Posts Tagged ‘ACC Expansion’

When it comes to conference realignment-related lawsuits, every school that has left a conference has attempted to claim that it owes nothing in exit fees. In turn, every conference has attempted to claim that the defecting school owes every single penny. Ultimately, though, it’s all a dance to get to a settlement (as is the case in 99% of all lawsuits as a general matter) and the parties invariably meet somewhere near the middle.

As a result, Maryland’s new counterclaim filed on Monday against the ACC (see the full complaint here) needs to be viewed through that prism. Maryland is now claiming that the ACC is liable for $157 million, which reflects treble damages for allegations of anti-competitive behavior (which we’ll get to in a moment). The ACC’s original claim states that Maryland owes the entire amount of the $52.2 million exit fee that the conference passed a couple of months prior to the Terps defecting (although Maryland and Florida State voted against it). The reality is that Maryland doesn’t truly believe that the ACC is going to pay $157 million and the ACC doesn’t truly believe that Maryland will pay the full $52.2 million exit fee. It’s just that they can’t say anything less along those lines in court or public or else they’ll lose a massive amount of leverage.

The headlines for the counterclaim focus on two tantalizing allegations that the ACC (1) attempted to recruit 2 Big Ten schools after Maryland announced that it was leaving and (2) received “counsel and direction from ESPN” on expansion targets. Now, my semi-educated guess is that these allegations are blowing some fairly mundane conversations out of proportion. Conferences are constantly recruiting schools, as the Big Ten has done quite a bit over the past several years. The word on the street is that Penn State was definitely one of the Big Ten schools that was contacted, while Northwestern appears to be the most likely other target. Note that Maryland stated that the ACC did not recruit any schools west of the Mississippi River (which was a distinction to bolster their argument that the “relevant market” that needs to shown in antitrust cases was as limited as possible and that the ACC had market power in such market), so it looks like the ACC didn’t want to go after Minnesota, Iowa or Nebraska.  Regardless, the fact that representatives from Wake Forest and Pittsburgh* attempted to recruit Big Ten schools in and of itself doesn’t mean very much other than showing that there’s no limit to John Swofford’s hubris. Pitt’s president calling up Penn State’s president with a “Want to join the ACC, bro?” inquiry and quickly getting rebuffed is a recruitment on paper, but it never went anywhere. The real test is whether there was any evidence of reciprocal interest (i.e. the Big Ten entering into confidentiality agreements with multiple ACC schools besides Maryland in 2012) and Maryland didn’t present anything to that effect.

(* It’s not surprising that Wake Forest and Pitt were chosen as the schools to put out feelers because they are probably the last two schools from the ACC that would garner any interest from the Big Ten. Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them, but rather they are the two schools that do the least to fill what the Big Ten specifically would be looking for in expansion. Wake is a small enrollment undergrad-focused private school that shares its state with 3 other schools with larger fan bases, while Pitt is the only ACC school that is located in a current Big Ten state and wouldn’t bring any new markets to the table. Everyone else in the ACC would bring in a new TV market and recruiting territory to the Big Ten at a minimum putting aside any academic and cultural fit issues.)

At the same time, ESPN’s “counsel and direction” isn’t unique to the ACC. While I have seen a number of people try to argue today that the ACC is an “ESPN property” while the Big Ten is a “Fox property”, this belies the fact that ESPN’s top college football package still consists of the Big Ten’s first tier rights, the Big Ten continues to receive more money from ESPN than the BTN even under an older pre-sports rights boom contract, and Disney will very likely be paying a monster amount (as in the largest contract in college sports history) to retain those rights sooner rather than later (which is a topic for another day). The reality is that ESPN is having these types of conversations with everyone. If the ACC lobs in a call to Bristol and asks whether they’d be willing to pay more if they added Penn State, they’re probably giving an honest affirmative answer. Likewise, if anyone thinks that Jim Delany and the Big Ten didn’t have the exact same conversations with ESPN about what they’d be getting if Maryland and Rutgers joined (the latter being the old Big East that had all of its rights owned by ESPN), then that’s a serious case of naivete. That doesn’t mean that ESPN is actually directing conference realignment decisions, although it highlights the substantial conflict of interest that ESPN has by having so many contracts with a multitude of competing parties.

