Posts Tagged ‘Pac-10’

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)

As I continue to follow the Illini (NIT) championship run with bated breath and brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack, I wanted to address this interesting story from Dennis Dodd.  The Pac-10 has explored the possibility of staging a conference championship game with its current league of 10 teams.  Of course, this would require changing the NCAA rule that mandates that a conference have at least 12 schools and divisions where the members of each division play an intra-division round robin in order to stage an “exempt” championship game.  (“Exempt” refers to the fact that such championship game won’t count against the 12-game regular season schedule limit.  Please see NCAA bylaw 17.9.5.2(c).)  This reminds me  of the “Amendment to Be” song from The Simpsons – “If we change the Constitution, then we can make all kinds of crazy laws!”

Regular commenter Adam has pointed out the byzantine process in which it would take to change the NCAA rule on this matter, which made it seem only slightly easier than going through a Senate confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court nominee or having to tell Suge Knight that you don’t have the money that you owe him.  What’s interesting from Dodd’s article was that changing the conference championship game rule would supposedly be “non-controversial”.  Who knows why it would be non-controversial today when the ACC was rejected several years ago in its attempt to stage a championship game with less than 12 members prior to adding Boston College.  Maybe schools in all conferences (whether BCS or non-BCS) believe that changing the rule would result in more conference membership stability or at least avoid having conferences add schools simply for the sake of a championship game.

The Big Ten could use a rule change to its advantage in a number of ways.  On the one end, the Big Ten could simply stand pat at 11 schools and stage a conference championship game without expansion.  This would yield an instant boost in revenue without having to add another school to split it with.  Other conferences that are at risk of being poached by the Big Ten (particularly the Big XII and Big East plus possibly the ACC) would likely be very supportive of this rule change if it meant that they could save the status quo as a matter of survival.

On the other end, though, the Big Ten could push for a further change to the championship game rule in exchange for supporting the Pac-10 on its proposal: remove the division requirement.  Why would the conference want to do that?  Because if the Big Ten goes up to 14-schools, not having divisions could ensure that all conference members would play each other at least 2 out of every 4 years in an 8-game conference schedule.  Each school could have 3 permanent annual rivals and then play all other conference members 2 years on/2 years off.  This solves all of the headaches of trying to figure out which schools should go in which divisions and making sure that every single currently protected annual rivalry is maintained.  The Big Ten is NOT like the SEC where it’s going to be acceptable for schools to go 4 straight years without playing each other – most Big Ten members freak out when they skip playing Michigan or Ohio State only 2 years per decade.  The lack of divisions also has a side benefit of having a stronger conference championship game by pitting the top two schools in conference regardless of geography, so there won’t be the 2008 Big XII worry about having 3 national championship contenders in one division and a bunch of scrap metal in the other division.  Adam has had a solid argument that if the 2008 Big XII South situation didn’t result in a change to the championship game rule, then nothing would.  However, I think the circumstances have changed as a result of all of these expansion talks and that conferences are going to want a lot more flexibility either immediately (10-school leagues wouldn’t have to expand) or in the future (12-school leagues would be more open to going up to 14-schools with such flexibility).

I’m tending to think that the Big Ten would want championship game rules to account for the latter scenario.  As I’ve stated from the beginning, the conference championship game is NOT the primary driver for Big Ten expansion.  (This is in contrast to way too many media pundits that continue to insist that the Big Ten just wants to expand so that it can maintain relevancy for the last couple of weeks of the season, which is ridiculous when you take two seconds to think about it since that could simply be solved by the conference scheduling regular season games in December just like the Pac-10 and Big East.)  The main revenue driver in this expansion process is and always will be new basic cable households and higher fees for the Big Ten Network.  The revenue that comes from that cable property blows everything with respect to a conference championship game out of the water.  So, the Big Ten isn’t going to drop expansion plans simply because it might have the ability to stage a championship game with 11 schools.  In fact, changes to the NCAA rules could embolden the Big Ten to have a larger expansion since it removes the concerns the scheduling concerns that I’ve described above.

The other important takeaway from Dodd’s article is that it appears that the Pac-10 is going to be very hesitant to expand.  It noted that the conference members were having a “hard time finding value” in two extra members (which would likely be accurate if one of those extra members isn’t Texas).  This doesn’t surprise me at all – I said back in January that I thought that the Pac-10 would end up standing pat no matter what happened.

That’s contrary to the widely mistaken perception that the Pac-10, which is hunting for revenue in order to catch up to the Big Ten and SEC, would supposedly be more willing than the Big Ten to bend its traditional requirements to maybe take in schools like Texas Tech in order to lure a school like Texas.  Here’s the problem with this line of thinking: the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion.  Let me repeat that again: the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion.  I need to beat this into all of your heads one more time: the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion.  (As someone that grew up and continues to work in Cook County, where vote counting is an art form as opposed to a science, I’m hyper-sensitive to voting requirements.)

So, now that we know that the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion, then we also know that all it takes is a single school to nix all conference expansion plans.  You can completely count on Stanford to be that school.  If the public thinks that the Big Ten university presidents are too methodical (and in reality, they are actually very forward-looking considering that they invited Penn State before it was fashionable to look for new markets and created the Big Ten Network when it was considered to be extremely risky), then Stanford is downright reactionary by comparison.  Stanford might be the one school in the entire BCS that literally doesn’t give a crap about TV money – the school has an endowment that is valued at over $1 million per student and its academic standing is right alongside Harvard, Yale and Princeton.  The Cardinal rejected Texas back in the 1990s, so even if the Longhorns are acceptable now, you can be sure that there’s NFW schools like Texas Tech will even be considered.  I think you’d be very hard-pressed to get Stanford to approve even a match-on-paper like Utah.  Stanford is in a position where it’s not going to compromise at all on academics and, as a result, the rest of the Pac-10 won’t be able to do anything even if the 9 others thought that some of the 16-school plans that I’ve seen in the comments were brilliant money-makers.  The Pac-10 can’t be aggressive because its voting requirements are specifically built to prevent such aggression.  (As a side note, you’ve haven’t lived until you’ve played EA Sports NCAA March Madness in mascot mode with the Stanford Tree vs. Otto the Orange at 2 am while hammered.  All I can say is that the visions on the screen must be what Keith Richards experienced non-stop from about 1965 through 1989.)

All of this means that the Big Ten’s chances to grab Texas (however small they might have been in the first place) could drop precipitously.  As plenty of observers such as Barking Carnival have noted, while Texas might want to switch conferences in a world without crazy-ass Lone Star State politicians, it would take the Pac-10 taking Colorado from the Big XII to give the school the political cover to make a move.  I’ve never bought that the Big Ten is seriously interested in Missouri, so I doubt that the conference would go after the Tigers simply to get Texas to act.  Therefore, if the Pac-10 is gridlocked in its expansion plans, there isn’t the requisite instability in the Big XII for a major Texas/Texas A&M shakeup.  That’s not to say that it still can’t happen (and no one should ever assume any school would preemptively reject any conference proposal without performing its own due diligence), but it pushes the chances of a Westward Big Ten expansion clearly down below an Eastward move.

