Posts Tagged ‘Notre Dame to the Big Ten’

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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)

Before we get to talking about Notre Dame, the fate of the entire college sports landscape is being decided in Austin and College Station this week.  Who knows if the Big Ten will ultimately be a part of this (I know that they are trying very hard), but I do believe this: Texas A&M would be insane to turn down an invitation from the SEC.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my discussions with Texas fans over the last few months, but the prevailing belief among the Longhorn faithful that A&M would be making a mistake by taking that deal is complete nonsense.  As much as I hate parroting the ESECPN talking points, the SEC has definitely been the top football conference overall for several years now.  Its conference TV revenue per school today is larger than the projections for the proposed Pac-16, while A&M could also sell local TV rights on top of that.  Financially and culturally, it’s a no-brainer for the Aggies.  It puts its rivalry with Texas at great risk, but remember that Penn State gladly threw away its own Thanksgiving rivalry with Pitt a few years after joining the Big Ten.  Remember that Pitt used to be considered Penn State’s equal not all that long ago.  Now, Pitt is hoping for a Big Ten invite itself while Penn State rolls in revenue like few other programs.  In this environment, it’s always better to be a member of a stronger and more established conference as opposed to trying to “control” a less stable and newer conference.  If you had to bet your entire life savings, is the SEC going to be the more stable and lucrative conference in 10 or 20 years or is it going to be the new Pac-16?  I would bet it all on the SEC, so how anyone could think that A&M would be making a mistake in choosing that option is being disingenuous.

Now, I mentioned in a post last week that a Big East message board obsession might be coming true.  In reality, it’s really more like 2 related Big East message board obsessions coming up to the surface: a mandate to Notre Dame and a possible split of the league.  It had been my belief for a very long time that there really wasn’t anything that the Big East could tell Notre Dame (as I explained in this post looking at Big East expansion options a few months back).  Well, it turns out that I may be wrong since there is a mechanism that has a lot of teeth (and it’s counterintuitive as to who is pushing the issue).

A source with knowledge of the agreement that was entered into by the Big East schools following the ACC raid of 2003 states that in the event that 2 football members leave the conference, the football and non-football members can split the league without any penalty and retain their respective revenues, such as NCAA Tournament distributions.  What is surprising is that the Catholic non-football members comprise the faction that is pushing the issue.  If you recall, those schools met back in March to discuss “contingency plans”.  Apparently, the Catholic schools have decided that they will exercise the split option if 2 Big East schools leave the conference (no matter who they might be) and have informed Big East commissioner John Marinatto as such.  Financially, the Catholic schools would actually be in a fine position because they would have a large reserve of NCAA Tournament credits with Georgetown and Villanova having both made it to the Final Four in the last 4 years.  There is also the stability and cultural fit standpoint, where the Catholic schools are not enthralled with the “usual suspects” of Big East expansion candidates from Conference USA.  (In a side note, FedEx CEO Fred Smith has reportedly offered millions of dollars to a BCS league that would invite Memphis.  Someone suggested to me that this type of offer could run afoul of Federal anti-corruption laws for inducing a public official, such as a public university administrator, to perform an official act.  If there are attorneys practicing criminal law out there, let me know if that would be the case.)  As much as the football members may complain about the hybrid model, the Big East is in a position where it will always need to leverage its basketball league in order to provide coverage for the football side.  The Catholic schools are the ones that give the Big East an entryway into New York City, Chicago and Washington, so removing them actually hurts the football members more than the other way around.

This affects Notre Dame from several different fronts.  Externally, it’s still optimal for the hybrid to stay together for all of the Big East members, so Catholic schools like Georgetown may be willing to sacrifice its connection with Notre Dame in order to preserve the hybrid model and its basketball games with Syracuse and/or UCONN.  This gives to teeth to the rumored pressure from the Big East on Notre Dame to make a decision on whether to join for all-sports.

Even if there isn’t an ultimatum per se, the Big East is on notice that it will split up with the loss of 2 members without question.  Therefore, if the Big Ten takes Rutgers and Syracuse, for example, it automatically forces the break-up of the Big East (where it’s not just a hypothetical threat).  My understanding is that Notre Dame simply will not join an all-Catholic league for non-football sports when push comes to shove.  Notre Dame’s alums may believe that it will be okay only because it would still be a pretty good men’s basketball league, but the problem is for all other sports.  The athletic department size disparity between Notre Dame and the Catholic Big East members is the equivalent of USC or UCLA moving their non-football sports to the West Coast Conference.  That’s just not going to cut it for an athletic department of Notre Dame’s size and stature, no matter how much its alumni base believes football independence matters more than everything else combined.

That’s the angle a lot of people are missing: Notre Dame’s decision on conference membership actually has very little to do with football.  The Irish can still keep its NBC contract and there really is no danger of the program being shut out of the national championship picture even if 16-team superconferences are formed.  A lot of Notre Dame haters go overboard in arguing that the Irish are heading toward football irrelevance.  In reality, Notre Dame has as strong of a fan base as ever and it’s shown every time that the team is halfway decent.  However, the rest of the Irish athletic department will suffer a ton of damage if the Big East loses any members.  Once again, the Notre Dame alumni base might be perfectly fine with throwing every other sport under the bus, but the leadership at Notre Dame won’t be.  There is little rational justification to let that happen when the Big Ten offers more football revenue anyway plus a major reduction in travel expenses.

The rise of superconferences might give Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick the PR cover with Notre Dame’s alums to make a move to a conference, but it’s really the terms of the Big East agreement combined with the stance of the Catholic membership that are putting the legitimate pressure on the Irish.

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

(Image from mlive)

Here’s the latest of what I know from the Big Ten side of the ledger (not the maybe Texas/maybe Pac-10 perspective that is found elsewhere):

The Big Ten is focused on Texas and Notre Dame.  I don’t mean that in a “Duh, of course they want them!” way.  I mean in a serious/this may happen by this weekend way.  There are 3 scenarios for the Big Ten (please note that these additions are on top of Nebraska):

(1) Add Texas and Notre Dame alone – If Texas A&M goes to the SEC (and it appears that the Aggies are hot and heavy with that conference with Oklahoma possibly behind them), then the Big Ten would stop at 14.  This is actually the optimal situation for the Big Ten.

(2) Add Texas, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and a team to be determined – If Texas A&M decides to join, there’s going to be a rigorous internal debate about who is school #16.  Missouri, Rutgers and Syracuse, not surprisingly, are named as the most likely contenders for that last spot.

(3) Add no one else – Same debate regarding Missouri, Rutgers and Syracuse (and maybe others) applies here, where the disagreement about who else could be added may result in the Big Ten only adding Nebraska and stopping at 12.

My understanding is that Texas DOES want to join the Big Ten despite public posturing.  I might have been throwing crap against the wall a few months ago about that, but I’m NOT now.  Texas and the Big Ten have been dancing for a VERY long time in this process.