Separately, it appears that the quote of former Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo in Boston Globe after the ACC added Syracuse and Pittsburgh, where he says, “We always keep our television partners close to us. You don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 percent football money. TV – ESPN – is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball,’’ will probably live on in infamy for the foreseeable future in conference realignment lawsuits. Granted, my belief is that the quote is taken a bit out of context where the emphasis that DeFilippo was likely trying to get across was that ESPN was telling conferences that football was worth more than basketball as a general matter as opposed to providing actual membership directions, but it shows that the public will pounce on any hint of meddling from Bristol because they want to believe that ESPN constitutes the Conference Realignment Illuminati behind every move.

For all of the lawsuits, mudslinging and public posturing, we’re probably going to see the ACC and Maryland end up splitting the baby in a settlement in relatively short order. Absolutely no one involved – Maryland, the ACC, the Big Ten, ESPN – wants anything to do with this matter going to trial. A year ago, I thought that this would settle for between $25 million and $30 million, and that still seems to be the likely outcome from my standpoint.

(Image from Fansided)

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For the past year, I’ve been pointing out that conference realignment really hinges on three primary schools: Texas, Notre Dame and North Carolina. The first two are fairly obvious to football-focused fans, but UNC is really the true lynchpin to the ACC. So, it was interesting to see the emails that were circulated within the UNC leadership ranks in the wake of Maryland’s defection to the Big Ten last year that The News & Observer procured. Here are some key excerpts and my thoughts:

Emails to and from Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, reflect the uncertainty that fans, boosters, administrators and Cunningham himself shared in the days after Maryland announced its decision to leave the ACC. Financial concerns drove the speculation surrounding conference realignment. According to Maryland, those concerns also drove it out of the ACC.

Hours after Maryland announced its move, Sports Illustrated posted a story on its website that detailed how much more money Maryland would make in the Big Ten. The first paragraph read: “The University of Maryland stands to make nearly $100 million more in conference revenue by 2020 with its switch from the ACC to the Big Ten. …”

Martina Ballen, the Chief Financial Officer of the UNC athletic department, emailed the link to Cunningham and UNC’s associate athletic directors. She included a short note: “Wow! Big $$$ if this is accurate.”

***

Other emails Cunningham received expressed shock that Maryland would leave, and they questioned whether the money in the Big Ten was that much greater than in the ACC. One came from Cappy Gagnon, a longtime Notre Dame athletic department employee who retired in 2011.

“I don’t get this one,” Gagnon wrote to Cunningham, who started his college athletic administration career at Notre Dame. “Maryland is going to be nobody in the Big Ten, with zero natural rivals and long travel. Is the money from the Big Ten Network that much greater than the ACC TV money?”

Cunningham’s response: “Yes. Likely $20 (million)/yr by 2017.”

This was one of the more surprising points in the sense that there seemed to be a genuine lack of knowledge among top level people of how much more of an advantage in TV money that the Big Ten had (and continues to have) over the ACC. That wasn’t something isolated to UNC – recall that University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh stated that he was “stunned” at the Big Ten’s financial projections and didn’t realize the extent of the financial disparities between conferences until going through realignment discussions. It would have been one thing if these were average sports fans just focused on on-the-field results, but it’s quite amazing that university leaders and athletic department officials didn’t seem to be as informed on college sports financial matters as, say, most of the people reading this blog or those that followed the reporting of mainstream media members like Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Andy Staples of SI.com and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. It’s an indication of the insularity of many universities and athletic departments and partially explains why the inertia in favor of the status quo is often stronger than many conference expansionistas would like to believe. What we’re seeing is that it takes a real external crisis for the vast majority of power conference schools to take notice of the information that’s out there and consider switching leagues. (Note that this thinking doesn’t apply to the “Group of Five” non-power conference schools, who are going to be continuously and unabashedly actively looking for greener pastures.)

Cunningham had no shortage of input. A steady stream of emails from alumni, fans and boosters began on Nov. 20.

The notes came from everywhere: from people who graduated from UNC in the 1960s, and those who graduated in the past few years. Former athletes wrote in. There were Rams Club members. And emails from fans who had no tie to the school other than their allegiance.

One came from an Army major who wrote of how he’d followed UNC athletics throughout deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. He expressed concern about a conference move and wrote, “I will always love Carolina, but my fervor towards our athletic programs would die a rapid death should we choose to enter the BIG TEN.”

The emails – many coming after UNC fans on the message boards at InsideCarolina.com organized a push to fill Cunningham’s inbox – shared roughly the same sentiment: Lead the Tar Heels out of the crumbling ACC, to a better place. The overwhelming majority of fans preferred moving to the SEC. Among the more than 150 pages of emails that Cunningham received in the 10 days after Maryland’s announcement, only one email favored joining the Big Ten.

