Posts Tagged ‘Missouri to the SEC’

After almost two months of a public kabuki dance marked by Board of Regents meetings, authorizations authorizing prior authorizations and accidental web postings of press releases, Missouri has finally been officially invited to be the third group of Tigers in the SEC.  Most people that have followed college conference changes closely over the past year (like most of the readers here) understand that it was pretty much a no-brainer move for Missouri.  When I first started writing about conference realignment in connection with Big Ten expansion, I urged people to “Think like a university president and not like a sports fan.”  In many ways, Missouri moving to the SEC is the ultimate example of this way of thinking (and why, as Andy Staples aptly points out in SI.com, a lot of fans not attuned to the business issues at hand have a hard time understanding it).  Missouri is giving up several rivalries that have lasted over 100 years (including its most important one with Kansas), a Midwestern culture that most of the state’s population is a part of (even if certain parts such as Branson, AKA “Vegas for people without teeth”, might be more southern in nature) and Texas recruiting grounds all the while joining a meat grinder of a football conference.  To many sports fans, this is insanity for Missouri to leave for the SEC.  To university presidents that are looking for financial stability over everything else, though, the only insane choice would’ve been for Missouri to stay in the Big 12.  It comes down to this: if you had to wager your life savings on whether the SEC or the Big 12 would be around in 10 years, which would you choose?  Seeing how many times the Big 12 was placed on its deathbed over the last 18 months, it’s pretty simple to see that Missouri had to take a lifeline to head south.

In tandem with the Missouri news, West Virginia and the Big East are slapping each other with lawsuits with respect to the Mountaineers’ move to take the Tigers’ place in the Big 12.  The core issue is the 27-month notice period that the Big East requires for schools that leave the conference.  Now, as a lawyer that has the Lt. Kaffee “So this is what a courtroom looks like?” approach to litigation, I see the word “buyout” whenever I come across any long notice period in a contract.  In practicality, most parties that intend to end a business relationship want to get it over with ASAP.  At the same time, the law generally favors the payment of monetary damages as compensation for a breach of contract instead of specific performance.  Putting aside the fact that West Virginia’s lawsuit against the Big East looks like it was written in crayon (this complaint is really about WVU trying to avoid having to pay any monetary damages at all, which won’t fly), there’s absolutely no freaking way that the school will be forced to stay for that entire 27-month period (which prevent a move to the Big 12 until the 2014 season).  The Big East has to take a hardline posture on the notice period publicly in order to preserve its leverage against West Virginia (and, for that matter, its defectors to the ACC of Syracuse and Pittsburgh), but this is exactly the type of situation that calls for a financial settlement instead of specific performance.  I could see the three Big East defectors staying for the 2012 season if the conference isn’t able to add its own expansion targets prior to that time (in which case, specific performance is necessary as a result of the Big East not having enough members to exist as a football league in 2012 if those defectors left at that time).  However, with the expectation being that the “new Big East” would be in place in 2013, there’s little reason why West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt would need to stay beyond that point provided that they pay monetary damages.  (Note that while Syracuse and Pitt seem to be publicly quiet on the notice period issue, no one should take that to mean that they accept it.  Rest assured, they’re trying to get out of the Big East with the same amount of urgency as West Virginia.)