Also note that there are reasons why Notre Dame might be “forced” to join a conference that are different than the overall “seismic” shift that Jack Sarbrick has talked about.  Namely, a Big East message board obsession has apparently come true.  Read into that what you will.

That’s what I know.  Here’s what I think:

Texas A&M entertaining an offer from the SEC is the best thing that could happen to the Big Ten.  The way to remove the “Tech problem” politically is to expose just how much more money Texas and Texas A&M are leaving on the table by having to drag its in-state cousins to the Pac-10 (or with the addition of Colorado today, the Pac Televen).  Indeed, check out the message being set forth by A&M tonight:

Former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum, who now works as a special adviser to [Texas A&M President Bowen] Loftin, said football programs are carrying an increased financial burden to support other sports, so they’re drawn to potentially massive TV contracts for more revenue.

“You look at the level of funding that all programs need to have, and it’s a business decision that universities now have to make,” Slocum said.

Slocum said any decision A&M makes will be based purely on its financial impact, and not on more intangible elements, like preserving traditions and rivalries.

The Texas A&M athletic department has around $16 million in debt, so if/when it gets an invite to SEC, it’s on the record that it’s not going to take a haircut in order to be in the same conference as Texas Tech and Baylor.  So, if A&M asserts that it can control its own destiny, Texas has the moral/political authority to do whatever it wants.  As I’ve argued from the beginning, the Big Ten makes the most financial and academic sense for Texas and my understanding is that the powers that be in Austin (the campus as opposed to the capitol) agree.  Texas wouldn’t be publicly calling for the saving of the Big XII in order to start a Longhorn Sports Network only to head to the Pac Televen, where the projected TV revenue from the proposed 16-team league doesn’t even match what the Big Ten (and for that matter, the SEC) provides to each member today.  Something is amiss there and I hope some journalists put aside their personal assumptions about what “should” happen and attack that angle seriously over the next few days.  Whoever does is going to end up with the scoop of the year.

In the meantime, as JB Kirby that runs the506.com (of NFL TV Distribution Maps fame) said today, this a special moment in history where the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12 all have 11 members.  Enjoy it because it’s not going to last for long.

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

(Image from Kaboodle)

Any other evening I’d be writing a full blown expansion post considering all of the news and speculation today, but the mighty Blackhawks have just won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years!!!  It was a little weird that Patrick Kane was the only person in the building that realized that he scored a goal for about 5 minutes, but it more than worth the wait considering that Chicago hockey fans have been suffering for five decades.  A tad over 3 years ago, I went to a Hawks-Red Wings game with one of my buddies where the United Center was about half full and the majority of people that were there were Detroit fans.  Yet, Rocky Wirtz has been able to completely reverse what seemed to be irreversible damage that his late father had caused to its fan base.  I wrote this piece last year about the Hawks being the “Prodigal Franchise” of Chicago and how it has gone about regaining an entire generation of lost fans.  Well, those fans definitely aren’t lost anymore.  As I sit here in my Blackhawks sweater tonight, I’ve been able to witness arguably the greatest NFL team ever (the ’85 Bears), the greatest set of basketball teams ever (the ’90s Bulls dynasty), my baseball team crush the Curse of the Black Sox (the ’05 White Sox), an Illini berth in the national championship game (with the ’05 Elite Eight comeback game against Arizona that was the most unbelievable sports event that I have ever witnessed) and now a Stanley Cup.  Heck, Illinois might retroactively win the Rose Bowl that I attended 2 years ago depending what sanctions get hammered on USC.  Looking back, the Sports Gods have blessed me beyond belief.  Plus, we’ve got many more years to enjoy Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  Congrats Hawks!!!

Now, as for the latest on expansion:

Reports all over are confirming that Nebraska has been invited to the Big Ten, including the Chicago Tribune.  Most of the regular readers of this blog established fairly early on that Nebraska would be the most likely school to be invited to the Big Ten and I’ve been getting info for awhile supporting that.

It can’t be that simple, though, right?  If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (@frankthetank111), I had a brief interaction with @FakeJimDelany where he asked me whether I had bugged his phone, to which I replied, “I only get my info from Northwestern message boards.”  Well, the Northwestern message boards put up another doozy of a rumor tonight: in addition to Nebraska, the Big Ten will be offering invites to Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Missouri.  The Missouri invite, however, is contingent upon either Texas or Notre Dame accepting.  Who knows how this is going to play out and whether the Big Ten would truly hand out invites (or more specifically, asking the candidates to fill out the applications for invites) without knowing whether the answer is yes, but I do know that the poster (who had written the infamous post that reportedly sent Jim Delany flying off the handle, was removed for a couple of weeks and is now back online) has a legit and direct connection to the Big Ten office.  So, if this offer is true, the choice for Texas is what I laid out in yesterday’s “Double Chess” post: the comfortable Kia of the Pac-10 that won’t upset its Lone Star neighbors or the Rolls Royce of the new Big Ten.

Regardless, Chicago is the center of the sports world on multiple levels for the next few days.  The Blackhawks are bringing the Cup home.  Let’s see who Jim Delany ends up bringing over to Park Ridge.

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

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Here’s the latest chatter from the world of conference realignment:

Multiple sources have told me that Notre Dame, Missouri and Nebraska are all poised to receive invites from the Big Ten.  An announcement could come as early as Wednesday, with other projections looking toward before the end of this month.  Of course, this scenario has been rumored on message boards over the last day, so whether this is a legitimate deal remains to be seen.  With the Big Ten’s past experiences in attempting to invite Notre Dame, nothing can be guaranteed until Jim Delany and Father Jenkins make an announcement together.  Note that I stated Father Jenkins, who has to make the ultimate call for the Domers, as opposed to Jack Swarbrick.

There are a few takeaways from this formulation being put out there.  At the top, if Missouri gets an invite to the Big Ten, it will have Notre Dame to thank.  Without Notre Dame, the Big Ten would not have an interest in breaking up the Big XII and pushing Texas to the Pac-10, so it would likely have only invited one school to the immediate west: Nebraska.  Indeed, Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune put up some analysis focused specifically about the prospect of Nebraska going to the Big Ten and he’s not going to be just engaging in idle speculation at this point in the game.  However, if Notre Dame is in the fold, then the Big Ten does not have as much of a need to go after Big East schools (even though it still might) with the heavy Irish fan base in places like the New York area.  A lot of the demographic factors that might have tipped the edge toward a school like Syracuse over Missouri without Notre Dame included would now be switched around.  At the same time, it allows the Big Ten to make one last massive power play.  The most interesting comment that Jim Delany had in his press conference was that this could be a multi-phase expansion for the Big Ten.  This sounds a whole lot like attempting to build a Super Death Star Conference.  I’ll explain that in a moment.