If I had to bet on where the Big Ten goes in terms of expansion as of today (and I’ve changed my mind on this numerous times), I’m feeling that “JoePa’s Dream Conference” with Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse would be the most likely.  (Yes, I know there’s a contingent out there that think that I overrate Syracuse as an expansion candidate.  I still think it would be a big mistake to leave them out in an NYC-centric strategy.)  Jack Swarbrick all but said that Notre Dame would join a conference if the Big East was destroyed, so it would make little sense for the Big Ten to take any Big East school without the Irish coming, too.  Securing the New York/New Jersey area as much as it can be locked down is really what takes the Big Ten to the next level in an Eastern-based expansion (although as I’ve stated elsewhere, the conference really needs Notre Dame in the mix if it wants to successfully pursue that strategy).  I wouldn’t be surprised if my opinion changes on this as more details come out, but if Texas is off of the table, then the Big Ten needs to add a population base that’s the size of the New York City market in order to make a 3-school expansion financially acceptable to the current members.

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

(Image from Retro Music Snob)

It appears that the Earth is now 70% covered by water, 25% covered by schlocky Black Eyed Peas TV appearances and 5% covered by Big Ten expansion Internet ramblings.  I really didn’t think that I could cover too many more angles regarding the positives and negatives of Texas moving to the Big Ten, but the general ignorance of much of American public on the issues at hand that I’ve seen in various newspaper columns, blogs and message boards has brought up a number of additional thoughts.  I guess this should’ve been as predictable as the NFL ignoring all musical acts from the past half century for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Regardless, many Texas alums themselves have debunked a lot of the popular misconceptions themselves (such as well-informed posters like Ice Man on Orangebloods, who went over a lot of the points I’m going to be making in this post), which should serve any non-Texas Big XII fans notice that Texas is NOT joking here.  (By the way, multiple Facebook groups supporting Texas joining the Big Ten have popped up here and here.)  The feedback that I’ve been receiving is that Texas is looking at every possible scenario, ranging from joining the Big Ten or Pac-10 to even becoming an independent.  Let’s reiterate some of the arguments that I’ve seen from Texas alums along with a few more tidbits of my own that ought to blow every common objection to this out of the water.  I’ll warn you ahead of time that this blog post will be almost as long as Greg Oden’s third leg.

1.  More reasons why travel costs are a “penny wise, pound foolish” concern – It’s still the most common financial argument against Texas making a move to the Big Ten, even though I began to address travel costs in this post.  As people continue to bring it up as an issue, I actually went to the Texas Longhorns athletics site to see exactly which sports need to travel for conference games or matches.  Contrary to popular belief, Texas isn’t going to have to send the vast majority of its teams traveling any more in the Big Ten than they do today in the Big XII.  Out of the 16 non-revenue varsity teams that Texas supports, only 5 of them involve substantive conference schedules: baseball, softball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer.  Remember that these teams still have to get onto a plane for every place they travel to in the Big XII other than College Station and Waco, so it’s not as if though they are really losing many bus trips (where the costs savings are really accrued).  As I’ve stated before, once you have to get onto a plane, the actual distance that you have to travel is irrelevant in terms of costs since commercial flights are dependent upon supply and demand on that particular route (where a plane flight from Austin to Oklahoma City could easily cost much more than a plane ticket from Austin to Chicago), while the largest cost for chartering a jet is the fixed expense of having to charter it in the first place.

Meanwhile, the following 11 teams travel to regional non-conference meets for the bulk of their schedules: cross country (men and women), golf (men and women), swimming and diving (men and women), tennis (men and women), track and field (men and women) and rowing (women).  Just take a look at their schedules for yourself.  In almost all cases, the only time that any of those teams face inter-conference competition is for the weekend of the conference championships, which would be the same whether Texas was in the Big Ten or Big XII.  So, Texas moving from the Big XII to the Big Ten would only have a material impact on 5 non-revenue sports with the other 11 non-revenue varsity teams experiencing no real change in travel.

When it comes to the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, let’s not forget the obvious example of why travel costs are certainly irrelevant to a wealthy athletic department: Notre Dame.  I believe that we all can agree that Notre Dame isn’t hurting for revenue, even though we’ve established that Notre Dame’s NBC contract ($9 million per year) is actually only worth less than half as much as the TV revenue that each Big Ten school receives ($22 million per year).  What’s interesting is that part of the reason why Notre Dame wants to keep its NBC contract and avoid joining the Big Ten or another conference is exactly the opposite reason why a lot of travel-obsessed people think that Texas shouldn’t join the Big Ten: the Irish play a true national football schedule with games that literally stretch from coast-to-coast annually.  In fact, Notre Dame is even scheduling “home” games in locations far from South Bend, particularly in… wait for it… the state of Texas.  A number of Notre Dame alumni have stated to me that the NBC contract is just a means to an end, where the point is that it’s more than enough revenue to allow Notre Dame to remain independent and keep its national schedule.

At the same time, Notre Dame’s non-football teams play in the incredibly dispersed Big East, which ranges from Milwaukee over to Providence and down to Tampa.  As a result, Notre Dame has to get onto a plane for every conference opponent except for DePaul and Marquette.  For all of this trouble, Notre Dame receives about $1.25 million per year from the Big East in TV revenue.

Let’s put this all together: Notre Dame makes about $10.25 million per year total from its NBC contract and the Big East basketball TV contract.  It plays a completely national football schedule each year where they have games in California, Texas and the Northeast corridor.  As part of the Big East for other sports, the Irish are required to get onto a plane for 13 out of its 15 conference opponents.  Through all of this travel, Notre Dame has leveraged itself into becoming one of the most profitable athletic departments in the entire country.  That shows you how much more powerful television revenue is compared to travel costs.

Seeing that Texas would be making, at a minimum, $22 million in TV revenue per year in the Big Ten (and it will probably be closer to around $30 million) compared to Notre Dame’s $10.25 million per year, yet Notre Dame endures a travel schedule in all sports that would be more than comparable to Texas in the Big Ten, there is absolutely no rational way to think that the Longhorns’ increased travel costs would come even close to approaching the increased revenue or be of the slightest financial concern.

2.  When did at least an extra $10 million per year become “not a big deal”? – It is amazing to me when I see comments, especially from the mainstream media that ought to have the cursory ability to do some research on Google, stating that at least $10 million extra payout per year isn’t a big deal or, even better, that Texas supposedly has “enough money already”.  One Omaha columnist that epitomizes the “N stands for Nowledge” stereotype went so far as to call the extra money “measly”.  Well, I think guys ranging from Omaha native Warren Buffett to Jerry Jones have more than enough money, too, but you don’t see them standing around not trying to make more.  In fact, I don’t know too many high achievers that are satisfied with the status quo – they’re always looking to add to the coffers.  It’s also incredulous to me that the myth that Notre Dame wouldn’t join the Big Ten because it supposedly makes too much from its NBC deal is often advanced yet again.

So, the general argument that we’ve been seeing a lot in the mainstream media is that an extra $10 million per year supposedly isn’t enough of an incentive for Texas to join the Big Ten, yet the approximately $10 million total that Notre Dame is receiving from NBC and the Big East is “too much to give up” to join the Big Ten.  These are completely contradictory statements that any random person (such as a lawyer that writes a blog in his spare time) could instantly debunk by performing a couple of searches on the Internet.  There’s little wonder why I previously wrote about how the newspaper industry was being run into the ground.

Suffice to say, an extra $10 million per year (and I have to emphasize again that this is the MINIMUM that Texas would enjoy because it would likely by closer to an extra $15-20 million based on projections) is the equivalent of a school adding more than the entire value of the Notre Dame NBC contract that allows the Irish to be independent and that people seem to think gives them great power.  That’s definitely a big deal for any school, even one that’s as financially flush as Texas.

