B1G 24 Pac: The New Big Ten/Pac-12 Partnership

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced a scheduling partnership on Wednesday encompassing football and basketball with plans to apply it to other sports.  Starting in 2017, each Big Ten school will play a Pac-12 counterpart annually in football.  In a shocking development, this pretty awesome setup was the brainchild of former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, who butchered Illini football schedules for close to two decades.  (Why would a Big Ten team ever schedule a neutral site game in Detroit against Western Michigan 4 weeks after they visited Ann Arbor?!  Why?!)

All orange-and-blue-tinged befuddlement aside, the Big Ten and Pac-12 entering into a scheduling arrangement is a natural extension of the link that they have because of the Rose Bowl and a way to add some high profile games to their respective football and basketball schedules without further expansion.  Some thoughts:

1. TV Advantages – Having all teams participate in one inter-conference football game per year is a way to build a critical mass of quality games during September that can be guaranteed to the conferences’ TV partners while still giving each individual school enough flexibility to maintain rivalries (particularly Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Stanford with Notre Dame) and schedule the requisite MAC-rifice games.  Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany indicated that the Big Ten/Pac-12 games would likely be played during 2nd, 3rd and 4th weeks of the season.  That would provide 4 “challenge” games during each of those weeks where one could be placed into every time slot.  This can provide some real value to the respective TV packages of the Big Ten and Pac-12, as at the very least ABC/ESPN would avoid getting stuck with a Michigan/Ohio State vs. Random MAC School game in the 2:30 pm Central Time national window during the third week in September.  The Big Ten Network and the nascent Pac-12 Network would also likely get multiple inter-conference games per year for both football and basketball, which could help each network get penetration into the other network’s home region.

2. More Big Ten/Pac-12 Bowls? – The Rose Bowl is obviously of critical importance to both the Big Ten and Pac-12, but the two leagues don’t play any other bowl games against each other unless it’s by accident.  (I’m certainly spending my New Year’s Eve afternoon watching the Kraft Fight Hunger and Interim Coaches Bowl between Illinois and UCLA.  Who’s with me?)  The issue from the Big Ten perspective is that the West Coast bowls involving the Pac-12 (besides the Rose) have low payouts compared to the Florida-based bowls with SEC tie-ins (and even the Texas-based bowls with Big 12 tie-ins).  The Pac-12 Rose Bowl tie-in largely masks the fact that the conference otherwise has the weakest bowl lineup of the AQ leagues (outside of the Big East) as its even its most desirable members, such as USC, don’t have good traveling reputations.  Personally, I’d love for the Big Ten to mix in another bowl or two against the Pac-12, but I can’t see those New Year’s Day games against the SEC in Florida going away.  For bowl purposes, nothing is more attractive than a Big Ten vs. SEC matchup (and they pay accordingly).  As a result, any new bowls arrangements between the Big Ten and Pac-12 would likely need to be lower in the bowl selection order and require some significant payout offers out there.  If the new 49ers and downtown Los Angeles NFL stadiums actually get built, they would have the potential to host new bowls that could pay enough to entice the Big Ten.

3. Improvements for Non-revenue Sports – On the whole, the Big Ten is probably bringing more revenue and brand name power to the table in this partnership compared to the Pac-12.  However, the Pac-12 overall has extremely strong top-to-bottom athletic departments in all sports, which can potentially aid the Big Ten significantly.  For instance, the Big Ten is a massive underachiever in baseball considering the conference’s resources and facilities.  If each Big Ten school starts playing a couple of series every year against Pac-12 opponents (who make up an extremely strong baseball league), that can bring up the RPI numbers for all Big Ten teams, which could then result in more NCAA Baseball Tournament at-large bids and higher seeds.  I’ve long thought that improving baseball ought to be a top non-football/basketball priority for the Big Ten and this Pac-12 partnership could be a way to kick-start it.

There could also be some phenomenal non-conference women’s volleyball matches.  The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already solidified themselves as the top two volleyball conferences in the country year-in and year-out.  In this year’s NCAA Volleyball Tournament, 8 of the Sweet Sixteen and 3 of the Final Four were members of either the Big Ten or Pac-12.