The Pac-10 hired an interesting choice to analyze its expansion options: Creative Arts Agency, the high-powered Hollywood entertainment industry firm.  Contrast this with the Big Ten, who has been using investment bankers to perform analysis.  In a slightly off-topic note, CAA also represents LeBron James, which means that entire worlds of college sports and NBA basketball are probably going to determined by a line of cubicles in LA.

What is CAA all about?  Package deals.  The franchise that gets LeBron isn’t just going to be able to sign him based on the quality of the existing team in place right now.  Otherwise, there are only 2 choices for him in that scenario: staying with Cleveland or heading to the Chicago Bulls.  On paper, the Clippers might have the talent, but that’s ignoring the fact that every good or decent player in that team’s history has broken a leg, torn an ACL or lost the use of both knees within a month of joining.  The Knicks and Nets shouldn’t even be in the discussion.  Instead, LeBron wants “his team” (meaning all of his handlers that don’t add value to any franchise) taken care of.

So, it’s not a surprise that the Pac-10/CAA is approaching Texas, the equivalent of LeBron in the conference expansion sweepstakes, with the idea of selling the school a package.  (Another sports columnist made that LeBron/Texas comparison but I can’t find the applicable article to give the appropriate credit.  I’ll put up a link as soon as I can locate it again.)  If this were about making the most money for Texas, then there are only 2 real choices for the school: the Big Ten and SEC.  The proposed Pac-10 expansion is projected to only hopefully match the per school revenue that the Big Ten and SEC members already enjoy today.  CAA understood that it couldn’t win the financial game for its client, so what it recommended the Pac-10 to sell Texas is “comfort”.  It’s all about making it as easy as possible for Texas to make a move: politically expedient, easy travel companions and keeping all of its Big XII South rivalries on the conference slate.  Who cares if the Pac-10 has rejected the notion of adding BYU for many years based on religious grounds and then all of the sudden has Baylor fever when Texas is now an option.  (I have nothing against Baylor, but shame on the Pac-10 if it adds that school while turning its back on BYU for so long.)  It’s like buying a Kia – you’re not going to break the bank, it’s certainly better than the used Ford Pinto of the Big XII that Texas is currently driving, and it won’t upset the neighbors in Waco and Lubbock.  This can only mean one thing for the Pac-10: it’s inviting LeBron to become a member, moving its conference headquarters to Akron, and John Calipari will be installed as the new commissioner.  Worldwide Wes will get it done.

Does that mean that Jim Delany and the Big Ten are just going to give up on Texas?  Hell to naw!  Anyone that thinks otherwise clearly doesn’t understand the long-term demographic, academic and financial ambitions of the conference.  The double chess smack talk has only begun.  IF the Big Ten gets a commitment from Notre Dame (and once again, that’s a massive IF), then the conference has a completely different sale strategy to make one final power play to Texas.  The Big XII will effectively be destroyed with Nebraska and Missouri joining.  That leaves the Big Ten at 14 schools with 2 natural spots remaining to get up to 16.  Instead of selling a quick and easy Kia like the Pac-10, it’s telling Texas that it can have a Rolls Royce.  Imagine Delany calling up UT president Bill Powers over the next few days:

“Bill, we’ve got 2 spots left reserved for you and the Aggies.  With Notre Dame aboard, we’re going to be the most powerful entity in all of sports outside of the NFL with or without you.  You can receive around $40 million per year in TV revenue just for showing up and we’re not even getting into the academic benefits of the CIC.  Are you going to let some meth-on-the-breath legislators down the street from your campus determine your future and shackle you with a ‘Tech-Baylor-UTEP-UTSA-UTD-Northeast Texas Community College problem’ forever?  Maybe you can tell them that the legislature is going to have to figure out a way to make up for the $20 million per year in athletic money that you’re leaving on the table if you don’t get to actually do what’s best for your school, you know, like any other president of a world-class university is empowered to do without thinking about appeasing some overzealous politicians that would rather save a couple of football games in Waco and Lubbock than create the best flagship school possible.  Heh, your friends at Missouri and Nebraska are looking to make twice as much TV money as you because they don’t have a ‘Tech problem’.  That would suck for you.  Let me know.  We’ll need to know by June 30th whether we’re going to invade New York and New Jersey instead.  Delany out.”

The Big Ten has to be true to its brand – its selling point to Texas is to be the highest class academic and athletic conference top-to-bottom.  It can’t and shouldn’t try to get into a fight with the Pac-10 on concessions on the low end.  If Texas can’t fend off the legislators or the school actually would rather be part of a provincial Eastern appendage to the Pac-10 or keep the Big XII as opposed to joining the top national conference, then it is what it is.  At that point, Jim Delany just has to say, WTF and make his move.  Looks like the University of Pittgers!

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

(Image from Chess Variants)

Whether the Pac-10 wanted it or not, it just stole a whole lot of headlines, no?  I warned you that my post from last week could be debunked immediately.  Chip Brown from orangebloods.com is reporting that the West Coast-based conference is looking to swallow half of the Big XII by inviting Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.  Please note that Mr. Brown is not a hack (unlike me) and was the former Texas beat writer for the Dallas Morning News, so don’t let the fact that this is originating from the Texas Rivals site fool you into thinking that this is standard message board fodder.  Colorado’s AD has now stated that he believes that his school is getting a Pac-10 invite, which may or may not be an indication of more things to come (as CU has long been rumored to be the most likely Big XII school to end up in the Pac-10).  For what it’s worth, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott has issued a standard denial which no one on the interweb will believe unless/until nothing happens over the next few days.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

A source from a Big XII school other than Texas has stated to me that the main basis of this story is legit and it has known for several days that this proposal was on the table for the schools in question.  A Texas A&M insider that runs the premium content on TexAgs.com also has stated that these invitations are forthcoming, with the Aggies (at least publicly) being wary of making the move.  What’s extremely unclear is whether the Pac-10 is making these invites before it knows whether it’s receiving a “yes” answer from everyone.  One would think that the Pac-10 isn’t going to be inviting Texas Tech unless it has been assured that Texas is coming along.  This seems to be a contingent offer where everyone would need to sign on for it to happen and then official invites would be sent out.

The Big Ten not being interested in Nebraska, though, is the one piece of the article that doesn’t correlate with any of the information that I’ve received.  My understanding is that Nebraska is a lock to be invited to the Big Ten.  I have had multiple independent corroborations that the main substance of the infamous Northwestern message board rumor (which has disappeared from the Rivals site in the same manner as the missing minutes from the Watergate tapes) is correct, where the Big Ten’s intended invitees are Nebraska, Texas and Notre Dame.  Now, things may have changed in the last couple of weeks, but if the Big Ten were to have to choose between Nebraska and Missouri, there is little doubt that it would take Nebraska.  In fact, if a school needs to “break the seal” of causing an avalanche of schools to leave the Big XII, do not be surprised at all if Nebraska ends up being the first mover in all of this.  I’ve received indications that Nebraska could be invited to the Big Ten quickly (possibly in the next week), where the conference would grant the school a fully vested revenue share (including a full stake in the Big Ten Network) in order to cover the higher Big XII exit fees for a 1-year notice period for leaving.  This would allow the Huskers to begin Big Ten play for the 2011 football season.  It could also set into motion something similar to what I had theoretically posed in the “Multi-Phase Big Ten Expansion: How to Build a Super Death Star Conference” post, where the Big Ten inviting Nebraska puts pressure on Texas to join.  Now, that could ultimately just give Texas and other Big XII schools the political cover necessary to bolt to the Pac-10 en masse as rumored, but let me be clear on this one: THERE IS NO SCHOOL MORE LIKELY TO END UP IN THE BIG TEN THAN NEBRASKA.

There continues to be mixed messages about where Missouri stands in this process.  Chip Brown stated in his article today (along with his previous articles) that the Big Ten has sincere interest in Missouri.  However, I’ve received separate indications from people in positions in the know from Big Ten and Big XII schools that Missouri would be very unlikely to receive an invite.  My understanding is that Missouri would probably need to have a 16-school Big Ten that has either Texas or Notre Dame in order to get invited.  Otherwise, in a 14-school Big Ten scenario, Nebraska and Rutgers would be likely choices, with Syracuse getting the nod over Missouri.  If neither Texas nor Notre Dame are in the fold for the Big Ten, then securing the New York City market specifically and an East Coast presence generally is going to be the only way that a multi-school expansion can work out financially for the conference.  Please note that the Big Ten’s argument to move into the New York area is NOT about believing that Rutgers and Syracuse alone can deliver that market.  Instead, it’s about the “penumbra effect” of combining those schools with the existing large Big Ten alumni bases in that market (particularly Penn State and Michigan) that could theoretically grab the area.  Whether the Big Ten would pull the trigger on that move and if that would work remains to be seen.

That’s what I know.  Now, here’s my general interpretation of everything:

I previously noted that one of the underrated players in this conference realignment process would be Texas Tech because, in reality, there are plenty of conferences that would gladly take A&M either alone or in order to get Texas but having to add Tech on top of that was an entirely different matter.  Texas Tech got into the Big XII because of political willpower and it’s exactly the type of school that would need to lean on political protection again.  Oklahoma State has a similar political relationship with Oklahoma with T. Boone Pickens as a benefactor, to boot.  Well, I don’t believe that it’s an accident that this Pac-10 rumor includes both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State as opposed to, say, Kansas and Utah (who would be more desirable from an additional market perspective).  On the one hand, the inclusion of those schools lends support to the validity of this story because it takes into account what might be politically necessary moves.  On the other hand, with the unanimous vote requirement of the Pac-10 for expansion, is Stanford seriously voting in favor of inviting Texas Tech and Oklahoma State?!  Seriously?! 

The other thing that I don’t understand whatsoever, though, is if Texas has been pushing so hard for the Longhorn Sports Network and maximizing TV revenue, why it would choose joining an expanded Pac-10, which Brown’s article itself stated would only project to make a little less on a per school basis than each Big Ten and SEC school makes today guaranteed.  Indeed, a couple of people connected to the Texas program have told me flat-out that the Big Ten and SEC (in that order) have been the primary choices for the school in this process because it knew that the Pac-10 could never match either financially in any scenario.  Now, it’s fully possible (if not likely) that political factors became intertwined here and Texas simply couldn’t go to its prospective highest revenue home.  This TV revenue issue along with how Standford could have been convinced to vote for Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are the two items that are holding me back from jumping on board with this rumor completely.   

Regardless, while the situation for Missouri is somewhat worrisome, it’s completely rosy compared to Kansas.  I don’t believe that a Big Ten invite is forthcoming for the Jayhawks, the school might be shackled to Kansas State for political purposes if it tries to move by itself and it doesn’t help that the school is in the middle of an embarrassing ticket scalping scandal.  It’s hard for me to believe that Kansas could end up with the leftovers of the Big XII in a Frankenstein league with some current MWC and WAC members, but it’s a very real possibility if this rumor is true.

Finally, the seismic shift that Jack Swarbrick had stated that would force Notre Dame to join a conference might be coming.  I have long been a skeptic that we would see 4 16-team superconferences so quickly, but this type of move by the Pac-10 would start an immediate shift of massive proportions.  So, if the Big Ten doesn’t end up with Texas but Notre Dame finally ends up joining, then maybe it really is mission accomplished for Jim Delany.  We might be going back to the traditional “Big Ten adds Notre Dame/Nebraska/Missouri/Rutgers/Syracuse” rumors as opposed to a Southern demographic shift, yet at least we might be finally getting some closure on this issue sooner rather than later.  UT President Bill Powers is supposed to have a press conference with Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe tomorrow, which should be extremely entertaining for all of us expansion junkies.

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

(Image from Be a Longhorn)

The Big Ten expansion rumor mill continues to churn, with the conference reportedly inviting (or at least welcoming to fill out the online Common Application to join the conference) Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska and Rutgers.  Supposedly, if Notre Dame were to accept the Big Ten’s invite this time around, then the conference would add one more school for a 16-school conference.  If the Domers reject the overtures of the “Big Integer” once again, then the conference would decide between staying at 14 schools or finding 2 other schools to invite.  (Note that as I’m writing this, SportsCenter has teased talk about Notre Dame possibly joining the Big Ten about 8 times in the last 20 minutes with nary a mention of anyone else.)

This particular rumor has been denied by various parties, including the Big Ten’s office and Nebraska’s chancellor (who has probably been the most open university president of any of the schools involved over the past few weeks).  Still, I’m suffering from confirmation bias with respect to this specific story because it’s the main scenario that the collective brain power of this blog’s readers has settled upon over the last few posts: Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers as virtual locks in a minimum 3-school expansion, with the Big Ten only going to 16 if it gets Notre Dame and/or Texas.  I noted this in my interview with Penn State blog Nittany Whiteout a couple of weeks ago (here are parts 1 and 2):

NITTANY WHITEOUT: I’ll have to ask you a three part question.  First: without thinking about money, or logistics, and if saying “no” wasn’t an option, what would be the ideal move for the Big Ten?  Second: getting back to the real world, what’s the best possible decision for the conference?  And lastly, just a shot in the dark, what ends up happening? Does Joe Paterno get that “Eastern Rival” he’s been pining for?

FRANK THE TANK:

1. The Big Ten adds Texas as team #12 and stops there.  There is no single school that can provide more impact for the conference (even Notre Dame).

2.  For all of the focus on TV markets, this expansion is going to require a massive football name in order for it work, which means at least one of Nebraska, Notre Dame or Texas.  Any 14-team scenario with 1 of them would work very well and I think that you need 2 of them for a 16-school conference.  If I were making a recommendation to the Big Ten and it’s not an option to just add Texas or Notre Dame as team #12, I’d go for a 14-school conference with one of those big names as an anchor.  The other 2 schools would provide a base of households (Missouri to the west and Rutgers and/or Syracuse to the east), with the caveat being that if the Big Ten can get Texas but also needs to take Texas A&M, too, then the conference should do it in a heartbeat.

3.  If I were to bet today (and be advised that this changes on almost a daily basis), I believe that the Big Ten will add Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers to create a 14-school conference.  Nebraska provides the national name, Missouri safely delivers a state of 6 million people for the Big Ten Network, and Rutgers is a reasonable bet to at least get a toehold in the state of New Jersey.  They are all large flagship schools that are members of the AAU, so they meet the academic requirements of the conferences while “fitting” the Big Ten mold.  These are also all schools that will say yes to a Big Ten invite almost immediately.  Finally and most importantly for your readership, JoePa gets one Eastern rival to pummel annually.

What’s interesting is that if the Big Ten were to actually send out 4 invites in the manner that it was reported today, it indicates that the conference is employing something similar to the Super Death Star Conference multi-phase expansion strategy that this blog threw against the wall in a homage to John Nash.  The Big Ten is pot committed to expanding one way or another and clearly isn’t bluffing (as many casual fans across the country continue to believe).  This puts Notre Dame in a precarious position because it will end up holding the key to whether the Big East will live on with just losing Rutgers from the football side.  One line of thinking (which is the one that UCONN football coach Randy Edsall and many Big East fans believe) is that if Notre Dame were given an ultimatum to join the Big East football or give up membership in that conference’s other sports leagues, then the Irish would be “forced” into the Big Ten and the Big East could minimize its losses since Jim Delany wouldn’t pursue the East Coast any further.  (I threw a lot of cold water on this popular suggestion in my post about potential Big East expansion scenarios back in February.  Please see assumption #2.)  On the other hand, the line of thinking in my head (and what I believe is the Big Ten’s modus operandi) is that Notre Dame joining the Big Ten actually would embolden the conference to go for the jugular in the Northeast with a 5-school expansion that includes multiple Big East teams.  Jack Swarbrick has consistently tried to toe the proverbial party line that Notre Dame is fully supporting the Big East.  The Irish will have to decide whether joining the Big Ten or staying independent will end up hurting the Big East more (and if it actually matters to the school).

Now, this blog’s commenters went wild in the last post over this Northwestern Rivals message board rumor about a drunk Big Ten employee supposedly stating that the Big Ten’s true targets are Notre Dame, Nebraska… and Texas.  (What’s up with Northwestern and Big Ten expansion rumors? The university president telling a bunch of sorority girls about how the conference voted at the AAU meetings?  Plastered Big Ten insiders getting toasted with the Wildcat faithful?  Is this why Evanston was a center of the temperance movement?)  The scheduling proposal is whack and would seem to be a non-starter for the Big Ten, but as for the mix of teams itself, no one can really discount this as the ultimate goal for the conference (as much as it might be a shoot the moon attempt).  There have been multiple threads on Orangebloods (the premium Texas Rivals message board) that actually corroborated that if the Big Ten could grab Notre Dame and Nebraska, then that would be the scenario that would get Texas to join the Big Ten (whether or not Texas A&M is included).  So, call me just a little bit titillated that the Big Ten might be sending out 4 invitations to apply to receive invitations with 1 outstanding spot that seems to play right into what that wasted Big Ten guy apparently told his Northwestern alum buddy.  I’m simultaneously laughing off the thought that someone with this type of knowledge would spill it to a message board poster while seeing enough detail in the rumor to think, “Why the fuck not?”  This is what passes for “solid” expansion news when no one with actual authority is willing to go on the record.  A variant of the Super Death Star Conference might be coming along just yet.

Or it could “just” be a 3-team expansion with Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers.  It continues to amaze me that a few months ago I thought that it was ridiculous to even think that the Big Ten would add multiple teams, yet now believe that 3-team expansion with one of the top 10 college football programs of all-time (Nebraska) that locks up the state of Missouri and possibly enters into the New York City market is a “conservative” move.  That’s how much our expectations of Big Ten expansion have changed in an extremely short period of time.  Hopkins Horn, a frequent commenter and Texas alum, asked the blog’s readers whether they’d be happy with that ultimate outcome.  Personally, I think that it would be a great outcome for the Big Ten.  While I’d love to add on Texas and/or Notre Dame on top of that group for a 16-school conference, a 14-school conference with Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers as new additions provides a great mix of star power, guaranteed households and East Coast market potential while still maintaining some semblance of an actual tight-knit conference feel (as opposed to being a massive confederation).  As an Illinois alum, I like the natural East/West division split with annual games against long-time Braggin’ Rights rival Missouri.  Expanding further to 16 without Texas or Notre Dame isn’t worth it, in my opinion (as much as I have a huge soft spot for Syracuse).

So, that’s where we are in the expansion rumor cycle at this point.  Hopefully, some real news will come sooner rather than later.

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

(Image from College Hoops Journal)

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)

(Image from Retecool)

The Big Ten appears to be stepping up the timetable for expansion dramatically, where what once looked like a 12-18 month process might now result in announcements prior to the end of June.  So, this is a perfect time for a guest post from Slant reader Patrick, who is a long-time veteran of the television industry.  (This means that he can actually drop some knowledge, as opposed to being a speculative Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer like myself.)  If you’ve been following the comments on last week’s post, Patrick has been providing incredibly insightful analysis based on industry information and has pinpointed some critical items in the Big Ten Network revenue model that definitely has changed some of my prior thoughts on expansion.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that he has provided the most informative viewpoint that I’ve come across since the Big Ten announced that it was exploring expansion back in December and it has changed a number of my views on the candidates.  So, everyone should give Patrick some major kudos for investing his time on this critical issue.  Here’s what he has to say (and my take on it thereafter):

With all the talk of Big Ten expansion lately I could help but wonder why the richest conference with the highest pay outs would want to expand. Wouldn’t that break up the pie into smaller pieces? Wouldn’t that cut the take from the current conference members? In short, NO, a resounding NO! The Big Ten schools together made roughly  $214,000,000 as of the last report. $100,000,000 from ABC / ESPN, $2,000,000 from CBS, and the schools collected $112,000,000 from the newly formed Big Ten Network. That is $19,454,545 per school. The regular network haul of $102,000,000 per year isn’t going to change. Any new members would need to make up that difference, plus carry their own weight of $38,146,166 in new revenues to the Big 10 Network. The conference only controls 51% of the Big 10 Network, FOX News Corp owns the other 49% and takes 49% of the overall profits. So each possible addition would need to earn the conference $19,454,545 per year AND earn FOX News Corp $18,691,621 AND make up the difference in the take from ABC / ESPN / CBS to break even for the current members. Since the conference reported a $112,000,000 payout, the actual profit margin of the Big Ten Network is around $219,607,840. In addition, there are a number of news stories indicating that the universities take this year was just shy of $22,000,000. I haven’t seen anything official on that but if it is true than the BTN made around $272,000,000 in the most recent year. Almost a $50,000,000 climb year to year for a brand new network. So why would anyone mess with that? How could any university earn that much for the BTN?

Advertising!

By the Big Ten’s own admission they are clearing about $0.36 per subscriber per month for the states inside it’s footprint. They also tell us that there are 26,000,000 subscribers and it is AVAILABLE to 75,000,000 people. The BTN wants to increase the available number but even more important is to increase the subscriber numbers, and there is an opportunity to do that within the current footprint. Regardless, at $0.36 per month for 26,000,000 households over 12 months I only came up with $112,320,000 for a cable carry rate. Well short of the $272,000,000 that the network likely made last year. The other $160,000,000 is advertising revenue! Live sporting events get big advertising dollars and the BTN is loaded with them. As Frank pointed out, if the conference were to expand, many more games would be on the BTN. Football, basketball, and maybe down the road a Big Ten hockey conference. Throw in a few conference championship games in different sports and expansion makes money just by added Live programming and increased quality of programming. A few creative tweeks in the scheduling and you could have every Big Ten game make it to air somewhere, which is good for everybody. For the Big Ten to get to 12 schools the addition would need to equal $38,200,000 to break even, for 3 schools they need to reach $114,500,000 combined, and for 5 schools a whopping $190,800,000.  If I were to just pull the #2 – #6 schools from my estimate they would bring in roughly $266,000,000. In that scenario, FOX News Corp profit (by adding 5 schools) goes from $107 million up to $201 million. It would not surprise me to see FOX News Corp gently nudging this process along. If advertising is earning the BTN in the ballpark of what I am thinking, then FOX has realized they opened a gold mine and want to see how deep it goes.

But what about the schools being batted around? I did my level best to average numbers, to play it conservatively, to be fair across the board with finding any schools potential. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are a little tough to gauge because they don’t add any new television markets. But I found that by extrapolating what is already happening with the conference and the Big Ten Network, combining that with my television experiences, and taking into account some of the posters comments and thoughts I came away with what I feel is a pretty fair assessment of the potential of the candidates. As many of you have noted, game attendance and athletic revenue are important. I used attendance to gauge the level of support and fan interest to help me put a dollar value on ratings potential. If the fans won’t even fill their own stadium, how valuable is the team overall? Any team that joins the Big Ten will share in the Big Ten pie, so I subtracted off the current tv pay out for those teams to gauge strength in their home markets. Then extrapolated to find a decent estimation of a new tv markets potential for advertising revenue. I also averaged in the carry rates for the home market or markets with the number of cable subscribers. I did add a category to try to account for additional Live programming on the BTN and gave each school a flat $10,000,000 for the additional sports coverage, that is probably too low but I am leaning to the conservative side.  The following is a summary of the totals of my findings.

CANDIDATES TOTAL ADDED REVENUE ESTIMATE
 
Texas $101,369,004
Rutgers    WITH NYC $67,798,609
Nebraska $54,487,990
Maryland $50,818,889
Boston College $48,382,692
Notre Dame $47,629,255
Kansas $46,320,092
Missouri $45,901,459
Syracuse $43,504,813
Connecticut $38,080,271
Pittsburgh $34,365,175
Iowa State $31,831,077
   
Syracuse  WITH NYC $65,874,573

For a full chart with my calculations, please see this Word document:

Big Ten Candidates TV Analysis

This table could be read many different ways, I have no clue what the Big Ten will do. I could make a strong argument for Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas. If Syracuse can deliver NYC then they might be in but the amount of research they do will hurt their cause. Texas is an absolute no brainer, they lead in almost every category. I don’t think Iowa State is viable, but I was VERY conservative with these numbers. It would be hard to ignore Notre Dame and Nebraska being the #2 and #4 most valuable college sports franchises. Interesting that Kansas is right there behind Nebraska and ND in athletic revenue. If anyone wants to pass along better or more current numbers, I would appreciate it. In addition, with the talk and discussions that were flying around Sunday about the AAU meetings and the accelerated time table, I firmly believe that my estimates are probably too low. The fact that they want to move this quickly with an expansion means that the potential revenue is HUGE and the decision isn’t even a tough or close one. Also in some of the statements coming from the Big Ten brass and Notre Dame, I highly doubt Notre Dame is going to be included in the expansion. I now think that the expansion will happen, and I think that they will go all the way to 16 teams. I believe they will get AAU member schools, and the Big Ten presidents seem to be very interested in graduate research.

 I for one can’t wait, Bucky Badger playing against Nebraska would be an awesome sight!

– Patrick

Based on Patrick’s analysis, there are a few important things that I take away from this:

(1) The 60/40 Rule – This might be the most important piece of information regarding Big Ten expansion that I’ve seen to date: the Big Ten Network makes 60% of its revenue from advertising and 40% 0f its revenue from carriage fees.  I’ll be honest with you – I thought that it would’ve been the other way around and it has definitely altered the lens through which we need to look at expansion candidates.  What this basically means that if push comes to shove, the Big Ten should pick a school that has a great fan base (which translates in viewers for ad revenue) as opposed to market size (which contributes to carriage fees).  This actually brings some common sense back to the discussion, where somehow the world has been convinced over the past few months that Rutgers must be the most valuable school on Earth due to the location of its campus.  We’ve been very focused on footprint sizes and research funding in our discussions lately, but at the end of the day, ad revenue is the #1 source of dollars for the Big Ten Network and that’s based on finding schools that Joe Blow in Anytown, USA will want to watch.  Here’s a chart of some of the expansion candidates with their football TV ratings from last year.  (Note how well Nebraska and Pitt performed compared to everyone else.)  Now, that doesn’t mean that expanding the footprint is irrelevant (as the New York City market is still an important target for the Big Ten), but it definitely lets people “think like sports fans” a little bit here.

(2) Pitt MIGHT make money for the Big Ten – Most of the readers out there know that I personally love Pitt as an academic institution and athletic program, but just couldn’t find any way how the school could add to the Big Ten’s coffers financially.  Well, if Pitt’s ratings for football and basketball are good enough (and judging by the chart I linked to above, they probably are), then the school can end up being financially viable.  Patrick has stated that his figures for Pitt and Notre Dame are very conservative, so if Pitt continues to draw high football ratings, it changes the equation significantly.   Now, Pitt can’t really be put into the same category as Notre Dame or Nebraska where the national draw clearly overrides a lack of new BTN households, yet it does have the advantage of being one of the few expansion candidates that has strong programs in both football and basketball.  Speaking of Nebraska…

(3) If the Big Ten wants to make a ton of TV money, it will invite Nebraska – I’ve been increasingly become more and more supportive of Nebraska joining the Big Ten lately and Patrick’s analysis completely sealed it.  Nebraska’s small market be damned – the Husker fan base is as rabid as any other in the country and they will tune in anytime, anywhere.  (If you were wondering, the photo at the top of this post is evidence of how Nebraska fans completely took over South Bend a few years ago when they played Notre Dame.)  In fact, Patrick’s figures mean that we should remove Nebraska from the realm of “Well, they might be coming instead of Missouri” or “They’re a good back-up if Notre Dame doesn’t want to join” and put the Cornhuskers into the “lock” category instead.  I will now officially be shocked if Big Ten expansion occurs without Nebraska involved.

(4) 16 Schools = Huge Inventory – The 60/40 rule that favors advertising revenue also gives a whole lot more credence to making a 16-school conference financially viable. I recalled this piece from Don Ohlmeyer on that examined how ESPN chose to schedule programs:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=ohlmeyer_don&id=4582425

The message that I got from this was that LIVE EVENTS = RATINGS. A live hot rod competition after a college football game actually holds more viewers than a studio show that talks about said game, even though they have nothing to do with each other at face value.

The Big Ten expanding up to 12 schools really doesn’t increase the inventory of conference football games (which are the higher value games) very much at all. Assuming that the Big Ten continues with an 8-game conference schedule, it would have 48 conference games as opposed to 44 conference games in a season. At 14 schools, it would go up to 56 conference games. At 16 schools, though, the Big Ten would almost certainly go to a 9-game conference schedule, which would catapult the inventory up to 72 conference games.

What does 72 conference games allow you to do? Well, let’s assume that the Big Ten provides 4 games to ABC/ESPN every week (2 games on ESPN and ESPN2 at 11 am CT, 1 game on ABC at 2:30 pm CT, and 1 prime time game), which is a package that would likely see a substantial increase in rights fees when it’s now presumably including Notre Dame and/or Nebraska on top of the current Big Ten members plus a conference championship game. This leaves 2 conference games for the BTN for every single week of the season (except for maybe Labor Day weekend, which is reserved for MACrifice games). With non-conference games mixed in, the BTN could have football triple-headers virtually every week. Going up to 16 schools increases the amount of live football on the BTN in a dramatic fashion and if twice as much live football compounds the amount of ad revenue earned, then I’m starting to see how going up to 16 schools makes more financial sense under the BTN model than 12 or 14 schools.

Then, we get to basketball, where a 16-school conference can get at least one basketball game onto the BTN onto every day of the week except for Friday, whereas now the BTN usually only has games on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s a dramatic jump in the number of high quality basketball games on more nights of the week. This also still leaves enough for the Big Ten to add 1 or 2 more basketball games on ESPN per week for widespread exposure (and likely garner a rights increase there, too, if schools like Syracuse or Pitt added to the mix). Of course, Friday night can be reserved for the new Big Ten Hockey Conference game(s) of the week if Notre Dame joins. There’s even some side benefits in the spring with baseball (as Nebraska and Notre Dame lift up the quality of that league substantially) and lacrosse (where a new Big Ten league could be formed with Syracuse as the national headliner if that school is invited). Other sports such as women’s basketball and volleyball can end up with new national (and TV-friendly) brand names, too.

So, maybe that’s why the chatter about a 16-school conference has taken center stage: if you have that many more high value football and basketball games plus a ton of other sports of interest where you’ve got live programming every night of the week that’s comparable to the college games on the ESPN networks, that can increase ad revenue dramatically (and in turn, carry rates could increase as the BTN becomes more “essential” to viewers’ lives).

(5) My Latest Prediction That Will Change in a Week – Looking at Pat’s figures, it’s clear to me that the Big Ten pretty much has to at least try for the New York market unless Texas and Texas A&M come walking through that door.  The question will be whether the Big Ten believes that it’s worth it to take both Rutgers and Syracuse.  I get the feeling that the Big Ten’s university presidents have a fondness for Rutgers as  fellow public flagship (and I’ve stated before that they make sense in a multi-school expansion), even though my personal choice would be Syracuse if we had to take one or the other.  The academically-minded people in the Big Ten love Pitt and I think that if there’s any financial case for the conference to to be able to take them, they’ll likely do it.  Missouri, although it doesn’t have gangbuster financial numbers, would  probably be seen as a “safe” option because it can at least be counted on with reasonable certainty to deliver any households in its home state that don’t already carry the Big Ten Network on basic cable at the Tier 1 rate.

The one item that I disagree with Patrick on is Notre Dame – if his figures are close to correct, then I have a hard time believe that the Irish will turn down such a huge windfall for playing a lot of the same teams that it already plays annually in football (especially if its home for basketball and Olympic sports is destroyed).  I feel pretty good that Notre Dame, Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers would all be involved in a 16-school Big Ten.  This essentially leaves Pitt and Syracuse for the last spot (unless the Big Ten wants to cut further into the Big XII by taking a school like Kansas).  If the Big Ten wants the better institutional fit, it will choose Pitt.  If the Big Ten really thinks that locking down New York is possible for college sports, then it will choose Syracuse.  With such a large-scale expansion, the Big Ten may put more emphasis on institutional fit to ensure maximum cohesion (especially since renegade Notre Dame is very likely to be involved), which would give the edge to Pitt (as much as it pains me as an avowed Syracuse supporter).  I know that this an about-face from what I’ve been saying for quite awhile.

So, here’s my current bet on who will join a 16-school Big Ten: Notre Dame, Nebraska, Missouri, Pitt and Rutgers.  If Notre Dame continues to balk, I believe that we’ll see Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers added for a 14-school conference.  This will probably change by the end of the week (and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Pitt is replaced by Syracuse in the 16-school scenario), but that’s my line of thinking right now.

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

(Image from Ning)

As I was going through the always insightful comments (since people seem to love talking about superconferences) and pondering life’s great questions, such as what Desmond’s plan is on LOST or why Justin Bieber has been a trending topic on Twitter for the past 15 years, it occurred to me that a multi-phase expansion for the Big Ten may actually be a strong strategy for the conference.  For a very long time, I thought that if the Big Ten was going to add multiple schools, it would do it all at once because it wouldn’t want to risk not ending up with its desired end combination by inviting 1 or 2 schools and then hoping that someone like Notre Dame would join down the road.  However, what if the Big Ten could invite 2 specific schools who would accept that would (a) apply maximum pressure on the big names to join in “Phase 2” and (b) even those big names don’t end up joining, those 2 schools plus another school that the conference apparently likes would still provide enough value where expansion would be considered to be a success?

A large part of the leverage that the Big Ten has right now is due to the fact that it stands at an odd number of 11 members, which provides the possibility of the conference adding 1, 3 or 5 schools (or even standing pat).  Basically, it’s the conference equivalent of the “triple threat” position in basketball, where the player with the ball has the ability to dribble, pass or shoot.  No one knows which direction the Big Ten is going to go right now.  The mere threat of Big Ten expansion has caused the Big East and Big XII to wonder if they’ll survive and at least making the ACC consider some contingency plans.  If the Big Ten just adds one member in an attempt to have a multi-phase expansion, then a lot of that threat goes away – the perception will be that the Big Ten is at a stable 12 members with a conference championship game and provides a strong possibility that it wouldn’t look any further.  However, if the Big Ten invites 2 strategically targeted schools that would almost certainly accept, then the conference creates even more fear and chaos in the college sports world.  Standing at 13, it’s clear that the Big Ten is pursuing a superconference strategy and there is an absolute guarantee that it needs to add 1 or 3 more members.  If there’s a frenzy about the Big Ten’s plans today, just imagine what it would be like if the conference expands with a guarantee that it will add at least one more.  The Big Ten would also show schools like Notre Dame and Texas that the conference isn’t bluffing when it says that it’s moving on.

Let’s look back at the Big Ten Expansion Index, which is likely how most of you found this blog in the first place.  After Texas and Notre Dame, I had ranked Syracuse and Nebraska as the next two best candidates for the Big Ten.  For separate reasons, Syracuse and Nebraska also happen to serve as the ideal “Phase 1” invitees to the conference.

Reading the tea leaves from Notre Dame, a split of the Big East current hybrid structure is the most likely way to “force” it to join a conference (regardless of what the school’s alums believe).  Well, if the Big Ten were to choose just one Big East school that would most likely cause the Big East to split, it would be Syracuse.  The Orange are the glue that holds the hybrid together because no other Big East football school has as much invested in rivalries with the conference’s Catholic schools for basketball.  Without Syracuse, the other football schools would almost have to split simply for self-preservation.  Those remaining Big East football schools wouldn’t know whether the Big Ten would really want any of them in Phase 2 of the expansion and with only 7 members, they absolutely have to add another member immediately just to have the minimum number for a conference to exist in the first place.  Practically speaking, they would likely want to split from the Catholic schools to have the leeway to add 2 new members to cover the situation where the Big Ten may end up taking another Big East school in Phase 2.

On the other side of the Big Ten footprint, we should note something very important with respect to the Big XII: it takes 4 schools to stop any changes to the current inequitable revenue sharing structure that favors Texas more than any other school.  Missouri’s chancellor has complained about this openly.  Right now, there’s a solid bloc of 4 schools preventing those changes:  Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma… and Nebraska.  Those 4 schools consistently receive the most national TV appearances of the current Big XII members, so they receive the largest share of conference revenue on a year-in and year-out basis.  (Note that as much as a lot of otherwise incredibly civil Husker fans complain about how much Texas supposedly controls the Big XII, Nebraska is one of the reasons why Texas has such a large financial advantage over the rest of the conference because the Cornhuskers are still a net beneficiary from that revenue distribution model.)  If the Big Ten takes Nebraska away, then the other Big XII schools will have a super-majority to enact the revenue sharing changes that they’ve long wanted and block the prospect of allowing member schools to create their own TV channels (such as the Longhorn Sports Network).  Who is going to be really pissed off in that situation because it now no longer has the supposed financial “control” of the Big XII?  Texas, who is already behind all of the schools in the Big Ten and SEC in TV money even with the Big XII’s deck completely stacked in the Longhorns’ favor.  If Missouri could be considered a “stalking horse” to try to get Texas, actually taking Nebraska can directly hit the pocketbook of Texas like no other Big XII school except for Oklahoma (who won’t ever get a sniff of a Big Ten invite due to academic concerns).  Texas A&M would be in a similar position.  Nebraska leaving the Big XII gives those two Texas schools a clear financial reason for them to move conferences (to the extent that it’s not there already) AND the political “moral authority” (as Barking Carnival has noted before) of telling the state’s politicians that they need to move pronto regardless of what happens to Texas Tech and Baylor because the Big XII is a dead man walking.

In summary, the Big Ten can announce that it’s inviting Syracuse and Nebraska, both of whom I believe the conference likes regardless of who else might be added.  The effect of this is even more panic in the college sports world since 2 BCS conferences will have lost key members and it’s clear that the Big Ten is going to want to add at least 1 more school (or maybe 3).  This causes the Big East to split up simply for self-preservation (which would drive Notre Dame to the Big Ten) and the Big XII’s power schools would no longer have veto power to avoid changes to its revenue distribution model (which would drive Texas and Texas A&M to the Big Ten).  We would then have a Super Death Star Conference (the one that the Empire attempted to build in Return of the Jedi):  Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M, Syracuse and Nebraska as new members of a 16-school Big Ten.

Now, what if the desired fallout doesn’t go as planned for the Big Ten, where Notre Dame and/or the Texas schools stay put?  (In the words of future Ole Miss mascot Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!!!”)  This is not really a problem because the Big Ten has already added a huge national football name (Nebraska) and a marquee basketball school that happens to be the only BCS school in the state of New York (Syracuse).  The Big Ten would then invite Rutgers as school #14, which gets the conference to stake its geographic claim to the New York/New Jersey area.  As a result, the Big Ten has increased its national cache for both football and basketball while adding on concrete households in the form of a major presence in the nation’s largest TV market.  (This is “JoePa’s Quasi-Dream Conference” that I wrote about here.)  Adding Syracuse and Nebraska as schools #12 and #13 allows the Big Ten to disrupt the current comfort zones of Notre Dame and Texas and applies serious pressure on them to join the Big Ten themselves, but also provides a hedge in the event that those major players aren’t persuaded at the end.

I’ve stated before that Nebraska would be the one school that could make me eat my words that the Big Ten wouldn’t expand without Notre Dame or Texas involved.  Frankly, JoePa’s Quasi-Dream Conference is a pretty good outcome for everyone associated with the Big Ten.   The sports fans get great national programs in football and basketball (plus major upgrades in other sports with Nebraska baseball and women’s volleyball and Syracuse lacrosse).  The academically-minded people maintain a conference entirely composed of members of the American Association of Universities.  The traditionalists get a geographically contiguous conference that “conservatively” adds on to both sides of the league footprint.  The TV executives get another marquee football name for national TV contracts and entry into the New York/New Jersey area for Big Ten Network households.  Maybe most importantly, these are all schools that seem to actually WANT to be in the Big Ten (as opposed to feeling forced to join).  This can maintain the close-knit atmosphere that I believe is the Big Ten’s greatest qualitative strength.

That would be my maniacal multi-phase expansion plan if the Big Ten is truly looking to move up to at least 14 schools – go for the proverbial royal flush in a way where the conference is still guaranteed to be the chip leader no matter what happens.

(NOTE:  In response to several requests, I’m putting together an updated post on the potential fallout on other conferences, so stay tuned.)

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

(Image from Eco Auto Ninja)