Posts Tagged ‘Big 12 Expansion’

Conference realignment at the power conference level has seemingly ground to a halt after what has been nearly four years of rumors, Tweets and blogs speculating on apocalyptic moves. When I created the Big Ten Expansion Index, there seemed to be endless possibilities of how the college sports world would shake out. Now, tools such as grant of rights agreements have at least temporarily paused any realignment within the power conference ranks. However, there’s still a nagging feeling that the 10-member Big 12 won’t stay at its current size. While any belief that some outside force would demand that the Big 12 expand (i.e. the SEC or other power conferences in the new playoff system) should be discredited as completely erroneous (as every conference wants to respect each others’ full autonomy in determining its membership levels), the practical reality is that the Big 12 is the odd duck in a world where other conferences are seeking size and depth in terms of brand names and TV markets while adding conference championship games (as opposed to eliminating them). Just as there will continue to be speculation about the Big Ten expanding to 16 members until it actually does so (particularly with comments such as the recent ones in Inside the Hall from Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass calling 16 schools a “sweet spot”), the Big 12 is going to face the same questions until it gets back up to 12 schools.

With the peripheral rumor mongering noise dying down for the most part, I though it would be a good time to take a step back and create The Big 12 Expansion Index to assess where the viable candidates for that conference stand. To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to endorse the expansion of the Big 12. It’s perfectly reasonable for a Big 12 partisan to see the realistic expansion candidates as the equivalent of looking at a bar full of butterfaces at 3 am while “Closing Time” is playing in the background and saying, “No thanks. Call a cab for me to get the hell out of here.” Personally, I believe that the Big 12 needs to expand in the long-term regardless of any short-term revenue splitting implications, but this analysis can just as easily serve as justification for the conference to not get larger.

I. ASSUMPTIONS

In examining the Big 12 candidates, the following assumptions will be applied:

  • ASSUMPTION #1 – Think like a university president and NOT like a sports fan.

This was the most important rule when constructing the Big Ten Expansion Index and it continues here with the Big 12. Conference realignment decisions aren’t driven by which school is most highly ranked in the latest BCS standings, who the fans like, or even what coaches and athletic directors may want (no matter how powerful they might be at their respective schools). Instead, university presidents are the ones that ultimately make realignment decisions and they’re looking at the long-term off-the-field big picture much more than short-term on-the-field issues that fans are generally focused upon. To be sure, how well a school plays football (and to a much lesser extent, basketball) is certainly relevant, but TV markets, demographic changes and academic rankings are factors that really get university presidents get much more engaged.

  • ASSUMPTION #2 – The Big 12 lacks the ability to raid another power conference.

A number of Big 12 partisans wanted to believe over the past year that the league would be able to poach high profile schools from the ACC such as Florida State and Clemson. However, that prospect was simply never realistic due to a number of issues that the Big 12 needs to address, namely the demographics of the league outside of the state of Texas (which will be explained further in the index criteria below), overall academic reputation and national football brand names beyond Texas and Oklahoma. The Big 12 was able to save itself due to Texas wanting the Longhorn Network over the creation of the Pac-16 and Fox and ESPN paying a lot of money to keep the league together, but it is a paper tiger when it comes to expansion. As a result, the schools being evaluated in the index are all from the “Group of Five” non-power conference ranks.

II. EXPLANATION OF THE BIG 12 EXPANSION INDEX

The Big 12 Expansion Index assesses candidates on a 100-point scale. Please note that the schools are being graded on their values relative to only other Gang of Five schools. So, it doesn’t mean that if a school that receives a perfect score in the index that it would be as valuable as Florida State or USC. These values also have no relation to the figures that were calculated in the Big Ten Expansion Index*. This is only measuring the distinctions within the Group of Five universe that serves as the realistic pool of Big 12 expansion candidates. Here are the categories:

Football Brand Value (30 points) – As it was with the Big Ten, this is the most heavily weighted category as a reflection of the reality of the college sports landscape. The revenue generated from football is so massive in comparison to the other sports (including basketball) that it is the ultimate driver for expansion in every conference (including more historically basketball-focused ones such as the ACC).

It must be emphasized that Football Brand Value puts much more weight on the long-term history and financial underpinnings of a program over short-term or recent success. Thus, Team A that has sold out stadiums for years whether it wins or loses is much more valuable than Team B that only sells out a 40,000-seat stadium when it’s in the national championship race, even if Team A has had a mediocre seasons recently and Team B happens to rank in the top 25 of the BCS rankings this year. A lengthy tradition of playing football at the top level also carries more cache compared to being a noveau riche program. The “What have you done for me lately?” attitude of most sports fans doesn’t apply here. Instead, the proper question is the opposite: Even if the target school goes 0-12 in a season, will it still attract TV viewers and attendance? In other words, the true value of a football program is really measured by how much attention it still receives when it’s down as opposed to how much attention it gets when it’s up. Granted, it is much more difficult to find schools under this standard at the Group of Five level compared to at the power conferences, which is a large reason why those Group of Five schools aren’t in power conferences in the first place as of now.

National TV Value (15 points) – The calculation for TV values is a bit different for the Big 12 compared to the Big Ten. With the latter’s Big Ten Network, there was more of an emphasis on the value that schools would bring to that channel (which meant it was fairly large market-focused, albeit the Big Ten still ended up small market Nebraska first when all was said and done because of its extraordinary national TV value). The Big 12, though, is more concerned with the value of its national TV contract above all else since the league doesn’t have a conference network (and in fact, grants third tier TV rights to its individual members who then keep all of that revenue to themselves). Losing Nebraska was a major hit on that front and it led to the Big 12’s decision to add West Virginia instead of Louisville in 2011. As with the Football Brand Value category, there is much more weight on programs with longer histories of being national TV draws as opposed to the flavors of the moment. The issue with Big 12 expansion, of course, is that there are really only a handful of Group of Five schools that have any national TV value at all with respect to football.

Local TV Value (10 points) – While national TV value is more important to the Big 12 with respect to expansion candidates, there’s certainly still an interest for the Big 12 to expand to new TV markets (as the national TV contract can be impacted by local TV market coverage). The defections from the Big 12 over the past 4 years caused the conference to lose its only two top 25 TV markets that were located outside of the state of Texas (Denver and St. Louis). For this category, 10 points will be granted to a top 25 market, 7 points to a 26-50 market, 3 point to a 51-75 market, and then 0 points after that. Please note that any school that is already located in a Big 12 market will receive zero points in this category no matter how large its local market might be.

Demographics/Recruiting Value (20 points) – This was a category that wasn’t included in The Big Ten Expansion Index, but it would have been if I knew then that Jim Delany was going to use the word “demographics” in conjunction with expansion more than any other word over the past 4 years. While there’s some correlation between demographics and local TV value (as a larger market generally means more favorable demographics), the word “demographics” is really a code word for a very tangible concern for football fans and coaches: football recruits. It always irks me whenever I see comments to the effect that the Big Ten’s additions of Rutgers and Maryland didn’t do anything for the conference in football. Quite to the contrary, that expansion was very important for on-the-field matters because New Jersey and Maryland, according to a study by Football Study Hall, happened to be the top two non-Sun Belt states not already in the Big Ten footprint in terms of producing Division I football recruits (and it wasn’t even close).

The very real danger for the Big 12 compared to the other power conferences is that its coverage in the state of Texas (which is the nation’s top football recruiting state and a beast in terms of population growth) has masked its completely poor demographics in the rest of the conference. There’s no demographic depth at all in the conference once you get beyond the Lone Star State, which has come so close to collapse on multiple occasions over the past few years. Without Texas, the Big 12 dies (whereas each of the other power conferences might be severely wounded if their very top brand name school left, but they would likely still find a way to carry on since they have fuller slates of markets and populous states). In this category, 20 points go to any school in a state that is in the top 5 of Division I recruits annually under the Football Study Hall study (as there’s a huge gap between #5 and #6), 15 points go to any school in a state ranked 6 to 10, 10 points go to any school in a state ranked 11 to 20, 5 points go to any school in any other state that produces at least 20 Division I recruits per year, and 0 points for states under 20. As noted by Football Study Hall, the states that have 20 or more Division I recruits per year have produced 93% of all Division I football players since 2008, so any state under 20 isn’t helping the Big 12’s demographic cause. As with the Local TV Value category, any school that is already located in a Big 12 state will receive zero points in this category.

Academics (5 points) – The Big 12 would certainly like to add top tier academic schools, but it won’t necessarily nix any expansion candidate on those grounds. This is in contrast to the Big Ten, where the Academics category was weighted heavily enough to effectively exclude any school that didn’t meet the threshold as being a viable candidate. For the purposes of the Big 12, 5 points will be assigned to any school that has at least 2 of the following 3 qualifications: an AAU member, ranked in the top 100 of the US News undergraduate rankings and/or ranked in the top 300 of the ARWU world graduate school rankings. A school that has 1 of those qualifications will receive 3 points. Everyone else will receive zero (as the Big 12 would likely only be swayed by truly exceptional academic reputations).

Basketball Value (5 points) – As I stated in the Big Ten Expansion Index post, personally, there’s nothing that would make me more delirious as a sports fan than Illinois winning the national championship in basketball. However, when it comes to conference expansion discussions, basketball has been even less of a consideration than I originally thought 4 years ago. This is too bad since there is a whole slew of excellent or even elite basketball programs available in the Group of Five (much more so than football programs). That being said, if all things are relatively equal in the other categories, then basketball considerations could be the tipping point. An elite program and/or fan base will receive 5 points and a solid program and/or school with a fair amount of tradition will get 3 points.

Geographic Fit/Need (5 points) – Normally, this is a category that is based on pure geographic proximity. However, the Big 12 also has a geographic need to bridge the distance gap between West Virginia and the rest of the conference. As a result, schools in states that are located within that gap along with other states immediately adjacent to the current Big 12 footprint will receive 5 points, while everyone else will receive zero. This is an all-or-nothing category – either a school meets the geographic need or it doesn’t.

Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power (10 points) – This is a category that wasn’t considered for the Big Ten since it was really looking for established old money schools. In the Big 12’s case, though, its realistic expansion candidates almost all have warts of some nature. In fact, there are quite a few candidates that would be looked at in an entirely different light in a positive way if they were merely competent in on-the-field football performance (much less being powers). As a result, much like an unpolished prospect with a lot of athleticism in the NFL or NBA draft, the upside potential of a school should be taken into consideration by the Big 12. This is especially true for a school that could potentially have “monopoly power” of being the only power conference program in its home state. Other factors include whether a school is a flagship or academically elite, has a proven basketball fan base, or has made a lot of recent investments in football facilities.

(* Note that the Mutual Interest category that was in the Big Ten Expansion Index was eliminated here. Any Group of Five school would join the Big 12 in a heartbeat.)

III. EVALUATION OF BIG 12 EXPANSION CANDIDATES

The candidates are listed in reverse order from least desirable to most desirable. Once again, for the purposes of this evaluation, it is assumed that the only viable Big 12 expansion candidates are not currently power conference members and the calculations are based upon comparisons only to other schools within that non-power conference school group.

A. ALL HAT, NO CATTLE

RICE
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 0
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 5
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 5
Total: 35
Overview: Fantastic academic institution with a lot of history with the former Southwestern Conference teams in the Big 12, but the lack of a new market or recruiting area is a killer for its candidacy. It would take some massive on-the-field accomplishments (i.e. winning the Group of Five bid to a top bowl in the new College Football Playoff system multiple times) for Rice to move up here.

UNLV
Football Brand Value – 10
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 0
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 37
Overview: The Runnin’ Rebels score low right now due to a horrid stretch of on-the-field football performances over the past several years, but they’re a program to watch if it can get a new state-of-the-art football stadium into place. This is a school that provides the highest profile sports teams in the Las Vegas market with a strong basketball fan base, so their value skyrockets if they can avoid complete ineptitude in football.

COLORADO STATE
Football Brand Value – 10
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 10
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 5
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 43
Overview: It’s a mystery why Colorado State doesn’t ever seem to be able to get its act together on-the-field. On paper, this is an institution that ought to be attractive to a power conference with its solid academics and location in fast growing and demographically desirable Colorado, yet their putrid football performances over the past decade have nixed them from any type of consideration. CSU, like UNLV, is looking to build a new football stadium to increase its chances to move up in the athletic world.

SMU
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 10
Local TV Value – 0
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 5
Total: 43
Overview: The issue with SMU (and any other Texas-based school) is that they’re not bringing any new TV markets or recruiting areas that the Big 12 doesn’t already have blanketed. Now, that isn’t an automatic disqualifier for a Big 12 candidacy (see the addition of TCU in 2011), but it would likely take perfect scores in the Football Brand Value and National TV Value categories to make that happen.

NEW MEXICO
Football Brand Value – 10
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 45
Overview: New Mexico is in a very similar situation to UNLV with an excellent basketball program and fan base with potential monopoly power in its home market… but its on-the-field football product has been unacceptably terrible for a long period of time. The Lobos actually have a leg up on UNLV in terms of academics and being a geographic fit with the Big 12, so they’re a school that can rise rapidly in the pecking order with merely some football competence (much less prowess).

HOUSTON
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 10
Local TV Value – 0
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 3
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 5
Total: 48
Overview: See the comments about SMU, only Houston has more basketball tradition. There is also the wild card that the Big 12 may want a physical presence in the Houston market in the same way that TCU is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, but the Cougars would still need to have some overwhelmingly extraordinary football success for this to be a possibility.

MEMPHIS
Football Brand Value – 10
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 10
Academics – 0
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 7
Total: 49
Overview: Memphis is essentially an Eastern mirror of UNLV: large urban basketball school with historically terrible football over the past decade. The advantage that Memphis has by comparison is that it’s located in a rich football recruiting area and aids in bridging the geographic gap between West Virginia and the rest of the Big 12. Memphis has shown that they have excellent basketball fans – if they can get that to translate to football, they have quite a bit of upside. The main drag is being the midst of heavy SEC competition.

B. INTRIGUING, BUT NOT PRACTICAL

BOISE STATE
Football Brand Value – 30
National TV Value – 15
Local TV Value – 0
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 0
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 7
Total: 52
Overview: From a national TV contract standpoint, Boise State might be the single most valuable school that is outside of the power conferences as of today. The question that university presidents will always ask, though, is, “How long will this last?” As you can see, Boise State doesn’t bring anything else in terms of demographics, academics, basketball or geography. This is a school whose attributes are purely based upon on-the-field football performance, which is actually exactly what university presidents tend to shy away from since such success is difficult to maintain even when a program has all of the financial resources in the world (see Texas and USC right now and Alabama prior to Nick Saban coming in). There might be a point where Boise State becomes the Gang of Five equivalent of Nebraska where markets and demographics become completely irrelevant with having such a strong football brand, but we aren’t there yet.

TEMPLE
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 10
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 15
Academics – 0
Basketball Value – 3
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 5
Total: 53
Overview: This is an interesting potential play for the Big 12 by going directly east of West Virginia. The good news is that Philadelphia is a massive market with access to an excellent football recruiting state*. The bad news is that Philly is a tepid college football market (and those that follow college football there tend to follow the king program of Penn State) and there’s a sense that Temple won’t ever develop into much more than what is now (which isn’t satisfactory for the Big 12). The school has had plenty of chances to become a legit power program and never succeeded.

(* For fans of “Friday Night Light”s (the TV series), just picture that fantastic final scene in the finale with the football in the air transitioning from Texas to Philly. If only conference realignment were as smooth.)

CONNECTICUT
Football Brand Value – 20
National TV Value – 10
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 0
Academics – 5
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 57
Overview: In a vacuum, UConn is arguably the most power conference-like school that isn’t in a power conference today. If this were an ACC Expansion Index, then UConn would be close to a perfect score. Frankly, there’s still a part of me that’s surprised that UConn isn’t in the ACC already, but I perfectly understand why Louisville got the nod last year. The problem with the prospect of UConn going to the Big 12 is that it’s not a good fit for what the conference is seeking in expansion. UConn has actually performed aptly in football over the past decade outside of the last couple of years, yet the New England region is a black hole when it comes for football recruiting (particularly considering how it’s a high population area) and the school’s men’s and women’s basketball prowess probably has the least value to the Big 12 out of any of the power conferences (as hoops mainly benefit conferences that either have networks like the Big Ten has or strong basketball syndication deals like the ACC). Now, UConn’s Big East pedigree and relatively strong brand name means that the school has a large amount of upside, but it may not matter to the Big 12 with Connecticut being so far geographically from the conference’s core.

C. NEEDS WORK, BUT KEEP AN EYE ON THEM

TULANE
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 5
Local TV Value – 3
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 15
Academics – 5
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 58
Overview: Tulane has been in the on-the-field football doldrums since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, but the Green Wave might be resuscitating itself at just the right time. The school is building a brand new right-sized on-campus stadium and the football team is bowl eligible this season. Tulane’s academics are arguably the best of any school in the Group of Five besides Rice and the state of Louisiana is one of the best pound-for-pound football recruiting areas in the country. Honestly, out of all of the schools on this list, Tulane has the best chance out of anyone to realize its Tremendous Upside Potential and moving up to the top.

D. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

SOUTH FLORIDA
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 10
Local TV Value – 10
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 20
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 5
Total: 63
Overview: The allure of USF is purely about a demographic play – athletic directors and coaches fall all over themselves over the thought of combining the recruiting territories of Texas and Florida. (Note that this is a bigger reason for any fan of a school that’s not in the SEC to be scared of how successful that league can integrate Texas A&M.) USF has shown some flashes of football ability, but it’s been inconsistent. There is also extremely heavy power conference competition within the state of Florida (with Florida, Florida State and Miami gobbling up market shares), so there’s a limit to how large of a fan base that USF can realistically build.

CENTRAL FLORIDA
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 10
Local TV Value – 10
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 20
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 0
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 7
Total: 65
Overview: UCF has the exact same overview as USF above (just switch USF with UCF) except that UCF has a bit more upside as (a) being one of the largest schools by enrollment in the country and (b) having fresh chances to perform at higher levels of college football (whereas we’ve already seen what USF was and wasn’t able to do in the old Big East).

SAN DIEGO STATE
Football Brand Value – 15
National TV Value – 10
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 20
Academics – 0
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 67
Overview: San Diego State has similar attributes as UCF and USF on the opposite coast when it comes to football, but the Aztecs have the advantage when it comes to basketball value and the fact that it is the primary Division I sports school in the San Diego market. While Florida and Florida State have statewide fan bases in the Sunshine State, California is much more fragmented by market, which means that SDSU has more potential to “deliver” its home market despite the on-paper proximity of UCLA and USC compared to the AAC’s Florida schools.

E. THE ONLY CHOICES TODAY

BYU
Football Brand Value – 30
National TV Value – 15
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 5
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 0
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 10
Total: 75
Overview: BYU has strong enough of a national brand to garner an independent TV contrac with ESPN, a massive worldwide fan base, its own TV network and a solid football tradition. My criteria for demographics and academics likely undercount the true value of BYU, as its relevant demographics are really related to the world’s Mormon population and it has top tier undergraduate academics. Boise State might have the best record of recent on-the-field achievements out of any non-power conference school, but BYU is the one institution at this level that legitimately looks, feels and acts like a power conference program.