4. Notre Dame Rivalries and ACC/Big Ten Challenge Staying Alive – The indications from Jim Delany point to this partnership not having any effect on the Big Ten’s other relationships, such as the traditional Notre Dame football rivalries and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for basketball.  It’s telling that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that he was actually kept apprised of the discussions between the Big Ten and Pac-12 and his relationship with Delany is characterized as “close”.  While a lot of fans like to jump to conclusions that conferences will act in a manner to “force” Notre Dame to do something (whether it’s conference realignment in general or a scheduling arrangement), commissioners such as Delany and Pac-12 boss Larry Scott are much more pragmatic.  As long as Notre Dame is independent, it’s ultimately extremely beneficial for both of their leagues to maintain high profile rivalries with the Irish if only because it helps out their TV packages quite a bit.  Think about it: the Big Ten guarantees 1 or 2 Notre Dame games to its TV partners every September, while the Pac-12 always has an Irish game to offer in prime time on Thanksgiving weekend (and these include marquee matchups such as Michigan-Notre Dame and USC-Notre Dame that TV networks pay a heavy premium for).  Delany and Scott don’t want to mess with that at all, which is why every time that a move that appears on its face might apply pressure on Notre Dame (such as the Pac-12 instituting a general rule last year that non-conference games should only be played prior to conference play) is explicitly caveated where it doesn’t end up affecting the Domers (where in the Pac-12 non-conference scheduling case, an exception was made for pre-existing contracts).

5. 8 Conference Games for Big Ten and 9 for the Pac-12 – Not surprisingly, the plans for a 9-game conference schedule for the Big Ten got nixed as a result of the new partnership.  Having every school be able to play at least 7 home games per year has become sacrosanct to the Big Ten, which would’ve made it impossible to have a 9-game conference schedule plus a Pac-12 game plus allowing other existing rivalries (such as the Notre Dame matchups described above) to continue.  The Pac-12 schools generally don’t have the same steadfast need to play 7 home games per year since they aren’t able to sellout their stadiums with Eastern Podunk State Polytechnic U coming into town the way a lot of the Big Ten schools can.  On the West Coast, higher quality opponents are required to draw attendance, which is why even USC has long scheduled 2 major non-conference opponent every year (Notre Dame and a power conference team) despite with the 9-game Pac-12 conference schedule.  As a result, it doesn’t surprise me that Larry Scott is indicating that the Pac-12 will maintain the 9-game conference slate for the long-term.

All-in-all, the Big Ten and Pac-12 partnering together is innovative in its simplicity.  They are adding on higher quality games without taking away existing rivalries while creating better inventory for their TV partners.  Both conferences have similar views toward academic excellence and maintaining strong top-to-bottom athletic departments.  With the two leagues already linked in the general public’s mind due to the Rose Bowl tie-ins, the partnership announcement makes sense at the end of a year where conference realignment didn’t make sense at all to a lot of people (unless you’re one of the commenters on this blog).

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

(Image from Los Angeles Times)

The Halfway There Compromise: A BCS Plus-One Proposal That the Big Ten and Rose Bowl Could Live With

In my last post, I went over four proposals that the FBS commissioners were evaluating to add a plus-one national championship game to the BCS system.  What is apparent is that the firmest resistance to a plus-one is coming from the Big Ten (led by Jim Delany) and the Rose Bowl.*  When I wrote my “BCS Final Four” seeded plus-one proposal last year, I stated that “for any college football postseason proposal to have even a whiff of a chance of succeeding, forget about “fairness” and think like Jim Delany.”  It might be even more pointed this year where the Big Ten and Rose Bowl are specifically the biggest obstacles to getting a plus-one proposal passed.  In theory, the other conferences and BCS bowls could just roll over those two entities with a super-majority, but the reality is that while everyone technically has an equal vote, they don’t have equal voices… and Delany has the biggest voice of them all.  Even “Death to the BCS” author Dan Wetzel stated that with the plus-one debate coming down to Delany versus everyone, he would take “Delany as no worse than even money”.  It’s very unlikely that you’re going to see a plus-one system that doesn’t have the backing of the Big Ten regardless of the support of everyone else.

(* Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott appears to be much more open to a seeded plus-one system, although still not wanting to give up the Rose Bowl.)

As a result, the purpose of this post is to try to find a compromise that could at least be plausibly acceptable to the Big Ten and Rose Bowl in real life.  What I’m not trying to do is find a system that is “perfect”.**  Personally, out of all of the college football postseason proposals that I’ve written over the years (which includes an 8-team playoff using the bowls, an unseeded plus-one and a semi-seeded plus-one), my favorite is the BCS Final Four mentioned above that would likely be the most popular with the masses, as well.  However, my feeling is that we’re not going to see something that straightforward and simple if we get a plus-one at all.  Therefore, I acknowledge that the compromise proposed here isn’t a clean system, where it might look wonderful in some seasons and be controversial in other years.   The goal is to find a plus-one formula that I think Jim Delany would actually agree to while making the fans and TV networks happy the vast majority of the time.