Speaking of the Big East expansion targets, my football-only Big Country Conference dream has taken another step forward with the Idaho State Board of Education approving Boise State taking steps to join the Big East (although that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re joining as of yet).  Boise State president Bob Kustra (who was actually Lt. Governor of Illinois under the Jim Edgar administration in the 1990s) actually had to be very forthright with the Board regarding the possible domino effect of the school’s potential move as it could very well impact the University of Idaho’s home of the WAC (which the Board also oversees).  He noted that WAC members Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State could head to Conference USA while Utah State and San Jose State may end up in the Mountain West.  That would mean that Idaho would be left behind with only newly admitted members Texas State and Texas-San Antonio.  With all of the political issues with separating and/or joining schools in other states (i.e. Texas politicians forcing Baylor and Texas Tech into the Big 12, the Virginia legislature forcing UVA to get Virginia Tech into the ACC, the binding of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, etc.), it’s interesting to see that the Idaho State Board of Education is willing to send the Vandals’ entire athletic department to the intensive care unit so that Boise State can get an AQ conference football-only invite.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I actually like the Big East’s intended expansion (adding Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and Houston, SMU and Central Florida as all-sports members) as a form of AQ status triage.  If the Big East could get BYU to join as a football-only member, it would be an absolute coup.  However, one major impediment (outside of BYU catching Notre Dame-itis in its view of its self-importance as an independent) is the widely rumored belief that Comcast/NBC may go after the Big East’s TV rights next year.  (From everything that I’ve seen, this rumor is completely blog and message board speculation without any backup, so we must assume that it’s true!)  Seeing that the entire reason why BYU left the Mountain West for independence was to get away from Comcast, I have a hard time seeing BYU joining the Big East if a Comcast deal is on the horizon.  In turn, I also can’t see the Big East foreclosing any future media rights opportunities simply to add BYU.  As with the Big 12, BYU’s TV rights situation is going to be the real issue with the school being an expansion target for the Big East as opposed to the red herring of Sunday play (which wouldn’t even apply in the case of a football-only invite).

Finally, we’ve gotten to the point in conference realignment where I hear “San Diego State is a Big East candidate” and don’t even flinch.  Frankly, I like the Aztecs as much as any non-BYU western candidate for the Big East.  The Big Country Conference is destined to be born.

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

(Image from In 10 Words)

Advertisements

With West Virginia finally getting invited to the Big 12 after some political haggling, we are one step closer to the settling the composition of all six BCS automatic qualifier conferences for a few years.  This has brought up a whole slew of questions from Slant readers, which I’ll address here:

1.  Is Missouri really leaving for the SEC? – I’m not sure why this keeps getting asked between the accidental “we f**ked up” web posting on the SEC website announcing the addition of Mizzou and the conspicuous absence of any mention of the Tigers in the Big 12’s press release regarding West Virginia, but there are still constant lingering questions about whether the Columbia-based school is going to stay in the Big 12 or receive a last-second Big Ten invite.  As I’ve stated previously, the SEC has turned the normal expansion process for most conferences on its head by making its candidates go through a public kabuki dance, which elongates the time frame for getting a deal completed.  Make no mistake about it: Missouri is heading to the SEC.  It would be the dumbest conference choice in college sports history if Mizzou were to stay in the Big 12.

2.  What did the Big 12 see in West Virginia over Louisville? – For quite awhile, I thought Louisville was the top non-BYU expansion choice for the Big 12.  My impression is that most of the Big 12 presidents agreed with me from a cultural fit standpoint (along with slightly better geography), which is why so much of the chatter over the past month seemed to be centered on the Cardinals.  However, let’s not forget that there’s one big-time reason why the Big 12 is still alive and kicking today: Fox and ESPN have decided to pay the same amount for a 10-school conference without a championship game as it would have for a 12-school conference with a championship game.  Without those TV deals, the Big 12 would have been executed last summer.  As a result, the Big 12 had to listen to its TV partners or else risk getting a reduction in its rights fees.  When the media people came down strongly in favor of West Virginia, that was enough to get most of the Big 12 presidents to change their tune.

Despite the geographic issues, I see where the TV networks are coming from.  If you’re Average Joe Sports Fan in Any Town, USA, West Virginia versus Texas or Oklahoma is probably going to be a much more attractive TV matchup in an average season than Louisville versus those same schools.  (If you need a reminder, we’re solely talking football here.  Basketball is, unfortunately for this hoops fan, pretty much irrelevant.)  The irony is that the main knock against West Virginia as an expansion candidate for various leagues was its tiny home TV market, yet the school ended up getting into the Big 12 because of the TV networks wanted the Mountaineers.

