a non-football member in the ACC, Navy could be added as a football-only member to get the membership ranks for both football and basketball back to even numbers.  Finally, speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish have an iron-clad rivalry with Navy, so the ACC might be able to convince the Domers to have that game in addition to the 5-game partial conference schedule that they’ll be playing starting in 2014, which would give the ACC a total of 6 Notre Dame games per year (3 of which would be guaranteed to be part of the ACC TV package).  Of course, I would fully expect Notre Dame to go the opposite way and insist that the Navy game be part of the 5-game ACC schedule as a permanent rivalry*, which would free up an additional non-ACC slot on the Irish schedule again.  The Michigan-Notre Dame game might be coming back sooner rather than later if Navy joins the ACC.

(* For those that don’t know, Navy is every bit as much of a lock on the Notre Dame schedule as USC as gratitude for the Naval Academy using the South Bend campus as an officer training site during World War II, which saved the school from financial collapse.  From that point forward, Notre Dame promised to play Navy annually as long as Navy wanted to schedule the game and, to the Domers’ credit, they have kept that promise for the last 7 decades.  As much as Notre Dame may look out for its self-interest 99% of the time, the way that they have made the Navy series into an iron-clad non-negotiable game is commendable.)

We’ll see if the ACC would actually go through with inviting Navy, but it certainly threw a wrinkle into what many people were assuming the conference’s expansion would look like.  As always, we’ll keep on a lookout for further updates.

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

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Earlier this week, we had a flurry of concrete conference realignment news crammed into a 48-hour period, and then we went cold turkey (no pun intended) over the Thanksgiving holiday.  That has left Twitter rumors to fill the void and potentially affected fan bases on edge (culminating in Cincinnati fans chanting, “ACC!” when they saw the school’s president walk through the stands).  For what it’s worth, I take extra care to not pass along Tweets with every single realignment rumor that comes my way (and believe me, I pretty much get them all ).  (For those that aren’t following as of yet, my Twitter handle is @frankthetank111.) My personal filter is to make sure that the original Tweeter has some real reason or connection to know what he/she claims to know and/or apply my own view of plausibility.  As most of my regular readers know, I’m not a believer that a world of 4 16-team superconferences are inevitable (at least not in the short term) or that the ACC and/or Big East are one or two losses from complete destruction.  I certainly don’t see a rush by the Big Ten or SEC to get to 16 members in this round of conference realignment.  These are interesting Armageddon scenarios, but I tend to believe in a more logical downward pressure in the conference ranks, or as people say colloquially, “S**t rolls downhill.”  Maybe the ACC will lose some more schools, but that league will backfill from the Big East, who in turn will backfill from Conference USA and/or the Mountain West, and so on and so forth.

Without any concrete news, we’re basically left with trying to parse out what is legitimately plausible and whether the proverbial smoke around certain topics indicates either a real fire or just some dude in his basement toking.  From my vantage point, there are two themes coming together that have relevance:

(1) ACC Mindset Change and a Surge of Support for Louisville – In my last couple of posts, I stated that I would bet on Connecticut getting an invite to the ACC.  If the ACC follows its prior actions and academic and TV market criteria for expansion candidates, UConn would be near a 100% lock.  As a result, the mere fact that there is even a debate about Louisville going to the ACC at all (much less Louisville being ahead in the race, which a number of observers are claiming) indicates that there’s a major mindset change in the conference brewing (or at least some schools outside of the Duke/UNC old-line faction that are throwing their weight around, particularly Florida State).

Whether it’s right or wrong, the widespread perception is that Louisville would be the “football smart” move for the ACC and anything other than that could lead to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and/or others bolting to the warm arms of Texas and the Big 12.  As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t believe that Florida State would leave for the Big 12 all, but the ACC obviously can’t take any chances with its most important football member.