(** I put this caveat in virtually every BCS proposal and still invariably get a comment to the effect of, “This idea SUX AZZ. We need a 16-team playoff with every conference getting an auto-bid or else it’s worthless.”  While I sympathize with the sentiment for massive change, it’s just not realistic and, therefore, not worth writing about in my view.)

One model that drew traction among Big Ten and Pac-12 athletic directors is to have the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange host #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 semifinal games on a rotation while the Rose Bowl would “opt out” of the semis and keep a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup annually.  What’s unclear is whether the Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents along with the Rose Bowl are actually on board with this (as those are the real decision makers as opposed to the ADs).  Most observers seem to believe that the Rose Bowl keeping a Big Ten/Pac-12 game would be enough, but I take a narrower view of what is “acceptable” to the people in Pasadena.  While the Big Ten and Pac-12 tie-ins are certainly critical, there’s also a matter of the Rose having an elevated status compared to the other bowls.  It’s one thing if the Rose is the #2 college football game of the year after the national championship game, but my impression is that being only the #4 game of the year at best after the national title and the 2 bowls that are semifinal hosts isn’t what they’re bargaining for.

So, how do we create a plus-one that doesn’t systematically turn the Rose Bowl into a consolation prize behind the other BCS bowls?  As with the BCS Final Four, we should have a “less is more” approach:


The main principles of this system:

(1) Traditional Rose Bowl – The Rose Bowl always takes the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions.

(2) Cotton Bowl is added as a 5th BCS bowl –  Under this system, the Cotton Bowl would share the Big 12 tie-in with the Fiesta Bowl (to be further explained in point #4).

(3) Quasi-Semifinals Using 4 Highest Ranked Auto-bid Recipients Outside of Rose Bowl Participants – 2 of the BCS bowls besides the Rose Bowl will hold games featuring the 4 highest ranked teams that received BCS auto-bids outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs in a seeded format.  For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll call them “Quasi-Semifinals” and assume that the auto-bids are the same as today (6 AQ conference champs, top 4 teams in the BCS rankings, top ranked non-AQ conference champ provided that it’s in the top 12 and a top 8 Notre Dame team*).  In a season like this one where the Rose Bowl does not have any top 4 teams, there would actually be 2 true semifinal games with #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 games.

(* AQ status may technically disappear, but as I’ve stated before, it will likely be a matter of semantics since the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC will continue to have virtual AQ status with their contractual bowl tie-ins. The Big East is really the only conference with a real risk of facing a major loss if the BCS system changes dramatically.)

(4) Quasi-Semifinal Site Tie-in Preferences – The Quasi-Semifinals will rotate on an annual basis between the 4 BCS bowls besides the Rose Bowl and receive preferences to get games that involve their conference tie-ins.  For example, if the Sugar Bowl were holding a Quasi-Semifinal this year, it could take #1 Auburn vs. #4 Stanford since it has the SEC tie-in.  The higher ranked team gets priority if both Quasi-Semifinal sites have a claim to the same game (i.e. if there is a #1 ACC champ vs. a #4 SEC champ, the Orange would get that game over the Sugar).  The Fiesta and Cotton would host Quasi-Semifinals in opposite years, so they can rotate the Big 12 tie-in.

(5) Other BCS Bowls Select Teams Like Today Except for (a) 3 BCS Bids from Conference Allowed and (b) Ranking Priority – The 2 BCS bowls that aren’t hosting Quasi-Semifinals in a given year would generally select teams in the same manner as today (i.e. conference tie-ins and first dibs on replacing tie-ins from that conference if they make it to a Quasi-Semifinal, at-large pool consists of teams in top 14, etc.).  However, the cap on BCS bids from a conference would be raised from 2 to 3 in order to garner more Big Ten support (and the SEC would be on board, too).  At the same time, the bowl with the higher ranked tie-in (or applicable conference tie-in replacement team) would get the first at-large selection.

