Posts Tagged ‘SEC Expansion’

The main question that I’ve been getting over the past few weeks is the following: “Is conference realignment really done? Seriously? Isn’t everyone still lying?” Well, from my perspective, power conference realignment is finished for the foreseeable future with one possible exception (which I’ll get to in a moment). The fact that the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and now ACC all have grant of rights arrangements in place really puts a damper on any further movement. Even if grant of rights agreements could be challenged and struck down, the issue is that none of the 4 conferences that have them in place have any incentive to test that (or else they’d be challenging the strength of their own protections). It’s simply slim pickings in terms of expansion candidates that are outside of the 5 power conferences for the healthiest leagues. Let’s take a look at where everyone stands:

(1) Big Ten – The Big Ten certainly has no need to expand at this point without a school from the ACC or Big 12. A school such as UConn might provide a nice market in theory with elite basketball, but that was already a massive stretch candidate with its lack of AAU status and FBS football history. Plus, even if the Big Ten wanted UConn, who the heck else would the conference add with them? Let’s disregard any notion that an odd number of football schools can be workable from this point forward – what was acceptable with the 11-team Big Ten without divisions and a conference championship game is simply not acceptable in the new larger Big Ten. There has to be a Noah’s Ark expansion approach for any conference that has more than 12 members. As much as I’m a Big Ten fan, I’m also not delusional enough to trick myself into thinking that they could raid the SEC since that’s the only power league doesn’t have a grant of rights arrangement as of yet. Note that the Big Ten passed on Missouri (the most oft-referenced school that would plausibly defect) multiple times when the school was a Big 12 member, so it makes little sense that Jim Delany and the university presidents would even target them now, while a school like Vanderbilt might make the ivory tower-types happy but does little for the financial football goals of the conference (and believe me, as much as I enjoy talking about the CIC and academic status of the Big Ten, the “football” part of the equation still needs to be met). After adding Penn State, the Big Ten was more than willing to wait for two decades to find the correct non-Notre Dame expansion candidates, so I find it to be entirely consistent that they’d be fine with waiting another decade to see if schools like Texas, UNC, UVA, Georgia Tech, Kansas and/or Oklahoma are willing to test the free agent market at that point.

(2) SEC – Meanwhile, the SEC is essentially in the same boat as the Big Ten: all of the candidates that it would realistically want are sitting in the ACC or Big 12. The new SEC Network being formed with ESPN isn’t going to gain anything without a UNC-level addition, which means that expansion is pointless for Mike Slive’s group for the next decade. I don’t subscribe to the Clay Travis bloviations that the SEC Network will blow everyone else out of the water (there are some basic concrete reasons why the Big Ten will very likely continue its current TV revenue dominance for quite awhile, not the least of which is that Jim Delany will get to send the Big Ten’s first tier rights out for open market bidding in a couple of years and that would result in a massive windfall even if Maryland and Rutgers don’t add another dime of revenue to the BTN), but the league will certainly make enough to make it rain in the clubs.

(Note that the key market to watch for SEC Network carriage is the state of Texas. To be clear, I believe that Texas A&M has significantly more pull in its home state than, say, Rutgers has in New Jersey. However, the state of Texas is already home to two of the most high profile ongoing sports network carriage disputes in the country with the ESPN-owned sister channel Longhorn Network not being able to strike a deal with any major cable or satellite carrier other than AT&T U-Verse and Comcast SportsNet Houston, which carries Astros and Rockets games and is co-owned by those teams, still not having anything in place with DirecTV and DISH Network (which is particularly problematic in the Texas market that has higher satellite penetration compared to Northeastern markets such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC that have larger percentages of traditional wired cable customers). Now, the SEC Network is going to provide significantly better content than the Longhorn Network, but the fact that such a large portion of the Houston market hasn’t had access to the Rockets led by James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (I still can’t believe that my battered but still fighting Bulls let that guy get away for nothing in return) for an entire season and currently the Astros (as horrible as they might be on-the-field these days) is an indicator that the SEC Network isn’t just going to get Texas cable and satellite operators to roll over. I fully acknowledge that no cable operator will be able to last a day within the state of Alabama if they’re not carrying Crimson Tide football, so I’m just pointing out the Texas market specifically here as a place to focus upon.)

