Posts Tagged ‘Notre Dame Fighting Irish’

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In a move that came out of nowhere, the Big Ten will be adding Notre Dame as a hockey member starting in 2017-18. A few quick thoughts on an otherwise sad day with all that has happened in Belgium:

  • This is by far the most surprising move that I’ve seen from the Big Ten (and possibly any conference) ever since I started following conference realignment. The timing of the Maryland/Rutgers expansion was stealthy, but anyone that has followed this blog since 2010 had been tracking those schools as high on the Big Ten candidacy list. Johns Hopkins coming to the Big Ten as an affiliate member was a natural fit academically and in terms of the need to get a 6th lacrosse member to obtain NCAA auto-qualifier status. In contrast, Notre Dame joining the ACC as a non-football member and then placing its hockey program in the extremely strong Hockey East, seemed to be give the Irish everything that it wanted in preserving football independence, membership in strong conferences for its other sports and kowtowing to the segment of its alumni base that wanted to cut off all possible relationships with the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Big Ten seemed to move on from any possibility of Notre Dame joining the league in any capacity. To see this new arrangement come up is quite remarkable even if it’s just for hockey. Ice hockey could be thawing Big Ten – Notre Dame relations in the way that baseball helped that U.S. – Cuba relations.
  • Notre Dame coming into the Big Ten creates a 7-team hockey league, which is unwieldy for scheduling purposes. The discussion naturally is going to turn to which school comes in as #8 and it continues to look like Arizona State. The Big Ten and Sun Devils have been contemplating possible membership for over a year and I discussed it in depth during last season’s NCAA Tournament. Pretty much everything that I stated a year ago still applies today (minus the part where I didn’t believe that Hockey East members like Notre Dame would join the league as associate members), where Arizona State hits a lot of metrics that the Big Ten is looking for at an individual school level with its key Phoenix market location and the league overall seems to open to adding more affiliate schools. Think about MIT joining the Big Ten for rowing or Rice bringing its top level baseball program to the conference. There are a lot more possibilities for academically-aligned schools in the non-revenue sports.
  • Hockey fans that might be pushing for a powerhouse hockey program like North Dakota to join the Big Ten are engaging in the classic behavior of thinking like a fan instead of a university president. The academic, market and demographic needs of the conference are completely different than on-the-ice considerations. I’m sure the Big Ten would be very open to the top hockey schools in New England, such as Boston University and/or Boston College, but that is more driven by the league’s interest in the Boston market than competitiveness.
  • Speaking of markets, an underrated aspect of this move for the Big Ten is that it finally has a hockey presence in its most important market and alumni home of Chicago. Unfortunately, I don’t have an extra $100 million laying around for me to start-up a new Division I hockey program at Illinois despite it having had one of the most competitive hockey club teams and strongest fan bases for the past two decades. Meanwhile, Northwestern has many other athletic funding priorities in building new facilities, so hockey doesn’t seem to be on the radar. The Big Ten would love to rotate its hockey tournament into the United Center in Chicago to go along with Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul, especially with the basketball tournament needing to be outside of Chicago more often with the league’s push into the New York and Washington, DC markets. Note that the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four will be played at the United Center and sponsored by Notre Dame.
  • I’m someone that takes Notre Dame at its word that the school will stay independent in football. There is no “forcing” the Irish to join any league and its independence is as much of an institutional identity issue for the school’s alumni as it is a football issue. I don’t see this hockey membership having any correlation with Notre Dame possibly joining the Big Ten as a full-time football member down the road.
  • That being said, the bigger picture issue is whether the Big Ten would consider offering Notre Dame a full non-football membership in the manner of the ACC (and the old Big East before them). Notre Dame’s agreement with the ACC ends in 2025, so this is more long-range thinking for the conference. Would the Big Ten offer Notre Dame a deal where it would be a basketball and non-revenue sports member in exchange for, say, 6 football games against B1G opponents each season (compared to the Irish commitment to play 5 ACC opponents per year now)? Previously, I never thought that would even be an option on the table since the Big Ten is as much an “all for one and one for all” league as Notre Dame is an independent school, yet this hockey arrangement legitimately puts that into play. The Big Ten really didn’t care about Notre Dame’s relationship with the old Big East, but the ACC deal with the Irish might have been perceived by Jim Delany and others in Rosemont as much more of a potential threat down the road. This is a huge shift in the Big Ten’s thinking, where there is now a large crack in the league’s decades-long insistence for Notre Dame to be “all in” or “all out”.

The upshot is that this is great for Notre Dame in terms of leverage against both the ACC and Big Ten in the future. The ACC might have gotten a bit cocky with how close it thought it was with Notre Dame over the past couple of years and (at least in some quarters) deluding themselves in thinking that they’ll eventually join as a football member. However, the Irish are now openly stating that they have plenty of options. If Notre Dame could get the Big Ten to budge on hockey membership, it’s no longer a stretch at all that the B1G could eventually make a play for Irish basketball and other non-football sports along with a more robust football scheduling arrangement.

(Image from The Daily Domer)

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Despite being a Big Ten guy that would personally love to have Jim Delany add Florida State, I’ve repeated the following statement many times on this blog: the ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for. It’s not that I’m a fan of the ACC at all, but simply a reflection that it has never been as open for poaching as so many conference realignment observers thought or wanted it to be. Despite perceived TV contract problem, it’s a conference with strong brand names and good-to-great academics in arguably the most demographically desirable geographic footprint of any league in the country. So, it wasn’t a surprise to me that the ACC finally solidified its position to the outside world with its members unanimously agreeing to a grant of media rights to the conference through 2026-27. For the uninitiated, the “Grant of Rights” is a key tool in protecting a conference’s membership since each school individually grants its media rights to its league for a set period of time, which applies even if such school ends up defecting. For example, if an ACC school now attempted to leave for the Big Ten, SEC or Big 12, the ACC would still own that school’s media rights until 2026-27. That effectively makes ACC schools worthless from a raiding conference’s standpoint since they either can’t get access to those media rights or would have to pay a large buyout to the ACC to obtain them. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 schools have already agreed to a grant of rights to their respective conferences.