(6) Two Highest Ranked Winners of Their Bowls Advance to the National Championship Game – I’ve kicked around the idea of having another BCS ranking after the bowls are completed to determine the #1 vs. #2 matchup, but I’m wary of strength of schedule components being altered during the bowl season (as it opens up way too many avenues to be attacked if bowl matchups are set up in a way that helps or hurts a team computer-wise).  I actually feel relatively comfortable setting it up where simply the two highest ranked winners of their bowls advance to the national championship game because between the Rose Bowl and the two Quasi-Semifinal Games, there 3 games with auto-bid vs. auto-bid matchups based on merit (so there aren’t at-large teams that are simply there to sell tickets based on name brand or traveling fan bases).

Again, if this system was in place this year, it would be fairly simple as #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 games would be set into place.  Assuming that the Orange and Cotton would be the Quasi-Semifinal hosts, the bowl lineup would look like this:


Rose Bowl: #10 Wisconsin (Big Ten champion) vs. #5 Oregon (Pac-12 champ)
Orange Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 1): #1 LSU (SEC champ) vs. #4 Stanford (top 4 auto-bid)
Cotton Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 2): #2 Alabama (top 4 auto-bid) vs. #3 Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ)
Sugar Bowl: #13 Michigan (at-large bid 1/SEC champ replacement) vs. #23 West Virginia (Big East champ)
Fiesta Bowl: #8 Kansas State (at-large bid 2/Big 12 champ replacement)* vs. #15 Clemson (ACC champ)

(* I’m assuming that the Fiesta Bowl would have taken Kansas State to preserve its Big 12 ties instead of Virginia Tech, who received the Sugar Bowl at-large bid in real life.)

Where this system would have really come into play was last season, where the bowl lineup would have turned out this way:


Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin (Big Ten champ) vs. #2 Oregon (Pac-12 champ)
Sugar Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 1): #1 Auburn (SEC champ) vs. #7 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ)
Fiesta Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 2): #3 TCU (non-AQ auto-bid) vs. #4 Stanford (top 4 auto-bid)
Orange Bowl: #13 Virginia Tech (ACC champ) vs. Connecticut (Big East champ)
Cotton Bowl: #6 Ohio State (at-large bid 1) vs. #8 Arkansas (at-large bid 2)

Depending upon your point of view, 2010 would have been either awesome (3 BCS bowls had an impact the national championship race, including the Rose Bowl) or horrible (no true semifinals).  The Rose, Sugar and Fiesta would all actually have been fairly evenly matched.

Personally, I like this setup (even though it’s not as clean as the BCS Final Four) and, at the very least, it’s better than what we have now.  It’s almost like a return to the 1990s Bowl Alliance, but with a plus-one national championship game held afterwards, so the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl trifecta would be participating in the end.  The main disadvantage is that if a plus-one system is not seeded, there could be mismatches on paper.  For instance, the Rose Bowl could theoretically feature a #1 vs. #2 game or, alternatively, have a #2 vs. #14 matchup.  That’s simply something that’s going to happen at times under this system.  (Of course, no one gets bothered by the fact that the NCAA Tournament isn’t re-seeded after games are played, so one Elite Eight could feature a #1-seed vs. #12-seed while a different one could be a #1-seed vs. #2-seed.  The Final Four teams usually all have played very different levels of competition in their regional brackets.) Once again, the purpose of this proposal is to find a compromise that the Big Ten and Rose Bowl would agree to as opposed to one that’s perfect.  There’s certainly a nostalgic part of me that wants to see the Rose Bowl and the other major bowls become blockbusters again, which is what this system could virtually guarantee.

So, add the Halfway There Compromise to the pile of BCS bowl proposals out there for your holiday enjoyment.  One of these days, a plus-one proposal is going to click with all of the powers that be (and it might be sooner rather than later).  In the meantime, Merry Christmas, everyone!

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

(Image from Wikipedia)

Change is Coming: Four BCS Plus-One Options Under Consideration

With Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany effectively stating that BCS automatic qualifying status is going to disappear in 2014, there’s some even more important related news.  A couple of weeks ago, one of my contacts told me that the FBS conference commissioners were evaluating a plan for the BCS to only run the national title game and then revert back to the old system for all other bowl games.  That proposal has since been reported by CBS Sports to have originated from Delany.  This same contact is now telling me that the implementation of a plus-one system to determine college football’s national champion is gaining traction in principle.  The issue is that there are differing opinions as to what that plus-one system will look like.  Here are four main options under consideration by the conference commissioners (with my own advantage/disadvantage observations):

Option #1 – The Slive/Swofford Plan: Seeded Plus-One* – A seeded playoff between the top 4 teams using the BCS bowls and what most people think of when referring to a plus-one system.

