Posts Tagged ‘Catholic 7 Expansion’

Back in 2010 and 2011 when the Big 12 was under siege by the then-Pac-10, Big Ten and SEC and appeared to be on the verge of collapse, basketball blue blood Kansas was looking like it could left out of the power conference structure. Circumstances were so dire at that point that Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and other Big 12 schools without any realistic prospects of moving to another power league actually approached the Big East to join if the worst case scenario came to fruition. It was a scary thought to a lot of fans: if Kansas could be left behind, then football is truly all that matters and basketball must have virtually no value in conference realignment. The 10 points (out of a total of 100) that I assigned to “Basketball Brand Value” in the original Big Ten Expansion Index was looking like a massive overweighting of hoops back then.

To the extent that it was already clear, the maxim was set in stone: “Football is everything in conference realignment.” Discussions about basketball value went by the wayside over the past couple of years as conference realignment discussions focused intensely upon how to maximize football dollars. Now, to be sure, much of this made (and still makes) sense for the power conferences. First tier TV contracts for college football dwarf those for college basketball while the top conferences (via the bowl system) are able to funnel postseason football money directly to their own coffers instead of having to deal with the NCAA for basketball postseason dollars.

However, any hard and fast rule is bound to be broken. As the Big East started suffering from a disintegration over the past 18 months that was originally prescribed for the Big 12, the seven non-football playing Catholic members of that league decided to break off and form a basketball-focused conference. There was quite a bit of skepticism that this could be financially viable considering that the Atlantic 10 signed a new deal worth only $350,000 per school per year (compared to the $1.3 million per year that each of the Big East schools were receiving for basketball under the current ESPN contract that’s about to expire). The perception was that football was propping the “Catholic 7″ up and they would be taking a substantial haircut by splitting off from the gridiron portion of the conference.

Then, the TV offers came in. The Catholic 7 received an offer from Fox worth $3 million to $4 million per school per year just for men’s basketball, while the remnants of the Big East will be getting about $2 million per school per year for both football and basketball. Think about it this way: Cincinnati, which has been to 2 BCS bowls and was seconds away from making it to the football national championship game in 2009, is going to end up making 50% to 100% less TV money for football and basketball than crosstown rival Xavier will be making from basketball alone (assuming all of the reports are correct that Xavier will be joining the Catholic 7)… and Xavier is going to end up being in the conference named “The Big East”, too.

If the Big East/Catholic 7 TV contract situation hasn’t changed how you view conference realignment overall, it should. This should be a glaring warning signal any conference that is not named the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 or ACC: football in and of itself isn’t going to get leagues paid and they better start paying attention to basketball if they want to maximize revenue. For instance, if I was running UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and/or Temple, I would start questioning what the point is of having massive capital expenditures and operating expenses for football when nearby schools are getting paid more than my athletic department based on perceived basketball prowess. Now, schools like UConn or Cincinnati are still be positioning themselves to get into the ACC or Big 12, so they obviously can’t downshift in football, but maybe they would be better off creating a public university version of the Catholic 7. For instance, take UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple as a base and then add on UMass, Old Dominion and Charlotte as all-sports schools and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) and Wichita State (and maybe a couple of other public schools like Rhode Island) as basketball members. Navy might actually prefer to be a football-only member in that type of league compared to the Big East as currently configured, as well. That’s just throwing a list of schools against the wall, but what’s clear to me is that very high basketball value of UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple is getting severely diluted by the rest of the “new” Big East that won’t be called the Big East anymore. (For the purposes of this post, I’ll define the Big East football schools left behind as the “Big X”.) UConn getting a fraction of what Providence is receiving in terms of TV money ought to be unacceptable to the people in Storrs (even if the Huskies’ long-term plan is to get into the ACC at all costs), so it’s time to start rethinking the conventional wisdom of the role football plays in conference realignment.

What we have seen over the past 3 years is a lot of moves on paper, but the overall effect being more of the same. The power club when the BCS system was created in 1998 consisted of 6 conferences and 63 schools (including independent Notre Dame). 15 years later, the power club now has 5 conferences and 65 schools, with 3 schools moving up (Louisville, TCU and Utah) and 1 school moving down (Temple, who was kicked out of the power structure due to performance as opposed to anything related to realignment). That is a net change of 2 schools over the course of 15 years. Essentially, every single school that isn’t already in a power conference is praying for a winning lottery ticket with their respective football programs with those odds. As any financial adviser could tell you, though, pinning your dreams on winning the lottery isn’t a viable investment plan. When the Big East became too filled with “riff raff”, the entire league got kicked out of the power club instead of being integrated. It’s clear that the power club doesn’t want to get much larger (if at all), so everyone outside of that top tier needs to start looking at other ways to maximize revenue.