One interesting example of Twitter having fans on edge was a Tweet from Brian Miller, a Tallahassee Democrat reporter that said that the ACC wouldn’t even make a choice between Louisville and UConn, but rather add both of them along with Cincinnati* to create a 16-team conference.  By the time that Tweet spread like wildfire, Miller had removed it from his timeline.  Time will tell whether that was removed because it couldn’t be backed up or the information was too sensitive for the reporter’s source to put it out there for public consumption immediately.  The ACC may very well have the most incentive to grow to 16 first to create a perception of strength in numbers (even if it might not look like the most financially lucrative move).

(* Much like the athletic departments at Louisville and UConn, I have a ton of respect for what Cincinnati has been able to do on-the-field during its time in the Big East.  The Bearcats have arguably been the most consistent football program in the circa 2005 version of the conference, so it would be sweet justice to see them land softly.  We’ll see if that soft landing actually happens, though.)

Regardless, Louisville and the school’s surrogates are getting the message out that they are the best football move for the ACC (despite being a basketball school by any other measure).  The wants and needs of fans rarely matter to commissioners and university presidents in conference realignment, but if enough Florida State fans are out for blood (similar to how Texas A&M fans pounded their administration to push for a move to the SEC), this might be one instance where the fans win out if Louisville ends up getting the ACC invite.

(2) Prospect of Big East Catholic Schools Splitting Off – For many, many, many years, one of the easiest reflex responses that I’ve had in conference realignment discussions was that the Big East football schools and non-football Catholic members wouldn’t split into a separate leagues.  Up to this point, it made zero financial sense for either side – the value of the Catholic schools were enhanced by the presence of Louisville, UConn and Notre Dame (even without Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia) while the football members needed the traditional brand names and major media markets of the non-football schools.  While the two sides might not have liked each other, they were worth more together than they were worth apart.

Notre Dame has left the Big East for the ACC as a non-football member, though, and at least one of Louisville or UConn is heading out the door possibly as soon as next week.  Heck, even Cincinnati might be heading out with them.  Going forward, it may no longer be truism that the Catholic schools would make more TV money staying with the football members, in which case Georgetown and company are likely wondering whether it’s worth it to deal with constant football-related defections in a hybrid league when they could have a league all to themselves and be considered power players in the non-football marketplace that they inhabit.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated indicated that there have been informal discussions of a nationwide basketball conference (“think Georgetown to Gonzaga”).  At the same time, the Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal has brought up the possibility of the Catholic schools voting to dissolve the Big East entirely and go off on their own, which would be possible when Louisville and/or UConn leave since they’ll have the voting majority in place to do it (as the new members such as UCF and Houston don’t have voting rights yet and any defecting members won’t have votes, either).

I could spend hours dreaming up national basketball conference scenarios (all of which would include Pepperdine because visiting that school is like visiting a beach resort), but my semi-educated guess is that in the event of a Big East split, the Catholic schools would team up with the top handful of Atlantic 10 members to form a new league.  For discussion purposes only, it would look something along the lines of the following:

Georgetown
Villanova
St. John’s
Seton Hall
Providence
DePaul
Marquette
Xavier
Dayton
St. Louis
Duquense
Butler

It’s not unfathomable that ESPN could step in and pay that type of league the same amount that the Big East Catholics would have received in a new Big East hybrid TV contract or more if only to keep top college basketball brand names such as Georgetown and Villanova under the Worldwide Leader’s control.  From my vantage point, I see a lot more Big Monday-worthy matchups coming out of that league compared to a new Big East without Louisville and/or UConn.

Once again, I have never been a Big East split believer or proponent, but the latest conference realignment moves could be upending the conventional wisdom.

In any event, there’s a full slate of spectacular college football games to be played on-the-field on Saturday.  Even as a conference realignment aficionado, here’s to hoping that we all can concentrate on the games themselves for a day.

