Posts Tagged ‘Maryland Terrapins’

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Fansided)

From the moment that the Big Ten announced its intentions to expand three years ago, my attention immediately focused upon “What would be best for the Big Ten Network?” as what would be most critical.  When I kept seeing the media speak about rivalries, geography and on-the-field competitiveness as opposed to the BTN, I wrote the “Big Ten Expansion Index” post as a business-focused response that brought a lot of new readers to this blog (including many that are still commenting here today) since it came to the then-provocative conclusion that it was Texas (not Notre Dame) that would be the conference’s top target.

One of those readers ended up determining the Big Ten’s way of thinking better than anyone.  Back in April 2010, when massive conference realignment was still in the speculative stage and nothing had actually occurred, a reader named Patrick, who is long-time television industry veteran, sent in an analysis of how much various Big Ten expansion candidates would be worth to the Big Ten Network.  He went beyond simply looking at market sizes and cable subscriber fees and took into account fan intensity (which translates into the ability to charge higher cable subscriber fees in specific markets), national TV value and advertising rates.  In no surprise, Texas finished at #1.  However, look at who were the next three highest ranked schools after the Longhorns:

CANDIDATES TOTAL ADDED REVENUE ESTIMATE
 
Texas $101,369,004
Rutgers    WITH NYC $67,798,609
Nebraska $54,487,990
Maryland $50,818,889

Well, on the heels of the Big Ten inviting Nebraska a couple of years ago, Maryland has agreed to join the conference and Rutgers will likely be announced as a new member on Tuesday.  As a result, it turns out that we can proclaim Patrick as the Nate Silver* of Big Ten expansion.  As you can see from that post, most of my takeaways from Patrick’s analysis at the time were more Armageddon-like (particularly with respect to Notre Dame) and completely wrong (as I had assumed that the ACC wasn’t poachable), but his calculations did convince me that Nebraska, in spite of its small market, was going to be a lock for a Big Ten invite over anyone else (and that turned out to be correct several months later) since that Rutgers number was (and still is) much more speculative and it was crystal clear that the Cornhuskers would be more valuable than the other standard candidates mentioned at the time such as Missouri and Pitt.

(*Speaking of Nate Silver, it’s interesting to look back upon this piece that he wrote about conference realignment last year in the New York Times.  The data inputs that he used might be a bit flawed compared to the polls that he leveraged for the 2012 Presidential election, but it shows at least the argument as to why the Big Ten would look to add Rutgers.)

Essentially, the Big Ten executed a two-pronged strategy with its expansion: get a marquee football program at the national level (Nebraska) as a headliner and add top academic flagships at the regional level (Maryland and likely Rutgers) for depth.  As much as fans want every expansion move to be as sexy as adding Nebraska, the reality is that pretty much all of the conference realignment moves in the power conferences were about depth as opposed to headlining.  Texas A&M being added by the SEC was probably the best pure football move from a fan perspective in the last three years outside of the Big Ten expanding with Nebraska, but even then, the draw of the Aggies was predominantly about the SEC getting into the state of Texas for TV purposes (as they will likely have their own conference network coming together sooner rather than later).

The notion of a “Midwestern conference” is over for the Big Ten just as the notion of a tight Southern-based conference has long been over for the ACC ever since it decided to add Boston College (along with Miami and Virginia Tech) in 2003.  As Teddy Greenstein noted in the Chicago Tribune, the addition of Rutgers and Maryland is a long-term play for Jim Delany and the Big Ten driven by demographics.  Arguably, the Big Ten has been in the worst position of any of the power conferences when looking at long-term population trends, as the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC all have large presences in fast growing Southern and/or Western states.  The additions of the states of Maryland and New Jersey mitigate that a bit while still not going completely expanding with geographic outliers.  It also doesn’t hurt that these are both recruiting rich states (at least by Northern standards) for football and basketball.  For the Big Ten fans that bemoan the loss of “Midwesterness”, the demographic makeup of the league was legitimately something that had to change regardless of the presence of the Big Ten Network or TV dollars.  Maryland and Rutgers may not be very exciting additions in 2014, but they’ll be extremely important for the long-term health of the Big Ten in 2024 and beyond.

With respect to those TV dollars, as I stated in my post on Saturday, I unequivocally believe that Maryland can deliver the Washington, DC/Baltimore region for the Big Ten Network (and when I say “deliver”, I mean basic carriage at a high “Big Ten footprint” subscriber rate as opposed to the sports tier and/or lower out-of-footprint rate).  That’s why this expansion hinged upon Maryland accepting since they are considered to be a sure thing business-wise.  The real all-in bet for Jim Delany and the Big Ten, though, is with the addition of Rutgers.  Judging by the media commentary and Twitter reactions, there is a healthy skepticism out there about whether Rutgers has the ability to deliver the New York City market, which I agree with at a certain level and have pointed out on this blog numerous times.  This is definitely not a slam dunk by any means.