While basketball is much less of a concern to the power conferences at face value, consider which school is the top target for both the Big Ten and SEC (the 2 richest and most powerful conferences): North Carolina. It certainly isn’t due to UNC’s prowess at football or avoiding academic fraud. To the contrary, UNC is a basketball blue blood, and more importantly, Tar Heels basketball games are so critically important in the state of the North Carolina that a conference TV network carrying such games can effectively charge whatever carriage rate that it wants in that market. Think of the Big Ten’s addition of Maryland, as well. Fan enthusiasm for Terps football has been tepid lately, but part of what the conference is banking on is that there is a critical mass of interest in Maryland basketball where it can get the Big Ten Network basic carriage in the Washington, DC and Baltimore markets.

For conferences that don’t have their own TV networks, then the main way to monetize expansion is through first tier football TV contracts. In contrast, the “market” model of conference TV networks means that basketball needs to be taken into account more. (See the BTN garnering its highest-ever rated month in prime time in January based on the strength of the hoops league this year.) At the same time, the number of strong football brand names that are willing to move is pretty low right now. In 2010, everyone in the old Big 12 that had Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M, everyone in the Big East that had Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse and Louisville, and the ultimate hammer of Notre Dame was conceivably on the table. Now, the biggest football brand name that seems to be possibly available is Florida State, but there’s a feeling that they’re just rattling sabres about their supposed dissatisfaction with the ACC (where they’d be happy to move to the Big Ten or SEC, but don’t dislike the ACC enough to go to the Big 12). As a result, it simply might not be realistic (or possible) for conferences that are in acquisition mode to add much football prowess even if that’s their top priority. Thus, those leagues have to look to other factors such as monetizing basketball, which is very much possible (if not completely necessary) under the conference network model. Football might bring in the largest audiences for conference networks, but basketball is what keeps the lights on and provides enough content to justify basic carriage.

Make no mistake about it: all things being equal, of course conferences would want top football programs over top basketball programs. There’s nothing that generates more revenue than a power football school. However, what people need to start questioning is the misguided logic that any football program is more valuable than any basketball program. The Catholic 7 has shown that this isn’t the case at all. Athletic departments across the country need to take note in trying to figure out how they want to position themselves in the new college sports landscape.

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

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It figures that a conference that has lost 5 all-sports members, 8 non-football schools and 3 schools that accept invites to join but then backed out before playing a down of football within the past 18 months would ultimately end up losing its own name.  Both Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com and Mark Blaudschun are reporting that the Big East presidents are expected to approve a plan to allow for the “Catholic 7″ defectors from the conference (Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette) to keep the Big East name and leave the league for the 2013-14 season.  Pete Thamel of SI.com notes that Fox is pushing for the early exit and is expected to announce a contract with the Catholic 7/Big East when it unveils its plans for its new pair of sports networks of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2.  He also reports that the Catholic 7′s keeping of the Big East name and early exit are effectively being paid for by leaving the exit fees and NCAA Tournament credits of the other Big East schools that have defected or will be defecting (West Virginia, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, Rutgers and Notre Dame).  Meanwhile, a consensus has formed that Xavier and Butler will be added immediately to the new league with the old name for next season with a chance that a 10th, such as Creighton, comes in at that time.  The Catholic 7/Big East would then likely move up to 12 with St. Louis and Dayton (or possibly Richmond) in 2014-15.

The fight over the Big East was interesting since it’s a brand name that has been dragged through the mud lately yet still had a lot of value to both the Catholic 7 and Conference Formerly Known as the Big East football schools for different reasons.  From my vantage point, the Big East name is more valuable with the Catholic 7, but was more valuable to the football schools.  That is, the Catholic 7 are more able to fully realize the value of the Big East name since it had the bulk of the remaining historical members that weren’t in other power conferences and there wouldn’t be a cognitive dissonance if they held their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.  On the other hand, the football schools have little association with each other besides being new members of the league that was known as the Big East specifically.  The Catholic 7 could have more easily re-branded themselves under a different name since the average sports fan could already largely recognize that group as a cohesive unit, while the football members will need to sell a new untested name on top of educating the public about who is in their conference.  As a result, I’m a little surprised that the football schools didn’t pull out a rant like Marlo did on The Wire about how “My name is my name!”

