Posts Tagged ‘Texas Longhorns’

As promised, we continue to empty out the mailbag (click here for Part I):

Frank,
One of your theories is that if the Big 12 dies, Texas would try for a partial member deal like Notre Dame in the ACC instead of becoming an equal member of another conference. I had agreed with that theory up until Texas A&M exploded onto the national scene at the end of last year and has remained there ever since. Texas is going to make its money anywhere but playing 2nd fiddle to its state rival has to be a blow to the powers that be at UT. I don’t think playing a half ACC schedule mixed with a couple of 2nd tier Texas schools is going to offer enough pub to compete with A&M and the SEC especially with the coming difficultly of scheduling with conferences going to 9 games. Does Texas A&M success, and more importantly attention, change your thoughts on the future of UT? – PSUhockey

Very interesting question. I think that A&M’s success can definitely impact the long-term prospects of Texas, but that it’s a separate issue from the particular conference that UT is in (or if it’s an independent, not in). A lot of sports fans may be looking at the Big 12 through the prism of its relatively good on-the-field football success over the past few years, while the ACC has had arguably its weakest stretch over the exact same period. However, I’d argue that Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson at the very least are more valuable football opponents than any Big 12 school outside of Oklahoma. Personally, I’d put UNC, NC State and Georgia Tech ahead of anyone non-OU Big 12 school purely for football, as well. So, if Texas keeps the Red River Rivalry as an independent, plays 1 or 2 of its fellow in-state Texas schools not named Texas A&M, has a similar 5-game partial ACC schedule like ND and then fills out the rest of its schedule in a manner that’s similar to now, I think that’s very attractive compared to the normal Big 12 schedule for the long-term. We’re not even getting to basketball and baseball, where the ACC is extremely powerful.

So, A&M could certainly put a serious dent in UT’s power (and if it’s not A&M specifically, it could be simply the increased presence of the SEC in the state of Texas), but that doesn’t necessarily correlate in Texas preferring the Big 12 over partial membership in the ACC. If anything, Texas might end up with acting in a way similar to how BYU responded to Utah’s invite to the Pac-12, where independence became mechanism to show how it was “special” compared to its in-state rival.

To me, Big East expansion to 12 schools is inevitable and ought to have happened already. The fact that Xavier AD Greg Christopher mentioned St. Louis, Dayton, Richmond and VCU as the prime candidates isn’t any surprise. SLU seems to be a lock – it’s a perfect institutional fit in a large market (by college sports standards) with a competent on-the-court basketball team. As I’ve stated previously, it’s really a matter of who comes along with SLU. I don’t see the Big East being interested in creating a nationwide conference with schools like Gonzaga and BYU – that’s an interesting fantasy for those purely focused on the basketball product, but it’s a non-starter for all of the other sports. So, Dayton, Richmond and VCU are really the well-worn “other” candidates, with the Big East’s consternation on each of them being that they have major flaws from the conference’s perspective (Dayton is in a smaller Midwestern market, Richmond has a small alumni base, and VCU would be the lone public school in a league of private institutions). It’s also difficult to see many other schools outside of that group that could have both a Butler-like ascent and the institutional and market profiles that the Big East is looking for. The only ones that come to mind are Davidson (which has a small size like Richmond but has had more recent on-the-court success and is located in a college hoops hotbed) and Duquesne (great institutional and market fit, yet they have zero on-the-court credentials).

If I were running the Big East, I certainly wouldn’t see Davidson or Duquesne as panaceas that are worth holding off expansion for. University presidents have proven to be a strange bunch in conference realignment decisions, though. To me, SLU is a lock to get into the Big East when it expands (and I say when because I just don’t see Fox being satisfied with the level of inventory and market coverage that the 10-team setup offers in the long-term), with Dayton as a slight front-runner for the 12th spot. Now, VCU might end up being too much to ignore if they have another Final Four run and, maybe more importantly, keep having fans showing up in droves in Brooklyn for the Atlantic 10 Tournament (as the Big East needs to maintain ticket buyers for its own tournament at Madison Square Garden). The public school profile is definitely a major problem for VCU’s candidacy, though. That factor can’t be underestimated with the Big East presidents.

For the long-term (the next 10 to 20 years), it probably won’t look too much different than now when it comes to U.S. spectator sports: (1) football, (2) basketball, (3) baseball and then a big dropoff to get to hockey and soccer. (This is different than levels of actual participation in sports, where soccer and basketball will likely dominate.) When looking at the metrics, basketball is clearly ascendant compared to baseball: the NBA Finals have been consistently drawing better ratings than the World Series, NBA players are more recognizable to the general public, neutral sports fans are more likely to watch an NBA game that doesn’t involve their favorite team than an MLB game without their favorite team, and, most importantly, the NBA viewing audience is younger and more diverse across economic and racial lines.

I wrote a piece on soccer’s issues with viewership back when David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy a few years ago and the main thrust of that post still holds true: viewership of soccer in the U.S. will be capped as long as Major League Soccer fails to import the best players in their primes like they do in Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL. Americans want to watch the best of the best, which is why they’re willing to watch the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams play in the World Cup and other international competitions, but aren’t interested in what they perceive to be minor league pro soccer compared to the English Premier League and other top European leagues.

Think of it this way: most sports fans can recognize the difference in the quality of play between an MLB game with a 1-0 score and a minor league baseball game with the same 1-0 score. Likewise, even relative soccer watching novices in America can see that the level of play in a World Cup or EPL match is vastly different than MLS. That’s why I’ve long said that the drag on soccer’s popularity in the U.S. has nothing to do with the supposed lack of scoring*. Instead, it’s that soccer is the main sport where we’re exporting the best players as opposed to importing them, which means we’re getting a worse product than other countries (unlike in basketball, baseball and soccer) and we know it. So, soccer can grow, but it will be limited as long as we don’t get to watch the best players here.

(* Scoring is an artificial construct, anyway. A 21-14 football score sounds a lot different than a 3-2 score (as in 3 touchdowns to 2 touchdowns) even if it reflects the same amount of on-the-field action. The “lack of scoring” argument for why Americans don’t watch soccer en masse is one of my sports pet peeves because it’s so simplistic and misses the larger picture.)

What will it mean for NCAA 14 that the conferences aren’t represented? – @Devon2012 

Ah, yes. Yet another toothless action by the NCAA and conferences in attempting to deflect criticism that they’re taking in billions of dollars on par with the largest pro sports entities in the world. I guess the NCAA has a bit more skin in the game since its brand is in the title of the game itself, but it’s pointless for the conferences to remove their names from video games, but then allow their members to continue to be included under their own separate agreements with EA Sports (and all but one of them have such agreements). We’re not talking about going to some Blades of Steel era logoless and nicknameless labeling of teams here: the Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes and all of their other conference-mates will be playing in a video game league that’s not named the Big Ten but everyone will recognize is the Big Ten. (I’m sure that EA Sports will simply use the mathematically correct “Big 14”.) Why the Big Ten, SEC and other power conferences give up their branding control when their member schools are still participating in the game is beyond me.

I don’t think ESPN and Fox are battling over conference realignment per se in the sense that the only conference where it really matters at this point for them is the Big Ten. In fact, the Big Ten’s next TV contract (which would start in 2016) is in an environment where it’s the only power conference that’s going out to the open market for the next decade, so ESPN and Fox (along with NBC and maybe even Turner) could fight for the conference with realignment being a tangential factor. At the end of the day, I believe that the Big Ten will end up with a Pac-12-style deal where the Tier 1/Top Tier 2 rights are split between ESPN and Fox and then the Lower Tier 2/Tier 3 rights go to the Fox-affiliated BTN, so neither ESPN nor Fox will push the Big Ten or the other conferences to do one thing or the other simply for the sake of TV rights. If anything, the last thing that ESPN and Fox would want is further realignment, as it has resulted in significantly higher rights fees that they’re footing the bill for. The Pac-12, Big 12, SEC and ACC rights are all locked up for a long time, so the networks are just going to end up paying more if any other schools end up defecting to the Big Ten.

Which is more likely for the NHL – expansion or contraction? Which NFL franchise(s) are most likely to land in LA? If none do in next 5-10 years, would NFL expand again? – John O

A couple of key overarching points about about pro sports realignment:

(1) Having an “acceptable” stadium is non-negotiable –  It doesn’t matter how attractive a market might be – if it doesn’t have the right stadium (which means having the requisite amount of luxury suites and sweetheart revenue streams), then it won’t be considered. (See the lack of an NFL team in LA for the past 2 decades.)

(2) The top 4 U.S. pro sports leagues will NEVER contract – Believe me – if I could wave a magic wand, there would be 8 to 10 NHL franchises eradicated tomorrow. However, when franchise values for even the worst pro teams in the worst markets are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, owners would rather (a) collect entry fees from new buyers of those dog franchises, (b) move those dog franchises to new markets with “acceptable” stadiums and (c) simultaneously scare current markets into building new “acceptable” stadiums in the process.