3.  Is the Big 12 really going to stay at 10? – As long as the Big 12 is unable to get a deal done with BYU, I see the conference staying at 10.  While Louisville has solid athletic assets, it’s simply not a single expansion candidate school that the Big 12 would be willing to go up to 11 for and then split the league’s TV money different ways.  The Big Ten stayed at 11 for many years, but that was because (a) Penn State was school #11 and (b) they had always been waiting for a legit football king (initially Notre Dame and eventually Nebraska) as school #12.  The schools involved for the Big Ten were more than worth going up to an uneven numbered alignment and waiting for in such alignment.  That’s not quite the case for the Big 12.  At the same time, schools like Cincinnati won’t really provide enough revenue to be taken instead of BYU in a 12-school alignment.  Now, I still have a hard time believing that BYU won’t end up in the Big 12 at some point.  If/when that happens, I’d fully expect Louisville to make the move to the Big 12, too.

4.  Would Notre Dame join the Big 12 as a non-football member? – I think the Irish will stay in a wounded Big East (more on that later), but I’d give it a 30% chance of them heading to the Big 12 for non-football sports, with approximately a 0% chance of joining the ACC or Big Ten for all-sports.  It doesn’t matter that the geographic and institutional fit would be horrendous for Notre Dame in the Big 12.  As long as the Irish have a strong non-football option that allows them to maintain independence, they will ALWAYS choose such option.  It might not be rational to anyone that isn’t a Domer, but independence in and of itself will always be the top priority for that school.  Now, I can’t see any reason why Notre Dame would agree to play 6 Big 12 opponents per year (as Chip Brown of Orangebloods reported), as that just sounds like the opening bargaining position of Chuck Neimas/DeLoss Dodds.  The Irish playing 3 Big 12 opponents annually (2 of which are Texas and Oklahoma), though, is certainly doable if that’s what it takes to preserve independence overall.  The overarching point: Notre Dame going to the Big 12 for non-football sports is NOT crazy.

(To be sure, all of the Notre Dame-to-the-Big 12 reports so far have originated from Texas.  This is important because I find it hard to believe that any Big 12 member outside of Texas would grant Notre Dame partial membership when it would provide the Longhorns a direct precedent to do the exact same thing in a few years.  The Texas “commitment” to the Big 12 is what’s keeping the league from splitting apart, so it would be a disaster to watch them use Notre Dame as leverage to get their own independence in football/member in non-football sports deal.  If I were running any Big 12 school that wasn’t located in Austin, I would stay far away from granting Notre Dame a partial membership.  That’s just me, though.)

5.  Why don’t the other AQ conferences just kill the Big East? – This is near the top of frequently asked questions during this conference realignment cycle.  Putting aside the potential litigation issues, there’s a pretty basic and easy answer to this: the other AQ conferences don’t want the remaining Big East schools alone.  Maybe those schools would be fine as complementary pieces (Rutgers or UConn heading to the Big Ten or ACC in conjunction with Notre Dame or the aforementioned Louisville and BYU to the Big 12 scenario), but not as sole additions.  While the other AQ conferences might be annoyed that the Big East has AQ status, they aren’t going to take other Big East schools simply as a mechanism to get rid of that league.  It’s a whole lot cheaper for the AQ conferences to allow the Big East to keep its AQ status than to expand with schools that don’t bring in enough revenue.

6.  Will the Big East football schools finally split from the Catholic schools? – I’ll point back to my comparison of the Big East to Netflix and Qwikster as to why I don’t believe the Big East will split.  If anything, the defections of Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia make the Big East’s basketball TV and NCAA Tournament credit revenue even more important for the remaining schools.  Also, don’t disregard the Notre Dame factor.  The Irish hold a ton of sway with both the football and Catholic sides of the Big East – the former because Notre Dame alone can prevent further expansion by the Big Ten and ACC (which in turn protects the Big East from further raids) and the latter as a result of all major Catholic institutions wanting a direct link with the South Bend school.  The Big 12 non-football option mentioned earlier is definitely a viable one for Notre Dame, yet when it comes to having a presence in the markets the Domers actually care about and live in (New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, New England), the Big East still fits them best.  It’s just that a split Catholic-only league wouldn’t provide a strong enough non-football home for Notre Dame’s sports outside of men’s basketball.  So, the Irish are going to do everything that they can to keep the Big East hybrid together.  If I’m wrong and the Big East splits, I’d expect that Notre Dame will take up the Big 12 on a partial membership offer if it exists.