Of course, the exit fees and NCAA Tournament credits of the other Big East defectors that the Catholic 7 are leaving behind aren’t small amounts.  Some back-of-the-napkin calculations would put that at least on the order of $20 million just for the NCAA credits.  (Edit: Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com reported earlier this month that the Big East actually has a “Realignment Reserve Fund” that is projected to be worth $68.8 million by 2020.)  Significantly, it’s likely that none of that is going to the incoming members of the league as part of their entrance agreements since it is standard operating procedure that new schools do not receive any of the revenue earned before they joined.  This means that UConn, Cincinnati and USF, which are currently the only all-sports members in the Big East with voting rights (Temple still isn’t a full member yet), are probably ending up with all of that money that the Catholic 7 are leaving behind, which would certainly make it more palatable for them to let go of the Big East name in return.  It’s at least some financial consideration for literally the only three schools in all of FBS that will end up earning less conference-level money outright in the new college football playoff system that starts in 2014 than they are in the current BCS regime.

Maybe it is all for the best for the football schools that thought that they were going to be in a conference called the Big East.  Andersen Consulting had to go through an acrimonious split with its parent Arthur Andersen back in the late-1990s, including losing an arbitration proceeding where it was forced to give up any reference to the then-extremely valuable Andersen name*.  The new name “Accenture” was chosen and literally hundreds of millions of dollars needed to be spent on re-branding efforts.  What seemed like a huge branding blow in 2000 ended up becoming one of the most fortuitous name changes in history just a year later when the Enron scandal hit and took Andersen down entirely as an accounting firm.  Sometimes, a fresh name with a new start can end up being better in the long run even if the benefits aren’t obvious today.

(* I was a finance major at the University of Illinois in the late-1990s and, without question, the most prestigious of the then-Big Five accounting firms was Arthur Andersen.  The sad irony of Andersen getting taken down in the Enron scandal partly for enabling poor audit decisions in order to preserve other types of tax services fees was that its main reputation, at least in Chicago, was that it was actually the least sales-oriented and most client-focused of the large accounting firms.)

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

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Brett McMurphy and Andy Katz of ESPN.com have reported that NBC has verbally offered the remnants of the Big East between $20 million and $23 million per year for six years for the conference’s TV rights for all sports (including both football and basketball).  That would be approximately $2 million per year for each school in the league.  By way of comparison, each individual school in the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 (and depending upon who you talk to, soon the ACC) will make about as much TV money on its own annually than the entire Big East conference.  This is the latest news in the stunning decimation of the Big East since the league rejected an offer from ESPN two years ago worth an average of $130 million per year.  During that time frame, the Big East has lost 5 football members that have actually played in the league (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville), 8 non-football members (Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette) and 2 3 schools that defected before they even played a down of Big East football (TCU, Boise State and San Diego State).  In the middle of that process, the conference also lost its place in the college football postseason structure, where it failed to secure a “Contract Bowl” slot (with its former BCS AQ counterparts Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC) and is now part of the “Gang of Five” non-power conference group (with the MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt as new counterparts).  The Big East made a huge gamble in taking its sports rights to the open market when it turned down that lucrative ESPN offer and even the largest conference naysayers couldn’t have predicted how badly that decision would backfire.

The argument that ESPN systemically devalued the Big East to the point where it was effectively destroyed is taken as gospel by many Big East partisans.  It started back in October 2011 with a quote from the then-AD at Boston College stating that ESPN “told [the ACC] what to do” in the wake of Pitt and Syracuse defecting to the ACC.  This line of thinking then continued on as the Big East lost more access in the new college football playoff system than any other conference (in fact, they’re likely going to be the only league that will end up making less money in the new format than it does in the current BCS system) and then suffered a literal avalanche of defections in the past 5 months.

However, it wasn’t the Bristol-based network that effectively killed off the Big East as we once knew it.  Instead, Fox, in its pursuit of becoming the main competitor to ESPN in US sports television, ended up pulling the trigger.  Consider two critical moves:

(1) Big Ten expands with Maryland and Rutgers – When the Big Ten added Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East, Jim Delany wasn’t looking to aid its first tier national TV slate that’s being shown on the Disney networks of ABC and ESPN (unlike the addition of Nebraska in 2010).  Instead, the main beneficiary from this expansion was Fox, which is 51% owner of the Big Ten Network (BTN), since it now has an argument that the network should be carried on basic cable in the New York City and Washington, DC markets.  If anything, this move was terrible for ESPN since it makes Fox/BTN much stronger on the East Coast and took away schools from the two main conferences – the ACC and Big East – in which the Worldwide Leader owns all tiers of conference multimedia rights.  Without Fox and the BTN, the Big Ten doesn’t take Rutgers directly from the Big East or indirectly causing Louisville to defect (since the ACC replaced Maryland with the Cardinals).  The Big East still had the ability to survive as a viable football conference with Louisville and Rutgers in the fold, but once they were gone, Boise State (and subsequently San Diego State) didn’t believe that they would receive enough TV money to justify being complete western geographic outliers.