This isn’t a shock that UNC fans preferred a move to the SEC over the Big Ten, as many purely sports-focused fans are generally ignorant or dismissive of the desire of university presidents to tie academic prestige to athletic conferences along with the TV dollars involved. As I’ve stated in previous posts, this plays to the ACC’s advantage in terms of retaining UNC: Tar Heel fans want a Southern-based athletic league, but university leaders care much more about being with their academic peers and maximizing revenue. So, the ACC provides the right balance of being Southern-focused (unlike the Big Ten) and having academic prestige (more so than the SEC).

And so it went, day after day. The most dire speculation was that Florida State and Clemson might also leave for the Big 12. The possibility came up in communication between Cunningham and Dean Jordan, an ACC consultant who specializes in TV rights contracts.

Jordan, who works for the Wasserman Media Group, worked closely with Swofford and helped convince Florida State and Virginia, among others, that the grant of rights agreement would help secure the ACC’s future. Jordan also discussed with ACC schools the possible benefits of developing a TV network devoted to ACC coverage.

Back then, in the days after Maryland’s announcement, Jordan was like everyone else, trying to figure out whether Florida State might actually leave. In an email to Cunningham on Nov. 21, Jordan wrote:

“FSU’s life won’t greatly change in the Big 12. The Big 12 TV deal is pro-rata for any new member and their TV distribution is only about $1 (million) more than the ACC. The Big 12 is going to take in $13 (million) more in BCS money – around $1 (million) per school.

“So for $2 to $3 (million) bucks, FSU is going to go through the trauma of switching leagues?”

The Wasserman consultant crystallized what I had always thought about the prospect of Florida State and Clemson going to the Big 12: it just didn’t make sense when you just took a step back and saw what was involved. The Big 12 might have had the advantage in pure on-the-field football performance over the past several years, but that league is a paper tiger in off-the-field conference realignment discussions compared to the ACC and other power conferences. Florida State might have used discussions (or the rumors of discussions) with the Big 12 as leverage to get an audience with the SEC and Big Ten, but the Seminoles were never seriously considering actually joining the Big 12.

Cunningham didn’t just receive emails from interested colleagues and panicking fans. On Nov. 25 – six days after Maryland announced its move – former University of Cincinnati NCAA faculty athletics representative Frederick Russ wrote Cunningham in hopes of bolstering support for Cincinnati.

Russ and Cunningham spent time together days before at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.

“As I mentioned in Maui, I’ve been hearing all kinds of rumors about which schools the ACC might seek to add, and I wanted to let you know why I think adding the University of Cincinnati to the ACC would benefit the conference and both UNC and UC,” Russ wrote, before listing his reasons.

The ACC, though, already was finalizing its plan. Less than two weeks after Maryland announced that it would be leaving for the Big Ten, the ACC on Nov. 29, 2012 announced that it was replacing Maryland with Louisville. About five months after that, the conference had secured a grant of rights agreement, which effectively put an end – at least for the foreseeable future – to speculation and rumors that were never more prevalent than in the days that followed news of Maryland’s impending departure for the Big Ten.

Give Cincinnati credit for this: that school has been tireless in getting its message out for conference realignment purposes and taking nothing for granted. To be honest, I didn’t even really consider Cincinnati to be a viable ACC candidate in the immediate aftermath of the Maryland defection, but they managed to at least shoehorn themselves into the conversation when all was said and done (despite the fact that Louisville was ultimately chosen). Being aggressive in and of itself isn’t going to change a school’s position in conference realignment, but with the insularity among university and athletic department officials that I described above, taking every opportunity to highlight successes and future facilities plans (particularly in football) to the right people is critical. Louisville (Cincinnati’s competition) did just that over the past couple of years and went from being a marginal ACC candidate and possibly being left out of the power conference picture completely to grabbing the last spot in the ACC against formidable athletic (at least in basketball) and academic competition (UConn). Keep an eye out on Cincinnati when (not if) the Big 12 inevitably comes to the conclusion that it needs to expand.