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

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As expected, the Big Ten has officially added Rutgers as its newest member. (See the start of the Rutgers-Big Ten relationship above.) When looking back at the last 3 years of conference realignment, Rutgers is vying with Utah and TCU for the title of being the biggest beneficiary of the constant earthquakes, which I’m sure is particularly sweet for Scarlet Knight fans that were on the precipice of being the largest loser in the process after Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and Notre Dame left the Big East. Prior to today, the only schools that were members of the six original BCS AQ conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, the old Pac-10, ACC, SEC and Big East) when the current postseason system began in 1998 and hadn’t moved to one of the five “new” contract bowl conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and SEC) were Rutgers and Temple… and Temple had such a horrible football program that it was kicked out of the Big East even after Miami, Boston College and Boston College defected to the ACC in 2003. (The Owls rejoined the Big East as a full member this season.) In a way, conference realignment hasn’t necessarily been about expansion for individual leagues, but rather consolidation of all of the power schools from six “chosen” leagues into five. Rutgers moving to the Big Ten completes that consolidation process.

I’ve already spent some time in yesterday’s post addressing what the additions of Rutgers and Maryland mean to the Big Ten along with the possible reactions from the ACC and Big 12. So, let’s address some of the latest news and rumors flying around the country:

(1) Louisville might be the target for the ACC instead of UConn – Andy Katz of ESPN has indicated that “Louisville is a serious player to bump out UConn” for the 14th spot in the ACC. My bet would still be on UConn taking that last spot because of the academic, geographic and cultural fits with the ACC, but you never know if there might be a radical change in the mindset of that conference in the wake of a defection. Louisville has certainly done everything right as an athletic department over the past few years, yet let’s not forget that UConn isn’t exactly a competitive slouch, either. Both the Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball programs are at the elite level and the football program (as down in the dumps as it might be today) won the Big East and was in a BCS bowl only 2 years ago. As a result, I believe that there’s a bit of an overstatement in what seems to be a widespread belief that Louisville is far ahead of UConn athletically (as that’s colored by the “What have you done for me lately?” thinking of how well Louisville is doing today in football specifically compared to UConn). To be sure, the addition of Rutgers to the Big Ten certainly demonstrates how much TV markets matter. If the athletic departments at Louisville or Connecticut were able to swap locations with Rutgers, they would have been picked up by power conferences long ago and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

(2) Big 12 Observations – Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman has been looking at Big Ten expansion from the Big 12 angle, where he states that Louisville’s chances of getting into that league have improved. I agree with his assessment that the ACC’s loss of Maryland doesn’t mean that Florida State and Clemson (or other ACC schools) would end up bolting to the Big 12 and how he sees Louisville as the main realistic option. Now, I doubt that the Big 12 would add solely Louisville as school number 11 as he suggested (as the Big Ten staying at 11 schools with Penn State for so long was mainly based on the belief that Notre Dame was destined to be team number 12), so BYU and Cincinnati should get ready to polish off their resumes.

(3) BYU, Boise State and San Diego State Speaking with the Mountain West? – Last night, Brett McMurphy of ESPN reported that BYU, Boise State and San Diego State were having conversations with the Mountain West about re-joining (or in the cases of Boise State and San Diego State, not leaving) the conference. My knee-jerk reaction is that this makes no sense at all. Even if the Big East ends up losing Rutgers, UConn and Louisville, the remnants of that league would still likely cobble together enough to make substnatially more TV money than the current CBS payout of $800,000 per year per MWC school. BYU is even farther ahead with its independent TV deal with ESPN.

There was one plausible rumor out there that at least made a tiny bit of sense as to why this could happen. Essentially, BYU could be speaking with the Mountain West about joining as a non-football member with a Notre Dame/ACC-type deal where the school would remain independent with a partial MWC football scheduling arrangement (to aid BYU with late season scheduling). That could be enough to (a) spur Boise State and San Diego State to ditch its Big East obligations and stay in the MWC and (b) open the MWC TV contract back up for negotiation where that league could end up with revenue on par (or maybe better) than the remnants of the Big East.