However, I also don’t believe the Big Ten is naive enough to think that it is just about Rutgers alone delivering that market.  Instead, the conference is likely banking on the immediate geographic presence of Rutgers combined with the large number of other Big Ten alums living in the New York City metro region (particularly from Penn State, Michigan and newly-added Maryland) to gain just enough traction to make it viable.  If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”, the Big Ten is betting that the network effect of Rutgers being added to all of the existing Big Ten alums in the Tri-State area will have a greater impact than Rutgers alone (or Rutgers combined with the various past and present members of the Big East).  I’m not saying that this will definitely work – this is big-time risk for a conference that isn’t known for big-time risks.  The main point is that this move is not just about what Rutgers alone can deliver in the New York City market, but rather what Rutgers plus all of the other Big Ten fans in that region can deliver just enough there.  No one in the Big Ten is expecting New York sports fans to follow college football like people in Birmingham – the percentage of fans that need to be interested in college sports in that market for the conference to garner the value it needs there is much lower than anywhere else.

Some other thoughts:

  • As much as a lot of people have pointed out the “cultural differences” and geographic distances between Maryland and the rest of the Big Ten, this is a fairly mild change on those fronts by conference realignment standards.  In terms of being a large research institution with excellent academics, Maryland fits in very well with the Big Ten as a school.  At the same time, Maryland won’t exactly be sticking out like a sore thumb in the league, especially with Rutgers being added at the same time and Penn State being in a contiguous state.  This is nowhere near the cultural and geographic differences between West Virginia and the rest of the Big 12 or the current-football-setup-that’s-about-to-change in the Big East.
  • Despite my belief that Maryland would have been foolish to turn down an invite from the Big Ten, I still continue to think that the ACC is stronger than people give it credit for.  The fact that Maryland is leaving doesn’t mean that it’s going to spark an exodus from the ACC overall, particularly with respect to never ending speculation that Florida State and Clemson would consider jumping to the Big 12.  There are two key differences between the Maryland situation and the Florida State/Clemson scenario: (1) outside of money, Maryland is moving to conference that it still fits into as an overall institution without insane geography issues, whereas FSU and Clemson have no real connections at all to the Big 12 and (2) when looking at the money, Maryland is going to receive a LOT LOT LOT more of an increase in TV rights fees by moving to the Big Ten than FSU and Clemson would receive in the Big 12.  Pete Thamel from Sports Illustrated pointed out that the Big Ten is anticipating $30 million to $35 million per school per year in just TV money when it enters into a new deal in 2017… and this appears to be a low end estimate that assumes that there won’t be full BTN carriage in markets covered by Maryland and Rutgers.  (If the Big Ten Network can get a full in-market rate in the NYC and DC markets, then those numbers are going to go up even further.)  The current ACC contract with ESPN that runs through 2027 will pay out an average of $17.1 million per school per year, which means that Maryland is looking at a 100% increase in TV rights money as a conservative estimate.  Contrast this with Florida State and Clemson, where they’d be looking at a bump up to $20 million per school per year in the Big 12’s national TV deals plus whatever they’d be able to garner for third tier TV rights locally.  That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but likely not enough considering that there would be much worse cultural and geographic headaches compared to the Maryland move that will yield far more revenue for the Terps.  Therefore, my semi-educated guess is that the ACC doesn’t lose anyone else in the near-term.
  • Assuming that what I just said about the ACC only losing Maryland holds true, I continue to firmly believe that UConn is going to end up as the Terrapins’ replacement.  From a pure football and even overall athletic department perspective, Louisville is probably the better choice for the ACC, but the league is still one that considers institutional fit and academic profile as being extremely important factors in expansion.  Connecticut is in alignment with the ACC on such factors in a way that Louisville isn’t and, when looking at the ACC’s long-term vision, the Huskies match what the league is looking for in terms of getting into the Northeast as much as possible.  The network effects that apply to Maryland/Rutgers/Penn State for the Big Ten can also apply to UConn/Syracuse/Pitt/Boston College (albeit that’s effectively going back to the old Big East).
  • That leaves Louisville likely praying for the Big 12 to get antsy.  Chip Brown of Orangebloods has stated that the Big 12 isn’t looking to move off of 10 teams for now and I tend to believe him in the short-term.  However, as much as we parse objective TV revenue and demographic data in conference realignment, there’s also a subjective psychological element of “bigger means better” that has been permeating throughout the land.  So, let’s say that it’s about a 60% chance that the Big 12 doesn’t expand within the next few years and a 40% chance that it goes up to 12 (with Louisville being the top target, BYU likely getting consideration, and schools like Cincinnati and USF begging to get in).  That’s up from a 90/10 split prior to the latest Big Ten expansion news, so we’ll have to keep an eye on the Big 12.  (As I’ve noted earlier, I still don’t buy any ACC schools moving to the Big 12.  If anything, it wouldn’t shock me if Texas goes independent and strikes a Notre Dame-type deal with the ACC by the end of this decade.)

