Posts Tagged ‘Big Ten Network’

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The financial news stories coming out of ESPN over the past several months have been quite negative. The Disney-owned cable network has endured several rounds of layoffs and reported  last week that it has lost 7 million subscribers over the past two years. This is of particular interest to the Big Ten, which will be negotiating new television contracts over the next year and has been banking on massive increases in rights fees. All of the Big Ten’s off-the-field moves during this decade, from conference expansion to adding a conference championship, has been leading up to providing the league with maximum leverage in this negotiation. The Big Ten Network has certainly been a boon, but the first tier national TV contract is still the Big Ten’s top priority both financially and in terms of brand exposure by a wide margin.

Many of the Big Ten’s financial projections during the conference realignment process were based upon the assumption that ESPN would offer a massive rights fees increase (which in turn would garner similar bids from other media companies, particularly Fox). However, should the Big Ten be worried with the recent turbulence at ESPN? Do the cost-cutting measures at ESPN mean that the network will pull back on what it could offer to the Big Ten?

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal recently examined the race for the Big Ten rights and noted that the market may not be as “frothy” as it was when the Pac-12 secured a huge rights fee increase in 2011. However, he still expected “ESPN and Fox Sports to at least double the conference’s annual average payout and share the rights” despite the overall market factors (and he would have as great of an insight of what’s likely for sports media rights as anyone in the business).

I completely agree with Ourand on the likelihood of ESPN and Fox splitting the Big Ten rights (as I also predicted in my last post). This would have the effect of ESPN and Fox not having to each completely break their individual banks yet provide the Big Ten with much larger overall rights fees compared to one single contract holder. At the same time, I believe that the Big Ten greatly values the exposure the ESPN provides via its multiple platforms that can’t be matched by any other media company (even with pressures on the basic cable model). I don’t buy the notion that the Big Ten would walk away from ESPN completely – Jim Delany has set up this league to be like the NFL with multiple high profile media partners viewing it as an essential product. (See this article from Ed Sherman from this past March pointing out the presence of ESPN, Fox-affiliated BTN and CBS all at the Big Ten Tournament.)

At the same time, Big Ten fans shouldn’t pay attention to the arm chair observers (i.e. partisans from other leagues that would love to see the Big Ten fail to meet its expectations) that simply assume that ESPN cutting costs in its operations will mean that it will cut its spending on rights fees (and thereby the Big Ten). Ultimately, content is king, and ESPN in particular needs live sports content whether we live in a basic cable world or cord-cutting a la carte/over-the-top streaming world. If anything, retaining premium live sports programming becomes even more critical to ESPN as more people drop basic cable. It’s not going to sell over-the-top subscriptions like HBO Now with more Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith shows. The only way ESPN is going to get people to shell out $20 (or $30 or $40 or $50 or more per month) if it has to move to that environment is to have the broadest suite of exclusive live sporting events that large audiences want to watch as possible. That includes the Big Ten.

The adjustments that ESPN’s corporate siblings at Disney in Hollywood have already made years ago provide a template for sports programming expenditures in the future. Movie studios have already had their revenue and profits eroded by the Internet much more quickly than the television industry. Box office revenue is only being buoyed by ticket price increases (masking a general decline in attendance) while increases in digital streaming and downloads have not been enough to offset the decline in sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs . It’s harder than ever to make money in the movie industry today.

However, that doesn’t mean that Disney has slashed all of its movie budgets. Quite to the contrary, Disney will greenlight massive production and marketing budgets for its tentpole franchises and brands, such as Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, that dwarf the figures that have been used in the past even on an inflation-adjusted basis. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is estimated to have a production budget of $200 million and films of that size typically have marketing costs that come close to matching that number dollar-for-dollar on top of that. The Avengers: Age of Ultron had a combined production and marketing budget of over $340 million. When it comes to premium content, Disney isn’t skimping because those tentpole movies have downstream impact on the company’s business, such as merchandising and theme park tie-ins. (This classic Spaceballs clip is now literally the business strategy for all of Hollywood.)

Disney will also greenlight lower budget movies, such as documentaries out of its Disneynature unit. Other Hollywood studios have figured out that really cheap horror films provide the best returns on investment in the business, which is why consumers now get a steady diet of new horror movie releases throughout the entire year.

What Disney did completely cut, though, was its middle budget film division. Disney sold off Miramax in 2010 (less than a year after Disney purchased Marvel), which was the Oscar nominee producing machine of films such as Pulp Fiction. The prestige film business might provide nice publicity during awards season, but it doesn’t generate the top-to-bottom movie/merchandising bonanza of tentpole films like Star Wars or the pure ROI of low-budget movies. As a result, Disney has gotten out of the mid-budget film market entirely.

This “high/low” budget strategy while cutting out the middle is almost certainly what ESPN has in mind. Indeed, one the highest profile casualties of ESPN’s recent cost-cutting was the elimination of Grantland. In my opinion, Grantland had produced the best content on any ESPN platform over the past few years (particularly Zach Lowe on the NBA and Bill Barnwell on the NFL) with its mix of sports and pop culture analysis targeted to educated readers. The issue from ESPN’s perspective was that employing the talent to produce such high-level analysis was relatively expensive, yet its mothership website has been getting its most hits for fantasy football lineup recommendations. What is ESPN going to spend its resources on in the future: more top flight reporting on Outside the Lines that is getting marginal ratings, or more lowest common denominator hot take shows where the same broadcast can take up a couple of hours on ESPN2, get syndicated on ESPN radio affiliates across the country and be uploaded to the ESPN website as a podcast? It doesn’t take long to figure that one out.

Believe me – I don’t personally like these trends. Even though I’m a massive Star Wars fan and I’ve got my tickets with the exact seats reserved for opening weekend (along with buying the spectacular Chewbacca Illini T-shirt shown above that might as well have been custom-made for me), I’m also a large watcher of prestige films (and I have zero interest in cheap horror flicks). Grantland was one of my favorite websites and I can’t stand vapid talking head shows (whether news-based or sports-based). We need more resources dedicated to hard news and smart analysis. Unfortunately, the Internet’s business model doesn’t really reward that type of content compared to slideshow click-bait. As a result, prestige content producers may need to go toward an NPR-type funding model.

Putting my personal feelings aside, the high/low budget strategy still works very well for the Big Ten. As far as sports properties go, it’s definitely the equivalent of a tentpole movie franchise and, timing-wise, it’s the only tentpole of any kind available on the TV rights market until the next decade. That’s not hyperbole. Outside of the NFL (which is the undisputed king of TV sports), college football has consistently delivered the best week-in and week-out ratings out of any sport for U.S. viewers and the Big Ten has been at the top of those ratings next to the SEC for many years. This is not a property that ESPN can afford to lose (whether on the mothership cable channel or ABC, whose Saturday programming is heavily reliant on the Big Ten), and this is also not a property that Fox can afford to miss out on. Top tier sports brands like the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, SEC and Big Ten aren’t going to be the ones that are worried about cord cutting because they are all proven drivers of viewership on multiple platforms. Inexpensive sports rights with lower production costs and high ROI (think West Coast Conference basketball with Gonzaga games) will also be in high demand. The sports brands that should be worried are the ones that have relatively high production costs but lower viewership, such as Group of Five conference college football and non-major tennis and golf events.

At the end of the day, ESPN (and likely Fox with them) will end up paying top dollar for the Big Ten just as its Disney corporate siblings continue to pay top dollar for Star Wars films. Going forward, ESPN is in a position where it needs to keep its premium sports rights because that is the only way that it can maximize its value regardless of whether the world stays with basic cable (where such rights are needed to keep the basic cable subscriber fees high) or moves to an over-the-top environment (where such rights are needed to draw in direct paying subscribers). ESPN still paid a premium for more European soccer rights in the past month (as Ourand pointed out) and was still willing to sign up for massive deals with NBA and Major League Baseball when they were fully aware of the erosion of their basic cable subscriber numbers. The Big Ten has tentpole sports content and that will always be in demand.

After a long Chicagoland winter that included coaching my twins (and future hopes and saviors for the Illini men’s and women’s basketball programs) in the Naperville YMCA Kindergarten Basketball League, it’s time to get back to blogging. Fortunately, not much has occurred on the conference realignment scene since December when the Big 12 was coming right off of the sting of being left out of the College Football Playoff. After some expansion rumors that included Cincinnati and Memphis, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and his conference brethren have a long string of denials about any desire or need to expand. Personally, I don’t believe them – I think the Big 12 is fully aware that they need to expand for the long-term. Whether the Big 12 has any consensus on who they should expand with is an entirely different matter, particularly when those additions will need to come from the pool of non-power schools.

Interestingly enough, the latest expansion scuttlebutt is coming from the Big Ten. Granted, it’s only for hockey, but it’s still an intriguing indicator for the Big Ten’s overall plans (as you’ll see further down in this post). The Minneapolis Star Tribune had an in-depth article last week about how Penn State’s successful start to its hockey program is spurring schools across the Big Ten and the rest of the country to consider adding the sport. Arizona State recently announced that it will be starting a Division I hockey program… and according to the Star Tribune, the Sun Devils have been speaking to the Big Ten about its conference home on the ice:

Arizona State and the Big Ten both confirmed they’ve discussed a hockey future together. An outside school competing in one Big Ten sport already occurs in men’s lacrosse with Johns Hopkins.

Two other conferences with a major presence in the Midwest, the WCHA and the NCHC, are also engaged in conversations with the Sun Devils.

“I think being in a conference with like institutions is important,” [Big Ten Associate Commissioner Jennifer] Heppel said. “[Arizona State] is going to have to think about that from an institutional and sport perspective. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have a historic relationship.”

Heppel oversees men’s hockey for the Big Ten, so her on-the-record quotes directly about Arizona State indicate that this isn’t a fly-by-night rumor.

My knee-jerk reaction: Sounds good to me. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has said before that the Phoenix market is actually home to more Big Ten alums than Pac-12 alums. If you’ve ever visited the Phoenix/Scottsdale area (particularly in the winter and spring), you could certainly believe it with the overwhelming number of Midwestern transplants and retirees (even compared to other Sun Belt locations like Florida). Phoenix/Scottsdale is to Chicago snowbirds as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale is to New York City snowbirds. Arizona State isn’t an AAU institution as of now, but it’s one of the largest universities in the country with respected graduate programs (even with the party school and Girls Gone Wild reputations of its undergrad population). Plus, the fact that Arizona State is in the Big Ten’s brother of the Pac-12 makes a bit easier to envision the Sun Devils as a hockey member compared to, say, Notre Dame.

At the same time, the Big Ten has the opportunity to make this into a broader relationship beyond hockey. For example, imagine if Arizona State commits to playing 1 or 2 Big Ten football teams per year, 2 to 3 non-conference basketball games, and several non-conference baseball games (where the Big Ten legitimately needs help from a powerhouse in that sport like ASU). That’s not a huge commitment from either Arizona State (and they may have wanted to schedule those types of non-conference games on their own, anyway) or the Big Ten, yet it starts building a more in-depth presence in the Phoenix area, which is a key market for Big Ten alums.

A related consideration is if other Big Ten schools will start adding hockey to further grow the league organically. If I had $100 million to spare, I’d start up an Illinois hockey program tomorrow. Alas, I don’t have that type of coin laying around and it doesn’t appear to be coming from other possible benefactors (such as the rumored interest of Jimmy John Liautaud, who is the founder of Jimmy John’s). This is unfortunate since the Illini hockey club has performed well for decades along with having a passionate fan base and that could be supercharged if it turned into the only Division I hockey program in the state of Illinois. Alas, Illinois has everything that it needs from a competition and fan base standpoint to support hockey, but none of the financial support right now.

Instead, from what I’ve heard for at least the past year, Nebraska is by far the closest to jumping up to Division I hockey. The Cornhuskers’ new Pinnacle Bank Arena has icemaking capabilities and the school is also opening a new separate ice arena that can easily be used as a practice facility. Since Nebraska has the expensive physical facilities in place already, they’ve already fought the vast majority of the battle in starting a program. Nebraska has a top tier fundraising operation, as well, so they can get the money into place once they’re given the green light. There have been rumblings about Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa looking at hockey, but if you’re a betting person, you should wager heavily on Nebraska as the next existing Big Ten school to add the sport.

What does this mean for Big Ten fans that don’t care about college hockey? Well, one open question is whether the possibility of Arizona State joining the Big Ten hockey league means that it will blow open the door for more affiliate Big Ten members in hockey or other sports. From my vantage point, not necessarily. Just as Johns Hopkins was a special case as a Big Ten affiliate in being an academic and men’s lacrosse powerhouse, Arizona State hits a lot of metrics for the Big Ten in terms of being in the Phoenix market and a friendly Pac-12 for other sports that don’t exist for other members. Big Ten hockey fans might dream of adding the likes of Boston University, Boston College and Notre Dame if the league were to let in Arizona State, but that doesn’t seem likely (not the least of which is the fact that the Hockey East is a tough nut to crack even with dangling the prestige of the Big Ten). Instead, look at some of the more unique outliers that wouldn’t have the same poaching hurdles. For instance, MIT has Division I men’s and women’s rowing (where just as Johns Hopkins is Division III for all sports except lacrosse, MIT is Division III for all sports except rowing). Could that be leveraged into a relationship between MIT (which would be academic dynamite for the Big Ten presidents) and the Big Ten? What about academically prestigious schools in the Sun Belt that could add firepower to Big Ten baseball, such as Rice or University of California system members? The possibilities are endless, but the Big Ten is also likely to be very conservative in its affiliate member picks.

Separately, the Big Ten is on the precipice of negotiating new TV deals that will start after the 2016-17 season. As Ed Sherman pointed out in the Chicago Tribune last week, the Big Ten is in a great position as the only major pro or college sports property to come onto the market for the rest of this decade. It can expect Fox to bid aggressively for tier 1 rights as well as current rights holder ESPN. In my opinion, the Big Ten will likely end up with a setup similar to the Pac-12, where tier 1 rights are split between ABC/ESPN and Fox while the rest go to its conference network of the BTN. I don’t think there’s much chance of the Big Ten taking all of its rights to Fox even if Rupert Murdoch makes a blood money Godfather offer. The ratings for Big East basketball on FS1 have been depressing beyond belief and, contrary to the rantings of some Big East haters out there, it has nothing to do with the Big East conference itself. Any random game on ESPN and, for that matter, ESPN2, is going to have a massive amount of more exposure compared to the exact same game on FS1. That speaks to a problem with the channel itself – it depresses ratings simply by channel location whereas ESPN boosts ratings.

Believe me – exposure matters greatly to the Big Ten. The money obviously matters, but that money is only there because the Big Ten has had the best TV exposure of any conference for decades. As Sherman noted in his column, the Big Ten had ESPN, CBS and BTN (a partial Fox property) all covering portions of the Big Ten Tournament. That’s akin to the setup that the NFL has – they’re essentially getting paid a lot of money by everybody in the media business. I don’t think the Big Ten is going to step away from that approach – they want as many high profile outlets covering their games as possible. So, I don’t see the Big Ten being willing to move games from ABC and ESPN to FS1 and FS2. Regardless of how Big Ten fans might personally feel about ESPN commentators (and IMHO, Big Ten fans complain too much about them as a whole), it’s horrific for conference exposure to move off of the Worldwide Leader. However, I could certainly see the Big Ten being happy with games that are currently on ESPNU and ESPNEWS being moved to over-the-air Fox and FS1. That points to maximum exposure with a ton of checks being cashed from Disney and Fox with some side basketball money from CBS.

With that, it’s time to fill out my bracket and prepare for watching basketball in the middle of the day. (My Final Four picks: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Villanova and Iowa State, with Kentucky over Villanova in the national championship game.) Enjoy the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament!