I don’t quite buy that rumor (as I still don’t believe the TV dollars add up), but once again, you just never know with conference realignment these days.

(4) What does the Big East do? – Well, this could get somewhat ugly. At the very least, the Big East is going to have to replace 2 members (Rutgers and 1 of Louisville or UConn) out of the current 13 football schools in or about to be in the conference, might have to replace 3 members, or could even lose 5 of them (if Boise State and San Diego State get an MWC deal as described above). The good news is that even the worst case scenario, the Big East would survive as a conference with 8 members. There won’t be a case of schadenfreude in favor of, say, Conference USA where they will start picking off Big East schools. The bad news is that the already slim pickings for the Big East get reduced even further, as BYU (who I never believed would end up in the Big East even before the latest realignment news occurred) is completely off the table and, if the Mountain West becomes relatively strong again, there isn’t too much value to found in expansion candidates from Conference USA or the MAC. East Carolina is perpetually brought up as a Big East candidate since they have a solid fan base, but they’re a small market victim of the TV market-driven economics of conference expansion. Beyond ECU, there are schools such as Tulane (great academics and market, but needs a lot of help athletically), Rice (ditto and overlaps with Houston’s market), UMass (excellent geographic fit and a rare Northeast flagship school, yet only moved up to the FBS level last year), Marshall (will always be the #2 team in an already small West Virginia market)… I think that you get the idea.

The Big East’s main hope is that they only lose Rutgers and one other school. If either Louisville or UConn is still in the conference, that will make a world of difference in terms of the Big East trying to sell itself to the TV networks.

Of course, just when so much of the talk on Monday revolved around how much money was being made in college sports, Division II Chaminade went out and convincingly defeated Texas, the most powerful and richest athletic department in the country that can single-handedly control conference realignment, in basketball. (I did not witness this monumental upset since I was watching the NFL Division II level offense of the Bears get pummeled by the 49ers. Let’s hope my Illini don’t suffer a fate similar to Texas against Chaminade later tonight.) It’s a reminder that money will only take you so far – schools still have to prove it on the field or court of play.

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

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From the moment that the Big Ten announced its intentions to expand three years ago, my attention immediately focused upon “What would be best for the Big Ten Network?” as what would be most critical.  When I kept seeing the media speak about rivalries, geography and on-the-field competitiveness as opposed to the BTN, I wrote the “Big Ten Expansion Index” post as a business-focused response that brought a lot of new readers to this blog (including many that are still commenting here today) since it came to the then-provocative conclusion that it was Texas (not Notre Dame) that would be the conference’s top target.

One of those readers ended up determining the Big Ten’s way of thinking better than anyone.  Back in April 2010, when massive conference realignment was still in the speculative stage and nothing had actually occurred, a reader named Patrick, who is long-time television industry veteran, sent in an analysis of how much various Big Ten expansion candidates would be worth to the Big Ten Network.  He went beyond simply looking at market sizes and cable subscriber fees and took into account fan intensity (which translates into the ability to charge higher cable subscriber fees in specific markets), national TV value and advertising rates.  In no surprise, Texas finished at #1.  However, look at who were the next three highest ranked schools after the Longhorns:

CANDIDATES TOTAL ADDED REVENUE ESTIMATE
 
Texas $101,369,004
Rutgers    WITH NYC $67,798,609
Nebraska $54,487,990
Maryland $50,818,889

Well, on the heels of the Big Ten inviting Nebraska a couple of years ago, Maryland has agreed to join the conference and Rutgers will likely be announced as a new member on Tuesday.  As a result, it turns out that we can proclaim Patrick as the Nate Silver* of Big Ten expansion.  As you can see from that post, most of my takeaways from Patrick’s analysis at the time were more Armageddon-like (particularly with respect to Notre Dame) and completely wrong (as I had assumed that the ACC wasn’t poachable), but his calculations did convince me that Nebraska, in spite of its small market, was going to be a lock for a Big Ten invite over anyone else (and that turned out to be correct several months later) since that Rutgers number was (and still is) much more speculative and it was crystal clear that the Cornhuskers would be more valuable than the other standard candidates mentioned at the time such as Missouri and Pitt.