(3) ACC (plus Notre Dame) – At the same time, the ACC is likely going to spend the next decade in the same mode that the Big Ten was during the 1990s: reserving a spot for Notre Dame. Now, that doesn’t mean that Notre Dame has any intention of joining the ACC as a full football member. Quite to the contrary, I believe that Notre Dame’s ability to stay independent is stronger today than it was 10 years ago when the ACC began its multiple raids of the Big East. Notre Dame has secured an long-term extension of its NBC deal, isn’t subject to any conference championship requirement to have access to the new College Football Playoff, will have access to the Orange Bowl and all secondary ACC bowl tie-ins, and will be in a great power league for basketball and non-revenue sports. There’s less logic in Notre Dame giving up independence today than when it appeared that the Big East was going to collapse without a home for non-football Irish sports in 2003. However, never underestimate how much university administrators delude themselves into thinking that they’re going to be the ones that change the hearts and minds in South Bend. Jim Delany, Deloss Dodds and John Swofford, who I consider to be smart men (whether or not you agree with their actions), have all been fooled on this front. With a grant of rights in place, the ACC doesn’t need to proactively grow at this point and can use the “We’ll wait for Notre Dame to come around” retort to further expansion for awhile (even though anyone that has any clue about how single-mindedly focused the Notre Dame alumni base will fight any hint of giving up football independence knows that they’ll never come around). There’s really no need for the ACC to act unless (until?) it gets poached again by another power conference.

(4) Pac-12 – The Pac-12 is an interesting case since it could conceivably benefit from further expansion with schools that are outside of the 5 power conferences (particularly the Mountain West) from a pure financial standpoint, but none of the realistic candidates for that league fit the requirements for markets and/or academics. BYU has a great brand name with a national following and solid academics, but the political viewpoints of the LDS make that school into a non-starter at places like Berkeley. UNLV provides a great market with potentially a gleaming new football palace in Las Vegas, yet the school is far off from what the Pac-12 wants for academics and even worse on the actual on-the-field football front. New Mexico has a similar decent market/horrific football combo. Hawaii could possibly pass muster in terms of academics and football, but this is one case where geography is likely untenable. (It’s still a quicker flight from Los Angeles to Miami than it is from LA to Honolulu.) Boise State’s football prowess and national TV appeal can’t overcome its academic standards that the Pac-12 won’t accept. So, the Pac-12 seems to be boxed in even if it wanted to expand.

(5) Big 12 – As a result, any realistic chance for further power conference expansion in the near future rests with the Big 12. When Jim Delany, Mike Slive, John Swofford and Larry Scott tell reporters that their respective conferences are happy with their current membership levels, I believe them. All 4 of those conferences are at natural stopping points. In contrast, the Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 seem to have unfinished business – being at 10 members in this environment of larger conferences is much more tenuous than it was 3 years ago, so there’s going to be a lingering feeling of instability with the Big 12 until it gets back up to at least 12 schools in the same way that no one could rest easy when the Big Ten sat at 11 members. While the Big 12 doesn’t have any truly obvious expansion options, they have a bit more leeway compared to the Pac-12 geographically, academically and culturally. For instance, what bothers the Pac-12 about BYU isn’t going to fluster a conference that has a member that didn’t allow any dancing on campus until the Tupac/Biggie feud was at its zenith. The Big 12 could also conceivably expand in virtually any direction within the continental United States, so it’s not implausible that the conference could consider any of UConn, Cincinnati, Colorado State,New Mexico and/or UNLV.

The problem, though, is that the Big 12 is boxed in financially. Unlike the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC (and maybe eventually the ACC), the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference network that can leverage additional households in expansion and is entirely dependent on its national ESPN/Fox deal for conference TV revenue. Now, schools such as Texas and Oklahoma enjoy lucrative third tier rights deals within the Big 12, yet that doesn’t do anything to support overall conference expansion. Plus, the expansion candidates are still largely flawed, as the best football schools like Boise State don’t bring any solid TV markets or recruiting grounds while the schools with the best demographics (e.g. UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State) have some of the worst FBS football programs anywhere. BYU plus Cincinnati or UConn would seem to be the best shot for the Big 12 to maximize financial value in expansion out of what’s realistically available, yet that combo may not be enough. Unfortunately for the Big 12, the conference’s leaders (or maybe just Texas AD Deloss Dodds specifically) got sidetracked for awhile by chasing the expansion lottery dreams of Notre Dame and Florida State while passing on what could have been lucrative and stability-producing additions with Louisville (which would have given a nearish geographic partner for isolated West Virginia) and BYU. The ACC grabbed Louisville to backfill for Maryland, though, and that ended taking a lot of solid expansion combos for the Big 12 off the table (as any desirable expansion for the Big 12 that didn’t include the pipe dreams of Notre Dame and/or Florida State involved Louisville on some level).