(Image from SI.com)

I know that it’s been a loooooong time since my last post. Let’s get right to some random thoughts:

(1) College Football Playoffs – We have seen two iterations of the College Football Playoff rankings and my mind comes back to the same question that I had when the powers that be first announced that the system would use a committee: Why is this any better than just using the AP Poll (or old Harris Poll)? (To be sure, the Coaches’ Poll is a worthless self-serving steaming pile of garbage.) The former BCS rankings were much maligned, but they were at least a little progressive in attempting to incorporate some objective computer rankings. All that I see with the new CFP rankings is a 12-person poll, which isn’t necessarily any better than other polls with much larger sample sizes. The NCAA Tournament Committee serves an important purpose for basketball since they are vetting at-large teams that much of the general public hasn’t seen before. However, a 4-team college football playoff is much more suited to a “Wisdom of Crowds” determination: the public has a fairly good sense of who it believes to be the very top teams in any given season, so a decision from a small committee isn’t necessarily going to be any better.

Having said that, I do enjoy seeing the broader array of games that matter at a national level this season. The expansion from a 2-team championship race to a 4-team playoff has a pushdown effect where there are more impact games involving many more potential postseason participants. Unfortunately, very few of those impact games have involved the Big Ten over the past couple of months. I don’t believe that this is some type of long-term permanent situation, but it’s an early indicator of issues down the road for the playoff system overall. A 4-team playoff structurally means that at least one power conference champion is going to be left out every year, and when a league like the SEC looks as if though it can garner multiple playoff sports, that means that 2 or more power conference champs can be left on the outside. A consolation Rose Bowl or BCS bowl berth was seen as a worthy prize back in the 2-team BCS championship world, but this season has already shown that 100% of the oxygen in the sport is being taken up by the 4-team playoff race.

So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time once again contemplating the next (and probably final) phase of playoff expansion: the 8-team playoff with all 5 power conference champs receiving auto-bids. If it were up to me, we would just use the traditional bowl arrangements to slot the teams:

Rose Bowl: Big Ten champ vs. Pac-12 champ
Sugar Bowl: SEC champ vs. at-large
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champ vs. at-large
Orange Bowl: ACC champ vs. at-large

I expanded quite a bit more on this proposal last year as a mind meld between the progressive (expanded playoff) and the traditional (old school bowl tie-ins). Believe me – if there’s one proposal that I’ve had on this blog that I’d want to see implemented, it would be that one by far.

(2) Big 12 Expansion – Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was asked last week about Big 12 expansion and he had some comments that we can over-analyze here (as not much has been happening on the conference realignment front lately). Here was his response to a question about whether further conference realignment was coming (via The Oklahoman):

There are several of us that are numerically challenged. I don’t know that anybody could’ve anticipated that the Big 12 would have 10 and the Big Ten would have 14. … In our case, I don’t know that there are a lot of obvious candidates out there. We’re distributing about $25 million per school through our distributable revenue, so anybody that would be considered for expansion in our league would have to bring at least pro-rata value. … But the opportunity to move from one high-visibility conference to another is pretty slim right now. I don’t see much movement in the near- to mid-term. As we get near the end of some of these TV contracts, which would be 10 or 12 years down the road, there may be some renewed conversations. The only movement that is possible right now is from some of the secondary-level conferences that might move people into one of the five high profiles.

The super-conferences concept … has largely been a media fabrication. I have heard no serious conversation among people who do this for a living that the super-conference concept has got any traction. It’s always dangerous when the media starts to interview the rest of the media, and I think that’s where the super-conference thing came from.

Nothing too new here, although Bowlsby does seem to give some hope to non-power conference schools looking to move up to the power ranks (such as BYU, Cincinnati and UConn) in stating that the only possible movement is from the “secondary-level conferences” to one of the power leagues. Seeing that the Big 12 is the most likely conference to expand in the near future (meaning the next 3 to 5 years), anything that Bowlsby says that suggests some possible movement is something to watch. Nothing has changed from my viewpoint a year ago that the Big 12 is demographically challenged long-term (other than the state of Texas) and would benefit from a 2-team expansion (specifically with Cincinnati and BYU under my Big 12 Expansion Index). I’ve never bought the notion that the Big 12 is truly happy being at 10 schools – their leaders will always publicly state that they’re happy with their TV revenue and round-robin scheduling, but deep down, they’re dying for two obvious non-power schools to rise up (similar to TCU and Utah in the past) that they can add on.

(3) TV Contracts – Bowlsby also had some interesting comments about the impact of the Longhorn Network on the Big 12 (once again via The Oklahoman):

The Longhorn Network is a boulder in the road. It really is. They did something that almost no other institution in the country could do because of the population in the state, and we’re looking at some way to try and morph that around a little bit. … It really begs the question about, how are we going to get our sports in the years ahead? If technology changes in the next five years as much as it’s changed in the last five years, we’re not going to be getting our sports by cable TV. I don’t know what it’ll be. But increasingly, we’re using mobile devices … Google Network and Apple TV and things like that are coming into play. … I’m not sure the world needs another exclusive college cable network. Rather than trying to do what everybody else has done, I would much rather try to figure out what tomorrow’s technology is and get on the front side of that and be a part of what happens going forward and monetize that.

I think Bowlsby is trying to spin a nice tale that the Big 12 can somehow take advantage of new technologies in the way that’s different than the Big Ten Network or SEC Network. However, the Big 12 can’t sell rights to games that it doesn’t have the rights to. If anything, the best properties to leverage for digital platforms in the future are conference networks themselves – see the BTN2Go streaming capabilities and the SEC Network’s integration into WatchESPN. The most powerful conferences in the cable world are going to continue to be the most powerful conferences in the digital world.

Separately, the NBA’s record-breaking new TV deal portends some incredible cash on the horizon for the Big Ten, which is the last major sports property (college or pro) that will be on the open TV rights market for the rest of this decade once its current ESPN deal expires in 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Big Ten ends up extending with its current first tier rights TV partner ESPN sooner rather than later in the same way that the NBA extended its deals with ESPN and Turner. While there is some fan sentiment out there that the Big Ten ought to separate itself from ESPN, that’s (1) unbelievably short-sighted from an exposure perspective and (2) very likely to be a poor decision financially. (Mark Hasty of Midwest Sports Fans had a great critique of Big Ten fans complaining about supposed ESPN bias against the conference. I wholeheartedly agree with his analysis – our media coverage off-the-field is honestly miles ahead of our performance on-the-field.) It is also a common fan misnomer that the Big Ten is somehow more aligned with Fox. While the BTN is a Big Ten/Fox partnership, remember that the Big Ten actually provides the top picks of college football games for ABC and ESPN every week, which is of immense importance to both the B1G and Disney. (If you live in a cave, SEC sends its top game of the week to CBS.) Ultimately, ESPN has the most cash by far and they have shown to be willing to pay up to ensure that competitors like Fox and Comcast/NBC don’t get their hands on prime sports properties. Meanwhile, there is the risk that cable TV money might not last forever with the increase of chord cutting, so waiting a few years for the open market isn’t necessarily the guarantee of greater riches that it appears a couple of years ago. The NBA made the calculation that it was better to take the cash now rather than later and I’d trust the media savvy of Adam Silver over any other commissioner in sports. I would expect the Big Ten to do the same thing.

(Image from God and Sports)

I don’t exactly have a perfect record of predictions on this blog (as evidenced by the regular stream of friendly visitors from TexAgs that still remind me of what I wrote about Texas A&M and SEC expansion a few years ago), but one big picture issue that I understood from day one (meaning literally right when it was announced in 2006) was that the Big Ten Network would be a massive game changer for the conference and college sports overall. What others saw as vanity project destined to fail compared to the SEC’s then-traditional TV deal with ESPN, with the harshest criticism coming from Big Ten country itself, I looked at as the platform to turn the Big Ten into the New York Yankees of college sports financially. Many sports fans look at the BTN as shooting fish in a barrel money-wise now, but a lot of them have collective amnesia about how much criticism the network took in its first year of existence (including Tom Izzo publicly calling it a “PR nightmare”) and beyond when the SEC signed what was a then-large guaranteed deal with ESPN in 2008. Even when the Big Ten initially announced that it was looking to expand in 2009, many commentators didn’t bother taking into account how much the BTN would drive the process. If it wasn’t clear with the addition of Nebraska (which, despite its small market, could effectively have the BTN charge whatever it wanted to games and Husker fans would pay up), it was blatantly obvious with the expansion with Rutgers (New York/New Jersey market) and Maryland (Washington, DC/Baltimore market).

So, I can imagine how satisfied Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the rest of the conference officials must feel with the BTN on the precipice of capturing the great white whale of college sports: the New York City market. According to the Star-Ledger, BTN has entered into deals with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision for basic cable carriage of the channel in the NYC area (with discussions with Comcast moving along well). That means every the BTN (and by, extension, every Big Ten school) is going to receive a significant chunk of change from each Time Warner Cable and Cablevision basic subscriber covered under the deal. (Awful Announcing had a back-of-the-napkin calculation of at least $48 million per year for the Big Ten just from this single carriage deal, although that likely overstates the immediate impact since it doesn’t take into account Fox’s 51% ownership interest in the network and various expenses. Still, this market represents tens of millions of dollars per year for the Big Ten solely based on the BTN.) The skeptics of whether Rutgers would pay off for the Big Ten (myself included) are about to eat crow. This was the financial end game for the Big Ten when the expansion process began nearly 5 years ago: the addition of a massive market the size of either Texas or New York for the BTN. The Texas Longhorns weren’t willing partners on the former, so the Big Ten moved onto the latter.

Frankly, the fact that the BTN was able to negotiate a deal this quickly (several months before football season starts) in any part of the New York DMA was surprising (and bodes very well for the Washington and Baltimore markets where Maryland has a stronger sports presence compared to Rutgers in the New York area). Cable and satellite industry consolidation (the ongoing regulatory approval process of the Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s newly announced deal to acquire DirecTV) is likely in the backdrop, while BTN co-owner Fox has the ability to leverage its cross-ownership of YES (and there isn’t much more powerful programming in the NYC market than Yankees games).

Now, no one should be naive enough to believe that this cable TV money train will run into perpetuity. Cord cutting is on the rise and that will likely continue to accelerate among non-sports fans that can get their programming fixes from online sources such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. However, sports are still the killer app when it comes to live TV, which is why NBC/Comcast signed yet another expensive long-term extension of its Olympics rights that will last until I’m close to retirement age in 2032. Meanwhile, the Big Ten itself is gearing up to go to market with its first tier sports rights (with the new contract starting for the 2016 2017 football season) and will almost assuredly sign what will be the largest TV deal in college sports history without even including BTN money in the equation.*

(* For what it’s worth and this is strictly my semi-educated guess, but I believe that the Big Ten will end up with a split of rights between ESPN and Fox similar to how the Pac-12 and Big 12 deals are structured. It makes sense from the exposure and financial perspectives, while ESPN and Fox have clearly shown a willingness to partner with each other on large deals. The latest example of this is the recently-announced MLS/US Soccer deal with ESPN and Fox splitting the rights.)

With the Midwest having a lower proportion of the US population each year**, the East Coast has become a critical focus for the Big Ten out of necessity. The recent announcements of the Big Ten/Big East basketball challenge and the awarding of the Big Ten Tournament to the Verizon Center in Washington, DC in 2017 are important pieces to the league’s Eastern strategy, but the BTN carriage is definitely the clinching factor in all of the B1G plans.

(** Note that this different than the gross misnomer of the Midwest “losing population” that is often perpetuated in the national media, which simply isn’t true. What’s occurring is that the Midwest’s growth is much slower than other regions of the country. Granted, the legacy populations of places like Illinois, Ohio and Michigan are still extremely large to the point where it would still take many years, if not decades, for smaller faster growing states to catch up to them.)

(Image from CBS Chicago)

As we recover from an ‘80s/’90s-style Super Bowl blowout, here are some random thoughts:

“It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.” – Considering how much time that this blog has analyzed objective measures for conference realignment (including the Big 12 Expansion Index late last year), it’s always fun to see how expansion decisions aren’t necessarily always performed using financial analysts and lawyers poring over reams of data and documents. Dennis Dodd told the tale this week of how TCU ended up in the Big 12 during the chaotic realignment days of Fall 2011:

[TCU AD Chris] Del Conte admitted, “the pressure of the entire institution was on my shoulders” to join the Big 12. He worked the phones, calling every Big 12 contact he knew. Support within the Big 12 was growing, including at Oklahoma where good friend Joe Castiglione had been encouraging. But Del Conte knew if he didn’t have Texas, he didn’t have a chance.

“I’ve got one shot,” he recounted, “to go see DeLoss.”

It was a quite a visit. Del Conte grabbed a car, a driver and a bunch of reference material, binders, extolling the advantages of TCU and Fort Worth.

“I get up at 8 o’clock in the morning and drive to Darrell K. Royal Stadium. I get to [Dodds’] office. Nine comes around, 10 comes around. I’ve got a GA [graduate assistant] outside waiting for me, by the way. I tell him, ‘Just wait 10 minutes I’ll be back.’ Pretty soon it’s 3:30.

“[DeLoss] comes out and says, ‘Who are you?’ Chris Del Conte, Texas Christian U. He doesn’t hear ‘Chris.’ he hears ‘Del’. ‘Del, let’s go get ourselves a drink and discuss it.’

“We went to a restaurant and had a little libation at 3:30. By the time 8:30 rolls around, we were [into it] pretty good but we got ourselves in a situation. I kept trying to give him my [binders]. He said, ‘I’ve heard enough, Del’ and just walked away.”

The Big 12 ADs had a conference call the next day.

“The next morning I got up. Joe [Castiglione] goes, ‘I don’t know what you did but it worked.’ We got the vote. The Frogs are in,’ Del Conte said.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a Cincinnati or UConn fan whose programs are twisting in the wind when it appears that all it took to get Deloss Dodds to throw the support of the almighty University of Texas behind you was getting him liquored up on tequila shots. Granted, TCU’s addition to the Big 12 wasn’t that simplistic (at least I think so… right?) as it was coming off multiple BCS bowl appearances and a Rose Bowl victory. I had been a champion of TCU long before that when they were still dreaming of just an invite to a then-BCS-level Big East (much less the Big 12). Regardless, it goes to show you that personal relationships still matter beyond the quantitative analysis behind conference realignment. Oliver Luck of West Virginia and Tom Jurich of Louisville were tireless advocates for their respective schools and built up incredible networks of connections that they tapped into when the old Big East was collapsing. Former Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti was critical in getting the school into the Big Ten when the conference was looking for a partner with Maryland. When Creighton got the call to go to the new basketball-focused Big East as opposed to more geographically-friendly and larger market schools like St. Louis and Dayton, it could point to the fact that Creighton’s president happened to be on the Marquette Board of Trustees.

So, it looks like the lesson for any school still trying to get out of the Group of Five ranks is to send booze over to its power conference counterparts early and often on top of all the binders and PowerPoint presentations.

Conference Championship Games the Way We Want ThemJohn Swofford and the ACC sent the NCAA over a proposal to give leagues more flexibility in determining who can participate in conference championship games. The ACC wants the ability to remove the requirement to have divisions in order to hold a conference championship and let conferences determine how the participants are chosen by any criteria that they’d like, such as simply taking the top two teams with the best conference records and having them face off. Personally, I am all for it and hope that Jim Delany and the Big Ten hop aboard in support of the measure. As much as conference realignment fascinates me and believe that power leagues such as the Big Ten need to constantly be on the lookout for expansion opportunities, the obvious drawback as a fan is witnessing the games and rivalries that I actually care about get reduced. No amount of exposure in New York City or Washington, DC for Illinois is going to replace the excitement of playing Michigan or Ohio State. At the same time, if a school is only playing teams in the other division once out of every 6 years (as the SEC is set up now outside of cross-division rivals), that’s more akin to a non-conference scheduling arrangement as opposed to an actual unified conference. Therefore, if there’s a way to continue to hold conference championship games while eliminating divisions (or at least modifying the rules where teams don’t have to play round-robin schedules within their divisions), that provides a lot more ability for expanded conferences to adopt scheduling policies to play everyone within a league more frequently.