With 4 of the 5 power conferences having a vested legal interest in seeing grant of rights agreements being upheld in court (and the 5th power conference that doesn’t have a grant of rights, the SEC, being so strong financially off-the-field and competitively on-the-field), it’s likely that we have seen an end to power conference realignment for the next decade or so. There’s a chance that the Big 12 may be compelled to expand back up to 12 or more members from its current 10 or that the Pac-12 could eventually find a current Mountain West Conference member attractive, but the shifting between the power conferences themselves is probably over. From the Big Ten’s perspective, it’s probably all well and good. As much as I personally wanted the Big Ten to look at a school like Florida State, it likely only had eyes for the AAU likes of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech, all of whom would have been extremely difficult to poach (particularly UNC). The SEC also was set on looking at UNC and maybe rival Duke as a pair, which also would have been a monumental task to pull off. Much like the Big Ten was better off seeing Texas stay in a weakened Big 12 as opposed to heading off to a stronger Pac-16, if Jim Delany can’t nab his alma mater of UNC for himself, maintaining the status quo is much more preferable than seeing UNC head off to the SEC (as unlikely that would have been). From both the conference financial and fan perspectives, there isn’t any Big Ten expansion scenario that makes any sense without 2 or more schools from one of the ACC or Big 12. I’m sure that Mike Slive and SEC fans would feel the same way about SEC expansion.

The conference realignment game has been particularly cruel to American Athletic Conference* orphans UConn and Cincinnati. Their most realistic paths back to power conference status were all via further raids of the ACC opening up more slots. Neither school fits the profile of what the Big Ten and SEC would be looking for, the Pac-12 is out of geographic reach, and the ACC isn’t likely going up to 16 with either of them and would only be interested in them as backfill candidates in the event they ever do lose other members. The best hope for UConn and Cincinnati at this point (and it’s a bit better for the latter) is that the Big 12 ends up having an urgent need to expand again. Using 20/20 hindsight, the Big 12 might rue the day that they passed over taking Louisville and a 12th school (either BYU or Cincinnati) as the ACC surprised a lot of people in grabbing what has ended up being a fairly valuable football and basketball chip off of the table. A Louisville/BYU combo was likely financially viable to the Big 12 in a way that any BYU/Cincinnati/UConn combo probably can’t be, so the Big 12 seems stalled at 10. That might be perfectly fine for the conference’s university presidents and athletic directors at this time, but having a lack of viable expansion options is a much more acute long-term problem for a 10-school conference than ones at 12 or 14 members. I’ve never been a proponent of any conference expanding simply for the sake of expanding, yet it feels like the Big 12 didn’t take advantage of a momentary position of strength after they signed their new TV deal with ESPN and Fox last year. Now, to be sure, I never bought for one second that the Big 12 had any legitimate chance at Florida State and Clemson (the former was really only interested in shaking the money trees of the Big Ten and SEC). However, adding Louisville and BYU would have been a solid expansion both athletically and geographically for the Big 12 and that’s an opportunity that has slipped away. The ACC’s choice of Louisville over UConn and Cincinnati effectively blocked Big 12 expansion, whether John Swofford intended for that to happen or not (and I tend to agree with Andy Staples that Swofford is a ninja that has been underestimated by a lot of college sports fans).

(* My vote for the new AAC logo is here.)

As for the ACC itself, there’s little point in entertaining expansion for the foreseeable future. Contrary to the belief of a surprisingly large number of sports fans, the fact that the ACC has an odd number of basketball teams as a result of Notre Dame’s non-football membership has absolutely zero bearing on conference realignment. The only time that an odd number of schools matters is for a football alignment, which wouldn’t apply in the case of the ACC. Therefore, the conference certainly wouldn’t add a single all-sports member to create an odd number of football schools, and it’s doubtful that going up to 16 is appealing with the ongoing hope (however misguided that it might be) that Notre Dame might join the league as a football member within the next 40 years.

Speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish have managed to solidify their independence for the foreseeable future with an extension of their contract with NBC through 2025. If one thing has been made clear through conference realignment over the past 3 years (to the extent that it wasn’t already clear), it’s that Notre Dame’s ironclad principle is to maintain independence above making the most TV money (which, to be sure, is still quite good for them), scheduling concerns or any other factor besides being structurally foreclosed from winning a national championship (which will be far from the case in the new 4-team playoff format). The ACC is honestly a perfect setup for Notre Dame – the Irish get access to a power conference for non-football sports and a full slate of bowls with a partial conference scheduling commitment that consists largely of schools that they would generally be willing to play, anyway. They’re not going anywhere for a loooong time.

Now, conference realignment for the world outside of the five power football conferences is far from over. The formation of the “new” Big East is spurring a large scale realignment of non-FBS Division I conferences (starting with the Atlantic 10 adding George Mason and Davidson and the Missouri Valley Conference taking Loyola). Many FCS football programs are finding themselves in financial purgatory where they are looking to move up to FBS homes. There might even be a full scale realignment of the college sports world with a possible breakaway of the top football leagues from the NCAA. Still, it feels like the big conference realignment moves (outside of that possible NCAA break-up) have been completed… except, of course, for Johns Hopkins going to the Big Ten.