So, the first question is fairly straightforward at a high level – the greater likelihood for the NHL is expansion simply because contraction isn’t a viable option. That being said, when you dig down deeper, how much is it worth for any league to expand at this point? Most NBA and NHL franchises are better off using Seattle as a threat to current markets within their footprints to ram through new stadium deals than putting a team in Seattle itself. Leading into your next question, the NFL has used this type of threat better than anyone with the lack of a franchise in Los Angeles. Think about it if you’re Jacksonville, St. Louis or San Diego – if the NFL won’t put a team in LA for not having an “acceptable” stadium, then they sure as hell won’t care about you if you don’t have the right building.

The team that should move to LA is the Jaguars (nothing against Jacksonville, but it truly doesn’t make sense how that market has an NFL franchise), but it appears that their stadium lease is extremely difficult to break. That leaves LA’s two prodigal sons of the Rams and Raiders as frontrunners (franchises with aging stadiums and relatively low contractual barriers to deal with) along with the Chargers (a fairly short geographical move).

Of course, remember point #1: LA must have an “acceptable” stadium. That has always been the dilemma. The proposed Farmers Field in downtown LA near the Staples Center and LA Live had always made the most sense to me from afar since it presents the best opportunity to be a catalyst to further economic development in that area. Downtown LA still isn’t anywhere near as walkable as New York City, Chicago or San Francisco, but a football stadium is a logical addition to what the LA Live complex has already brought there. Unfortunately, that proposal seems to be dead right now.

The problem is that the massive size of the LA market almost works against it in an environment where getting the right stadium deal matters more than anything else in attracting an NFL (or any other pro sports) franchise. The LA market is so lucrative that tons of potential high profile investors want to get into the action, which means that the region as a hole continuously fails to coalesce around a single stadium proposal. The City of Industry and Orange County, for example, see Downtown LA as a competitive threat as opposed to a partner, so we’ve been seeing lots of stadium proposals from various municipalities and factions over the past two decades without any of them getting broad support. In contrast, smaller markets have a better ability to get behind a single proposal with little infighting.

I’ve been thinking that LA would have an NFL team within the next 5 years for the past 15 years, so while it makes sense to virtually everyone with half a brain, it’s pretty obvious that the NFL won’t budge whatsoever on the stadium issue even with a gaping hole in the #2 TV market in the country. Roger Goodell would rather work with markets that have top tier stadiums in place… like London*.

(* Look – I love London. It’s one of the few places that I’d ever consider moving to by choice from Chicago. However, Goodell’s continuous rhetoric about possibly putting a Super Bowl and/or team in London is wearying. The NFL needs to separate the interest of the American expat population in England that’s interested in the league with the fact that native Brits are unbelievably resistant to the overtures of U.S. sports leagues much more compared to other European countries. The most successful franchises in terms of attendance in the old NFL Europe developmental league were actually located in Germany, while Spain, France and many Eastern European countries are solid followers of the NBA. London simply isn’t a good growth spot for the NFL at all.)

Enjoy the upcoming games, everyone!

(Image from HitFix)

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)

There’s obviously tons of conference realignment news out there from a lot of different fronts, so let’s get right to it (and I’ll warn you ahead of time that I’ll be jumping around a bit):

(1) ACC officially adds Syracuse and Pitt – I don’t know if adding Syracuse and Pitt alone makes financial sense for the ACC, but it’s a great move from a cultural fit standpoint.  Neither Syracuse nor Pitt were likely going to receive Big Ten invites, so it made sense for them to jump at the chance to move to the more stable ACC.  (Personally, I’ve long been a proponent of Syracuse receiving a Big Ten invite and thought that if Pitt could just trade locations with Rutgers, they would’ve been invited to the Big Ten many years ago.  Alas, the Big Ten is looking for football grand slams, which I’ll get to later on.)  This might not be a great football move on paper, yet from a market and academic standpoint, it still makes the ACC stronger than where they were a couple of days ago.

(2) Is 14 (not 16) the new 12? – With the Pac-16 looking like it might come to fruition (Oklahoma seems to be steamrolling over there) and speculation turning to the ACC supposedly not being done and planning to move up to a 16-school league (with candidates like Texas, Notre Dame, Rutgers and UConn being thrown around), the argument is that we are on the precipice of the full-fledged superconference era.

Call me skeptical right now.  The Pac-12 is on the verge of going up to 16 with both Texas and Oklahoma, which certainly justifies an expansion to 16.  For the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, though, there isn’t quite as compelling of a financial argument to move beyond 14 (or even 12 in the case of the Big Ten) simply for the sake of getting to 16… unless we see Notre Dame join one of them.  I’ll have more on that in a moment.  Otherwise, there’s just not enough firepower available for spots 15 or 16 in these leagues to justify large-scale expansion.

Regardless, there are a bunch of schools in the Big East and Big 12 (i.e. Rutgers, UConn, Louisville, maybe West Virginia, maybe Kansas, etc.) that are better off either with as little change as possible (i.e. Texas deciding to stay in the Big 12, which makes that a more palatable destination) or full-fledged realignment Armageddon with 4 16-school superconferences (of which those schools would presumably be in the “top 64” to be included).  What’s NOT good for them is a “tweener” superconference era of 14-school leagues, as they’ll likely end up in a league with Big East and Big 12 retreads without any football kings.

(3) What should the Big Ten do? – Since I’m a Big Ten guy, lots of people have been asking me what Jim Delany should be doing right now.  My unequivocal response: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING UNLESS NOTRE DAME AND/OR TEXAS WANT TO JOIN.  The Big Ten has a tight-knit conference with a national TV network, huge fan bases, great academics and four football kings (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska).  There is absolutely no reason to have Big Ten expansion without Notre Dame (and/or the much less likely Texas) involved.  If the Irish come calling, then my feeling is that the Big Ten would look to add Rutgers to provide a direct New York City market presence (even though I believe UConn has the better overall athletic department).  The Big Ten seems to like Rutgers but not enough to add without Notre Dame.  With the amount of money that the Big Ten is splitting already, the standard is massively high.  Speaking of the Irish…

(4) Notre Dame has to start thinking again – Let’s be clear about one thing: from a pure football perspective, Notre Dame will never be forced to give up independence.  As long as the BCS exists, it’s going to deal with Notre Dame on favorable terms.  When BYU can get a multi-year multi-million dollar TV contract from ESPN, it shows that Notre Dame is not within one iota of being in danger of losing its NBC contract (or having someone else like ESPN pick it up instead).  TV networks and bowls will always want Notre Dame while power schools such as Michigan and USC will continue to schedule the Domers no matter what.

The irony is that the main way to get Notre Dame to join a conference has nothing to do with football.  My reader M pointed out a blog post that I wrote back in June 2010 that could almost be written verbatim again today (Pac-16 on the horizon, Texas A&M going to the SEC and the Big East in danger).  In that blog post, I referenced a source that had knowledge of the Big East conference agreement, which states that in the event the league loses 2 football members, the football and non-football sides can split and maintain their respective revenue distributions (i.e. NCAA Tournament credits).  At that time, what I was told was that the Catholic members were actually the ones looking to opt for a split in the event of the loss of any members.

It’s unclear whether there’s the same understanding now, but either way, Notre Dame’s overall athletic department has progressed to the point where a league with only the BE Catholic schools wouldn’t be satisfactory for a program of the size that’s in South Bend.  Basketball would be fine, but it’s everything else that would be a large problem.  While Notre Dame’s alumni base might be willing to throw all non-football sports under the bus in the sake of football independence, Jack Swarbrick and the rest of the leadership at the school aren’t going to have the same perspective as they have to weigh the interests of a whole lot more student-athletes.  Like Texas, Notre Dame was in the position of having its cake and eating it, too, with football independence coupled with a BCS-level league for non-football sports.  Now, it’s probably going to have to give up one or the other, and considering that Notre Dame was on the verge of joining the Big Ten in 2003 when the remaining Big East schools were much more attractive than whose in place now, it’s an indicator that independence is in danger.  It would be great if the ACC could offer them non-football membership outlined in my last post, yet that seems extremely unlikely now.  Granted, independence is still an institutional identity issue for the school more than a money issue (which is contrary to what a lot of college football fans believe), so you never know where the Irish might come out on this.

One thing to note (and I’ll have to give credit to one of the Northwestern posters on a Purple Book Cat thread on Wildcatreport.com for pointing this out, but I can’t find the link right now): keep a close eye on what Notre Dame is doing (or not doing) with respect to hockey conference membership.  The college hockey world experienced its own Conference Realignment Armageddon this past summer after the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference and a new league that siphoned off many of the best of the remaining WCHA and CCHA programs.  Notre Dame, though, hasn’t announced a single thing about joining a different hockey league even though everyone else had done so a couple of months ago.  If you see Notre Dame announcing that it’s joining the Hockey East next week, it’s probably a pretty good indicator that the Irish aren’t joining the Big Ten.  However, the longer that Notre Dame doesn’t say anything about hockey, the more likely it means the Big Ten is a viable option.  Consider the Notre Dame hockey program the college football realignment canary in the coal mine.