If I was running the Big Ten, I’d use the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) strategy of assigning every school 3 permanent rivals that it will play annually based on geography. That would then leave 6 other games to fill on the 9-game schedule every year. This setup allows each school to play everyone else in the conference 6 times every 10 years (a cycle of 2 years on, 2 years off, 4 years on, 2 years off), which keeps conference unity strong while still integrating the benefits of geographic expansion. Here’s how I’d assign the Big Ten rivalries:

SCHOOL RIVAL #1 RIVAL #2 RIVAL #3
Illinois Northwestern Indiana Purdue
Indiana Purdue Illinois Northwestern
Iowa Nebraska Wisconsin Minnesota
Maryland Michigan State Rutgers Penn State
Michigan Ohio State Michigan State Rutgers
Michigan State Maryland Michigan Ohio State
Minnesota Wisconsin Nebraska Iowa
Nebraska Iowa Minnesota Wisconsin
Northwestern Illinois Purdue Indiana
Ohio State Michigan Penn State Michigan State
Penn State Rutgers Ohio State Maryland
Purdue Indiana Northwestern Illinois
Rutgers Penn State Maryland Michigan
Wisconsin Minnesota Iowa Nebraska

The top two schools would then advance to the Big Ten Championship Game. Let’s get this done ASAP.

NFL Thursday Night Games – The NFL agreeing to simulcast a portion of its NFL Network Thursday night package on over-the-air CBS has some major implications both in terms of the entertainment industry in general and college football. First, the fact that CBS ended up winning the package despite already having the top-rated Thursday night lineup led by The Big Bang Theory just goes to show you the power of the NFL compared to everything else on television. Initially, I thought that CBS was going to be the least likely to end up with the NFL package as a result of its monster lineup, but it makes a bit more sense as a defensive move. Note that Disney pushed back on the NFL’s request to move Sunday Night Football games from ESPN to ABC back in 2004 because of an extremely strong prime time lineup featuring Desperate Housewives. That SNF package ended up on NBC, which now has such high ratings that it has turned Sunday night from the place where networks would always put their very best shows (as it has historically been the night when the most people will watch TV) to a scheduling triage unit for half of the year until football season is over. CBS likely noted the history of ABC and moved to protect its Thursday night lineup. Now, CBS can show NFL games on Thursday nights for the first 8 weeks of the season (thereby weakening the strong ratings competition of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal on ABC in the process) and then debut The Big Bang Theory just in time for November sweeps month. This move could have a radical change to how networks schedule on Thursday night (which had turned into the new evening where networks all placed their best shows after SNF ravaged its Sunday night competition).

College football will certainly be affected further as this will draw further exposure away from ESPN’s Thursday night games. Over the past 6 or 7 years, Thursday night had developed into an acceptable time slot for power conference schools to move games to away from Saturday, but that enticement might be eradicated with much stronger over-the-air NFL competition (and it was already getting that way with the NFL Network’s full season Thursday night schedule over the past 2 years). As a result, Thursday night might end up being the purview of non-power conferences again. Also, Friday nights aren’t as attractive to top schools because of conflicts with high school football in many states and lower TV ratings on that evening in general.

At the same time, the NFL’s willingness to move games off of its own network (which has the highest subscriber fees of any national cable network outside of ESPN) shows the tension between maximizing revenue (which would point to maximizing the value of their cable network) and maximizing exposure (going to over-the-air channels or ESPN). The Big Ten should take note as it heads into a period where it may end up renegotiating its TV deals sooner rather than later (as John Ourand of Sports Business Journal has predicted will happen this year). I often get asked about how many more games that the Big Ten will retain for the BTN in its next TV deal and my response is, “Not as many as you think.” As much as the BTN is filling up the Big Ten’s coffers, Jim Delany is smart enough to know that there still needs to be a balance of exposure on entities such as ESPN and over-the-air networks to keep the product viable in the long-term. The BTN is still intended to be a supplement to the widespread coverage as opposed to a replacement – we’re not going to be seeing Michigan-Ohio State on BTN anytime soon. If anything, look for broader distribution for Big Ten games on ABC, ESPN and possibly Fox whenever the conference signs its new TV deals.

Semi-off-topic: City Branding in Columbus – One of my random interests is studying urban development plans and how metro areas can attract investment and transplants, so Urbanophile is one of my favorite blogs to follow these days. Much of the blog’s focus is on Midwestern and Rust Belt cities, so there’s’ a lot of quantitative and qualitative analysis about the economic growth prospects (or in some cases, the lack thereof) of the Big Ten footprint. A recent post dealt with whether Columbus needs better branding in order to attract attention on par with other media-hyped college town/state capital combos such as Austin and Madison or if better job and population growth in and of itself is enough. You’ll see a fairly vigorous discussion in that post, including several comments from me. Anyway, I thought that would be of particular interest to the Ohio State fans reading here and it’s a great place to discuss how many of the other Big Ten markets are doing (which, in turn, impacts the strength of the Big Ten itself will be in the future).

Finally… if there’s a silver lining to the authoritarian, anti-free speech, homophobic and dog killing regime of Vladamir Putin, it’s that it’s going to be really easy to root against Russia in the Olympics again. No one else has really stepped in to fill the U.S. rival role since the Soviet Union fell. (Granted, I’m half-Chinese, so it’s a bit more difficult for me to demonize China as the enemy.) This is as much of a throwback to the 1980s as terrible Super Bowl matchups, so that will certainly add some flavor to the Olympics.

Enjoy the weekend!

(Image from Third City)

A couple of weeks after the frenetic events of this round of conference realignment almost fried my brain and then settled down into fairly modest changes to the college landscape, I’m re-charged enough to collect a few overarching thoughts:

(1) Big Ten is Done Expanding Until Notre Dame Changes Its Mind – For all of the talk about demographics, academics and TV markets, the Big Ten’s expansion process has been about three schools: Texas, Notre Dame and Nebraska.  Those are the only schools that the Big Ten really cared about and anyone else would’ve been coming along for the ride.  Now, adding Nebraska alone doesn’t really do much to address the demographic shift of the the U.S. population toward the Sun Belt.  However, the indications that I’ve received are that the Big Ten’s appetite to add any Eastern-based schools such as Rutgers or Syracuse is very low unless Notre Dame is coming along, too.  The financial barrier to enter the Big Ten as team #13 is much higher than Nebraska’s barrier to entry since any schools added from this point don’t receive the benefit of the $15 million pop from the addition of a conference championship game.  Believe me – if the Big Ten was convinced that Rutgers and/or Syracuse could deliver New York/New Jersey households for the Big Ten Network, then they would’ve been added already.  The problem is that they are not convinced and don’t believe that it would ever be possible without Notre Dame.  Other markets, such the DC/Baltimore area that could be added with Maryland, are nice but not necessarily enough to justify a larger expansion.  I’ve long said that it would take the equivalent of adding either the state of Texas or the NYC market in order to make a 14- or 16-school conference financially viable, so you won’t see the Big Ten do anything less than that if it attempts to expand again.

(2) Entrenched Interests Don’t Want Superconferences – Another drag on the prospect of the Big Ten expanding further is what I believe has been a relatively underplayed aspect of the Big 12 Lite (or as some of the commenters have referred to, the “Big IIX”) surviving: a ton of entrenched interests in college football, including ESPN and Fox, worked to killed the formation of the Pac-16.  This actually contradicted a common argument that I’ve seen stating that TV networks actually would rather have superconferences so that they can obtain rights to more marquee schools while dealing with fewer entities.  If the TV networks don’t want superconferences to happen, and they are the ones that provide the financial basis of expanding toward superconferences in the first place, then that’s going to dissuade the Big Ten and other conferences from expanding beyond 12 schools (at least for the time being).

(3) National Brand Value Trumps Local Markets – For all of the talk about TV markets and cable subscriber rates, expansion decisions really came down to a pretty basic calculation: which schools do Average Joe Sports Fan in Anytown USA want to watch?  After Notre Dame and Texas, the consensus has long been that Nebraska fit that bill better than anyone.

I’ve receive a lot of questions about how Nebraska could add financial value to the Big Ten compared to schools like Missouri and Rutgers that could bring in more households on paper.  There are several factors at play here.  First, even though a lot of focus has been on the Big Ten Network, the Big Ten still receives more TV money from its national ABC/ESPN contract than any other source.  The Big Ten Network is really just a very strong supplement to that national TV income as opposed to a replacement, which is something that a lot of people have missed.  Therefore, a school like Nebraska that brings in national TV viewers does much more for the ABC/ESPN side of the equation and seeing how the ACC and Big IIX are in line for larger paydays in their own contracts, Jim Delany must be salivating at the potential increase to the Big Ten’s deals by adding such a strong national brand name AND a conference championship game.

Second, there is the advertising argument that Patrick set forth on this blog a few months ago.  The higher the ratings, the higher the advertising rates can be charged.

Now, there have been a number of questions about that analysis, but it needs to be coupled with the final point, which is that the oft-quoted $.70 per subscriber per month rate for the Big Ten Network in the Big Ten states is an average as opposed to an across-the-board rate.  Cable providers in markets where there is extremely strong demand for the channel, such as Columbus, pay a higher rate than markets where there is weaker demand (i.e. Philadelphia).  So, a lot of fans have made the mistake in assuming that the Big Ten Network could just automatically charge $.70 per subscriber in places like New Jersey, New York and Missouri simply by adding a school in those respective states.  Fan intensity matters, and in the case of Nebraska, the Big Ten will likely be able to charge a higher subscriber rate in the Huskers’ home market than anywhere else.  So, Nebraska’s 700,000 households might be much smaller in number compared to Missouri or New Jersey, but the flip side is that the Big Ten Network can effectively name its price there (i.e. an ESPN-level subscriber rate, which is the highest rate in the cable indsutry) and it will receive it.  At the same time, since Nebraska games will draw more interest within the Big Ten footprint and nationally on DirecTV (where it is on the national basic tier), that positions the Big Ten Network to charge higher rates to its current households in its next round of negotiations.

Please note that there were two schools in the soon-to-be-defunct Big 12 that looked seriously at starting their own networks: Texas and Nebraska.  The former obviously has the households, but the latter’s fan base is so intense that they will pay any price to watch every Husker event.  I’ve seen figures that Nebraska cleared about $2 million for every single pay-per-view game that it has offered, which is an insanely high number for any college football team regardless of the population base along with providing evidence that the Big Ten Network will get a massive subscriber fee in the state of Nebraska.  Therefore, the Big Ten Network isn’t passing up on subscriber revenue in the manner that a lot of people who are just looking a population figures believe.  Besides, Notre Dame is widely assumed to be an automatic money-maker for the Big Ten, but the Irish are also completely about national name brand value as opposed to adding actual markets.  What’s good nationally for the Big Ten is good for the Big Ten Network.

(4) Basketball Doesn’t Matter AT ALL – I think most of us understood that expansion and college sports revenue are football-driven.  However, there was a small part of me that believed that basketball would at least be a minor factor (as evidenced by the fact that I made “Basketball Brand Value” worth 10 points out of the 100-point Big Ten Expansion Index scale).  After Kansas ended up being passed around like a bad doobie and looked like it was Mountain West-bound for the better part of a week, though, it showed that absolutely NO consideration was or will be given to basketball in conference realignment.  Adding Kansas to any league for basketball is akin to adding Notre Dame or Texas for football, yet no one cared.  So, be forewarned if you’re a fan of a “basketball school” that might worry more about saving rivalries with, say, Georgetown or Duke instead of being concerned about how the football program is doing.  Being in the best football conference possible is the only thing that can guarantee overall athletic program stability (even if you think that basketball in a particular conference might be “boring”).

(5) Big Ten Needs to K.I.S.S. With Divisions – The more that I think about it, the more that I’m convinced that the Big Ten needs to just keep it simple with divisional alignment and go with a straight East/West split.  As a reminder, there’s how that would look like:

EAST
Michigan
Ohio State
Penn State
Michigan State
Indiana
Purdue

WEST
Nebraska
Wisconsin
Iowa
Illinois
Northwestern
Minnesota

I know that a lot of the national sportswriters are not in favor of sticking Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State together in the same division, but I’m extremely wary of gerrymandering divisions in a way that could reduce the juice of a lot of natural rivalries.  The main argument for moving Penn State away from Michigan and Ohio State is for “competitive balance”, yet trying to guess what would be the most “balanced” divisional alignment is a losing cause.  The ACC attempted to do this by putting Florida State and Miami into separate division and then blindly drawing the names of the other schools out of a hat.  The football gods voiced their disapproval by not allowing a Florida State-Miami ACC championship game occur even once so far even though the conference clearly jerry-rigged its divisions to do exactly that.  The much-aligned and soon-to-be-defunct Big 12 North was actually the much stronger division in the Big 12 for the first several years of that conference’s existence.  Meanwhile, the SEC was perfectly fine with having Florida, Tennessee and Georgia in national title contention at the same time while in the same division.  With football play on the field being so cyclical, a divisional alignment that creates strong natural geographic rivalries is better in the long-term than trying to force an alignment that looks like a TV executive searching for short-term ad dollars put it together.

Besides, Nebraska is a great anchor for the West division that’s going to draw national TV viewers and fill up stadiums no matter who they are playing.  Wisconsin and Iowa are both top 15 revenue athletic programs while Illinois manages to put together a massive run once or twice per decade and then crush its fan base by horrifically underachieving for 5 years thereafter (rinse, lather and repeat), meaning that it’s more of “national brand” perception of strength in the East as opposed to being a real competitive disparity.  Plus, I don’t think it makes sense for Penn State to be separated from Ohio State and Michigan, which are the two main schools that the Nitanny Lions care about playing (and from a Big Ten perspective, are the matchups that best leverage the conference’s exposure on the East Coast).  As I’ve stated before, the SEC hasn’t had a problem with loaded geographically-friendly divisions before while the ACC has had massive issues with its “balanced” divisions, so the Big Ten shouldn’t think too hard about the division issue.  A logical geographically pure East/West split is the way to go.

(6) Chicago is the Best Home for LeBron (and I’m not just saying that as a Bulls fan) – OK, this doesn’t have to do with conference realignment, but please note that I’ve written more about Bulls trade and free agent rumors than any other topic over the years.  After trading Kirk Hinrich to Washington (which will be effective July 8th), the Bulls can add one mega-star free agent (LeBron/Wade/Bosh) and one “next tier” free agent (Joe Johnson/Boozer/David Lee) outright.  If the Bulls can clear about $3 million more in cap space (which would likely necessitate moving Luol Deng), then they can add 2 mega-star free agents.  I’ve always had reserved optimism about the Bulls being a player in the LeBron James sweepstakes ever since a couple of weeks into Derrick Rose’s rookie season, but the Hinrich trade has skyrocketed my confidence level.  The main argument that the Knicks had other than the lure of New York City was that it could sign 2 max free agents.  With the Bulls now in the position to sign another top-of-the-line player besides LeBron on top of its young nucleus of Rose and Joakim Noah, I believe that Chicago is unequivocally the best pure long-term basketball destination for the King.  The fact that Chicago is a great market is a bonus, yet that doesn’t mean as much as having a substantial upgrade compared to LeBron’s current roster in Cleveland.  Up until the Hinrich trade, I thought it was 60/40 for Cleveland over Chicago in the competition for LeBron’s services.  Now, I believe that it’s flipped around in favor of the Bulls.  Cavs fans are pretty much resorting to emotional home-based arguments for LeBron to stay home and/or thinking that they can just sign-and-trade for a top-line player such as Chris Bosh.  The former is a certainly a factor, but considering that LeBron would make more money if he’d re-sign with the Cavs before July 1st, I don’t believe that the “Cleveland/Akron = Home” angle is going to be dispositive.   As for the latter, a sign-and-trade only works if the free agent target actually wants to move to Cleveland as opposed to signing with New York, Chicago and Miami AND the free agent’s old team actually wants to take back anyone (or more specifically, anyone’s contracts) from Cleveland, which is a lot easier said than done.  If the three-headed GM monster of GarPaxForSonManDorf  is able to land the biggest free agent in the history of free agency (and I don’t think that’s hyperbole), then this blog might have to totally shut down since I really don’t know what I’ll write about without conference realignment discussions or complaints about Bulls management.  Regardless, the course of the entire NBA for the next decade will likely be decided within the next 10 days and I’ll be eating up every tidbit in the meantime.