(2) Catholic 7 leave the Big East… because Fox convinced them to do so – A few weeks after the Rutgers and Louisville defections, the 7 remaining Catholic non-football schools (DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence and Marquette) decided to split off from the Big East’s football members in order to form a new league (hereinafter called the “Catholic 7″).  Multiple reports from both ESPN (including the McMurphy/Katz report linked above) and Sports Illustrated have stated that Fox is the leading suitor for the rights to the new Catholic 7 league with offers of between $30 million and $40 million per year depending upon whether it has 10 or 12 schools.  That represents the Catholic 7 making around $3 million per year for basketball rights, which is more than the NBC offer to the Big East of $2 million per year for both basketball and football.

I’ve previously set forth reasons why the Catholic 7 would be more valuable than the new Big East even when they don’t offer any football (namely that football in and of itself isn’t what’s driving value and the Catholic 7 brand names and markets are much stronger top-to-bottom in order to garner a premium).  Even if you don’t want to believe that’s the case in terms of comparing the inherent values of the Catholic 7 versus the Big East, a Tweet from Brett McMurphy on Saturday should put this into clearer focus:

Do you see what occurred here if this is true?  Fox approached the Catholic 7 before they split off, which means it’s not so crazy to believe that Fox wanted them to split off.  So, if you believe that Fox is overpaying for the Catholic 7, then you might be right.  However, the point is that Fox needed to overpay the Catholic 7 in order to serve as a catalyst for them to split off.  If Fox just merely offered “fair market value” to the Catholic 7, then they likely would have stayed in the hybrid.  (Anyone that thought that the Catholic 7 would have split off without the knowledge that they’d be getting paid more compared to staying in the hybrid Big East isn’t thinking straight.)  There needed to be an extraordinary financial windfall from Fox in order for the Catholic 7 to take the extraordinary step of splitting off from the Big East football schools.  As a result, it’s almost pointless to try to compare the on-the-court basketball quality of the Catholic 7 versus the New Big East.  The amounts that are being offered by Fox to the Catholic 7 reflect a “blood money” premium offer that they couldn’t refuse, whereas the Big East isn’t going to garner any premium at all and will be subject to the “normal” market forces in play.

That leads to a corresponding question: why would Fox do this?  Why would it want to pay this much for the Catholic 7 instead of, say, simply bidding for the entire hybrid Big East?  Well, let’s take a step back and examine what Fox actually needs in terms of sports content.  The reality is that Fox (and when I say “Fox”, I really mean its new cable networks Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 as opposed to over-the-air Fox) already has a fairly full sports slate in the fall with Major League Baseball, NASCAR, Pac-12 football and Big 12 football rights.  As a result, they don’t have much of a need for other college football games.  The biggest programming gap that Fox has right now is during the winter, where its cable networks are pretty much wide open outside of some Pac-12 basketball rights.

I’ll put on my own tinfoil hat here, where my semi-educated guess is that Fox: (a) no longer had much interest in the New Big East football product after Rutgers and Louisville left, (b) still had interest in the Big East’s basketball product in order to provide winter programming and (c) didn’t want to get into a bidding war with NBC and/or ESPN to buy a Big East package for both basketball and football when all it really wanted was basketball.  As a result, Fox went straight to the Catholic 7 (who represented most of the schools that they wanted to showcase for basketball, anyway) and offered up enough money that would simultaneously be a financial boon to those schools while allowing the cable network operation to save money compared to a competitive bidding situation for the all-sports hybrid Big East rights.  It’s the very essence of a “win-win” for both the Catholic 7 and Fox here.

Meanwhile, the Big East has been left with only one legit suitor with NBC since Fox obviously has no interest (seeing that it made an offer to the Catholic 7 to split up the league), CBS has little funding for its fledgling CBS Sports Network and ESPN has had lukewarm feelings toward the league.  Without a bidding war, the already thrifty Comcast/NBC organization zero incentive to drive up the price of the Big East on its own, so this very low offer reflects that reality.  Either NBC takes the Big East rights or ESPN comes in to match it with its right of first of refusal (which the McMurphy/Katz article notes that the Worldwide Leader has), but there’s no other potential fountain of cash out there.