3.  The largest slice of the pie in the Big XII is still smaller than an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten – Further to point #2, it continues to perplex me that a lot of people still advance the argument that Texas won’t leave because the revenue sharing in the Big XII favors them.  This is the equivalent of saying that you don’t want to move to a mansion in Beverly Hills because you own the largest house in Compton.  Once again, every Big Ten school in its equal revenue distribution model, from Ohio State down to Indiana, made $22 million in TV money last season.  In contrast, Texas, in an unequal distribution model that completely favors them in the Big XII, with the most national TV appearances and a BCS bowl berth, only made $12 million.  You don’t need to have been a math major to understand that $22 million > $12 million.  I’m not sure why Texas cares about getting the largest slice of the pie in the Big XII when an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten is so much bigger.

4.  Texas has the nation’s wealthiest athletic department IN SPITE of the Big XII (not because of it) – Following up on points #2 and #3, the notion that Texas won’t move because it already has the nation’s richest athletic department is the same thing as arguing that a minimum of $10 million extra per year isn’t a big deal and the Longhorns should pass that up so that they can preserve road trips to Lubbock.  Texas isn’t competing with Texas Tech and Baylor in order to win the Texas state college championship.  On the national scene, it’s competing with Florida, Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State, all of whom will each take in about $100 million more than Texas over the next decade just for showing up to play if the Longhorns stand pat.  That’s going to have a material long-term impact on Texas competing at a national level.  Texas might be the wealthiest athletic department in the nation today, but that’s IN SPITE of the Big XII and its poor prospects for television revenue as opposed to because of it.

5.  The Pac-10, with its own expansion plans, is REALLY helping the Big Ten out – Out of all of the BCS conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10 arguably have the closest relationship with very similar academic institutions and, of course, the connection through the Rose Bowl.  Whether intentional or not, the rumors that the Pac-10 is considering to add Colorado and Utah has started to really make the Big XII look incredibly unstable and ripe for the picking by the Big Ten.  I explained in the Big Ten Expansion Index post that Missouri was essentially a “stalking horse” in this expansion process, where the threat of Mizzou leaving for the Big Ten (which would take away the most populated state in the Big XII other than Texas) would cause Texas to engage in CYA measures of its own and consider bolting the conference instead.  The practical issue, though, was that the Missouri-to-the Big Ten rumors never really seemed legitimate other than to some sportswriters and fans that still see conferences as purely geographic exercises and the pining has almost been completely coming from Mizzou as opposed to the Big Ten.

Colorado going to the Pac-10, on the other hand, is a different story.  Check out this interview of CU’s Phil DiStefano chancellor in the Denver Post, where he is already talking about weighing the exit penalties for leaving the Big XII and the school’s better alumni base in the Pac-10 region.  Remember my mantra that you need to think like a university president instead of a sports fan when talking about expansion?  Well, CU’s chancellor, who is the actual person who will be making the decision to switch conferences, has come out talking publicly about the machinations of moving to the Pac-10 when the normal answer to a newspaper reporter at this point in time would be “No comment.”  That’s about as clear of a sign that Colorado is ready to bolt to the Pac-10 ASAP without actually saying, “Smell ya later!” and there are a lot of indications that the interest is mutual.

Losing Colorado is just as damaging to the Big XII as losing Missouri (and from the Longhorns’ perspective, CU is the closest cultural and academic match that Texas has in the conference).  Colorado represents the second largest population base in the conference in the Big XII outside of the Texas along with the largest single TV market (Denver) in the conference other than Dallas and Houston.  This sets up the scenario that Texas blog Barking Carnival has brilliantly described in this post examining what should be the thought process of University of Texas president William Powers.  Here’s a great quote:

Even though the Big 10 began expansion discussions first and needs to add just one school, expect the PAC 10 to move first. Importantly, the PAC 10 will be useful to Texas when it breaks the seal of the Big 12 with the recruitment of Colorado.

While inside the mind of Powers, take note of how important it will be for Texas not to make the first move. Powers’ job description involves managing a complex brew of relationships, not the least of which is big-P Political (versus small-p political, which is a rich tradition in universities of all sizes and reputations). Were Texas to initiate the move that drops the value of Texas Tech’s share of a TV deal in half, the talk in the capitol building will be about Texas’ greed and complete disdain for other parts of the state. The West Texas lobby may not be strong enough to keep the deal from going forward, but a university president can die from a thousand papercuts.

You want more control over tuition? You want relief from the top-10% rule? Cry me a river, Mr. Ivory Tower. We’ll show you who runs the show in this state. Sorry that we can’t afford to fund your building maintenance requests. Better luck next year.

Some historians will note that Texas had a hand in leaving TCU, SMU, Houston and Rice in limbo when the Big 12 was formed. The way former K-State president Jon Wefald has told the story, the Big 8 made an initial overture to form the Big 16, and that it was Texas president Robert Berdahl who indicated his preference to split the pie twelve ways rather than sixteen. But it is also important to note that UT already had very poor relations with the Legislature at that time, something Larry Faulkner and now Bill Powers have worked effectively to improve.

On the other hand, if Colorado or Missouri make the first move (and both could make a move without directly impacting another university in their respective states), then Powers will have the moral authority to make the move that best serves Texas. Adding TCU to replace a defector will result in a net loss to Texas. While Powers may be politically prohibited from initiating a move, he will be held blameless for reacting to one.

While I’m personally not a fan of the 16-school conference proposal described at the end, everything else in that post is spot-on.  In fact, it elevates the “think like a university president” rule to the maximum degree.  Colorado, Missouri and now even Nebraska are beginning to look like the first actors here, which can give Texas the political cover to make a move first.  The Pac-10 making overtures to Colorado has now given even more incentive for Texas to move and the Big Ten gets a lot of leverage from it.

6.  Texas isn’t doing this for leverage because the Big XII can’t give anymore – Another common argument that I’m seeing is that Texas is only talking to the Big Ten and Pac-10 in order to get more concessions from the rest of the Big XII.  The problem with this argument is that it only works if the other Big XII members can actually give anything more to Texas.  The Longhorns already receive the most TV money in the entire conference.  The football conference championship game is likely to be played at Jerry World in Arlington more often than not.  The Big XII headquarters are already in Dallas.  There’s virtually nothing else that Texas can extract from the Big XII, yet as reiterated in point #3 above, it still pales in comparison to what it could receive in the equal revenue sharing model in the Big Ten.

Kansas State blog Bring on the Cats, using an apt poker analogy, brought up a well-written argument that Texas might be doing this in order to scare Missouri and other schools back into line so that the Big XII status quo and the unequal revenue sharing that favors the Longhorns isn’t disturbed.  Indeed, as I mentioned in the comments to that blog post, Missouri badly misinterpreted its bargaining position in the expansion process.  Mizzou likely thought that it was in a “no lose” situation where it could either extract more revenue concessions from Texas and other Big XII members in order to stay in that conference or bolt to the Big Ten.  Instead, Mizzou has spurred Texas to make a move first (just as the Barking Carnival discussion that I linked to in the Big Ten Expansion Index post predicted), which wind up leaving Mizzou in a much weaker Big XII without any chance of moving to the Big Ten.

However, the issue with the poker analogy in Bring on the Cats is that I don’t believe that Texas is bluffing at all: they have the nuts in this scenario and all of the other Big XII schools are going to lose one way or another (either through not getting any type of better revenue sharing in the conference or Texas actually leaving).  At the same time, while Missouri might be scared back into its place since a Big Ten invitation really isn’t imminent, Colorado could leave for the Pac-10 anyway and take down the proverbial house of cards itself.  In that case, Texas would bolt anyway.

