Posts Tagged ‘Texas to the Big Ten’

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)

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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)

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It’s been a crazy couple of days to say the least.  We saw the SEC vote to conditionally accept Texas A&M, Baylor and a bunch of other Big 12 schools holding up the A&M move by refusing to sign some legal waivers, rumors stating the Pac-12 doesn’t really want to expand but will still add Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Texas and Notre Dame are heading to the Big Ten, and the Big East may pick up some Big 12 leftovers, and now it may be all for naught with the Big 12 possibly being saved (in part by BYU).  So, by the time you read this post, it might be completely outdated with how fast the news and rumor mill has been churning.  Anyway, I have few thoughts on the latest developments:

1. Can’t blame Baylor (and others) for legal stance – As a lawyer, if I was representing any institution in this scenario, whether it’s Baylor, Iowa State or Texas, there’s NFW that I’d let it sign a blanket waiver of legal rights to the SEC and if such institution wanted to proceed, I’d insist upon some type of considerable payment in return.  A waiver of this nature wouldn’t be enforceable without some type of consideration from SEC, anyway.

In the case of Baylor, there might literally be no amount of consideration outside of the preservation of the Big 12 itself (as long-term AQ status trumps short-term monetary payoffs) that could justify signing that waiver.  Whether Baylor actually has a case with respect to tortious interference against the SEC isn’t really relevant here.  At face value, this type of case is probably a loser.  The Big East attempted to sue the ACC on similar grounds back in 2003 and ultimately settled for $5 million total, which is effectively pocket change that wouldn’t even cover 50% of one year of conference TV revenue for just one Big 12 school.  However, Mike Slive would know that insisting upon a waiver of legal rights would cause an allergic reaction among Big 12 members as a legal principle.  I don’t think much of Dan Ponzi Beebe, but he was correct in his statement that it’s unprecedented for a raiding conference to ask for waivers of legal rights from those left behind in the raided conference.  It doesn’t make sense for the SEC to do this from a practical standpoint unless they have some other motives outside of the legal realm (which we’ll get to in a moment).  That being said…

2. Can’t blame Texas A&M for being volcanically pissed off – As a business man, I have a hard time seeing the value in attempting to keep around a school that clearly doesn’t want to be there.  As long as Texas A&M pays all of the exit fees that it has agreed to with the Big 12 (which by all accounts it plans to do), then the Aggies should be free to go as they please.  Whether Oklahoma or others might leave after the Aggies (thereby dissolving the Big 12) shouldn’t be the problem of Texas A&M or the SEC.  It’s in the best interests of everyone within the Big 12 to move on as quickly as possible.  Now, I believe that Aggies have some misplaced anger toward Baylor in the sense that the SEC is the entity that is requesting something that no other Big 12 school (unless it’s heading out the door for the West Coast) would reasonably sign.  Which gets to the next point…

3. SEC isn’t doing this for purely legal reasons – As I’ve done several times before on this blog, I’ll point to Mr. SEC, who I believe had a spot-on commentary on the SEC’s true motives in asking for these waivers: Mike Slive wants to see if he can cause Larry Scott and the Pac-12 to act first.  Personally, I doubt Slive will win this particular game of chicken since, by all accounts, the Pac-12 is only going to act if A&M moves first.  Still, it doesn’t really hurt the SEC to attempt this tactic, where the conference can just wait awhile and then decide to proceed with expansion without the Big 12 waivers.

4. Big Ten looking to form the “Fuck You, Pay Me” Conference? – The famous Purple Book Cat of the WildcatReport.com resurfaced last night with the following rumor: the Big Ten is looking to add Notre Dame and Texas with a bevy of conditions, including folding the Longhorn Network into a “BTN2”.  The proposed solution to the “LHN problem” actually makes some sense, although I don’t quite understand the issues that the Big Ten would have regarding ESPN supposedly pushing the UT-to-the-Pac-12 angle (as the channel actually has a much closer and wider-ranging relationship with the Big Ten compared to the Pac-12).  Chip Brown of Orangebloods separately stated the following, as well:

An outside the box option would be something like a conference such as the Big Ten allowing Texas to join the league and only make money off of LHN and not share revenue from the Big Ten Network. File that one away.