All-in-all, the UNC emails highlighted the consternation that school officials and fans feel in times of conference realignment instability. As much as people like me are interested in the topic, I can certainly understand that no one in a leadership position likes dealing with periods of high stakes uncertainty. That being said, UNC is one of the few schools that is legitimately in control of its own destiny – both the Big Ten and SEC would take them in a heartbeat. The worst case scenario for the Tar Heels is that they are forced to join a league against their will that is wealthier and more powerful than the ACC itself. A fellow ACC school like Wake Forest, on the other hand, would feel quite a bit differently in the face of a conference collapse (just as Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State feared back in 2010 and 2011 with the Big 12 defections and UConn, Cincinnati and USF feel today in not being able to escape the then-Big East (now AAC). Schools will continue to place quite a bit of value on stability even if there is the possibility of larger dollars elsewhere.

(Image from Now I Know – It’s Gotta Be the Shorts)

A message from a reader:

Well, I deserve that. I know it’s been a long hiatus here with the new college football and NFL seasons starting, over half of the Breaking Bad final season passing by and lots of twerking since my last post, so let’s get to answering some questions in part 1 of an overflowing mailbag Q&A:

There were a ton of “Division 4″ questions, so here’s a sample:

My overarching thought on the impact of the proposed Division 4* is (going along with the Breaking Bad theme) that there won’t be any “half-measures”. On the conservative end, this could be a straight-forward exercise for the football schools to get more leverage in rule-making (which is what Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has intimated). Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of FBS schools (from the SEC down to the Sun Belt) have been in favor of instituting full cost of attendance payments to athletes, whereas the main opposition has come from non-FBS Division I schools. If the impetus behind creating a Division 4 is to simply get more control over the NCAA governance process, then that suggests that all FBS conferences will end up in that top division. Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com has reported that that this is what NCAA faculty representatives are essentially recommending.

(* Is it just me, or does everyone associated with the NCAA have the naming ineptitude of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West? They changed the perfectly logical Division I-A and Division I-AA to FBS and FCS. They messed with the even more logical NCAA Tournament regional names of East, South, Midwest and West for several years before reverting back. Now, we’re talking about a “Division 4″ that’s supposed to be referring to the top level of college sports even though one would think that this would be below Divisions II and III. Nothing about the name “Division 4″ makes sense, which means that the NCAA will probably end up choosing it in the end.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Division 4 could truly be the formal separation of the 5 power conferences plus Notre Dame (no matter what you think of the Irish, you have to always include Notre Dame) so that there could be more radical changes down the road. Maybe there could be payments to players beyond the full cost of attendance. Maybe athletes will be allowed to auction off their autographs on ebay. Probably most intriguing (and what I think is the long-range goal) is that this is all about setting up an 8-team playoff with the 5 power conference champs with auto-bids and 3 at-large bids without having to deal with the “riff raff” of the Group of Five leagues (and protecting the power leagues from any legal challenges to that playoff system on top of that). Imagine a playoff with a traditional Rose Bowl (Big Ten champ vs. Pac-12 champ) plus the Sugar Bowl (SEC champ vs. at-large), Orange Bowl (ACC champ vs. at-large) and Cotton or Fiesta Bowl (Big 12 champ vs. at-large) as quarterfinals. The ratings and money would be through the roof along with supercharging the interest in the regular seasons of all of those power conferences (meaning even more ratings and money) and they get to control all of it without having to share with the revenue takers. That can be done with a totally separate Division 4 in a way that probably can’t occur in the current NCAA structure.

What I don’t see is something in between, where a Division 4 is formed with the 5 power conferences plus, say, the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference. There is very little point in the power conferences going through the exercise of creating a Division 4 when the end result is only relegating the MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt. The power players aren’t going to deal with a litany of acrimonious lawsuits unless the end game is complete and 100% control with only the conferences that they deem worthy (and judging by the fact that the 5 power conference commissioners keep speaking with each other as a group without the involvement of anyone else, it should be pretty clear who they want to deal with). Either it’s going to be a massive change to the system (separation of the 5 power conferences plus Notre Dame into a new division) or little change outside of NCAA procedural matters (giving all FBS schools more latitude in setting their own rules). The “half-measure” of the AAC and MWC coming along for the ride with the power conferences doesn’t seem very likely to me, which is why individual Group of Five schools need to hope for more conference realignment for guaranteed protection. Speaking of which…