7.  The Big XII won’t magically sign a new TV contract that is anywhere close to what the Big Ten and SEC are receiving today – Another popular argument from non-Texas Big XII fans is that the Big XII will supposedly sign a much better TV contract over the next few years that will be competitive with the Big Ten and SEC.  While I’m not a television executive, let me point out exactly why this is not a reasonable proposition whatsoever.

First, let’s take a look at the population bases of the states comprising the 5 BCS conferences other than the Big East (which I’m only excluding because they have large states on paper but don’t really deliver the key ones that well for football), with the numbers coming from the always reliable Wikipedia:

Big Ten 67,379,505
ACC 59,697,664
SEC 58,581,019
Pac-10 54,047,294
Big XII 44,097,046

The Big XII, as of today, has over 23 million less people than in its footprint compared to the Big Ten.  What’s worse is that it’s not even diversified, where around 24 million of those people reside in the state of Texas.  The reason why the Big Ten and SEC have such massive TV revenue is that they are able to combine intense passion for their schools with fairly large population bases.  There might be some intense passion within the Big XII, but it has nowhere near the population base to even come within the vicinity of the deals of the other conferences.  Not only that, but Texas has to compare any prospective Big XII revenue to what the Big Ten revenue will look like with the Longhorns included, where the Big Ten’s population base would catapult to over 90 million people.  On a financial level, the Big XII simply will not be able to compete with the Big Ten.

Second, there aren’t networks out there that would pony up that type of money.  The main entity that can afford to pay the most in rights fees, ESPN, already has its best time slots locked in with – guess who – the Big Ten and SEC.  The Big Ten dominates the 11:00 am CT time slot on both ESPN and ESPN2.  At the 2:30 CT time slot, the Big Ten is guaranteed nationwide reverse mirror coverage on ABC/ESPN, where if a Big Ten game isn’t shown in a particular region on ABC, it is guaranteed to be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 in that region (which effectively gives the Big Ten nationwide coverage for all games in that time slot just like the SEC on CBS).  Meanwhile, the SEC is guaranteed to have a prime time game on ESPN or ESPN2 every single week.  As a result, ABC/ESPN simply doesn’t have any more room and, as a result, doesn’t have much incentive to pay much more than it does now for Big XII games.

With respect to the other networks, NBC is satisfied with Notre Dame football and, frankly, is the cheapest network out there when it comes to paying for sports rights.  (Please note that the NHL is actually paying NBC for airtime as opposed to the other way around.)  CBS has its own massive deal with the SEC for 2:30 CT national games, so it’s definitely not looking for any more college football games.  Fox is committed to Major League Baseball for most of the college football season, so it doesn’t have any time slots on Saturday for college football along with having much less incentive to broadcast the sport after giving up the rights to the BCS bowls.

So, unless the Big XII thinks that Fox Sports Net or Versus is going to come through with a massive new offer, there’s literally not much upside to look forward to in the next conference TV contract.

8.  The Longhorn Sports Network (which is why there isn’t a Big XII network today) is an open question mark – Further to point #7, lots of non-Texas Big XII fans have suggested building a Big XII network modeled after the Big Ten Network.  Of course, that was an idea that was proposed several years ago but was vetoed by – guess who – the University of Texas.  Texas has looked into starting the Longhorn Sports Network where it would build its own TV network and keep all of the revenue itself.  This is actually probably the only financial argument that could possibly support Texas staying in the Big XII as opposed to moving to the Big Ten.  However, let’s take a reasonable look at how viable this network could be.

Starting up a new cable network, while it looks like easy money on paper, is not for the faint-of-heart.  Here’s a list of major sports organizations that have endured one year or more involved in nasty carriage disputes:  the NFL with the NFL Network, the New York Yankees with the YES Network and the Big Ten with the Big Ten Network.  These only happen to respectively be (1) the most powerful and highest-rated professional sports league in the nation, (2) the wealthiest Major League Baseball franchise and most popular sports team in the nation’s largest media market and (3) the most powerful college sports conference that has the largest population base.  If you could pick any 3 organizations in the country that would have the most leverage in cable negotiations, those would likely be at the top of the list.  Even with all of that leverage and, more importantly, a whole lot of high value programming to offer in the form of exclusive coverage of live sporting events that a critical mass of fans deem important, it took an extremely long time for all of them to get the desired cable carriage and they all ended up having to accept lower subscriber rates to get their deals completed.

The University of Texas has leverage in the state of Texas in theory, but the issue would be whether a potential Longhorn Sports Network would have much (if any) high value programming that would make it into a must-have for basic cable systems.  It took over a year for the Big Ten to get basic cable carriage and that was with a full slate of high value football and men’s basketball games from across the conference to offer viewers.  Texas might not have control to televise any live football games or men’s basketball games, which would likely result in the network not (a) getting full basic cable carriage in the state of Texas and/or (b) receiving a desirable subscriber fee.  On top of that, Texas would need to lay out a large amount of capital expenditures in order to get the network off the ground.  This is in contrast to the Big Ten Network, which Texas could enter into with no risk or capital expenditures and have an important stake in a true national sports network (as opposed to one that’s just confined to the Lone Star State).

There will be smarter people than me looking further into this issue.  Honestly, this is really the critical question for Texas other than politics (and definitely more than emotionally-based thoughts like rivalries): does starting up the Longhorn Sports Network trump the revenue that would be received from the Big Ten Network?  If the answer is no, then I think Texas moving to the Big Ten becomes even more likely.

9.  You think that Texas recruiting would be hurt by moving to the Big Ten because players would supposedly rather travel to Waco and Lubbock?  Seriously?!  Have you heard of the power of “national TV” in recruiting? – One of the more ridiculous arguments out there is that Texas would supposedly be hurt in recruiting by making a move to the Big Ten.  Deciding which college to attend, whether you’re an elite athlete or average student, depends upon a whole host of factors and is a highly personal decision.  That being said, the typical top football recruit isn’t going to attend the University of Texas just because it’s close to home.  If that were the case, top kids from the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas would end up attending places like SMU, TCU, the University of Houston and Rice instead.  Top recruits go to Texas because they want to play big-time games and big-time environments that are beamed across the country on national TV so that they can watch themselves on SportsCenter late at night.  I have a hard time believing that Mack Brown sold Colt McCoy on coming to Texas based upon trips to Texas Tech and Baylor instead of, well, the home-and-home series against Ohio State back in 2005 and 2006.  While there might be a handful of kids that will only go to where their families could theoretically drive to all of the games (which, by the way, doesn’t happen in the Big XII with the widely dispersed Big XII North states), it’s the games in the Big House, Horseshoe and Happy Valley that get the blood pumping for the vast majority of elite athletes.  These are guys that are going to prioritize getting maximum exposure in terms of getting to the NFL way more than worrying about how far the road games might be.  If top recruits cared that much about family road trips, USC would always have terrible recruiting classes since they have to travel by plane for every road game except for the UCLA game.  We obviously know that’s not the case.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if though the University of Texas at Austin campus would be physically moving to the Great White North.  If you reasonably assume that all 4 non-conference games would be played in the state of Texas (Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas, home-and-home against Texas A&M, and 2 patsies to play at home in Austin) plus 4 conference home games, that means that UT would still be playing 8 games in the state of Texas every season.  The road games that aren’t in the state of Texas are in some of the largest and greatest venues in all of college football that would get maximum coast-to-coast coverage.  Anyone that attempts to compare the road trip desirability of Waco and Lubbock to even the least picturesque Big Ten college towns (much less all-world places like Chicago, Madison and Ann Arbor) has literally no fucking clue about what he’s talking about.