7.  Why wouldn’t Boise State stay in the Mountain West Conference/Conference USA Alliance instead of joining the Big East? Won’t the Big East lose its AQ status, meaning that Boise State would be taking a huge gamble? – I keep seeing comments that the Big East is unstable.  This is obviously very true.  However, every single conference besides the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and maybe the ACC could be considered to be completely unstable.  The one thing that the Big East has is AQ status in-hand.  This fact cannot be emphasized enough and provides the conference with a ton more leverage than many fans give it credit for.  It would be one thing if the Alliance were some type of bastion of stability itself with some type of assurance of AQ status in the future.  However, doesn’t anyone remember what happened to the Mountain West within weeks of Boise State joining that league?  It lost its three most valuable members: Utah, BYU and TCU.  So, how the heck is the Mountain West stable?  On the C-USA side of the Alliance, are Houston, SMU and UCF going turn down Big East invites?  Their departures would deplete the depth of the Alliance even further.  At the same time, there isn’t a single non-AQ school besides Boise State that has the recent resume of current Big East member Cincinnati (which finished #3 in the final BCS rankings in 2009).  The Bearcats alone give more numerical credence to the Big East retaining its AQ status in the future than any amalgamation of the MWC/C-USA Alliance.

At the same time, we saw Senator Mitch McConnell get involved last week with Louisville’s talks with the Big 12, so how likely are the other AQ conferences going to be willing to strip away the Big East’s AQ status with at least one powerful Louisville backer along with 2 service academies?  I just don’t see the Big Ten, SEC and others risking killing their control over the college football world by inviting a political firestorm just to get back one BCS bowl bid per year.  Dealing with the Big East is the political cost of doing business for the power conferences.

Everyone knows the saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Well, for any potential Alliance member (including Boise State), there isn’t even one bird in the bush to worry about.  The only chance that they have for long-term AQ status is to be in a rebuilt Big East that effectively annexes the top non-AQ schools and leaves behind the deadweight that have been dragging down the BCS criteria numbers for MWC and C-USA.  For those that think that Boise State has a lot of leverage, remember that this was a top 10 school last season that because of a single loss, ended up at the Las Vegas Bowl instead of a BCS game.  Even the most powerful programs go through down periods (see Notre Dame), so it would behoove Boise State to avoid becoming the football version of UNLV basketball (which was a 1990s powerhouse that quickly receded back into the midmajor masses as soon as it started losing more games).  Boise State and others might publicly posture over the coming days and weeks to make it seem like they have lots of options (similar to Missouri and the SEC or the Big 12 insisting that they were considering going up to an 11-school alignment), but ultimately, the only real choice is to take AQ status now because you never know when it might come around again.

(Even without the AQ status, the TV contract for a proposed rebuilt Big East that adds Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and Central Florida is going to be significantly better on a per-school basis than whatever the Alliance could come up with.  So, there’s a financial incentive beyond AQ status to think about, too.)

8.  How is this all going to turn out? – Personally, I think “less is more”.  There has been and will continue to be a lot of school movement by historical standards, but not in a way where there’s an Armageddon scenario of 16-school superconferences forming.  Barring a choice by Notre Dame to give up independence, the Big Ten and ACC are settled.  The Pac-12 appears to have made Texas their equivalent of Notre Dame to the Big Ten and ACC, where no further expansion is happening for them without the Longhorns involved.  Once the anticipated move of Missouri going to the SEC is finalized, the SEC and Big 12 are going to be done with membership changes for the time being.

