I never intended this blog to be exclusively devoted to Big Ten expansion issues (and one of these days, I’ll get back to my regularly-scheduled moaning about the respective states of the Illini, Bears and White Sox as well as analyzing the inevitable Bulls trade deadline rumors that make “Texas to the Big Ten” seem like a lock by comparison), yet a number of recent comments from all of the wonderful readers out there and news events necessitate another follow-up post. If you haven’t already read them, here are the original Big Ten Expansion Index post and follow-ups #1 and #2. As a side note, there’s been a bit of speculation that I must be an unemployed stoner or doctoral student (or both) to have the time to write such long posts. In reality, I’m actually an extremely time-pressed attorney that is raising twin babies at home, which is why I hadn’t written anything prior to the Big Ten Expansion Index post for a period of 6 months. Thus, these blog posts are the product of halfway-cognizant insomia (and I really wish I was joking about that). Anyway, let’s go through everything in general categories:
1. Missouri Would Have a $10 Million Financial Boost with Big Ten Membership (and Texas would, too) – The St. Louis Business Journal has presented an analysis that shows that it would make at least $10 million per year more in the Big Ten compared to the Big 12. This is based on the current Mizzou revenue share in the Big 12 of around $8.4 million and the Big Ten’s revenue figures of today (which would assuredly jump with the addition of a conference championship game and additional Big Ten Network subscribers). What’s also noted in the article (but not emphasized since this is written from the Mizzou point of view) is that the Texas revenue share in the Big 12 was around $10.2 million last year (which was the most in that conference), which is even less than what I was basing my financial assumptions on in the original Big Ten Expansion Index post. For all of the squawking from non-Texas Big 12 fans that I’ve seen on virtually every blog and message board that has reviewed my blog posts, the supposed Texas control of revenue in the Big 12 amounts to less than a $2 million per year advantage over Missouri (not chump change, but not exactly dominating, either). Yet, according to the St. Louis Business Journal’s numbers, that $2 million difference would pale in comparison to the minimum $10 million per year boost that either Missouri or Texas (or any other Big 12 school) would receive by going to the Big Ten.
As Deep Throat once said to Bob Woodward in a dingy parking garage, “Follow the money.” Even if you reasonably believe that a school like Texas would ultimately have to reject an invite from the Big Ten due to political factors (which I fully acknowledge is a critical issue), the financial calculations from the St. Louis Business Journal would show why Texas would at least look at Big Ten membership seriously and that this isn’t a proposal that’s going to be ignored from the beginning (as a lot of non-Texas Big 12 fans seem to believe). Let’s put it this way: if some other company proposed to give you a $10 million raise for doing the exact same thing as you’re doing now, chances are that you aren’t just going to completely ignore it and say, “Nope. I’m not even going to listen.” Non-Texas Big 12 fans (as well as fans from a lot of other conferences) want or hope that’s what Texas is going to respond to an offer of at least $10 million more per year (or to put it in more impactful terms using simple multiplication, a minimum of an extra $100 million over the course of 10 years): “Nope. I’m not even going to listen.” This isn’t even accounting for the fact that (1) people seem to expect Texas to just let Missouri walk away to double its TV money and concurrently weaken the already poor Big 12 contract (thereby pulling the Longhorns’ TV revenue down even further) and (2) the academic funding from the CIC dwarfs the athletic side of the equation.
I can completely accept the argument that the Texas state legislature could kill this deal from a political standpoint, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably believe that any school is going to just automatically turn down at least $100 million over the course of 10 years without performing some heavy due diligence and analysis to see whether it’s worth it. Plus, it’s not as if it’s only the beancounters from Wu-Tang Financial are considering this a real possibility. For the skeptics out there that the Texas fan base would be completely against this, please look back at the comments from Texas alums to my prior posts along with the links to various Longhorns blogs and message boards and see what they’re saying. In addition to all of that, here’s yet another fairly positive discussion from the Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation. Once again, think like a university president as opposed to a sports fan here. The Big Ten offers Texas and every other school in the Big 12 (and frankly, every other BCS conference) more money for the athletic department via its TV contract and more money for academics via the CIC. Any university president is at least going to evaluate that type of proposal with some heavy consideration.