(5) Mergers and Acquisitions – A couple of mergers might be on the horizon to create even more mega-conferences.  CBS Sports is reporting that the remaining Big 12 and Big East football schools are exploring a potential merger.  This makes sense in a number of ways since as long as the Big East and Big 12 are existence, they will have BCS AQ bids through 2013.

Someone that had worked with a conference office told me a couple of weeks ago that a merger between the Big 12 and Big East would be a smart move for the leftover schools.  A conference merger actually occurred in 1991, where the American South Conference merged with a wounded Sun Belt Conference that was on the verge of collapse after losing nearly all of its members.  Why did the American South step in to save the Sun Belt?  It’s because in the event of a merger, it meant that the Sun Belt wouldn’t dissolve and therefore, the NCAA ensured that the new merged league (which would decide to keep the Sun Belt name) would retain all of the NCAA Tournament credits of the departed schools.  In the cases of both the Big 12 and Big East, there’s an even stronger incentive for both conferences to avoid dissolution in order to preserve the NCAA Tournament credits of the schools that left their respective leagues (which are actually quite substantial with schools like Syracuse and Pitt involved) along with AQ status for football.  At the same time, the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC all have fairly strong incentives to see a merger occur as it lowers their potential legal exposure from schools such as Baylor and Iowa State that might otherwise be left out of the AQ level.

On the non-AQ front, the Mountain West and Conference USA are considering a football-only merger in an attempt to procure BCS AQ status.  It will be interesting to see whether a mega-league would be persuasive to the BCS powers-that-be on that front since the issue has largely been about the weakness in the bottom halves of those 2 conferences, which won’t go away (and might even be exacerbated) with a merger.

(6) The Geography of Conference Realignment – Finally, as a political junkie, one of my favorite analysts out there is Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog.  So, I was ecstatic to see him post a massive analysis of college conference realignment to determine the different values of various schools.  I actually wrote about the CommonCensus Sports Map Project several years ago (prior to when most of you had stumbled onto this blog) that Silver used in his posting and had noticed at the time that the SEC schools were largely underrepresented in the college football fan numbers.  Regardless, both the Nate Silver piece and the CommonCensus Sports Maps provide a starting point and an incredible amount of data points to examine for anyone interested in how fans of sports teams are distributed by market.

Over 1500 words about the latest in conference realignment and I’ve barely talked about Texas.  Don’t worry – I’ll be writing much more about the Longhorns soon.  Until then, enjoy the hourly changes in the rumor mill.

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

(Image from TV Tropes)

 

In the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen stories that Texas is saving the Big 12, moving west with Oklahoma to the Pac-12, joining the Big Ten with Notre Dame and now the ACC is the new frontrunner for the Longhorns.  The only constant seems to be that Texas wants absolutely nothing to do with the SEC (even though that conference might most easily be able to take on the Longhorn Network without disruption to the rest of the league’s revenue and TV rights structure) because of a combination of academics and cultural fit.  (It’s NOT about “being scared” of the SEC, as Clay Travis suggests.  I like Clay and he normally avoids the fanboy-type of arguments you’ll find on a lot of message boards, but he’s way off base here.  No school moves from or avoids conference because they’re “scared” or really much of anything to do with results on the field.)

THE POSITIVES FOR TEXAS

There are a few items that seem to make sense for Texas in a possible move to the ACC:

(1) ESPN controls all ACC TV rights – Out of the three main contenders for the services of Texas, the ACC has a clear advantage over the Pac-12 and Big Ten in that ESPN controls all ACC television rights at all tiers.  In contrast, the Pac-12 Network that will be wholly-owned by the conference has control of a large chunk of football and basketball inventory while Fox is the Big Ten’s partner on the BTN.  While ESPN sublicenses syndicated packages of ACC games to Raycom, the Worldwide Leader is still ultimately in control of all of that conference’s content.  This makes it much easier from a pure TV rights perspective for the ACC to take in the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network.  There would need to be some maneuvering with Raycom, but certainly not to the extent that would need to occur with the respective networks run by the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

(2) Top Tier Academics – If Texas is going to leave the Big 12, then academic reputation of the destination conference is an important factor and a big reason (if not the top reason) why the school has never been interested in the SEC.  On this front, the ACC is arguably the best of all of the BCS conferences at least on the undergraduate level, where 7 of its schools reside in the top 50 of the latest US News rankings.  (The Big Ten generally gets the nod as the top academic BCS conference at the graduate level.)  Note that when I talk about academics, I mean overall institutional reputations as opposed to, say, the classroom performance of football players in Miami that reek of stripperfume.

(3) ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for – I’ve said this in the majority of blog posts that I’ve written on conference realignment for the past year because there have been so many rumors about certain ACC schools (particularly Virginia Tech) going to the SEC and I’ll repeat it again: the ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for.  Academics matter to the university presidents that make conference decisions and the ACC is solid from top-to-bottom on that factor.  At the same time, the likelihood of the core of the conference (UNC/Duke/UVA) ever leaving the ACC is about as likely as Michigan and Ohio State leaving the Big Ten, which means there’s much greater stability factor in the ACC compared to the Big 12 or Big East.  No one that is thinking straight believes the ACC is going to disappear like the Big 12.  At the same time, the reason why the SEC or Big Ten would ever want any ACC schools in the first place is because the league certainly has valuable assets in terms of flagship schools and desirable demographics.  The conference has a lot to work with even with direct competition with the SEC in a number of markets.

Now, the main exception to all of this is Florida State.  I’ve stated previously that it’s the one ACC school that I believe would take an SEC invite, so it didn’t surprise me that the Seminoles are forming an expansion/realignment committee to evaluate their options.  An ACC-less Florida State certainly changes the equation for Texas and anyone else that might consider heading to that conference.  For what it’s worth, if Florida State is truly available, Jim Delany and the Big Ten should be on the phone to Tallahassee immediately.  That’s a discussion for another day.

THE NEGATIVES FOR TEXAS

(1) Equal Revenue Sharing – The ACC has long shared all TV revenues equally among its members and there’s plenty of people that believe (including me) that it’s a fundamental tenet of a strong and unified conference (even if the actual dollar differences might not be that large in an unequal system).  Texas would need to get to move the ACC from this position, which may be just as difficult in Greensboro as it would be with the Big Ten and Pac-12.  North Carolina and Duke have disproportionate power within the ACC and it won’t be easy to get them on board with providing special concessions to Texas (although they weren’t able to stop the conference’s expansion in 2003).

(2) Lower Conference TV Revenue Compared to Big Ten and Pac-12 – Compounding the equal revenue sharing equation (not even taking into account the LHN) is that the ACC has lower overall conference TV revenue compared to the Big Ten and Pac-12 and it will be the case until at least 2023.  The ACC will be making an average of $155 million per year ($12.9 million per school) while the Pac-12’s new deal is worth an average of $250 million per year ($20.8 million per school) and that’s without including the Pac-12 Network.  Meanwhile, every Big Ten school received almost $8 million last year in equal distributions from the Big Ten Network alone.  That’s on top of the average of $100 million per year ($10 million per school) that the Big Ten is receiving in its current ABC/ESPN contract that is due to be replaced in 2016 (and will likely be substantially higher than the Pac-12) plus reportedly over $23.3 million per year ($1.94 million per school) from Fox for just the Big Ten Championship Game.  With all of the focus on the third tier rights of the LHN, many people are forgetting that the value of the first and second tier rights at the conference level are ultimately even more important.

UPSHOT

Texas may very well be making less TV revenue with the combination of the LHN and ACC conference TV package than it would in an equal revenue sharing system in the Big Ten or Pac-12.  (The LHN is going to provide UT about $11 million this year.  The oft-reported $15 million per year figure is an average over the 20-year life of the contract.)  Considering that the BTN figures don’t include the new revenue from the addition of Nebraska, one could only imagine what adding all of the households in the state of Texas (and beyond if a school like Notre Dame joins, too) would do to those figures.  It would be the same type of calculation if the state of Texas was added to the Pac-12 network.

As a member of the Big 12, it makes sense that Texas would want an “eat what you kill” approach to TV revenue since the main market of value in that conference is the state of Texas.  In the Big Ten, though, there are marquee markets such as Chicago and Philadelphia that are being brought to the table, while the Pac-12 has the state of California.  For that matter, the ACC brings in the state of Florida and a whole slew of fast-growing Southern and Mid-Atlantic markets.  From a TV revenue perspective, it’s not necessarily an easy call for Texas to give up access to dollars coming in from other Big Ten or Pac-12 markets compared to the non-Texas Big 12 markets.  This is a point that a lot of commentators are missing when evaluating the financial aspects of the LHN – the money isn’t really that mind-blowing compared to what every single Big Ten and Pac-12 school (from Michigan to Northwestern and USC to Washington State) already receives.

However, the value of the LHN seems to be more about branding than money (similar to Notre Dame’s contract with NBC).  It puts Texas into that “special” category as the one school that can carry its own cable network… besides BYU, of course.  Seeing the reports coming out of Austin, the intangibles of the LHN could outweigh greater revenue potential in equal revenue sharing conference networks.  So, that’s why Texas is searching for a conference that allows the LHN to stay as-is (or as close to as-is as possible) and if the ACC is the one league that makes concessions on that front, they can get the Longhorns.