  • Advantages: Taking the top 4 teams is the cleanest way to have a plus-one on paper.  It’s simple for any sports fan to understand.  From a conference perspective, the SEC, ACC and now Big 12 support this.  ESPN also wants a seeded format.
  • Disadvantages: Jim Delany and the Big Ten are explicitly against this, with presumably the Rose Bowl and Pac-12 in the same boat.  Those entities carry a disproportionate amount of power within college sports, so any proposal without their approval will be almost impossible to pass.  The bowls that aren’t semifinal games (particularly the Rose Bowl) would be diluted and drop significantly in value.

(* As a reminder, Mike Slive is the SEC commissioner and John Swofford is the ACC commissioner.  They jointly presented this proposal in 2008 to the rest of the conference commissioners and were promptly shot down.)

Option #2 – The Delany Plan: Old School Unseeded Plus-One – All bowls (including the current BCS bowls) revert to the pre-BCS system of choosing teams and tie-ins.  The national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.  The BCS itself would only exist to run the national championship game.

  • Advantages: Keeps and even enhances traditional tie-ins such as the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in the Rose Bowl (as their respective champions, even if they are ranked in the top 2 or 4, would always go to Pasadena again).  Despite public proclamations that he is against a plus-one system, Jim Delany and the Big Ten would likely agree to this plan (if only because they may see the writing on the wall that some type of plus-one is going to be passed).
  • Disadvantages: Not as clean as a seeded plus-one.  Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls still want a BCS designation (or something concrete to distinguish them from other bowls) in exchange for the payouts that they’re pumping into the system.

Option #3 – Four BCS Bowls Semi-seeded Plus-One Compromise – Each of the 4 BCS bowls would retain the conference champs from their traditional tie-ins (Rose has Big Ten and Pac-12, Sugar has SEC, Fiesta has Big 12 and Orange has ACC).  The Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls would then select at-larges in the order of the BCS ranking of their respective tie-in.  (For example, since the Sugar Bowl has #1 LSU as its tie-in, it would get the first at-large selection.)  As with Option #2, the national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.

  • Advantages: Possible compromise solution as it meets the Slive/Swofford and Delany Plans in the middle.  The tradition of the Rose Bowl is maintained, while the other BCS bowls are able to simultaneously retain their tie-ins and get rewarded if they have high-ranking teams in any given year.
  • Disadvantages: As with Option #2, not as clean as a seeded plus-one.  This would also move the BCS system back down to 8 bowl slots from the current 10.  None of the power conferences really want that, particularly the SEC and Big Ten (who have benefited the most from the 2 additional BCS bowl bids).  When Mike Slive and Jim Delany agree on something, what they say usually goes.

Option #4 – Five BCS Bowls Semi-seeded Plus-One Compromise – Same starting principle as Option #3 with the 4 current BCS bowls would retain the conference champs from their traditional tie-ins.  The Cotton Bowl or a newly created bowl (which I’ll explain later, but the Cotton will be referenced as a placeholder under this Option #4) would be added as a fifth BCS bowl.  Note that the Cotton (if it becomes the 5th BCS bowl) would NOT take the Big 12 tie-in from the Fiesta, as many people speculated would be possible.

If a top 4 team is not a member of league that has a tie-in with a BCS bowl (in the current world, the Big East and the 5 non-AQ conferences), such team would go to the Cotton Bowl.  In the event that there are multiple top 4 teams that are outside of the “Big 5” conferences, such as 2009 with #3 Cincinnati and #4 TCU, the higher ranked team would be placed in the Cotton.  The bowls would then select at-large teams in the order of the ranking of the respective “base” team that is either tied-in or allocated to them.

If there are no top 4 teams meeting that designation, then the highest ranked conference champion would get a Cotton bid provided that it is ranked in the top 12 and one of the other 4 legacy BCS bowls does not want to select that team.  In that situation, the Cotton would pick last after the other 4 BCS bowls for its at-large team.

Finally, if one of the 4 legacy BCS bowls chooses the non-Big 5 team or no non-Big 5 champion is ranked in the top 12, then the Cotton can select any two teams ranked in the top 14 after the other BCS bowls make their selections.

As the with Options #2 and #3, the national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.