I don’t believe that further conference realignment is necessary for a Division 4 split. As we’ve gone over before on this blog, for all of the moves in conference realignment over the past few years, where we stand today really isn’t that much different than where we stood in 1998 when the BCS system first started (only we’ve consolidated from 6 power conferences into 5). Every school that was in one of the 6 BCS conferences in 1998 is still in one of the 5 current power conferences today with the exception of Temple (who was a football-only member of the Big East that was relegated for reasons completely outside of conference realignment), while a grand total of 3 schools (TCU, Utah and Louisville) have been elevated. This indicates that the power conferences are pretty firm in who they want to associate with and changing perceptions is a glacial process. Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope for some schools…

I can now answer this question nicely since we had a successful “Hate Cincinnati” weekend in the Frank the Tank household (Illini over Bearcats on Saturday, which frankly shocked the hell out of me, and Bears over Bengals on Sunday). Cincinnati and its AAC/old Big East zombie counterpart UConn are definitely power conference material on paper. The issue is more about whether any of the power conferences will see a need to expand proactively while everyone other than the SEC is at the start of long-term grant of rights agreements that make it difficult (if not impossible) for power schools to move amongst themselves. Overall, the Big 12 is more likely to want to expand at some point because of their small size, poor demographics outside of the state of Texas and the fact that IF a grant of rights agreement were to be broken (a massively large IF), it would be in the context of the Big Ten raiding the Big 12 again (more on that in a moment), which would bode well for Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a solid football program in a good TV market with access to a great recruiting area for athletes of all types (whether football or basketball) while also providing a geographic bridge to West Virginia for the Big 12. As a result, Cincinnati is likely next in line for the Big 12 (alongside BYU) if that league wants to expand. The problem for Cincy fans, of course, is no one knows if or when that expansion would happen in the near future.

The ACC would probably favor UConn over Cincinnati if it had to choose, although that conference did deviate from its traditional criteria in choosing Louisville last year. The main issue for any school with hopes of joining the ACC is that it doesn’t seem plausible that it would expand outside of either (a) backfilling in the event of a raid by the Big Ten and/or SEC or (b) pairing a school with Notre Dame joining as a full member, neither of which seems to be on the horizon in the short-term. There’s at least some argument that the Big 12 would proactively expand regardless of what the other conferences do, so that at least gives Cincinnati some hope.

Some Big Ten conference realignment questions:

Let’s start with my previous post, where I point out how difficult and unlikely it is to break a grant of rights arrangement over the next decade or so. As a result, the likelihood of Big Ten expansion in the near future is extremely low, as I don’t believe that the conference is interested in anyone that isn’t already in one of the 5 power conferences (meaning no one in the AAC or any other Group of 5 conference is compelling enough).

Now, whenever the Big Ten expansion does kick up again, Kansas is certainly high up there on the list. The Jayhawks are to future Big Ten expansion in the way that Pharrell Williams ended up singing on the two largest Billboard hits of the summer (“Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”) despite not headlining either of them: it’s hard to see KU not involved as a contiguous AAU school with an elite basketball program, but they also can’t be the biggest athletic name in that expansion, either. One thing that I’ve loved about writing this blog is that I hope that I’ve helped to elevate the discussion of conference realignment to take into account factors that many fans didn’t consider previously (i.e. academics, TV markets, branding, etc.), yet we sometimes do need to take a step back and realize that the product on the field (or court) is still what makes all of the off-the-field money possible, so expansion has to serve those needs. Thus, a hypothetical Kansas/Virginia or Kansas/Missouri (not that I think the Big Ten is ever going to poach the SEC and vice versa) expansion combo for the Big Ten might serve some TV market and AAU status purposes, but that doesn’t have the requisite athletic (and more specifically, football) impact that is required for what could conceivably be the last two spots in the Big Ten. (For all of those that would counter, “Rutgers and Maryland weren’t added for sports!”, I would say that (a) there was a football goal achieved since New Jersey and Maryland were the two top non-Sun Belt states for football recruits that weren’t already in the Big Ten footprint and (b) pure TV market additions were acceptable when looking that them in conjunction with the elite football addition of Nebraska.)