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

(Image from ImageEvent)

“Notre Dame is no longer relevant.” That’s a fashionable phrase among sportswriters and the bloggerati as we head into a new college football season next week. Rick Reilly kicked up the dust like many others before this past week with his “Demoting Notre Dame” column. His argument is that Notre Dame hasn’t won anything for a long time, therefore:

(1) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve “special treatment” from the BCS.

(2) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve its NBC TV contract.

(3) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve all of the preseason hype.

(4) Notre Dame doesn’t deserve to be independent and needs to join a conference.

These statements have been made by many people many times before, with the only difference for Reilly is that he gets to trumpet his view on the front page of ESPN.com.

Of course, the mere fact that so many people feel the need to proclaim that Notre Dame is “irrelevant” is de facto proof that they are very relevant. Sportswriters might take some time to review the latest hookers-and-blow scandal at Miami, but no one has written that the Hurricanes are “irrelevant”. When a whole host of power schools went through down periods over the past decade, including Alabama and Michigan programs that will be playing a massive opening weekend game at Jerry World next week, I don’t recall anyone complaining that they were still on TV too much or living off of their respective histories.

Look – I’m an Illinois alum that lives and works in the Chicago area. Unlike the vast majority of college football fans, I actually have to deal with Domers (actual Notre Dame alums as opposed to subway fans) on a daily basis. To say that they have an inflated sense of self-worth about their school is an understatement – the football elitism that comes out that school makes Texas, Michigan and USC look like humblebots.

However, it has always bothered me when sportswriters and college football fans claim that Notre Dame doesn’t “deserve” all of its bowl perks and TV money. Whether Notre Dame deserves anything has little to do with whether it has performed on-the-field since the Lou Holtz era. The free market says that Notre Dame is valuable and it is rewarded accordingly. It’s as simple as that. NBC offered Notre Dame a TV contract as opposed to the other way around, so for Reilly to suggest that the school should “do the right thing and not renew” it is asinine. All of the Nielsen metrics suggest that the Pac-12 should not be receiving anywhere near the money that it will be taking in under its new TV deals that being this week, yet would Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott be hailed if he “did the right thing” and took less money for the conference? Of course not! He would have been proclaimed an idiot and fired on the spot. Even the critiques that Notre Dame’s TV ratings have been dropping (which is true) don’t account for the fact that NBC televises all Irish home games, whether they’re playing Michigan or Tulsa. If any national network had to average in Florida vs. a Sun Belt school or Ohio State vs. a MAC school, it’s doubtful that those power schools would draw the audiences that Irish are able to draw when playing cupcake games (with the caveat that Notre Dame has been losing a large number of those cupcake games lately).

At the same time, Notre Dame’s “special treatment” from the BCS has long been overblown. Reilly rails against the Irish receiving a “bonus” of $1.3 million when it doesn’t go to a BCS bowl game, yet ignores the fact that schools such as Indiana, Washington State and Vanderbilt receive the same type of “bonus” from their respective conferences whether they are 12-0 or 0-12. For practical purposes, Notre Dame is receiving about the same amount from the BCS each year as any random member of a power conference, which is hardly “special treatment”. As for access, all that the current BCS rules state is that Notre Dame receives an automatic bid to a BCS bowl if it ranks in the top 8 of the final BCS standings. This really doesn’t mean anything since a top 8 Notre Dame team would almost certainly be snapped up as an at-large bid immediately by a BCS bowl regardless of any auto-qualifier rule. Most importantly, the Irish aren’t getting forced upon anyone. The top bowls want Notre Dame because what matters to them are ticket sales and TV ratings, which the Irish provide in spades. (In contrast, the Big East and non-AQ schools were definitely forced upon the BCS bowls.) That’s why the Orange Bowl appears to rather have a tie-in with Notre Dame in the new postseason system that is replacing the BCS as opposed entire non-power conferences. Even the other power conferences, such as the supposed rival Big Ten, get a financial benefit from including Notre Dame in the power structure that they don’t get from, say, Boise State. As a result, Notre Dame is still with the “in” crowd. (I guarantee you that Jim Delany would rather have a Big Ten school facing Notre Dame in a playoff or top bowl as opposed to Boise State 1000 times out of 1000.) Once again, this is simply the free market at work.

As for Notre Dame’s preseason hype, it’s Reilly’s employers at ESPN along with other TV networks that know that they get an immediate influx of viewers every time that they mention the Irish that are to blame there. Heck, Reilly is guilty of it himself since he knows full well that he wouldn’t have received even close to the same reaction if he wrote a column called “Demoting Miami” or “Demoting Tennessee”. I’d be more than happy if SportsCenter would stop talking about Notre Dame (and for that matter, a sub-.500 Red Sox team and our Lord and Savior backup Jets QB Tim Tebow*), but it’s ridiculous to see a media member shill blaming the school for hype that is entirely generated by the media itself.

(* I’ll admit that I love NBA trade and free agent rumors, which is another prominent source of complaints from many fans about SportsCenter. If the Lakers hadn’t fleeced the rest of the league yet again, I’d still be eating up every Dwight Howard trade scenario. This is sports crack to me on par with conference realignment.)

Finally, Notre Dame is free to be independent. They shouldn’t be forced to do anything that they don’t want to do, including but not limited to joining a conference. As long as they have a TV contract and what they deem to be a suitable home for their non-football sports, then more power to them. There are plenty of other schools that would do the exact same thing if they had the ability to do so, but they simply don’t have that ability. One of these days, market forces might persuade Notre Dame to join a conference (although note that BYU was able to get its own TV contract with ESPN, so any thought that NBC is going to drop the Irish at any point is soon is misguided). However, it should simply be left to that free market to decide Notre Dame’s fate as opposed to some shakedown from the NCAA or other conferences.