This means the action is going to be in the Big East.  As a form of AQ status triage, I actually like the Big East’s proposed plan of adding Houston, SMU and UCF as all-sports members along with Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only schools.  My guess is that Temple will be considered as a football-only member to replace West Virginia and get the Big East a football presence in Pennsylvania again, which would provide the Big East with 8 football members, 8 non-football members and 4 football-only members.  The MWC/C-USA Alliance may actually end up being a single all-sports league when all is said and done after any defections to the Big East.

As pretty much everyone knowledgeable about conference realignment likes to say, the situation is still fluid.  We just need Missouri and the SEC to get things going.

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

(Image from Wikipedia)

If we all took some truth serum, most of us would have to admit to at least one trashy guilty pleasure TV show without any redeeming social value.  Some people enjoy Jersey Shore.  Others watch some variation of the Real Housewives.  The truly prurient are avid viewers of the Oakland Raiders.  My favorite trashy TV choice: Cheaters.

The premise of Cheaters is fairly elegant: a girlfriend/wife that is not quite sure of the fidelity of her boyfriend/husband has the Cheaters private detective squad led by host Joey Greco follow the suspect around with hidden cameras.  In 100% of the cases, the boyfriend/husband is caught in the act of cheating and a highlight videotape is then shown to the girlfriend/wife.  By sheer coincidence in 100% of the cases, the boyfriend/husband happens to be with the temptress at that very moment, which provides the opportunity to the spurned girlfriend/wife to have what it is literally titled in the last segment of every show, “The Confrontation”.  Gloriously, The Confrontation almost always occurs in a public place with the girlfriend/wife dumping the cheating bastard in front of about 150 people (plus 40 cameras), typically after verbally and physically beating down the boyfriend/husband and the temptress.  In a way, it’s the ultimate form of reality TV justice.  Cheaters provides such a high level of quality trash that it’s a constant source of inspiration for Maury Povich, who is essentially the Yoda of Trash TV.

This got me thinking about Missouri and the SEC.  (We could go a whole lot of ways with that one, no?)  Last year, when the Big Ten was going through its expansion evaluation process, Tom Osborne talked about how Jim Delany had him fly to secret locations in order to avoid any press.  Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has openly complained about people tracking the private jets that he uses via FlightAware, as that could tip off the public about schools he was meeting with.  Last month, a story broke on a random Friday night out of the blue that the ACC was looking to invite Syracuse and Pitt and a press conference confirming the invitations was held less than 48 hours later.  Even with all of the rumors surrounding who the Big 12 would invite over the past few weeks, it has kept and continues to keep its true intentions muddled, with the TCU invite coming quickly and it still being unclear how the conference is going to proceed.  Much like mergers and acquisitions in the business world, the major conferences have tried to keep their expansion plans in a shroud of secrecy and misdirection, which has fueled a cottage industry of blogs like this one along with providing reams of message board speculation.

The SEC, though, doesn’t play that way.  Clandestine expansion operations?  Pfffffft.  Oh sure, Mike Slive will continuously issue official statements that “The SEC is happy right now and it isn’t inviting any school that’s already a member of another conference.”  Of course, that SEC position means that it fully expects and requires any school that wants to join the league to publicly break up with its current conference just like in The Confrontation in Cheaters before applying.  This seems to more than just a legal technicality.  For all of the CYA tactics that Slive and the SEC presidents used prior to admitting Texas A&M, I honestly think that they get a kick out of public institutions openly going through a divorce with their current leagues.  As a result, we have a fairly unprecedented situation where two different schools (Texas A&M and now Missouri) have gone through extremely long, public and acrimonious processes just to get to the point of applying to the SEC.  I can’t really tell you whether this is really the right or wrong approach compared to the Big Ten’s Operation Purple Book Cat, but one thing should be clear: the SEC doesn’t do any super secret invites.  Thus, forget about the thought that the SEC might be targeting West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and/or Clemson.  It’s all about Missouri right now.

