Here’s the latest chatter from the world of conference realignment:
Multiple sources have told me that Notre Dame, Missouri and Nebraska are all poised to receive invites from the Big Ten. An announcement could come as early as Wednesday, with other projections looking toward before the end of this month. Of course, this scenario has been rumored on message boards over the last day, so whether this is a legitimate deal remains to be seen. With the Big Ten’s past experiences in attempting to invite Notre Dame, nothing can be guaranteed until Jim Delany and Father Jenkins make an announcement together. Note that I stated Father Jenkins, who has to make the ultimate call for the Domers, as opposed to Jack Swarbrick.
There are a few takeaways from this formulation being put out there. At the top, if Missouri gets an invite to the Big Ten, it will have Notre Dame to thank. Without Notre Dame, the Big Ten would not have an interest in breaking up the Big XII and pushing Texas to the Pac-10, so it would likely have only invited one school to the immediate west: Nebraska. Indeed, Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune put up some analysis focused specifically about the prospect of Nebraska going to the Big Ten and he’s not going to be just engaging in idle speculation at this point in the game. However, if Notre Dame is in the fold, then the Big Ten does not have as much of a need to go after Big East schools (even though it still might) with the heavy Irish fan base in places like the New York area. A lot of the demographic factors that might have tipped the edge toward a school like Syracuse over Missouri without Notre Dame included would now be switched around. At the same time, it allows the Big Ten to make one last massive power play. The most interesting comment that Jim Delany had in his press conference was that this could be a multi-phase expansion for the Big Ten. This sounds a whole lot like attempting to build a Super Death Star Conference. I’ll explain that in a moment.
The Pac-10 hired an interesting choice to analyze its expansion options: Creative Arts Agency, the high-powered Hollywood entertainment industry firm. Contrast this with the Big Ten, who has been using investment bankers to perform analysis. In a slightly off-topic note, CAA also represents LeBron James, which means that entire worlds of college sports and NBA basketball are probably going to determined by a line of cubicles in LA.
What is CAA all about? Package deals. The franchise that gets LeBron isn’t just going to be able to sign him based on the quality of the existing team in place right now. Otherwise, there are only 2 choices for him in that scenario: staying with Cleveland or heading to the Chicago Bulls. On paper, the Clippers might have the talent, but that’s ignoring the fact that every good or decent player in that team’s history has broken a leg, torn an ACL or lost the use of both knees within a month of joining. The Knicks and Nets shouldn’t even be in the discussion. Instead, LeBron wants “his team” (meaning all of his handlers that don’t add value to any franchise) taken care of.
So, it’s not a surprise that the Pac-10/CAA is approaching Texas, the equivalent of LeBron in the conference expansion sweepstakes, with the idea of selling the school a package. (Another sports columnist made that LeBron/Texas comparison but I can’t find the applicable article to give the appropriate credit. I’ll put up a link as soon as I can locate it again.) If this were about making the most money for Texas, then there are only 2 real choices for the school: the Big Ten and SEC. The proposed Pac-10 expansion is projected to only hopefully match the per school revenue that the Big Ten and SEC members already enjoy today. CAA understood that it couldn’t win the financial game for its client, so what it recommended the Pac-10 to sell Texas is “comfort”. It’s all about making it as easy as possible for Texas to make a move: politically expedient, easy travel companions and keeping all of its Big XII South rivalries on the conference slate. Who cares if the Pac-10 has rejected the notion of adding BYU for many years based on religious grounds and then all of the sudden has Baylor fever when Texas is now an option. (I have nothing against Baylor, but shame on the Pac-10 if it adds that school while turning its back on BYU for so long.) It’s like buying a Kia – you’re not going to break the bank, it’s certainly better than the used Ford Pinto of the Big XII that Texas is currently driving, and it won’t upset the neighbors in Waco and Lubbock. This can only mean one thing for the Pac-10: it’s inviting LeBron to become a member, moving its conference headquarters to Akron, and John Calipari will be installed as the new commissioner. Worldwide Wes will get it done.
Does that mean that Jim Delany and the Big Ten are just going to give up on Texas? Hell to naw! Anyone that thinks otherwise clearly doesn’t understand the long-term demographic, academic and financial ambitions of the conference. The double chess smack talk has only begun. IF the Big Ten gets a commitment from Notre Dame (and once again, that’s a massive IF), then the conference has a completely different sale strategy to make one final power play to Texas. The Big XII will effectively be destroyed with Nebraska and Missouri joining. That leaves the Big Ten at 14 schools with 2 natural spots remaining to get up to 16. Instead of selling a quick and easy Kia like the Pac-10, it’s telling Texas that it can have a Rolls Royce. Imagine Delany calling up UT president Bill Powers over the next few days:
“Bill, we’ve got 2 spots left reserved for you and the Aggies. With Notre Dame aboard, we’re going to be the most powerful entity in all of sports outside of the NFL with or without you. You can receive around $40 million per year in TV revenue just for showing up and we’re not even getting into the academic benefits of the CIC. Are you going to let some meth-on-the-breath legislators down the street from your campus determine your future and shackle you with a ‘Tech-Baylor-UTEP-UTSA-UTD-Northeast Texas Community College problem’ forever? Maybe you can tell them that the legislature is going to have to figure out a way to make up for the $20 million per year in athletic money that you’re leaving on the table if you don’t get to actually do what’s best for your school, you know, like any other president of a world-class university is empowered to do without thinking about appeasing some overzealous politicians that would rather save a couple of football games in Waco and Lubbock than create the best flagship school possible. Heh, your friends at Missouri and Nebraska are looking to make twice as much TV money as you because they don’t have a ‘Tech problem’. That would suck for you. Let me know. We’ll need to know by June 30th whether we’re going to invade New York and New Jersey instead. Delany out.”
The Big Ten has to be true to its brand – its selling point to Texas is to be the highest class academic and athletic conference top-to-bottom. It can’t and shouldn’t try to get into a fight with the Pac-10 on concessions on the low end. If Texas can’t fend off the legislators or the school actually would rather be part of a provincial Eastern appendage to the Pac-10 or keep the Big XII as opposed to joining the top national conference, then it is what it is. At that point, Jim Delany just has to say, WTF and make his move. Looks like the University of Pittgers!
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)
(Image from Chess Variants)