  • Advantages: Like Option #3, it’s a compromise plan that meets the Slive/Swofford and Delany Plans in the middle while maintaining the traditional tie-ins.  It also keeps the current number of 10 BCS bowl bids.  The conferences outside of the Big 5 will still get access to top bowls if their champs are ranked highly enough.  Least amount of change to the current BCS system in terms of the teams that would actually be selected for bids compared to the other options, which is a plus in a college football world that has always engaged in incremental change.
  • Disadvantages: Like Options #2 and #3, this is not as clean as the seeded plus-one.

Some other overarching points that would apply regardless of which option is chosen:

(1) AQ status will likely “go away” but traditional tie-ins are preserved – There is a strong desire among the conference commissioners to eliminate the concept at AQ status, but there’s also a concurrent interest to preserve the traditional bowl tie-ins.  As I’ve stated in other posts, this seems like a matter of semantics where what used to be “AQ status” is now converted to being called “traditional tie-ins”, except that there’s no longer an automatic bid for the Big East or a mechanism for other conferences to achieve AQ status.  The non-AQ conferences apparently have more of an issue with the class distinction between AQ and non-AQ more than being provided with a chance to move up to AQ status.  This is somewhat understandable since if the Mountain West couldn’t move up after the successes that now former members TCU and Utah have had in the BCS system, there’s likely little hope for any of the non-AQ conferences to move up after the further raids by the Big East.  Speaking of which, preventing further raids by the Big East is likely another motivating factor for the MWC and Conference USA since the people in Providence would’t make moves simply for AQ numbers anymore (although I still believe that any Mount USA Alliance member would still jump to the Big East even without AQ status).

(2) Two team per conference limit to BCS likely eliminated – The Big Ten and SEC are likely getting their way on this issue with the BCS bowls being allowed to take 3 or more teams from a conference in a given year.  Why would any of the other conferences agree to this?  Let’s get to the next point…

(3) Somewhat more equitable revenue distribution– The current non-AQ conferences seem to be willing to possibly give up some access to the BCS bowls in exchange for (a) a better shot at the national title game via a plus-one system and (b) mo money mo money mo money.  Now, to be sure, the current AQ conferences would retain the lion’s share of BCS bowl revenue.  You might see the current 90% control of bowl revenue by the power conferences move down to 85% or 80%.  However, that’s mitigated by the anticipated increase in revenue from a plus-one game.  As with anything dealing with financial issues, this sounds simple in theory, yet how the revenue is distributed is probably going to be the toughest issue to agree upon out of anything in a new BCS system (much more so than whether there’s a plus-one system in the first place).As an example of what’s being floated out there, my contact presented a revenue distribution proposal that replaced the AQ/non-AQ designation with an Equity/Participating model.  A set percentage of BCS revenue (approximately 70%) would be in an “Equity Pool”.  Each conference with at least 3/4ths of its members that were original BCS members (all current AQ conferences except for the Big East) would be an “Equity Member” and receive one equal share of the Equity Pool.  Notre Dame would also be a Equity Member and receive approximately 1/12.4ths of a share of the equity pool.  (The average Equity Member has 12.4 members, so that’s how the Notre Dame share was calculated.)  After that, 10% of the BCS revenue would be in a “Participating Pool”.  The 6 non-Equity conferences would be “Participating Members”, where each of those leagues would receive one equal share of the Participating Pool.  Independents Navy, Army and BYU would receive proportional shares similar to Notre Dame, but only out of this Participating Pool.  The remaining 20% would then be in a “Selection Pool” that would be divided into 10 equal shares, with 1 share awarded for each BCS bowl bid earned by a conference.Note that this is just one revenue sharing proposal, but it seems that the current AQ conferences may be willing to bend a little on revenue sharing in exchange for a more traditional approach to BCS bowl access.  Of course, even under this proposal (which is coming from a non-AQ conference contact), the Big 5 could still receive up to 90% of the BCS money if they receive all of the BCS bowl bids.

(4) New BCS bowl might be created instead of elevating the Cotton Bowl (or a different bowl like the Capital One) – The Cotton Bowl gets mentioned a lot as a fifth BCS bowl option since there’s an assumption that Jerry Jones can buy whatever he wants, but let’s remember that the bowl still only gets the third or fourth selection from the SEC and is behind the Capital One Bowl (which has a stadium that’s a complete dump despite the holiday vacation-friendly Orlando location) in the pecking order.  So, Jerry Jones actually has very little power in college sports matters.  (Heck, he’s only been able to buy one NFL playoff win in 15 years.)  On the flip side, the Big 12 and SEC don’t necessarily want to give up the Cotton Bowl as one of the most prestigious non-BCS bowls, as they’d have to find other tie-ins that may not pay as well.  As a result, one possible solution is to avoid elevating an existing bowl altogether and have the BCS create an entirely new bowl that can be auctioned off to a new corporate sponsor and venue (or even have it rotate to multiple venues).  So, this new BCS bowl might still be played in Jerry World but would be entirely separate from the Cotton Bowl.