CINCINNATI
Football Brand Value – 30
National TV Value – 15
Local TV Value – 7
Demographics/Recruiting Value – 20
Academics – 3
Basketball Value – 5
Geographic Fit/Need – 5
Tremendous Upside Potential/Monopoly Power – 5
Total: 90
Overview: I’ve been mentioning Cincinnati as a strong Big 12 expansion candidate for awhile, but it wasn’t until constructing this index did I see how the school really does hit virtually every metric that the conference should be seeking. Among the Group of Five schools, its Football Brand Value is strong with multiple BCS bowl appearances and consistent performances over the past several years despite a number of coaching changes. The state of Ohio is a football recruiting powerhouse with only one in-state power conference competitor (albeit a massive one in the form of Ohio State). The school’s academics are solid, it has a great basketball history and its location is in a major market with probably the best geographic bridge to West Virginia of any viable candidate. The only question with Cincinnati is whether it can really perform any better on-the-field that it already has in football during the past few years. Still, that’s a minor issue compared to how the school has created a consistently competitive football program.

So, if the Big 12 were to expand today, it’s clear that Cincinnati and BYU have a huge gap over the rest of the field. Whether that type of expansion would be compelling enough to the Big 12 to make a move at all is still an open question.

(Image from Wikipedia)

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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)

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby came out of a meeting with his conference’s athletic directors on Monday with some standard general non-news about any possible expansion plans.  However, he reinforced some reports that the Big 12 was evaluating alliances with different conferences, including the ACC.  Why would the Big 12 openly suggest an alliance with a conference that many believe would be the primary target for a raid?

People that relish in ACC Armageddon rumors point out that proposed alliances have led to raids in the past, such as the old Big 8 and Southwest Conference discussing that scenario (and the Big 8 subsequently taking Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor from the SWC) and the Big East and ACC exploring the same (leading to the ACC in a decade-long bludgeoning of the Big East).  The ACC Armageddonistas surmise that the Big 12 is following the same playbook of luring Jim Swofford to hand over sensitive conference information in “alliance talks” and then stab them in the back in a few months with a raid.  Of course, that assumes that ACC schools want to join the Big 12.

Certainly, there’s a chance that the leadership of the Big 12 is leveraging the prospect of an alliance publicly while engaging on a reconnaissance mission behind closed doors to poach the likes of Florida State or Clemson.  More likely, though, is that the Big 12 can’t expand with anyone that they deem worth having (according to Bowlsby, schools that would be worth in excess of $26.2 million per year each in additional revenue) on their own.  The Big 12 is in a position where it can’t be “proactive” – a school such as Florida State isn’t going to be open to the Big 12’s overtures without the Big Ten and SEC first (a) confirming that neither wants to invite the Seminoles themselves and (b) raiding other ACC members to the point where staying in the league would be unpalatable.

As a result, the Big 12 can’t be the first mover here no matter how much their fans may want them to be.  That’s why the news out of that conference over the past month has been about alliances with the ACC and finding ways to change NCAA rules so that they can hold a conference championship game with only 10 teams.  The University of Texas might have leverage with other conferences as an individual school, but the Big 12 as an overall entity has much less leverage than what many conference realignment observers seem to believe.

The dilemma is that the ACC schools that the Big Ten and SEC most likely want in expansion happen to be the ones that are least likely to move.  I’m often accused of having Big Ten bias as an Illinois alum (by the way, the least 3 weeks of the basketball season have been excruciating), but I’ve been pretty consistent over the past couple of years in stating that Jim Delany doesn’t have complete poaching power over everyone in the ACC.  Virginia and North Carolina are the real potential prizes for the Big Ten and it’s probably the same for the SEC.  (Football-focused fans often see Virginia Tech and North Carolina State as the most likely targets for the SEC out of the current ACC membership, but make no mistake that UNC and UVA are ultimately the most valuable additions as old money academically elite flagship institutions.)  The problem is that neither UNC nor UVA really fit well in either the Big Ten or SEC – they are too Southern to be really desire being in the Northern-based Big Ten and too wine-and-cheese to enjoy being in the SEC.  There is also a large split between the academically-minded leaders of these institutions that would prefer the Big Ten while T-shirt fans would want the SEC.  The ACC provides the balance of being Southern and the perception of having an academically-oriented league (never mind the fake grades for athletes in Chapel Hill) that schools can’t find anywhere else, which will make it very hard for either UNC or UVA to leave.  (Count Georgia Tech and even Florida State in that equation, too.)  In essence, UNC and UVA are to the ACC what Texas and Oklahoma are to the Big 12: the league lives as long as both of those are schools are still there (and those schools know it).

So, that’s where I see the threats of the ACC becoming completely coming apart end up failing.  UNC, in particular, has Texas-esque influence (even if it’s more perceived than real) in the ACC, and the actions of Deloss Dodds and the Longhorns have shown that power and big dog status can be even more important as making the most TV money from a conference.  (Notre Dame feels the same way.)  As a result, the thought that UNC and UVA are going to bolt because they are scared that the ACC will collapse doesn’t hold water with me.  Those 2 schools can keep the ACC together alone and they have enough powerful alums with massive pocketbooks and politicians backing them where getting more TV revenue isn’t going to carry the same weight with them as it did with Maryland.

Now, once again, I can never say never in conference realignment.  Maybe Jim Delany’s projected revenue figures for a Big 16 or Big 18 are so outrageous that he can put the smackdown on the ACC more than I’m giving the Big Ten credit for.  Maybe Mike Slive is freaked out enough about the thought of either the Big Ten or Big 12 getting into the state of Florida by adding Florida State that the SEC would take the Noles in an act of self-defense.  In either event, it’s really up to the Big Ten or SEC to make a move.  The Big 12 would then have to hope that some other valuable pieces would fall their way.  I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but the speculation will continue.

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

(Image from Atlantic Coast Conversation)

Chip Brown from Orangebloods.com has some new nuggets indicating that the Big 12 athletic directors want to talk about expansion (with Texas seemingly being reluctant) and that Florida State could be a target. There’s really not too much new other than there will be an actual forum for Big 12 officials to discuss conference realignment issues next week (so we may get some concrete news at that point) and that the conference has moved on from its infatuation with Notre Dame. It seems obvious that the Big 12 would want Florida State. That’s in the “No s**t, Sherlock” category of revelations to me. What’s still unclear is whether Florida State wants anything to do with the Big 12. One of Brown’s Big 12 sources said himself, “If it doesn’t make sense to Florida State, then this is all a moot point.” As I said in my last post, ACC schools like their conference as a whole in terms of geography, academics, institutional fit and demographics, but don’t really like their TV contract. The Big 12 is the flip side, where those schools (other than Texas) don’t really like their conference (as evidenced by the fact that every school other than Texas that had the ability to leave for another conference on its own chose to do so), yet are happy with their new TV contract. Maryland had a tough time leaving the ACC for the Big Ten even though it was an exponentially easier decision in terms of financial gain, geography, academics and institutional fit than any potential ACC-to-Big 12 move.

That being said, I’ve learned well enough to never say never in conference realignment. Florida State might indeed be looking around and that more than qualifies as a potential major movement. What I’d like to see, though, is for the reporters covering conference realignment that are going to follow up on this Chip Brown story to ask their sources from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and/or Big 12 some questions that seemed to get glossed over as a result of preexisting assumptions that may or may not be true:

(1) Are the reported rules that new Big Ten schools must be AAU members and new SEC schools must be in a state outside of the current conference footprint truly hard-and-fast rules? – We often hear that the Big Ten wants to only consider expansion candidates that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which is a group of top level research institutions. However, we know that the Big Ten is clearly willing to make an exception for non-AAU member Notre Dame. We also know that while Nebraska was an AAU member when it was added by the Big Ten in 2010, that school was removed from that organization less than a year later. The Big Ten members knew full well at the time of conference expansion in 2010 that Nebraska was at risk of losing its AAU status and, in fact, Michigan and Wisconsin ended up voting to remove NU from the AAU (and those 2 votes swinging the other way would have kept them in the group).

While I believe that the Big Ten would want an AAU member in 99% of the circumstances, Notre Dame is in that 1% (and Nebraska was added with the knowledge of a strong possibility of them ending up in that tiny minority, too). As a result, the question needs to be asked as to whether a school such as Florida State would be in that 1%, as well. There is one word that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said more than any other during the past 3 years of conference realignment discussions: demographics. Well, there are demographics for normal expansion candidates, and then there are DEMOGRAPHICS… and a school that can deliver the entire state of Florida provides the latter. The Big Ten may very well not want anything to do with Florida State (which would be a grave mistake, in my humble opinion), but I hope that reporters on the ground don’t just assume that the lack of AAU status for that school automatically nixes their candidacy.

Likewise, a number of people have advanced the argument that the SEC has a “gentleman’s agreement” among its members that it will not add a school in the same state as a current SEC member without such affected member’s approval. That is, the SEC won’t add Florida State unless Florida consents to it. However, that’s much easier to say in a vacuum when there’s nationwide conference stability. It’s a bit different if a conference that has the flagship school of Texas wants to combine it with a marquee school directly in your top football recruiting territory (right after you’ve established your own conference as the elite football league with beachheads in both Florida and Texas) or, even worse, a league with the financial, television and academic power of the Big Ten decides that it has a desire to follow its Midwestern snowbird alums into Florida. The SEC has been willing to coexist with the ACC in the state of Florida and several other Southern areas for many years, but I’m not sure if they’d be that willing to let the Big Ten or the University of Texas combine their respective powers with Florida State.