At the same time, if I hadn’t made this clear before, every single Big Ten football game is available across the country via ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network in high-definition.  It seems to me that this is a much more important selling point to elite athletes, especially when you consider how many recruits the school might lose by making them pay $39.95 just to watch a third-tier blood money game in Austin itself against Louisiana-Monroe.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing your state rivals and they’re close by if the games aren’t available on television – last year’s Texas A&M-Texas Tech game wasn’t even televised!!!

For all of the consternation about the relative handful of athletes and families along with the few thousand fans that might be inconvenienced by the longer travel involved in the Big Ten, people have completely missed out on how appalling it is that Texas still has to have millions of its fans fork over nearly $40 just to watch a third-tier home game on pay-per-view.  That will absolutely never be a concern for recruits, families and fans in the Big Ten.

10.  The weather is actually pretty nice in Big Ten country during football season – This is another ignorant argument that I’ve seen in dozens of places: “Why the heck would Texas want to play in the snow in the Big Ten?”  Any person that writes this obviously hasn’t gotten out of his or her bunker to realize exactly what the weather is like in the Midwest from September through November.  The first two months of the season actually provides spectacular football weather for the most part – it’s not agonizingly hot like Texas can be in September while October normally provides great fall weather.  It can get colder in November, but you’ll virtually never see snow during that time.  Does the weather suck royally hard in the middle of February as I’m writing this blog post?  Absolutely.  However, football season is a completely different story.  Even if we grant that it can get chilly in the Midwest in November, Texas would likely only have one road game in that environment anyway every year (since you can presume the Texas A&M game will always be played Thanksgiving weekend).  This isn’t any different than Texas having to take a trip to a Big XII North school during that time of year.  The weather issue is both a red herring AND completely wrong.

11.  Texas A&M or no Texas A&M?  That is the question – I vacillate back-and-forth about whether I’d want Texas A&M in a hypothetical 14-school Big Ten if the Aggies are politically required to tag along with Texas.  Texas A&M is kind of like a girl that isn’t that terrible looking from certain angles, yet she seems a little bit off where you wouldn’t be surprised if she engaged in things like ritual animal sacrifices.  The Aggies don’t fit in with the Big Ten at a cultural level in the same manner that Texas does, although the main things that A&M has going for it is an excellent academic research reputation (much more so than other Big XII candidates like Missouri and Nebraska) and the combo of Texas and Texas A&M would truly lock down the state of Texas as completely Big Ten territory (which does carry a lot of long-term value).

In this post, I voiced my original skepticism as to the desirability to build a 14-school conference from a financial standpoint.  Frankly, I’ve been surprised by how many people out there like the prospect of 14 or even 16-school super-conferences.  In my opinion, there are just significant diminishing returns as you move past the 12-school conference model, not the least of which is that it doesn’t do much good to have Texas, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the same conference if they’re only playing each other a couple of times per decade because the conference is too large.  (This matters to both university presidents AND sports fans.)  Personally, I think that adding Texas alone for a 12-school conference would be the best thing from a competitive and cultural fit standpoint as well as being the per school revenue maximization point.

That being said, the prospect of the Big Ten adding Texas is just too great to pass up and I’m resigned to the fact that if it means Texas A&M has to come along, then the conference needs to pull the trigger. At that point, the Big Ten can give one last shot for spot #14 to Notre Dame (and I think that they’re probably going to be much more open to taking it than people generally believe with the knowledge that the Big Ten would truly close off membership forever) and if the Irish turn it down, then virtually every school in the country outside of the SEC will be gunning for that slot and the Big Ten can have its pick.

Once again, I’d much prefer just adding Texas alone for a 12-school Big Ten.  However, if A&M needs to come along, then the Big Ten has to take heed the words of the great Joel Goodson: “Sometimes you’ve got to say, ‘What the fuck, make your move’.”  Only instead of “Looks like the University of Illinois!”, it’s now “Looks like Agricultural & Mechanical!”

12.  How to sell this to the Texas Legislature: Better Academics + More Research Funding = More Jobs – Out of all the arguments against Texas moving the Big Ten, the one that truly has real validity is that Texas state politicians would block the move.  One major way to alleviate this concern has already been addressed, which is to take Texas A&M, too.  The other way is to make sure that it’s emphasized that a move to the Big Ten doesn’t just affect some football games in Austin.  The CIC, which as discussed before is the academic arm of the Big Ten (plus the University of Chicago), would likely invite the University of Texas Medical Branches located in Dallas, Houston, Galveston and San Antonio to participate as guest members, which is similar to how the University of Illinois at Chicago (which performs a large amount of biomedical research as the home of the U of I Medical School) is able to take advantage of the consortium.  The UT Medical Branches actually perform $1.4 billion of research annually, which is nearly three times as much as the Austin campus itself.  This means that the major medical centers in all of the largest cities in the state of Texas would have access to more research funding, which in turn translates into more jobs in those cities (and high value jobs, at that).

In this economic environment, Texas state legislators will be put on the defensive if the frame of the debate is that they are trying to protect a football conference at the expense of more research funding and jobs for the top hospitals in the state’s major cities.  As much as football might be a matter of the highest political importance in the state of Texas, there are concrete medical research and economic incentives that would apply to places outside of Austin with UT making a move to the Big Ten.

So, when you get into an argument about Texas joining the Big Ten at your local bar, I’ve provided you with a template to refute every knee-jerk response out there.  I’m getting a little more optimistic each day that this is the massive move that the Big Ten is going to make.

(NOTE:  The long-promised Big East analysis is forthcoming.  Until then, feel free to follow me on Twitter @frankthetank111.)

(Image from Doc’s Office)

The Lawrence Journal-World and News is reporting that the Big Ten has entered into preliminary discussions with the University of Texas.  (H/T to Josh for sending in the link.)  Please note that this is an actual newspaper article as opposed to a regurgitation of some Twitter feeds on Bleacher Report.  Maybe the Big Ten Expansion Index wasn’t so crazy after all.  Here’s the main quote:

“There have been preliminary exchanges between the Big Ten and Texas,” the source told the Journal-World on Wednesday. “People will deny that, but it’s accurate.”

So, if Big Ten and Texas officials deny this report, you can respond with, “YOU LIE!!!”  With the Pac-10 also looking at expansion (with the speculation centered on Colorado and Utah), a major realignment of college conferences looks more and more like a probability than just a theoretical exercise.  (That being said, as I explained in this post, any rumors about the Pac-10 expanding have a lesser chance of actually coming to fruition because of the conference’s unanimous vote requirement.)  Coming soon, I’ll have some thoughts on what the Big East ought to be doing regardless of what happens in this conference realignment process.  Until then, continue on with the great comments.