The crazy thing is that we’ve only touched the surface here, as the likely defections of Rutgers and Connecticut will leave the Big East searching for new members once again (or maybe preventing Boise State and San Diego State from heading back to the Mountain West or the Catholic non-football members from splitting).  Assuming that Rutgers announces that it’s accepting an invitation to the Big Ten tomorrow, I’ll have more on what the Big East can and/or should do at this point along with the trickle down effect on all of the other conferences.

Until then, welcome to the Big Ten, Maryland!

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

(Image from Testudo Times)

The University of Maryland Board of Regents has accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten.  Rutgers might be soon to follow.  I’ll have some further thoughts later today, but for now, here is an open thread to discuss the latest conference realignment news.

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

(Image from University of Maryland)

Ah, I love the smell of napalm and crushed Big Ten expansion dreams in the morning.  Judging by the over 1000 comments to last week’s post (a record number for the blog), we’re all exasperated that Jim Delany and the Big Ten have at least publicly stated that they will stick to original timetable of 12-18 months to examine expansion candidates.  This is certainly a fascinating topic, but Lord help me if I’m still speculating12 months from now about who the Big Ten will be adding.  At that point, I’d rather be speculating about… Big East expansion!  Let’s get to my thoughts on last week’s events:

(1) You lie!!! – In all seriousness, I’m not one of those people that subscribe to conspiracy theories and break every conference official comment down like the Zapruder film.  However, if there’s one thing that needs to be beaten into people’s heads after this past week, it’s this: TRUST NO ONE.  The various of lists of 5 and 15 candidates that the Big Ten leaked and every public comment that has been uttered mean nothing to me at this point.  The one reporter that seemed to actually have a decent clue as to what was going on in the Big Ten expansion story, Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, appeared to get solid information that the conference was fast-tracking adding new schools and then had to make a complete retraction a couple days later.  If Greenstein is getting played by the Big Ten, then every other reporter is getting played, as well.  I’ve received info from credible people that Texas and Notre Dame are definitely still in legitimate play for the Big Ten and other info that the conference has moved on regarding both of them.  Commenters have posted information suggesting that Maryland preemptively nixed any consideration for Big Ten membership and that Northwestern’s president revealed to a sorority that the conference had actually made a decision as to who it was inviting.  Tom Shatel, one of the Nebraska beat writers at the Omaha World-Herald, shared his frustration that people he trusted last week that stated that the Cornhuskers weren’t part of the Big Ten expansion talks are now saying that the school is definitely in the mix.  It’s impossible to parse through what’s true or false in all of this.

At this point, there is no combination of Notre Dame and/or any Big East and/or Big 12 schools that are AAU members that would surprise me.  If the Big Ten announces in June 2011 that it’s adding Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers, I wouldn’t flinch.  If the Big Ten announces in 2 weeks that it’s adding Texas, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, it wouldn’t faze me at all.  It’s all fair game at this point.  The leaks so far have been so contradictory that we’re all better off assuming that they’re red herrings.  There’s a plan out there that might be way more aggressive than even the Super Death Star Conference that I’ve brought up or it could very well be a conservative addition of a geographically contiguous school or 3 purely for households.  No one except for Jim Delany and the Big Ten university presidents knows WTF is going on.

Of course, we’ll still have fun pouncing on every leak and rumor in the meantime.

(2) Backdoor meetings are where it’s at – Some commenters astutely noted that Jim Delany isn’t going to call a press conference one day and say, “I’ve just informed the Big East and Big XII that they need to bend over and assume the position.”  If and when Delany talks to his fellow commissioners, it’s going to be private and it’s likely such commissioners would want to keep it that way so they can start planning for their own raids of leagues like the Mountain West and Conference USA.  Delany would certainly not want anything to do with speaking about anything substantive with the feeding frenzy of the media horde gathered at the BCS meetings last week.  This seems like such a simple and logical concept, yet in a world where we’re craving information on this subject, we’re dying for any type of official statement of a go-ahead.