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

(Image from Mr. Pressbox)

If you were a reader of this blog prior to it becoming a hub of conference realignment viewpoints, I would regularly run “Land-o-Links” posts that had some random links to usually unrelated news stories or blog posts that I simply found interesting.  In the wake of having my faith in the journalistic instincts of Barbara Walters re-affirmed today, I figured that it was time to re-institute the Land-o-Links posts with a mix of expansion news and other random items on a regular basis in between my full-length missives.  So, here are today’s links:

(1) Notre Dame AD Expands on Expansion Talk (Kansas City Star) – I had put up this news article in the comments in the “Ain’t No Party Like a West Coast Party” post and wanted to focus on it a little bit more.  Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick talked to reporters again about the prospect of the Domers joining a conference and he didn’t say anything to make the fine folks at NDNation feel better.  Here’s the key quote for me:

Swarbrick indicated the dilution of Big Ten revenues could be offset by the success of the leagues own TV network, apparently on sound footing.

“The traditional model, where a conference had a fixed fee media rights deal, if you added somebody you sliced the pie a little thinner,” Swarbrick said. “When you’re dealing with equity in a network … it’s a situation we haven’t had before.”

Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds a lot like Notre Dame wants a piece of the Big Ten Network gravy train.  It’s a clear message to the Domers that don’t already realize the following: the NBC deal is a relic of the past while controlling your own content like the Big Ten Network is the future.  At the very least, the quotes coming out of Notre Dame about its commitment to independence are increasingly more wishy-washy.

(2) The Great Baseball Card Bubble (Slate) – This excerpt from a new book on how baseball cards went through a tulip bulb-like craze (which I’m now going to have to read in full) hits pretty close to home.  My youth coincided perfectly with the explosion of baseball card speculation in the late-1980s and early-1990s where I spent virtually every penny that I had during that era on wax packs.  Years later, a good portion of my basement closet is taken up by boxes of gems like the Todd Van Poppel rookie card.  Are these pieces of cardboard now so worthless that I sometimes wonder if I’d be set for life today if I just opened up an IRA when I was 10 years old instead of plowing through boxes of Donruss and Fleer?  You bet.  Do I even dignify a response to my wife that annually asks about “getting rid of some cards to make it more organized” right around spring cleaning time?  Heck no.

And finally…

(3) Doc Jensen/Totally ‘Lost’ (Entertainment Weekly) – As a huge ‘LOST’ fan, there’s quite a mix of emotions as we enter into the final weeks of the show.  While there have been cable shows like ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ that might arguably be at the top of the heap in terms of quality television over the past decade, ‘LOST’ is the best network TV drama that I’ve ever seen.  Doc Jensen of Entertainment Weekly has provided some of the most mind-blowing analysis of the show out there with an avalanche of literary references, religious allegories, and pop culture notations.  The fact that Entertainment Weekly could be home to such a deep high-brow look at this show is mind-blowing enough.  This also serves as an excuse for me to write about ‘LOST’.

If you don’t watch ‘LOST’, please feel free to ignore the rest of this post because you won’t know WTF is going on.  As of now, I’m subscribing to the common theory that the “flash sideways” story lines represent the epilogue for each of the characters, where the people who sided with Jacob have ended up with semi-happy lives and the ones that sided with the Smoke Monster/Fake Locke are doomed to the same negative lives that they had before.  It seems to be the way that everything ties together and would give those scenes a purpose that currently isn’t quite clear.  I’m really intrigued by Jensen’s prediction that the purpose of Jack is ultimately to take Real Locke’s body back to the Temple and bring him back to life in the pool, which is a not-so-veiled reference to the resurrection of Christ.  This way, Real Locke, who has really taken a figurative beating over the past season with Fake Locke’s references that Real Locke led a pathetic life, will end up being the strong leader that we originally thought that he would be when the show first started.

This provides Real Locke the opportunity to make everything right by taking down Smokey once and for all (in a manner yet to be determined) and taking his rightful place as the chosen “candidate” to replace Jacob.  What’s my guess as to what his first (and only) act as Jacob’s replacement will be?  Sacrifice himself by sending everyone home.  That’s right – I don’t think that Juliet’s detonation of the bomb last season was the cause of the “reset” in the flash sideways, but rather Real Locke, with his power as Jacob’s replacement, destroys the island that he had always wanted to stay on in order to send his friends back to a 2004 world where Oceanic 815 never crashes.

Of course, this means that Real Locke would be giving up his power AND sending himself back to a world where he couldn’t walk, which would be an incredible sacrifice.  This has to work out for him, right?  Well, I can’t think of a more apt ending to the show than Jack, the world-class spinal surgeon, fulfilling his purpose in the real world by finally being approached by Real Locke for a consultation and “fixing” his problem.  Jack has already shown the ability to fix Sarah after a car accident that should have left her paraplegic.  If Jack resurrects Real Locke on the island, then the perfect mirror would be Jack getting Real Locke to walk in 2004.  Then, the show closes with Real Locke fulfilling his dream of going through the Australian outback, which he was previously prevented from going on because of his disability, with a huge hunting knife in hand and looking every bit as strong as we had seen him on the island.

Now that I’ve put all of those theories down, it virtually guarantees that it will end up in a completely different manner.  That’s perfectly fine with me – I’m ready to savor these last few episodes before a big TV void opens up in my life.  I’ll be back with a full-length post later this week.

It appears that the Earth is now 70% covered by water, 25% covered by schlocky Black Eyed Peas TV appearances and 5% covered by Big Ten expansion Internet ramblings.  I really didn’t think that I could cover too many more angles regarding the positives and negatives of Texas moving to the Big Ten, but the general ignorance of much of American public on the issues at hand that I’ve seen in various newspaper columns, blogs and message boards has brought up a number of additional thoughts.  I guess this should’ve been as predictable as the NFL ignoring all musical acts from the past half century for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Regardless, many Texas alums themselves have debunked a lot of the popular misconceptions themselves (such as well-informed posters like Ice Man on Orangebloods, who went over a lot of the points I’m going to be making in this post), which should serve any non-Texas Big XII fans notice that Texas is NOT joking here.  (By the way, multiple Facebook groups supporting Texas joining the Big Ten have popped up here and here.)  The feedback that I’ve been receiving is that Texas is looking at every possible scenario, ranging from joining the Big Ten or Pac-10 to even becoming an independent.  Let’s reiterate some of the arguments that I’ve seen from Texas alums along with a few more tidbits of my own that ought to blow every common objection to this out of the water.  I’ll warn you ahead of time that this blog post will be almost as long as Greg Oden’s third leg.

1.  More reasons why travel costs are a “penny wise, pound foolish” concern – It’s still the most common financial argument against Texas making a move to the Big Ten, even though I began to address travel costs in this post.  As people continue to bring it up as an issue, I actually went to the Texas Longhorns athletics site to see exactly which sports need to travel for conference games or matches.  Contrary to popular belief, Texas isn’t going to have to send the vast majority of its teams traveling any more in the Big Ten than they do today in the Big XII.  Out of the 16 non-revenue varsity teams that Texas supports, only 5 of them involve substantive conference schedules: baseball, softball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer.  Remember that these teams still have to get onto a plane for every place they travel to in the Big XII other than College Station and Waco, so it’s not as if though they are really losing many bus trips (where the costs savings are really accrued).  As I’ve stated before, once you have to get onto a plane, the actual distance that you have to travel is irrelevant in terms of costs since commercial flights are dependent upon supply and demand on that particular route (where a plane flight from Austin to Oklahoma City could easily cost much more than a plane ticket from Austin to Chicago), while the largest cost for chartering a jet is the fixed expense of having to charter it in the first place.

Meanwhile, the following 11 teams travel to regional non-conference meets for the bulk of their schedules: cross country (men and women), golf (men and women), swimming and diving (men and women), tennis (men and women), track and field (men and women) and rowing (women).  Just take a look at their schedules for yourself.  In almost all cases, the only time that any of those teams face inter-conference competition is for the weekend of the conference championships, which would be the same whether Texas was in the Big Ten or Big XII.  So, Texas moving from the Big XII to the Big Ten would only have a material impact on 5 non-revenue sports with the other 11 non-revenue varsity teams experiencing no real change in travel.

When it comes to the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, let’s not forget the obvious example of why travel costs are certainly irrelevant to a wealthy athletic department: Notre Dame.  I believe that we all can agree that Notre Dame isn’t hurting for revenue, even though we’ve established that Notre Dame’s NBC contract ($9 million per year) is actually only worth less than half as much as the TV revenue that each Big Ten school receives ($22 million per year).  What’s interesting is that part of the reason why Notre Dame wants to keep its NBC contract and avoid joining the Big Ten or another conference is exactly the opposite reason why a lot of travel-obsessed people think that Texas shouldn’t join the Big Ten: the Irish play a true national football schedule with games that literally stretch from coast-to-coast annually.  In fact, Notre Dame is even scheduling “home” games in locations far from South Bend, particularly in… wait for it… the state of Texas.  A number of Notre Dame alumni have stated to me that the NBC contract is just a means to an end, where the point is that it’s more than enough revenue to allow Notre Dame to remain independent and keep its national schedule.

At the same time, Notre Dame’s non-football teams play in the incredibly dispersed Big East, which ranges from Milwaukee over to Providence and down to Tampa.  As a result, Notre Dame has to get onto a plane for every conference opponent except for DePaul and Marquette.  For all of this trouble, Notre Dame receives about $1.25 million per year from the Big East in TV revenue.

Let’s put this all together: Notre Dame makes about $10.25 million per year total from its NBC contract and the Big East basketball TV contract.  It plays a completely national football schedule each year where they have games in California, Texas and the Northeast corridor.  As part of the Big East for other sports, the Irish are required to get onto a plane for 13 out of its 15 conference opponents.  Through all of this travel, Notre Dame has leveraged itself into becoming one of the most profitable athletic departments in the entire country.  That shows you how much more powerful television revenue is compared to travel costs.

Seeing that Texas would be making, at a minimum, $22 million in TV revenue per year in the Big Ten (and it will probably be closer to around $30 million) compared to Notre Dame’s $10.25 million per year, yet Notre Dame endures a travel schedule in all sports that would be more than comparable to Texas in the Big Ten, there is absolutely no rational way to think that the Longhorns’ increased travel costs would come even close to approaching the increased revenue or be of the slightest financial concern.

2.  When did at least an extra $10 million per year become “not a big deal”? – It is amazing to me when I see comments, especially from the mainstream media that ought to have the cursory ability to do some research on Google, stating that at least $10 million extra payout per year isn’t a big deal or, even better, that Texas supposedly has “enough money already”.  One Omaha columnist that epitomizes the “N stands for Nowledge” stereotype went so far as to call the extra money “measly”.  Well, I think guys ranging from Omaha native Warren Buffett to Jerry Jones have more than enough money, too, but you don’t see them standing around not trying to make more.  In fact, I don’t know too many high achievers that are satisfied with the status quo – they’re always looking to add to the coffers.  It’s also incredulous to me that the myth that Notre Dame wouldn’t join the Big Ten because it supposedly makes too much from its NBC deal is often advanced yet again.

So, the general argument that we’ve been seeing a lot in the mainstream media is that an extra $10 million per year supposedly isn’t enough of an incentive for Texas to join the Big Ten, yet the approximately $10 million total that Notre Dame is receiving from NBC and the Big East is “too much to give up” to join the Big Ten.  These are completely contradictory statements that any random person (such as a lawyer that writes a blog in his spare time) could instantly debunk by performing a couple of searches on the Internet.  There’s little wonder why I previously wrote about how the newspaper industry was being run into the ground.

Suffice to say, an extra $10 million per year (and I have to emphasize again that this is the MINIMUM that Texas would enjoy because it would likely by closer to an extra $15-20 million based on projections) is the equivalent of a school adding more than the entire value of the Notre Dame NBC contract that allows the Irish to be independent and that people seem to think gives them great power.  That’s definitely a big deal for any school, even one that’s as financially flush as Texas.

3.  The largest slice of the pie in the Big XII is still smaller than an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten – Further to point #2, it continues to perplex me that a lot of people still advance the argument that Texas won’t leave because the revenue sharing in the Big XII favors them.  This is the equivalent of saying that you don’t want to move to a mansion in Beverly Hills because you own the largest house in Compton.  Once again, every Big Ten school in its equal revenue distribution model, from Ohio State down to Indiana, made $22 million in TV money last season.  In contrast, Texas, in an unequal distribution model that completely favors them in the Big XII, with the most national TV appearances and a BCS bowl berth, only made $12 million.  You don’t need to have been a math major to understand that $22 million > $12 million.  I’m not sure why Texas cares about getting the largest slice of the pie in the Big XII when an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten is so much bigger.

4.  Texas has the nation’s wealthiest athletic department IN SPITE of the Big XII (not because of it) – Following up on points #2 and #3, the notion that Texas won’t move because it already has the nation’s richest athletic department is the same thing as arguing that a minimum of $10 million extra per year isn’t a big deal and the Longhorns should pass that up so that they can preserve road trips to Lubbock.  Texas isn’t competing with Texas Tech and Baylor in order to win the Texas state college championship.  On the national scene, it’s competing with Florida, Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State, all of whom will each take in about $100 million more than Texas over the next decade just for showing up to play if the Longhorns stand pat.  That’s going to have a material long-term impact on Texas competing at a national level.  Texas might be the wealthiest athletic department in the nation today, but that’s IN SPITE of the Big XII and its poor prospects for television revenue as opposed to because of it.

5.  The Pac-10, with its own expansion plans, is REALLY helping the Big Ten out – Out of all of the BCS conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10 arguably have the closest relationship with very similar academic institutions and, of course, the connection through the Rose Bowl.  Whether intentional or not, the rumors that the Pac-10 is considering to add Colorado and Utah has started to really make the Big XII look incredibly unstable and ripe for the picking by the Big Ten.  I explained in the Big Ten Expansion Index post that Missouri was essentially a “stalking horse” in this expansion process, where the threat of Mizzou leaving for the Big Ten (which would take away the most populated state in the Big XII other than Texas) would cause Texas to engage in CYA measures of its own and consider bolting the conference instead.  The practical issue, though, was that the Missouri-to-the Big Ten rumors never really seemed legitimate other than to some sportswriters and fans that still see conferences as purely geographic exercises and the pining has almost been completely coming from Mizzou as opposed to the Big Ten.

Colorado going to the Pac-10, on the other hand, is a different story.  Check out this interview of CU’s Phil DiStefano chancellor in the Denver Post, where he is already talking about weighing the exit penalties for leaving the Big XII and the school’s better alumni base in the Pac-10 region.  Remember my mantra that you need to think like a university president instead of a sports fan when talking about expansion?  Well, CU’s chancellor, who is the actual person who will be making the decision to switch conferences, has come out talking publicly about the machinations of moving to the Pac-10 when the normal answer to a newspaper reporter at this point in time would be “No comment.”  That’s about as clear of a sign that Colorado is ready to bolt to the Pac-10 ASAP without actually saying, “Smell ya later!” and there are a lot of indications that the interest is mutual.

Losing Colorado is just as damaging to the Big XII as losing Missouri (and from the Longhorns’ perspective, CU is the closest cultural and academic match that Texas has in the conference).  Colorado represents the second largest population base in the conference in the Big XII outside of the Texas along with the largest single TV market (Denver) in the conference other than Dallas and Houston.  This sets up the scenario that Texas blog Barking Carnival has brilliantly described in this post examining what should be the thought process of University of Texas president William Powers.  Here’s a great quote:

Even though the Big 10 began expansion discussions first and needs to add just one school, expect the PAC 10 to move first. Importantly, the PAC 10 will be useful to Texas when it breaks the seal of the Big 12 with the recruitment of Colorado.

While inside the mind of Powers, take note of how important it will be for Texas not to make the first move. Powers’ job description involves managing a complex brew of relationships, not the least of which is big-P Political (versus small-p political, which is a rich tradition in universities of all sizes and reputations). Were Texas to initiate the move that drops the value of Texas Tech’s share of a TV deal in half, the talk in the capitol building will be about Texas’ greed and complete disdain for other parts of the state. The West Texas lobby may not be strong enough to keep the deal from going forward, but a university president can die from a thousand papercuts.

You want more control over tuition? You want relief from the top-10% rule? Cry me a river, Mr. Ivory Tower. We’ll show you who runs the show in this state. Sorry that we can’t afford to fund your building maintenance requests. Better luck next year.