(Image from Double-A Zone)

I never intended this blog to be exclusively devoted to Big Ten expansion issues (and one of these days, I’ll get back to my regularly-scheduled moaning about the respective states of the Illini, Bears and White Sox as well as analyzing the inevitable Bulls trade deadline rumors that make “Texas to the Big Ten” seem like a lock by comparison), yet a number of recent comments from all of the wonderful readers out there and news events necessitate another follow-up post. If you haven’t already read them, here are the original Big Ten Expansion Index post and follow-ups #1 and #2.  As a side note, there’s been a bit of speculation that I must be an unemployed stoner or doctoral student (or both) to have the time to write such long posts.  In reality, I’m actually an extremely time-pressed attorney that is raising twin babies at home, which is why I hadn’t written anything prior to the Big Ten Expansion Index post for a period of 6 months.  Thus, these blog posts are the product of halfway-cognizant insomia (and I really wish I was joking about that).  Anyway, let’s go through everything in general categories:

1. Missouri Would Have a $10 Million Financial Boost with Big Ten Membership (and Texas would, too) – The St. Louis Business Journal has presented an analysis that shows that it would make at least $10 million per year more in the Big Ten compared to the Big 12. This is based on the current Mizzou revenue share in the Big 12 of around $8.4 million and the Big Ten’s revenue figures of today (which would assuredly jump with the addition of a conference championship game and additional Big Ten Network subscribers). What’s also noted in the article (but not emphasized since this is written from the Mizzou point of view) is that the Texas revenue share in the Big 12 was around $10.2 million last year (which was the most in that conference), which is even less than what I was basing my financial assumptions on in the original Big Ten Expansion Index post. For all of the squawking from non-Texas Big 12 fans that I’ve seen on virtually every blog and message board that has reviewed my blog posts, the supposed Texas control of revenue in the Big 12 amounts to less than a $2 million per year advantage over Missouri (not chump change, but not exactly dominating, either). Yet, according to the St. Louis Business Journal’s numbers, that $2 million difference would pale in comparison to the minimum $10 million per year boost that either Missouri or Texas (or any other Big 12 school) would receive by going to the Big Ten.

As Deep Throat once said to Bob Woodward in a dingy parking garage, “Follow the money.” Even if you reasonably believe that a school like Texas would ultimately have to reject an invite from the Big Ten due to political factors (which I fully acknowledge is a critical issue), the financial calculations from the St. Louis Business Journal would show why Texas would at least look at Big Ten membership seriously and that this isn’t a proposal that’s going to be ignored from the beginning (as a lot of non-Texas Big 12 fans seem to believe). Let’s put it this way: if some other company proposed to give you a $10 million raise for doing the exact same thing as you’re doing now, chances are that you aren’t just going to completely ignore it and say, “Nope. I’m not even going to listen.” Non-Texas Big 12 fans (as well as fans from a lot of other conferences) want or hope that’s what Texas is going to respond to an offer of at least $10 million more per year (or to put it in more impactful terms using simple multiplication, a minimum of an extra $100 million over the course of 10 years): “Nope. I’m not even going to listen.”  This isn’t even accounting for the fact that (1) people seem to expect Texas to just let Missouri walk away to double its TV money and concurrently weaken the already poor Big 12 contract (thereby pulling the Longhorns’ TV revenue down even further) and (2) the academic funding from the CIC dwarfs the athletic side of the equation. 

I can completely accept the argument that the Texas state legislature could kill this deal from a political standpoint, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably believe that any school is going to just automatically turn down at least $100 million over the course of 10 years without performing some heavy due diligence and analysis to see whether it’s worth it.  Plus, it’s not as if it’s only the beancounters from Wu-Tang Financial are considering this a real possibility.  For the skeptics out there that the Texas fan base would be completely against this, please look back at the comments from Texas alums to my prior posts along with the links to various Longhorns blogs and message boards and see what they’re saying.  In addition to all of that, here’s yet another fairly positive discussion from the Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation.   Once again, think like a university president as opposed to a sports fan here.  The Big Ten offers Texas and every other school in the Big 12 (and frankly, every other BCS conference) more money for the athletic department via its TV contract and more money for academics via the CIC.  Any university president is at least going to evaluate that type of proposal with some heavy consideration.

2.  Notre Dame Almost Joined the Big Ten in 2003 – Last week, Notre Dame basketball head coach Mike Brey spilled the previously unknown beans about how extremely close the Fighting Irish were to joining the Big Ten when the ACC raided the Big East back in 2003. If you read the initial Big Ten Expansion Index post, you’ll know that every single Big Ten school makes about twice as much TV money as Notre Dame’s NBC contract (and as shown by my first follow-up post, the additional money Notre Dame receives from the Big East basketball TV contract basically amounts to a rounding error to any school in the Big Ten). What’s interesting to me about the Brey story is that Notre Dame was so close to joining the Big Ten even when it wasn’t in its financial interest to do so at that time (since the NBC contract was the gold standard for college sports in 2003). Now that it is arguably very much in Notre Dame’s financial interest to join the Big Ten, maybe the “Notre Dame will never join a conference” line of thinking isn’t as iron-clad as previously thought.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick even acknowledged that the Big Ten makes substantially more TV money than what the Irish receive from NBC in this Chicago Tribune story from last month.  Look at Swarbrick’s quotes closely in that article.  While that story was widely cited by the national media as Notre Dame supposedly preemptively rejecting the Big Ten, as a fellow attorney, I recognize and respect how carefully parsed Swarbrick’s statements were and that he effectively didn’t say anything at all.  If Notre Dame were to join the Big Ten tomorrow, there is absolutely nothing that Swarbrick said that would’ve been a lie.  Still, Notre Dame depends upon alumni support more than any other BCS school and Sully’s comment on my Big Ten Expansion Index post is indicative of what they’re thinking. I’d still wager that Texas has more of chance of being invited and accepted into the Big Ten than Notre Dame at this point in time.

3. The East Coast Family – I’ve seen a fairly large number of suggestions that the Big Ten ought to go to the 14-school route with a full-on Big East raid of Rutgers, Syracuse and UConn.  The argument is that while none of those schools by themselves can deliver the New York City market, putting all of them together could very well do so plus gain traction in New England on top of that.  It’s a plausible scenario, but I still stand by my stance on the only way that it would be worth it to have a 14-school conference: “… using a historical NBA superstar comparison, if the 12th Big Ten member has to be at least at the level of Kobe Bryant, then the 13th and 14th Big Ten members have to be both Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.”  I’m confident that Texas fans will beat down any cable provider in its home state that doesn’t carry the Big Ten Network on basic cable.  I’d also say the same about a slew of other Big 12 schools, including Nebraska and Missouri.  However, I just don’t have that confidence in any of the Big East schools or even three of them together to deliver their own markets.  The Big Ten would only make a move for sure things and the problem is that the northeastern schools are the least sure moves out there (even if they have the greatest potential number of households).  Once again, the only “plausible” scenario that I see the Big Ten going up to 14 schools is that it absolutely must take Texas A&M in order to get its real target of Texas, in which case a 14th school on top of them is needed to round everything out.  3 additional schools would need to add over $60 million to the conference pot in order to maintain the per school revenue status quo, so it would take 3 blockbuster schools in order to do that.  I believe that the objective of a 14-school Big Ten is to make markets irrelevant – at that point, it’s all about making the Big Ten Network into an ESPN-esque must-have channel in every home in the country.  Otherwise, it’s not worth it to expand to that size.

Others have asked again that I examine some ACC schools, such as Maryland and Boston College.   Those types of schools are definitely enticing from an academic and TV market perspective (and I’d love Miami in particular for a lot of reasons), but I’ll reiterate that I don’t think that the Big Ten is going to be likely to lure anyone from there even with that conference’s own TV issues.   There’s a scene from Wall Street where Bud Fox is livid that Gordon Gekko has decided to break-up Blue Star Airlines (where Fox’s father worked at as a union leader).  Fox asks Gekko, “Why do you need to wreck this company?”  Gekko screams back, “Because it’s WRECKABLE, alright?!”  In terms of college conferences, the Big 12 and Big East are wreckable in a way that the other BCS conferences aren’t at this time, which is why I’ve continued to focus on expansion candidates from those two particular conferences.  The ACC, in contrast, has a collection of academically-minded universities that have similar goals from top to bottom much like the Big Ten and Pac-10.