(3) Time is on the Big Ten’s side – I really doubt the Big Ten is going to take the full 12-18 months to examine this expansion issue.  That’s just my gut feeling as the university presidents likely wouldn’t be able to stomach having this story hanging over their heads in the press for such a long period of time.  It could very well be the case that the Big Ten’s university presidents know how they want to proceed and that they simply didn’t want Delany to inform the Big 12 and/or Big East commissioners of the Big Ten’s targets at the media-filled BCS meetings.  Honestly, I don’t know what could be taking so long unless the Big Ten is vetting every single possibility with the two schools that matter the most: Notre Dame and Texas.  Those are certainly two schools worth waiting for if the Big Ten believes that either of them would be willing to join.  Every single other school in the Big East and Big XII would leap toward Big Ten membership, so if the Big Ten was solely targeting non-Notre Dame/Texas schools, this could’ve been wrapped up weeks ago.

(4) Big East being “proactive” by “hiring” Paul Tagliabue and expanding to Jacksonville – As Brian Cook of Sporting News and mgoblog (not the former Illini quasi-great) stated, “Soviet Big East Raids You!”  (I’m not going to lie – I could keep myself entertained making up Yakov Smirnoff-isms for hours at a time.)  On paper, it sounds like a massive coup that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been tapped as a strategist for the Big East.  He’s actually providing his services pro bono because he has a very direct interest in how all of this plays out as Chairman of the Board of the Directors at Georgetown.  What does this mean?  Well, if Tagliabue has anything to do with it, the hybrid format of the conference will continue on into perpetuity.  Georgetown would be severely damaged if the Big East split up and one of his tasks will be to ensure that doesn’t happen.  If the Big East were to lose multiple schools, he has the gravitas to tell schools that might be ready to split (i.e. Louisville) that the hybrid is still the revenue maximization model for the conference.  The Big East football schools might not trust anything that the Big East office says anymore, but if the former commissioner of the NFL says that ESPN will still pay a lot more money for a hybrid league than a split league, then that’s going to carry a lot of weight.  As a DePaul law grad, though, I really hope that Tagliabue doesn’t decide that the Big East would be better off skipping the Los Angeles market in favor of the next municipality that whores itself with a taxpayer-financed stadium.

Honestly, there is absolutely nothing “proactive” that the Big East can do at this point to prevent a member from leaving for the Big Ten.  Even if the Big East could somehow create a new TV network that could generate large amounts of cash, there’s no way that could be up and running even if the Big Ten takes the maximum amount of time to complete its expansion process.

Of course, Tagliabue unintentionally torpedoed the prospect of the Big East ever creating its own network by dumping on the thought that the Big Ten adding schools in the New York area would deliver homes for the Big Ten Network by saying the following:

“One of the real challenges for the networks is to provide value, but you only provide value in markets where you provide traction,” he said. “Is Minnesota and Rutgers going to get a big rating on Long Island? Give me a break. Every game isn’t Michigan and Michigan State.” He added, “Am I going to rush home from a tennis game on Saturday to watch Minnesota and Rutgers if I live on Long Island?”

Now, I’m not exactly a favorite person with the Rutgers message board crowd, but I’ve got to defend the school here.  WTF was Tagliabue doing completely ripping apart a current member of the Big East when his job is to presumably keep the conference intact?  Maybe he was suggesting that Midwestern schools like Minnesota wouldn’t exactly attract the Long Island tennis club crowd, which is likely true, yet that’s quite a disingenuous statement coming from someone representing a league that includes Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati (who don’t conjure up images of summer parties in the Hamptons).  In fact, the highly-rated 2006 Rutgers game where the Empire State Building was lit up in scarlet red was against Louisville as opposed to an Eastern school, which goes to show you that New Yorkers simply want to watch good teams play other good teams regardless of geographic location.  If I were a Rutgers fan, I don’t know how I could deal with someone in a leadership position in the Big East saying that about my school.  At worst, it was a complete cheap shot and at best, it came off extremely wrong with logic that didn’t follow considering that the Big East isn’t a purely Northeastern football league anymore.

(5) ESS – EEE – SEE SPEEEED! – SEC Commissioner Mike Slive articulated the real reason for expansion: it’s a high stakes pissing contest to see who can lay claim to the “Bad Motherfucker” wallet.  More than anyone, there’s kind of this lingering assumption that if the Big Ten expands to 16 schools, then the SEC MUST respond because it simply can’t handle not being the biggest (and therefore, the best).