Sometimes, it’s not quite as simple as saying “UConn is a much better basketball program than DePaul, therefore, UConn should get paid more than DePaul”.  Timing matters in conference realignment and TV contracts, so in this case, Fox had a specific need in a situation where the Catholic 7 was in the right place at the right time.  Granted, that’s no consolation for the fans of schools that are left in the Big East and who may need to start hanging up pictures of Rupert Murdoch on their dartboards instead of Mickey Mouse.

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

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It’s been a wacky week in sports: a power outage at the Super Bowl, moms stealing national letters of intent, a previously listless Illinois team taking down #1 Indiana (I-L-L!) and the Big Ten’s next expansion target appears to be… Johns Hopkins University.  Let’s get to some conference realignment talk:

(1) Big Ten Expansion and Johns Hopkins – In a somewhat surprising bit of news, the Big Ten is apparently targeting Johns Hopkins as an associate member for lacrosse.  Adding Johns Hopkins on top of Rutgers and Maryland would give the Big Ten the minimum number of teams for both men’s and women’s lacrosse (6) to garner an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.  This has brought up the question as to whether the Big Ten would consider other associate members, such as adding Notre Dame or Boston University for hockey or all of the Big West to improve baseball.  I don’t see that happening, though.  From my vantage point, Johns Hopkins is about as unique of a situation as it gets since (a) as noted, its addition is the difference between the Big Ten having an NCAA auto-bid lacrosse league versus having none at all, (b) men’s and women’s lacrosse are the only sports that Johns Hopkins plays at the Division I level (all of its other sports are in Division III), so they would technically be an “all-sports” member for the Big Ten since it is providing “all” of the sports in which the conference sponsors a league (unlike Notre Dame or BU that obviously play at the Division I level in other sports), (c) Johns Hopkins happens to be an elite lacrosse power, so their combination with Maryland would instantly make the Big Ten into a top notch league in that sport and (d) in terms of academics and research funding power, Johns Hopkins is about as top notch as you can get outside of the Ivy League, which means that they can provide further gravitas to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is the academic research consortium of the Big Ten and the University of Chicago.  All of those factors make Johns Hopkins into a unique expansion target for the Big Ten that I don’t believe would apply to other potential associate members.*

(* Note that the College Crosse blog has a fairly skeptical view of the Johns Hopkins/Big Ten marriage occurring because it believes that Johns Hopkins holds the leverage here.  That’s a pretty fascinating lacrosse-centric viewpoint where there is actually a bizarro world where Jim Delany could be considered to be completely powerless while much of the rest of the conference realignment universe believes that he can bring the likes of North Carolina and Florida State to their knees.  All I know is this: whatever ESPNU might be paying Johns Hopkins for lacrosse games probably wouldn’t cover a day’s catering bill at the Big Ten Network.  If Johns Hopkins turns down a Big Ten offer, it certainly won’t be because of TV money or exposure.  The College Crosse analysis is focused upon the on-the-field element and concludes that the Big Ten supposedly doesn’t offer Johns Hopkins anything worthwhile, but it’s unlikely that the school is examining this conference option for any competitive reason.  Instead, it’s about an possible offer to be part of the most powerful conference and brand in college athletics on the basis of a single sport that isn’t football or basketball along with being the only school that the league has ever granted an associate membership to.  That’s an invitation that the vast majority of university presidents and athletic directors in this country would kill for.  We’ll see how Johns Hopkins approaches this going forward.)

Now, what does the prospect of adding Johns Hopkins mean for Big Ten expansion overall?  One school of thought is that adding Johns Hopkins and a Big Ten lacrosse league would make it more palatable for Virginia and North Carolina to consider the Big Ten (as they have powerhouse lacrosse programs that have greater influence on campus than their revenue might indicate).  The other viewpoint is the flip side, where the Big Ten wouldn’t be considering the addition of Johns Hopkins at all as an associate member if it believed a larger expansion that included UVA and/or UNC was imminent.  I tend to favor the latter point of view.  As much as I see the benefits listed above with adding JHU for lacrosse, I highly doubt it would be happening if the Big Ten thought that more full members with their own lacrosse members would be joining at any point in the near future.  That doesn’t mean that UVA or UNC won’t ever join the Big Ten, but the talk about Johns Hopkins is a bit of a canary in the coal mine on the overall status of conference realignment as of now.