Putting aside the obvious no-brainer additions like Texas, I’m firmly in camp of supporting the addition Oklahoma to the Big Ten and I don’t believe that it’s a purely fan-focused football move. The main detraction for Oklahoma that I often see is that it isn’t an AAU member, but its academic metrics aren’t really far off at all from now-non-AAU member Nebraska and its neighboring old Big 8 AAU schools (Missouri, Kansas and Iowa State). There isn’t the wide academic gap between OU and Nebraska that there was in the case of Louisville compared to the rest of the ACC. Some Big Ten observers believe that the non-AAU status of Oklahoma is a non-starter, but I doubt that the conference would have engaged performing due diligence on the Sooners unless there was some legit interest involved. More importantly, the lack of AAU status for other expansion candidates was simply another reason on top of a number of other factors that made the target school undesirable (i.e. geography, lack of a fan base, lack of a football brand name, not a new TV market, etc.). It’s easy for the Big Ten to ignore a merely “good” football program based on academics (i.e. West Virginia or Louisville), but Oklahoma is a top level king school that would bring a ton of national TV dollars. Even Oklahoma’s smaller home state population on paper is mitigated by the fact that its fan base crosses over into North Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area (and Kansas, by the same token, can’t just be looked at by its home state population alone since it’s the top college team in the Kansas City market that takes a large chunk of Missouri).

The upshot is that if the Big Ten goes to 16 schools, then the last 2 additions actually need to make markets irrelevant. What are the 2 additions that can truly transform the BTN from a regional network to a legit national network? Sure, if the Big Ten has the choice, they’d want Texas and Notre Dame (or some other unattainable major market prize like North Carolina or Florida). However, if we’re talking about the top brand names that are willing to reciprocate the Big Ten’s overtures, Oklahoma and Kansas are sitting right there to supercharge the conferences’ football and basketball lineups, respectively. Penetrating a diverse market like New York City has as much to do with the national interest in various teams as it does with local interest, which aids the cases of OU and KU.

Frankly, the biggest factor working the Big Ten going after either OU and KU (much more than academic concerns) is the political pressure of those schools’ respective in-state brothers (Oklahoma State and Kansas State). I believe the Big Ten would expand with an OU/KU combo, but the conference won’t be willing to take either Oklahoma State and Kansas State in the process. Those “little brother” schools might be non-negotiable from a political perspective even if Jayhawk and Sooner fans don’t want to believe that to be the case, so that could stop Big Ten expansion regardless of any Big 12 grant of rights concerns. So, that brings me back to my initial point that Big Ten expansion isn’t likely, albeit it’s still fun to talk about after all of this time.

I’ll be back with Part II of the mailbag going over issues such as EA Sports NCAA ’14, Big East expansion and pro sports realignment shortly. Talk to you again soon!

(Image from Zap2It)

The main question that I’ve been getting over the past few weeks is the following: “Is conference realignment really done? Seriously? Isn’t everyone still lying?” Well, from my perspective, power conference realignment is finished for the foreseeable future with one possible exception (which I’ll get to in a moment). The fact that the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and now ACC all have grant of rights arrangements in place really puts a damper on any further movement. Even if grant of rights agreements could be challenged and struck down, the issue is that none of the 4 conferences that have them in place have any incentive to test that (or else they’d be challenging the strength of their own protections). It’s simply slim pickings in terms of expansion candidates that are outside of the 5 power conferences for the healthiest leagues. Let’s take a look at where everyone stands:

(1) Big Ten – The Big Ten certainly has no need to expand at this point without a school from the ACC or Big 12. A school such as UConn might provide a nice market in theory with elite basketball, but that was already a massive stretch candidate with its lack of AAU status and FBS football history. Plus, even if the Big Ten wanted UConn, who the heck else would the conference add with them? Let’s disregard any notion that an odd number of football schools can be workable from this point forward – what was acceptable with the 11-team Big Ten without divisions and a conference championship game is simply not acceptable in the new larger Big Ten. There has to be a Noah’s Ark expansion approach for any conference that has more than 12 members. As much as I’m a Big Ten fan, I’m also not delusional enough to trick myself into thinking that they could raid the SEC since that’s the only power league doesn’t have a grant of rights arrangement as of yet. Note that the Big Ten passed on Missouri (the most oft-referenced school that would plausibly defect) multiple times when the school was a Big 12 member, so it makes little sense that Jim Delany and the university presidents would even target them now, while a school like Vanderbilt might make the ivory tower-types happy but does little for the financial football goals of the conference (and believe me, as much as I enjoy talking about the CIC and academic status of the Big Ten, the “football” part of the equation still needs to be met). After adding Penn State, the Big Ten was more than willing to wait for two decades to find the correct non-Notre Dame expansion candidates, so I find it to be entirely consistent that they’d be fine with waiting another decade to see if schools like Texas, UNC, UVA, Georgia Tech, Kansas and/or Oklahoma are willing to test the free agent market at that point.