This prolonged period between Missouri announcing that it’s “exploring conference options” and what ought to be a withdrawal from the Big 12 this week has created a whole lot of activity and rumors regarding other schools … but absolutely everything has to be written in pencil.  The Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have announced a 22-school alliance/merger/clambake (AKA Mount USA), yet it’s not quite clear whether the largest names in that proposed league, such as Boise State and Air Force, are even going to stick around in Mount USA since they’ve been rumored to be heading to the Big East.  In turn, the Big East seems to have a goal of a 12-school alignment with the additions of UCF, Houston and SMU as all-sports members and Navy, Boise State and Air Force as all-sports members, but it can’t be finalized without exit fees that are contingent upon at least Navy and Air Force joining, and who knows whether those two would join if a school like Louisville heads to the Big 12.  Lurking in the background, don’t forget about BYU and its own Big 12 prospects.  A number of reports earlier this month seemed to intimate that BYU and the Big 12 couldn’t come to an agreement (or maybe more appropriately, BYU and the Big 12’s TV partners regarding BYUtv), yet the school’s athletic director took pains this past weekend to state that no invite was turned down and kept everything as open ended as possible.  (I’ll reiterate that I believe BYU-to-the-Big 12 will eventually get done.  It makes too much sense.)

A couple of things to note:

(1) The issue with the AQ status of the Mountain West has never been about the strength of its champion and the next top team or two.  Instead, the league has always gotten killed on criteria that deal with depth, as its lower two-thirds have generally been abominable.  I fail to see how the Mount USA merger with C-USA addresses that issue and, in fact, could very well make it worse even if schools like Boise State stay, which gets to the next point…

(2) If there’s been one constant in conference realignment, it’s been that whenever a weaker conference starts thinking that it can attack a wounded stronger conference, that stronger conference slaps the weaker conference back to the stone age.  It’s hard to remember now, but there was about a week in Summer 2010 when the WAC was actually thinking that it could raid the MWC after BYU declared its independence.  MWC commissioner Craig Thompson then proceeded to go off on the WAC like Sonny Corleone on Carlo Rizzi by essentially grabbing everyone except for poor Utah State.  A lot of Big East fans back in August were having thoughts of absorbing a number of Big 12 schools such as Kansas or even raiding the ACC with the promise of a new lucrative TV deal.  That led to the ACC taking two old line Big East members and the Big 12 grabbing didn’t-even-get-a-chance-to-play-in-the-Big-East member TCU while continuing to swarm like a vulture.  We now see the Big East will always be in the position of raidee instead of the raider compared to the other AQ conferences.

Even with all of those losses (and possibly more to come), the Big East still has guaranteed AQ status until at least 2013 (and by other reports, until 2015), which means that Mount USA ultimately isn’t going to fend off a Big East raid, either.  Maybe the service academies would decline the Big East since they are institutions that are in a different realm than anyone else, but all of the others, including Boise State, know that this is their only chance to jump into the “haves” category of college football.  A 10 or 12-school Big East with a guaranteed AQ bid versus a 22-school Mount USA that doesn’t have any guarantee of an AQ bid whatsoever really isn’t a very difficult choice.  While there seems to be a lot of Big East haters out in the college football world these days, rationally speaking, there’s no reason why even a Big East that’s down to 2 members left still isn’t more desirable than the Mount USA simply because there’s AQ status at stake.  There will always be more leverage for a league to retain its AQ status than a newly formed league to attain it, especially in a BCS system that stacks the deck against upstarts.

So, there’s an avalanche of moves on the precipice of occurring, but they’re all waiting on The Confrontation scene between Missouri and the Big 12.  The SEC still only wants single schools to apply.

UPDATE (10/17, 11:50 pm): Big East is reportedly inviting Houston.  This dovetails with a scheduled Big East conference call to discuss realignment on Tuesday, so we also might see invites provided to SMU, UCF, Boise State, Navy and Air Force.

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

(Image from Uncomfortable Moments)