(*Speaking of Nate Silver, it’s interesting to look back upon this piece that he wrote about conference realignment last year in the New York Times.  The data inputs that he used might be a bit flawed compared to the polls that he leveraged for the 2012 Presidential election, but it shows at least the argument as to why the Big Ten would look to add Rutgers.)

Essentially, the Big Ten executed a two-pronged strategy with its expansion: get a marquee football program at the national level (Nebraska) as a headliner and add top academic flagships at the regional level (Maryland and likely Rutgers) for depth.  As much as fans want every expansion move to be as sexy as adding Nebraska, the reality is that pretty much all of the conference realignment moves in the power conferences were about depth as opposed to headlining.  Texas A&M being added by the SEC was probably the best pure football move from a fan perspective in the last three years outside of the Big Ten expanding with Nebraska, but even then, the draw of the Aggies was predominantly about the SEC getting into the state of Texas for TV purposes (as they will likely have their own conference network coming together sooner rather than later).

The notion of a “Midwestern conference” is over for the Big Ten just as the notion of a tight Southern-based conference has long been over for the ACC ever since it decided to add Boston College (along with Miami and Virginia Tech) in 2003.  As Teddy Greenstein noted in the Chicago Tribune, the addition of Rutgers and Maryland is a long-term play for Jim Delany and the Big Ten driven by demographics.  Arguably, the Big Ten has been in the worst position of any of the power conferences when looking at long-term population trends, as the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC all have large presences in fast growing Southern and/or Western states.  The additions of the states of Maryland and New Jersey mitigate that a bit while still not going completely expanding with geographic outliers.  It also doesn’t hurt that these are both recruiting rich states (at least by Northern standards) for football and basketball.  For the Big Ten fans that bemoan the loss of “Midwesterness”, the demographic makeup of the league was legitimately something that had to change regardless of the presence of the Big Ten Network or TV dollars.  Maryland and Rutgers may not be very exciting additions in 2014, but they’ll be extremely important for the long-term health of the Big Ten in 2024 and beyond.

With respect to those TV dollars, as I stated in my post on Saturday, I unequivocally believe that Maryland can deliver the Washington, DC/Baltimore region for the Big Ten Network (and when I say “deliver”, I mean basic carriage at a high “Big Ten footprint” subscriber rate as opposed to the sports tier and/or lower out-of-footprint rate).  That’s why this expansion hinged upon Maryland accepting since they are considered to be a sure thing business-wise.  The real all-in bet for Jim Delany and the Big Ten, though, is with the addition of Rutgers.  Judging by the media commentary and Twitter reactions, there is a healthy skepticism out there about whether Rutgers has the ability to deliver the New York City market, which I agree with at a certain level and have pointed out on this blog numerous times.  This is definitely not a slam dunk by any means.

However, I also don’t believe the Big Ten is naive enough to think that it is just about Rutgers alone delivering that market.  Instead, the conference is likely banking on the immediate geographic presence of Rutgers combined with the large number of other Big Ten alums living in the New York City metro region (particularly from Penn State, Michigan and newly-added Maryland) to gain just enough traction to make it viable.  If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”, the Big Ten is betting that the network effect of Rutgers being added to all of the existing Big Ten alums in the Tri-State area will have a greater impact than Rutgers alone (or Rutgers combined with the various past and present members of the Big East).  I’m not saying that this will definitely work – this is big-time risk for a conference that isn’t known for big-time risks.  The main point is that this move is not just about what Rutgers alone can deliver in the New York City market, but rather what Rutgers plus all of the other Big Ten fans in that region can deliver just enough there.  No one in the Big Ten is expecting New York sports fans to follow college football like people in Birmingham – the percentage of fans that need to be interested in college sports in that market for the conference to garner the value it needs there is much lower than anywhere else.