Of course, as we’ve seen in conference realignment many times over the past 18 months, nothing is a done deal until contracts are signed and there’s an announcement (and in the case of Texas A&M to the SEC, a done deal doesn’t even mean there’s a done deal).  In June 2010, Larry Scott was belting out “Free Fallin'” in his rental car after meeting with Bill Powers and DeLoss Dodds in believing that his Pac-16 mega-dream was going to come to fruition.  We ended up seeing that deal collapse in less than 48 hours due to forces beyond Scott’s control.  So, even if the ACC is the proverbial leader in the clubhouse right now for Texas, it doesn’t mean very much in such a fluid situation.

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

(Image from Deadspin)

When it comes to choosing a conference, the University of Texas has a choice: does it want the nicest house in Compton or an average house in Beverly Hills?

The former is what it would have if it chooses to stick around the Big 12 to keep the Longhorn Network in a Big 12 that definitely won’t have Texas A&M, very likely won’t have Oklahoma and, by extension, Oklahoma State, and possibly won’t have Missouri, either.  UT could continue to be the richest person in the neighborhood by a mile and control the local scene.  Of course, the issue is that everyone in the area that has scrounged up enough of a down-payment is moving out to nicer places.  The latter is what it would own if it becomes an equal TV revenue sharing partner in the Pac-12 (or for that matter, the Big Ten or SEC).  In that case, UT would be another rich guy in a whole town full of rich guys, but it also won’t have to worry about the value of the house going down.

It’s a fundamental question about what UT wants/needs to be.  The Big 12 as saved last summer was really UT’s dream scenario: they essentially were earning independent-type TV money in a conference with their primary regional rivals.  Now that one of their rivals (A&M) might be headed out the door as early as tomorrow and their other main rival (OU) has all but declared it’s heading west to the Pac-12, is the Longhorn Network (which hasn’t even been on the air for a week) more important than UT’s conference?  Larry Scott knows, just like Jim Delany and Mike Slive, that equal revenue sharing is a primary tenet of strong conference unity, so he’s not going to let UT have a separate TV deal when the schools in California like USC have already given up unequal shares in the new monster Pac-12 TV contracts.

Now, I consider Bill Powers (UT president) and Deloss Dodds (UT athletic director) to be smart men.  The Longhorn athletic department didn’t become the wealthiest in the country (even before any LHN cash started coming) by accident.  They likely thought that they controlled all of the cards, where as long as UT stayed in the Big 12, the other big guns of OU and A&M would, too.  I certainly thought that way.  While it wasn’t a surprise to find that the Big 12 wasn’t long for this world, I didn’t believe that it would be killed off only a year after its Summer 2010 stay of execution.

I can’t blame UT for going out and getting the LHN deal.  Any other school that had that type of leverage would’ve done the same thing.  However, I also can’t blame either A&M or OU for looking out for their own interests.  Most people here know me as the guy that wrote about the possibility of Texas going to the Big Ten last year, and as much as I’d still love to see that happen in many ways, there’s really no better conference deal out there for UT than a Pac-16 that includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.  Neither the Big Ten nor SEC would ever grant spots to OSU and Tech and even if they’re not outright political requirements for OU and UT, they ensure that the two power schools won’t be complete geographic outliers.

At this point, I can’t see how OU could rationally stay in the Big 12 (particularly after OU president David Boren’s explicit statement of no-confidence in the conference).  (Note that rationality doesn’t always apply in conference decisions.)  The Pac-12 would certainly be willing to take them and OSU without having Texas schools coming along, as the Sooner are a top 10 college football brand.  It’s the LHN that makes what UT will ultimately decide difficult to predict.  There’s just no way that channel could continue to exist within the confines of the Pac-12 (at least as a UT-branded entity).  UT is going to have a really nice house no matter where it lives.  What will be instructive is whether it wants the nicest house on the block or a better neighborhood.  The Longhorns may not be able to have both.

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

(Image from musicnotes.com)

Before we get to the latest conference realignment news of Texas A&M sending an effective break-up letter to Dan Beebe and the Big 12, let’s take a moment to pour out some Cris in memory of the Cy-Hawk Trophy Version 2.0.  It lived for less than a week, but it left an indelible image in the minds of Americans the same way that the chick from The Exorcist warms your heart the first time you see her head turn around 180 degrees.  Only this trophy could make the Altoona Senior Bowling League Trophy with a Mold-a-Rama Lion Pasted on the Side (known in some circles as “The Land Grant Trophy”) look like the freaking Stanley Cup by comparison, which was a phenomenal achievement.  It’s a shame that it received a Suge Knight cap in its ass before it even had a chance to explore the world.

As for Texas A&M changing its status to “Single” on its Facebook account, it’s been something that’s been coming down the pike for the last couple of weeks.  What’s interesting is that my questioning of the financial parameters on the SEC side was confirmed by a conference official in the New York Times:

The official acknowledged that because of the length and structure of the SEC’s current television contract, adding Texas A&M and a 14th member would not be financially beneficial from a rights standpoint.

Texas A&M and Team No. 14 are expected to receive a pro rata share equal to what the SEC’s 12 current universities are making: an average of about $18 million in league payouts. (Individual universities can make more money from their separate television deals.)

The SEC deal, which ends in 2025, has a few windows when it can be renegotiated but no one from the SEC or the networks expects any radical change.

So, this move is NOT about the SEC being able to reopen its television deal in order to gain more money than what the United States currently has on hand to pay Social Security checks (as so many people have assumed).  Maybe the SEC sees this as the one opportunity to get A&M in the next couple of decades and that’s why they’re moving now despite not being able to realize much (if any) TV revenue from their addition until after 2024.  Whatever the reasoning might be, it seems that since the SEC can’t just open up its TV contracts again by expansion, such expansion is going to be kept at a minimum for now.  As a result, the obituaries being pre-written for the Big 12 and ACC from the SEC supposedly going into 16-school superconference mode immediately are way too premature.  The SEC will need to find a school #14 fairly soon, but who knows who it will be.  (I do NOT believe for a second that it will be Virginia Tech, but I’ll write about that more extensively in a separate post.)  Right now, appears that either (a) the Big 12 will lose another school to the SEC on top of A&M, such as Missouri or (b) the Big 12 and one of either the ACC or Big East (maybe West Virginia) may lose a school to the SEC, yet in each event those leagues will still continue to live.

This gets to this question: who the hell would join the Big 12 after losing A&M and maybe another school?

Let’s start by putting some asinine “Notre Dame to the Big 12” proposals to rest.  Somehow, a friendship between Jack Swarbrick and DeLoss Dodds with a 4-game football series over the course of 8 years has been transformed by some in Big 12 country to signal Texas and Notre Dame working together to split up the college football universe.  (Examples of this aren’t just in Texas, but the Kool-Aid is spreading all the way to St. Louis, too.)  Putting aside the fact that Notre Dame would effectively throw away, well, ALL of its rivalries in this scenario in order to play Texas Tech, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and friends (as opposed to the more simple solution of just playing the two schools that are of interest them of Texas and Oklahoma as an independent… which ND happens to be already doing), I’ll reiterate what I’ve stated several times on this blog before: independence is a school identity issue for Notre Dame, NOT a TV money issue.  It continues to amaze me how many people think the money that ND is getting from NBC is somehow special when Northwestern and Washington State are absolutely murdering the Irish on that metric in their respective conferences’ equal revenue sharing arrangements.  The point is that ND isn’t independent in order to maintain an NBC contract.  Instead, it’s the other way around: ND has an NBC contract as a means to maintain independence.  In other words, the endgame for ND is independence in and of itself (not the money that is made from being independent, as the school has plenty of money from its alumni base).  Thus, all of the suggestions that the Longhorn Network shows how the Big 12 could offer ND a way to keep its NBC contract are completely irrelevant, as even if that were the threshold issue (and it isn’t), the Big East would gladly take in ND on that basis or, better yet, they could just stay independent.  Now, if we get to a model where there are 4 16-school superconferences and you structurally MUST be a member of one of those 4 leagues in order to have access to the national championship game, then that’s the point where ND would join a conference.  It won’t be a moment before that point, though.

Getting that out of the way, let’s take a look at some realistic candidates to join the Big 12:

1. BYU – This is really the Big 12’s best target that would almost assuredly accept.  I’ve gone over why I believe that BYU would actually be fairly successful as an independent and that translates into being a viable addition to an AQ conference like either the Big East or Big 12.  Based on fan base size and long-term TV value, BYU is clearly the most valuable school available in the non-AQ ranks.

2. Louisville – While conference realignment is all about football, it should be noted that UL was #2 in the country in basketball revenue in its last season in Freedom Hall.  With its new Yum! Center (or as I like to call it, the “KenTacoHut Center”) revenue, the school will almost assuredly be #1 on that list when last year’s figures come out.  At the same time, UL has a solid football fan base that has simply been beaten down by some horrible coaching over the past few years.  If I were Dan Beebe, my plan would be to extend invites to BYU and Louisville immediately after A&M makes it exit.  The issue with Louisville is that they may prefer to stay in the Big East, although that particular league may not come out unscathed if the ACC takes a replacement school or two from there.  I’ve talked to a number of Louisville alums who, at a fan level, do not support a move to the Big 12, but if we’re talking about a league that’s reasonably assured of keeping both Texas and Oklahoma, UL’s leadership might see things differently.