Now, before all of you start thinking that I’m some sort of Notre Dame apologist, let’s get to what should truly be causing a crisis of confidence in South Bend: these historically awful uniforms where I had to look away for fear of turning into stone. This is what happens when Ed Hardy and a leprechaun have a love child. These uniforms might only be used for one night, but that one night can cause a lifetime of nightmares a la Bjork. There has been an Ebola-like spread of color-blind fashion in college football uniforms lately, but never in my life did I think that Notre Dame (of all schools) would stoop to such cheap gimmickry. It’s as if though Jack Swarbrick said, “Maryland’s uniforms are waaaay too understated.”

Let’s face it: shoe and apparel companies such as adidas, Under Armour and Nike (whose Oregon uniforms now look like Brooks Brothers suits by comparison) love to design ugly ass shit because young people are fashion idiots that will buy it all up. I’m not hating on just today’s generation: my junior high school years featured vintage Zubaz pants and a superintendent-ordered ban on kids wearing massively baggy jeans backwards because of so many Kriss Kross imitators. (We did have great taste with our Starter jackets and gear back then, though. This Blackhawks Starter jacket was the best piece of outerwear that I’ve ever owned.) Meanwhile, my parents’ clothing from the ’60s and ’70s can be used unironically as Halloween costumes. ’nuff said. It’s simply the circle of life* and the shoe titans know it.

(* My kids have watched The Lion King and listened to its soundtrack so much in the past year that I’ve caught myself inserting phrases from the movie into adult conversations without even knowing it. I’d be horrified to look at a scan of my brain activity right now.)

Therefore, it is the duty of schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama and USC that actually have great classic traditional uniforms to resist the unwavering urges from their shoe partners to mess them up. adidas will always argue that a football uniform designed by a drunk Lady Gaga is a “good idea”. It’s up to people with a working pair of eyes with actual standards to put a stop to it. Sadly, Notre Dame has fallen into the trap of believing that being “relevant” today means using horrible helmets when such a large reason of why they continue to be relevant despite some putrid years on the field is their history and tradition. I’m happy that Illinois appears to be working with Nike in going the other direction.

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

(Image from ESPN.com)

Rumors continue to abound that Florida State and Clemson are looking to leave the ACC for the Big 12.  In the myopic world of conference realignment, a quote from Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas that his conference has tabled expansion for now is met with rolling eyes (and considering the track record of half-hearted denials and misleading statements on this topic over the past couple of years, it’s not surprising).  I had been thinking for the past week about putting together a 5-step plan to save the ACC (to the extent that it needs saving).  Tony Barnhart of CBS Sports actually beat me to it with the same concept here, but while he has a couple of good ideas under steps 4 (scheduling arrangement with the SEC) and 5 (top tier bowl game) that I had been also thinking about, the first step (the old Al Davis motto of “Just Win, Baby”) isn’t possible this summer, while his third step (talk to Notre Dame) is praying for a miracle as opposed to a plan.  Most importantly, Barnhart’s second step (getting Florida State to stay) is what the ACC specifically needs a plan for in the first place (not just a step in an overall plan).  With all of that in mind, here’s my own 5-step plan to strengthen the ACC this summer:

(1) Change the Football Divisional Alignment to North/South – As much as people have talked about national conferences and TV markets with respect to realignment, the only expansion among the five power conferences into a non-contiguous state was the Big 12 with West Virginia.  (The Big East, of course, expanded into a couple of different continents.)  Geography is still a powerful factor for both conferences and schools as isolated members tend to end up being unhappy members over the long-term.  That factor ought to weigh heavily on Florida State and Clemson in terms of staying in the ACC as they would largely be isolated members of the Big 12 outside of being in the same time zone as West Virginia.  However, the ACC’s football non-geographic divisional alignment largely takes that geographical argument off the table.  Currently, Florida State and Clemson only have Wake Forest and North Carolina State as fellow southeastern members in the Atlantic Division.  Here’s how I would re-align the ACC:

NORTH DIVISION
Miami
Syracuse
Pittsburgh
Boston College
Maryland
Virginia
Virginia Tech

SOUTH DIVISION
Florida State
Clemson
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
Duke
N.C. State
Wake Forest

Florida State-Miami and UNC-UVA would be protected cross-division rivalries, for sure.  It’s probably not necessary for the other schools to have cross-division rivals, but the schools can set them up that way if they want to.  Miami is placed in the North Division despite being the southernmost school because it’s really a Northeastern school in terms of culture and character, which was why the Hurricanes insisted on bringing along Boston College and (originally) Syracuse in the ACC raid of the Big East in 2003.

Does a change in the divisional alignment alone cause Florida State or Clemson to stay if they really want to go?  Probably not.  However, geography can be extremely important as part of the overall package of factors to persuade those schools to stay.

(2) Lobby the Faculty Members at Florida State and Clemson – There’s a continuous debate as to whether academics ought to matter in terms of formulating athletic conferences.  This has played out at Florida State at the highest levels, where the school’s chair of the Board of Trustees took an almost anti-intellectual viewpoint of stating that “[c]onference affiliation has no impact on academics”, while the university’s president took the opposite view that “the faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker.”  My take is pretty simple: conferences would rather have better academic schools than not, while schools would rather have a better academic conference than not.  That’s not to say academics are completely outcome determinative – the Big Ten chose Nebraska not because it was the best academic school available, but rather it was the best football program with acceptable academics available.  However, the point is that the Big Ten actually does have an academic threshold that potential expansion candidates need to meet.  The only other FBS conferences that have a legitimate academic threshold are the ACC and Pac-12.  It’s a strong calling card for those three conferences, whether football fans want to admit it or believe that it should even be a factor.