Big Ten people such as Barry Alvarez have gone on the record that the conference adding Maryland and Rutgers was more of a defensive move than a proactive one. They saw that the ACC was moving to lock up the entire Eastern seaboard and could possibly position itself to be attractive to Penn State in the near future, so Jim Delany went and split the heart of the ACC up by convincing Maryland to jump (with Rutgers willing to do anything to get off of the Big East dumpster fire) before the ACC regained its strength in the conference pecking order. (I’ve long said that if all of the conferences could negotiate their TV deals at the same time today, the ACC would be #3 behind the SEC and Big Ten. The ACC is behind the Pac-12 and Big 12 in terms of TV money solely because of timing, where the ACC signed its deal before the current sports TV rights boom while the Pac-12 and Big 12 simply lucked into getting to go to the open market at a later date.) Similarly, the SEC wouldn’t be keen on a Big Ten footprint that stretches from the New York City area down to Florida (if the Big Ten were to add schools in between like UVA, UNC and Georgia Tech) or a Big 12 that neutralizes the Texas/Florida combo advantage that the SEC gained when it added Texas A&M. The SEC might need to play defense just like the Big Ten did and bring in Florida State (which isn’t exactly being forced to take in a football leper) to keep stronger invaders out.

Bottom line for conference realignment reporters out there reading: don’t assume that the Big Ten and SEC are just going to sit on the sidelines regarding Florida State and let the Big 12 walk off with them.

(2) If numerous ACC schools want to leave and are awaiting the outcome of the conference’s lawsuit against Maryland, why did they join in that lawsuit in the first place? – Another common argument that we are seeing is that ACC schools are waiting to see whether the conference’s $50 million exit fee imposed against Maryland will be upheld in court. If that exit fee gets struck down or reduced significantly, then it would supposedly be open season by the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 in terms of raiding the ACC. This begs a simple question: if so many ACC schools truly want to get out yet are concerned about the exit fee, why are they spending craploads in legal expenses defending that exit fee?

It’s one thing if the projected conference realignment scenario resulted in a single school joining a lawsuit and then bolting shortly thereafter. That’s what Virginia Tech did in joining the Big East’s original lawsuit against the ACC in 2003 and then fleeing to the ACC itself when the Virginia legislature forced UVA to give the Hokies a lifeline. However, the line of thinking regarding the ACC seems to be more of an “opening of the floodgates” variety where multiple schools would start bailing. Having several schools going through the motions advancing a lawsuit that they privately want to fail isn’t exactly the best use of limited time, resources and money on their part.

(3) If UVA, UNC and Georgia Tech spurned overtures from the Big Ten (as Chip Brown reported), why would at least one of them (Georgia Tech) supposedly be interested in the Big 12? – According to the Chip Brown story, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech all did not have interest in the Big Ten “for now”. However, in Brown’s words, for the Big 12 to have a realistic chance with Florida State, the conference would need to add “as many regional partners as possible”. At the very least, it would seem that Georgia Tech would have to be one of those regional partners. So, are we to believe that Georgia Tech would actually prefer not joining UVA and UNC in the Big Ten and move over to the Big 12 instead with, say, Florida State, Clemson and 1 or more other random ACC schools? I guess stranger things have happened, but that doesn’t pass the smell test with me.

(4) If the Big 12 can’t add any ACC schools, who else would they be willing to add (if anyone at all)? – Going back to my comment in the opening paragraph to this post, it’s pointless to ask a Big 12 source about whether his/her conference would be interested in adding Florida State. Of course they would! What’s more instructive is what the Big 12 willing to do in the event (and I would characterize it as the likely event) that Florida State and other ACC schools don’t want to join. Is some combination of Cincinnati, UConn and/or BYU worth it for the Big 12 to expand for? Are there less obvious options (e.g. Boise State, UNLV, San Diego State) that could be on the table? Alternatively, would the Big 12 simply shut down all expansion talk completely if it can’t poach from the ACC? It’s an easy question to ask whether a conference is willing to expand for a sexy name – that’s not news. What’s tougher to gauge is what the expansion plans would be (if any) when those sexy names aren’t coming.

What I hope is that the conversation is less about what the Big 12 wants (which we know) and more about why the Big 12 should be able to get what it wants beyond simply offering a larger amount of TV money (even when simply offering a larger amount of TV money hasn’t worked with the Big Ten and SEC in luring ACC targets). Maybe the Big 12 can pull off a stunner and pick off a prize like Florida State, but believe it or not, conference realignment at the power conference level is more complex than saying that everyone is trying to get into Conference A just because it’s making more money than Conference B.

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

(Image from New York Times)

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)

Rumors continue to abound that Florida State and Clemson are looking to leave the ACC for the Big 12.  In the myopic world of conference realignment, a quote from Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas that his conference has tabled expansion for now is met with rolling eyes (and considering the track record of half-hearted denials and misleading statements on this topic over the past couple of years, it’s not surprising).  I had been thinking for the past week about putting together a 5-step plan to save the ACC (to the extent that it needs saving).  Tony Barnhart of CBS Sports actually beat me to it with the same concept here, but while he has a couple of good ideas under steps 4 (scheduling arrangement with the SEC) and 5 (top tier bowl game) that I had been also thinking about, the first step (the old Al Davis motto of “Just Win, Baby”) isn’t possible this summer, while his third step (talk to Notre Dame) is praying for a miracle as opposed to a plan.  Most importantly, Barnhart’s second step (getting Florida State to stay) is what the ACC specifically needs a plan for in the first place (not just a step in an overall plan).  With all of that in mind, here’s my own 5-step plan to strengthen the ACC this summer:

(1) Change the Football Divisional Alignment to North/South – As much as people have talked about national conferences and TV markets with respect to realignment, the only expansion among the five power conferences into a non-contiguous state was the Big 12 with West Virginia.  (The Big East, of course, expanded into a couple of different continents.)  Geography is still a powerful factor for both conferences and schools as isolated members tend to end up being unhappy members over the long-term.  That factor ought to weigh heavily on Florida State and Clemson in terms of staying in the ACC as they would largely be isolated members of the Big 12 outside of being in the same time zone as West Virginia.  However, the ACC’s football non-geographic divisional alignment largely takes that geographical argument off the table.  Currently, Florida State and Clemson only have Wake Forest and North Carolina State as fellow southeastern members in the Atlantic Division.  Here’s how I would re-align the ACC:

NORTH DIVISION
Miami
Syracuse
Pittsburgh
Boston College
Maryland
Virginia
Virginia Tech

SOUTH DIVISION
Florida State
Clemson
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
Duke
N.C. State
Wake Forest

Florida State-Miami and UNC-UVA would be protected cross-division rivalries, for sure.  It’s probably not necessary for the other schools to have cross-division rivals, but the schools can set them up that way if they want to.  Miami is placed in the North Division despite being the southernmost school because it’s really a Northeastern school in terms of culture and character, which was why the Hurricanes insisted on bringing along Boston College and (originally) Syracuse in the ACC raid of the Big East in 2003.

Does a change in the divisional alignment alone cause Florida State or Clemson to stay if they really want to go?  Probably not.  However, geography can be extremely important as part of the overall package of factors to persuade those schools to stay.

(2) Lobby the Faculty Members at Florida State and Clemson – There’s a continuous debate as to whether academics ought to matter in terms of formulating athletic conferences.  This has played out at Florida State at the highest levels, where the school’s chair of the Board of Trustees took an almost anti-intellectual viewpoint of stating that “[c]onference affiliation has no impact on academics”, while the university’s president took the opposite view that “the faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker.”  My take is pretty simple: conferences would rather have better academic schools than not, while schools would rather have a better academic conference than not.  That’s not to say academics are completely outcome determinative – the Big Ten chose Nebraska not because it was the best academic school available, but rather it was the best football program with acceptable academics available.  However, the point is that the Big Ten actually does have an academic threshold that potential expansion candidates need to meet.  The only other FBS conferences that have a legitimate academic threshold are the ACC and Pac-12.  It’s a strong calling card for those three conferences, whether football fans want to admit it or believe that it should even be a factor.

It’s one thing if you’re an academic heavyweight such as Vanderbilt or Texas where conference affiliation isn’t going to impact academic perception.  However, are Florida State and Clemson in that same category?  Do the faculty members at those two schools want to go from a conference where academic prestige is a clear value-added to one where it’s net neutral?  (Please note that I’m not saying that the Big 12 doesn’t care about academics or is made up of poor academic institutions.  However, the ACC, much like the Big Ten and Pac-12, have made a conscious decision in targeting highly-ranked academic schools in a way that other conference haven’t.)  This is new territory in the modern world of conference realignment where two schools would leave a conference that’s higher on the academic pecking order, which is a reason why I’ve stated previously that this isn’t anywhere near the no-brainer decision that Nebraska had in moving to the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah had in moving to the Pac-12, Missouri and Texas A&M had in moving to the SEC, Pitt and Syracuse had in moving to the ACC and West Virginia and TCU had in moving to the Big 12.

Much like the geography factor, the outcry of faculty may not overshadow the wishes of blood-thirsty fan and donor bases.  However, academics are certainly critical (let’s not forget that’s why colleges exist in the first place) and it’s an asset that the ACC needs to pound publicly and privately over and over and over and over again if it wants to avoid defections.

(3) Change the Football Scheduling to Appease Florida State and Clemson – The supposed ACC bias in having Florida State and Clemson play tough conference opponents (if not each other) right before their in-state rivalry games with SEC schools Florida and South Carolina, respectively, seems to be a popular complaint among Seminole and Tiger fans.  From an outside view, this seems to be more of a piling on conference leadership when fan bases are simply convinced that everything is being controlled by Tobacco Road (similar to how Big 12 schools view Texas and Big East members look at Providence).  Still, scheduling concessions are an easy give from the ACC’s leaders that takes a red meat on-the-field issue that has been firing up the Big 12 supporting crowd off the table.