Frankly, this line of thinking doesn’t make sense to me at all.  I know a lot of fairly knowledgeable people are convinced that we’re going to end up with 4 16-team superconferences after everything shakes out, yet too many people seem to forget that every single conference other than the Big Ten doesn’t have a financial vehicle like the Big Ten Network that would make it financially viable to perform such a large-scale expansion.  The Big Ten isn’t expanding just to expand – it’s looking to maximize the per-school payout for each of its members.  All of the other conferences are going to do the same and I fail to see how any of them would be able to make it a profitable venture to expand beyond 12 without its own conference network.  Heck, even the Big Ten isn’t guaranteed a windfall by going beyond 12 schools (even though it at least has an argument with the Big Ten Network).

In the case of the SEC, there are very few schools that make sense for it in terms of expansion at all.  I see names thrown around like Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson, but all of them would be duplicate teams in markets that the SEC already owns.  There’s very little point in the SEC adding more schools within its current footprint.  In fact, there are only two markets that would add value to the SEC:  Texas and North Carolina.  The problem is that in order to obtain those markets, it would need to try to add the University of Texas and UNC, both of whom would likely completely shun the SEC due to academic reasons.  Throughout this process, I’ve corresponded with many Texas alums (NOT the T-shirt fans that just care about football) and they’re pretty much unanimous in stating that the UT administration will NEVER entertain any thought of joining the SEC.  It cannot be underestimated how much the academically-minded administrators at Texas loathe the thought of the SEC.  I think about this every time I see a columnist wrongly assume that “Texas = South” and therefore “Texas = SEC”, when in reality UT likens itself to be more like Berkeley or Michigan as opposed to any of the SEC schools.  UNC is even more snobby with respect to academics and the Tar Heels have emotional ties to the ACC that go far beyond what Texas has with the Big XII.  So, the chances of the SEC adding either of those schools is between slim and none.  Without them, there aren’t any other worthy markets in the South that the SEC hasn’t already covered.

(6) Why is this topic addictive? – A number of commenters have been wondering about why this expansion topic is so fascinating.  As someone that had been writing this blog for 5 years about a variety of subjects and didn’t focus on conference realignment until the last few months, I’ve also been thinking about how I got hooked on it.  At least for me, I’ve always enjoyed writing about big-picture movements in the sports world and you really can’t get much more big-picture than power schools switching conferences.  Could you imagine if the Yankees and Red Sox approached the Cubs and Dodgers to join the AL East in order to form a super-division of all of baseball’s most popular teams?  (Please note that as a die-hard White Sox fan, it pains me to admit how popular the Cubs are and will likely always be.  I take solace in the fact that they’re paying $19 million to an 8th-inning setup guy.)  Well, the equivalent isn’t just possible in college sports, but it’s happened numerous times.  Within the past 20 years, Penn State joined the Big Ten, Miami joined the Big East and then later switched to the ACC and Texas helped form the Big XII and could be on the move again.

Let’s face it, though: this is like crack-cocaine to the sports blogging world.  As regular commenter allthatyoucanleavebehind noted, it’s a lot more fun to talk about expanding with schools like Syracuse and Rutgers (or really anyone other than the massive players like Texas, Notre Dame and Nebraska) than to actually have to play them when expansion finally occurs.  Once the Big Ten actually makes an announcement regarding expansion, we won’t have a quick fix of speculative blogging material anymore… at least until we start talking about Big XII expansion.

At that point, all I’ll want to do is to rush home from my tennis match to catch the Illinois vs. Rutgers game.

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

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Tony Barnhart, a fairly well-connected college football writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, dropped some titillating tidbits about the Big Ten’s expansion plans today.  He often writes from the SEC perspective (as to be expected being based in Hot-lanta), yet he has a solid reputation of not reporting much bunk.  Here’s the money quote:

The other big topic here has a chance to completely change college football as we know it. I’ve spoken to a number of athletics directors and commissioners who are convinced that the Big Ten is positioning itself to seriously consider becoming college football first super conference by expanding to as many as 16 teams.

The Big Ten is looking at three plans: Stand pat with 11 teams, add one team (hopefully Notre Dame) or make a blockbuster move and go to 16.

“If they go to 16 and one of them is Notre Dame then we’ve got an entirely new ball game,” a conference commissioner told me confidentially.