To be sure, the Big 12 (a) probably will always be a pretty good conference in terms of football on-the-field by virtue of being the most prominent conference in the recruiting rich state of Texas and (b) will unequivocally be a power conference with high national TV revenue numbers and bowl appeal as long as Texas and Oklahoma are members. However, that’s also a blessing and a curse, as the conference’s over-reliance on the state of Texas and a couple of marquee brand names exposes some of the same weaknesses in the Big 12 that eventually caused the old Southwest Conference to collapse. The demographic growth prospects of the state of Texas specifically are fantastic, but that masks the fact that the Big 12’s demographics outside of Texas are the worst out of all of the 5 power conferences by a wide margin. (This is a large reason why I never bought what was seemingly a widespread belief that ACC schools would defect to the Big 12 no matter what financial arguments some observers attempted to make.) Long-term, the Big 12 is at risk because there isn’t a ready reservoir of brand names that it can expand or merge with in the way that the old Big 8 took Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor from the SWC. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Big 12 is at risk of completely breaking up like it did back in 2010-11 since I firmly believe that Texas desires the ability to control (or have perceived control over) a conference more than even making the most TV money, but it’s still the power conference that is bound almost entirely by the strength of its current TV contract (which will eventually expire) as opposed to the strength of its bonds beyond that (unlike the academic bonds of the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 or the geographic institutional football focus of the SEC). So, the Big 12 is still be the power conference that will be most susceptible to raids in the future, just as it was 3 1/2 years ago when Jim Delany first announced that the Big Ten was looking to expand. We may just have to wait another 10 years before power conference chaos happens once again. Until then, we’ll need to pay attention to the non-power conferences and basketball leagues (Oakland moving to the Horizon League was announced today and Davidson appears to be heading to the Atlantic 10 as rumored) for our conference realignment fixes.

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

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

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Back in 2010 and 2011 when the Big 12 was under siege by the then-Pac-10, Big Ten and SEC and appeared to be on the verge of collapse, basketball blue blood Kansas was looking like it could left out of the power conference structure. Circumstances were so dire at that point that Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and other Big 12 schools without any realistic prospects of moving to another power league actually approached the Big East to join if the worst case scenario came to fruition. It was a scary thought to a lot of fans: if Kansas could be left behind, then football is truly all that matters and basketball must have virtually no value in conference realignment. The 10 points (out of a total of 100) that I assigned to “Basketball Brand Value” in the original Big Ten Expansion Index was looking like a massive overweighting of hoops back then.

To the extent that it was already clear, the maxim was set in stone: “Football is everything in conference realignment.” Discussions about basketball value went by the wayside over the past couple of years as conference realignment discussions focused intensely upon how to maximize football dollars. Now, to be sure, much of this made (and still makes) sense for the power conferences. First tier TV contracts for college football dwarf those for college basketball while the top conferences (via the bowl system) are able to funnel postseason football money directly to their own coffers instead of having to deal with the NCAA for basketball postseason dollars.

However, any hard and fast rule is bound to be broken. As the Big East started suffering from a disintegration over the past 18 months that was originally prescribed for the Big 12, the seven non-football playing Catholic members of that league decided to break off and form a basketball-focused conference. There was quite a bit of skepticism that this could be financially viable considering that the Atlantic 10 signed a new deal worth only $350,000 per school per year (compared to the $1.3 million per year that each of the Big East schools were receiving for basketball under the current ESPN contract that’s about to expire). The perception was that football was propping the “Catholic 7” up and they would be taking a substantial haircut by splitting off from the gridiron portion of the conference.

Then, the TV offers came in. The Catholic 7 received an offer from Fox worth $3 million to $4 million per school per year just for men’s basketball, while the remnants of the Big East will be getting about $2 million per school per year for both football and basketball. Think about it this way: Cincinnati, which has been to 2 BCS bowls and was seconds away from making it to the football national championship game in 2009, is going to end up making 50% to 100% less TV money for football and basketball than crosstown rival Xavier will be making from basketball alone (assuming all of the reports are correct that Xavier will be joining the Catholic 7)… and Xavier is going to end up being in the conference named “The Big East”, too.

If the Big East/Catholic 7 TV contract situation hasn’t changed how you view conference realignment overall, it should. This should be a glaring warning signal any conference that is not named the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 or ACC: football in and of itself isn’t going to get leagues paid and they better start paying attention to basketball if they want to maximize revenue. For instance, if I was running UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and/or Temple, I would start questioning what the point is of having massive capital expenditures and operating expenses for football when nearby schools are getting paid more than my athletic department based on perceived basketball prowess. Now, schools like UConn or Cincinnati are still be positioning themselves to get into the ACC or Big 12, so they obviously can’t downshift in football, but maybe they would be better off creating a public university version of the Catholic 7. For instance, take UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple as a base and then add on UMass, Old Dominion and Charlotte as all-sports schools and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) and Wichita State (and maybe a couple of other public schools like Rhode Island) as basketball members. Navy might actually prefer to be a football-only member in that type of league compared to the Big East as currently configured, as well. That’s just throwing a list of schools against the wall, but what’s clear to me is that very high basketball value of UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple is getting severely diluted by the rest of the “new” Big East that won’t be called the Big East anymore. (For the purposes of this post, I’ll define the Big East football schools left behind as the “Big X”.) UConn getting a fraction of what Providence is receiving in terms of TV money ought to be unacceptable to the people in Storrs (even if the Huskies’ long-term plan is to get into the ACC at all costs), so it’s time to start rethinking the conventional wisdom of the role football plays in conference realignment.