(4) Sign an Orange Bowl Tie-in with Notre Dame as the Opponent – This suggestion was the subject of some unsubstantiated message board rumors, but the concept itself makes sense.  Now the Big 12 and SEC champions are locked-in with each other in a bowl and the Big Ten and Pac-12 are obviously bound to the Rose Bowl, the feeling is that the ACC is left standing in the proverbial game of bowl musical chairs.  Should the ACC be sending its champion to play, say, the #2 selection from the Big Ten or SEC?  If I were running the ACC, that might ultimately be acceptable and there are plenty of bowls that would take that matchup in a heartbeat, but that would also be a tough pill to swallow psychologically and in terms of the perception of the league in the college football power structure.  As an alternative, does the ACC really want to play the Big East champ?  That would likely be even less desirable to the powers that be within the ACC and to the bowls themselves.

There’s one power player without a bowl dance partner, though: Notre Dame.  I’ve never been one to believe that the Irish have anything to worry about in terms of qualifying for the new college football playoff (even in a conference champs only format, the TV networks at the very least will insist that an exception will be made for a top 4 independent).  However, the new bowl world outside of the semifinals might be a different story.  In the current system, Notre Dame had access to potential at-large spots in the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls.  It’s very unclear whether the concept of at-large bids will exist in the future – the Fiesta Bowl, for instance, could decide to sign with the Big Ten and Big 12 for their second selections.  The Irish might not have the bowl flexibility that they have had up to this point.  On the flip side, though, is that the new system may present an opportunity for Notre Dame to sign directly with a top tier bowl that would always rather take a 4-loss Notre Dame team as opposed to, say, a 1-loss Conference USA school.

Note that despite the perception that the ACC is toxic horse manure to the top tier bowls, somehow (1) the ACC championship game loser ended up getting a Sugar Bowl at-large bid last year instead of an almighty Big 12 school ranked at #8, (2) the highest paid bowl tie-in outside of the BCS and the Big Ten #2 and SEC #2 slots in the Capital One Bowl is actually the ACC #2 tie-in to the Chick-fil-A Hallelujah That They’re in Chicagoland Now Bowl (NOT the almighty Big 12 #2 tie-in to the supposedly endless flow of cash from the Jerry Jones Cotton Bowl) and (3) a quick look at the top-to-bottom bowl tie-ins indicates that the ACC is, at the very least, has more leverage than the Pac-12 (whose overall bowl depth weakness is masked by the Rose Bowl tie-in at the very top).  All of those facts indicate that the ACC champion isn’t going to have a problem getting a top bowl slot.  The only question is who the ACC champ will end up facing.  The ACC and Notre Dame are the two most powerful players and brand names left that aren’t paired up, so it’s natural and logical that they could end up with each other in a bowl.  It’s the best value proposition that’s available to both entities with the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big12 off the table.

(5) Push ESPN to Maintain Value of TV Contract if There are Defections – There might be a point where the fan bases at Florida State and Clemson are putting such overwhelming pressure in favor of a move to the Big 12 (similar to Texas A&M fans wanting the SEC last year) that the schools end up defecting to the ACC.  At that point, the ACC’s goal shifts to preventing a complete unraveling of the league.  Personally, I don’t buy that Armageddon situation at all (as we saw the Big 12 and Big East suffer even more crippling defections with dire predictions of those leagues dying, yet they’re still kicking), but the ACC still has to be proactive to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

This is pretty simple: agree with ESPN that even if Florida State and Clemson leave, ESPN won’t reduce the value of the recently signed ACC TV contract (which averages a bit over $17 million per school per year).  There’s pretty clear precedent for this scenario with ESPN agreeing to do the same with the Big 12 in 2010 and then coming to an understanding with the Big 12 again in 2011 to have a new contract extension.  As I’ve noted in a previous post, the ACC is actually the single largest content provider to ESPN of any sports entity (whether college or pro), so there’s even less incentive for ESPN to see the ACC break apart compared to the Big 12 (with whom ESPN has a much more limited package) the last couple of years.  Contrary to what many fans seem to believe, ESPN has a significant interest in not seeing the formation of superconferences because they do not want to deal with concentrated power entities that have NFL-type negotiating leverage.  Dispersal of power is how ESPN is able to keep college sports rights fees somewhat in check.  (To put rights fees in perspective, the Big Ten, which is the wealthiest conference, currently receives about $100 million per year from ESPN/ABC for first tier rights.  By comparison, ESPN pays over $100 million per game to the NFL for Monday Night Football.)

The irony of this scenario is that would kick in over $2 million in TV money per year extra to each of the remaining 12 ACC schools, which would raise their total annual per school payouts to close to the $20 million level that the Big 12 is reportedly negotiating with ESPN and Fox.  So, Florida State and Clemson could end up leaving for more TV money in the Big 12, which would actually result in an increase in TV money for the rest of the ACC that would match what the Big 12 schools receive.  That would certainly be enough to take TV rights fees off the table as an issue for the remaining ACC members.

These are 5 realistic steps that the ACC can take without having to compromise on their core principles (such as equal sharing of TV revenue).  I’ve said before that I believe that the ACC is stronger than what many football fans give it credit for.  That statement is certainly being put to the test right now.

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

(Image from Zimbio)

The SEC and Big 12 had a major announcement this past Friday that the two conferences are creating a new bowl pitting their champions against each other (provided that in the event either or both champions end up in the new college football playoff, the bowl will select other “deserving” teams from those conferences). Coupled with ongoing speculation that at least Florida State is looking to move to the Big 12 (with possibly Clemson following behind them), conference realignment fever is back once again. Let’s breakdown a number of questions that have come up regarding the new playoff system and conference movements in the wake of recent news:

(1) How will the new SEC/Big 12 bowl impact the college football postseason? – I’ll give the lawyerly answer that it could range from having very little impact to having a massive impact, with the likely outcome being somewhere in between. Here are the three main scenarios:

(a) Low Impact Scenario: Semifinals Rotated Among Bowls – If the new college football semifinals are simply rotated through 5 or 6 bowls on a regular basis, then this new SEC/Big 12 bowl won’t look too much different than the current Cotton Bowl matchup in most years despite all of the superlatives being thrown around in the media. (To be sure, the perception of where the conferences stand as a result of this new bowl is more important than the matchup itself, which I’ll get to later on.) All this is doing is effectively moving a team that would have played in the Fiesta Bowl to play the SEC champ in the Sugar Bowl (or whichever bowl or site ends up with the new matchup). It creates a clear separation of the Rose Bowl and the SEC/Big 12 bowl from the others in terms of the quality of the matchup and prestige, but doesn’t really impact the nature of the playoff itself in this scenario.

(b) Moderate Impact Scenario: Semifinals Slotted According to Bowl Tie-ins – What’s interesting is that out of all of the hub-bub about the SEC/Big 12 bowl on Friday, very little was mentioned by the media about a playoff format that received a ton of positive traction after last month’s BCS meetings: the semifinal matchups could be slotted according to bowl tie-ins (e.g. a #1 Big Ten champ would play the #4 team in the Rose Bowl, a #2 SEC champ would play the #3 team in the Sugar Bowl, etc.). Under that format, this new SEC/Big 12 bowl is fairly important since, just by basic arithmetic, a bowl with two contractual tie-ins is going to have a higher chance of hosting a semifinal than a bowl with only one tie-in and in practicality, a bowl with two tie-ins with conferences that have performed as well on the field as the SEC and Big 12 lately has an even higher chance of being a semifinal site.

If semifinals are slotted according to tie-ins, it would even further separate the Rose Bowl and the SEC/Big 12 bowl from the others. For example, if the playoff system were to use the selection criteria I proposed here (take the top 3 teams regardless of conference affiliation and the 4th spot goes to the highest ranked of a top4 independent or top 6 conference champ, and if those aren’t available, then it goes the #4-ranked team that isn’t a conference champ/independent), then the Rose Bowl and the SEC/Big 12 bowl would have hosted both semifinals every single year since the BCS system was overhauled in 2005 with the exception of 2009. The Rose Bowl and SEC/Big 12 bowl would more likely than not be semifinal sites on an annual basis.

(c) High Impact Scenario: Return of the Unseeded Plus-One or 4 Teams Plus – An unseeded plus-one system should be dead. The outcome of the BCS meetings indicated the support for a 4-team playoff and the Big Ten (who would have been most likely to fight for a plus-one) has come to a consensus that it supports it at a high level. However, Pete Thamel of the New York Times threw this wrinkle in his commentary on the new SEC/Big 12 bowl:

One notion that became more viable that had long been disregarded is an actual Plus One — the often misused term for a one-game playoff after the bowls are played. If all the power in football is consolidated in the Big Ten, the SEC, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 — especially if teams flee the A.C.C. — could the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl serve as de facto national semifinals and the top-ranked teams play a title game?

It wouldn’t be a playoff, technically. And it would alienate fans, who want simplicity after years of frustration and confusion. But there is an argument that will be heard in the next few weeks that the four league title games would be (essentially) quarterfinals, the Rose and Champions Bowl semifinals and the Plus One game a title game in most years.

Remember the “4 Teams Plus” idea from reportedly Jim Delany that had the Rose Bowl matchup guaranteed to be the Big Ten champs vs. Pac-12 champs regardless of ranking and then the four highest-ranked teams outside of the participants in Pasadena would play each other? Pretty much everyone outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12 hated that idea at the time, but that sentiment could theoretically change quite a bit if the new SEC/Big 12 bowl also had a protected matchup just like the Rose Bowl.

Let’s say the the Big Ten champs and Pac-12 champs would always play each other in the Rose Bowl, the SEC and Big 12 champs would always play each other in their new bowl, and then the 4 highest ranked teams outside of that group would play in two other bowls. Would the ACC, Big East and other conferences actually like that format better since they’d have a better chance to be in that “other 4″ group than in a pure top 4 playoff? Would the SEC and Big 12 like having de facto bids to a semifinal game every year?