Whoa!  I was just wrapping my head around the thought of the Big Ten moving up to 14 schools, yet Barnhart is suggesting that isn’t even an option on the table.  He seems to be saying that the Big Ten wants to either go big up to 16 or go home.  Now, I don’t personally feel the love for a 16-school behemoth in the same manner that a lot of the readers of this blog do (and I attempted to throw a lot of water on the notion of superconferences early on).  I’ve long felt that 12 schools is really the perfect number for a conference and it would take a massive financial windfall in order to make a multi-school expansion work for the Big Ten.  Still, it’s worth examining which 5-school expansion combinations could work for the Big Ten if it’s really on the table.  I’m going to use the following assumptions that will be required for any 16-school Big Ten:

(1) Notre Dame MUST be involved – The amount of chatter coming from the Domers (both in support of a move to the Big Ten and, more loudly, in support of completely removing the football program altogether) indicates that Notre Dame’s leadership (if not its alumni base) is reading the tea leaves of conference realignment and is positioned to move.  I have long felt that Big Ten expansion would not occur without either Notre Dame or Texas and this is exponentially true with any multi-school expansion.  Over the past few weeks, there have been quotes from Notre Dame’s Executive Vice President, Athletic Director, football coach and basketball coach all either being extremely squishy on the school’s future as an independent or, in the case of Mike Brey, straight-up believing that Notre Dame will be in the Big Ten sooner rather than later.  Thus, let’s ignore all proposals of Big Ten expansion combinations that don’t include Notre Dame from this point forward.  The Big Ten isn’t going to add 5 schools without one of them being Notre Dame.

(2) The Big Ten won’t kill any conferences… only mortally wound them – The Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith went on the record a couple of days ago saying that he preferred that the Big Ten expand by multiple schools.  He also noted that he had faith that whichever conference or conferences were affected would be able to find replacement schools and live on.  I buy that line of thinking – the Big Ten isn’t in the business of killing off conferences if only for the fact that it’s pointless to be a dominant force if there aren’t any other conferences to dominate.  At the same time, I’m fairly certain that the Big Ten understands that if the Big East schools were really that valuable, that Big East’s current per school TV payouts wouldn’t be less than the annual interest that Northwestern receives on its Big Ten TV paychecks.  So, I highly doubt that we’ll be seeing the Big Ten add 4 Big East schools on top of Notre Dame.  More likely, we’ll see the Big East and Big XII affected along with a small possibility of the ACC being hit.  Instead of completely murdering the Big East, the Big Ten would likely leave several conferences with flesh wounds like the Black Knight from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’

(Speaking of murder, CBS just destroyed two decades worth of goodwill in a 3-minute span with its horrific NCAA Tournament montage last night.  That wasn’t “One Shining Moment” – instead, that was Sonny Corleone visiting a toll booth.  It was bad enough that the network decided to replace the version sung by the late Luther Vandross with a new shrill piece from Jennifer Hudson.  Yet, CBS compounded its mistake further by splicing in several shots of Hudson throughout the montage which could have been used for actual game footage that was sorely lacking.  It’s ridiculous that a “One Shining Moment” montage would have absolutely no recognition of national player of the year Evan Turner, the upset by #14 Ohio over #3 Georgetown, the existence of #1 seed Syracuse and, worst of all, ZERO footage of the double-overtime game between Kansas State and Xavier.  Advice to CBS executives: don’t tailor “One Shining Moment” based on feedback from focus groups that watch “The View”.  This way, you can avoid pissing people off that watch the NCAA Tournament because they actually like basketball instead of seeing Jennifer Hudson’s mug when “the ball is tipped.”  At least CBS News has noticed that the public isn’t very happy.  This has made me so angry that I encourage all of you to participate in faux activism via Facebook.)

(3) Rutgers and Syracuse are virtual locks – Whether you like them or not, it would be hard enough for a 14-school Big Ten to be financially viable without the New York City market sans Texas.  If a 16-school conference comes to fruition, then it removes all doubt whatsoever that adding on the NYC DMA is an absolute requirement for the Big Ten.  To me, this mandates adding both of Rutgers and Syracuse.  (I’ll again duly note a number of knowledgeable commenters that don’t think Syracuse would fit in the Big Ten, but the fact remains that it’s an AAU member in the top 60 of the US News rankings with the only BCS football program in the entire state of New York with 20 million people along with a marquee basketball program with a lot of NYC fans.  There’s a reason why the ACC really wanted Syracuse as opposed to Virginia Tech when it raided the Big East back in 2003.)