What we have seen over the past 3 years is a lot of moves on paper, but the overall effect being more of the same. The power club when the BCS system was created in 1998 consisted of 6 conferences and 63 schools (including independent Notre Dame). 15 years later, the power club now has 5 conferences and 65 schools, with 3 schools moving up (Louisville, TCU and Utah) and 1 school moving down (Temple, who was kicked out of the power structure due to performance as opposed to anything related to realignment). That is a net change of 2 schools over the course of 15 years. Essentially, every single school that isn’t already in a power conference is praying for a winning lottery ticket with their respective football programs with those odds. As any financial adviser could tell you, though, pinning your dreams on winning the lottery isn’t a viable investment plan. When the Big East became too filled with “riff raff”, the entire league got kicked out of the power club instead of being integrated. It’s clear that the power club doesn’t want to get much larger (if at all), so everyone outside of that top tier needs to start looking at other ways to maximize revenue.

While basketball is much less of a concern to the power conferences at face value, consider which school is the top target for both the Big Ten and SEC (the 2 richest and most powerful conferences): North Carolina. It certainly isn’t due to UNC’s prowess at football or avoiding academic fraud. To the contrary, UNC is a basketball blue blood, and more importantly, Tar Heels basketball games are so critically important in the state of the North Carolina that a conference TV network carrying such games can effectively charge whatever carriage rate that it wants in that market. Think of the Big Ten’s addition of Maryland, as well. Fan enthusiasm for Terps football has been tepid lately, but part of what the conference is banking on is that there is a critical mass of interest in Maryland basketball where it can get the Big Ten Network basic carriage in the Washington, DC and Baltimore markets.

For conferences that don’t have their own TV networks, then the main way to monetize expansion is through first tier football TV contracts. In contrast, the “market” model of conference TV networks means that basketball needs to be taken into account more. (See the BTN garnering its highest-ever rated month in prime time in January based on the strength of the hoops league this year.) At the same time, the number of strong football brand names that are willing to move is pretty low right now. In 2010, everyone in the old Big 12 that had Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M, everyone in the Big East that had Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse and Louisville, and the ultimate hammer of Notre Dame was conceivably on the table. Now, the biggest football brand name that seems to be possibly available is Florida State, but there’s a feeling that they’re just rattling sabres about their supposed dissatisfaction with the ACC (where they’d be happy to move to the Big Ten or SEC, but don’t dislike the ACC enough to go to the Big 12). As a result, it simply might not be realistic (or possible) for conferences that are in acquisition mode to add much football prowess even if that’s their top priority. Thus, those leagues have to look to other factors such as monetizing basketball, which is very much possible (if not completely necessary) under the conference network model. Football might bring in the largest audiences for conference networks, but basketball is what keeps the lights on and provides enough content to justify basic carriage.

Make no mistake about it: all things being equal, of course conferences would want top football programs over top basketball programs. There’s nothing that generates more revenue than a power football school. However, what people need to start questioning is the misguided logic that any football program is more valuable than any basketball program. The Catholic 7 has shown that this isn’t the case at all. Athletic departments across the country need to take note in trying to figure out how they want to position themselves in the new college sports landscape.

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

(Image from AP)

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby came out of a meeting with his conference’s athletic directors on Monday with some standard general non-news about any possible expansion plans.  However, he reinforced some reports that the Big 12 was evaluating alliances with different conferences, including the ACC.  Why would the Big 12 openly suggest an alliance with a conference that many believe would be the primary target for a raid?

People that relish in ACC Armageddon rumors point out that proposed alliances have led to raids in the past, such as the old Big 8 and Southwest Conference discussing that scenario (and the Big 8 subsequently taking Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor from the SWC) and the Big East and ACC exploring the same (leading to the ACC in a decade-long bludgeoning of the Big East).  The ACC Armageddonistas surmise that the Big 12 is following the same playbook of luring Jim Swofford to hand over sensitive conference information in “alliance talks” and then stab them in the back in a few months with a raid.  Of course, that assumes that ACC schools want to join the Big 12.

Certainly, there’s a chance that the leadership of the Big 12 is leveraging the prospect of an alliance publicly while engaging on a reconnaissance mission behind closed doors to poach the likes of Florida State or Clemson.  More likely, though, is that the Big 12 can’t expand with anyone that they deem worth having (according to Bowlsby, schools that would be worth in excess of $26.2 million per year each in additional revenue) on their own.  The Big 12 is in a position where it can’t be “proactive” – a school such as Florida State isn’t going to be open to the Big 12’s overtures without the Big Ten and SEC first (a) confirming that neither wants to invite the Seminoles themselves and (b) raiding other ACC members to the point where staying in the league would be unpalatable.