Personally, I think we’re so far down the path of going toward a 4-team playoff that to reverse course suddenly isn’t realistically possible. However, no one can put it past for the rulers of college football to muddy the waters quickly. My guess is that we’ll end up with the Moderate Impact Scenario because it’s a way to enhance the values of both the Rose Bowl and the new SEC/Big 12 bowl without going away from a 4-team playoff. Speaking of which…

(2) What do the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl think of the new SEC/Big 12 bowl? – A lot of media-types enjoy playing up a supposed rivalry between the Big Ten and SEC and, in turn, want to project a similar rivalry between the Rose Bowl and the new SEC/Big 12 bowl. However, as I’ve said several times before, when it comes down to revenue sharing, which is what is truly contentious about the new postseason system (much more than which teams actually get into the playoff), Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive are brothers-in-arms: they believe that they should receive a helluva lot more money than everyone else.

Up until now, much of the college football playoff debate has been characterized as the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl standing in the way of everyone else. Now, that trifecta has company, where the SEC and Big 12 have similar self-interests to protect the value of their new bowl. Frankly, this new SEC/Big 12 bowl is the best thing that could have happened to the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl since there are now 4 heavyweight conferences seeking to maximize their respective bowl tie-ins (instead of just 2).

(3) Does the new SEC/Big 12 bowl mean that Florida State and Clemson are heading to the Big 12? – Not necessarily, but each new bit of news indicates that it’s more likely than each passing day. I’ll fully admit again to being a long-time skeptic of any Big 12 poaching of ACC schools and still believe that it would be a bad idea for Florida State to move (unlike Texas A&M and Missouri, who were 110% correct in moving to the SEC), yet if the money is good enough, no one can actually be surprised at this point. The new bowl game itself really isn’t a game changer – as I’ve stated above, it may end up being the current Cotton Bowl matchup most years under different management. However, the perception of where the conferences stand seems to have changed, which is a much larger take-away. If the mighty SEC deems the Big 12 worthy to have their respective champions play each other, then by extension, the SEC sees the Big 12 as an equal. That viewing of equality between the SEC and Big 12 is certainly a massive change from last September when the SEC raided the Big 12 of two key schools and Ken Starr was ready to use any legal means necessary to stop it.

I don’t know if the new SEC/Big 12 bowl is the panacea of revenue and power that many SEC and Big 12 partisans are trying to make it out to be, but the new deal is really the first indication to me that the Big 12 is truly stable. Oh sure, I wasn’t one to believe that the Big 12 would completely collapse. I haven’t been a subscriber that Texas would be moving anywhere ever since the Longhorn Network was started. At the same time, UT’s modus operandi has been to run a conference in the same way that Notre Dame wants independence in and of itself as opposed to money (which I’ll expand upon further in a moment) and the Big 12 was always in position to get a great TV as long the Longhorns and Oklahoma in the fold. The conference members even agreed to grant its TV rights to the league for the next 13 years in the same way that the Big Ten and Pac-12 already do, which means that even if a school were to leave, such school’s TV rights would still be retained by the Big 12.

Still, it all felt like a situation where there was one big dog in the room (Texas) that had enough power by itself to throw just enough cash out to make the others stay (even if they would all leave if the Big Ten, SEC or Pac-12 came calling). A league with a healthy backbone doesn’t lose Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri (all 4 of whom are valuable schools) in the span of 14 months. What the new bowl deal indicates is that the Big 12 has something beyond the value of its current TV contracts to provide. That’s a big change from the chaos of 2010 and 2011.

Is that enough for Florida State to move? In turn, if this new SEC/Big 12 bowl is going to be a massive revenue generator, how much is the Big 12 going to be willing to expand further? My feeling is that the new bowl isn’t a definitive objective catalyst for major conference changes, but it plays into the shift in the subjective belief that the Big 12 is in one of 4 power conferences while the ACC is on the outside.

(4) Is the ACC going to die? – If there’s one thing that I’ve noticed over the past couple of years in writing about conference realignment, it’s that people love apocalyptic scenarios. For example, if Florida State and Clemson leave for the Big 12, one thought is that schools such as Virginia Tech and North Carolina State might look toward the SEC and the Big Ten could end up getting Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke, which in turn would kill the ACC completely. In the same way that people slow down to watch car wrecks, it’s almost addictive to plot out ways how a conference can be destroyed.

My response to this: simmer down! Just look at the Big East, which has only two members that were playing football in the conference prior to the ACC raid of that league in 2003 (Rutgers and Temple), and one of which (Temple) was actually kicked out and only invited back after the league was raided again. If any conference should be dead, it ought to be the Big East. Despite of all of this, the Big East still lives on*.

(* Counterpoint: Maybe the Big East was never alive in the first place.)

Even in the worst case scenario for the ACC described above with the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC simultaneously raiding the conference, the ACC could still backfill with schools such as UConn and Rutgers and continue to exist in some form. In the more realistic scenario of the ACC losing 2 schools, the league could still choose to take in UConn and/or Rutgers or simply stand pat at 12 schools.

Remember what I stated a couple of weeks ago about the one rule that we have learned in conference realignment: Shit ALWAYS runs downhill. The ACC might get weakened or even mortally wounded, but it’s far from the bottom of the hill. If you’re a fan of a school in a conference other than the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, be careful in delighting too much about the ACC’s suddenly undesirable place in the college sports world, because you’re probably next in firing line.

(5) Can the ACC maintain a place at the big boy table? – I honestly believe that they can, even if they lose Florida State and/or others. My feeling is that UNC, UVA and Duke are wedded to the ACC as much as Texas is to the Big 12 and Michigan and Ohio State are to the Big Ten, and as long as those three schools are there, they’re going to have a seat at the power table. The on-the-field focused people might say, “Those schools haven’t done jackshit in football for years,” and they’d be correct. However, they are also three schools with disproportionate influence and power in the college sports governing structure due to their combination of athletics and academics.

To put the ACC onto the same level as the Big East is misguided. Even if the ACC is the #5 conference today, it’s still quite far ahead of #6 when considering its roster of flagship schools and top academic institutions. On-the-field, Virginia Tech likely would have been in a 4-team playoff last year if it hadn’t crapped the bed in the ACC Championship Game and I believe that it’s foolhardy to believe that Miami is going to be in some permanent funk considering its unbelievable recruiting location advantage, both in terms of local recruits and national allure to 18-year old kids to its campus and metro area, which is only comparable to USC. I’ve seen many arguments about why Miami supposedly won’t bounce back, such as its fair-weather fan base, off-campus stadium and the fact that it’s a private school. All of those certainly are disadvantages compared to the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world. However, what football recruiting ultimately comes down to is convincing 18-year old kids to commit to a program. As a 34-year old with a wife and twin 2-year olds, I might not want to live in Miami, but if I’m a single hotshot 18-year old recruit that is able to be on a gorgeous campus in a place with great weather and basically limitless extracurricular activities with beaches and models galore, I may have a vastly different set of priorities. Don’t count Miami out for the long-term. People were writing the same obituaries about the Hurricanes in the late-1990s, after which they promptly went on a dominant tear of success in the early-2000s.

On the bowl front, the ACC champion was never going to play the SEC or Big 12 champs in bowls, anyway, so the new SEC/Big 12 bowl won’t have a true practical impact. So, let’s say that the Orange Bowl ends up pitting the ACC champ versus Big Ten #2 or SEC #2. The Orange may not end up providing the same payout as the Rose Bowl or new SEC/Big 12 bowl, but it may actually end up being an upgrade compared to the current BCS system (where it seemed as if though the Orange got stuck with a less-than-desirable Big East school a disproportionate amount of the time).

There could also be a rotation from year-to-year among tie-ins either to account for semifinals or at-large bids in a new BCS system (or whatever it’s called). For purely the sake of discussion, let’s say that the Sugar Bowl becomes the home of the SEC/Big 12 bowl and then the Cotton and Capital One Bowls are elevated to top tier status. In year 1, the tie-ins could look like the following:

YEAR 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
Sugar Bowl: SEC #1 vs. Big 12 #1
Orange Bowl: ACC #1 vs. SEC #2
Fiesta Bowl: Big Ten #2 vs. Big 12 #2
Capital One Bowl: at-large vs. at-large
Cotton Bowl: at-large vs. at-large

Then, the tie-ins would rotate the next year as follows:

YEAR 2
Rose Bowl: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
Sugar Bowl: SEC #1 vs. Big 12 #1
Capital One Bowl: ACC #1 vs. Big Ten #2
Cotton Bowl: Big 12 #2 vs. SEC #2
Orange Bowl: at-large vs. at-large
Fiesta Bowl: at-large vs. at-large

Depending upon which format is used, the at-large bids can also be placeholders for the 4 teams that are playing in the semifinals of a playoff (or even the “other 4″ in a 4 Teams Plus system). This way, conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC get bowl tie-ins in the markets that they care about the most regularly (Florida and Arizona in the case of the Big Ten, Florida and Texas in the case of the SEC) while not subjecting their fans to fatigue of having to travel to the same set of locales every year.

Regardless, the ACC still has assets to get a good bowl tie-in, even if it might not be great on the level of the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC or Big 12. I can’t really say the same about anyone else in the new system.

(6) What will Notre Dame do? – My 99% feeling is absolutely, positively nothing. There is .99% of me that thinks that Notre Dame could end up in the Big 12 as a non-football member, and I’ll leave a .01% chance that the Irish give up independence in football. As I’ve stated in several other posts, Notre Dame is NOT an independent as a result of money from its NBC deal. If Notre Dame simply wanted to make the most TV money possible, it would have chosen to be an equal revenue sharing member of the Big Ten. Instead, Notre Dame is independent because its alums have completely and thoroughly convinced themselves that independence in and of itself is the end game value that makes the Golden Dome special. I have a good number of Texas and Texas A&M readers and enjoy their stereotyping of each others’ fan bases – it’s what takes college sports fandom to another level beyond pro sports fandom. However, there is absolutely nothing compared to the laser-like unwavering focus that Notre Dame alums have upon independence with a groupthink that crushes every single other argument that the entire rest of the world deems to be “rational”. While Florida State alums might be wondering why the Seminoles aren’t maximizing their TV dollars as a member of the ACC, Notre Dame alums are the opposite and constantly on guard (and withholding large donations) about selling out independence for a few more dollars. Unlike many other schools, where members of the board of trustees might be political appointees, the alums are truly in control of Notre Dame.