(2) SEC – Meanwhile, the SEC is essentially in the same boat as the Big Ten: all of the candidates that it would realistically want are sitting in the ACC or Big 12. The new SEC Network being formed with ESPN isn’t going to gain anything without a UNC-level addition, which means that expansion is pointless for Mike Slive’s group for the next decade. I don’t subscribe to the Clay Travis bloviations that the SEC Network will blow everyone else out of the water (there are some basic concrete reasons why the Big Ten will very likely continue its current TV revenue dominance for quite awhile, not the least of which is that Jim Delany will get to send the Big Ten’s first tier rights out for open market bidding in a couple of years and that would result in a massive windfall even if Maryland and Rutgers don’t add another dime of revenue to the BTN), but the league will certainly make enough to make it rain in the clubs.

(Note that the key market to watch for SEC Network carriage is the state of Texas. To be clear, I believe that Texas A&M has significantly more pull in its home state than, say, Rutgers has in New Jersey. However, the state of Texas is already home to two of the most high profile ongoing sports network carriage disputes in the country with the ESPN-owned sister channel Longhorn Network not being able to strike a deal with any major cable or satellite carrier other than AT&T U-Verse and Comcast SportsNet Houston, which carries Astros and Rockets games and is co-owned by those teams, still not having anything in place with DirecTV and DISH Network (which is particularly problematic in the Texas market that has higher satellite penetration compared to Northeastern markets such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC that have larger percentages of traditional wired cable customers). Now, the SEC Network is going to provide significantly better content than the Longhorn Network, but the fact that such a large portion of the Houston market hasn’t had access to the Rockets led by James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (I still can’t believe that my battered but still fighting Bulls let that guy get away for nothing in return) for an entire season and currently the Astros (as horrible as they might be on-the-field these days) is an indicator that the SEC Network isn’t just going to get Texas cable and satellite operators to roll over. I fully acknowledge that no cable operator will be able to last a day within the state of Alabama if they’re not carrying Crimson Tide football, so I’m just pointing out the Texas market specifically here as a place to focus upon.)

(3) ACC (plus Notre Dame) – At the same time, the ACC is likely going to spend the next decade in the same mode that the Big Ten was during the 1990s: reserving a spot for Notre Dame. Now, that doesn’t mean that Notre Dame has any intention of joining the ACC as a full football member. Quite to the contrary, I believe that Notre Dame’s ability to stay independent is stronger today than it was 10 years ago when the ACC began its multiple raids of the Big East. Notre Dame has secured an long-term extension of its NBC deal, isn’t subject to any conference championship requirement to have access to the new College Football Playoff, will have access to the Orange Bowl and all secondary ACC bowl tie-ins, and will be in a great power league for basketball and non-revenue sports. There’s less logic in Notre Dame giving up independence today than when it appeared that the Big East was going to collapse without a home for non-football Irish sports in 2003. However, never underestimate how much university administrators delude themselves into thinking that they’re going to be the ones that change the hearts and minds in South Bend. Jim Delany, Deloss Dodds and John Swofford, who I consider to be smart men (whether or not you agree with their actions), have all been fooled on this front. With a grant of rights in place, the ACC doesn’t need to proactively grow at this point and can use the “We’ll wait for Notre Dame to come around” retort to further expansion for awhile (even though anyone that has any clue about how single-mindedly focused the Notre Dame alumni base will fight any hint of giving up football independence knows that they’ll never come around). There’s really no need for the ACC to act unless (until?) it gets poached again by another power conference.

(4) Pac-12 – The Pac-12 is an interesting case since it could conceivably benefit from further expansion with schools that are outside of the 5 power conferences (particularly the Mountain West) from a pure financial standpoint, but none of the realistic candidates for that league fit the requirements for markets and/or academics. BYU has a great brand name with a national following and solid academics, but the political viewpoints of the LDS make that school into a non-starter at places like Berkeley. UNLV provides a great market with potentially a gleaming new football palace in Las Vegas, yet the school is far off from what the Pac-12 wants for academics and even worse on the actual on-the-field football front. New Mexico has a similar decent market/horrific football combo. Hawaii could possibly pass muster in terms of academics and football, but this is one case where geography is likely untenable. (It’s still a quicker flight from Los Angeles to Miami than it is from LA to Honolulu.) Boise State’s football prowess and national TV appeal can’t overcome its academic standards that the Pac-12 won’t accept. So, the Pac-12 seems to be boxed in even if it wanted to expand.