At one time, I was completely convinced that the Big Ten would look eastward if it ever decided to add a school other than Notre Dame.  However, I’m suspending that thought until the marquee Big 12 schools like Texas are completely off the table.

4.  Nationwide Conference Fallout – Finally, part of the fun of speculating about what the Big Ten would do in expansion is how the other conferences would respond.  How would the Big 12 react if it loses a school?  What about the Big East?  Will the Pac-10 finally go to 12 schools itself?  How would the non-BCS conferences be affected?

If Notre Dame were to move to the Big Ten, it would probably be the biggest news but also have the least impact on other conferences (at least football-wise).  The Big East would have to replace a basketball member, which would likely come in the form of an all-sports school to finally give its football conference 9 teams.  Current Conference USA members Memphis, East Carolina and Central Florida (UCF) are considered to be the main options for the Big East, which is a whole lot of “meh” for a conference really needs a marquee football member that it probably won’t ever obtain (even though the conference has done pretty well overall since the ACC raid in 2003).  Still, Notre Dame going to the Big Ten doesn’t take away anything from Big East football.  Syracuse or Rutgers going to the Big Ten, though, takes a whole lot away from the Big East.  If the Big East ends up having to add one or more of the aforementioned options from C-USA in that scenario, that’s going to be a significant blow to the conference’s national reputation.  I personally think that the Big East’s automatic BCS bid will be safe if it only loses one school since the states that the conference represents are just too politically and publicly powerful through the media to kick out, but you might see a split from the Catholic basketball schools at that point (which would have massive repurcussions in conference alignment for basketball).

In the event that one or more Big 12 schools leave for the Big Ten, I believe that BYU and Utah would be the consensus top candidates (in that order).  I put BYU ahead of Utah for the simple fact that BYU delivers Utah’s market plus a national fan base with its Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) members (similar to Notre Dame’s hold on Catholics).  BYU’s religious underpinnings wouldn’t concern the Big 12 seeing that it has Baylor as a member and that school only started to allow dancing a few years ago.  (As you’ll see, though, those religious underpinnings will automatically kill BYU’s chances elsewhere.)  A lot of the public seems to think that TCU would get into the Big 12 if there was an open spot, but this is another classic case of people thinking like sports fans as opposed to university presidents.  If there’s one point that I hope everyone that has read my posts understands, it’s that the lack of major TV markets in the Big 12 outside of the state of Texas is specifically what makes that conference vulnerable (and why Missouri and Nebraska would accept a Big Ten invite in a heartbeat and I think Texas and Texas A&M would strongly consider it).  So, TCU provides exactly as much TV value to the Big 12 as Cincinnati and Iowa State would to the Big Ten: none whatsoever.  The Big 12 isn’t going to add yet another Texas school when the conference’s #1 issue is not having enough of a presence outside of Texas.  Thus, the only way that TCU gets into the Big 12 is if BOTH Texas and Texas A&M leave the Big 12 at the same time and the conference decides that it needs TCU to shore up its Texas home base.  Other schools that might be in the mix for the Big 12 are New Mexico (who is very underrated as an expansion candidate in my opinion since it’s a flagship with a good fan base in a growing state) and Boise State (who is very overrated as an expansion candidate since they’re very hot now yet I’m not sure if they bring that much value when they go through an inevitable down period).  In any event, the Mountain West is almost certainly screwed as a conference if the Big 12 loses a school.

The Pac-10 expansion situation is extremely difficult to predict because of this simple fact: any expansion candidate needs unanimous approval from all 10 members in order to receive an invite.  In contrast, the Big Ten needs an 8-3 majority to add a school.  So, the unanimous vote requirement is the key to virtually everything in the Pac-10.  I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve seen suggest that the Pac-10 will eventually invite BYU without understanding why it would neverever happen.  Let’s think about this for a couple of seconds: in order for this to occur, it would require the University of California-Berkeley to vote affirmatively to share money and associate itself with BYU and the LDS.  If that disconnect isn’t obvious to you for some reason, let’s spell it out at a rudimentary level: California liberals have complete disdain for the LDS because of how much money that the church poured into the state to kill all of the gay rights propositions over the past few years.  BYU happens to be the intellectual nerve center of the LDS.  The most liberal institution in the most liberal city in California (if not the entire United States) happens to be the University of California-Berkeley.  You will see riots in Berkeley that would harken back to the 1960s if Cal even considered for a moment to allow BYU to join the Pac-10.  This isn’t even accounting for other ultra-liberal schools in the Pac-10 like UCLA and Oregon.

Utah is a little more palatable, but remember that the Pac-10 couldn’t even agree on inviting Texas back in the 1990s (otherwise, the Longhorns would now be members of that West Coast conference).  If a clearly academically and athletically superior Texas couldn’t get a unanimous vote from the Pac-10, I don’t know if Utah would even stand a chance.  Granted, the Pac-10 would probably like a mulligan on Texas and they’d take Colorado, as well, but with the revenue disparity between the Big Ten and Pac-10 so large today, I doubt that Texas would choose the Pac-10 over the Big Ten at this point if it ever left the Big 12.  Also note that having each school play both USC and UCLA annually is critically important for recruiting, ticket selling and TV purposes.  This year’s Pac-10 football champ of Oregon, for example, had most of its players come from Southern California who were hypnotized by all of the green and yellow hues on the Ducks’ uniforms.  This is also the case for virtually every other Pac-10 school.  Therefore, if the Pac-10 were to propose to go up to 12 schools, anyone that has to give up games against USC and/or UCLA in order to play a Utah-level school will automatically vote against expansion, as well (unless you’re talking about another top TV market like Texas).  Academics are also as important to the Pac-10 as the Big Ten, so any candidate that doesn’t have top academic credentials (i.e. Boise State and UNLV) is going to rejected by the likes of Stanford.  With such a high standard to get expansion approved in the Pac-10 and a lack of any obvious expansion candidate on the West Coast, the Pac-10 is probably going to end up standing pat no matter what happens.

I have a ton more thoughts on how other conferences might react, but I’ll save for those for a later date.  Keep those comments coming and I’ll provide more feedback in the near future.