2. Notre Dame Almost Joined the Big Ten in 2003 – Last week, Notre Dame basketball head coach Mike Brey spilled the previously unknown beans about how extremely close the Fighting Irish were to joining the Big Ten when the ACC raided the Big East back in 2003. If you read the initial Big Ten Expansion Index post, you’ll know that every single Big Ten school makes about twice as much TV money as Notre Dame’s NBC contract (and as shown by my first follow-up post, the additional money Notre Dame receives from the Big East basketball TV contract basically amounts to a rounding error to any school in the Big Ten). What’s interesting to me about the Brey story is that Notre Dame was so close to joining the Big Ten even when it wasn’t in its financial interest to do so at that time (since the NBC contract was the gold standard for college sports in 2003). Now that it is arguably very much in Notre Dame’s financial interest to join the Big Ten, maybe the “Notre Dame will never join a conference” line of thinking isn’t as iron-clad as previously thought.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick even acknowledged that the Big Ten makes substantially more TV money than what the Irish receive from NBC in this Chicago Tribune story from last month. Look at Swarbrick’s quotes closely in that article. While that story was widely cited by the national media as Notre Dame supposedly preemptively rejecting the Big Ten, as a fellow attorney, I recognize and respect how carefully parsed Swarbrick’s statements were and that he effectively didn’t say anything at all. If Notre Dame were to join the Big Ten tomorrow, there is absolutely nothing that Swarbrick said that would’ve been a lie. Still, Notre Dame depends upon alumni support more than any other BCS school and Sully’s comment on my Big Ten Expansion Index post is indicative of what they’re thinking. I’d still wager that Texas has more of chance of being invited and accepted into the Big Ten than Notre Dame at this point in time.
3. The East Coast Family – I’ve seen a fairly large number of suggestions that the Big Ten ought to go to the 14-school route with a full-on Big East raid of Rutgers, Syracuse and UConn. The argument is that while none of those schools by themselves can deliver the New York City market, putting all of them together could very well do so plus gain traction in New England on top of that. It’s a plausible scenario, but I still stand by my stance on the only way that it would be worth it to have a 14-school conference: “… using a historical NBA superstar comparison, if the 12th Big Ten member has to be at least at the level of Kobe Bryant, then the 13th and 14th Big Ten members have to be both Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.” I’m confident that Texas fans will beat down any cable provider in its home state that doesn’t carry the Big Ten Network on basic cable. I’d also say the same about a slew of other Big 12 schools, including Nebraska and Missouri. However, I just don’t have that confidence in any of the Big East schools or even three of them together to deliver their own markets. The Big Ten would only make a move for sure things and the problem is that the northeastern schools are the least sure moves out there (even if they have the greatest potential number of households). Once again, the only “plausible” scenario that I see the Big Ten going up to 14 schools is that it absolutely must take Texas A&M in order to get its real target of Texas, in which case a 14th school on top of them is needed to round everything out. 3 additional schools would need to add over $60 million to the conference pot in order to maintain the per school revenue status quo, so it would take 3 blockbuster schools in order to do that. I believe that the objective of a 14-school Big Ten is to make markets irrelevant – at that point, it’s all about making the Big Ten Network into an ESPN-esque must-have channel in every home in the country. Otherwise, it’s not worth it to expand to that size.
Others have asked again that I examine some ACC schools, such as Maryland and Boston College. Those types of schools are definitely enticing from an academic and TV market perspective (and I’d love Miami in particular for a lot of reasons), but I’ll reiterate that I don’t think that the Big Ten is going to be likely to lure anyone from there even with that conference’s own TV issues. There’s a scene from Wall Street where Bud Fox is livid that Gordon Gekko has decided to break-up Blue Star Airlines (where Fox’s father worked at as a union leader). Fox asks Gekko, “Why do you need to wreck this company?” Gekko screams back, “Because it’s WRECKABLE, alright?!” In terms of college conferences, the Big 12 and Big East are wreckable in a way that the other BCS conferences aren’t at this time, which is why I’ve continued to focus on expansion candidates from those two particular conferences. The ACC, in contrast, has a collection of academically-minded universities that have similar goals from top to bottom much like the Big Ten and Pac-10.
At one time, I was completely convinced that the Big Ten would look eastward if it ever decided to add a school other than Notre Dame. However, I’m suspending that thought until the marquee Big 12 schools like Texas are completely off the table.
4. Nationwide Conference Fallout – Finally, part of the fun of speculating about what the Big Ten would do in expansion is how the other conferences would respond. How would the Big 12 react if it loses a school? What about the Big East? Will the Pac-10 finally go to 12 schools itself? How would the non-BCS conferences be affected?
If Notre Dame were to move to the Big Ten, it would probably be the biggest news but also have the least impact on other conferences (at least football-wise). The Big East would have to replace a basketball member, which would likely come in the form of an all-sports school to finally give its football conference 9 teams. Current Conference USA members Memphis, East Carolina and Central Florida (UCF) are considered to be the main options for the Big East, which is a whole lot of “meh” for a conference really needs a marquee football member that it probably won’t ever obtain (even though the conference has done pretty well overall since the ACC raid in 2003). Still, Notre Dame going to the Big Ten doesn’t take away anything from Big East football. Syracuse or Rutgers going to the Big Ten, though, takes a whole lot away from the Big East. If the Big East ends up having to add one or more of the aforementioned options from C-USA in that scenario, that’s going to be a significant blow to the conference’s national reputation. I personally think that the Big East’s automatic BCS bid will be safe if it only loses one school since the states that the conference represents are just too politically and publicly powerful through the media to kick out, but you might see a split from the Catholic basketball schools at that point (which would have massive repurcussions in conference alignment for basketball).