Should any of us really be giving this idea any credence?  Probably not.  I don’t see how the Big Ten is going to provide special arrangements to Texas when Jim Delany spent a TON of capital in convincing power schools like Michigan and Ohio State to sign up for the Big Ten Network instead of forming their own individual networks.

At the same time, if there’s any truth to the notion of Notre Dame joining a conference, I have faith that it will be smoked out by the school’s alumni base long before a decision is made.  They’re on a 24/7/365 Independence Watch over there, so this isn’t a matter that’s going to get agreed upon in a backroom at least as far as South Bend is concerned.

Regardless, assuming that no one knows what they’re talking about on anything regarding conference realignment (which is true), we can at least play along and put together a B1G 16 Fuck You, Pay Me Conference pod setup with, say, Syracuse and Rutgers (PURELY for discussion purposes – substitute Missouri, Pitt, Maryland, Boston College, or anyone else if it makes you feel better) in addition to UT and ND with each school having a protected cross-division rival (in parentheses):

NORTH
Michigan (Ohio State)
Michigan State (Rutgers)
Notre Dame (Texas)
Purdue (Indiana)

EAST
Ohio State (Michigan)
Penn State (Nebraska)
Rutgers (Michigan State)
Syracuse (Minnesota)

SOUTH
Texas (Notre Dame)
Illinois (Iowa)
Northwestern (Wisconsin)
Indiana (Purdue)

WEST
Nebraska (Penn State)
Iowa (Illinois)
Wisconsin (Northwestern)
Minnesota (Syracuse)

If the Big Ten has an 8-game conference schedule as proposed in the Purple Book Cat scenario, that means each school would play its 3 podmates annually plus 1 cross-division rival and then rotate through the other pods each year on an NFL-style basis.  From a Notre Dame perspective (who is really the one that needs to get pleased even more than Texas), this setup keeps their 3 traditional Big Ten rivals, secures an annual game with Texas, and then allows them to still schedule USC and Navy home-and-home in the non-conference schedule.  That’s about as close as you can get to a national schedule for Notre Dame while preserving the maximum number of rivals within the confines of a conference.  While that’s likely never going to be enough for the independent-minded Notre Dame alums (as independence is really an identity issue for that school as opposed to a financial stance), I doubt the Irish could get much better from a pure scheduling standpoint.

Anyway, this is all a hypothetical… like everything else in conference realignment.

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

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Here’s the latest of what I know from the Big Ten side of the ledger (not the maybe Texas/maybe Pac-10 perspective that is found elsewhere):

The Big Ten is focused on Texas and Notre Dame.  I don’t mean that in a “Duh, of course they want them!” way.  I mean in a serious/this may happen by this weekend way.  There are 3 scenarios for the Big Ten (please note that these additions are on top of Nebraska):

(1) Add Texas and Notre Dame alone – If Texas A&M goes to the SEC (and it appears that the Aggies are hot and heavy with that conference with Oklahoma possibly behind them), then the Big Ten would stop at 14.  This is actually the optimal situation for the Big Ten.

(2) Add Texas, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and a team to be determined – If Texas A&M decides to join, there’s going to be a rigorous internal debate about who is school #16.  Missouri, Rutgers and Syracuse, not surprisingly, are named as the most likely contenders for that last spot.

(3) Add no one else – Same debate regarding Missouri, Rutgers and Syracuse (and maybe others) applies here, where the disagreement about who else could be added may result in the Big Ten only adding Nebraska and stopping at 12.

My understanding is that Texas DOES want to join the Big Ten despite public posturing.  I might have been throwing crap against the wall a few months ago about that, but I’m NOT now.  Texas and the Big Ten have been dancing for a VERY long time in this process.

Also note that there are reasons why Notre Dame might be “forced” to join a conference that are different than the overall “seismic” shift that Jack Sarbrick has talked about.  Namely, a Big East message board obsession has apparently come true.  Read into that what you will.