It’s one thing if you’re an academic heavyweight such as Vanderbilt or Texas where conference affiliation isn’t going to impact academic perception.  However, are Florida State and Clemson in that same category?  Do the faculty members at those two schools want to go from a conference where academic prestige is a clear value-added to one where it’s net neutral?  (Please note that I’m not saying that the Big 12 doesn’t care about academics or is made up of poor academic institutions.  However, the ACC, much like the Big Ten and Pac-12, have made a conscious decision in targeting highly-ranked academic schools in a way that other conference haven’t.)  This is new territory in the modern world of conference realignment where two schools would leave a conference that’s higher on the academic pecking order, which is a reason why I’ve stated previously that this isn’t anywhere near the no-brainer decision that Nebraska had in moving to the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah had in moving to the Pac-12, Missouri and Texas A&M had in moving to the SEC, Pitt and Syracuse had in moving to the ACC and West Virginia and TCU had in moving to the Big 12.

Much like the geography factor, the outcry of faculty may not overshadow the wishes of blood-thirsty fan and donor bases.  However, academics are certainly critical (let’s not forget that’s why colleges exist in the first place) and it’s an asset that the ACC needs to pound publicly and privately over and over and over and over again if it wants to avoid defections.

(3) Change the Football Scheduling to Appease Florida State and Clemson – The supposed ACC bias in having Florida State and Clemson play tough conference opponents (if not each other) right before their in-state rivalry games with SEC schools Florida and South Carolina, respectively, seems to be a popular complaint among Seminole and Tiger fans.  From an outside view, this seems to be more of a piling on conference leadership when fan bases are simply convinced that everything is being controlled by Tobacco Road (similar to how Big 12 schools view Texas and Big East members look at Providence).  Still, scheduling concessions are an easy give from the ACC’s leaders that takes a red meat on-the-field issue that has been firing up the Big 12 supporting crowd off the table.

(4) Sign an Orange Bowl Tie-in with Notre Dame as the Opponent – This suggestion was the subject of some unsubstantiated message board rumors, but the concept itself makes sense.  Now the Big 12 and SEC champions are locked-in with each other in a bowl and the Big Ten and Pac-12 are obviously bound to the Rose Bowl, the feeling is that the ACC is left standing in the proverbial game of bowl musical chairs.  Should the ACC be sending its champion to play, say, the #2 selection from the Big Ten or SEC?  If I were running the ACC, that might ultimately be acceptable and there are plenty of bowls that would take that matchup in a heartbeat, but that would also be a tough pill to swallow psychologically and in terms of the perception of the league in the college football power structure.  As an alternative, does the ACC really want to play the Big East champ?  That would likely be even less desirable to the powers that be within the ACC and to the bowls themselves.

There’s one power player without a bowl dance partner, though: Notre Dame.  I’ve never been one to believe that the Irish have anything to worry about in terms of qualifying for the new college football playoff (even in a conference champs only format, the TV networks at the very least will insist that an exception will be made for a top 4 independent).  However, the new bowl world outside of the semifinals might be a different story.  In the current system, Notre Dame had access to potential at-large spots in the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls.  It’s very unclear whether the concept of at-large bids will exist in the future – the Fiesta Bowl, for instance, could decide to sign with the Big Ten and Big 12 for their second selections.  The Irish might not have the bowl flexibility that they have had up to this point.  On the flip side, though, is that the new system may present an opportunity for Notre Dame to sign directly with a top tier bowl that would always rather take a 4-loss Notre Dame team as opposed to, say, a 1-loss Conference USA school.

Note that despite the perception that the ACC is toxic horse manure to the top tier bowls, somehow (1) the ACC championship game loser ended up getting a Sugar Bowl at-large bid last year instead of an almighty Big 12 school ranked at #8, (2) the highest paid bowl tie-in outside of the BCS and the Big Ten #2 and SEC #2 slots in the Capital One Bowl is actually the ACC #2 tie-in to the Chick-fil-A Hallelujah That They’re in Chicagoland Now Bowl (NOT the almighty Big 12 #2 tie-in to the supposedly endless flow of cash from the Jerry Jones Cotton Bowl) and (3) a quick look at the top-to-bottom bowl tie-ins indicates that the ACC is, at the very least, has more leverage than the Pac-12 (whose overall bowl depth weakness is masked by the Rose Bowl tie-in at the very top).  All of those facts indicate that the ACC champion isn’t going to have a problem getting a top bowl slot.  The only question is who the ACC champ will end up facing.  The ACC and Notre Dame are the two most powerful players and brand names left that aren’t paired up, so it’s natural and logical that they could end up with each other in a bowl.  It’s the best value proposition that’s available to both entities with the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big12 off the table.

(5) Push ESPN to Maintain Value of TV Contract if There are Defections – There might be a point where the fan bases at Florida State and Clemson are putting such overwhelming pressure in favor of a move to the Big 12 (similar to Texas A&M fans wanting the SEC last year) that the schools end up defecting to the ACC.  At that point, the ACC’s goal shifts to preventing a complete unraveling of the league.  Personally, I don’t buy that Armageddon situation at all (as we saw the Big 12 and Big East suffer even more crippling defections with dire predictions of those leagues dying, yet they’re still kicking), but the ACC still has to be proactive to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

This is pretty simple: agree with ESPN that even if Florida State and Clemson leave, ESPN won’t reduce the value of the recently signed ACC TV contract (which averages a bit over $17 million per school per year).  There’s pretty clear precedent for this scenario with ESPN agreeing to do the same with the Big 12 in 2010 and then coming to an understanding with the Big 12 again in 2011 to have a new contract extension.  As I’ve noted in a previous post, the ACC is actually the single largest content provider to ESPN of any sports entity (whether college or pro), so there’s even less incentive for ESPN to see the ACC break apart compared to the Big 12 (with whom ESPN has a much more limited package) the last couple of years.  Contrary to what many fans seem to believe, ESPN has a significant interest in not seeing the formation of superconferences because they do not want to deal with concentrated power entities that have NFL-type negotiating leverage.  Dispersal of power is how ESPN is able to keep college sports rights fees somewhat in check.  (To put rights fees in perspective, the Big Ten, which is the wealthiest conference, currently receives about $100 million per year from ESPN/ABC for first tier rights.  By comparison, ESPN pays over $100 million per game to the NFL for Monday Night Football.)

