I received an incredible amount of great feedback on my Big Ten Expansion Index with comments on the post itself and circulation on various message boards. This Texas alum perspective was particularly illuminating and indicative that my recommendation for the Longhorns isn’t nearly as far-fetched as a lot of people believe (albeit there are some hurdles). I’d also like to point to this comment from a Missouri fan that runs his own blog in support of Mizzou’s inclusion in the Big Ten. It’s a fairly thorough look at Missouri’s qualifications and how they would provide an advantage over the other “usual suspects” such as Pitt – I don’t necessarily agree with all of it but it’s well thought-out.
I’ll take a look at some additional schools that I didn’t initially consider in my original post (i.e. Kansas, Maryland, Miami) in the very near future. In the meantime, there are a few issues that have been brought up in the expansion discussions that I’d like to address.
1. Superconferences with 14 schools just aren’t in the cards – I’ve seen a whole lot of suggestions that the Big Ten would look to expand to 14 or even 16 teams in order to turn itself into a superconference. Supposedly, sources within conference itself even suggested that it might be open to the prospect. On paper, this sounds like a decent idea – if the goal is to get into as many new TV markets as possible, then having more schools would serve that purpose (particularly when considering the premium that the Big Ten Network places on adding more cable households).
A practical issue, though, is that it’s hard enough to get the current Big Ten presidents to achieve a consensus on one additional school. So, the thought of them trying to add three more schools at the same time is simply extremely unlikely.
Even more importantly, there are diminishing financial returns for each school that is added after number 12. The magic of school #12 is that the Big Ten is able to stage a conference championship game at that point, where if it’s worth something close to the SEC version, such game would bring in about $15 million per year. That’s an instant $15 million pop from that 12th school without even taking into account new regular season TV revenue. The conference won’t see that type of pop from any additional schools and, in fact, it’s likely that the value of that championship game won’t change with additional members – it’s going to be worth $15 million whether the Big Ten has 12 teams or 14 teams, so each school is obviously going to take in less from that game if the conference goes up to 14 teams.
At the same time, part of the goal for every conference under the current BCS system is to get the maximum allowed 2 BCS bowl bids per season. The 1st BCS bowl bid is worth $17.5 million to a conference and a 2nd BCS bowl bid kicks in an extra $4.5 million, which is all distributed equally among members in the Big Ten. The thing is that the Big Ten is already virtually guaranteed to receive 2 BCS bowl bids every year because of the combination of the conference’s large TV markets and top-to-bottom great traveling fan bases in its current 11-team form – no conference has received more multiple bids in the BCS era than the Big Ten (yes, even more than the SEC). So, every additional school simply dilutes those per school BCS payouts since that revenue is completely fixed. (Note that this is why any knowledgeable Big Ten fan ALWAYS wants multiple schools from the conference to get into BCS bowls. Even if your hated rival is the one going to the game, your own school still gets a big-time revenue boost from that extra bowl bid.) Unless the BCS system (or whatever postseason structure that will govern college football in the future) changes to allow 3 or more schools from a conference to participate, there’s little incentive both financially off-the-field and competitively on-the-field to have a conference that’s larger than 12 schools.
Taking all of that into account and using a historical NBA superstar comparison, if the 12th Big Ten member has to be at least at the level of Kobe Bryant, then the 13th and 14th Big Ten members have to be both Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. As a result, the Big Ten isn’t going to say, “Well, we can’t decide between Missouri, Syracuse and Rutgers, so let’s add all of them!” There’s really only one combination that I could think of where the Big Ten could meet that standard with 14 schools: it adds Texas, Notre Dame AND Miami all at the same time. Even then, there’s the basketball-esque concern that there are too many superstars involved for everything to work together – a team with 5 Michael Jordans sounds great in theory yet just wouldn’t work practically because a team would implode with that many hyper-competitive egos, while a conference with 6 legitimately elite power schools (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Texas, Notre Dame and Miami) would turn the Big Ten from one of the most brotherly and cooperative leagues into probably the most contentious.
This is a long-winded way of saying that I’m 99.999999% sure that the Big Ten is simply looking for the perfect 12th school and won’t be going beyond that to 14 or more teams.
2. Big Ten revenue is so incredibly and ridiculously FAR FAR FAR FAR ahead of the Big East and Big 12 that arguments such as “Syracuse and Jim Boeheim love basketball in the Big East too much” or “Texas completely controls the Big 12” are irrelevant – I made this point early in the original blog post, but it still comes up in message board discussions constantly. So, let’s make it perfectly clear why any Big East school and probably any Big 12 school would leave for the Big Ten. Here is the annual TV revenue for each conference as reported by ESPN’s Outside the Lines last month along with the average for each school:
- Big Ten: $242 million ($22 million per school)
- SEC: $205 million ($17.08 million per school)
- Big 12: $78 million ($6.5 million per school)
- ACC: $67 million ($5.58 million per school)
- Pac-10: $58 million ($5.8 million per school)
- Big East: $13 million for football/$20 million for basketball ($2.8 million per football school)
Take a look at those figures for a moment – every single Big Ten school makes almost twice as much TV revenue every year as the ENTIRE Big East football conference and even makes more than the entire Big East basketball contract (which that conference’s greatest strength). There is no rational president of a Big East university that is fulfilling his or her fiduciary responsibility to such university that would turn down an invitation from the Big Ten for any reason whatsoever (whether it’s what the basketball coach says or anything else). That’s not a personal knock on the Big East (as I’m also a law school alum of Big East member DePaul) but just a simple and glaring reality when you take two seconds to look at the numbers.