Under those guiding parameters, here are the main 16-school scenarios that I believe could work for the Big Ten:

  • JoePa’s Wet Dream Conference (Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, Boston College and Maryland)  – This is simple enough: let’s take the original “JoePa’s Dream Conference” that I had proposed with Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse as additions and then tack on Boston College and Maryland on top of them.  This effectively allows the Big Ten to capture the entire Northeast while, at least on paper, adding the New York, Boston and Washington markets.  With Notre Dame and Penn State as anchors, the Big Ten Network could get into basic cable households that aren’t even necessarily in Big Ten states (i.e. the other New England states, Northern Virginia near DC, etc.).  These are all academically impressive schools (even if some people might quibble with the graduate research capabilities of BC and Syracuse) that could deliver 3 massive and very affluent markets on the East Coast.  The problem that I foresee is that I still believe that any ACC school is higher hanging fruit in terms of the Big Ten trying to lure one of them, whereas there are Big East and Big XII schools that could provide similar value as lower hanging fruit.

 

  • Imperial Star Destroyer Conference (Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, Nebraska and Kansas) – The more I look at this hypothetical conference, the more I like it.  Rutgers and Syracuse provide a concrete base of households to the East, but Nebraska and Kansas provide the national brand names to the West.  This type of expansion is less about pure market grabs and more about making the Big Ten Network into a true national property.  A football conference with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame and Nebraska going at each other in the fall?  A basketball conference with Kansas, Michigan State, Syracuse, Indiana (assuming that the Hoosiers will be resurrected at some point) and Illinois going at each other in the winter?  That’s extremely enticing from a national perspective.  I’ve been hammering away regarding the importance of TV markets to the Big Ten Network, but let’s not suspend all common sense here by trying to argue that a mere presence in a large market is always going to be more valuable than a powerful national presence that’s located in a smaller market.  Adding a football program like Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, a blue blood basketball program like Kansas could compensate for their smaller home population bases by drawing enough demand for games to raise rates within the current Big Ten footprint and inducing more basic cable operators to sign up outside of that footprint.  Plus, schools such as Nebraska and Kansas would actually be fairly happy to join the Big Ten (at least at the administrative level) and wouldn’t have to deal with torch-wielding alums like Notre Dame or crazy politicians like Texas.

    I’m sure a few of you out there are wondering: why not Missouri instead of Kansas?  Part of it is that Missouri’s potential value to the Big Ten is very overrated by outsiders.  The Big Ten Network is already on basic cable in the St. Louis market due to the presence of Illinois alums and fans, which means the main market that the conference would add with Mizzou is Kansas City.  However, Kansas is arguably much more popular in that market AND has a marquee basketball name nationally.  At the end of the day, the St. Louis and Kansas City markets really don’t provide much impact to the Big Ten, which already has Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and the entire state of Ohio in the fold.  So, the better play if the Big Ten wants to poach any schools from the Big XII is to go for the more nationally prominent programs.  I’ve emphasized that basketball isn’t a top consideration in expansion matters compared to football, but Kansas is a special case that’s up there with Duke, UNC and Kentucky in terms of national drawing power.

 

  • Death Star Conference (Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas and Texas A&M) – No real explanation needed as to how adding the two main Texas schools on top of Notre Dame and the New York market would completely alter the college sports landscape.  I think even the Domers would come around to being in this type of conference.  The chatter has certainly died down about the Texas schools moving over to the Big Ten, yet it’s still an intriguing possibility.

I’m still extremely skeptical of the current Big Ten members ever voting to expand the conference by nearly 50% when it has only added two new members in the past 90 years.  That being said, the Big Ten Network has changed everything in terms of how we look at expansion and Notre Dame effectively said that it has no choice but to join a superconference if it were ever to come to fruition.  If the Big Ten can’t get the Texas schools, I’m warming up to the thought of the Imperial Star Destroyer Conference.  I’ll emphasize again that I don’t personally support having such a massive change (when you get past 12 schools, you risk of no longer being a tight conference and becoming a loose confederation).  However, it may not matter since the wild predictions of a “Big Tent” conference aren’t as crazy as I thought a few months ago.

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

(Image from Almost Not There)

Lots of people have been discussing in the comments section on the “Template for Shooting Down Any Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten” post a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel stating that the Big Ten has hired a research firm to evaluate an “initial list” of 15 schools, with a quote from Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez saying that Texas isn’t on that initial list.  (H/T to WolverinePhD, among others, for sending in the link.)  I don’t interpret this study as Texas not being a target.  As Dennis Dodd stated on CBS Sportsline (who has voiced skepticism about Texas joining the Big Ten):

[I]f Notre Dame and/or Texas showed a willingness to join the Big Ten, there wouldn’t be much research to do.  The two schools are seen as the only slam-dunk candidates in an otherwise muddied expansion picture.