The irony of this scenario is that would kick in over $2 million in TV money per year extra to each of the remaining 12 ACC schools, which would raise their total annual per school payouts to close to the $20 million level that the Big 12 is reportedly negotiating with ESPN and Fox.  So, Florida State and Clemson could end up leaving for more TV money in the Big 12, which would actually result in an increase in TV money for the rest of the ACC that would match what the Big 12 schools receive.  That would certainly be enough to take TV rights fees off the table as an issue for the remaining ACC members.

These are 5 realistic steps that the ACC can take without having to compromise on their core principles (such as equal sharing of TV revenue).  I’ve said before that I believe that the ACC is stronger than what many football fans give it credit for.  That statement is certainly being put to the test right now.

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

(Image from Zimbio)

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced a scheduling partnership on Wednesday encompassing football and basketball with plans to apply it to other sports.  Starting in 2017, each Big Ten school will play a Pac-12 counterpart annually in football.  In a shocking development, this pretty awesome setup was the brainchild of former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, who butchered Illini football schedules for close to two decades.  (Why would a Big Ten team ever schedule a neutral site game in Detroit against Western Michigan 4 weeks after they visited Ann Arbor?!  Why?!)

All orange-and-blue-tinged befuddlement aside, the Big Ten and Pac-12 entering into a scheduling arrangement is a natural extension of the link that they have because of the Rose Bowl and a way to add some high profile games to their respective football and basketball schedules without further expansion.  Some thoughts:

1. TV Advantages – Having all teams participate in one inter-conference football game per year is a way to build a critical mass of quality games during September that can be guaranteed to the conferences’ TV partners while still giving each individual school enough flexibility to maintain rivalries (particularly Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Stanford with Notre Dame) and schedule the requisite MAC-rifice games.  Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany indicated that the Big Ten/Pac-12 games would likely be played during 2nd, 3rd and 4th weeks of the season.  That would provide 4 “challenge” games during each of those weeks where one could be placed into every time slot.  This can provide some real value to the respective TV packages of the Big Ten and Pac-12, as at the very least ABC/ESPN would avoid getting stuck with a Michigan/Ohio State vs. Random MAC School game in the 2:30 pm Central Time national window during the third week in September.  The Big Ten Network and the nascent Pac-12 Network would also likely get multiple inter-conference games per year for both football and basketball, which could help each network get penetration into the other network’s home region.

2. More Big Ten/Pac-12 Bowls? – The Rose Bowl is obviously of critical importance to both the Big Ten and Pac-12, but the two leagues don’t play any other bowl games against each other unless it’s by accident.  (I’m certainly spending my New Year’s Eve afternoon watching the Kraft Fight Hunger and Interim Coaches Bowl between Illinois and UCLA.  Who’s with me?)  The issue from the Big Ten perspective is that the West Coast bowls involving the Pac-12 (besides the Rose) have low payouts compared to the Florida-based bowls with SEC tie-ins (and even the Texas-based bowls with Big 12 tie-ins).  The Pac-12 Rose Bowl tie-in largely masks the fact that the conference otherwise has the weakest bowl lineup of the AQ leagues (outside of the Big East) as its even its most desirable members, such as USC, don’t have good traveling reputations.  Personally, I’d love for the Big Ten to mix in another bowl or two against the Pac-12, but I can’t see those New Year’s Day games against the SEC in Florida going away.  For bowl purposes, nothing is more attractive than a Big Ten vs. SEC matchup (and they pay accordingly).  As a result, any new bowls arrangements between the Big Ten and Pac-12 would likely need to be lower in the bowl selection order and require some significant payout offers out there.  If the new 49ers and downtown Los Angeles NFL stadiums actually get built, they would have the potential to host new bowls that could pay enough to entice the Big Ten.

3. Improvements for Non-revenue Sports – On the whole, the Big Ten is probably bringing more revenue and brand name power to the table in this partnership compared to the Pac-12.  However, the Pac-12 overall has extremely strong top-to-bottom athletic departments in all sports, which can potentially aid the Big Ten significantly.  For instance, the Big Ten is a massive underachiever in baseball considering the conference’s resources and facilities.  If each Big Ten school starts playing a couple of series every year against Pac-12 opponents (who make up an extremely strong baseball league), that can bring up the RPI numbers for all Big Ten teams, which could then result in more NCAA Baseball Tournament at-large bids and higher seeds.  I’ve long thought that improving baseball ought to be a top non-football/basketball priority for the Big Ten and this Pac-12 partnership could be a way to kick-start it.

There could also be some phenomenal non-conference women’s volleyball matches.  The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already solidified themselves as the top two volleyball conferences in the country year-in and year-out.  In this year’s NCAA Volleyball Tournament, 8 of the Sweet Sixteen and 3 of the Final Four were members of either the Big Ten or Pac-12.