Some other thoughts:

  • As much as a lot of people have pointed out the “cultural differences” and geographic distances between Maryland and the rest of the Big Ten, this is a fairly mild change on those fronts by conference realignment standards.  In terms of being a large research institution with excellent academics, Maryland fits in very well with the Big Ten as a school.  At the same time, Maryland won’t exactly be sticking out like a sore thumb in the league, especially with Rutgers being added at the same time and Penn State being in a contiguous state.  This is nowhere near the cultural and geographic differences between West Virginia and the rest of the Big 12 or the current-football-setup-that’s-about-to-change in the Big East.
  • Despite my belief that Maryland would have been foolish to turn down an invite from the Big Ten, I still continue to think that the ACC is stronger than people give it credit for.  The fact that Maryland is leaving doesn’t mean that it’s going to spark an exodus from the ACC overall, particularly with respect to never ending speculation that Florida State and Clemson would consider jumping to the Big 12.  There are two key differences between the Maryland situation and the Florida State/Clemson scenario: (1) outside of money, Maryland is moving to conference that it still fits into as an overall institution without insane geography issues, whereas FSU and Clemson have no real connections at all to the Big 12 and (2) when looking at the money, Maryland is going to receive a LOT LOT LOT more of an increase in TV rights fees by moving to the Big Ten than FSU and Clemson would receive in the Big 12.  Pete Thamel from Sports Illustrated pointed out that the Big Ten is anticipating $30 million to $35 million per school per year in just TV money when it enters into a new deal in 2017… and this appears to be a low end estimate that assumes that there won’t be full BTN carriage in markets covered by Maryland and Rutgers.  (If the Big Ten Network can get a full in-market rate in the NYC and DC markets, then those numbers are going to go up even further.)  The current ACC contract with ESPN that runs through 2027 will pay out an average of $17.1 million per school per year, which means that Maryland is looking at a 100% increase in TV rights money as a conservative estimate.  Contrast this with Florida State and Clemson, where they’d be looking at a bump up to $20 million per school per year in the Big 12’s national TV deals plus whatever they’d be able to garner for third tier TV rights locally.  That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but likely not enough considering that there would be much worse cultural and geographic headaches compared to the Maryland move that will yield far more revenue for the Terps.  Therefore, my semi-educated guess is that the ACC doesn’t lose anyone else in the near-term.
  • Assuming that what I just said about the ACC only losing Maryland holds true, I continue to firmly believe that UConn is going to end up as the Terrapins’ replacement.  From a pure football and even overall athletic department perspective, Louisville is probably the better choice for the ACC, but the league is still one that considers institutional fit and academic profile as being extremely important factors in expansion.  Connecticut is in alignment with the ACC on such factors in a way that Louisville isn’t and, when looking at the ACC’s long-term vision, the Huskies match what the league is looking for in terms of getting into the Northeast as much as possible.  The network effects that apply to Maryland/Rutgers/Penn State for the Big Ten can also apply to UConn/Syracuse/Pitt/Boston College (albeit that’s effectively going back to the old Big East).
  • That leaves Louisville likely praying for the Big 12 to get antsy.  Chip Brown of Orangebloods has stated that the Big 12 isn’t looking to move off of 10 teams for now and I tend to believe him in the short-term.  However, as much as we parse objective TV revenue and demographic data in conference realignment, there’s also a subjective psychological element of “bigger means better” that has been permeating throughout the land.  So, let’s say that it’s about a 60% chance that the Big 12 doesn’t expand within the next few years and a 40% chance that it goes up to 12 (with Louisville being the top target, BYU likely getting consideration, and schools like Cincinnati and USF begging to get in).  That’s up from a 90/10 split prior to the latest Big Ten expansion news, so we’ll have to keep an eye on the Big 12.  (As I’ve noted earlier, I still don’t buy any ACC schools moving to the Big 12.  If anything, it wouldn’t shock me if Texas goes independent and strikes a Notre Dame-type deal with the ACC by the end of this decade.)