3.  TCU – A Big 12 with both UT and A&M has zero need to add any other Texas-based schools.  With A&M leaving, though, quality becomes more of a concern than markets and it may be more beneficial to go even further into the Texas market compared to some of the other non-BYU non-AQ options out there.  I had been pushing TCU to the Big East for a very long time and was happy to see that marriage happen, yet there’s a chance that they’ll never move in together.  Like Louisville, though, the Big 12 may actually not be that attractive compared to the Big East right now. Adding TCU would be a good football move for the Big 12, but the good (and/or forced) political move would possibly be adding…

4. Houston – There seems to be two schools of thought regarding Houston going to the Big 12.  The first is that this would be a nice move from a political perspective, where the leaving of one Texas-based university from the Big 12 opens up an AQ spot for another school from the state.  If we also believe that UT enjoys tons of control, this is yet another school that it can lean on for the long-term.  The other school of thought, though, is that UT would want nothing to do with Houston.  In essence, it’s almost too easy of a political bailout for A&M while UT ends up being forced to always take care of UH down the line if the Longhorns ever want to explore other options (i.e. heading to a Pac-16).  We’re already seeing some Texas politicians getting into the act on this front.  A year ago, I would’ve put UH near the bottom of the list of any possible Big 12 candidates.  Now, though, they may very well be the most likely next addition.

5.  UNLV – Location, location, location.  This market ought to have a pro franchise yet all of the leagues are still spooked by the tiny bit of gambling that occurs here.  Nevada is also the most populous state that doesn’t have an AQ school.  I’m always surprised that UNLV doesn’t get a little more love in these conference realignment scenarios.  As far as the non-AQ schools go, they have some fairly nice attributes with virtually no local competition (albeit with more value on the basketball side as opposed to football).

6. Air Force – National following and generally performs the best out of the service academies.  From a pure financial perspective, Air Force might be right behind BYU in terms of desirability.  As for actual football, though, there’s a big-time risk that the Falcons will have competitive issues at the AQ level in the way that Army couldn’t even handle C-USA.  There’s simply always going to be a limit to how well Air Force could ever perform (not that this is unjustified, as its students have far more important duties than playing football).

7.  New Mexico – Flagship university of a fast-growing state with an excellent basketball fan base.  The problem: they’re to football what Rebecca Black is to singing.

8.  Memphis – Ditto, only it’s not a flagship.

9/10.  SMU/Rice – All you need to know is here.

Purely throwing crap against the wall right now, I’d say that A&M is the only loss from the Big 12, which will spur DeLoss Doss… er… the conference to invite BYU, Houston and UNLV to get back up to 12.  In other news, we have real football games being played next week.  It can’t come soon enough.

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

(Image from Rotten Tomatoes)

Well, I strive on this blog to be 100% right approximately 1% of the time.  I’ll have to co-sign this column by Stewart Mandel: it’s looking more and more like I was wrong about the Texas A&M to the SEC rumors (as he also admitted), but it still doesn’t quite make sense to either of us from a rational perspective.  Up until literally a few hours ago, it has all looked like completely fan-based chatter.  I’m honestly taken aback that it now appears that the SEC university presidents are going to meet on Sunday to discuss an A&M invite and the school’s Board of Regents will follow up with a meeting on Monday.  (We’ll address various rumors regarding schools like Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Missouri if necessary if something actually happens next week.)  I’ve always understood why Texas A&M fans wanted to go to the SEC and frankly, never disputed that it would be a good move for them.  The SEC is absolutely a superior conference to the Big 12 (both competitively and financially) and any Longhorns that think A&M wouldn’t benefit from moving are being disingenuous.  That’s the whole reason why that I argued in my last post that it would be UT people more than those from Baylor or Texas Tech that would work to block such a move.  I certainly understand the resentment/anger factor, as well.  As an Illinois alum, I’m still envious of Michigan’s central connection to the The Big Chill, which is a landmark achievement in the history of white people dancing.  Despite some interesting comments from various A&M factions about my loyalties or biases, I personally have nothing against the Aggies at all.

That being said, I share Mandel’s befuddlement about what’s in it for the SEC (although for slightly different reasons).  Let me be clear: my opinion has nothing to do about the value of Texas A&M itself.  As I’ve stated many times before, Texas A&M is extremely valuable and I could see why the SEC would want them in a vacuum where there is no domino effect on the rest of the college football landscape or there’s a clean slate in terms of TV contracts.  However, there’s a fairly good chance that we’ll see significant domino effects if this move occurs and, more importantly, it continues to be unclear to me how the SEC can monetize expansion with the length of its current TV contracts with ESPN and CBS.  Dennis Dodd yesterday stated that all conferences have a “look-in” provision that Mike Slive had described, so it’s not as if though that the SEC has some unique terms here where they get to expand at will in a manner that other conferences aren’t able to do.  At the very least, it’s not as easy as “expansion = look-in trigger = more $$$”, or else we’d see conferences expand every single time that their own TV contracts fell behind by a little bit.  To paraphrase a wise little green dude, that leads to fear, and fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.  To the extent that the SEC can open up its current TV contracts by expanding, every other conference can do it, too.  If it’s that “easy”, then the conference with the most incentive to expand is the ACC considering that the deal that they signed last year is looking quite outdated and could get outpaced by the Big East next year if the status quo holds.  It’s for those reasons why conferences only have a “look-in” when they expand, but networks have an explicit termination right in the event of conference contraction.

From a long-term perspective, Texas A&M certainly adds a ton of value to the SEC.  The Aggies have a rabid fan base and truly bring in the entire state of Texas as a market.  The recruiting benefits are also unquestioned.  Still, I still haven’t hard anyone explain how the SEC is going to cajole ESPN and CBS to throw more money around when their TV contracts last until the mid-2020s.  It’s one thing for those networks to maintain a good working relationship with the SEC, but entirely another to have to throw hundreds of millions of more at contracts that are locked-in for over a decade. Maybe ESPN and CBS could ensure that the SEC schools still get the same per-school share (so the current SEC members end up being revenue neutral), but those two networks, who have dealt with much larger entities like the NFL, aren’t simply going to be pushovers and provide some type of massive financial incentive that would encourage expansion.

I also know that a lot of readers believe that I overemphasize state politics, but I’ll continue to disagree on front.  Texas A&M might procedurally be able to get around Texas politicians by approving the move to the SEC on Monday in a year when the legislature is not in session.  (And I thought Illinois legislators were lazy! We’ll still take down anyone in blatant corruption, though.)  However, as a practical matter, the A&M Board of Regents are going to have to work with these legislators in the long-term, so it’s not as if though they can just ignore them.  Besides, if I’m a state legislator, do you think I want to put out more sound bites about crushing budget deficits, ignoring entitlement/pension reform and and failing to cure stagnant job growth?  Fuck that shit.  I’d be all over talking about college football like white on rice under any possible tangential hook.  (The federal guys in Washington certainly do it regularly when they complain about the BCS.)  Maybe it’s a moot point and the Aggies know that they have the requisite political support, but that’s to be determined in the maybe-too-late Texas House Higher Education Committee meeting that’s supposed to take place on Tuesday.

Last year, the entire world was convinced that the Pac-16 was a “done deal” on a Friday without any doubt in anyone’s mind, but after a weekend of rampant discussions, it ended up collapsing within a few days.  In conference realignment discussions, absolutely nothing is a done deal until you see an announcement with both the inviter and the invitee at a press conference with signed paperwork.  This goes double in the case of public universities located in the state of Texas.  Also note that Tony Barnhart (about as plugged-in with Mike Slive as anyone) and Mr. SEC seem to intimate that it’s not necessarily full speed ahead from the SEC side with a lot more smoke coming from College Station as opposed to Birmingham.

So, while it looks there’s a good chance that I’m going to be eating some crow with a Texas A&M move to the SEC, let’s just wait to see if we get some Stevie Wonder signed/sealed/delivered action on Monday.  After that, we can get back to doing what we do best here: engaging in rampant completely unsubstantiated speculation!

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

(Image from Mr SEC)

Nature abhors a vacuum and with a month to go until football season starts, conference realignment talk is back at a fever pitch even though there’s nothing really going on. The latest scuttlebutt is that Texas A&M is dancing with the SEC again with the rest of the Big 12 getting all hot and bothered about their high school recruiting targets getting TV time on the Longhorn Network (which has been placated… for now).

Believe me – I loooove conference realignment talk. It’s the reason why 99% of you are reading this blog in the first place. However, the “Texas A&M to the SEC” rumors are driving me up the wall, not necessarily because it would never happen (even though that’s what I personally believe), but that so many commentators on this subject simply argue that “Angry Aggies = SEC Move” without any further analysis. (For the purposes of this blog post, I will focus on Texas A&M, but the same principles can be applied to rumors involving angry Oklahoma and Missouri fans.) I went through a fairly detailed look at why I didn’t believe that A&M could go to the SEC several months ago and think that all of those arguments still hold true.

