Posts Tagged ‘Texas to the ACC’

It might be legitimate smoke or just the hot summer air of the peanut gallery, but conference realignment talk is still percolating in the wake of University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s comments last month about wanting Big 12 expansion. Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald reported that five Big 12 schools approached the Big Ten back in 2010 (intimating that they were Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas A&M) about joining forces with Jim Delany. Today, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman (essentially OU’s home newspaper) explained why Nebraska would never leave the Big Ten and noted that OU was “thrilled at the prospect of joining a conference that included the likes of Stanford and Cal-Berkeley” when it was considering the Pac-12. Finally, Dick Weiss (a Naismith Hall of Fame inductee for sportswriting as opposed to a plebeian blogger like myself) “casually” Tweeted the following on Monday:

Weiss has been on the conference realignment beat before as he was one of the first to report about the “Catholic 7” breaking away from the Big East and then forming… the Big East.

Edit: Weiss has clarified his Tweet:

I don’t position this blog as a newsbreaking site, but I have heard from a knowledgeable person with extensive contacts with current and former Big 12 members (i.e. knew specific details about Nebraska heading to the Big Ten and Texas A&M to the SEC beforehand that couldn’t have been simply guessed from the news) that basically had this to say: Oklahoma isn’t happy with the Big 12 and wants to get out.

Putting aside all of the valid issues of whether the Big 12’s grant of rights agreement can be broken or whether Oklahoma could politically leave Oklahoma State behind (both of which need to be cleared before any moves are even possible), it doesn’t seem as though OU wants to stand pat. David Boren’s comments about wanting Big 12 expansion with the “right schools” was more of a warning shot to the rest of the league because, frankly, the “right schools” wouldn’t ever take a Big 12 invite. As a result, everyone in Sooners land seems to agree on the overarching desire to leave the Big 12, but there are two mindsets within the school: the academic wishes of Boren and the athletic interests of OU Athletic Director Joe Catiglione. (Emphasis that these are currently mindsets that could take years to play out – please don’t interpret anything here as “Oklahoma is leaving for Conference X by the end of the year.”) Boren, not surprisingly, wants a more academic league, but it seems as though his focus is more on the Pac-12 as opposed to the Big Ten as of now. That’s not to say that OU wouldn’t consider the Big Ten (as it did in 2010), but there are still apparently concerns that the B1G would find OU to be academically acceptable. In contrast, the Pac-12 would like Oklahoma if they came with, say, Kansas. The West Coast league just doesn’t want an OU/Oklahoma State expansion (which is what OU had offered back in 2011 in the wake of Texas A&M bolting the Big 12 for the SEC). Meanwhile, the athletic side of the school would relish going to the SEC. Once again, the SEC would take Oklahoma in a heartbeat without Oklahoma State coming along. The SEC would likely prefer Kansas, as well, provided that the biggest dog of them all of Texas rejects their overtures.

Ah yes – Texas. The Longhorns aren’t oblivious to their rivals to the north. In a perfect world for Texas (as described to me by my Big 12 guy), they would want to join the ACC as full members with… wait for it… Notre Dame. Apparently, the UT people are convinced that the new College Football Playoff system will eventually drive the Irish to join a conference and Texas wants to be right alongside them. In turn, UT would also have Oklahoma and Kansas follow along to create an 18-school ACC behemoth. Texas would be fine with the same type of move to the Big Ten (although Notre Dame is contractually obligated to join the ACC if it chooses to drop independence until 2027, which would seemingly make that prospect impossible). The new Texas leadership doesn’t have the West Coast preference that their leaders circa 2010 had, so any new deal with the Pac-12 seems to be out. At the same time, the SEC continues to be simply a non-starter for the Longhorns.

Personally, I reflexively reject the viability of any realignment move predicated on Notre Dame joining a conference as a football member, where we might as well say that Texas would be willing to join the MAC if Notre Dame comes along with them. Also, the Irish would have 100% made a 4-team playoff in a year like 2012, so I consider any supposed South Bend-based worries about the CFP system to be false hopes for Texas partisans. Until I see actual consternation from Notre Dame itself about today’s college football world, they are going to be an immovable object. In that sense, it seems as though the smoke from Texas is more of a “If we get the PITCH PERFECT deal to move, then sure, we’ll move.”

Contrast this with Oklahoma, where they appear to be making public comments and private moves to put themselves in position to bolt from the Big 12 with merely a passable offer (as opposed to the perfect one that Texas would require). It then becomes a matter of whether it’s worth the risk of breaking the Big 12’s grant of rights of agreement with unpredictable damages claims (which I wrote about a couple of years ago) and/or any political fallout if Oklahoma proactively leaves the Big 12 without Oklahoma State.

If I were running the Big Ten, it’s time to take advantage of one of those rare moments where a national football brand name is essentially begging for offers. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if we assume that Texas, Notre Dame and ACC schools are off the table, then the single most valuable expansion that the Big Ten can have at this point is adding Oklahoma and Kansas. These are two of the most elite blue blood brand names in college football and college basketball, respectively, and their small markets on-paper compared to Eastern options are irrelevant when they can effectively turn the Big Ten Network into a legit national network instead of a mostly regional one (which may become more important as cable cord cutting continues and the TV industry starts moving toward an a la carte or at least less-than-basic cable model). Also note that Kansas actually had the highest third tier TV rights revenue of any Big 12 school prior to the formation of the Longhorn Network, so it has been shown that the BTN can basically charge any price within KU’s market (and presumably OU’s market) and garner a ton of more revenue even with fewer households on paper.

Finally, I’m as much of a Big Ten academic snob as anyone, but Oklahoma’s academic reputation rankings have long been right in line with Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State despite OU never having had membership in the Association of American Universities. If the Big Ten is fine with Nebraska no longer being an AAU member from an academic standpoint, then that should make any concerns about OU’s academics much less of a roadblock. The prospect of Oklahoma and Kansas moving within the next few years is simply much more likely than schools like Virginia and North Carolina leaving the ACC within the next generation, so an OU/KU combo is the best viable expansion option for the Big Ten by far as of today.

(Image from KOTV)

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)