(5) Big 12 – As a result, any realistic chance for further power conference expansion in the near future rests with the Big 12. When Jim Delany, Mike Slive, John Swofford and Larry Scott tell reporters that their respective conferences are happy with their current membership levels, I believe them. All 4 of those conferences are at natural stopping points. In contrast, the Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 seem to have unfinished business – being at 10 members in this environment of larger conferences is much more tenuous than it was 3 years ago, so there’s going to be a lingering feeling of instability with the Big 12 until it gets back up to at least 12 schools in the same way that no one could rest easy when the Big Ten sat at 11 members. While the Big 12 doesn’t have any truly obvious expansion options, they have a bit more leeway compared to the Pac-12 geographically, academically and culturally. For instance, what bothers the Pac-12 about BYU isn’t going to fluster a conference that has a member that didn’t allow any dancing on campus until the Tupac/Biggie feud was at its zenith. The Big 12 could also conceivably expand in virtually any direction within the continental United States, so it’s not implausible that the conference could consider any of UConn, Cincinnati, Colorado State,New Mexico and/or UNLV.

The problem, though, is that the Big 12 is boxed in financially. Unlike the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC (and maybe eventually the ACC), the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference network that can leverage additional households in expansion and is entirely dependent on its national ESPN/Fox deal for conference TV revenue. Now, schools such as Texas and Oklahoma enjoy lucrative third tier rights deals within the Big 12, yet that doesn’t do anything to support overall conference expansion. Plus, the expansion candidates are still largely flawed, as the best football schools like Boise State don’t bring any solid TV markets or recruiting grounds while the schools with the best demographics (e.g. UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State) have some of the worst FBS football programs anywhere. BYU plus Cincinnati or UConn would seem to be the best shot for the Big 12 to maximize financial value in expansion out of what’s realistically available, yet that combo may not be enough. Unfortunately for the Big 12, the conference’s leaders (or maybe just Texas AD Deloss Dodds specifically) got sidetracked for awhile by chasing the expansion lottery dreams of Notre Dame and Florida State while passing on what could have been lucrative and stability-producing additions with Louisville (which would have given a nearish geographic partner for isolated West Virginia) and BYU. The ACC grabbed Louisville to backfill for Maryland, though, and that ended taking a lot of solid expansion combos for the Big 12 off the table (as any desirable expansion for the Big 12 that didn’t include the pipe dreams of Notre Dame and/or Florida State involved Louisville on some level).

To be sure, the Big 12 (a) probably will always be a pretty good conference in terms of football on-the-field by virtue of being the most prominent conference in the recruiting rich state of Texas and (b) will unequivocally be a power conference with high national TV revenue numbers and bowl appeal as long as Texas and Oklahoma are members. However, that’s also a blessing and a curse, as the conference’s over-reliance on the state of Texas and a couple of marquee brand names exposes some of the same weaknesses in the Big 12 that eventually caused the old Southwest Conference to collapse. The demographic growth prospects of the state of Texas specifically are fantastic, but that masks the fact that the Big 12′s demographics outside of Texas are the worst out of all of the 5 power conferences by a wide margin. (This is a large reason why I never bought what was seemingly a widespread belief that ACC schools would defect to the Big 12 no matter what financial arguments some observers attempted to make.) Long-term, the Big 12 is at risk because there isn’t a ready reservoir of brand names that it can expand or merge with in the way that the old Big 8 took Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor from the SWC. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Big 12 is at risk of completely breaking up like it did back in 2010-11 since I firmly believe that Texas desires the ability to control (or have perceived control over) a conference more than even making the most TV money, but it’s still the power conference that is bound almost entirely by the strength of its current TV contract (which will eventually expire) as opposed to the strength of its bonds beyond that (unlike the academic bonds of the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 or the geographic institutional football focus of the SEC). So, the Big 12 is still be the power conference that will be most susceptible to raids in the future, just as it was 3 1/2 years ago when Jim Delany first announced that the Big Ten was looking to expand. We may just have to wait another 10 years before power conference chaos happens once again. Until then, we’ll need to pay attention to the non-power conferences and basketball leagues (Oakland moving to the Horizon League was announced today and Davidson appears to be heading to the Atlantic 10 as rumored) for our conference realignment fixes.

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

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

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)

(Image from 97.1 FM The Fan)

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)

(Image from InfoPlease)

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)

(Image from Restricted Data)

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)

(Image from ESPN)

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)

(Image from TV Tropes)

 

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)

(Image from Deadspin)