(2) Potential Catholic 7 Fallout – We’ve spent most of our time here lately focused on the large potential realignment earthquakes with the power football conferences along with analyzing who might the 7 Catholic schools splitting from the Big East (AKA the “Catholic 7″ or “C7″) might add to their new basketball-centric league.  However, we haven’t really examined the potential fallout from the formation of the new C7 league, which may very well affect every single Division I basketball conference that doesn’t sponsor FBS football.  While I’m an ACC Armageddon skeptic, there should be little question that the basketball conference landscape is going to get smashed as soon as the C7 announces who they’re adding (and that could happen any day at this point).

The C7 still appears to have Xavier and Butler as locks to be additions with some combination of 3 of Creighton, Dayton, St. Louis and VCU.  (My semi-educated guess is that VCU will end up being left out as a result of being a lack of an institutional fit.)  In any scenario, the Atlantic 10 is going to end up losing a crippling chunk of top programs, while the Missouri Valley Conference is at risk of losing its top breadwinner, as well.  Will the A-10 end up attempting to raid the MVC or vice versa?  Could both the A-10 and MVC start fighting over programs from the Horizon League (e.g. Loyola and/or my parents’ alma mater of UIC in the Chicago market)?  Will the Colonial Athletic Association get poached by the A-10 again (e.g. George Mason and/or Northeastern)?  Who would the Horizon and CAA end up raiding for replacements?  Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) just announced today that it is leaving the relatively geographically friendly Summit League for the spread out WAC that has been life support, which makes no sense on paper… unless they believe that the Summit will get picked apart after the C7 makes their move. The number of permutations is endless, so it’s tough to even wrap my mind around how all of these conferences are going to react to the C7′s final decision.  It’s particularly curious that there really isn’t any indication whatsoever as to who the Atlantic 10 would be interested in when they inevitably need to backfill their membership (assuming that they even want to stay as a 14-school conference), so it’s difficult to reasonably predict who will be moving despite the fact that there will likely be dozens of schools shifting leagues.  I’m going to give this some more thought, but I’d be interested to see what you (as the readers of this blog) believe will happen since (a) it’s uncharted territory and (b) much more imminent compared to FBS power conference moves as of now.

(3) My Vote for the Name of the C7 League: “The Classic East” – Assuming that the C7 won’t be able to keep the Big East brand name for their new league (which is still an item that’s up for negotiation), there have been a number of religiously-related names suggested out there, such as “The Vatican League” or “The Big Priest”.  However, I came across a suggestion from a discussion on VUhoops that I believe is brilliant: “The Classic East”.  It’s a name that gives the C7 league a new and separate identity yet still evokes the tradition and history of what the old Big East used to be.  Think of how the Coca-Cola Company backtracked on its “New Coke” disaster and brought back its original cola formula as “Coca-Cola Classic”.  Anyway, that’s my vote if the Big East name stays with the football schools.

Enjoy the weekend and let’s hope the Illini can keep building upon tonight’s massive win!

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

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As the college football season has come to an end with Alabama and the SEC triumphant once again and basketball season in full swing, let’s take stock of the conference realignment landscape:

(1) Is the Big Ten expanding to 16 or 18 (or more) and if so, when? – Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune recently noted that there are some within the Big Ten that believe that the conference won’t stop expanding until it gets to 18 schools.  That being said, I’m not someone that believes that further Big Ten expansion is imminent.  Sure, there are schools that the Big Ten seem to be more than willing to add to create a legit superconference (e.g. Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and, of course, Notre Dame), but I continue to believe that there isn’t going to be some type of impending exodus from the ACC.  Look back at how much of a sales job the Big Ten needed to procure Maryland, which is a school in a state contiguous to the current Big Ten footprint, has relatively weak conference rivalries (Terps fans may care about Duke and UNC, but it’s not reciprocated), has turned into a Northern school from a cultural perspective and clearly needed more athletic department money.  From my vantage point, the members of the ACC still like the league even if they’re wary about the TV contract (whereas the Big 12 is the opposite where everyone outside of Texas really isn’t a huge fan of the league per se but are happy about the latest TV deal).  Are the Big Ten and SEC stronger than the ACC?  Absolutely.  However, that doesn’t automatically mean that the ACC is a sitting duck that’s about to get picked apart.

Let’s put it this way: if the Big Ten really thought that it could obtain all of the ACC schools that I’ve seen rumored that the conference wants to add in such a quick manner (e.g. within the next year), then I highly doubt that Jim Delany would have granted an invite to Rutgers.  That’s not a knock on Rutgers and what it can bring to the table in the new Big Ten setup (the school makes sense as an addition for various reasons, not the least of which is a presence in the New York City metro area), but UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech and probably Duke (yes, Duke, and yes, I need to take a shower after saying that) would have all been ahead of the Scarlet Knights on the pecking order.  Convincing Maryland to head to the Big Ten was tough enough and that’s nothing compared to persuading truly Southern schools such as UVA and UNC to come along (and by the same token, the SEC isn’t going to be as attractive to those same schools as it was to Texas A&M and Missouri).