Some historians will note that Texas had a hand in leaving TCU, SMU, Houston and Rice in limbo when the Big 12 was formed. The way former K-State president Jon Wefald has told the story, the Big 8 made an initial overture to form the Big 16, and that it was Texas president Robert Berdahl who indicated his preference to split the pie twelve ways rather than sixteen. But it is also important to note that UT already had very poor relations with the Legislature at that time, something Larry Faulkner and now Bill Powers have worked effectively to improve.

On the other hand, if Colorado or Missouri make the first move (and both could make a move without directly impacting another university in their respective states), then Powers will have the moral authority to make the move that best serves Texas. Adding TCU to replace a defector will result in a net loss to Texas. While Powers may be politically prohibited from initiating a move, he will be held blameless for reacting to one.

While I’m personally not a fan of the 16-school conference proposal described at the end, everything else in that post is spot-on.  In fact, it elevates the “think like a university president” rule to the maximum degree.  Colorado, Missouri and now even Nebraska are beginning to look like the first actors here, which can give Texas the political cover to make a move first.  The Pac-10 making overtures to Colorado has now given even more incentive for Texas to move and the Big Ten gets a lot of leverage from it.

6.  Texas isn’t doing this for leverage because the Big XII can’t give anymore – Another common argument that I’m seeing is that Texas is only talking to the Big Ten and Pac-10 in order to get more concessions from the rest of the Big XII.  The problem with this argument is that it only works if the other Big XII members can actually give anything more to Texas.  The Longhorns already receive the most TV money in the entire conference.  The football conference championship game is likely to be played at Jerry World in Arlington more often than not.  The Big XII headquarters are already in Dallas.  There’s virtually nothing else that Texas can extract from the Big XII, yet as reiterated in point #3 above, it still pales in comparison to what it could receive in the equal revenue sharing model in the Big Ten.

Kansas State blog Bring on the Cats, using an apt poker analogy, brought up a well-written argument that Texas might be doing this in order to scare Missouri and other schools back into line so that the Big XII status quo and the unequal revenue sharing that favors the Longhorns isn’t disturbed.  Indeed, as I mentioned in the comments to that blog post, Missouri badly misinterpreted its bargaining position in the expansion process.  Mizzou likely thought that it was in a “no lose” situation where it could either extract more revenue concessions from Texas and other Big XII members in order to stay in that conference or bolt to the Big Ten.  Instead, Mizzou has spurred Texas to make a move first (just as the Barking Carnival discussion that I linked to in the Big Ten Expansion Index post predicted), which wind up leaving Mizzou in a much weaker Big XII without any chance of moving to the Big Ten.

However, the issue with the poker analogy in Bring on the Cats is that I don’t believe that Texas is bluffing at all: they have the nuts in this scenario and all of the other Big XII schools are going to lose one way or another (either through not getting any type of better revenue sharing in the conference or Texas actually leaving).  At the same time, while Missouri might be scared back into its place since a Big Ten invitation really isn’t imminent, Colorado could leave for the Pac-10 anyway and take down the proverbial house of cards itself.  In that case, Texas would bolt anyway.

7.  The Big XII won’t magically sign a new TV contract that is anywhere close to what the Big Ten and SEC are receiving today – Another popular argument from non-Texas Big XII fans is that the Big XII will supposedly sign a much better TV contract over the next few years that will be competitive with the Big Ten and SEC.  While I’m not a television executive, let me point out exactly why this is not a reasonable proposition whatsoever.

First, let’s take a look at the population bases of the states comprising the 5 BCS conferences other than the Big East (which I’m only excluding because they have large states on paper but don’t really deliver the key ones that well for football), with the numbers coming from the always reliable Wikipedia:

Big Ten 67,379,505
ACC 59,697,664
SEC 58,581,019
Pac-10 54,047,294
Big XII 44,097,046

The Big XII, as of today, has over 23 million less people than in its footprint compared to the Big Ten.  What’s worse is that it’s not even diversified, where around 24 million of those people reside in the state of Texas.  The reason why the Big Ten and SEC have such massive TV revenue is that they are able to combine intense passion for their schools with fairly large population bases.  There might be some intense passion within the Big XII, but it has nowhere near the population base to even come within the vicinity of the deals of the other conferences.  Not only that, but Texas has to compare any prospective Big XII revenue to what the Big Ten revenue will look like with the Longhorns included, where the Big Ten’s population base would catapult to over 90 million people.  On a financial level, the Big XII simply will not be able to compete with the Big Ten.

Second, there aren’t networks out there that would pony up that type of money.  The main entity that can afford to pay the most in rights fees, ESPN, already has its best time slots locked in with – guess who – the Big Ten and SEC.  The Big Ten dominates the 11:00 am CT time slot on both ESPN and ESPN2.  At the 2:30 CT time slot, the Big Ten is guaranteed nationwide reverse mirror coverage on ABC/ESPN, where if a Big Ten game isn’t shown in a particular region on ABC, it is guaranteed to be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 in that region (which effectively gives the Big Ten nationwide coverage for all games in that time slot just like the SEC on CBS).  Meanwhile, the SEC is guaranteed to have a prime time game on ESPN or ESPN2 every single week.  As a result, ABC/ESPN simply doesn’t have any more room and, as a result, doesn’t have much incentive to pay much more than it does now for Big XII games.

With respect to the other networks, NBC is satisfied with Notre Dame football and, frankly, is the cheapest network out there when it comes to paying for sports rights.  (Please note that the NHL is actually paying NBC for airtime as opposed to the other way around.)  CBS has its own massive deal with the SEC for 2:30 CT national games, so it’s definitely not looking for any more college football games.  Fox is committed to Major League Baseball for most of the college football season, so it doesn’t have any time slots on Saturday for college football along with having much less incentive to broadcast the sport after giving up the rights to the BCS bowls.

So, unless the Big XII thinks that Fox Sports Net or Versus is going to come through with a massive new offer, there’s literally not much upside to look forward to in the next conference TV contract.

8.  The Longhorn Sports Network (which is why there isn’t a Big XII network today) is an open question mark – Further to point #7, lots of non-Texas Big XII fans have suggested building a Big XII network modeled after the Big Ten Network.  Of course, that was an idea that was proposed several years ago but was vetoed by – guess who – the University of Texas.  Texas has looked into starting the Longhorn Sports Network where it would build its own TV network and keep all of the revenue itself.  This is actually probably the only financial argument that could possibly support Texas staying in the Big XII as opposed to moving to the Big Ten.  However, let’s take a reasonable look at how viable this network could be.

Starting up a new cable network, while it looks like easy money on paper, is not for the faint-of-heart.  Here’s a list of major sports organizations that have endured one year or more involved in nasty carriage disputes:  the NFL with the NFL Network, the New York Yankees with the YES Network and the Big Ten with the Big Ten Network.  These only happen to respectively be (1) the most powerful and highest-rated professional sports league in the nation, (2) the wealthiest Major League Baseball franchise and most popular sports team in the nation’s largest media market and (3) the most powerful college sports conference that has the largest population base.  If you could pick any 3 organizations in the country that would have the most leverage in cable negotiations, those would likely be at the top of the list.  Even with all of that leverage and, more importantly, a whole lot of high value programming to offer in the form of exclusive coverage of live sporting events that a critical mass of fans deem important, it took an extremely long time for all of them to get the desired cable carriage and they all ended up having to accept lower subscriber rates to get their deals completed.

The University of Texas has leverage in the state of Texas in theory, but the issue would be whether a potential Longhorn Sports Network would have much (if any) high value programming that would make it into a must-have for basic cable systems.  It took over a year for the Big Ten to get basic cable carriage and that was with a full slate of high value football and men’s basketball games from across the conference to offer viewers.  Texas might not have control to televise any live football games or men’s basketball games, which would likely result in the network not (a) getting full basic cable carriage in the state of Texas and/or (b) receiving a desirable subscriber fee.  On top of that, Texas would need to lay out a large amount of capital expenditures in order to get the network off the ground.  This is in contrast to the Big Ten Network, which Texas could enter into with no risk or capital expenditures and have an important stake in a true national sports network (as opposed to one that’s just confined to the Lone Star State).

There will be smarter people than me looking further into this issue.  Honestly, this is really the critical question for Texas other than politics (and definitely more than emotionally-based thoughts like rivalries): does starting up the Longhorn Sports Network trump the revenue that would be received from the Big Ten Network?  If the answer is no, then I think Texas moving to the Big Ten becomes even more likely.

9.  You think that Texas recruiting would be hurt by moving to the Big Ten because players would supposedly rather travel to Waco and Lubbock?  Seriously?!  Have you heard of the power of “national TV” in recruiting? – One of the more ridiculous arguments out there is that Texas would supposedly be hurt in recruiting by making a move to the Big Ten.  Deciding which college to attend, whether you’re an elite athlete or average student, depends upon a whole host of factors and is a highly personal decision.  That being said, the typical top football recruit isn’t going to attend the University of Texas just because it’s close to home.  If that were the case, top kids from the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas would end up attending places like SMU, TCU, the University of Houston and Rice instead.  Top recruits go to Texas because they want to play big-time games and big-time environments that are beamed across the country on national TV so that they can watch themselves on SportsCenter late at night.  I have a hard time believing that Mack Brown sold Colt McCoy on coming to Texas based upon trips to Texas Tech and Baylor instead of, well, the home-and-home series against Ohio State back in 2005 and 2006.  While there might be a handful of kids that will only go to where their families could theoretically drive to all of the games (which, by the way, doesn’t happen in the Big XII with the widely dispersed Big XII North states), it’s the games in the Big House, Horseshoe and Happy Valley that get the blood pumping for the vast majority of elite athletes.  These are guys that are going to prioritize getting maximum exposure in terms of getting to the NFL way more than worrying about how far the road games might be.  If top recruits cared that much about family road trips, USC would always have terrible recruiting classes since they have to travel by plane for every road game except for the UCLA game.  We obviously know that’s not the case.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if though the University of Texas at Austin campus would be physically moving to the Great White North.  If you reasonably assume that all 4 non-conference games would be played in the state of Texas (Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas, home-and-home against Texas A&M, and 2 patsies to play at home in Austin) plus 4 conference home games, that means that UT would still be playing 8 games in the state of Texas every season.  The road games that aren’t in the state of Texas are in some of the largest and greatest venues in all of college football that would get maximum coast-to-coast coverage.  Anyone that attempts to compare the road trip desirability of Waco and Lubbock to even the least picturesque Big Ten college towns (much less all-world places like Chicago, Madison and Ann Arbor) has literally no fucking clue about what he’s talking about.

At the same time, if I hadn’t made this clear before, every single Big Ten football game is available across the country via ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network in high-definition.  It seems to me that this is a much more important selling point to elite athletes, especially when you consider how many recruits the school might lose by making them pay $39.95 just to watch a third-tier blood money game in Austin itself against Louisiana-Monroe.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing your state rivals and they’re close by if the games aren’t available on television – last year’s Texas A&M-Texas Tech game wasn’t even televised!!!

For all of the consternation about the relative handful of athletes and families along with the few thousand fans that might be inconvenienced by the longer travel involved in the Big Ten, people have completely missed out on how appalling it is that Texas still has to have millions of its fans fork over nearly $40 just to watch a third-tier home game on pay-per-view.  That will absolutely never be a concern for recruits, families and fans in the Big Ten.

10.  The weather is actually pretty nice in Big Ten country during football season – This is another ignorant argument that I’ve seen in dozens of places: “Why the heck would Texas want to play in the snow in the Big Ten?”  Any person that writes this obviously hasn’t gotten out of his or her bunker to realize exactly what the weather is like in the Midwest from September through November.  The first two months of the season actually provides spectacular football weather for the most part – it’s not agonizingly hot like Texas can be in September while October normally provides great fall weather.  It can get colder in November, but you’ll virtually never see snow during that time.  Does the weather suck royally hard in the middle of February as I’m writing this blog post?  Absolutely.  However, football season is a completely different story.  Even if we grant that it can get chilly in the Midwest in November, Texas would likely only have one road game in that environment anyway every year (since you can presume the Texas A&M game will always be played Thanksgiving weekend).  This isn’t any different than Texas having to take a trip to a Big XII North school during that time of year.  The weather issue is both a red herring AND completely wrong.

11.  Texas A&M or no Texas A&M?  That is the question – I vacillate back-and-forth about whether I’d want Texas A&M in a hypothetical 14-school Big Ten if the Aggies are politically required to tag along with Texas.  Texas A&M is kind of like a girl that isn’t that terrible looking from certain angles, yet she seems a little bit off where you wouldn’t be surprised if she engaged in things like ritual animal sacrifices.  The Aggies don’t fit in with the Big Ten at a cultural level in the same manner that Texas does, although the main things that A&M has going for it is an excellent academic research reputation (much more so than other Big XII candidates like Missouri and Nebraska) and the combo of Texas and Texas A&M would truly lock down the state of Texas as completely Big Ten territory (which does carry a lot of long-term value).

In this post, I voiced my original skepticism as to the desirability to build a 14-school conference from a financial standpoint.  Frankly, I’ve been surprised by how many people out there like the prospect of 14 or even 16-school super-conferences.  In my opinion, there are just significant diminishing returns as you move past the 12-school conference model, not the least of which is that it doesn’t do much good to have Texas, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the same conference if they’re only playing each other a couple of times per decade because the conference is too large.  (This matters to both university presidents AND sports fans.)  Personally, I think that adding Texas alone for a 12-school conference would be the best thing from a competitive and cultural fit standpoint as well as being the per school revenue maximization point.

That being said, the prospect of the Big Ten adding Texas is just too great to pass up and I’m resigned to the fact that if it means Texas A&M has to come along, then the conference needs to pull the trigger. At that point, the Big Ten can give one last shot for spot #14 to Notre Dame (and I think that they’re probably going to be much more open to taking it than people generally believe with the knowledge that the Big Ten would truly close off membership forever) and if the Irish turn it down, then virtually every school in the country outside of the SEC will be gunning for that slot and the Big Ten can have its pick.

Once again, I’d much prefer just adding Texas alone for a 12-school Big Ten.  However, if A&M needs to come along, then the Big Ten has to take heed the words of the great Joel Goodson: “Sometimes you’ve got to say, ‘What the fuck, make your move’.”  Only instead of “Looks like the University of Illinois!”, it’s now “Looks like Agricultural & Mechanical!”

12.  How to sell this to the Texas Legislature: Better Academics + More Research Funding = More Jobs – Out of all the arguments against Texas moving the Big Ten, the one that truly has real validity is that Texas state politicians would block the move.  One major way to alleviate this concern has already been addressed, which is to take Texas A&M, too.  The other way is to make sure that it’s emphasized that a move to the Big Ten doesn’t just affect some football games in Austin.  The CIC, which as discussed before is the academic arm of the Big Ten (plus the University of Chicago), would likely invite the University of Texas Medical Branches located in Dallas, Houston, Galveston and San Antonio to participate as guest members, which is similar to how the University of Illinois at Chicago (which performs a large amount of biomedical research as the home of the U of I Medical School) is able to take advantage of the consortium.  The UT Medical Branches actually perform $1.4 billion of research annually, which is nearly three times as much as the Austin campus itself.  This means that the major medical centers in all of the largest cities in the state of Texas would have access to more research funding, which in turn translates into more jobs in those cities (and high value jobs, at that).

In this economic environment, Texas state legislators will be put on the defensive if the frame of the debate is that they are trying to protect a football conference at the expense of more research funding and jobs for the top hospitals in the state’s major cities.  As much as football might be a matter of the highest political importance in the state of Texas, there are concrete medical research and economic incentives that would apply to places outside of Austin with UT making a move to the Big Ten.

So, when you get into an argument about Texas joining the Big Ten at your local bar, I’ve provided you with a template to refute every knee-jerk response out there.  I’m getting a little more optimistic each day that this is the massive move that the Big Ten is going to make.

(NOTE:  The long-promised Big East analysis is forthcoming.  Until then, feel free to follow me on Twitter @frankthetank111.)