Exactly.  The Big Ten doesn’t need to pay presumably tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) to hire a research firm to say that “Adding Texas and Notre Dame would be sweeeeeeeeeet!!!”.  The conference knows that already and its university presidents don’t need to be convinced of the attributes of those schools.  Instead, you hire a research firm to evaluate the schools that you AREN’T sure of and look at the positives and negatives of them.  A research firm that’s providing value is going to look at issues that aren’t obvious, such as whether Syracuse or Rutgers can really deliver the New York City market or Nebraska’s national brand name can compensate for its small home market.  It’s a waste of money to have someone come in and state that “Texas would really add a lot of eyeballs to the Big Ten Network while being awesome in sports and academics.”  No shit, Sherlock.  Tell me something that I don’t know.

The fact that the Big Ten has a list of 15 schools that it’s looking at is an indication that the conference is looking at numerous schools that are significantly outside of its conference geographic footprint.  To me, this exercise looks a lot more like an evaluation of “Who do we add on top of Texas and/or Notre Dame if we’re willing to go to 14 schools?”  From a realistic standpoint, schools from the SEC aren’t going to ever move while the 2 schools that the Big Ten would want from the Pac-10 (USC and UCLA) are no-brainers in the same category as Texas and Notre Dame where there’s no point in even examining them because they’re in if they want to join.  Here is my semi-educated guess as to who is on that list of 15 schools as well as the key questions that the Big Ten ought to be asking about them:

1.  Syracuse – Does it really bring in the NYC market?  Can it bring in the NYC market when it’s combined with Penn State?  If yes, does Syracuse or Rutgers do this better?

2.  Rutgers – See comment for Syracuse.

3.  UCONN – Can it make inroads into both the NYC and Boston markets?  It’s not an AAU member but its overall rankings are pretty solid, so is that good enough academically?  Is the youth of the football program at the Division 1-A level a complete non-starter?

4.  Pitt – Great for both academics and athletics, but can they really add much in terms of TV viewers with Penn State already delivering the Pittsburgh market, especially when there are other candidates that are similar but can bring in new markets?

5.  Maryland – Is it more trustworthy in its ability to deliver the DC and Baltimore markets than the other East Coast candidates with respect to their own markets?  What does a Maryland/Penn State combo do for the conference in terms of delivering the Mid-Atlantic region?  Is there enough commitment to the football program in terms of long-term competitiveness?

6.  Virginia – An unequivocal academic superstar, but are its athletic programs good enough to add more value?  Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland?

7.  Virginia Tech – Rising in terms of academics but not an AAU member, so is that satisfactory?  Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland or UVA?

8.  Boston College – Can it really deliver the Boston market?  Is the fan base large enough to justify inclusion?  Very strong undergrad program but isn’t an AAU member, so will it fit academically?

9.  Miami – Can it deliver the Florida market by itself?  It’s not an AAU member and doesn’t have great graduate programs, but it’s a top 50 undergrad school.  Is that enough in terms of academics?  Is the poor attendance and traveling fan base for the football program trumped by its extremely strong national TV drawing power?

10.  Missouri – Has the ability to draw in the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, but is that enough considering that there are options in more populous regions like the Northeast, Florida and Texas?  Many assume that it’s an academic fit as an AAU member, but it’s actually lower in the US News rankings than Nebraska, so does it really meet the Big Ten’s academic requirements?

11.  Nebraska – Is the national drawing power of its football program enough to compensate for its tiny home TV market?  Lots of questions as to whether it would be an academic fit even though it’s an AAU member already.  Does it meet the Big Ten’s academic standards?

12.  Colorado – Long assumed to be a top Pac-10 target, but could it be a viable Big Ten candidate since it’s actually a better academic and cultural fit with the Big Ten than anyone in the Big XII besides Texas?  Is the population growth trend in the Denver area more attractive than adding presently larger markets like the state of Missouri when looking at this decision 20 or 30 years down the road?

13.  Oklahoma – Obvious national football power, but without AAU membership (unlike Missouri or Nebraska) or high academic rankings (unlike UConn), can it fit in academically?

14.  Kansas – 99% of these decisions are about football, but Kansas isn’t any ordinary basketball school (where only Duke, UNC and Kentucky can compare nationally).  Is the elite status of its basketball program enough to compensate for a historically weak football program that no longer has the services of Baby Mangino?

15.  Texas A&M – Is the Big Ten truly fine with the thought of Texas A&M coming along with Texas in a package deal?  Are the Aggies really a threat to go to the SEC if the Big Ten doesn’t invite them?  What do they bring to the table that Texas doesn’t bring alone?

The Big Ten will NOT expand unless it adds Texas and/or Notre Dame.  The conference is in a financial position where it doesn’t make any sense to settle for anything less.  This “initial list” is examining who might come along for the ride on top of the main targets.

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

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