The crazy thing is that we’ve only touched the surface here, as the likely defections of Rutgers and Connecticut will leave the Big East searching for new members once again (or maybe preventing Boise State and San Diego State from heading back to the Mountain West or the Catholic non-football members from splitting).  Assuming that Rutgers announces that it’s accepting an invitation to the Big Ten tomorrow, I’ll have more on what the Big East can and/or should do at this point along with the trickle down effect on all of the other conferences.

Until then, welcome to the Big Ten, Maryland!

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

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The University of Maryland Board of Regents has accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten.  Rutgers might be soon to follow.  I’ll have some further thoughts later today, but for now, here is an open thread to discuss the latest conference realignment news.

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

(Image from University of Maryland)

What started off as a few rumors on random local radio shows earlier this week has turned into full-blown national news: the Big Ten is speaking with Maryland and Rutgers and could be expanding as soon as next week.

As Dan Wetzel pointed on in his column on the latest news, this isn’t a no-brainer move for the Big Ten on the level of adding Nebraska (or schools such as Notre Dame or Texas).  However, I believe that it ultimately makes sense overall (especially the addition of Maryland).  The timing of the move is a bit curious just as I was surprised by the timing of the SEC adding Texas A&M (and subsequently Missouri) last year, but the additions of Maryland and Rutgers fit what Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany stated was one of the long-term objectives of the conference’s original expansion exploration announced three years ago: making sure that the Big Ten keeps up with the changing demographics of the United States for next several decades. There is only going to be so much growth in the Big Ten’s base of the Midwest (although the “decline” of the region is often overstated by many non-Midwesterners that often just think of the classic Rust Belt images in Michigan and Ohio while ignoring the fact that the Chicago, Minneapolis and Indianapolis areas have more diverse economies and are growing well population-wise), so that can affect the long-term attractiveness of the conference’s members in recruiting all types of students, whether athletes or valedictorians.

To be sure, it also doesn’t hurt to have a massive amount of potential television revenue tacked on from the Big Ten Network getting onto basic cable in the Washington/Baltimore and New York City media markets.  This is certainly where Maryland clearly adds financial value to the conference: there is no doubt in my mind that the Terrapins have enough pull to get the BTN into homes in their home state plus DC (and probably Northern Virginia on top of that).  While I agree with Wetzel that Washington is a pro sports town, it’s more of a place like Chicago (another pro sports city) where, with the addition of Maryland, there will be enough of a critical mass of Big Ten grads for the conference to claim that market for TV purposes.  Plus, while there has been so much focus on football in conference realignment because that’s what the national TV networks such as ESPN and Fox are throwing out massive contracts for, basketball is actually fairly important to the BTN specifically in terms of leverage against cable operators for basic carriage.  As a result, Maryland’s strong basketball program and fan base are key factors here despite some struggles on football field for the past few years.

The risk for the Big Ten is more with the addition of Rutgers.  Obviously, there’s enormous potential value in having a large public institution that plays directly in the New York City metro area.  That market has been the Holy Grail for several difference conferences, but that’s because it has been so tough to crack.  In sheer numbers, the NYC area has a large number of Big Ten grads along with legions of Rutgers alums, but percentage-wise, there is nowhere near the market penetration that Illinois and Northwestern plus the other Big Ten schools provide for the Chicago market or USC and UCLA plus the other Pac-12 schools provide for the Los Angeles market.  As a result, I tend to agree more with Wetzel’s line of thinking with respect to Rutgers more than Maryland.

What the Big Ten is banking on is that the combination of Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland and Michigan (along with bringing in marquee schools such as Ohio State and Nebraska into town) is going to drive interest for the casual sports fan in New York and New Jersey.  Jim Delany and the powers that be in the Big Ten must have finally gotten comfortable with the belief that this combo is going to work or else they wouldn’t be pulling the trigger on the move.  This is a conference that doesn’t take chances with its membership ranks because it doesn’t need to.