(Image from Doc’s Office)

I received an incredible amount of great feedback on my Big Ten Expansion Index with comments on the post itself and circulation on various message boards.  This Texas alum perspective was particularly illuminating and indicative that my recommendation for the Longhorns isn’t nearly as far-fetched as a lot of people believe (albeit there are some hurdles).  I’d also like to point to this comment from a Missouri fan that runs his own blog in support of Mizzou’s inclusion in the Big Ten.  It’s a fairly thorough look at Missouri’s qualifications and how they would provide an advantage over the other “usual suspects” such as Pitt – I don’t necessarily agree with all of it but it’s well thought-out.

I’ll take a look at some additional schools that I didn’t initially consider in my original post (i.e. Kansas, Maryland, Miami) in the very near future.  In the meantime, there are a few issues that have been brought up in the expansion discussions that I’d like to address.

1.  Superconferences with 14 schools just aren’t in the cards – I’ve seen a whole lot of suggestions that the Big Ten would look to expand to 14 or even 16 teams in order to turn itself into a superconference.  Supposedly, sources within conference itself even suggested that it might be open to the prospect.  On paper, this sounds like a decent idea – if the goal is to get into as many new TV markets as possible, then having more schools would serve that purpose (particularly when considering the premium that the Big Ten Network places on adding more cable households).

A practical issue, though, is that it’s hard enough to get the current Big Ten presidents to achieve a consensus on one additional school.  So, the thought of them trying to add three more schools at the same time is simply extremely unlikely.

Even more importantly, there are diminishing financial returns for each school that is added after number 12.  The magic of school #12 is that the Big Ten is able to stage a conference championship game at that point, where if it’s worth something close to the SEC version, such game would bring in about $15 million per year.  That’s an instant $15 million pop from that 12th school without even taking into account new regular season TV revenue.  The conference won’t see that type of pop from any additional schools and, in fact, it’s likely that the value of that championship game won’t change with additional members – it’s going to be worth $15 million whether the Big Ten has 12 teams or 14 teams, so each school is obviously going to take in less from that game if the conference goes up to 14 teams.

At the same time, part of the goal for every conference under the current BCS system is to get the maximum allowed 2 BCS bowl bids per season.  The 1st BCS bowl bid is worth $17.5 million to a conference and a 2nd BCS bowl bid kicks in an extra $4.5 million, which is all distributed equally among members in the Big Ten.  The thing is that the Big Ten is already virtually guaranteed to receive 2 BCS bowl bids every year because of the combination of the conference’s large TV markets and top-to-bottom great traveling fan bases in its current 11-team form – no conference has received more multiple bids in the BCS era than the Big Ten (yes, even more than the SEC).  So, every additional school simply dilutes those per school BCS payouts since that revenue is completely fixed.  (Note that this is why any knowledgeable Big Ten fan ALWAYS wants multiple schools from the conference to get into BCS bowls.  Even if your hated rival is the one going to the game, your own school still gets a big-time revenue boost from that extra bowl bid.)  Unless the BCS system (or whatever postseason structure that will govern college football in the future) changes to allow 3 or more schools from a conference to participate, there’s little incentive both financially off-the-field and competitively on-the-field to have a conference that’s larger than 12 schools.

Taking all of that into account and 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.  As a result, the Big Ten isn’t going to say, “Well, we can’t decide between Missouri, Syracuse and Rutgers, so let’s add all of them!”  There’s really only one combination that I could think of where the Big Ten could meet that standard with 14 schools: it adds Texas, Notre Dame AND Miami all at the same time.  Even then, there’s the basketball-esque concern that there are too many superstars involved for everything to work together – a team with 5 Michael Jordans sounds great in theory yet just wouldn’t work practically because a team would implode with that many hyper-competitive egos, while a conference with 6  legitimately elite power schools (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Texas, Notre Dame and Miami) would turn the Big Ten from one of the most brotherly and cooperative leagues into probably the most contentious.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I’m 99.999999% sure that the Big Ten is simply looking for the perfect 12th school and won’t be going beyond that to 14 or more teams.

2.  Big Ten revenue is so incredibly and ridiculously FAR FAR FAR FAR ahead of the Big East and Big 12 that arguments such as “Syracuse and Jim Boeheim love basketball in the Big East too much” or “Texas completely controls the Big 12” are irrelevant – I made this point early in the original blog post, but it still comes up in message board discussions constantly.  So, let’s make it perfectly clear why any Big East school and probably any Big 12 school would leave for the Big Ten.  Here is the annual TV revenue for each conference as reported by ESPN’s Outside the Lines last month along with the average for each school:

  • Big Ten: $242 million ($22 million per school)
  • SEC: $205 million ($17.08 million per school)
  • Big 12: $78 million ($6.5 million per school)
  • ACC: $67 million ($5.58 million per school)
  • Pac-10: $58 million ($5.8 million per school)
  • Big East: $13 million for football/$20 million for basketball ($2.8 million per football school)

Take a look at those figures for a moment – every single Big Ten school makes almost twice as much TV revenue every year as the ENTIRE Big East football conference and even makes more than the entire Big East basketball contract (which that conference’s greatest strength).  There is no rational president of a Big East university that is fulfilling his or her fiduciary responsibility to such university that would turn down an invitation from the Big Ten for any reason whatsoever (whether it’s what the basketball coach says or anything else).  That’s not a personal knock on the Big East (as I’m also a law school alum of Big East member DePaul) but just a simple and glaring reality when you take two seconds to look at the numbers.

At the same time, Texas, which had a best case scenario of having the most nationally televised games and a BCS bowl appearance last year under the Big 12’s unequal revenue distribution formula, still made only $12 million in TV revenue compared to the $22 million that schools like Indiana and (gulp) Illinois received just for showing up.  Every reasonable person knows that even the best programs go through hard times, so it’s not as if though you can count on the best case scenario every single year.  Case in point is the Longhorns’ own rival of Oklahoma, who will receive significantly less money this year for a middling football season after being in the national championship game last year.  Michigan was playing Ohio State for a national championship game berth in 2006, yet look at where the Wolverines are now.  The recent competitive issues at Notre Dame are well-documented.  That means that even a powerhouse school like Texas has to examine where it will be in the event of the worst case scenario when it’s in a conference with unequal revenue distribution, which is something that gives university presidents and athletic directors that have to worry about budgets and state legislatures cutting funding a whole lot of heartburn.  This significant worry would immediately go away in the Big Ten – every school gets that $22 million per season whether they win multiple national championships or lose every single game.

A “winner” under an almost exact replica of the current Big 12 unequal revenue distribution model recently switched conferences for that very reason.  Miami was the single greatest beneficiary under the Big East’s old unequal revenue distribution model, where the Hurricanes received outsized payments from the conference during their national championship runs in the early 2000s.  In fact, the Big East said that it would guarantee Miami more money than the school would’ve received from the ACC for 5 years in an attempt to keep the Canes.  However, Miami’s president and athletic director pointed to the equal revenue sharing in the ACC as the largest financial reason why Miami switched conferences, even if it meant less money in the good times.  What this shows is that university presidents are actually much more concerned about maintaining financial stability during poor seasons than shooting the moon in championship seasons.

What’s more interesting in the Texas situation is that even when it shoots the moon in the Big 12, it still only makes about half as much as the very worst school in the Big Ten.  In that sense, Texas has even more to gain than Miami since the Canes actually knew they were going to give up short-term dollars in exchange for long-term stability, whereas Texas doesn’t have to make that choice – they’re getting more short-term dollars AND long-term financial stability.

At the same time, Texas really doesn’t “control” the Big 12, which is another argument that I continuously see on message boards and blogs.  While it receives the most TV appearances out of everyone because it’s the conference’s top team, remember that the original Big 8 schools have been together for over 100 years and they form a supermajority voting bloc in the Big 12.  Certainly, Texas has clout in the Big 12 due to its national brand name in the same way that Penn State has clout in the Big Ten, but Texas is still the newcomer to the old Big 8 schools and a lot of them (if not everyone except for Oklahoma) are extremely resentful of the Longhorns.  So, the thought that Texas has some type of outsized control in the Big 12 is at the very least overstated.  Remember that Miami had very similar control in the Big East, yet they jumped at the chance to be governed by a bunch of crazy basketball schools based in North Carolina.  “Control” is such an intangible and fleeting notion that it’s unlikely to trump a massive amount of guaranteed revenue whether a school wins or loses.

3.  Traveling fans to road games don’t matter – In terms of sports road trips, nothing tops going to other college campuses.  While pretty much all NFL stadiums are bland outside of Lambeau Field, each college has its own unique feel and traditions.  However, it amuses me when I see comments on various blogs and message boards that say, “Team A won’t leave Conference X because Team A’s fans can’t take road trips anymore.”  Even the best traveling fan bases might send only a few thousand people to road games every week and that school doesn’t see a dime of extra money – under conference revenue sharing arrangements, the visiting school gets the same amount of money whether it sends 1 fan on the road or 20,000 fans.  Therefore, if we think about this for a few seconds, why would any university president prioritize the interests of a few thousand people that like to take road trips yet don’t provide a single extra cent of revenue through such road trips over the school making many more millions of dollars of television revenue while also providing exposure to millions of more people?  Worrying about traveling fans is a classic “penny wise and pound foolish” argument.

4.  Sports team travel costs probably don’t matter – The thought that a school like Texas would worry about the increase in team travel costs in the Big Ten is probably another “penny wise and pound foolish” argument, although I’d love to see if anyone on the interweb has some concrete information about how much these expenses would be.  At a high level, my understanding is that Boston College, whose presence in the ACC would probably be the closest example of being a geographic outlier along the lines of Texas in the Big Ten, is still reaping significantly higher revenue in the ACC that more than compensates for its increased travel costs compared to when it was in the Big East.

Also, distance between schools isn’t necessarily the best indicator of travel costs.  If it’s far enough where you have to get onto a plane (and in the case of Texas, that would be the case for every school that it visits in the Big 12 except for maybe Texas A&M and Baylor), then how far you go on that plane isn’t going to change the costs that significantly (unless it’s a really long-haul trip to a place like Hawaii).  For commercial flights, distance is actually irrelevant – a plane flight from Austin to Chicago could easily be less money than a plane flight from Austin to Oklahoma City despite the much shorter distance since plane fares are more based on the frequency of routes and customer demand.  If an airplane needs to be chartered, the initial cost of procuring that plane is usually fixed where the cost is the same whether you go 50 miles or 1500 miles.  There may be some variance in the cost for fuel and airtime, but it’s still only a marginal increase over the initial cost of chartering that plane in the first place.

Considering that the jump in revenue for Texas going from the Big 12 to the Big Ten would be much larger than BC’s increase in revenue was from the Big East to the ACC, I believe that the increased travel costs (even for all of those non-revenue sports) would not be much of a factor.  If anyone out there has more specific details on this issue, though, please feel free to post it.

5.  Texas A&M is NOT tied to the hip of Texas – Here’s another argument that I’m constantly seeing on blogs and message boards: “Texas won’t go anywhere without Texas A&M.”  If past actions are the best indicators of future behavior, though, then that argument doesn’t hold water because Texas was more than willing to ditch Texas A&M when the old SWC imploded in the early 1990s.  Please take a look at this newspaper article that examines how Texas ended up in the Big 12 which includes interviews with the Texas president at the time of all of the conference moves:

http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/MYSA081405_3N_SWCbaylor_tech_1ca3e1c_html8528.html

As you’ll see in that article, Texas first really wanted to be in the Pac-10, which meant that the school made the decision that it wasn’t going to be in a conference with Texas A&M.  However, the Pac-10 requires unanimous approval for any new member and Stanford rejected the Texas bid.  After that, Texas approached… wait for it… the Big Ten.  Once again, Texas made the decision to unhitch itself from Texas A&M in that scenario.  While the Big Ten showed interest, the conference had a moratorium on expansion at that time since it had just added Penn State, so Texas was rebuffed there.

It was only AFTER Texas was rejected by the Pac-10 and Big Ten, where in both instances Texas had confirmed that it was more than willing to separate itself from Texas A&M, that Texas coupled itself back with Texas A&M and approached the Big 8 schools.  At that point, the Texas state politicians, who consider football to be of the highest legislative priority, got wind of the plan and forced Texas Tech and Baylor (who neither Texas nor Texas A&M wanted anything to do with) into the new Big 12.

So, let me summarize this for everyone: (1) the current Big 12 was the THIRD choice for Texas after the Pac-10 and Big Ten, (2) Texas would’ve broken away from Texas A&M if either of its first two choices had come to fruition and (3) Texas definitely wanted nothing to do with Texas Tech and Baylor.  Anyone that thinks that Texas is going to make decisions based on whether it can take Texas A&M along with it isn’t looking at how Texas acted during the 1990s conference realignment.  While Texas may care about whether A&M ends up in the SEC, as LonghornLawyer pointed out in his illuminating comment on my previous post, that doesn’t mean the Aggies are anything close to being brothers-in-arms with the Longhorns.

6.  The revenue gap means that the Big Ten now trumps the Pac-10 for Texas – That historical article brings up another common argument that Texas might look to the Pac-10 instead, especially since it was the school’s first choice back in the 1990s.  This is certainly a fair point, although the revenue situation has changed so drastically in the Big Ten’s favor that a reasonable person is going to weigh things a lot differently today.  Take a quick look back at the conference revenue figures back in point #2 and you’ll see why Texas isn’t going to value the Pac-10 over the Big Ten as of today: the Pac-10 has even worse TV revenue than the Big 12.  Even if we acknowledge that the addition of Texas were to give a boost to Pac-10 TV revenue, it still wouldn’t come close to more than quadrupling that number which would be required to merely match what the Big Ten makes today (and note that the Big Ten figure would directly increase by a significant margin just from the addition of Texas state basic cable households for the Big Ten Network).

Also, putting money matters aside for a moment, there’s a pretty practical issue with respect to Texas being in the Pac-10: the time zone.  Most people east of the Mississippi River probably think of Texas as a “western” state.  However, it’s in the Central Time Zone (just like 5 of the 11 Big Ten schools).  This matters because prime time starts at 8 pm in the Pacific Time Zone (just like the Eastern Time Zone), which means that prime time games in the Pac-10 wouldn’t start until 10 pm Texas time and that’s simply a killer for TV purposes.  There are no such time zone issues with the Big Ten because all of the schools are either in the Central or Eastern Time Zones.

I know that I’ve put together some incredibly long blog posts, but just remember my two overarching rules of thinking like a university president as opposed to a sports fan and that 11 + 1 = 13.  The Big Ten didn’t come out and talk about expansion to do anything other than a blockbuster move.  If that blockbuster move isn’t available, then the Big Ten will stay at 11 schools.  I’ll be back soon with another post on additional expansion candidates.

(Image from NCAA Football Fanhouse)

The Big Ten has sent college conferences across America into a tizzy with its announcement that it will examine the possibility of expanding. Of course, the announcement was really a non-announcement – the conference has always looked at expansion issues every few years. However, this feels a little bit different this time around where it feels as if though the conference is finally starting to think about options outside of the Irish-born elephant located in the middle of the conference footprint in South Bend that always seems so stubborn (or what they would call “independent”).

A few years ago, I wrote that if the Big Ten ever wanted to expand with a school other than Notre Dame, then it ought to invite Syracuse for a variety of reasons. A lot of the same analysis still applies today, although I wanted to do a comprehensive review of the various candidates using a 100-point index (as I’ll expand upon in a moment). The conclusion is that the best available Big Ten candidate certainly wears orange, but it’s not who most of the general public is discussing (even though it makes incredible sense considering that a new school has to have a massive impact in order to make it worth it for the conference, which is the nation’s oldest and wealthiest, to split the pot 12 ways instead of 11). We’ll get to that in a bit.

I. GENERAL RULES

There are two overarching rules to examining potential Big Ten expansion candidates:

RULE #1: Think like a university president and NOT like a sports fan.

RULE #2: 11 + 1 = 13

The first rule is something that over 90% of the pundits (whether it’s in the “traditional” media or on blogs and message boards) violate with impunity on this subject. A massive number of sports fans see Team A vs. Team B as being a good matchup in this particular season and think that the Big Ten ought to expand solely based on that reasoning yet not even bother to address any academic requirements. Others put a high value on strict geography without even thinking about financial matters such as whether a school will add any new TV markets. Contrary to an Internet-fueled urban legend, there isn’t any rule that says that all Big Ten states much touch each other. Even if such rule existed, finding the right school completely trumps any geographic issues for a conference that looks at itself as an exclusive club. I’m going to hammer on this geography issue A LOT because too many sports fans are hung up on this when the university presidents really don’t care about it as much as being aligned with peer institutions for BOTH academics and athletics wherever they might be located.