To be clear, I believe Texas A&M is an extremely valuable school and if the SEC could add them with no conference realignment repercussions elsewhere, then I could see it happening. A&M has a lot more value than the average UT fan would likely admit. The problem is there could be major conference realignment repercussions that the SEC will not want to witness happen (i.e. its main competitors getting even stronger with the Pac-12 adding Texas and/or the Big Ten adding Notre Dame) – the SEC wanting to add A&M as a reactionary move in 2010 is much different than pulling the trigger and causing the dominoes to fall in 2011. At the same time, A&M’s value is exactly why UT won’t just let them walk away.

Regardless, there’s a segment of the college football fan population that’s simply always going to believe that Texas A&M is heading to SEC just because the Aggies are pissed off. (Remember Missouri was pissed off at the Big 12 last year, too. Also look at all those Big East schools that are supposedly pissed that the conference won’t split. Tons of options for all of them, right?) That’s fair enough, but all I ask of this segment of the population is to address the following roadblocks to that ever happening:

1. The SEC can’t just rip up its TV contracts simply because it expands – A decent number of columnists/bloggers have taken SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s comment that there are periodic “look-ins” for its contracts with CBS and ESPN and came to conclusion that the conference could set fire to those deals in the event of expansion. While the terms of the SEC TV deal are not public (and that’s the case for any conference), this is a dangerous assumption that I would wager is 99.99% incorrect. (The .01% allows for the slight chance that Slive has compromising pictures of various CBS and ESPN executives with Casey Anthony.) ESPN certainly doesn’t believe that the SEC’s “look-ins” can reopen the TV deal:

The agreement with ESPN calls for a “look-in” review after the first five years but can occur sooner, said Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice pres ident of college sports programming.

“We knew when we made a 15-year deal that time was not going to stand still so we purposely built in these look-ins,” Magnus said. “They don’t reopen the deal. There’s no outs. It’s an opportunity for both of us to really take stock of where we are and see what we could be doing better.”

It is standard operating procedure that these types of contracts have provisions that protect the network, NOT the conference, in the event of membership changes. In a post by the excellent college TV sports blogger mattsarz about the C-USA/ESPN lawsuit, he attached the underlying TV contract that was made public as part of the complaint that was filed. Here’s the language about regarding membership changes:

10. CONFERENCE COMPOSITION

(a) Essential Institutions. The participation and availability for televised play of the following academic institutions shall be deemed to be of the essence of this Agreement: University of Texas El Paso, Rice University, University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of Tulsa, University of Southern Mississippi, Memphis University, Tulane University, University of Houston, Marshall University, University of Central Florida, East Carolina University and Southern Methodist University.

(b) Unavailability. If any Conference team leaves the Conference or is otherwise unavailable for televised play as authorized by this Agreement (in either case, “Unavailable”) for any Season during the Term then ESPN and Conference will negotiate in good faith after such Unavailability comes to ESPN’s attention to determine appropriate adjustments to this Agreement. In such negotiations, the parties shall take into account, among all other relevant factors, any new members that are added to the Conference in replacement of the Unavailable members. If the parties cannot agree on the appropriate adjustments, then ESPN will have the right in its sole discretion to elect by the May 1 prior to the affected Season (unless such Unavailability occurs thereafter, in which case ESPN will have the right to make its election within 30 days after it is notified by Conference of the Unavailability) to reduce the rights fees hereunder in the same proportion as the number of Unavailable teams bears to 12. ESPN will also have the right at any such time to terminate this Agreement if the Conference has in any season fewer than ten member institutions that are NCAA Division I-A members and that are available for televised play as provided above. In addition, if additional institutions join the Conference (i.e., bringing the number of member institutions to 13 or more), then within 30 days after ESPN is notified by the Conference to that effect, ESPN and Conference will engage in good-faith negotiations regarding potential increases to the rights fees due hereunder.

As you can see, ESPN was able to get a concrete reduction in fees or even completely terminate the agreement if C-USA lost enough members, but if C-USA added any members, all that the parties would be obligated to do was to engage in “good-faith negotiations”, which as an attorney I can say is Kumbaya B.S. with no real meaning. ESPN was the only entity with a legitimate stick here. A conference would only have power if it actually had concrete termination rights in the event of an expansion, which wasn’t the case in the C-USA contract.

Even though C-USA is relatively small player, we can deduce that the power conferences also have a similar clause. The Big Ten, for instance, gained a new marquee member in Nebraska last year and even added a brand new conference championship game (which wouldn’t happen in the case of SEC expansion). If the Big Ten had a termination right that some are assuming that the SEC somehow has, then Jim Delany would’ve called ESPN ten seconds after the new Pac-12 monster contract was announced and said “I’m out!” That obviously hasn’t happened – the Big Ten still has to wait until its current TV deals are done in 2016. It’s also instructive that both the ACC in 2003 and the then-Pac-10 in 2010 performed their respective expansions only a few months prior to their respective TV rights going back up for open bid. That shows that those conferences needed to time their expansions to coincide with their new TV deals (as opposed to the other way around, as the A&M-to-the-SEC believers are arguing) because that’s the only way that they could receive the financial benefits from expansion immediately.

Frankly, this all makes sense. Networks would never reasonably agree to tearing up TV contracts based on expansion because they want to know who the conferences are expanding with (not just expansion in and of itself), and even then, it’s almost impossible to assign a value to any prospective expansion candidates ahead of time. In turn, networks can definitely assign a value to a conference as presently constituted, so they have leverage to get out of deals (or receive relief) in the event that such conference loses members.

So, unless Mike Slive can produce some Casey Anthony photos, we should assume that the SEC has terms just like everyone else: the SEC is stuck with its deals until 2024 unless its TV partners willingly give it more money prior to that. This brings us to the next point…

2. ESPN isn’t going to willingly hand the SEC more money for expansion – Let’s take a quick look at where ESPN stands right now. First, ESPN worked extremely hard to keep the Big 12 together last year in order to block the formation of superconferences by going so far as to give that league the same amount of money even though it had just lost its most populous non-Texas state (Colorado), a marquee national name (Nebraska) and a conference championship game. Second, ESPN has just invested a ton of capital in the Longhorn Network, which essentially depends upon the Big 12 surviving as none of the other BCS conferences besides maybe the Big East would let that monstrosity live.

Call me crazy, but when considering those two points, it seems quite far-fetched that ESPN would actually provide an incentive to the SEC to expand with Texas A&M (and/or Oklahoma and/or Missouri and/or whoever else you want to throw in) that would directly kill off the Big 12 that ESPN has every incentive to save. Plus, with the amount that ESPN is paying the Pac-12 now and with the Big Ten contract going up for bid in a couple of years, it doesn’t make any sense that the network would give the SEC any ability to increase its rights fees prior to 2024. If the SEC’s contract was up in a couple of years like the Big Ten’s deal, then maybe I could see ESPN throwing more dollars in order to lock in an extension, but there’s no business logic for the network to re-open a deal that’s locked in for the next 13 years that the SEC can’t do anything about.

3. Objectors to high school games on the Longhorn Network are arguing semantics (and that’s ultimately a losing argument) – There’s a massive public flagship university located in one of the top football recruiting states in the nation that has entered into a multi-year multi-million dollar third tier rights deal with a regional sports network that is wholly-owned by a large multimedia conglomerate. There are some football and basketball games along with coaches’ shows and other promotions showing the university. The RSN also telecasts high school football games that potentially showcase that university’s recruits. Such public flagship university does not own any part of such RSN.

I’ve just described the contract that the University of Florida has with Sun Sports. It also describes the deal between the University of Texas and ESPN for the Longhorn Network. Structurally, the two deals are virtually exactly the same. ESPN completely owns the LHN, and therefore, controls its programming decisions, just like Fox owns and controls Sun Sports. The main difference is branding, where Florida is part of a network that also shows the Miami Cheat (among other teams) while Texas has its Longhorn moniker in the ESPN’s network’s name. So, does the NCAA come down on the LHN for a branding decision but doesn’t care about Sun Sports? If the LHN simply changed its name to “ESPN Austin”, would it make a difference? Is a network that has 10% UF content acceptable, but another with 90% UT content unacceptable?

Note that this is different than the BTN and Pac-12 Network situations, where the schools in the Big Ten and Pac-12 have actual equity interests in those channels. This makes it much easier for the NCAA to regulate those types of setups or, more importantly, regulate them in a way where the NCAA doesn’t lose in a court challenge. The Texas relationship with the LHN, on the other hand, is really just a straight-up traditional rights fees deal that Florida and a whole host of other schools have with various regional sports networks. As a result, the NCAA, the Big 12 and any other challengers to the LHN would largely have to rely on semantics (the name “Longhorn Network”) with subjective benefits as opposed to the ownership structure of the network itself that can objectively measured, and courts hate arguments about semantics. If ESPN thought the fight was worth it (and that’s a business question as to whether it would spend millions of dollars in legal fees in order to show high school games on TV), it would likely flatten the NCAA (quite possibly the most blatant example of an antitrust violation that we currently have in America, which is a subject for another blog post at some point) in court, just as the University of Oklahoma did in its landmark lawsuit where the Supreme Court struck down the NCAA’s control of TV rights (thereby opening up the ability for conferences and schools to freely enter into contracts with TV networks directly as we see today). The NCAA telling a network that isn’t actually owned by a member school what it can and cannot show on TV could be construed as an overstepping of its authority and, considering the inherently collusive nature of the organization (hundreds of schools making collective decisions that affect students, agents and media personnel that aren’t even employed by such schools), it needs to be careful on how it phrases its regulations.