At the same time, Texas, which had a best case scenario of having the most nationally televised games and a BCS bowl appearance last year under the Big 12’s unequal revenue distribution formula, still made only $12 million in TV revenue compared to the $22 million that schools like Indiana and (gulp) Illinois received just for showing up. Every reasonable person knows that even the best programs go through hard times, so it’s not as if though you can count on the best case scenario every single year. Case in point is the Longhorns’ own rival of Oklahoma, who will receive significantly less money this year for a middling football season after being in the national championship game last year. Michigan was playing Ohio State for a national championship game berth in 2006, yet look at where the Wolverines are now. The recent competitive issues at Notre Dame are well-documented. That means that even a powerhouse school like Texas has to examine where it will be in the event of the worst case scenario when it’s in a conference with unequal revenue distribution, which is something that gives university presidents and athletic directors that have to worry about budgets and state legislatures cutting funding a whole lot of heartburn. This significant worry would immediately go away in the Big Ten – every school gets that $22 million per season whether they win multiple national championships or lose every single game.
A “winner” under an almost exact replica of the current Big 12 unequal revenue distribution model recently switched conferences for that very reason. Miami was the single greatest beneficiary under the Big East’s old unequal revenue distribution model, where the Hurricanes received outsized payments from the conference during their national championship runs in the early 2000s. In fact, the Big East said that it would guarantee Miami more money than the school would’ve received from the ACC for 5 years in an attempt to keep the Canes. However, Miami’s president and athletic director pointed to the equal revenue sharing in the ACC as the largest financial reason why Miami switched conferences, even if it meant less money in the good times. What this shows is that university presidents are actually much more concerned about maintaining financial stability during poor seasons than shooting the moon in championship seasons.
What’s more interesting in the Texas situation is that even when it shoots the moon in the Big 12, it still only makes about half as much as the very worst school in the Big Ten. In that sense, Texas has even more to gain than Miami since the Canes actually knew they were going to give up short-term dollars in exchange for long-term stability, whereas Texas doesn’t have to make that choice – they’re getting more short-term dollars AND long-term financial stability.
At the same time, Texas really doesn’t “control” the Big 12, which is another argument that I continuously see on message boards and blogs. While it receives the most TV appearances out of everyone because it’s the conference’s top team, remember that the original Big 8 schools have been together for over 100 years and they form a supermajority voting bloc in the Big 12. Certainly, Texas has clout in the Big 12 due to its national brand name in the same way that Penn State has clout in the Big Ten, but Texas is still the newcomer to the old Big 8 schools and a lot of them (if not everyone except for Oklahoma) are extremely resentful of the Longhorns. So, the thought that Texas has some type of outsized control in the Big 12 is at the very least overstated. Remember that Miami had very similar control in the Big East, yet they jumped at the chance to be governed by a bunch of crazy basketball schools based in North Carolina. “Control” is such an intangible and fleeting notion that it’s unlikely to trump a massive amount of guaranteed revenue whether a school wins or loses.
3. Traveling fans to road games don’t matter – In terms of sports road trips, nothing tops going to other college campuses. While pretty much all NFL stadiums are bland outside of Lambeau Field, each college has its own unique feel and traditions. However, it amuses me when I see comments on various blogs and message boards that say, “Team A won’t leave Conference X because Team A’s fans can’t take road trips anymore.” Even the best traveling fan bases might send only a few thousand people to road games every week and that school doesn’t see a dime of extra money – under conference revenue sharing arrangements, the visiting school gets the same amount of money whether it sends 1 fan on the road or 20,000 fans. Therefore, if we think about this for a few seconds, why would any university president prioritize the interests of a few thousand people that like to take road trips yet don’t provide a single extra cent of revenue through such road trips over the school making many more millions of dollars of television revenue while also providing exposure to millions of more people? Worrying about traveling fans is a classic “penny wise and pound foolish” argument.
4. Sports team travel costs probably don’t matter – The thought that a school like Texas would worry about the increase in team travel costs in the Big Ten is probably another “penny wise and pound foolish” argument, although I’d love to see if anyone on the interweb has some concrete information about how much these expenses would be. At a high level, my understanding is that Boston College, whose presence in the ACC would probably be the closest example of being a geographic outlier along the lines of Texas in the Big Ten, is still reaping significantly higher revenue in the ACC that more than compensates for its increased travel costs compared to when it was in the Big East.