As for the second rule, that isn’t just fuzzy math for a conference with 11 members that still calls itself the Big Ten. The reason why the Big Ten has stood at 11 members for so long is that Penn State, which has been an unqualified success in bringing an enormous amount of resources to the conference, is now the baseline standard for any type of expansion candidate. That is, a new school must bring financial, academic and fan base value to the conference that is way above and beyond what an average school would bring to the table. The Big Ten DOESN’T need 11 + 1 = 12, where all that does is add another mouth to feed without materially changing the fortunes of the current conference members. At the same time, the Big Ten absolutely positively will not even consider 11 + 1 = 11.5, where the revenue split per school would actually go down by adding a 12th member. Instead, a viable expansion candidate has to show that by becoming the 12th school in the conference that it would be the equivalent of bringing value that is above and beyond simply adding a conference championship game – essentially, the Big Ten needs 1 marquee school that is worth 2 average schools. Hence, the proper math for the Big Ten is 11 + 1 = 13.

(Note that the excellent Big Ten lawyer blog The Rivalry, Esq. borrowed a modified version of the 11 + 1 = 13 concept in its own analysis of Big Ten expansion candidates and gave a shout out my way in the process.)

So, when some columnist, blogger or message board poster starts talking about Big Ten expansion, remember those two overarching rules at a bare minimum when considering whether the writer has a financially and academically astute brain built for running conferences or a sports stereotype “What have you done for me lately?” brain. Only the former type of brain has any type of credibility.

II. EXPLANATION OF THE BIG TEN EXPANSION INDEX

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve built a 100-point Big Ten Expansion Index that evaluates the viability of each particular school’s Big Ten candidacy. There are 6 categories (Academics, TV Brand Value, Football Brand Value, Basketball Brand Value, Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit, and Mutual Interest) that receive different weights depending upon how important they are in the decision-making process. If a school were to receive a perfect score in each category, then it would have 100 points. Here are detailed explanations of the categories and how they are weighted:

Academics (25 points) – This is a zero-sum category: either a school meets the academic requirements and receives the full 25 points or it doesn’t. Casual sports fans tend to ignore this component since they just see conferences for how they perform on the field or hardwood. However, academics are heavily weighted in this analysis because membership in the Big Ten also means membership in the Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC). That’s not a small consideration as the Big Ten universities plus former conference member University of Chicago share research and resources among each other for academic purposes. Therefore, any expansion candidate needs to fit in with academic discussions among U of C and Northwestern faculty just as much as they need to bring prowess to the football field against Ohio State and Michigan. Membership in the American Association of Universities is preferred but not required if a school is in the upper echelon of the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Tier 3 schools, however, are going to be eliminated right off the bat no matter how much they might bring to the athletic side of the equation.

TV Value (25 points) – An expansion candidate needs to either bring new major TV markets to the conference or be such a massive national name that it would overshadow a small market. Outside of the obvious school in South Bend, any school that overlaps a market that the Big Ten already has today without bringing new markets on top of that will receive 0 points – the most important point that people need to understand is that being within the current Big Ten footprint is a massive negative to the conference. Too many sports fans mistakenly think the opposite way, where they think that because School X is in the same state as Ohio State or School Y used to have a long rivalry with fellow in-state school Penn State means that they are good fits for the conference, when in reality those types of schools bring little or no value to the Big Ten because they don’t add any more TV households to the table. I’ll repeat the mantra here: think like a university president instead of a sports fan.

Another important consideration here is that the Big Ten’s future media revenues are going to be heavily dependent on the performance of the Big Ten Network. As with any basic cable channel, whether it’s ESPN or the Food Network, the Big Ten Network’s revenues and profitability are largely based upon getting into as many basic cable households as possible – pure and simple. The TV ratings for a particular school in a market don’t mean as much as whether such school has enough leverage and drawing power in a region or market to get the Big Ten Network onto basic cable there. What this means is that there’s going to be a heavy premium (if not outright requirement) that a new school delivers the largest number of cable TV households possible on top of what the Big Ten has now. On the flip side, if a school doesn’t add any new Big Ten Network subscribers, then that school is a non-starter.

Football Brand Value (30 points) – 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 no expansion is likely to happen in the Big Ten unless the new school is a bona fide gridiron power. It’s why the ACC was willing to water down its basketball conference with football schools like Miami and Virginia Tech a few years ago and the root of the massive unilateral pushback from the major conferences about any type of NCAA Tournament-esque college football playoff proposal – there’s so much money involved with football that there’s no rational economic reason for the BCS conferences to share it.

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 80,000-seat or even 100,000-seat stadiums for decades 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 3 of the BCS rankings this year. 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. The Big Ten will only consider programs that have large and real hardcore fan bases that will stick them in good times and bad as opposed to programs that have bandwagon fans that will bolt when there’s a 7-5 season.

Basketball Brand Value (10 points) – 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 simply won’t be much of a consideration, which is why the Football Brand Value category is weighted three times as much as the Basketball Brand Value category. A common argument that you’ll see on blogs and message boards is that “Team A won’t leave Conference X because Team A is a basketball school and Conference X is so much better in basketball than the Big Ten.” Once again, this is a sports fan view as opposed to a university president view. As I alluded to before, the financial value of football outweighs basketball interests by such a massive margin that every single all-sports athletic director in America will take a bad football program in a top drawing football conference over a championship caliber basketball program in the best basketball conference without hesitation.

That being said, if all things are relatively equal in the other categories, then basketball considerations could be the tipping point. In that event, this index assigns 10 points to a school that would be a legitimate marquee basketball program in the Big Ten, 5 points to a middle-to-upper middle class basketball school that isn’t quite a top program but would at least provide some depth and 0 points to a school that doesn’t bring anything to the basketball side of the equation whatsoever. There might also be a specific case where the conventional financial argument between football and basketball could be turned on its head (which will be addressed in examining how Big Ten Network distribution could work with a certain school located in Upstate New York).

Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit (5) – This is more of a “smell test” category. Does a school have existing or historic rivalries with any Big Ten schools? Is the atmosphere balancing academics and athletics at the expansion target in line with the rest of the conference? When the average sports fan looks at the conference alignment, does it seem to make sense? 5 points are given to a perfect fit across the board, 3 points are given to a good fit in some respects but maybe less so in others, while 0 points are given to anyone that simply would stick out like a complete sore thumb (with much more emphasis on the character of the school as opposed to geography).

Mutual Interest (5) – The basic question is the likelihood of whether an expansion candidate would actually accept an invitation from the Big Ten. This is relevant because Notre Dame publicly declined an official Big Ten invitation in the late-1990s, which was a drawn-out process and left a lot of sour feelings among the conference members. As a result, the conference has no desire to invite anyone unless that school has confirmed with its university president and board of trustees that it will say “Yes” without a public debate or discussion. 5 points are given to a school whose university president will be on the next plane to O’Hare and start popping champagne the moment that the Big Ten extends an offer, 3 points to a school that will give an invitation heavy consideration but could go either way and 1 point to a school that will hear the Big Ten out yet will almost certainly reject any offer.

III. EVALUATION OF THE BIG TEN EXPANSION CANDIDATES

The candidates are listed in reverse order from least desirable to most desirable. For the purposes of this evaluation, I’m assuming that the only viable expansion candidates are currently independent or members of the Big East and Big 12. For various reasons, the Big East and Big 12 have the most unstable conference situations where a move to an extremely stable Big Ten would be attractive on paper, while there is little reason for any school to leave the SEC, ACC or Pac-10 at this time (meaning suggestions that I’ve seen elsewhere that the Big Ten should add the likes of Maryland, Vanderbilt and/or Kentucky aren’t going to be examined here). I’ve placed the candidates into tiers of Pretenders, Contenders and The Only Real Choices.

A. Pretenders

CINCINNATI
Academics: 0
TV Value: 0
Football Brand Value: 10
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 0

Mutual Interest: 5
Total: 20
Overview
: This is the ultimate example of the short-sighted sports fan “What have you done for me lately?” choice based upon this particular year’s results as opposed to thinking like a university president. Cincinnati is in the third tier of the U.S. News rankings, doesn’t add any new Big Ten Network subscribers since Ohio State already has the city of Cincinnati covered for the conference (and then some) and it would be an urban commuter school in a conference that is largely composed of large flagship universities where nearly all of the students live on campus. For those that think that the Football Brand Value is too low at 10, remember that the criteria is a long history of football success as opposed to recent gains. At the end of the day, Cincinnati couldn’t sellout 40,000 seats until it was in the national championship race (which indicates a high level of bandwagon fandom), its coach couldn’t take the Notre Dame job fast enough despite being the #3 team in the country, and the school doesn’t even have a football practice facility. In contrast, Ohio State has practice facilities that put almost every NFL team to shame. Here’s my personal litmus test for expansion discussions: anyone that mentions Cincinnati as a viable Big Ten candidate loses all credibility whatsoever with me on the issue.

LOUISVILLE
Academics: 0
TV Value: 10
Football Brand Value: 15
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 0
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 40
Overview: Similar to Cincinnati, Louisville is a tier 3 school, which eliminates them off-the-bat. Elite basketball program and excellent fan base overall (even with the football team being in the doldrums lately), yet there rightfully isn’t much buzz about Louisville as a candidate.

IOWA STATE
Academics: 25
TV Value: 0
Football Brand Value: 10
Basketball Brand Value: 0
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 43
Overview: The only expansion name that gets thrown out by the pundits more idiotically than Cincinnati might very well be Iowa State. I’m not exactly sure why the Big Ten would want to take one of the least valuable schools in the BCS that is located in a small state which is already covered by the conference with a much more popular flagship. If it wasn’t for Iowa State having a halfway-decent engineering school, it would be the worst possible Big Ten expansion candidate out there. Yet, Iowa State’s name gets tossed around merely because it’s within the Big Ten footprint, which I’ve already explained is actually a massive negative mark as it doesn’t open up any new markets. Therefore, I’ll amend my original litmus test for expansion discussions: anyone that mentions Cincinnati or Iowa State as a viable Big Ten candidate loses all credibility whatsoever with me on the issue.

WEST VIRGINIA
Academics: 0
TV Value: 10
Football Brand Value: 25
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 43
Overview: On the field, West Virginia is a solid school across-the-board: excellent football program with a great traveling fan base, an upper tier basketball program and a dormant rivalry with Penn State. However, the off-the-field considerations will kill any talk about the Mountaineers – it’s a third tier school academically and the school brings very few new TV households.

B. Contenders

PITTSBURGH
Academics: 25
TV Value: 0
Football Brand Value: 20
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 63
Overview: Pitt is mentioned by a lot of pundits as a top candidate for Big Ten expansion or maybe even the very best candidate outside of Notre Dame. Certainly, there is a lot to base this upon: excellent academic research reputation, long history in football, elite basketball program, a great-but-dormant rivalry with Penn State and there’s no doubt that Pitt would accept a Big Ten offer. However, WAY WAY WAY too many people have completely forgotten about the obvious problem with Pitt: just like Iowa State and Cincinnati, Pitt wouldn’t add a single new Big Ten Network subscriber. Penn State already delivers the Pittsburgh market and much more (Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania), so Pitt’s TV value to the Big Ten is zero. It’s unfortunate that Pitt couldn’t trade locations with Rutgers – if that were the case, then Pitt would be an excellent candidate. Alas, the one thing that Pitt can’t change is its location, which means that it won’t ever receive an invite from the Big Ten.

RUTGERS
Academics: 25
TV Value: 15
Football Brand Value: 15
Basketball Brand Value: 0
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 63
Overview: Another popular name that’s being discussed in the general public and it’s almost solely based on the location of Rutgers in the New York DMA. The problem is that it’s highly debatable as to whether Rutgers has the leverage to get the Big Ten Network onto basic cable in the New York City area overall or even in just New Jersey. In fact, a lot of neutral observers would say that the Big Ten already has the most popular school in that market in the form of Penn State, so adding Rutgers wouldn’t even do much on that front. Therefore, the market of Rutgers is fantastic on paper, but its ability to deliver that market is questionable at best, which results in it only having a TV Value of 15. Without guaranteeing the NYC market, Rutgers isn’t really very attractive.

MISSOURI
Academics: 25
TV Value: 15
Football Brand Value: 15
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 3

Total: 66
Overview: As an Illinois fan, it would be fun to see the Braggin’ Rights games for both football and basketball be taken in-house. However, as someone that always wants the best for the Big Ten overall, Mizzou is more of a “meh” move. There’s some decent value on all of the fronts in terms of academics, TV markets (the portion of the St. Louis market that the Illini don’t deliver and Kansas City), football, basketball and cultural fit, so it’s not as if though there’s anything particularly bad about the school. Yet, nothing screams out that adding Mizzou is a spectacular game changing move by the Big Ten, either. As I stated earlier, Penn State is the standard for Big Ten expansion, and on that front, no one can reasonably put Missouri anywhere near that level. If the Big Ten just wants to expand just for the sake of expanding, then Missouri is a decent choice, but I don’t think that’s the Big Ten’s modus operandi. Therefore, I think that the heavy talk about Missouri going to the Big Ten is mostly coming from the Mizzou side as opposed to the Big Ten side. (Please see this interview with the Missouri athletic director, who seemed to be saying, “Please invite us to the Big Ten!” in the most diplomatic way possible.) Plus, as I’ll get to later, it’s possible that all of the Big 12 schools are up for grabs, in which case there truly is a non-Notre Dame game changer available.

NEBRASKA
Academics: 25
TV Value: 15
Football Brand Value: 30
Basketball Brand Value: 0
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 3

Total: 76
Overview
: I’m giving Nebraska the benefit of the doubt on the academics front here – its undergraduate admissions standards are significantly below anyone else in the Big Ten, but it’s an AAU member with solid graduate programs. Still, Nebraska brings maximum points in the most important category of Football Brand Value. Hypothetically, is Average Joe Sports Fan in Anytown, USA going to be that interested in watching Missouri vs. Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State or Rutgers vs. Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State? Probably not. However, Nebraska vs. Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State will get marked on the calendar by ABC for national distribution immediately an draw massive ratings year-in and year-out. Nebraska’s issue, though, is that while its national reputation is great for traditional TV contracts with ABC/ESPN, its tiny home state doesn’t help much with the Big Ten Network since the school probably won’t spur many cable providers outside of its home markets to add the channel. As a pure football move, Nebraska would be a fantastic addition, but I think the TV market issue is significant enough to keep the Cornhuskers from receiving an invite.

SYRACUSE
Academics: 25
TV Value: 20
Football Brand Value: 20
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5
Total: 83
Overview
: As I noted earlier, Syracuse was my favorite Big Ten expansion candidate outside of Notre Dame for a long time. The analysis from my original post still largely stands. If the goal of the Big Ten is to gain entry into the New York market and effectively dominate the East Coast in the same way that it dominates the Midwest, then I believe Syracuse is a much smarter addition than Rutgers. While Syracuse football probably doesn’t have the leverage to get the Big Ten Network into New York DMA households just as Rutgers, the difference-maker here could be Syracuse basketball. New York is a terrible college football town, but it’s a pretty good college basketball city, and on that front, Syracuse is at or near the top in that market. So, NYC residents may not care to get the Big Ten Network for a handful of Rutgers or Syracuse football games per year, but they may very well have enough interest in 10-15 Syracuse basketball games per year to launch the BTN into basic cable distribution there. In essence, the “football means everything in college sports” mantra could be turned on its head here with respect to New York where basketball is the driving revenue factor. I’m not saying that this logic will hold in practicality, yet at least it seems more likely to me than the thought of either football programs at Rutgers and Syracuse really having an impact for the Big Ten in the NYC market.