That’s what I know.  Here’s what I think:

Texas A&M entertaining an offer from the SEC is the best thing that could happen to the Big Ten.  The way to remove the “Tech problem” politically is to expose just how much more money Texas and Texas A&M are leaving on the table by having to drag its in-state cousins to the Pac-10 (or with the addition of Colorado today, the Pac Televen).  Indeed, check out the message being set forth by A&M tonight:

Former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum, who now works as a special adviser to [Texas A&M President Bowen] Loftin, said football programs are carrying an increased financial burden to support other sports, so they’re drawn to potentially massive TV contracts for more revenue.

“You look at the level of funding that all programs need to have, and it’s a business decision that universities now have to make,” Slocum said.

Slocum said any decision A&M makes will be based purely on its financial impact, and not on more intangible elements, like preserving traditions and rivalries.

The Texas A&M athletic department has around $16 million in debt, so if/when it gets an invite to SEC, it’s on the record that it’s not going to take a haircut in order to be in the same conference as Texas Tech and Baylor.  So, if A&M asserts that it can control its own destiny, Texas has the moral/political authority to do whatever it wants.  As I’ve argued from the beginning, the Big Ten makes the most financial and academic sense for Texas and my understanding is that the powers that be in Austin (the campus as opposed to the capitol) agree.  Texas wouldn’t be publicly calling for the saving of the Big XII in order to start a Longhorn Sports Network only to head to the Pac Televen, where the projected TV revenue from the proposed 16-team league doesn’t even match what the Big Ten (and for that matter, the SEC) provides to each member today.  Something is amiss there and I hope some journalists put aside their personal assumptions about what “should” happen and attack that angle seriously over the next few days.  Whoever does is going to end up with the scoop of the year.

In the meantime, as JB Kirby that runs the506.com (of NFL TV Distribution Maps fame) said today, this a special moment in history where the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12 all have 11 members.  Enjoy it because it’s not going to last for long.

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

(Image from Kaboodle)

Any other evening I’d be writing a full blown expansion post considering all of the news and speculation today, but the mighty Blackhawks have just won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years!!!  It was a little weird that Patrick Kane was the only person in the building that realized that he scored a goal for about 5 minutes, but it more than worth the wait considering that Chicago hockey fans have been suffering for five decades.  A tad over 3 years ago, I went to a Hawks-Red Wings game with one of my buddies where the United Center was about half full and the majority of people that were there were Detroit fans.  Yet, Rocky Wirtz has been able to completely reverse what seemed to be irreversible damage that his late father had caused to its fan base.  I wrote this piece last year about the Hawks being the “Prodigal Franchise” of Chicago and how it has gone about regaining an entire generation of lost fans.  Well, those fans definitely aren’t lost anymore.  As I sit here in my Blackhawks sweater tonight, I’ve been able to witness arguably the greatest NFL team ever (the ’85 Bears), the greatest set of basketball teams ever (the ’90s Bulls dynasty), my baseball team crush the Curse of the Black Sox (the ’05 White Sox), an Illini berth in the national championship game (with the ’05 Elite Eight comeback game against Arizona that was the most unbelievable sports event that I have ever witnessed) and now a Stanley Cup.  Heck, Illinois might retroactively win the Rose Bowl that I attended 2 years ago depending what sanctions get hammered on USC.  Looking back, the Sports Gods have blessed me beyond belief.  Plus, we’ve got many more years to enjoy Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  Congrats Hawks!!!

Now, as for the latest on expansion:

Reports all over are confirming that Nebraska has been invited to the Big Ten, including the Chicago Tribune.  Most of the regular readers of this blog established fairly early on that Nebraska would be the most likely school to be invited to the Big Ten and I’ve been getting info for awhile supporting that.