As a Big Ten guy, I personally see a ton of benefits for the conference if it raids the ACC further.  From an objective standpoint, though, I don’t see that happening soon.  The threat of the Big Ten being on the prowl probably gives the conference more power than it does in terms of actually striking.  I know this much: the Big Ten will wait for who it really wants at this point.  They’re not going to force anything other than a 100% fit and to me, that would likely need to be some combo of UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech and/or Notre Dame (although I’d personally want to see Florida State become a prime target).  That could take awhile to come to fruition, so I believe we can put the Superconference Armageddon scenarios away for the time being as realistic (even though they’re so much fun to talk about as hypotheticals).

(2) What are the Big Ten divisions going to look like? - Greenstein’s report also intimated that the Big Ten was looking at an East/West split for divisions with the possibility of putting Northwestern in the East due to its alumni contingents in the New York and Washington, DC regions.  However, the word out of Northwestern is that they would prefer to stay in the West with its closer rivals such as Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin along with enjoying a massive influx of Nebraska fans buying up tickets in Evanston every other year.

From what I’ve seen, the divisional alignment that I had proposed a couple of weeks ago with Michigan State in the West and both Indiana and Purdue in the East and every school having a protected cross division rival won’t come to fruition.  If Northwestern is in the West (and I’ll be honest as an Illinois fan that I’d personally be pretty pissed if Northwestern ends up in the East on top of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State), then it would seem that Indiana would make more sense as the Hoosier State rep in the East (look at this Wall Street Journal article from a few years ago about how many East Coast students have been invading Bloomington lately) while Purdue would head to the West.  That would mean the East would have Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana, while the West would have Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.  In that event, I would hope that the Big Ten assigns Indiana-Purdue as the only protected cross division rivalry while everyone else goes on a regular rotation.  This would allow the West schools to continue playing Michigan and Ohio State more often, especially if the Big Ten increases its conference schedule to 9 games.  The Pac-12 did the right thing by only making the games between the various California-based members into annual cross division games and not trying to force any unnatural pairings.  Hopefully, the Big Ten has the good sense to do the same.

(3) What’s going on with the Big East/Mountain West skirmish? – As of now, the conference realignment action is really happening outside of the scope of the five power conferences (Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12).  The latest cog in the Gang of Five wheel is San Diego State, which is faced with a decision of whether to “go back” to the Mountain West Conference (which they are still a member of until July 1st) or “stay” with the Big East as football-only member (which they have committed to join on that date) and the Big West for basketball and Olympic sports.  I don’t envy the decision that has to be made by the Aztecs since neither option is exactly optimal – it’s either being in the MWC, which has a new TV deal structure that will largely benefit Boise State, or the Big East whose membership is in flux and SDSU will almost certainly be the lone extreme geographic outlier.

Even though there’s a case to be made that San Diego State would make more football TV money in the Big East and actually reduce their Olympics sports travel costs in the Big West, I believe that the Aztecs will ultimately stick with the MWC.  It comes down to a simple question: would San Diego State have chosen to join the Big East one year ago if it knew how the league would look today?  In my opinion, it would be an emphatic “No”, as evidenced by schools in smaller markets such as UNLV and Fresno State having since rejected overtures from the Big East.  It would have been one thing if the Big East still had AQ status (or the equivalent of it in the new postseason system) or could reasonably procure an outsized TV contract compared to the MWC (which is what Big East commissioner Mike Aresco has been trying to convince people will be coming down the pike even though no one outside of Big East partisans believes him), but being the sole West Coast team in a league that isn’t receiving favored treatment anymore and looks like it won’t be adding anyone else within 1500 miles of your school (which we’ll get to in a moment) is a rough thing for any university president or athletic director to sign up for.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Big East is a bad choice for everyone.  Houston and SMU, who have been rumored to be targets of the MWC, still make a lot more sense in the Big East.  At worst, those schools will be in a better version of the Conference USA that they will be leaving, so the MWC doesn’t provide much upside comparatively.  As much as some observers seem to want to watch conferences just pack it in and completely die off, the Big East (or whatever it will be called in the future, which is a separate issue) can still survive as an entity with the pieces that it still has left.  Tulsa appears to be a Big East expansion target, which would be a solid addition for its Southwestern flank.  UMass is also out there as a classic “university presidents might love it and fans will hate it” option – they have a nascent and struggling FBS program yet offer a public flagship university in the Northeast that plays football at that level (which otherwise don’t exist at all outside of the 5 power conferences plus UConn).  Several other schools from Conference USA (e.g. Southern Mississippi) and the MAC (e.g. Northern Illinois) might also get a look, but my feeling  is that Tulsa and UMass are the frontrunners to get the Big East up to 12 football members (assuming that San Diego State stays in the MWC) as soon as possible.  The league would then do everything it can to keep Navy on board as an addition for 2015 and, if Mike Aresco is successful in doing so, would target one more school on top of that to get to 14 schools for that season.