Also, distance between schools isn’t necessarily the best indicator of travel costs. If it’s far enough where you have to get onto a plane (and in the case of Texas, that would be the case for every school that it visits in the Big 12 except for maybe Texas A&M and Baylor), then how far you go on that plane isn’t going to change the costs that significantly (unless it’s a really long-haul trip to a place like Hawaii). For commercial flights, distance is actually irrelevant – a plane flight from Austin to Chicago could easily be less money than a plane flight from Austin to Oklahoma City despite the much shorter distance since plane fares are more based on the frequency of routes and customer demand. If an airplane needs to be chartered, the initial cost of procuring that plane is usually fixed where the cost is the same whether you go 50 miles or 1500 miles. There may be some variance in the cost for fuel and airtime, but it’s still only a marginal increase over the initial cost of chartering that plane in the first place.
Considering that the jump in revenue for Texas going from the Big 12 to the Big Ten would be much larger than BC’s increase in revenue was from the Big East to the ACC, I believe that the increased travel costs (even for all of those non-revenue sports) would not be much of a factor. If anyone out there has more specific details on this issue, though, please feel free to post it.
5. Texas A&M is NOT tied to the hip of Texas – Here’s another argument that I’m constantly seeing on blogs and message boards: “Texas won’t go anywhere without Texas A&M.” If past actions are the best indicators of future behavior, though, then that argument doesn’t hold water because Texas was more than willing to ditch Texas A&M when the old SWC imploded in the early 1990s. Please take a look at this newspaper article that examines how Texas ended up in the Big 12 which includes interviews with the Texas president at the time of all of the conference moves:
As you’ll see in that article, Texas first really wanted to be in the Pac-10, which meant that the school made the decision that it wasn’t going to be in a conference with Texas A&M. However, the Pac-10 requires unanimous approval for any new member and Stanford rejected the Texas bid. After that, Texas approached… wait for it… the Big Ten. Once again, Texas made the decision to unhitch itself from Texas A&M in that scenario. While the Big Ten showed interest, the conference had a moratorium on expansion at that time since it had just added Penn State, so Texas was rebuffed there.
It was only AFTER Texas was rejected by the Pac-10 and Big Ten, where in both instances Texas had confirmed that it was more than willing to separate itself from Texas A&M, that Texas coupled itself back with Texas A&M and approached the Big 8 schools. At that point, the Texas state politicians, who consider football to be of the highest legislative priority, got wind of the plan and forced Texas Tech and Baylor (who neither Texas nor Texas A&M wanted anything to do with) into the new Big 12.
So, let me summarize this for everyone: (1) the current Big 12 was the THIRD choice for Texas after the Pac-10 and Big Ten, (2) Texas would’ve broken away from Texas A&M if either of its first two choices had come to fruition and (3) Texas definitely wanted nothing to do with Texas Tech and Baylor. Anyone that thinks that Texas is going to make decisions based on whether it can take Texas A&M along with it isn’t looking at how Texas acted during the 1990s conference realignment. While Texas may care about whether A&M ends up in the SEC, as LonghornLawyer pointed out in his illuminating comment on my previous post, that doesn’t mean the Aggies are anything close to being brothers-in-arms with the Longhorns.
6. The revenue gap means that the Big Ten now trumps the Pac-10 for Texas – That historical article brings up another common argument that Texas might look to the Pac-10 instead, especially since it was the school’s first choice back in the 1990s. This is certainly a fair point, although the revenue situation has changed so drastically in the Big Ten’s favor that a reasonable person is going to weigh things a lot differently today. Take a quick look back at the conference revenue figures back in point #2 and you’ll see why Texas isn’t going to value the Pac-10 over the Big Ten as of today: the Pac-10 has even worse TV revenue than the Big 12. Even if we acknowledge that the addition of Texas were to give a boost to Pac-10 TV revenue, it still wouldn’t come close to more than quadrupling that number which would be required to merely match what the Big Ten makes today (and note that the Big Ten figure would directly increase by a significant margin just from the addition of Texas state basic cable households for the Big Ten Network).
Also, putting money matters aside for a moment, there’s a pretty practical issue with respect to Texas being in the Pac-10: the time zone. Most people east of the Mississippi River probably think of Texas as a “western” state. However, it’s in the Central Time Zone (just like 5 of the 11 Big Ten schools). This matters because prime time starts at 8 pm in the Pacific Time Zone (just like the Eastern Time Zone), which means that prime time games in the Pac-10 wouldn’t start until 10 pm Texas time and that’s simply a killer for TV purposes. There are no such time zone issues with the Big Ten because all of the schools are either in the Central or Eastern Time Zones.
I know that I’ve put together some incredibly long blog posts, but just remember my two overarching rules of thinking like a university president as opposed to a sports fan and that 11 + 1 = 13. The Big Ten didn’t come out and talk about expansion to do anything other than a blockbuster move. If that blockbuster move isn’t available, then the Big Ten will stay at 11 schools. I’ll be back soon with another post on additional expansion candidates.
(Image from NCAA Football Fanhouse)