In the event that one or more Big 12 schools leave for the Big Ten, I believe that BYU and Utah would be the consensus top candidates (in that order). I put BYU ahead of Utah for the simple fact that BYU delivers Utah’s market plus a national fan base with its Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) members (similar to Notre Dame’s hold on Catholics). BYU’s religious underpinnings wouldn’t concern the Big 12 seeing that it has Baylor as a member and that school only started to allow dancing a few years ago. (As you’ll see, though, those religious underpinnings will automatically kill BYU’s chances elsewhere.) A lot of the public seems to think that TCU would get into the Big 12 if there was an open spot, but this is another classic case of people thinking like sports fans as opposed to university presidents. If there’s one point that I hope everyone that has read my posts understands, it’s that the lack of major TV markets in the Big 12 outside of the state of Texas is specifically what makes that conference vulnerable (and why Missouri and Nebraska would accept a Big Ten invite in a heartbeat and I think Texas and Texas A&M would strongly consider it). So, TCU provides exactly as much TV value to the Big 12 as Cincinnati and Iowa State would to the Big Ten: none whatsoever. The Big 12 isn’t going to add yet another Texas school when the conference’s #1 issue is not having enough of a presence outside of Texas. Thus, the only way that TCU gets into the Big 12 is if BOTH Texas and Texas A&M leave the Big 12 at the same time and the conference decides that it needs TCU to shore up its Texas home base. Other schools that might be in the mix for the Big 12 are New Mexico (who is very underrated as an expansion candidate in my opinion since it’s a flagship with a good fan base in a growing state) and Boise State (who is very overrated as an expansion candidate since they’re very hot now yet I’m not sure if they bring that much value when they go through an inevitable down period). In any event, the Mountain West is almost certainly screwed as a conference if the Big 12 loses a school.
The Pac-10 expansion situation is extremely difficult to predict because of this simple fact: any expansion candidate needs unanimous approval from all 10 members in order to receive an invite. In contrast, the Big Ten needs an 8-3 majority to add a school. So, the unanimous vote requirement is the key to virtually everything in the Pac-10. I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve seen suggest that the Pac-10 will eventually invite BYU without understanding why it would neverever happen. Let’s think about this for a couple of seconds: in order for this to occur, it would require the University of California-Berkeley to vote affirmatively to share money and associate itself with BYU and the LDS. If that disconnect isn’t obvious to you for some reason, let’s spell it out at a rudimentary level: California liberals have complete disdain for the LDS because of how much money that the church poured into the state to kill all of the gay rights propositions over the past few years. BYU happens to be the intellectual nerve center of the LDS. The most liberal institution in the most liberal city in California (if not the entire United States) happens to be the University of California-Berkeley. You will see riots in Berkeley that would harken back to the 1960s if Cal even considered for a moment to allow BYU to join the Pac-10. This isn’t even accounting for other ultra-liberal schools in the Pac-10 like UCLA and Oregon.
Utah is a little more palatable, but remember that the Pac-10 couldn’t even agree on inviting Texas back in the 1990s (otherwise, the Longhorns would now be members of that West Coast conference). If a clearly academically and athletically superior Texas couldn’t get a unanimous vote from the Pac-10, I don’t know if Utah would even stand a chance. Granted, the Pac-10 would probably like a mulligan on Texas and they’d take Colorado, as well, but with the revenue disparity between the Big Ten and Pac-10 so large today, I doubt that Texas would choose the Pac-10 over the Big Ten at this point if it ever left the Big 12. Also note that having each school play both USC and UCLA annually is critically important for recruiting, ticket selling and TV purposes. This year’s Pac-10 football champ of Oregon, for example, had most of its players come from Southern California who were hypnotized by all of the green and yellow hues on the Ducks’ uniforms. This is also the case for virtually every other Pac-10 school. Therefore, if the Pac-10 were to propose to go up to 12 schools, anyone that has to give up games against USC and/or UCLA in order to play a Utah-level school will automatically vote against expansion, as well (unless you’re talking about another top TV market like Texas). Academics are also as important to the Pac-10 as the Big Ten, so any candidate that doesn’t have top academic credentials (i.e. Boise State and UNLV) is going to rejected by the likes of Stanford. With such a high standard to get expansion approved in the Pac-10 and a lack of any obvious expansion candidate on the West Coast, the Pac-10 is probably going to end up standing pat no matter what happens.
I have a ton more thoughts on how other conferences might react, but I’ll save for those for a later date. Keep those comments coming and I’ll provide more feedback in the near future.
(Image from Population Statistic)