As a result, the Big 12 can’t be the first mover here no matter how much their fans may want them to be.  That’s why the news out of that conference over the past month has been about alliances with the ACC and finding ways to change NCAA rules so that they can hold a conference championship game with only 10 teams.  The University of Texas might have leverage with other conferences as an individual school, but the Big 12 as an overall entity has much less leverage than what many conference realignment observers seem to believe.

The dilemma is that the ACC schools that the Big Ten and SEC most likely want in expansion happen to be the ones that are least likely to move.  I’m often accused of having Big Ten bias as an Illinois alum (by the way, the least 3 weeks of the basketball season have been excruciating), but I’ve been pretty consistent over the past couple of years in stating that Jim Delany doesn’t have complete poaching power over everyone in the ACC.  Virginia and North Carolina are the real potential prizes for the Big Ten and it’s probably the same for the SEC.  (Football-focused fans often see Virginia Tech and North Carolina State as the most likely targets for the SEC out of the current ACC membership, but make no mistake that UNC and UVA are ultimately the most valuable additions as old money academically elite flagship institutions.)  The problem is that neither UNC nor UVA really fit well in either the Big Ten or SEC – they are too Southern to be really desire being in the Northern-based Big Ten and too wine-and-cheese to enjoy being in the SEC.  There is also a large split between the academically-minded leaders of these institutions that would prefer the Big Ten while T-shirt fans would want the SEC.  The ACC provides the balance of being Southern and the perception of having an academically-oriented league (never mind the fake grades for athletes in Chapel Hill) that schools can’t find anywhere else, which will make it very hard for either UNC or UVA to leave.  (Count Georgia Tech and even Florida State in that equation, too.)  In essence, UNC and UVA are to the ACC what Texas and Oklahoma are to the Big 12: the league lives as long as both of those are schools are still there (and those schools know it).

So, that’s where I see the threats of the ACC becoming completely coming apart end up failing.  UNC, in particular, has Texas-esque influence (even if it’s more perceived than real) in the ACC, and the actions of Deloss Dodds and the Longhorns have shown that power and big dog status can be even more important as making the most TV money from a conference.  (Notre Dame feels the same way.)  As a result, the thought that UNC and UVA are going to bolt because they are scared that the ACC will collapse doesn’t hold water with me.  Those 2 schools can keep the ACC together alone and they have enough powerful alums with massive pocketbooks and politicians backing them where getting more TV revenue isn’t going to carry the same weight with them as it did with Maryland.

Now, once again, I can never say never in conference realignment.  Maybe Jim Delany’s projected revenue figures for a Big 16 or Big 18 are so outrageous that he can put the smackdown on the ACC more than I’m giving the Big Ten credit for.  Maybe Mike Slive is freaked out enough about the thought of either the Big Ten or Big 12 getting into the state of Florida by adding Florida State that the SEC would take the Noles in an act of self-defense.  In either event, it’s really up to the Big Ten or SEC to make a move.  The Big 12 would then have to hope that some other valuable pieces would fall their way.  I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but the speculation will continue.

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

(Image from Atlantic Coast Conversation)

Chip Brown from Orangebloods.com has some new nuggets indicating that the Big 12 athletic directors want to talk about expansion (with Texas seemingly being reluctant) and that Florida State could be a target. There’s really not too much new other than there will be an actual forum for Big 12 officials to discuss conference realignment issues next week (so we may get some concrete news at that point) and that the conference has moved on from its infatuation with Notre Dame. It seems obvious that the Big 12 would want Florida State. That’s in the “No s**t, Sherlock” category of revelations to me. What’s still unclear is whether Florida State wants anything to do with the Big 12. One of Brown’s Big 12 sources said himself, “If it doesn’t make sense to Florida State, then this is all a moot point.” As I said in my last post, ACC schools like their conference as a whole in terms of geography, academics, institutional fit and demographics, but don’t really like their TV contract. The Big 12 is the flip side, where those schools (other than Texas) don’t really like their conference (as evidenced by the fact that every school other than Texas that had the ability to leave for another conference on its own chose to do so), yet are happy with their new TV contract. Maryland had a tough time leaving the ACC for the Big Ten even though it was an exponentially easier decision in terms of financial gain, geography, academics and institutional fit than any potential ACC-to-Big 12 move.

That being said, I’ve learned well enough to never say never in conference realignment. Florida State might indeed be looking around and that more than qualifies as a potential major movement. What I’d like to see, though, is for the reporters covering conference realignment that are going to follow up on this Chip Brown story to ask their sources from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and/or Big 12 some questions that seemed to get glossed over as a result of preexisting assumptions that may or may not be true:

(1) Are the reported rules that new Big Ten schools must be AAU members and new SEC schools must be in a state outside of the current conference footprint truly hard-and-fast rules? – We often hear that the Big Ten wants to only consider expansion candidates that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which is a group of top level research institutions. However, we know that the Big Ten is clearly willing to make an exception for non-AAU member Notre Dame. We also know that while Nebraska was an AAU member when it was added by the Big Ten in 2010, that school was removed from that organization less than a year later. The Big Ten members knew full well at the time of conference expansion in 2010 that Nebraska was at risk of losing its AAU status and, in fact, Michigan and Wisconsin ended up voting to remove NU from the AAU (and those 2 votes swinging the other way would have kept them in the group).