It can’t be that simple, though, right?  If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (@frankthetank111), I had a brief interaction with @FakeJimDelany where he asked me whether I had bugged his phone, to which I replied, “I only get my info from Northwestern message boards.”  Well, the Northwestern message boards put up another doozy of a rumor tonight: in addition to Nebraska, the Big Ten will be offering invites to Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Missouri.  The Missouri invite, however, is contingent upon either Texas or Notre Dame accepting.  Who knows how this is going to play out and whether the Big Ten would truly hand out invites (or more specifically, asking the candidates to fill out the applications for invites) without knowing whether the answer is yes, but I do know that the poster (who had written the infamous post that reportedly sent Jim Delany flying off the handle, was removed for a couple of weeks and is now back online) has a legit and direct connection to the Big Ten office.  So, if this offer is true, the choice for Texas is what I laid out in yesterday’s “Double Chess” post: the comfortable Kia of the Pac-10 that won’t upset its Lone Star neighbors or the Rolls Royce of the new Big Ten.

Regardless, Chicago is the center of the sports world on multiple levels for the next few days.  The Blackhawks are bringing the Cup home.  Let’s see who Jim Delany ends up bringing over to Park Ridge.

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

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Whether the Pac-10 wanted it or not, it just stole a whole lot of headlines, no?  I warned you that my post from last week could be debunked immediately.  Chip Brown from orangebloods.com is reporting that the West Coast-based conference is looking to swallow half of the Big XII by inviting Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.  Please note that Mr. Brown is not a hack (unlike me) and was the former Texas beat writer for the Dallas Morning News, so don’t let the fact that this is originating from the Texas Rivals site fool you into thinking that this is standard message board fodder.  Colorado’s AD has now stated that he believes that his school is getting a Pac-10 invite, which may or may not be an indication of more things to come (as CU has long been rumored to be the most likely Big XII school to end up in the Pac-10).  For what it’s worth, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott has issued a standard denial which no one on the interweb will believe unless/until nothing happens over the next few days.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

A source from a Big XII school other than Texas has stated to me that the main basis of this story is legit and it has known for several days that this proposal was on the table for the schools in question.  A Texas A&M insider that runs the premium content on TexAgs.com also has stated that these invitations are forthcoming, with the Aggies (at least publicly) being wary of making the move.  What’s extremely unclear is whether the Pac-10 is making these invites before it knows whether it’s receiving a “yes” answer from everyone.  One would think that the Pac-10 isn’t going to be inviting Texas Tech unless it has been assured that Texas is coming along.  This seems to be a contingent offer where everyone would need to sign on for it to happen and then official invites would be sent out.

The Big Ten not being interested in Nebraska, though, is the one piece of the article that doesn’t correlate with any of the information that I’ve received.  My understanding is that Nebraska is a lock to be invited to the Big Ten.  I have had multiple independent corroborations that the main substance of the infamous Northwestern message board rumor (which has disappeared from the Rivals site in the same manner as the missing minutes from the Watergate tapes) is correct, where the Big Ten’s intended invitees are Nebraska, Texas and Notre Dame.  Now, things may have changed in the last couple of weeks, but if the Big Ten were to have to choose between Nebraska and Missouri, there is little doubt that it would take Nebraska.  In fact, if a school needs to “break the seal” of causing an avalanche of schools to leave the Big XII, do not be surprised at all if Nebraska ends up being the first mover in all of this.  I’ve received indications that Nebraska could be invited to the Big Ten quickly (possibly in the next week), where the conference would grant the school a fully vested revenue share (including a full stake in the Big Ten Network) in order to cover the higher Big XII exit fees for a 1-year notice period for leaving.  This would allow the Huskers to begin Big Ten play for the 2011 football season.  It could also set into motion something similar to what I had theoretically posed in the “Multi-Phase Big Ten Expansion: How to Build a Super Death Star Conference” post, where the Big Ten inviting Nebraska puts pressure on Texas to join.  Now, that could ultimately just give Texas and other Big XII schools the political cover necessary to bolt to the Pac-10 en masse as rumored, but let me be clear on this one: THERE IS NO SCHOOL MORE LIKELY TO END UP IN THE BIG TEN THAN NEBRASKA.