The upshot is that Notre Dame alums aren’t rational regarding the issue of independence and that matters because they have the ultimate power at that school (as opposed to the board of trustees or the university president). As a result, attempting to use rational arguments to say, “Notre Dame needs to join a conference to be competitive for the college football playoff” or “Notre Dame could keep its NBC deal if they joined us instead of them” isn’t going to get anyone anywhere from South Bend on board with that. Believe me – I’ve tried.

For what it’s worth, the Domers aren’t completely irrational, either. BYU has a freaking TV deal worth millions of dollars per year with ESPN and Texas gets paid $15 million per year for bottom-of-the-barrel sports rights on the Longhorn Network, so the thought that Notre Dame couldn’t sell 7 home football games (of which there is guaranteed to be at least a game against Michigan or USC every year) for a price where it can more than afford to maintain independence is ridiculous. With every article, column, blog post and column that I see claiming that Notre Dame is “irrelevant”, I also see at least 3 power conferences (the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC) that would add the Irish in a heartbeat and if the Pac-12 and SEC were actually viable options, they’d take the Domers, too. Every power conference bending over backwards to add a school is the antithesis of irrelevance.

Now, could I see Notre Dame end up moving its non-football sports to the Big 12? That’s certainly possible if the Big East gets raided again, although if the Irish haven’t left the Big East by now when schools that it actually cared about such as Pitt, Syracuse and Miami left, it’s hard to see them getting too hung up about the likes of UConn, Rutgers or Louisville leaving. Let me put it another way: Notre Dame would absolutely take a non-football membership in the Big 12 before it would take an all-sports membership in the ACC or Big Ten because independence is truly the end game for the Irish. However, there shouldn’t be any assumption that the willingness of Notre Dame to take a non-football membership in the Big 12 has any bearing on whether the Irish would ever join the Big 12 for all-sports. The Big East already knows that very well.

There are countless possibilities of how the college football world is going to look by the end of the summer, whether it’s how conference realignment is finalized or what format will be used for a college football playoff. Some words of wisdom actually come from Chip Brown of Orangebloods, who stated that “it’s important to remember that realignment plays out in real time. So you have to keep up. If you want to keep score on stories like these, good luck. Everyone will. But you have to keep up, because what is true now, might not be true in a week, a month, a year.” Lots could be happening or nothing could be happening at all, but only time will tell.

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

(Image from Bleacher Report)

For long-time readers of this blog, you know how important that I consider TV rights to be in shaping the world of sports, both college and pro.  It has driven conference realignment the past couple of years, convinced the reactionary leaders of college football to finally institute a playoff, turned the NFL into a financial juggernaut and exacerbated the differences in the fortunes of franchises in the NBA and Major League Baseball.  From the first post that I had in writing about Big Ten expansion, I emphasized how important that the TV revenue from the conference’s deals with ABC/ESPN and the Big Ten Network would be in luring a football power when most fans only thought about geography and historical rivalries.

However, it feels as though the world has gone in the other direction where even hardcore football fans seem to believe that TV revenue is all that matters in conference realignment.  That’s not quite correct, either, as I also tried to indicate in that original Big Ten Expansion post.  Factors such as academics and cultural fit matter if a conference wants to be strong for the long-term as opposed to just the length of the current TV contract.

So, it was quite amazing to me to witness Andy Haggard, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Florida State spew out inflammatory comments against the new ACC television deal with ESPN and suggest that the school should explore options with the Big 12.  Never mind that Haggard was wrong about the details of that TV deal that he was complaining about, which was subsequently corrected by Florida State president Eric Barron and caused Haggard to somewhat backtrack from his initial comments.  The damage is done – the Florida State blog and message board crowd, to the extent that they didn’t already believe that they weren’t getting screwed by the Tobacco Road crowd, are now wholeheartedly ready to sign over the deed to their athletic department to DeLoss Dodds.

Before I get into my opinion, I’ll give credit to The Dude from Eerinsider.com for writing about his belief that Florida State would be going to be Big 12 for several months.  Frankly, I still don’t know how people from West Virginia could know more about the intentions of schools such as Texas, Florida State, Clemson and Louisville than those schools’ own respective insiders and beat reporters, but The Dude has certainly been unwavering in his beliefs and deserves some kudos for, at the very least, socializing the idea that Florida State going to the Big 12 is viable.  I know that I and many others have been dismissive of that speculation, so I’ll need to eat some crow for that.

As for my opinion: if Florida State is seriously considering leaving the ACC for the Big 12, then that would be incredibly short-sighted.  This is the ultimate “penny wise and pound foolish” move.  Eight months ago, the world was discussing whether the Big 12 would even exist going forward.  Texas or Oklahoma sneezing gives the entire Big 12 pneumonia and that’s something that’s never going to change.  Regardless of how large and long the new Big 12 TV contract might be, the one thing that you know about the ACC is that its core of North Carolina, Duke and Virginia aren’t interested in going anywhere.  Maybe the ACC can be weakened on the football front by defections by the likes of Florida State, but the league is going to live on.  In contrast, the biggest flight risks in the Big 12 are the members of its core itself: Texas and Oklahoma.  A blue blood athletic program like Kansas was talking to the Big East back in 2010 for fear of not having a place to land.  As a result, any complaints from Tallahassee about the supposed power of Duke and UNC over the ACC ring hollow for anyone that can remember only eight months back to the primary example of what happens when a school truly runs a conference.  The Big 12 is a power conference that has cheated death twice in two years.

This isn’t a criticism of Texas: the Longhorns have the most powerful college sports brand outside of Notre Dame, so they’re wisely leveraging the assets that they have.  Any school would have taken ESPN’s offer for the Longhorn Network in a heartbeat.  The skepticism comes in as to whether the “third tier” TV rights that are now the subject of so much consternation really have that much value for schools other than Texas.  As Matt Sarzyniak noted, the definition of “third tier rights” is vastly different depending upon the conference.  (Note that it is difficult to find accurate information about the value of third tier TV rights alone.  Many third tier media rights calculations include radio rights, coaches’ shows and Internet streaming capabilities, which all of the major conferences, including the ACC, allow schools to keep for themselves.)

Is it reasonable to assume that Florida State would automatically garner $5 million extra or more per year from selling its third tier TV rights, or is that number going to be mixed in with radio rights that the Seminoles are already selling, so the additional dollars that would be garnered in theory by going to the Big 12 isn’t as much as it would seem?  I don’t have an answer to that question, but it’s not nearly as simple as, “Texas is getting $15 million for its third tier rights, which means that Florida State has got to be able to make at least half of that amount.”  The Longhorn Network is such an outlier for third tier TV rights that it can’t really be used for comparison purposes.  In fact, the best comparison for Florida State would be what Texas A&M made off of its third tier rights in the Big 12 as school that is #2 in its home state with a large and loyal fan base.  My understanding is that amount really wasn’t that much (which is partially why the Aggies had such an issue with the Longhorn Network in the first place).  The third tier TV rights disparity ended up driving Texas A&M away from the Big 12 and now it’s being argued as a lure to draw Florida State in.  (Note that the SEC still reserves third tier rights for individual schools in a similar fashion as the Big 12, so A&M might be seeing better revenue from those rights in its new home.)  It’s fascinating to see that turn of events.

The bottom line: Florida State would be leaving the ACC for the Big 12 solely for money.  That’s the entire argument.  Now, that certainly can be a persuasive argument that will rule the day.  However, in every other major conference move, there was something more than money at stake.  Nebraska got a better academic home in the Big Ten, Colorado culturally fits better in the Pac-12, Texas A&M and Missouri received stability in the preeminent football conference in the SEC, and Pitt and Syracuse and West Virginia and TCU left even more unstable situations in the Big East for the ACC and Big 12, respectively.  Even if you were to argue that money was the driving factor in all of those moves (and without a doubt, it mattered a ton), there were still other holistic arguments that could be made to respective universities that could convince the ivory tower types that there were positives beyond the value of the current TV contract.  That simply isn’t the case when comparing the situations of the ACC and Big 12.  Academically, the ACC is higher-rated than the Big 12 and is the only power conference besides the Big Ten with a research consortium*.  Stability-wise, the ACC has stayed together since 1953 with only one defection (South Carolina to the SEC became independent in 1971**) compared to the musical chairs in the Big 12 over the past two years.  Geographically, Florida State goes from a contiguous coastal conference to one that starts looking like a big budget version of the Big East.  Market-wise for recruiting and TV, Florida State would get access to Texas but lose all of the other fast-growing states in the ACC’s southeastern footprint.  Culturally, for all of the talk about the ACC being a “basketball league” and the Big 12 being a “football league”, the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech purely for football purposes (and drawing the ire of the supposedly almighty Duke and UNC) while pure football schools Nebraska and Texas A&M couldn’t leave the Big 12 fast enough.

(* EDIT 1: The SEC also has an academic consortium.)

(** EDIT 2: South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992.)

I know that plenty of fans will continue to believe that factors such as academics don’t matter and that it’s simply about the money.  Heck, even Haggard himself believes that when he said, “No FSU graduate puts on his resume or interviews for a job saying they are in the same conference as Duke and Virginia.  Conference affiliation really has no impact on academics.”  That’s an understandable position and considering how much university presidents are searching for every penny these days, it’s not surprising.  However, the people running universities day-to-day certainly don’t believe that, as Barron stated in a memo that the “faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker.”  My much more connected SEC expansion counterpart, Mr. SEC, also says that academic prestige is a massive issue with actual decision-makers in conference realignment.