While I believe that the Big Ten would want an AAU member in 99% of the circumstances, Notre Dame is in that 1% (and Nebraska was added with the knowledge of a strong possibility of them ending up in that tiny minority, too). As a result, the question needs to be asked as to whether a school such as Florida State would be in that 1%, as well. There is one word that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said more than any other during the past 3 years of conference realignment discussions: demographics. Well, there are demographics for normal expansion candidates, and then there are DEMOGRAPHICS… and a school that can deliver the entire state of Florida provides the latter. The Big Ten may very well not want anything to do with Florida State (which would be a grave mistake, in my humble opinion), but I hope that reporters on the ground don’t just assume that the lack of AAU status for that school automatically nixes their candidacy.

Likewise, a number of people have advanced the argument that the SEC has a “gentleman’s agreement” among its members that it will not add a school in the same state as a current SEC member without such affected member’s approval. That is, the SEC won’t add Florida State unless Florida consents to it. However, that’s much easier to say in a vacuum when there’s nationwide conference stability. It’s a bit different if a conference that has the flagship school of Texas wants to combine it with a marquee school directly in your top football recruiting territory (right after you’ve established your own conference as the elite football league with beachheads in both Florida and Texas) or, even worse, a league with the financial, television and academic power of the Big Ten decides that it has a desire to follow its Midwestern snowbird alums into Florida. The SEC has been willing to coexist with the ACC in the state of Florida and several other Southern areas for many years, but I’m not sure if they’d be that willing to let the Big Ten or the University of Texas combine their respective powers with Florida State.

Big Ten people such as Barry Alvarez have gone on the record that the conference adding Maryland and Rutgers was more of a defensive move than a proactive one. They saw that the ACC was moving to lock up the entire Eastern seaboard and could possibly position itself to be attractive to Penn State in the near future, so Jim Delany went and split the heart of the ACC up by convincing Maryland to jump (with Rutgers willing to do anything to get off of the Big East dumpster fire) before the ACC regained its strength in the conference pecking order. (I’ve long said that if all of the conferences could negotiate their TV deals at the same time today, the ACC would be #3 behind the SEC and Big Ten. The ACC is behind the Pac-12 and Big 12 in terms of TV money solely because of timing, where the ACC signed its deal before the current sports TV rights boom while the Pac-12 and Big 12 simply lucked into getting to go to the open market at a later date.) Similarly, the SEC wouldn’t be keen on a Big Ten footprint that stretches from the New York City area down to Florida (if the Big Ten were to add schools in between like UVA, UNC and Georgia Tech) or a Big 12 that neutralizes the Texas/Florida combo advantage that the SEC gained when it added Texas A&M. The SEC might need to play defense just like the Big Ten did and bring in Florida State (which isn’t exactly being forced to take in a football leper) to keep stronger invaders out.

Bottom line for conference realignment reporters out there reading: don’t assume that the Big Ten and SEC are just going to sit on the sidelines regarding Florida State and let the Big 12 walk off with them.

(2) If numerous ACC schools want to leave and are awaiting the outcome of the conference’s lawsuit against Maryland, why did they join in that lawsuit in the first place? – Another common argument that we are seeing is that ACC schools are waiting to see whether the conference’s $50 million exit fee imposed against Maryland will be upheld in court. If that exit fee gets struck down or reduced significantly, then it would supposedly be open season by the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 in terms of raiding the ACC. This begs a simple question: if so many ACC schools truly want to get out yet are concerned about the exit fee, why are they spending craploads in legal expenses defending that exit fee?

It’s one thing if the projected conference realignment scenario resulted in a single school joining a lawsuit and then bolting shortly thereafter. That’s what Virginia Tech did in joining the Big East’s original lawsuit against the ACC in 2003 and then fleeing to the ACC itself when the Virginia legislature forced UVA to give the Hokies a lifeline. However, the line of thinking regarding the ACC seems to be more of an “opening of the floodgates” variety where multiple schools would start bailing. Having several schools going through the motions advancing a lawsuit that they privately want to fail isn’t exactly the best use of limited time, resources and money on their part.