As a pure football move, Maryland and Rutgers won’t move the meter like Nebraska, but I’d say that from a market value perspective, this is a better expansion than the ACC with Syracuse and Pitt (the non-football addition of Notre Dame is a different comparison) and the Pac-12 with Utah and Colorado.  The SEC got the best combo of on-the-field football value and off-the-field market with Texas A&M (while Missouri, which has a good market itself, got the benefit of being school #14 for a league that needed another school that wouldn’t take away revenue).

Some other thoughts:

  • There have been few non-ACC people that have argued about the strength of the ACC off-the-field more than I have over the past couple of years, so that’s why I was very hesitant to jump full-bore on Maryland to the Big Ten rumors that started earlier this week.  This was a move that myself and many other conference realignment aficionados had long thought was possible and looked good on paper, but questioned how willing Maryland was going to be in leaving a stable conference that it founded.
  • The $50 million exit fee that the ACC instituted back in September when Notre Dame joined as a non-football member is certainly a deterrent for Maryland to leave, but we have learned in conference realignment that no one has ever turned down a conference upgrade because of an exit fee.  These types of exit penalties inevitably get negotiated down to lower figures.  At the same time, it’s doubtful that Maryland (whose athletic department is about as solvent as Greece) will have to pay that exit fee out-of-pocket.  The Big Ten might front some of that money and deduct an amount from Maryland’s conference earnings for several years.  (This is what the Big 12 is doing with West Virginia.)  So, $50 million might sound like a lot, but the reality is (1) that number will likely end up being much lower and (2) someone other than Maryland itself is probably going to be paying a lot of that in the beginning.
  • What I didn’t ever buy was the popular fan-based thought that Maryland wouldn’t join the Big Ten because it was a “basketball school”.  Please take a look at the top 5 of both the AP and coaches polls this week for evidence about how asinine of a position that is when looking at conference decisions.  At the same time, unless you’re a legit basketball blue blood (Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas and UCLA), the best way to have a top tier basketball program in the modern era is to have a massive amount of football revenue to pay for it.  Florida, Ohio State and Texas have shown the way on this front over the past several years and the trend is only going to increase further with the latest moves in conference realignment.  To paraphrase what Jim Calhoun stated a couple of years ago, the best decision for your school’s athletic department is whatever is the best decision is for your school’s football program.
  • Speaking of Jim Calhoun, the athletic department that he largely brought to prominence at UConn will likely end up being the largest beneficiary out of the Big Ten’s expansion outside of Maryland and Rutgers themselves.  UConn is unequivocally next in line to get an invite into the ACC, so if Maryland really does end up leaving one spot open there, it’s there for the taking by the Huskies.  The only way that UConn doesn’t end up in the ACC at this point is if the Big Ten pulls an even greater surprise and takes two ACC schools, in which case I could see that conference staying at 12 all-sports members.
  • On the flip side, Louisville is probably the school most damaged by this Big Ten expansion.  When looking purely at the Cardinals athletic department, there is no doubt that it belongs in a power conference.  However, the academic requirements of the Big Ten and ACC have always meant that they would never seriously consider Louisville, while the SEC has never had much incentive to add that school since it already has that state covered by the University of Kentucky.  Louisville essentially has to hope that the Big 12 is going to get skittish with this latest move by the Big Ten and that they can’t stand pat at 10 members.  From a personal standpoint, I believe that Louisville deserves better because that athletic department has truly done everything right over the past few years.

All in all, Maryland and Rutgers going to the Big Ten is a solid off-the-field move for the conference in the long-term even if it won’t be sexy on-the-field (outside of lacrosse) in the short-term.  For the rest of the college sports world, conference realignment chaos is back in effect.

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

(Image from WBAL)