When the LHN deal was first announced, I was initially puzzled when UT didn’t take an equity interest in the channel, but we now see one of the main benefits. Is showing high school games on the LHN shady? Absolutely! Can the NCAA or Big 12 regulate it? It could try, but at face value, I doubt it would withstand a court challenge. The Big 12 athletic directors themselves have put the kabosh on high school games on the Longhorn Network for this year, yet I’m sure we’ll see this issue come up again next summer and the conference could face the same legal scrutiny as the NCAA would. If ESPN believes the fight is worth it, the NCAA is a fairly easy lawsuit target.

4. People that keep ignoring Texas politicians will get fooled again – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, I’m in fucking denial. In the three major conference realignments since the 1990s, two have been heavily shaped by the whims of Texas politicians. The third was shaped by the Virginia legislature. I’ll point back to my “You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Aggies” post that goes through why it’s critical to take into account the irrational nature of Texas politicians with respect to anything regarding football. At the very least, it would be nice to see some other commentators on conference realignment that this is a very real impediment to change. Gov. Rick Perry might be a former Aggie Yell Leader, but if he wants to run for president, he’ll need to raise a lot of money from UT alums (and Texas Tech and Baylor alums), which brings us to the next point…

5. UT needs A&M in the same conference together – Many UT alums likely won’t admit it, but as I’ve stated before, Texas A&M is an extremely valuable school. That’s why UT simply isn’t going to let them walk away, and if it means making some financial concessions or telling ESPN to not show high school games on the LHN to keep the peace (along with applying their own political pressure plus the support of Tech and Baylor), then they’ll do it. There were a number of factors that went into play in the Pac-16 deal collapsing last year, but the threat of A&M heading to the SEC at that time was extremely high on the list. It’s instructive that the Pac-16 deal could’ve easily moved forward if UT was fine with only moving with Tech (and maybe having Utah or Kansas replace A&M in the Pac proposal) while A&M went to the SEC, yet it didn’t happen. I’ll always remember one of the first comments from a connected UT alum on this blog when the Big Ten first announced that it was exploring expansion almost 2 years ago and how he described that UT, in no uncertain terms, would not let A&M head off to the SEC as the Longhorns knew that opening up the state of Texas to that conference for TV and recruiting purposes would be a killer for their own program.

At the same time, count me in as someone that will always believe that the prospect of UT going independent is an empty threat. Money is important, but many commentators are ignoring how important institutional culture is in making decisions, too. Ultimately, UT needs an entourage like a Hollywood starlet. The school’s actions time and time again have shown that having power over others is how it gets it rocks off. It wants to have schools like Texas Tech and Baylor dependent upon it and it certainly doesn’t want A&M be in a separate higher profile league. UT doesn’t just want to make the most money – it wants to control college football in the state of Texas completely, and that requires A&M to be in the fold. Notre Dame is a J.D. Salinger-type recluse that doesn’t want any attachments to anyone, which is why they have chosen to be independent as an institution (even though they’d actually make substantially more television money in the Big Ten). UT simply isn’t like that – it has always positioned itself as the proverbial sun for a bunch of other schools.

UT and A&M have come very close to separating two times before over the last two decades, yet the leaders of both schools have never been able to pull the trigger (even if some their respective fans would love to use a machine gun on the relationship). A combination of politics, institutional culture and uniquely shared endowment money that makes football TV revenue look like pocket change (see the Permanent University Fund) has always kept them together.

Could Texas A&M end up in the SEC? I guess anything is possible, but let’s be clear that just because Aggies are angry doesn’t mean that they’ll move to the SEC. Any rational analysis needs to address (1) why the SEC would expand when it has no leverage to renegotiate its current TV contracts (meaning that the current SEC schools would be subsidizing any expansion until 2024), (2) why ESPN would help out the SEC on that front when it has direct interests in keeping the Big 12 alive, (3) how a court challenge to any restrictions on showing high school games on the Longhorn Network would turn out, (4) why Texas politicians would suddenly be wallflowers on conference realignment when history clearly indicates that they are not only not wallflowers, but completely interventionist and (5) why UT would just roll over and let A&M walk away. I would love to entertain arguments that address all of those massive roadblocks. “Aggies are steaming mad”, however, isn’t a valid argument.

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

(Image from ThinkGeek)

There were a couple of separate articles today regarding Pac-12 television rights that point to some implications for other conferences.  First, Jon Wilner from the San Jose Mercury-News had a fairly in-depth article today regarding the status Pac-12 television contract negotiations.  Second, Percy Allen from the Seattle Times had an interview with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott that focused on the conference’s basketball TV rights.  Here are the main points from those articles:

(1) Fox is the most likely long-term TV partner for the Pac-12 with a possibility of some over-the-air football games on the mothership network, while Comcast/NBC is the second option;

(2) ESPN is not willing to pay as much for the Pac-12 as it did for the ACC for a variety of reasons (including lack of time slots and the value of the ACC’s syndicated basketball package);

(3) Larry Scott wants the Pac-12 Network to happen, but Time Warner Cable will be a large obstacle in the Los Angeles market; and

(4) Going forward, all media rights for all Pac-12 members will be controlled by the conference (as opposed to a portion being controlled by the individual schools as it is today).

Let’s examine each of these points from the perspective of the Pac-12 and how they apply to the college sports world at large.

Point #1 about Fox’s involvement isn’t a surprise considering the current relationship that it has with the Pac-12 and the media giant’s increasing focus on obtaining college sports rights over the past several months (including paying $140 million over the next six years solely for the Big Ten Championship Game).  The overarching questions going forward are (a) how serious is Fox about expanding its overall college sports presence and (b) are they willing to use Fox over-the-air for games?  Fox bid on the ACC package last year with an offer that was heavily reliant on FX as the main national platform.  Indeed, David Hill, Chairman of Fox Sports Group, sees an increase in sports programming on FX as a key in making that network competitive with the likes of TNT.  While Fox didn’t win that deal, they did procure a smaller agreement with C-USA plus rights to the Big Ten and Pac-12 championship games.  A hungry Fox can certainly bid up the price of rights for other conferences… as long as ESPN is willing to play, too.  (More on that in a moment.)

As for Comcast/NBC, call me skeptical of them ever becoming a truly major player in college sports.  Comcast-owned Versus certainly is looking for more sports programming, but that’s a fairly unattractive national cable partner compared to ESPN or FX on its face and you’re more likely to see sports move away from NBC as opposed to any events being added.  Sports programs in general are loss leaders for over-the-air networks and the last thing that NBC needs is more losses.  In fact, NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke told Wall Street analysts covering Comcast specifically yesterday that NBC’s current “sports properties lose hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”  NBC lost $220 million on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and even its gold-plated NFL Sunday Night Football package loses around $100 million per year.  So, it doesn’t exactly sound like the new Comcast ownership is going to be spending very much money on more sports on NBC.  If anything, those quotes from the head of NBCU indicate that they’re preparing to cut back heavily.  Therefore, any conference hoping for Comcast/NBC to come through with some great offer is going to be severely disappointed.

From the Big Ten’s perspective, I see Fox only as a viable option in the conference’s next TV deal if there is essentially a replication of the SEC’s agreement with CBS: the top game of the week gets coast-to-coast over-the-air coverage.  I can’t realistically see the Big Ten considering a deal with Comcast at all.  While much has been made of the Big Ten’s partnership with Fox regarding the Big Ten Network, it must be emphasized that the conference still receives substantially more money from ESPN compared to the BTN.  There are also more Big Ten events on ESPN today than there were prior to the BTN being formed.  From the very beginning, the BTN has always been intended to be a supplement to ESPN coverage as opposed to a replacement.  The Big Ten is smart enough to know that the time slots that it has secured with ABC and ESPN provide incredible exposure and the conference doesn’t want to kill the proverbial long-term golden goose for short-term financial gains.  Any new deal going forward has to provide even more exposure than today’s deal.  Thus, I could see the Big Ten pushing to a movement of the games that are regionalized on ABC right now to national over-the-air Fox coverage.  However, I highly doubt that the Big Ten would ever seriously consider moving ESPN games to FX (and definitely not to the patchwork quilt of Fox Sports Net affiliates).  It’s interesting to note, by the way, that the two conferences that make the most money outside of ESPN (Big Ten with the BTN and SEC with CBS) also make the most money from ESPN. Money certainly talks, but the Big Ten seems to be a property that ESPN will pay up to get them to stay (and the desire to stay on ESPN will be reciprocated by the conference).