There continues to be mixed messages about where Missouri stands in this process.  Chip Brown stated in his article today (along with his previous articles) that the Big Ten has sincere interest in Missouri.  However, I’ve received separate indications from people in positions in the know from Big Ten and Big XII schools that Missouri would be very unlikely to receive an invite.  My understanding is that Missouri would probably need to have a 16-school Big Ten that has either Texas or Notre Dame in order to get invited.  Otherwise, in a 14-school Big Ten scenario, Nebraska and Rutgers would be likely choices, with Syracuse getting the nod over Missouri.  If neither Texas nor Notre Dame are in the fold for the Big Ten, then securing the New York City market specifically and an East Coast presence generally is going to be the only way that a multi-school expansion can work out financially for the conference.  Please note that the Big Ten’s argument to move into the New York area is NOT about believing that Rutgers and Syracuse alone can deliver that market.  Instead, it’s about the “penumbra effect” of combining those schools with the existing large Big Ten alumni bases in that market (particularly Penn State and Michigan) that could theoretically grab the area.  Whether the Big Ten would pull the trigger on that move and if that would work remains to be seen.

That’s what I know.  Now, here’s my general interpretation of everything:

I previously noted that one of the underrated players in this conference realignment process would be Texas Tech because, in reality, there are plenty of conferences that would gladly take A&M either alone or in order to get Texas but having to add Tech on top of that was an entirely different matter.  Texas Tech got into the Big XII because of political willpower and it’s exactly the type of school that would need to lean on political protection again.  Oklahoma State has a similar political relationship with Oklahoma with T. Boone Pickens as a benefactor, to boot.  Well, I don’t believe that it’s an accident that this Pac-10 rumor includes both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State as opposed to, say, Kansas and Utah (who would be more desirable from an additional market perspective).  On the one hand, the inclusion of those schools lends support to the validity of this story because it takes into account what might be politically necessary moves.  On the other hand, with the unanimous vote requirement of the Pac-10 for expansion, is Stanford seriously voting in favor of inviting Texas Tech and Oklahoma State?!  Seriously?! 

The other thing that I don’t understand whatsoever, though, is if Texas has been pushing so hard for the Longhorn Sports Network and maximizing TV revenue, why it would choose joining an expanded Pac-10, which Brown’s article itself stated would only project to make a little less on a per school basis than each Big Ten and SEC school makes today guaranteed.  Indeed, a couple of people connected to the Texas program have told me flat-out that the Big Ten and SEC (in that order) have been the primary choices for the school in this process because it knew that the Pac-10 could never match either financially in any scenario.  Now, it’s fully possible (if not likely) that political factors became intertwined here and Texas simply couldn’t go to its prospective highest revenue home.  This TV revenue issue along with how Standford could have been convinced to vote for Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are the two items that are holding me back from jumping on board with this rumor completely.   

Regardless, while the situation for Missouri is somewhat worrisome, it’s completely rosy compared to Kansas.  I don’t believe that a Big Ten invite is forthcoming for the Jayhawks, the school might be shackled to Kansas State for political purposes if it tries to move by itself and it doesn’t help that the school is in the middle of an embarrassing ticket scalping scandal.  It’s hard for me to believe that Kansas could end up with the leftovers of the Big XII in a Frankenstein league with some current MWC and WAC members, but it’s a very real possibility if this rumor is true.

Finally, the seismic shift that Jack Swarbrick had stated that would force Notre Dame to join a conference might be coming.  I have long been a skeptic that we would see 4 16-team superconferences so quickly, but this type of move by the Pac-10 would start an immediate shift of massive proportions.  So, if the Big Ten doesn’t end up with Texas but Notre Dame finally ends up joining, then maybe it really is mission accomplished for Jim Delany.  We might be going back to the traditional “Big Ten adds Notre Dame/Nebraska/Missouri/Rutgers/Syracuse” rumors as opposed to a Southern demographic shift, yet at least we might be finally getting some closure on this issue sooner rather than later.  UT President Bill Powers is supposed to have a press conference with Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe tomorrow, which should be extremely entertaining for all of us expansion junkies.

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

(Image from Be a Longhorn)