So, there’s a ton to chew on here.  My personal feeling is that Option #4 is going to happen – an unseeded format is really the only way you’ll get the Big Ten on board (and they’re necessary to push this through).  While a lot of people characterize me as a BCS defender, that’s definitely not the case (as evidenced by the multiple proposals that I’ve written about on how to change the system over the years).  I simply recognize the financial and access parameters in place that are fairly intractable, so the best that we can realistically hope for is incremental change.  (Note that even “Death to the BCS” author and 16-team playoff proponent Dan Wetzel, who I don’t always agree with, largely comes to the same conclusion in this very level-headed and practical discussion with Stewart Mandel about the BCS and plus-one options.  It’s definitely worth listening to as it also features an appearance by the great @DanBeebe.)  Option #4 balances such change with traditions such as the Rose Bowl, so that would be a great place to start.

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

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

Big East Expansion: The Big Country Conference Lives!

After what seemed like a dozen false alarms over the past few weeks, the Big East is poised to finally add Houston, SMU and UCF as all-sports members and Boise State and San Diego State as football-only members with the schools joining for the 2013 season.  Navy won’t be able to join until after 2014, which likely means that Air Force won’t come until that time, as well.  (Colorado Spring Gazette Air Force beat writer Frank Schwab has been fairly consistent over the past month that the decision for the academy is actually extremely tough.  It’s interesting to recall back in September that Air Force appeared much more enthusiastic about joining the Big East than Navy, but now the roles have switched.)

A year ago, I wrote this post proposing that the Big East ought to form a conference by adding football-only members from the West (which I called the “Big Country Conference”) while keeping the hybrid intact for non-football sports.  While the actual schools have changed a bit as a result of defections to the ACC and Big 12 and my proposal was for a 16-school football league, it delights me to no end that the Big East is effectively going to employ this format conceptually.

Would anyone choose to build what the Big East is going to look like from scratch?  Heck no!  It’s a Frankenstein-looking conference spanning from the northeast corner to its southwestern border with football-only members and non-football members.  (I keep imagining that John Marinatto’s press conference to announce the new alignment will look like this.)  However, there are really only three conferences that are in 100% control their own destinies (Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) and another that is reasonably assured of not suffering of any defections (ACC).  We’ve already seen everyone that had the ability to leave the Big 12 do so, which indicates that conference stability is virtually impossible outside of those top 4 AQ conferences.  As a result, in terms of a triage procedure to keep a viable football league alive, I actually believe the new Big East/Big Country looks pretty good.  All of the current Big East members might still always look for greener pastures (see my last post about possible Big 12 expansion scenarios), but that doesn’t mean much if other conferences aren’t reciprocating.  Therefore, they needed to make their current home as strong as possible and the best way to do that was adding the top non-AQ schools from the west (particularly Boise State).  Limiting themselves to only more geographically friendly schools from Conference USA or the MAC would’ve been a major mistake.  As ugly as the new conference might look on a map, it really doesn’t matter much as a football-only entity.  The real travel concerns come from having non-revenue sports traveling across the country, which won’t be happening here with the western outposts being football-only members.

Regardless of whether AQ status for BCS bowls exists in a few years, the schools that are about to join the Big East are going to be better off, as well.  Houston, SMU and UCF would be in a moving to a stronger top-to-bottom all-sports conference even without the football consideration.  At the same time, those that follow conference realignment closely know that TV money is really the largest financial driver for moves.  San Diego State has apparently been told by outside media consultants that the projected low end for the new Big East TV contract would be $6.4 million per year per school for just football compared to $1.5 million per year for all sports in the Mountain West.  The increased TV money alone would be enough to justify Boise State and San Diego State to sign on as football-only members.  Finally, it’s a classic “bird in the hand” situation regarding the AQ status of the Big East.  Many people speculate that the Big East would lose such status, but that’s simply all it is at this point: speculation.  All we know is that if Boise State was a member of the Big East this season, they’d probably be heading to the Orange Bowl as opposed to a pre-Christmas bowl in Las Vegas for the second consecutive year.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with Vegas.)  To the extent there’s an overhaul of the BCS system, it’s likely going to look more like the Jim Delany Proposal of a more exclusive club consisting of those on the inside, so this is effectively the only way that schools like Boise State will even have a chance of being part of college football’s power structure.  If they get kicked out of that power structure in a few years, then they’ll still be no worse off than if they didn’t take the chance and just stayed in the Mount USA (the Mountain West/C-USA Alliance).