(4) What is the TV Contract and Expansion Status for the “Catholic 7″? – The Catholic 7 defectors from the Big East (DePaul, St. John’s, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova and Providence) have upended the “football means everything and basketball means nothing” axiom of conference realignment.  According to Darren Rovell of ESPN. com, Fox has offered $500 million over 12 years for the Catholic 7, with the assumption that the group adds 5 more schools to get up to 12 members.  That figure will likely be larger than what the football playing schools in the Big East will receive for both football and basketball.  I’ve said many times on this blog that football in and of itself isn’t what’s valuable, but rather quality content.  In this case, the Catholic 7 are offering quality content in their sphere of non-FBS basketball schools with traditional schools in large urban markets.  The problem with so many conferences is that they’re trying to apply the way that the Big Ten and SEC make money via football when they don’t have the assets to do it properly.  It would be akin to a mom-and-pop corner store trying to run a business like Wal-Mart or Target without the requisite supply chain.  Not every conference can be all things to all people in the manner of the Big Ten and SEC, so the Catholic 7 was smart enough to realize (or at least make the right decision when backed into a corner) that they can exploit a lucrative niche.  They became the Trader Joe’s of college conferences as opposed to Wal-Mart, if you will.  Instead of being subject to the whims of raids from the 5 more powerful football conferences as members of the hybrid Big East, the Catholic 7 have positioned themselves as arguably the most powerful non-FBS sports conference out there.  The non-FBS market might be much smaller than the FBS market as a whole, but there’s something to be said to being #1 in the former with complete control of your destiny as opposed to #6 (or even #7) in the latter without any buying power.

With the Fox offer apparently contingent upon the Catholic 7 adding 5 schools, that brings into question who would be the expansion candidates.  Xavier and Butler have been continuously named by several separate outlets as locks, so that takes up the first two spots.  The next 2 most likely targets appear to be Dayton (great fan base) and Creighton (ditto with a top notch on-the-court program right now on top of that).  All 4 of those schools should feel fairly comfortable about getting into the new league with the Catholic 7 (which may very well still end up with the Big East brand name when all is said and done) with this news about Fox wanting a 12-team league.  That leaves the last spot that appears to be a battle between St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth.

If I were running the Catholic 7, I’d definitely recommend SLU as school #12.  From my vantage point, this is an opportunity for this group of schools to create a conference with branding that goes beyond athletics with like-minded institutions.  Essentially, the new league can be to urban undergraduate-focused private schools in the Midwest and East Coast what the Big Ten is to large research institutions in the same region.  In that regard, SLU is a perfect institutional fit with the Catholic 7 and the 4 other schools mentioned.  SLU also has excellent basketball facilities and a solid history in the sport, so it’s not as if though this would be a poor on-the-court move.

VCU, on the other hand, would purely be a basketball resume addition.  Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that approach, as this new league is going to need top notch hoops teams on-the-court to gain the requisite NCAA Tournament credits to pay the bills.  At the same time, VCU would be an Eastern-based addition to balance out all of the other probable expansion candidates that are located in the Midwest.  However, I’m wary about VCU being an addition based on short-term results as opposed to long-term institutional fit.  What surprises me is that there has been zero buzz about the Catholic 7 looking at Richmond, which has a solid basketball resume itself and is a better institutional fit as a private liberal arts school located in the same market as VCU.

It’s not an accident that SLU was added by the Atlantic 10 immediately after Conference USA stopped its hybrid model after the Big East raids of 2003, while VCU and Butler were only invited this year.  SLU would be a long-term move in a solid TV market that’s a great institutional fit and makes geographic sense assuming that the Catholic 7 wants to add Creighton.  I have all of the respect in the world for VCU as a basketball program, but SLU would be best for the new Catholic 7 league for the long run.

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(Image from CBS Sports)