Look – I have no skin in this game.  I’ve stated many times before that few things would make me happier than Duke being relegated to the Southern Conference.  There is no personal affection for the ACC from my end at all.  I’m just looking at this from an outsider’s point of view.  If Florida State absolutely needs the short-term revenue boost from the Big 12 (and that could certainly be the case with the school’s athletic department deficit), then I understand the Seminoles jumping.  I’m past the point of being shocked that a school would move for a few extra TV dollars.  However, I would still be surprised if they defect on the basis that every single other factor for Florida State (academics, stability, geography, markets) points to staying in the ACC, which is unlike any of the other power conference moves over the past two years.  Long-term, the TV money difference between the Big 12 and ACC on its face isn’t enough to discount all of those other factors.

The irony is that for all of the complaints that Florida State fans might have about the supposed basketball focus of Tobacco Road, if the Seminoles had performed half as well in football as they have had in basketball recently (four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, a Sweet Sixteen run and an ACC Tournament championship), no one would be talking about a “weak” ACC football league and ESPN probably would have thrown even more money toward the conference.  Regardless, don’t just look at the TV money, as important as that might be.  Nebraska would have gone to the Big Ten even if there wasn’t a clear increase in TV money.  For that matter, West Virginia would have gone to the Big 12 regardless of the TV contract.  However, the answer isn’t clear that Florida State would ever choose the Big 12 over the ACC if the TV money wasn’t a factor.  There’s a difference between taking money for the short-term (and in college sports parlance, a 13-year TV contract can definitely still be “short-term”) and determining the best choice for the long-term.

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

(Image from KC College Gameday)

The past week has featured more conference realignment moves and rumors in quite some time.  Seven schools switched conferences last Friday, all of whom are really pawns in the college sports game of double chess.  Stewart Mandel has pointed out that ever since the Big Ten announced that it was going to expand back in 2009, 25% of all FBS schools (31 in all) have changed leagues.  Inspired by the use of a classic presciently-titled Beatles song* (along with an appearance by Mr. Belding from “Saved by the Bell”) in “Mad Men” this past week, let’s look into the future** by answering some questions that I’ve been seeing from a lot of readers lately:

(* The cost for “Mad Men” to use an actual Beatles master recording as opposed to a cover version: $250,000.  It was well worth every penny.)

(** As the friendly posters at TexAgs seem to enjoy reminding me about once a month, I had this doozy of a wrong prediction last year.  I’m certainly not a soothsayer.  However, what I hope that readers will appreciate that I try to dig a little deeper than the surface level view to get them to think about the issues of the day in a different way.)

1. Does the removal of AQ status and resignation/ousting of Big East commissioner John Marinatto mean anything for Boise State and San Diego State? – Not really.  BCS auto-qualifier status in and of itself would have been nice for Boise State and San Diego State, but they were well aware months ago that such designation was on its way out the door.  What’s more critical for those two schools is the amount of the next TV contract for the Big East, which should be substantially more than what they would have received in the Mountain West Conference even in the worst case scenario.  The main issue for Boise State will be whether the WAC will continue to live on as a non-football league for the Broncos to place its basketball and Olympic programs.  As long as there’s some home for Boise State’s non-football sports, they’ll be in the Big East (meaning that San Diego State will be there, too).

2. Does the removal of AQ status and resignation/ousting of Big East commissioner John Marinatto mean that the Big East will split? – No.  If anything, it’s a sign that the conference is going to be sticking together for the foreseeable future.  This was a move that appears to have been driven by the Catholic members of the conference and the football members ended up agreeing.  As I’ve stated in prior posts, the Big East isn’t going to be getting a bonus from a TV network for its football league just because it’s an all-sports league as opposed to a hybrid league.  The value of the Big East football side is what it is regardless of the conference’s structure.  In contrast, it’s really the value of the basketball side of the conference that’s the variable and it’s clear that keeping Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, et. al will garner a better per school package than a split league.  As USA Today reported today in an otherwise somber assessment of the future of the Big East:

The conference could begin television negotiations as early as September. College football officials inside the league and out, and others well versed in TV negotiations all said the league would be best served if it stayed together, even in its unwieldy current configuration.

Even if no one in their right minds would create the Big East as currently constituted from scratch today, the Catholic and football members of the conference are still more valuable together than they are apart.

3.  Is the Big 12 raiding the ACC? – I don’t believe so (and you can refer back to my post from February on some of the reasons that I think still stand today).  Sometimes, I feel like I’m a crotchety guy constantly throwing a wet blanket on rumors that the Big 12 is going after the likes of Florida State and Clemson, but everything that I’ve heard on this topic has either originated from not-quite-reliable locales and rooted in what sound like football fan-focused concerns as opposed to university president-focused.  For instance, I see a lot of comments that a school like Clemson would want to join the Big 12 because of the “football culture” compared to the Tobacco Road dominated ACC, yet that belies the facts that (1) Nebraska and Texas A&M, two of the most football-focused schools in the country, couldn’t run from the Big 12 fast enough and (2) the ACC didn’t exactly decide to add Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College back in the day due to hoops prowess.  That’s what I mean by a “football-fan focused concern”.

Now, TV revenue disparity is certainly a university president-type concern that could make the Big 12 attractive compared to the ACC on paper.  The Big 12 reportedly has a verbal agreement with ESPN to kick up its total annual TV rights revenue to approximately $20 million per year per school.  (That figure would be the combination of ESPN first tier and Fox second tier TV rights but doesn’t include third tier TV rights controlled by individual schools, such as the Texas deal with ESPN’s Longhorn Network.)  However, it’s still unclear what ACC will end up after its renegotiation with ESPN.  There was a SportsBusiness Journal report in February that each ACC school was looking at around $15 million per year, yet that hasn’t been finalized.

Here’s one thing that’s clear to me, though: ESPN has zero incentive to see the ACC get raided.  None.  Nada.  Unlike its contracts with every other power conference, ESPN has complete top-to-bottom control of all ACC TV rights.  This means that ESPN has more of a vested interest in the survival of the ACC specifically over every other conference – it’s the one league that the people in Bristol aren’t sharing with Fox, CBS or the Big Ten Network.  In fact, think of it in these terms:

The ACC is the single largest content provider to all of the ESPN networks, whether college or pro.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The ACC provides more live content to ESPN than the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.  So, do you really think ESPN wants the ACC to lose anyone, much less actually enable another league (the Big 12) to poach Jim Swofford’s gang?  Is ESPN going to want to trade an entire slate of Florida State games that’s guaranteed annually in order to receive only a handful of tier 1 Seminole games that’s variable from year-to-year?  Well, for all of the talk about how sexy of a matchup Florida State vs. Texas would be, check out the number of times that FSU vs. Miami appears on the list of highest rated games in the history of ESPN.  Since many sports fans tend to forget the existence of anything that happened beyond one year ago, they have forgotten how strong the ACC has been as a TV property over the long haul.

No one knows how much ESPN can single-handedly shape conference realignment more than the Big 12.  There’s one reason why Texas and Oklahoma aren’t in the Pac-16 today: the Longhorn Network.  ESPN was willing to pay Texas $15 million per year alone for bottom-of-the-barrel TV rights just so that its limited tier 1 Big 12 package would be kept alive.  So, my educated guess is that ESPN is going to be more than willing to throw at least an extra $30 million per year toward its single largest content provider of the ACC to make it at least revenue neutral on the TV front (where it’s close enough to the value of the Big 12’s TV deal that any difference would be offset by higher travel expenses) or even more to remove any doubt that the ACC is on equal standing with the other power conferences.

As I’ve stated in prior blog posts, I’m not saying this out of any love for the ACC.  Personally, there’s nothing that I’d love more than to witness those douchebags from Duke get relegated to the Southern Conference.  However, I try my best to separate what I want to see happen from what I believe will actually happen.  In this case, I believe that ESPN is going to end up paying the ACC enough to remove TV revenue as a reason for any school to leave that league for the Big 12.

4. Is the Big 12 going to expand with non-ACC schools such as Louisville? – I find this scenario to be much more likely than any type of Big 12 raid on the ACC, but the issue that the options for the Big 12 besides Louisville are limited.  BYU has been brought up on several occasions as a possibility, but the Cougars have such stringent requests regarding its own TV packages that even Texas says, “Damn!  You’re giving us nothing!”  Cincinnati is a geographic bridge between Louisville and West Virginia, yet their fan base size and football stadium situations aren’t making the heads of anyone in the Big 12 turn.  Rutgers and/or UConn are intriguing options for the Big 12 in my personal opinion, but that hasn’t been validated by anyone that’s actually associated with the conference.

Unfortunately for Louisville, they need a twelfth school to join them, as the Big 12 isn’t going to add them alone as number 11, and there isn’t anything close to a consensus on who that twelfth school should be.

5.  How are the non-power conferences going to end up? – The non-power conferences are in a worse position than they were 4 years ago.  While they will have more access to the new college football playoff on paper, they have few (if any) programs that have the resources to legitimately challenge for one of those 4 playoff sports on a consistent basis.  At the same time, those depleted leagues will likely be giving up any access to the other lucrative BCS bowls, which are going to be even more geared toward contractual tie-ins and a free market system of choosing the most popular schools that draw TV ratings and sell tickets.  To the extent that the Big East might get raided again by the Big 12, the Big East can then turn around and poach from the Mountain West and Conference USA even further (so fans from those conferences should not get any joy in any manner from all of the Big East doomsday stories).

If there’s one rule in conference realignment, it’s this: Shit ALWAYS rolls downhill.  When you’re at the bottom of that hill, you’re the WAC.

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

(Image from Gothamist)