4. Notre Dame Rivalries and ACC/Big Ten Challenge Staying Alive – The indications from Jim Delany point to this partnership not having any effect on the Big Ten’s other relationships, such as the traditional Notre Dame football rivalries and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for basketball.  It’s telling that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that he was actually kept apprised of the discussions between the Big Ten and Pac-12 and his relationship with Delany is characterized as “close”.  While a lot of fans like to jump to conclusions that conferences will act in a manner to “force” Notre Dame to do something (whether it’s conference realignment in general or a scheduling arrangement), commissioners such as Delany and Pac-12 boss Larry Scott are much more pragmatic.  As long as Notre Dame is independent, it’s ultimately extremely beneficial for both of their leagues to maintain high profile rivalries with the Irish if only because it helps out their TV packages quite a bit.  Think about it: the Big Ten guarantees 1 or 2 Notre Dame games to its TV partners every September, while the Pac-12 always has an Irish game to offer in prime time on Thanksgiving weekend (and these include marquee matchups such as Michigan-Notre Dame and USC-Notre Dame that TV networks pay a heavy premium for).  Delany and Scott don’t want to mess with that at all, which is why every time that a move that appears on its face might apply pressure on Notre Dame (such as the Pac-12 instituting a general rule last year that non-conference games should only be played prior to conference play) is explicitly caveated where it doesn’t end up affecting the Domers (where in the Pac-12 non-conference scheduling case, an exception was made for pre-existing contracts).

5. 8 Conference Games for Big Ten and 9 for the Pac-12 – Not surprisingly, the plans for a 9-game conference schedule for the Big Ten got nixed as a result of the new partnership.  Having every school be able to play at least 7 home games per year has become sacrosanct to the Big Ten, which would’ve made it impossible to have a 9-game conference schedule plus a Pac-12 game plus allowing other existing rivalries (such as the Notre Dame matchups described above) to continue.  The Pac-12 schools generally don’t have the same steadfast need to play 7 home games per year since they aren’t able to sellout their stadiums with Eastern Podunk State Polytechnic U coming into town the way a lot of the Big Ten schools can.  On the West Coast, higher quality opponents are required to draw attendance, which is why even USC has long scheduled 2 major non-conference opponent every year (Notre Dame and a power conference team) despite with the 9-game Pac-12 conference schedule.  As a result, it doesn’t surprise me that Larry Scott is indicating that the Pac-12 will maintain the 9-game conference slate for the long-term.

All-in-all, the Big Ten and Pac-12 partnering together is innovative in its simplicity.  They are adding on higher quality games without taking away existing rivalries while creating better inventory for their TV partners.  Both conferences have similar views toward academic excellence and maintaining strong top-to-bottom athletic departments.  With the two leagues already linked in the general public’s mind due to the Rose Bowl tie-ins, the partnership announcement makes sense at the end of a year where conference realignment didn’t make sense at all to a lot of people (unless you’re one of the commenters on this blog).

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

(Image from Los Angeles Times)

Tis’ the season for debating who’s the #2 team in the country (personally, I feel that Oklahoma State’s better wins trump Alabama’s better loss) and unsubstantiated Internet rumors spreading like wildfire.  Coaches are getting hired and fired, conferences are giving away free tickets to championship games, BCS systems are about to get dismantled*, the founder of Jimmy John’s is going to bankroll a Division I hockey program at Illinois and, of course, the Big 12 is getting ready to kill the Big East again.  Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman lit a match the other day stating that the Big 12 presidents would be discussing expansion again this week while Big East Coast Bias passed along some tidbits that Louisville football coaches were telling recruits that the school would be switching conferences soon.  If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that I’ve never, ever, ever heard of a coach misleading a high profile recruit in order to induce him to commit to a program.  Why do you think Urban Meyer was named after a pope?  A coach stretching the truth with a recruit would be an unprecedented event in the history of the NCAA, so what’s being passed along by the Louisville coaches must be ironclad solid information.

(* With the prospect of a return to a late-90s bowl system, I sincerely wracked my brain to think of a way to incorporate a Semisonic reference into my last post, but to no avail.  Lo and behold, Grantland published a full-scale analysis the very next day about the staying power of the band’s singular hit “Closing Time” after all of these years.  Note that this song came out right smack dab in the middle of my college years and I allegedly went to a lot of bars during that time period where this had to be played every night at last call, so that Grantland piece was right in my wheelhouse.  My nomination for a contemporary song that will be the equivalent of “Closing Time” in the next 10 to 15 years: Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”.  It’s a peppy song that can be played in a whole variety of venues (it seems to be inexplicably replacing the more topical “Freeze Frame” by the J. Geils Band as the standard crowd music during NFL replay challenges), slightly kitschy but not so much where it crosses into limited life gimmicky territory (unlike many songs by Katy Perry and that no talent assclown Ke$ha), and incredibly simple earwormy lyrics that everyone from toddlers to grandmothers can instantly remember.  Let me know if you have any other suggestions, but I have a feeling that “Dynamite” is going to still be played in every club across America at least once per evening in 2020.)

(** Furthering the college nostalgia kick, my best friend from college (a random freshman roommate placement success story) and I ate enough sandwiches at the Urbana Jimmy John’s at 3 a.m. to fund their entire expansion into Chicagoland.  We deserve a hockey team, dammit!)

So, let’s enter into a mode of suspension of disbelief where there is a world that allows the Big 12 to make more television revenue by going to 12 schools instead of staying at 10 and Texas is willing to add more members.  From what I see, there are three potential pairings from the Big East – two of them have been talked about quite a bit, while the third is what I would do if I were Big 12 commissioner:

Conservative Option: Add Louisville and Cincinnati – This is the straightforward geographically-friendlyish option that would connect West Virginia with the rest of the Big 12.  The problem that I see here is that if the Big 12 really wanted to go this route, it would’ve been done already.  There aren’t any strings attached to these schools in the manner of BYU, so this is too easy of a move for the Big 12 to be waiting on as an ultimate plan.  (The same could be said about the prospect of the ACC taking both Rutgers and UConn.  If that was really the league’s expansion plan, it would’ve been done months ago.)  I’ve always believed Louisville was a very viable option for the Big 12, but Cincinnati seems like they’re being used as a stalking horse in the same manner that the Big Ten used Missouri and Rutgers.  The next option has a slight variation…