(3) If UVA, UNC and Georgia Tech spurned overtures from the Big Ten (as Chip Brown reported), why would at least one of them (Georgia Tech) supposedly be interested in the Big 12? – According to the Chip Brown story, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech all did not have interest in the Big Ten “for now”. However, in Brown’s words, for the Big 12 to have a realistic chance with Florida State, the conference would need to add “as many regional partners as possible”. At the very least, it would seem that Georgia Tech would have to be one of those regional partners. So, are we to believe that Georgia Tech would actually prefer not joining UVA and UNC in the Big Ten and move over to the Big 12 instead with, say, Florida State, Clemson and 1 or more other random ACC schools? I guess stranger things have happened, but that doesn’t pass the smell test with me.

(4) If the Big 12 can’t add any ACC schools, who else would they be willing to add (if anyone at all)? – Going back to my comment in the opening paragraph to this post, it’s pointless to ask a Big 12 source about whether his/her conference would be interested in adding Florida State. Of course they would! What’s more instructive is what the Big 12 willing to do in the event (and I would characterize it as the likely event) that Florida State and other ACC schools don’t want to join. Is some combination of Cincinnati, UConn and/or BYU worth it for the Big 12 to expand for? Are there less obvious options (e.g. Boise State, UNLV, San Diego State) that could be on the table? Alternatively, would the Big 12 simply shut down all expansion talk completely if it can’t poach from the ACC? It’s an easy question to ask whether a conference is willing to expand for a sexy name – that’s not news. What’s tougher to gauge is what the expansion plans would be (if any) when those sexy names aren’t coming.

What I hope is that the conversation is less about what the Big 12 wants (which we know) and more about why the Big 12 should be able to get what it wants beyond simply offering a larger amount of TV money (even when simply offering a larger amount of TV money hasn’t worked with the Big Ten and SEC in luring ACC targets). Maybe the Big 12 can pull off a stunner and pick off a prize like Florida State, but believe it or not, conference realignment at the power conference level is more complex than saying that everyone is trying to get into Conference A just because it’s making more money than Conference B.

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

(Image from New York Times)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from In 10 Words)

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of things to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Uncomfortable Moments)

As most of you all know by now, THE BIG 12 WON’T DIE.  Let’s get right to it:

(1) Pac-12 grants a stay of execution to Big 12 – Last year, I wrote the following about the Big 12:  “While the Big 12 isn’t safe in a warm and fuzzy family way, it looks like it’s safe in a maximum security prison way.  No one’s getting out of there even if they want to very badly.”

Texas A&M looks like it’s pulled off an Andy Dufresne escape (although they’re not quite out of the sewer yet as a result of Ken Starr), but Oklahoma is still stuck in Shawshank.  I’m not surprised that the Pac-12 ultimately didn’t agree to taking on the Longhorn Network with Texas, but for Oklahoma to not end up moving west is a shocker and an instructive note on how there’s still a fair bit of inertia in college sports (despite all of us here going through scenarios of how everything is supposed to blow up).

Back in January, I noted that the Longhorn Network was actually going to save the Big 12.  That looked like that was going to be a very wrong prediction for the last month (and A&M is obviously out the door), but what we’ve seen is that Texas now has golden handcuffs to the Big 12 as a result of the LHN, thereby giving it prison-like stability.  No other conference that could conceivably be attractive to Texas (Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten) was willing to budge on the LHN and equal revenue sharing issues, which meant that saving the Big 12 was always the end goal for the Longhorns.

One Oklahoma source claims that the school was simply using the Pac-12 to obtain more leverage in the Big 12.  If that’s the case, it failed spectacularly.  The latest developments have effectively provided Texas even more of a hammer than it did previously.  The Oklahoma demand to fire Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe looks like it will be fulfilled, but that was probably going to happen no matter what considering the breakdown of the league over the past year.  (All that I ask is that the @DanBeebe Twitter account continue to live on.  It’s my favorite fake Twitter feed outside of the now-dormant @MayorEmanuel.)  Other schools such as BYU, Louisville, West Virginia, Air Force and/or even TCU (which was the school that the Big 12 seemed to avoid as if it were though Patient Zero for the past 20 years) may be added to provide some more stability.

(2) My Partial Revenue Sharing Plan for the Big 12 – Now, let’s say that Texas actually decides that it wants to work in good faith to keep the rest of the Big 12 relatively happy (as it certainly has a large self-interest in keeping the league alive).  Equal revenue sharing for the national first and second tier TV rights is certainly a nice start to get some goodwill in the league, but that’s obviously ignoring the real source of contention of the LHN.  That being said, it has to acknowledged that the thought of Texas sharing all of its LHN revenue with the rest of the Big 12 is completely unrealistic.