(Image from Population Statistic)

robbie-gould-bears-packers

A few random observations before we get to an expanded edition of this week’s football picks:

  1. The Bears Are Horrible… and the NFC is Even Worse – There was no logical reason for the Bears to have beaten the Packers this past Monday night.  They played as if though they were ready to pack it in for the season as opposed to fighting to keep alive in the playoff race.  Only the Bears have the ability to make me feel like I just drank some paint even while winning football games.  The only saving grace is that the NFC is so horrific (trading the Big 12 South straight up for the NFC West would have made for a much more competitive year) that this mediocre team could still actually host a playoff game if the right things fall into place.
  2. The Illini Basketball Team Actually Has Some Life… and So Does the Rest of the Big Ten – Hope is a dangerous drug.  As I’ve stated in some prior posts, I was more than willing to scrap this current Illinois basketball season as a complete rebuilding project with an aim toward giving Alex Legion ample playing time.  After absolutely crushing Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights Game on Tuesday night, though, the Illini seem to be looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament a year ahead of schedule.  One of these years, Illinois will beat Mizzou in football and then Mizzou will beat Illinois in basketball, upon which I will cardon myself in the basement with a plethora of perishable goods to prepare for the impending destruction of the world.
  3. Bulls Are the Ultimate .500 Team – Has there been a team in recent memory that have hung around the .500 mark with such consistency as this year’s Bulls?  I’m pretty sure they’ve attempted to get to .500 every single time that I’ve watched one of their games this season.  They’re like a baksetball version of an Escher painting.
  4. For the Love of God, Stop Fellating the Celtics – On the complete opposite side of mediocrity, I know that the ESPN criticism in the blogosophere can often be over the top at times, but how many fucking years in a row do they need to put up a fucking daily game-by-game comparison of a hot NBA team’s record versus the 1996 Bulls (and said hot NBA team flames out by the middle of January at the very latest)?  Well, the tizzy around the Celtics’ recent 19-game winning streak has been almost as ridiculous as the inclusion of the 2005 USC Trojans in the infamous “greatest college football team ever” bracket prior to that season’s national championship game (who subsequently lost to Texas).  When an NBA team only has 5 losses at the All-Star Break, then we can start talking about whether a team might beat the Bulls’ single-season record.  If it’s only a month-and-a-half into the season, though, just simmer down and shut the fuck up.  I cannot tell you how much I hate these premature crownings of teams.  Let me move on before I throw my laptop across the room…

On that happy holiday note, let’s get to a super-sized edition of the football picks (home teams in CAPS where applicable):

NFL FOOTBALL PARLAY

  • PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-1) over Dallas Cowboys – In relatively quiet fashion, the Iggles have been as consistent as anyone in the NFC since Donovan McNabb learned about ties in the NFL.
  • Miami Dolphins (+3) over NEW YORK JETS – I’ll admit that all I want to see if Chad Pennington to come in and stuff the team that turned on him so that they could whore themselves for Brett Favre.
  • Chicago Bears (+3) over HOUSTON TEXANS – The bookmakers know that the Bears are horrible, which is how a listless Texans team could be favorites over a club that is still fighting for a legit shot at the playoffs.  Yet, I still think that the Bears will pull this out for a restless Chicago fan base.  Let’s hope that the Giants play their starters long enough (if at all) to do some damage to the Vikings at the same time.

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Bears Games for the Season: 3-91
Overall Season: 19-20-3

NEW YEAR’S DAY NON-BCS BOWL PARLAY

  • Outback Bowl:  South Carolina Gamecocks (+3.5) over Iowa Hawkeyes – Can I really trust an Iowa team that lost to the Illini to actually cover against a Steve Spurrier-led team in Tampa? NFW.
  • Gator Bowl:  Nebraska Cornhuskers (+3) over Clemson Tigers – The only team that I trust less than Iowa is Clemson.
  • Capital One Bowl:  Michigan State Spartans (+7.5) over Georgia Bulldogs – I truly don’t understand this Georgia team, which was bandied around as one of a handful of national championship contenders at the beginning of the year.  On paper, UGA should be crushing State, but the Big Ten has a pretty good track record against supposedly superior SEC teams in Orlando.  I’ll take the points for Sparty here.

BCS BOWL PICKS

  • Rose Bowl:  Penn State Nittany Lions (+9) over USC Trojans – Chicago has alternately seen temperatures close to zero degrees, traffic debiliating snowfall once the temperature rises into the teens, and then zero-visibility fog as the temperature creeps above freezing over the past THREE days.  This type of setting has made the dark hole of no Pasadena trip to look forward to for the Illini (and me) even more depressing.  I always have an extremely hard time watching a major sports event the year after my favorite team has played in it (i.e. 2006 NCAA Final Four, 2006 World Series, last year’s Super Bowl) and this Rose Bowl will be no exception, particularly with the Illini failing to make any type of bowl at all.  The only thing that warms my heart here is that the Big Ten has its best shot to knock off those USC bastards yet.  Unlike Ohio State earlier this year, the Illini last season, and Michigan two years ago, JoePa’s current squad is anything but a stereotypical plodding Big Ten team – Penn State has as much speed as anyone in the country.  The spread is way too large here with the Nitanny Lions at full strength.
  • Orange Bowl:  Virginia Tech (+2.5) over Cincinnati Bearcats – I’d stay the hell away from this game in the sportsbook in real life.  In theory, Cincy should be much more motivated to be here, particularly since Virginia Tech was just in the Orange Bowl last season.  I’ll go with the established power here, though, only because the Hokies still have an abundance of talent to the point that I’m fairly surprised that they are more than a 1-point underdog.
  • Sugar Bowl:  Alabama Crimson Tide (-10) over Utah Utes – As much as I’d love to see Utah draw blood against the team that was #1 for most of the season, ‘Bama is way beyond the draws that the ’04 Utes and ’06 Boise State respectively received with Pitt and Oklahoma in their Fiesta Bowl non-BCS conference upsets.
  • Fiesta Bowl:  Ohio State Buckeyes (+8.5) over Texas Longhorns – Much like the Rose Bowl spread, there are way too many points to pass up taking here.  Plus, am I the only one in America that didn’t find a single thing wrong with how the Big 12 determined its tie-breaker at the division level?  Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech were all tied for first place in the Big 12 South division with 1 win and 1 loss in head-to-head competition against each other.  It seems to me that having the BCS standings is the next logical tie-breaker (with “logical” being an extremely convulated term in the world of college football) since any conference would want to elevate a team that would have the best chance of getting to the national championship game.  While Texas beat Oklahoma head-to-head, the Longhorns didn’t have any more claim to get a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game than Texas Tech, who beat Texas head-to-head.  I have no clue why there was such a national uproar over a tie-breaking procedure that seemed to actually make a lot of sense considering how the national championship match-up is determined today.  Anyway, the point is that Texas seems to be acting like the ’06 Michigan Wolverines that complained mightily that they didn’t get a re-match with their fiercest rival in Ohio State in the national championship game and then got crushed by a very talented USC team in the Rose Bowl.  I have a strong feeling that Texas is going to put up a massive dud here, too, since Ohio State is anything but a pushover when Beanie Wells is on the field.
  • BCS National Championship Game:  Florida Gators (-3) over Oklahoma Sooners – No one should forget that Florida is going to be playing a virtual home game in Miami in the same manner that LSU had the home field advantage in last year’s national championship game in New Orleans.  At the same time, for all of the national bashing of Ohio State for its high profile stumbles over the past two seasons, they have made it to BCS bowls 6 out of the last 7 seasons (including this year) with 3 victories that includes a national championship (the only two losses coming in the last 2 national championship games).  There isn’t another program other than USC that would trade places with the Buckeyes with that type of record.  Meanwhile, in the last four BCS bowls for Oklahoma, the Sooners were crushed by West Virginia (who was reeling after having just lost its head coach to Michigan) by 20 points in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, was on the wrong end of the classic upset by Boise State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, got blown out by USC by 36 points in the 2004 Orange Bowl for the national championship (one of the most horrific performances that I’ve ever seen considering the stakes), and was beaten by LSU in the 2003 Sugar Bowl for the national championship.  Jim Tressel looks like Mozart to Bob Stoops’ Salieri when it comes to BCS bowl performances.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 5-6
Overall Season: 19-22-1

Enjoy the games and Happy New Year!

(Image from Washington Post)