Aggressive Option: Add Louisville and Rutgers – This scenario was given credence in an interview by Oklahoma president David Boren, who mentioned both of these schools by name in connection with future Big 12 expansion.  While Rutgers obviously has a distance disadvantage from the rest of the Big 12, the addition of West Virginia has made a potential move further into the Northeast much more palatable.  West Virginia is actually about equidistant from both Rutgers and Louisville (about a 6 hour 30 minute drive from each), so Morgantown could be looked as a geographic pivot point.  The Big Ten and ACC may not find Rutgers delivers enough of the New York/New Jersey market to justify adding them, but the Big 12 has a lot more leeway to take a risk there.  This scenario seems much more realistic to me with more upside for the Big 12 compared to a Louisville/Cincinnati combo.  However, there’s one other option that I haven’t really seen…

Nor’easter Option: Add Rutgers and UConn as all-sports members and Notre Dame as a non-football member – Whoa!  You’re probably asking what I’m thinking here.  Well, let’s go back to the premise that West Virginia makes further inroads into the Northeast much more feasible for the Big 12.  Rutgers and UConn as a pair would have a much more powerful network effect in the Tri-State area than if Rutgers was taken alone.  Just as the theory when those schools were being considered for the Big Ten was that visiting schools like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State would drive interest in the New York City metro, it would be the same with Texas and Oklahoma coming in to play.

If there’s one thing that the Big 12 showed when it chose West Virginia over Louisville as school number 10, it was that when push came to shove, old money trumped the noveau riche.  Rutgers is certainly old money as a participant in the very first college football game.  Meanwhile, UConn is a very interesting case that makes it difficult to judge how other power conferences value them in realignment.  From a pure football standpoint, UConn is a newbie with a Division I-A program that isn’t even a decade old yet.  This is a massive negative to the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC that I don’t think many realignment observers and UConn supporters fully appreciate.  Power conferences want to see a long football history, even if it’s a bad one like Rutgers has.  (If UConn ultimately gets left behind while other Big East teams leave for greener pastures, it will be for this reason.  That would be a shame as UConn really has done a pretty good job building up the respectability of its football program in a very short period of time.)  However, UConn looks like an old money school in other ways as a flagship university with solid academics and an extended history of success in the Big East in non-football sports (especially men’s and women’s basketball).  Fitting for a Big East school, it’s truly a hybrid.

We also need to take into account the gorilla waiting in the mist: Notre Dame.  Recall that DeLoss Dodds has openly stated that he would happy to invite Notre Dame as a non-football member and Chip Brown reported that the Irish were looking to do just that.  So, Texas is certainly on the record that it’s willing to play ball with Notre Dame in their quest to preserve independence, and where Texas goes, the Big 12 usually follows.  If the Big 12 were to add Rutgers and UConn, that would remove a massive reservation that Notre Dame has in joining that conference, which is that it doesn’t have any Northeastern presence as of now.  This ends up being a pretty good setup for Notre Dame where it would be in a league that has a couple of East Coast schools along with other athletic departments like Texas that are much more like financial peers to the Irish (unlike the other Catholic members of the Big East).

To be sure, I’ve previously warned that the non-Texas Big 12 members may not be keen on allowing Notre Dame to have partial membership as that would set a dangerous precedent for Texas to do the exact same thing down the road (which would be disastrous for the rest of the Big 12).  Still, there are certainly benefits if Notre Dame agrees to an iron-clad scheduling arrangement where the Irish play 3 or 4 games per year (which is much more realistic than the 6 suggested by Brown) against Big 12 opponents.  Schools that would not get a sniff of an opportunity to play Notre Dame would get to do so and a couple Domer games per year would get into the Big 12’s TV package.  Plus, there’s value to the Big 12 in keeping Notre Dame as an independent.  Notre Dame is an effective requirement in order for either the Big Ten or ACC to expand, and if either of them get the Irish, they could very well grab more Big 12 teams (most notably Texas itself) on top.  (The same applies to the Big East, which is why that conference was always willing to tow the line for Notre Dame.  The Irish could unilaterally sign the death warrant of the league at any time by joining either the Big Ten or ACC.)  The point is that if any conference is going to kill the Big East, they’re going to want to do it in a way where either Notre Dame joins such conference or stays independent.  What no one wants to do is kill the Big East and then see Notre Dame head to some other league for football.

The Big 12’s lack of consensus of whether it should be at 10 or 12 members is inherently because there aren’t obvious options that jump out at them.  Most expansion candidates for the league have some type of major flaw (i.e. small market, bad geography, not great football program, etc.), so that makes it difficult to achieve an agreement on any moves.  Getting Notre Dame involved, though, can change the equation drastically for the Big 12.  If adding Rutgers and UConn is the combo that ultimately induces the Irish to move its non-football sports to the Big 12, then that’s something I could see the conference pulling the trigger.  Semisonic really does sum up conference realignment well: every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.

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

(Image from MP3Crank)

Several news sources, including the New York Times and Charleston Daily Mail, are reporting that West Virginia will leave the Big East for the Big 12 as a replacement for Missouri (who is expected to head to the SEC sooner rather than later).  It appears that the Big 12 will stay at 10 for now.  I personally think the Big East can still rebuild into an AQ conference as long as the remaining 5 football members stay and without having to resort to a 32-team Rebel Alliance League.  West Virginia leaving alone also doesn’t seem to be enough to spur Notre Dame to look for a different conference home, either.  (I think Louisville leaving would’ve been worse from the Domer perspective.)  I’ll have more thoughts later, but you can use this post as a new open thread to discuss the latest news.

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