So, what I’d propose is a local TV revenue sharing system based upon what Major League Baseball does today.  In MLB, all teams pay 31% of their local revenue into a pot that is then split up equally among all franchises.  As a result, the Yankees keep the lion’s share of their YES Network revenue (which is really where the team gets its financial power over the rest of baseball), but the Devil Rays get at least a little bit of benefit from the YES cash.  Just as the Yankees will always have an advantage in TV revenue in MLB due to its location in the New York City market, Texas has the same advantage within the Big 12.  No one can fault either the Yankees or Longhorns for maximizing that advantage, yet they also have to acknowledge that the fact that no one else can do the same (even successful programs like Oklahoma) is going to engender a ton of acrimony.  That might be fine for a school like Texas to say, “So what?!” in a pure free market business setting, but in a sports league (whether pro or college), the wealthy teams still need the plebeians to be competitive or else such wealthy teams aren’t going to be able to offer a very compelling product (interesting games) in the long run, which ultimately hurts revenue down the line.

Once again, it’s unrealistic to think that Texas is going to submit to equal revenue sharing for the LHN and third tier TV rights in the Big 12.  However, a partial revenue sharing plan for those third tier rights where all Big 12 members put in 31% (or some other agreed upon figure) of their local TV revenue which would then be split equally could go a long way in creating stability in the league and may actually make the league attractive to expansion candidates (outside of those that would take an AQ invite anywhere at anytime).  Regardless, the Big 12 lives, whether it deserves to or not.  BYU could logically be plugged in and the league could move along merrily, except…

(3) Remember the SEC: Realignment chaos isn’t over – Much of the media would have you believe that conference realignment has halted as result of the Pac-12 announcement, but there are the small matters of the SEC standing at an uneven 13 schools along with a possible collapse of the Big East that could put Notre Dame into play (which I’ll get to later on).

With respect to the SEC, Missouri was reportedly given an invite on Tuesday that was conditional upon the breakup of the Big 12.  What’s unclear is whether the SEC will still try to get Missouri into the league now that the Big 12 has survived or if the Baylor lawsuit brigade has given Mike Slive a reason to keep it on the down-low for awhile.  My impression over the past year is that the Missouri fan base had the most vitriolic collective anger toward the Big 12 besides Texas A&M, so if Mizzou effectively turned down an invite to the stable and wealthy SEC in favor of staying in the Big 12 prison (which I would personally characterize as the dumbest business decision in the history of college sports if that’s the case), I’d expect a whole lot of pitchforks in Columbia.  Missouri alums may very well push the school over the coming months to approach the SEC again just like the Aggies just did and we’ll go through realignment chaos all over again.

As long as the SEC is at 13 schools, there’s inherent instability in the same manner that the Big Ten having 11 schools always had other conferences on edge.  I thought the ACC was safe long before it added Syracuse and Pitt, but I’ve stated previously that Florida State is the one school from that league that I could see taking an SEC invite.  (Forget about Virginia Tech and NC State for political reasons.)  West Virginia from the Big East may also end up being a target again after being supposedly rejected by both the SEC and ACC (which happened before the Big 12 got its reprieve, meaning that Mizzou might not move).  Speaking of the Big East…

(4) Service academies in the Big East? – A list of targets for the Big East to replace Syracuse and Pitt is reportedly topped by Navy and Air Force as football-only members with the hope that Army could be convinced to join, as well.

With football-only members being the primary targets, this means that the Big East football members (at least for now) want to maintain the hybrid format with non-football playing Catholic schools.  The Big East would be looking for all-sports members if the schools really wanted to split.  In turn, this makes Notre Dame extremely happy as it looks like the Big East will continue to be a viable home for its basketball and other non-football programs and allow the Irish to maintain football independence.

I’ve seen a number of comments on Twitter and elsewhere openly wondering whether the Big East ought to keep its BCS AQ status if it ends up adding some combo of Navy, Air Force and/or Army.  What those commenters need to do is look at the big picture (AKA the entire BCS system).  The Big East is going to have its AQ status through 2013 as long as it still exists.  The published “AQ criteria” for ranking conferences does NOT apply to the 6 AQ leagues, who all have their status due to a combination of bowl and TV contracts.  Thus, that criteria is SOLELY a mechanism to see if there could be a 7th AQ conference and NOT to kick out any current AQ league.  This means the Big East can’t be yanked of its AQ status prior to 2013 unless it actually dissolves.

What’s important is what happens to that AQ status after 2013.  Let’s assume that the Big East has added all 3 service academies as football-only members.  Considering all of the constant political scrutiny with respect to the BCS, if you were a BCS commissioner, would you feel very comfortable going into a Congressional hearing and trying to explain why you just screwed over a league that has Navy, Air Force and Army?  I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that position.  See where I’m going here?  Adding all of the service academies would provide a ton of political protection for the Big East when its AQ status is reviewed in 2013.  That’s worth more than any other expansion candidates the Big East could possibly consider.  The other BCS leagues are likely going to end up continuing granting the Big East an AQ auto-bid as the cost of doing business to keep massive political heat of them.  It’s chump change compared to putting the entire tiered BCS system at risk.

So, don’t worry if you’re hooked on realignment crack.  There’s still plenty to come over the next few weeks.

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

(Image from Alexander Palace)