That leads to Point #2, where apparently the Pac-12 is a conference that ESPN is not willing to pay up for.  More specifically, ESPN appears to believe that the Pac-12 TV package is worth less than comparable ACC rights.  This doesn’t surprise me at all.  I’ve been fairly consistent on this blog that the ACC is in much better shape than what a lot of sports fans (that have concentrated on the conference’s relative weakness on the football field over the past few years) believe. 

National marquee brand names are extremely important for determining college sports rights and the ACC has 2 big ones for football (Miami and Florida State) and arguably the 2 very biggest ones for basketball (Duke and North Carolina).  The ACC basketball package is also unique in that it draws football-level ratings in several of its markets, which is something that none of the other BCS conferences can claim (even those that might be better on the court in a given year, such as the Big East).  If and when Miami and Florida State get back on track, you’ll see a dramatic turnaround in the football perception (and TV ratings) of the ACC.  In contrast, the Pac-12 is largely reliant on the strength of USC for football and UCLA for basketball in terms of drawing national interest.  Beyond the LA schools and Oregon’s wacky uniforms, the Pac-12 continues to struggle with getting much notoriety in the Eastern 2/3rds of the country.

The Pac-12’s inability to get much of a large bid out of ESPN should be a small warning sign to the Big 12 and a large red flag to the Big East, who are both hoping to receive large TV rights increases from the Worldwide Leader.  Several conferences last summer were under the impression that ESPN paying such a large amount to the ACC meant that the network’s greenback gushers were wide open and they could switch the style up, but if they hate let ’em hate and watch the money pile up.  Instead, it looks like ESPN is going to keep all its money in a big brown bag inside a zoo.  Dan Beebe and the Big 12 members may sweat it out a bit as there were some financial assurances from ABC/ESPN this past summer that aided in keeping the conference from splitting apart.  Personally, I’m a believer that ESPN understands the big picture and seeing that they presently want to avoid the formation of superconferences, they’ll pay enough to the Big 12 so that the conference makes good on its promises to Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.  With ESPN’s investment in the UT network, the Big 12 needs to stay alive and a few extra bucks on the conference contract would be money well-spent.

The Big East is a different matter.  That conference has already bore the brunt of having football games moved by ESPN to Thursday nights initially, and then when the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 saw that Thursday was a great night for exposure, the Big East has been kicked around to several Friday nights and even some Wednesday evenings.  Much of the hope of a Big East TV contract increase rested on leveraging its valuable and massive basketball package into better football exposure.  However, if ESPN isn’t willing to pay the Pac-12 TV rights in line with the ACC, then it stands to reason that they’re going to value the Big East even less.  Unless Fox or Comcast swoop in with competing bids for the Big East, the conference’s schools are going to have a difficult time coaxing the increases that they’re hoping for from ESPN.  I’m sure that you’ll see the Big East get what amounts to an inflationary increase (maybe 150% of what they receive now), but not enough to get on the same tier as the other BCS conferences.

Under Point #3, Larry Scott seems extremely determined to start a Pac-12 network.  However, Jon Wilner pointed out a large potential obstacle: Time Warner Cable.  He noted that TWC is the largest cable provided in the Los Angeles market and they’ve had a habit of getting into carriage fights regarding regional sports networks.  What Wilner neglected to mention (and I find to be even more important) is that TWC just sent a Valentine’s Day present to Jerry Buss of what’s rumored to be around $150 million per year to create two new regional sports networks in the LA market (one English language and the other Spanish language) built around the Lakers.  With 3 Fox Sports networks in that market already, that means that the LA market will be supporting 5 RSNs and making it even more crowded than the New York City market.  This crowded environment in the Pac-12’s most important market has huge implications on whether a conference network can realistically be formed.  The Big Ten Network only had to compete with 1 RSN in each of the markets within its footprint (even in its largest market of Chicago, which only has Comcast SportsNet Chicago).  Thus, it was a more palatable for the cable providers to give in when the BTN was RSN #2 on their systems… and even then, it took over a year of carriage fights for them to get to that point.  It’s a much different value proposition for the Pac-12 attempting to enter into market that already has 5 other RSNs – TWC has a whole lot more leverage to demand lower subscriber rates or refuse basic carriage entirely.  Note that a potential Big East Network would face the same issues in the NYC market with so many RSNs already clogging up cable bills.  This was a factor in the Big Ten ultimately deciding to not go after schools like Rutgers or Syracuse in this last round of expansion, as the BTN absolutely had to get basic carriage in the NYC market in order to financially justify those additions, and they didn’t see that happening anytime soon.

Finally, with respect to Point #4, Larry Scott confirmed that all media rights for all Pac-12 members would be controlled by the conference.  This is important for one massive reason: the University of Texas.  With the Pac-12 taking that position, it has effectively wiped out any reasonable possibility of Texas joining the conference in the future, as the new Longhorn Network would be unable to exist under those conditions (and I don’t see UT giving up in excess of $10 million per year for any reason).  For the fear mongerers (who are all wrong, by the way) that continue to believe that UT’s ultimate goal is to end up independent or in the Pac-12, at the very least, that Pac-12 option is gone.  (I’ve listed a multitude of reasons of why UT wants to stay in the Big 12 in perpetuity and, in fact, needs that league to live, but many people seem to believe what they want to believe on that front.)

Fans of all conferences should keep a close eye on the West Coast since how the Pac-12 proceeds will be a significant indicator of how TV networks will pay for college sports in this next round of contracts.

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

One of my Texan friends loves to remind me that Texas is the only state that was also a country.  (He’s an Aggie, by the way.)  Well, the University of Texas Athletic Department will soon have enough cash money to buy up a country or two.  As long-rumored, UT and ESPN have entered a deal to create a new Longhorn TV network that will pay the university $247.5 million over the course of 20 years.  An additional $52.5 million is earmarked for IMG, which is UT’s media licensing partner, which adds up to $300 million overall that ESPN is throwing down for this new property.

Believe it or not, this deal is what’s going to keep the Big 12 together.  UT gets to make more TV money than any other school in the country, play its rivals in all sports and keep the Texas state politicians happy.  As a result, UT is in a perfect spot and as long as they want to stay, the Big 12 will live on.  Could UT make a few more TV dollars down the road by becoming independent?  Sure, but that’s ignoring the fact that UT isn’t in complete control of its affairs in the same way as, say, Notre Dame, who only has to answer to its own alums.  UT’s leadership has to deal with state legislators whose loyalties may lie with Texas A&M, Texas Tech or Baylor.  Drawing the ire of those politicians that hold much greater purse strings beyond athletics, much less giving up its rivals and relegating its non-football sports to secondary status (noting that UT isn’t a one-trick football pony with across-the-board strong programs in basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, etc.), simply isn’t worth the extra money that might be there for independence.  UT has exactly what it wants: a conference that it controls with a TV network that it gets to keep all to itself.  It’s the best of both worlds.  Other schools in the Big 12 can complain, but as I noted last month, the conference is safe in a maximum security prison way.  No one’s getting out of there even if they want to very badly.

What’s ESPN getting out of this deal?  On its face, $15 million per year appears to be a whole lot of money for 1 football game per season, a handful of men’s basketball games and a bunch of Olympic sports.  However, we need to look at the big picture beyond Texas.  Think of the old sports adage that the best offense is a great defense.  For ESPN, the creation of the Big Ten Network was a nightmare.  Conference networks, whether real or imagined, created a viable threat for leagues to use in negotiations to drive up TV rights fees for college sports.  As a result, the last thing that ESPN wants to see is for any of the other BCS conferences to form their own channels with competitors such as Fox and Comcast.  (The Mountain West, on the other hand, can go start up 10 channels for all it cares.)  Well, for a mere $15 million per year in payments to UT and IMG, ESPN has completely destroyed any chance of a Big 12 network EVER forming.  Spending $15 million per year now will likely save ESPN tens of millions of dollars more in rights fees for the overall Big 12 package (assuming that it bids on it) in the long term.

At the same time, ESPN has taken the position that superconferences are bad for its business, as they would also drive up rights fees.  That’s why they were willing to step in and aid in saving the Big 12 by paying the same amount for a 10-team conference without a championship game as a 12-team conference with a championship game.  The new UT network effectively ensures that the school will stay in the Big 12 for at least the next 20 years.  With UT off the market, the Big Ten, Pac-10/12 and SEC are going to have a difficult time to financially justify expanding past 12.  So, ESPN’s $15 million per year for the UT network is insurance against having to spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars in extra fees for superconferences.  The ESPN UT network is likely going to profitable by itself (as with only one mouth to feed, it will take a fairly low basic cable subscriber rate across the state of Texas to make money), but preventing other conference networks and superconferences from forming is where ESPN is getting the most value of all.

Finally, this is a landmark deal for ESPN for a separate reason:

(1) ESPN
(2) ESPN2
(3) ESPN3
(4) ESPNU
(5) ESPN News
(6) ESPN Classic
(7) ESPN Deportes
(8 ) ESPN UT

The Ocho has finally arrived.

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

(Image from Scream Punch)