C. The Only Real Choices

NOTRE DAME
Academics: 25
TV Value: 25
Football Brand Value: 30
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 5
Mutual Interest: 1

Total: 91
Overview
: It’s pretty simple as of today – if Notre Dame wants to join the Big Ten, then it’s in. The national fan base of its football program is unparalleled and, frankly, it would propel the conference into East Coast markets such as New York better than pretty much any school that’s actually located on the East Coast.

Of course, it’s easy to see what’s in it for the Big Ten. However, the issue has always been about what’s in it for Notre Dame. While I personally believe that Notre Dame will continue with its current stance in favor of independence, the college sports financial landscape has drastically changed since the Fighting Irish rejected a Big Ten invite in the late-1990s. What the average sports fan doesn’t realize is that Notre Dame’s NBC contract, which is what the uninformed pundits point to as the major reason why the Irish wouldn’t join the conference, pales in comparison to what every single Big Ten and SEC school makes from their respective conference TV contracts. Notre Dame reportedly makes around $9 million per year from NBC, which was a level that made it the top TV revenue school back in 1999. In contrast, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported last week that the Big Ten is currently making $242 million per year in TV revenue which is split equally among the 11 schools, meaning that everyone from Michigan to Northwestern is taking in $22 million per year. Think about that for a second: the vaunted Notre Dame was the #1 TV revenue maker in the entire country up until just a few years ago, yet it’s now only #3 in its own home state behind Purdue and Indiana (and less than half as much of each, at that).

How did this happen? It’s the fact that the TV landscape has tipped completely in favor of cable over the past decade. Cable channels have a dual revenue stream, where they make a certain amount of money for each subscriber it has every month plus advertising on top of that. In contrast, over-the-air networks can only rely on advertising. For instance, about $3 of your monthly cable bill goes to ESPN whether or not you watch it. ESPN is in over 100 million households, which means that it’s making $300 million per month and $3.6 billion per year in subscriber fee revenue… and that’s before the network sells a single ad… and that’s not counting its revenue from ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU and ESPN Classic. As a result, ESPN is the single most profitable entity in the entire Disney empire, which is why the network can afford to pay much more for high profile sports events such as Monday Night Football (note that ESPN is paying almost twice as much for MNF as NBC is for a better flex option slate of Sunday Night Football) and the BCS bowls than the traditional TV networks. When Comcast bought NBC Universal last month, the main prize was the stable of profitable cable channels such as CNBC, MSNBC and Bravo. In contrast, NBC itself is bleeding over several hundred million dollars per year in losses and is the main reason why General Electric wanted to sell the entertainment unit in the first place.

While the Big Ten has ensured that its top tier games continue to be shown on ABC for football and CBS for basketball, it has taken advantage of the sports landscape by securing massive cable revenue for its second tier games on ESPN and its own Big Ten Network. The SEC has done the same via its own wide-ranging media rights deal with ESPN. Notre Dame’s issue is that it’s almost impossible for it to take advantage of these financial changes by being outside of a conference unless it moves all or most of its games to cable (i.e. Versus, which is now a sister company to NBC in the new Comcast conglomerate), which defeats the main advantage of having an independent TV contract in the first place (nationwide over-the-air NBC coverage whether you have cable or just rabbit ears). As a result, independence has turned from Notre Dame’s greatest financial asset into possibly its greatest long-term financial liability.

Therefore, the “Notre Dame makes way too much money as an independent with the NBC contract to ever join a conference” argument is simply not true anymore. For the first time in a century, it may very well be in the rational economic interest of Notre Dame to join the Big Ten. The academics and faculty in South Bend already strongly supported a move to the Big Ten in the 1990s because of the CIC research opportunities and now the financial people might be on board. Of course, this type of logic doesn’t necessarily apply to Notre Dame alums (no offense intended for the Irish fan readers of this blog – I sincerely mean it in a positive way that describes the special passion that alums have for the school) – it’s “independence or die” for them. As I’ve thought about this issue more, this longstanding mentality might actually be as much of a roadblock for the Big Ten as it is for Notre Dame. On one side of the ledger, you have school that has spent most of its history protecting itself and profiting from independence. On the other side, you have the nation’s oldest collegiate conference where most of its members have dealt with each other for over 100 years, share everything equally and have a legitimate “all for one and one for all” mentality. Ohio State truly understands that what’s best for the Big Ten overall is best for Ohio State individually. Could Notre Dame ever adopt that type of worldview? It might be impossible, which could lead to a lot of heartburn down the road.

As a result, it would behoove the Big Ten to look toward another powerhouse university where there appears to be much more mutual interest than the pundits are generally acknowledging. This is a school that the Big Ten could add as a 12th member and unequivocally never think about Notre Dame again…

TEXAS
Academics: 25
TV Value: 25
Football Brand Value: 30
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 3
Total: 96
Overview
: You’re not seeing a misprint – the University of Texas-Austin is the single best possible addition for the Big Ten and the Longhorns are a whole lot more open to it than what the public seems to realize. The average sports fan that has been raised to view college conferences in a regional geographic context probably believes the notion of Texas going to the Big Ten is weird, crazy, upsetting and will never happen. However, as I stated under the Notre Dame overview, the college sports landscape has completely changed from a decade ago where national TV contracts and cable channel distribution now rule the day.

Putting aside any geographic concerns for the moment, Texas is a perfect fit in almost every possible way from the Big Ten’s perspective. The academics are top notch where Texas is one of the nation’s top 15 public universities in the latest U.S. News rankings and its graduate programs are right alongside Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin as among the elite for public flagships. The football program in Austin was just ranked as the most valuable in all of college football by Forbes magazine (#2 is… Notre Dame) and, unlike Nebraska, the Texas basketball program is playing at an elite level, as well. As I’m writing this blog post, both the Texas football and basketball teams are ranked #2 in the country. At the non-revenue sport level, Texas would completely put Big Ten baseball back on the map. Finally, the value of the Big Ten’s traditional TV deals and Big Ten Network revenue would skyrocket with the addition of the #5 (Dallas-Fort Worth) and #10 (Houston) TV markets in the nation plus the entire state of Texas (the country’s 2nd most populous after California). While it’s questionable whether Syracuse or Rutgers could really break the Big Ten into the New York area, there’s absolutely no doubt that Texas would deliver the Big Ten Network to every single cable household in the Lone Star State. The market impact is incredible – the Big Ten, which already has the largest population base of any conference, would further increase such base by over 1/3 with Texas to over 90 million people. When you start thinking about Texas as a possible Big Ten candidate, the thought of inviting Missouri, Syracuse or Rutgers feels like a inconsequential move.

It’s clear why the Big Ten would want Texas. So, why on Earth would Texas want to join the Big Ten? Well, the financial implications are massive. As I stated earlier, the Big Ten receives $242 million per year in TV revenue to split evenly among its 11 members, which comes out to $22 million per year for every single school. In contrast, the Big 12 receives $78 million per year in TV revenue that is split unevenly among its 12 members based on national TV appearances. That comes out to $6.5 million per year for the average Big 12 school. Even Texas, which is a beneficiary of the Big 12’s unequal revenue distribution model since it receives a large number of TV appearances, received only about $12 million in TV revenue last season according the interview with Missouri’s AD that I linked to earlier. In other words, every single Big Ten school makes $10 million per year more than Texas does on TV revenue whether such school is on ABC 12 times or the Big Ten Network 12 times. Remember that the $10 million difference is more than what Notre Dame receives from its vaunted NBC contract. If Texas were to simply bring enough to the Big Ten to maintain the status quo of per school revenue, that would be an 83% jump in TV revenue for the Longhorns immediately off the bat. Considering that the addition of Lone Star households to the Big Ten Network’s distribution would yield an even greater increase in revenue, Texas would easily see in excess of a two-fold increase and maybe even close to a three-fold increase in TV revenue whether it wins or loses.

The average sports fan will look at those numbers and retort, “It’s not all about the money. It’s about rivalries and the passion.” That’s a fair enough point. However, consider that Texas has only been in the Big 12 for 15 years, compared to the original Big 8 members like Nebraska and Oklahoma that have been together for nearly a century. Texas cares about playing Oklahoma (which was a non-conference rivalry for decades up until the formation of the Big 12 in 1994) and Texas A&M. After those two schools, the general consensus among Texas fans is that they could care less about Texas Tech, Baylor and virtually everyone from the Big 12 North (who are all old Big 8 members). Similar to how most of the schools in the East (particularly Big East schools) consider Penn State to be a rival yet the Nittany Lions don’t reciprocate that feeling, all of the Southwestern schools think of Texas as their main rival while the Longhorns simply don’t care about them. Also note that outside of the states of Texas and Colorado, the Big 12 is a decidedly Midwestern conference, only those Midwestern states pale in population size compared to the Big Ten’s Midwestern base. What this means is that the Texas ties to the Big 12 are fairly loose and not ironclad at all in terms of history while the geographic factor really isn’t that important considering how many Big 12 schools are in the Midwest. If Texas maintains its rivalries with Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the non-conference schedule, the Longhorns keep their two most important regional rivalries alive while opening themselves up to the entire nation during the conference schedule.

Speaking in terms that the average sports fan in Texas ought to understand, think of the Dallas Cowboys. When the NFL realigned its divisions in the 1990s, it strongly considered moving the Cowboys to the NFC West. It made geographic sense and, at the time, the Cowboys were in the middle of its run of great games against the San Francisco 49ers, so there was some emotional juice that could’ve been taken to a higher level with those teams in the same division. However, Jerry Jones completely insisted that the Cowboys stay in the geographically-challenged NFC East. Why? Because the Cowboys wouldn’t be able to continue being “America’s Team” by playing teams in the South and West Coast. In order to obtain a national fan base, you need to play in the major markets in the East. If Texas were to move to the Big Ten, it would break out from being a school with a strong regional fan base into one that could be the equivalent of the NFL Cowboys with a national fan base by playing in a disproportionate share of the largest markets in the country located East of the Mississippi River.

Academics are also an extremely important selling point for Texas. The issue with the academic standards in the Big 12 is that there are no academic standards in the Big 12. Texas is the highest ranked Big 12 school in the U.S. News rankings tied at #47 (the Big Ten schools ahead or tied are #12 Northwestern, #27 Michigan, #39 Illinois, #39 Wisconsin and #47 Penn State) while every single other school in the Big 12 except for #61 Texas A&M is ranked lower than every other Big Ten school (the lowest ranked are Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa tied at #71). No one else in the Big 12 comes even close to the academic research abilities of Texas. The potential entry of Texas into the Big Ten would include membership in the CIC, which opens up a whole new level of academic research opportunities for the school that simply doesn’t exist in the Big 12. The first general rule that I mentioned about discussing Big Ten expansion was that people need to think like a university president as opposed to a sports fan. If moving to another conference would (1) make more money for the athletic department AND (2) improve the academic standing of the university, you’ve made quite a powerful argument to the Texas university president.

Finally, there’s a CYA aspect to all of this for Texas. Please take a look at this discussion about expansion options on Barking Carnival, which is my favorite Texas blog. I was shocked to find very few “BIG TEN FOOTBALL SUX”-type comments and instead saw a whole lot of consternation about the long-term viability of the Big 12 overall. Here’s something that I didn’t think about before: if Missouri were to hypothetically leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten, then the Big 12 could end up imploding (i.e. Colorado would bolt for the Pac-10) or at least be severely weakened. The reason is the subpar Big 12 TV contract that I mentioned earlier. St. Louis and Kansas City are decent markets and Missouri is a decent state for a conference like the Big Ten, but none of them have much of an impact when the conference already has Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and the entire states of Ohio and Michigan. In contrast, St. Louis and Kansas City are respectively the 4th and 5th largest markets for the Big 12 (and more importantly, respectively the 2nd and 3rd largest markets outside of Texas) and Missouri is by far the largest state in the conference other than Texas. Therefore, the loss of Missouri would cause the currently bad Big 12 TV contract to get even worse since no possible replacement school from, say, the Mountain West (i.e. BYU, Utah, etc.) would come close to replacing those markets and households. In turn, all of the Big 12 schools might be sent scrambling for new homes. While that might be a doomsday scenario, Mizzou leaving for the Big Ten would severely damage the Big 12 at the very least.

So, if all of the Big 12 schools could be theoretically up for grabs, why the heck would the Big Ten go after a minnow (Missouri) when it could get a whale (Texas) instead? Why the heck would the Big Ten take Missouri or even Nebraska and let Texas possibly walk off to the much less financially powerful Pac-10? Why the heck would Texas just let a middle tier school like Missouri leaving for another conference put its future in limbo? Simply put, if a decent-but-not-great school like Missouri leaving could have that much of a potential impact on the Big 12, then that’s clearly evidence that the conference is unstable and maybe a powerhouse school like Texas will understand that it needs to start evaluating more stable options (if it hasn’t already). This presents a monster opportunity for the Big Ten to swoop in and solidify its place as the nation’s most powerful sports conference.

Sports-wise, the Big Ten has a reputation of being staid and conservative. In terms of overall conference management, however, the Big Ten is quite forward looking and thinks outside of the box. It’s easy to say that the Big Ten Network is an obvious cash cow for the conference as of today, but at the time of its formation, it was a massive risk considering that it could’ve easily taken a massive traditional rights deal from ESPN in the same manner as the SEC without the pain of a year of fighting for basic cable distribution in the Midwest and Pennsylvania. It now looks like the Big Ten is going to benefit from that risk. Similarly, I’m convinced that the Big Ten isn’t going to make a “meh” move simply to get to the 12 teams needed to stage a football conference championship game. The new school has to be strong enough where if Notre Dame all of the sudden decides that it wants to join a conference in 10 or 20 years, the Big Ten can comfortably say “No” and not have buyer’s remorse about the 12th member that it added. I don’t think that Missouri, Syracuse or Rutgers would come close to meeting that standard, but Texas hits the mark and even more. Therefore, there’s one task for the Big Ten over the next year or so:

Hook ’em.

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

UPDATE #1 (1/4/2010) – Tons of great feedback on this post, so I’ve addressed some additional issues in Big Ten Expansion Index Follow-Up #1: Superconferences, Conference TV Revenue and More Reasons Why Texas to the Big Ten Makes Sense.

UPDATE #2 (1/8/2010) – Confirmation that the Big Ten “contiguous state” rule is a myth, responses to blogs and message boards from across the country and, most importantly, the views of Texas fans in Big Ten Expansion Follow-Up #2: Nationwide and Longhorns Fan Responses on Texas to the Big Ten.

UPDATE #3 (1/20/2010) – More on the financial gap between the Big Ten and Big 12, how Notre Dame almost joined the Big Ten and thoughts on the East Coast schools and fallout in other conferences in Big Ten Expansion Follow-Up #3.

UPDATE #4 (2/1/2010) – Why the “Pitt Joining the Big Ten” Rumors are False.

UPDATE #5 (2/11/2010) – Newspaper reporting that the Big Ten has entered into preliminary discussions with the University of Texas.

UPDATE #6 (2/17/2010) – Template for Shooting Down Every Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten

UPDATE #7 (2/21/2010) – Explaining why the “initial list” of 15 Big Ten candidates is an examination of who would join WITH Texas and/or Notre Dame (NOT instead of them).

UPDATE #8 (3/2/2010) – What’s the purpose of the Big Ten leaking a study of Notre Dame, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt?

UPDATE #9 (3/6/2010) – How Rutgers could work in the Big Ten (as long as another national marquee name also comes along)

UPDATE #10 (3/9/2010) – Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick leaves an opening for the Irish to join a conference.

UPDATE #11 (3/19/2010) – Rumors that the Big Ten is looking to add Boston College, Notre Dame and Rutgers.

UPDATE #12 (3/24/2010) – How the Pac-10 could affect Big Ten expansion.

UPDATE #13 (3/29/2010) – Notre Dame’s AD runs his trap again.

UPDATE #14 (4/6/2010) – Big Ten considering a 16-school conference.

UPDATE #15 (4/12/2010) – How a multi-phase expansion could be a good idea for the Big Ten.

UPDATE #16 (4/19/2010) – The value of expansion candidates to the Big Ten Network.

UPDATE #17 (4/25/2010) – Getting krunk on expansion news (or lack thereof).

UPDATE #18 (5/2/2010) – Rumors about a 5-team expansion with Nebraska, Missouri, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse.