Posts Tagged ‘Pac-10 Expansion’

The Pac-12 is ready to announce a massive new television deal with Fox and ESPN worth $250 million annually.  (No one has been covering this story better than Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.)  I certainly have to give props to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott here.  Up to this point, I’ve thought that he was smart and aggressive but more full of bluster with big ideas without necessarily the ability to implement them.  The amount of the Pac-12 deal, shows that the conference made a smart move in hiring from outside of the college administrator ranks.

Ultimately, the reasoning for a TV rights fee is akin to examining the price of a stock.  A portion of the price is going to be related to the market overall, another portion is connected to the industry sector, and there’s a final part that is based on the fundamentals of the individual company itself.  It wasn’t a surprise that the Pac-12 was able to raise its TV rights fees significantly, as the demand for sports programming in general has been skyrocketing over the past few months.  That’s a market-based factor that all sports entities negotiating new TV deals are benefiting from right now, which I examined in-depth in my last post.  What I didn’t expect was that the Pac-12 would vault itself to a position alongside the Big Ten and SEC in terms of TV revenue so quickly.  The Big Ten has the benefit of having the Big Ten Network that can take advantage of the market trends until its ABC/ESPN ends in 2016, but the SEC is locked into its CBS and ESPN deals until well into the next decade.  That doesn’t mean that the Pac-12 is inherently as valuable as either the Big Ten or SEC.  Indeed, the Big Ten and Pac-12 negotiated for the rights to their respective new conference championship games with Fox at virtually the same time.  Head-to-head, the Big Ten game garnered over $23 million per year, while the Pac-12 game received $14.5 million per year, so that gives you an idea of what the conferences are worth relative to each other when you take timing out of it.  My impression that the SEC championship game would be worth even more.  Still, it’s significant that the Pac-12 seems to have been able to pull away from the ACC and non-Texas/Oklahoma portion of the Big 12.

So, what are the fundamentals specific to the Pac-12 that led to this deal (as opposed to just the overall rising tide of sports fees)?  One important point that I’ve mentioned before but probably underestimated in the scheme of things is that the Pac-12 is the only conference with a BCS monopoly in its own footprint.  In fact, with the additions of Colorado and Utah, it’s the only BCS conference located in the entire Pacific and Rocky Mountain Time Zones.  That’s a pretty massive swath of area to effectively have all to yourself.  In contrast, all of the other BCS conferences compete with at least 2 other BCS conferences in their footprints.  For the the Big East in particular, it has to compete with all of the other BCS conferences in its footprint except for the Pac-12.

Another item to note is that Fox needed to retain the Pac-12 very badly for its owned-and-operated West Coast regional sports networks, especially FS West in the Los Angeles market.  FS West is suffering from the blow of losing its most valuable property of the Lakers next year, who are pouring salt in the wound by creating two competing networks (one English and the other Spanish) with Time Warner Cable.  Losing Pac-12 sports on top of that would have left FSN West to rely on the Clippers… and I don’t care how badass Blake Griffin might be (and he’s about as badass as one can be badass), but if I’m Rupert Murdoch, I’ll be damned if I run any organization that has to rely on the Clippers.  With ownership of FS Arizona and a minority interest Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, Fox had some heavy incentives to protect or expand its Pac-12 programming.

(Note that Fox’s owned-and-operated regional sports networks are heavily concentrated in California, Arizona, Texas, the Great Plains Midwest and the Southeast.  Looking at that lineup, it should come as no surprise why Fox paid up heavily for the Pac-12 and Big 12 TV rights and sent in a large bid for the ACC.  The Northeast markets, on the other hand, are largely the domain of Comcast RSNs with Fox largely being shut out.  This is instructive as to who might be (and not be) looking at the Big East’s TV rights down the road.)

ESPN expanding its relationship with the Pac-12 is a little more difficult to read.  Variety has indicated that the Pac-12 has agreed to provide 4 Thursday night and 4 Friday night football games per year to ESPN, so there seems to be a push from the Worldwide Leader to get more higher quality weeknight college football contests.  The Pac-12 also allows for late night games on Saturdays to compensate for the moves of Hawaii and Fresno State from the WAC to the MWC (which doesn’t show any games on ESPN).  Finally, there could be a return of a 11 pm Central Time Big Monday basketball time slot allocated to the Pac-12, which ESPN used to have for Big West or West Coast Conference games.  Overall, ESPN’s modus operandi may very well have been to ensure that neither Comcast nor Turner Sports would end up with the Pac-12, who could have been used as a cornerstone to really have beefed themselves up as legitimate college sports broadcast competitors.

It’s also a bit of a surprise that a Pac-12 network would be wholly-owned.  This is a good thing if the network can receive basic carriage, but could be a roadblock if there are any carriage disputes.  The Big Ten Network, which is 49% owned by Fox, was able to leverage its basic carriage with DirecTV (which was owned by Fox at the time of the launch of the BTN) to apply pressure on cable operators, while the MLB Network garnered one of the largest basic cable launches of any channel in history by offering minority stakes to several cable companies in exchange for carriage.  Those cable companies also provided capital start-up costs.  On the other end of the spectrum, the NFL Network (wholly-owned by the NFL) is still battling cable operators 8 years after it went on the air.  There seems to be a presumption that the Pac-12 wanted to have 100% ownership of a network, but I’m not so sure that’s the case with the amount of ramp-up costs involved and how critical basic cable carriage is for success.

Regardless, even if a conference network never even gets off the ground, I’m pretty sure the Pac-12 schools are acting like this right now.

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

(Image from Lehigh Valley Live)

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Yes, I’m alive and so is this blog.  With the slowdown in conference expansion news, it was a good time to take a summer break after going non-stop for the first 6 months of the year.  However, the start of the football season is only a couple of weeks away, so the activity will be picking up once again (less on expansion and more on actual football).  I’ll be voting in the BlogPoll (which will likely continue to be found on CBS Sports.com) this year, so there will be a weekly post during the season with my selections at the very least, which all of you can rip apart with impunity.  If you want to lobby me on behalf of your favorite team, please feel free to do so, as well.  To keep you occupied until that starts up for the year, here’s my look at where the BCS conferences stand regarding realignment issues using the Department of Homeland Security Advisory System:

OSCAR THE GROUCH THREAT LEVEL

BIG TEN

The Big Ten continues to be in control of any future conference expansion nationwide.  With the addition of Nebraska, the conference now has a championship game and can expect to receive a large uptick in its national TV revenue in the next few years with the popularity of the Huskers.  The East Coast bastion of the Wall Street Journal, which one might have expected to push the Big Ten to grab Rutgers or Syracuse, showered a ton of praise on the conference’s marriage with Nebraska last week and pointed out that this was a significant shift in college football that has flown under the radar with all of the Texas/Big IIX drama.  I believe that I speak for the majority of Big Ten fans in being incredibly excited to see Nebraska start Big Ten play in 2011.

I just hope that the Big Ten doesn’t f**k things up with a wacky divisional alignment.  I’ll repeat what I noted in my post from a few weeks ago: Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS).  Most proponents of a gerrymandered divisional alignment like to point out the dominance of the Big 12 South over the Big 12 North over the past several years as an example of the danger of a pure geographic alignment, yet forget that the Big 12 North was the dominant division for the first few years of that conference’s existence.  I’m exponentially more fearful of the aimless ACC divisional alignment which has no logic and broke off natural rivalries.  Karma has been a bitch for the ACC since it has never ended up its intended result of a Florida State-Miami championship game.  I don’t want to see the Big Ten make the same mistake.

I’m not surprised by the choice of Indianapolis as the site of the first Big Ten Championship Game, although my preference would’ve been Chicago, which is the conference’s marquee market and has a cross-section of alums from all of the Big Ten schools.  Personally, I don’t think cold outdoor weather really should be an issue for Big Ten football from a competitive standpoint, but it does matter to TV interests.  The Big Ten and ABC likely want to place the Big Ten Championship Game in a prime time slot, and while the cold weather is bearable when at least the first half is played in the daylight, it is a rough experience at Soldier Field or Lambeau Field for a typical December night game.  I blame all of this on the choice of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois to drop a UFO in the middle of the Soldier Field columns instead of building a brand-new domed/retractable-roof stadium for the same cost (or even less) that could’ve been in the rotation for Final Fours and Super Bowls.  (Cost to renovate Soldier Field from 2001-2003, which reduced seating capacity by over 5,000: $625 million.  Cost to build University of Phoenix Stadium from scratch from 2003-2006 with a retractable roof and North America’s first roll-out grass field: $455 million.  Which taxpayer base got its money’s worth?)   It is ridiculous that Indianapolis is consistently beating out Chicago for top-tier sports events – this is the equivalent of Hartford getting marquee properties over New York City.

As for future expansion, the Big Ten would likely be able to grab any school other than Notre Dame and Texas.  The issue, of course, is that it’s doubtful that the Big Ten really wants any school other than Notre Dame and Texas right now.  If Rutgers or Syracuse can go on a run of BCS bowl appearances to generate New York/New Jersey interest in college football again, then that could change things, but all indications right now are that integrating Nebraska is the top priority unless the Irish or Longhorns change their minds.

Notre Dame still remains a Big Ten expansion possibility in the long-term for one major reason: academics.  The leadership at the school has continued to be open to joining the Big Ten because it believes that could aid Notre Dame into gaining membership with the American Association of Universities.  This top-line academic priority for the university directly clashes with the Irish alumni base’s unwavering need to retain independence at all costs.  Notre Dame’s leadership is in a bind since the school arguably grants more power to its alumni base over university affairs than any other BCS school, which means that crossing them results in putting their own heads on the chopping block regardless of whether they believe moving to the Big Ten makes sense academically and financially.  I don’t envy the people in charge of Notre Dame at all – independence is an integral part of the school’s identity, which is why the alumni base fights so hard for it, but it may hold the school back from achieving its ultimate academic goals and, as the Big Ten and SEC continue to expand their revenue advantages over everyone else, will negatively impact the athletic program’s success, as well.  Eventually, there will be a group of leaders at Notre Dame that will be willing to risk career suicide by having the school join the Big Ten, but those people will likely be from the current undergraduate population’s generation that cares more about ND being an academically elite school than its football status.  That group likely won’t come into power for another two decades.

Texas, on the other hand, is going to ride its proposed Bevo TV like Zorro for the foreseeable future.  I’ll get to more about this later on, but suffice to say, there won’t be any marriage between the Big Ten and Texas with the school’s approach to using and abusing conferences.

So, a 12-school Big Ten is going to be the new status quo for awhile.  There will still some long-term demographic challenges as the US population continues to move to the Sun Belt and the coasts, but as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, the addition of Nebraska is one of those rare moves that will make both the financial bean counters in Park Ridge and the fans in the stands and living rooms happy.

SEC

The SEC stands alongside the Big Ten as the most stable and powerful conferences in the country.  Whether the SEC can realistically grow is an open question.  Unlike the Big Ten, which was at an unstable 11 members without a championship game and positioned in the middle of the country where it could conceivably expand anywhere except for the West Coast, the SEC hasn’t had an urgent need to get bigger.  It doesn’t really want to expand unless there’s: (1) a large market added and (2) an upgrade to the conference’s academic profile.  The lingering perception that the SEC wants to tear apart the ACC (or can actually do it) is a ridiculous notion.  The two schools that would add the most to the SEC from the ACC, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, are two of the least likely schools to ever consider an SEC invitation (as I’ll discuss in a bit).  West Virginia has the Big East’s best traveling fan base but its worst TV market, so that doesn’t make very much sense, either.

As a result, the state of Texas is the only potential goldmine left for the SEC, but as we’ve seen with the stunning non-breakup of the Big IIX, pulling off anyone from that conference would entail adding a bloc of schools en masse (and the Pac-10 found out that not even that could work).  The SEC really only cares about Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma – virtually everyone else in the Big IIX is worthless filler from a financial perspective.  The conference wants nothing to do with Texas Tech, Baylor and/or Oklahoma State, which may all be political requirements for those that want any of the Big III from the Big IIX.  Missouri is in the same position with the SEC as it is the Big Ten – decent market with a decent sports program, but not revenue accretive enough to justify expanding for.  ESPN’s analysts will continue to slob the knob of the SEC on the field, yet there really isn’t that much that it can (or should) do off the field.  Mike Slive might engage in some saber-rattling about the conference maintaining its power if other conferences expand beyond 12 teams, but realistically, he knows that the SEC has a great set-up today and is never going to expand just for the sake of keeping up in terms of sheer numbers of members.

COOKIE MONSTER THREAT LEVEL

PAC-10/12

The Pac-10 went for the proverbial jugular with its offer to invite half of the Big 12, but ultimately ended up with only Colorado and Utah.  These are decent additions for the Pac-10 as geographic and cultural fits, but they don’t really raise the national profile of the conference in the Eastern and Central Time Zones.  The Pac-10 is obviously performing its due diligence on forming a new TV network with former Big 12 Commissioner and Big Ten Network president Kevin Weiberg in the fold.  However, there is valid skepticism out there that it could ever come close to being as financially successful as the BTN (fan intensity is lower, , which means that the conference might not add that much more TV revenue taking games in-house compared to signing a larger comprehensive deal with ESPN or other established cable networks.

Still, the Pac-10’s main disadvantage from a TV perspective is a great advantage from a conference alignment viewpoint: its West Coast location.  The Big Ten and SEC won’t even think of touching any of the Pac-10 schools, which means that the Western conference is safe from any possible poachers.  The Pac-10 is safe and stable for the foreseeable future, which means that it’s worth any exit fee that Colorado may have to pay to the clusterf**k of the Big IIX.  As with the Big Ten and SEC, the state of Texas is really the main market that actually can move the meter for the Pac-10, and considering the manner in which talks broke down between the Pac-10 and the University of Texas harem, it may forever be an unattainable goal.

BERT THREAT LEVEL

ACC

I’ll repeat what I’ve stated several times on this blog: the ACC is MUCH safer than the general public gives it credit for.  Even though the SEC and Big Ten could theoretically offer more money to any of the ACC members, it may not be enough of a difference to overcome the charter member status of schools such as Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina (who have been mentioned at various times in connection with the Big Ten and/or SEC) or the academic prestige gap between the ACC and SEC.  Note that the ACC is the only conference other than the Big Ten that has an academic consortium and, for lack of a better term, it has “snobby” members and leaders that aren’t very willing to jump to the SEC compared to football-focused fans.  Virginia Tech on paper would seem to be the main school that might have some interest in the SEC, but with the way that the University of Virginia was hamstrung by Virginia politicians to force the Hokies into the ACC back in 2003, VT leaving the ACC and the commonwealth’s flagship university that expended a ton of political capital several years ago for more money in the SEC is not going to work with the Virginia legislature.

The new TV deal that the ACC has in place with ESPN cements the ACC’s stability even further.  Really, the only reason why the ACC is at “Bert Level” is that Maryland could very well fit into the Big Ten and there might be at least a tiny bit of mutual interest, but the Big Ten’s desire in going toward the East Coast appears to be predicated on Notre Dame coming along, too.  There is definitely nothing that the Big East could offer to draw Boston College back – Eastern fans might constantly bemoan the geography, but that school is clearing so much bank compared to what it had before that its leaders don’t care.  Thus, the ACC is in good shape overall.

ERNIE THREAT LEVEL

BIG EAST

Here’s where the conference realignment discussion gets interesting again.  From one perspective, the Big East could be considered extremely vulnerable due to its geographic proximity to the Big Ten and ACC, fairly good academic institutions, large markets on paper and disjointed sports membership.  On the other hand, if none of the individual schools are actually revenue positive to the Big Ten or ACC, then they aren’t going to be expansion targets and the conference is de facto safe as no one has anywhere else to turn.  As I mentioned in connection with Maryland above, the Big Ten’s East Coast strategy is tied in with Notre Dame, so as long as the Irish stay independent, the Big Ten is not likely to expand again in the near future.

As a result, the Big East is somewhat safe, but it’s also stuck.  There isn’t an obvious football expansion candidate east of the Mississippi River (Memphis, UCF, ECU and Temple are usual “meh” suspects) and even if there was, the hybrid football/non-football membership complicates anything getting done.  Villanova moving up from FCS to FBS has been thrown around as an option, yet even if the school decided to upgrade tomorrow, it would take several years to make that transition.  Futhermore, if Villanova somehow completed the upgrade, it’s hard to see why the school could really draw more or perform better at the FBS level than its Philly neighbor of Temple, which got kicked out of the Big East as a football-only member even when the conference was looking for warm bodies in the wake of the 2003 ACC raid.

I’d still recommend that the Big East go after TCU plus one other school to go up to 18 overall members and 10 football members since I believe that TCU is the main school in the country besides BYU that is a true BCS-level program that’s stuck in a non-BCS conference and it’s never going to get an invite from its regionally-friendly Big IIX (as it has no need for yet another Texas-based school).  The other usual suspects for Big East expansion typically use the “If we were in a BCS conference, we’d be SOOOOO much better” argument, which is akin to saying that you’re a no-talent ass clown that can churn out hit records with the aid of a vocoder.  (I’m looking at you, Kei$ha.)  The Big East doesn’t need project programs – it needs greater respect immediately and a material improvement to its national TV contract.  TCU at least provides a chance for the Big East on those fronts.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Big East leadership is forward thinking in that way at all.

A split between the football members and the Catholic schools has long been blog and message board fodder, yet the fact remains that the Big East basketball contract (which is larger than the football contract) depends upon the large markets that those Catholic universities provide.  Therefore, a split won’t happen unless there’s a big-time incentive to do so (i.e. the Big IIX splits apart and a bunch of BCS programs need a new home).

As for the prospects of a Big East TV network, call me EXTREMELY skeptical that it could work.  If the Pac-10 is going to have a tough time making a network pay off financially, and that’s a conference with significantly better market penetration on the West Coast than the Big East on the East Coast, then I don’t know how a Big East network could ever get off the ground.  The Big Ten Network had a perfect storm of a top-level cable partner (Fox) that provided national carriage immediately (Fox had control of DirecTV at BTN’s launch) plus large schools with large alumni bases that REALLY care about college sports located in large markets that don’t have a lot of regional cable network competition.  It’s a different proposition to attempt to get a network onto basic cable in the New York City area, which already pays for YES, SNY and MSG, when the Big East isn’t even the clear dominant conference in that region.  (The most popular conference in the Mid-Atlantic according to a 2007 NCAA study: the Big Ten.)  Without NYC, the Big East network simply won’t come to fruition (and conference helper Paul Tagliabue apparently agreed when he bashed the notion of people on Long Island watching Rutgers after their tennis matches).

So, the Big East is in a stalled car.  Individual members that want to get into the Big Ten (Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt) might actually wish that things were more fluid again, but until Notre Dame wants something other than independence, the Big East will talk publicly about “exploring” plans for a TV network and expansion and implement absolutely none of them.

ELMO THREAT LEVEL

BIG IIX

Oh, the Big IIX.  The more that I think about how this conference is still alive, the more that I understand how guys like Bernie Madoff can steal millions from otherwise smart people.  Dan Ponzi Beebe sold a handshake deal to academic leaders holding degrees galore with millions of dollars of unwritten promises based on (1) supposed future TV income that won’t be negotiated until a few years from now and (2) exit fees from Nebraska and Colorado that will be tied up in litigation for years and will likely be significantly discounted from the current sticker price.  Not only that, but some Big IIX people have actually deluded themselves into thinking that Arkansas would leave the SEC and Notre Dame would give up its entire identity as an independent to join this “conference” based on future revenue that doesn’t yet exist and isn’t in writing ANYWHERE.  WTF?!

How schools like Texas A&M bought this bullshit (and that’s what it is – complete bullshit) is beyond me.  The Aggies have good reason to get quite restless without ANY paper trail regarding these promises.  Of course, who knows why the heck the school would’ve agreed to all of this without something in writing in the first place, which makes it harder to defend a new “F**k you, pay me” stance.

Outside of A&M, I firmly believe that the University of Texas will rue the day that it spurned the Pac-10’s offer to add half of the current Big 12 (even if Texas A&M went separately to the SEC) – it will NEVER get a better opportunity to be in an upgraded academic conference with larger markets AND bring along a bunch of its regional rivals.  Instead, UT has banked its entire future on its own TV network and has even started making non-conference scheduling decisions based upon it by killing off a series with Minnesota over a video rights dispute.  Texas better be damn sure that this TV network is going to work because I’m still flabbergasted that this is the route that it chose to take when it had virtually every single option (Pac-16, Big Ten, SEC, independence, even the ACC) on the table.  In a few years, when everyone figures out that the TV revenue that Ponzi Beebe promised won’t ever materialize, Texas may not have any choice other than the Big IIX because no other conference is going to turn over the requisite TV rights that would make Bevo TV viable.

Plus, the Texas legislature made sure that everyone respected its authoritah.  For all of the power that UT is supposed to have in the college football world, it was made clear in this realignment process that it will be forever shackled to at least Texas Tech, which is much more problematic than being only paired up with the fairly attractive Texas A&M.  As a lone free agent, Texas is arguably the most valuable program that any conference can get (even above Notre Dame), but when it has to bring along 4 or 5 others, then it’s a completely different value proposition and the school isn’t nearly as enticing.  The Pac-16 deal was the main chance that Texas could break away from at least Baylor and let Texas A&M go its own way, yet now it has foreclosed a whole bunch of long-term options unless things happen outside of its control (i.e. A&M bolts to the SEC by itself).  The Big Ten and SEC aren’t going to offer to add schools en masse like the Pac-10 did and if the Texas legislature freaked out about UT separating from its other in-state brethren to go to another conference, I don’t see how it could ever try to go independent (which is probably the situation the school is best suited for in a perfect world).

Essentially, the Big IIX is held together by Bevo TV, some Texas politicians and a bunch of unwritten promises from Ponzi Beebe.  No wonder why Nebraska and Colorado ran out as quickly as possible and Missouri has been begging for a Big Ten invite for months.  I guarantee you that NU and CU are going to settle for a whole lot less than what the Big IIX is demanding in exit fees since UT will have zero desire to allow what they’ve done behind the scenes over the past several months to be aired out publicly in court.  Big IIX could possibly add some schools from the Mountain West or C-USA if it wanted to, but with the reprieve from ABC/ESPN where it will pay the current level of TV rights fees even with two fewer members and no conference championship game, the financial incentive isn’t there.  With the Longhorns’ first-priority needs to have league leadership control and its TV network above all else, I believe that the only conference other than the Big IIX that they might end up in over the next few years is a brand new one that they create from scratch as opposed to an existing BCS conference.  Therefore, Texas isn’t going to be the first mover in any future conference realignment scenarios (just as it was the case this past summer).  It will be up to a school such as Texas A&M to have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the legislative powers that be and act in its own interests as a university if it wants to leave the Big IIX.

As of today, all is quiet on the conference realignment front.  That’s not a bad thing as we can watch some actual football again.

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

(Image from flicker)

Some reactions to the latest developments in conference realignment:

I.  WINNERS

Nebraska – More than doubling your TV money, raising the academic profile of the university overall and not having the Austin bogey-man anymore in the shotgun reconciliation of the Big 12-ish?  Not bad.

Big Ten – A week ago, we were wondering if Jim Delany might have gotten played by Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and Delany protege Kevin Weiberg.  As it stands now, though, the Big Ten is the only conference that is clearly stronger than before by adding one of the top 10 programs of all-time and the formation of a lucrative conference championship game.  With the apparent new TV money getting thrown at the Big 12, one could only imagine the type of increase that the Big Ten is going to garner with another marquee school in the fold.  Now, I do believe that it’s going to be necessary for the Big Ten to address shifting population trends in the long-term (whether it’s going to the East Coast or after some Southern-based schools), but if we stay at 12 with just Nebraska for awhile, I believe most Big Ten partisans are going to be perfectly fine with that.

Texas – I’ll be honest: I severely underestimated the need for Texas to have control as opposed to sheer money (although they go hand-in-hand).  Sure, lots of Big 12 partisans have complained about the Texas control for years, but I always thought it was overstated and that the “control” really came in the form of simply TV revenue.  Well, it appears that they really do love control over everything else since they just turned down a spectacular opportunity to effectively bring all of its rivals to a more stable and prestigious conference with larger markets in the Pac-10 in order to save the Big 12-ish.  As I noted in the “Underrated Players in Conference Realignment” post a few weeks ago, the Longhorn Sports Network turned out to be critical.  Why the heck Texas still believes that a solo sports network will be better off in the long-term compared to a share in the Big Ten Network or what would’ve been created in the Pac-10 is beyond me, but DeLoss Dodds is going to get his chance to create his baby.  Regardless, Texas got what it wanted: more control over its own conference and expanded local TV rights, which translates into more revenue across-the-board.  Like the Big Ten, though, this is only a temporary win for Texas.  The way that the Big 12-ish got a reprieve isn’t exactly a harbinger of conference stability, so we might be going through this process again with the Longhorns in 5 years or so.

II.  LOTS OF HOPE

Utah – Within the span of a couple of days, the Utes went from thinking that they’d never have a chance to move in with their Pac-10 brethren if the Pac-16 came to fruition to now being at the top of the list for a natural pairing with Utah in the new Pac-12.

III.  GLAD TO BE ALIVE

Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri, Baylor – Wow, these guys were fucked up until today.  Especially Mizzou, whose fans were trying to figure out the best routes to Laramie after dreaming of Ann Arbor and Madison road trips for several months.  From the very beginning in the Big Ten Expansion Index post, I believed that Missouri’s role would more likely be that of a stalking horse for other schools that the Big Ten was targeting and it ended up being completely true.  I know that I’ve been accused by some Missouri alums of supposedly having some type of Illini bias (which is ridiculous since Illinois would’ve been the school that could’ve benefited the most by adding Mizzou), but I honestly didn’t want to see that school or any of the others in the Big 12 North get shut out without a home.  So, these schools will live on in a BCS home, yet it’s going to be an even more tenuous relationship with its fellow conference-mates for a long time.

Colorado – It got into its long-time natural home of the Pac-10 after being threatened to have it taken away by Ken Starr’s Right Wing Conspiracy.  With the Big 12-ish surviving, though, CU is looking at a lone move to a conference that may not really pay more TV revenue compared to its old situation… and this is an athletic department whose checks bounce off of the ground like Super Balls.  Still, if you had to bet you entire life savings on which conference would be more likely to exist 10 years from now, would you put it on the Big 12-ish or the Pac Televen?  Call me crazy, but I’ll take the odds on the latter.  With that being the case, this was a good long-term move for CU even if it might be a short-term hit to the budget.

Dan Beebe – The Big 12-ish commissioner gets a ton of credit for slapping together a better TV deal for theconference in such a short period of time (although it looks like he got by with a little help from his friends), but fans  have a right to ask where the bloody hell was that TV deal before it lost a marquee school (Nebraska) and its largest market outside of the state of Texas (Denver).  At least the @DanBeebe Twitter feed has been awesome through all of this.

IV.  TO BE DETERMINED

Pac-10 – As I’ve explained before, the Pac-10 could never compete with the Big Ten and SEC financially in order to lure a school like Texas, so it leveraged its main asset of flexibility to make a massive power play to annex half of the Big 12.  For the Pac-10 to have had a chance to move into the same financial tier as the Big ten and SEC, it absolutely had to throw down its best and most aggressive offer.  With the gamble not working, the Pac-10 is now stuck at 11 with a decent school with a decent market in Colorado (essentially the equivalent of what Missouri was looked at by the Big Ten).  It’s expected that the Pac-10 will move in on Utah as opposed to staying as the Pac Televen, but it’s clear that the West Coast league is going to be stuck in the second financial tier for the foreseeable future.  I’ve got to give Larry Scott and Kevin Weiberg a ton of credit, though – they had the cajones to put it all on the line these past two weeks and pushed the timetable for realignment forward.

Big Ten Hopefuls Elsewhere – Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, maybe Maryland?  The latest rumored candidates of Boston College or Georgia Tech? What the Big Ten is going to do over the next 12-18 months is still up in the air.  It is clear from all of the information that I’ve seen that Texas was the #1 target for the league, so it’s going to take some time to re-assess if and where it wants to expand to next.  Rutgers may still become a Big Ten member eventually, but the fact that a superconference wasn’t formed on the West Coast and Texas isn’t part of Big Ten expansion is going to slow down the timeline drastically.

General BCS Hopefuls – Schools like BYU, TCU, Memphis, East Carolina and UCF all have been harboring BCS conference dreams and were even banking on a massive fallout, but with not much of an upheaval at this time, the waiting continues.  I believe that the Big 12-ish would be well-served to add BYU for sure, yet it appears the financial argument for that conference to bring in replacements is fairly weak.  (Note that I love TCU yet understand that the Horned Frogs don’t bring a new market to the Big 12-ish.)

So, out all of the speculation and millions of hours of productivity lost in offices across the nation this past week refreshing Orangebloods, we have the Big Ten adding Nebraska, the Pac-10 adding Colorado and the Mountain West adding Boise State.  The college sports world won’t be experiencing a massive upheaval this week, but with the Big 12-ish progressing on shaky ground (similar to the Big East after the 2003 ACC raid) and Notre Dame always out there as a paradigm-shifting free agent, the rumors will undoubtedly continue to percolate.  Don’t worry about me not having things to write about for the next few weeks – I’m on every LeBron-to-the-Bulls rumor like white on rice.

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

(Image from Big 12 Conference)

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)