While the Big East has made a lot of mistakes over the years, the fact of the matter is that the conference doomed to be perpetually unstable the day that Penn State joined the Big Ten.  Couple that with the fact that Miami was always going to take an ACC invite if it ever came their way and it would never have mattered if the Big East would’ve split up its hybrid structure or added more football members earlier.  Every Big East member would have still left for one of the other AQ conferences if they had the choice, so the league would have been in the same position today from a big picture standpoint.  Of course, as we’ve now seen, every Mountain West and C-USA school would leave for the Big East in a heartbeat, as well.  They know that being in an unstable conference that might only have AQ status for a couple of more years is still a more valuable home than any of the non-AQ conferences.  The Big East did the best that they could do with the pieces they could reasonably work with and from a pure competitive football standpoint, the new setup looks like it’s going to be an entertaining league.  In a Big Country Conference, dreams stay with you.

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

(Image from blog.mcall.com)

Big 12 Expansion Options: Every New Beginning is Some Other Beginning’s End

Tis’ the season for debating who’s the #2 team in the country (personally, I feel that Oklahoma State’s better wins trump Alabama’s better loss) and unsubstantiated Internet rumors spreading like wildfire.  Coaches are getting hired and fired, conferences are giving away free tickets to championship games, BCS systems are about to get dismantled*, the founder of Jimmy John’s is going to bankroll a Division I hockey program at Illinois and, of course, the Big 12 is getting ready to kill the Big East again.  Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman lit a match the other day stating that the Big 12 presidents would be discussing expansion again this week while Big East Coast Bias passed along some tidbits that Louisville football coaches were telling recruits that the school would be switching conferences soon.  If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that I’ve never, ever, ever heard of a coach misleading a high profile recruit in order to induce him to commit to a program.  Why do you think Urban Meyer was named after a pope?  A coach stretching the truth with a recruit would be an unprecedented event in the history of the NCAA, so what’s being passed along by the Louisville coaches must be ironclad solid information.

(* With the prospect of a return to a late-90s bowl system, I sincerely wracked my brain to think of a way to incorporate a Semisonic reference into my last post, but to no avail.  Lo and behold, Grantland published a full-scale analysis the very next day about the staying power of the band’s singular hit “Closing Time” after all of these years.  Note that this song came out right smack dab in the middle of my college years and I allegedly went to a lot of bars during that time period where this had to be played every night at last call, so that Grantland piece was right in my wheelhouse.  My nomination for a contemporary song that will be the equivalent of “Closing Time” in the next 10 to 15 years: Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”.  It’s a peppy song that can be played in a whole variety of venues (it seems to be inexplicably replacing the more topical “Freeze Frame” by the J. Geils Band as the standard crowd music during NFL replay challenges), slightly kitschy but not so much where it crosses into limited life gimmicky territory (unlike many songs by Katy Perry and that no talent assclown Ke$ha), and incredibly simple earwormy lyrics that everyone from toddlers to grandmothers can instantly remember.  Let me know if you have any other suggestions, but I have a feeling that “Dynamite” is going to still be played in every club across America at least once per evening in 2020.)

(** Furthering the college nostalgia kick, my best friend from college (a random freshman roommate placement success story) and I ate enough sandwiches at the Urbana Jimmy John’s at 3 a.m. to fund their entire expansion into Chicagoland.  We deserve a hockey team, dammit!)

So, let’s enter into a mode of suspension of disbelief where there is a world that allows the Big 12 to make more television revenue by going to 12 schools instead of staying at 10 and Texas is willing to add more members.  From what I see, there are three potential pairings from the Big East – two of them have been talked about quite a bit, while the third is what I would do if I were Big 12 commissioner:

Conservative Option: Add Louisville and Cincinnati – This is the straightforward geographically-friendlyish option that would connect West Virginia with the rest of the Big 12.  The problem that I see here is that if the Big 12 really wanted to go this route, it would’ve been done already.  There aren’t any strings attached to these schools in the manner of BYU, so this is too easy of a move for the Big 12 to be waiting on as an ultimate plan.  (The same could be said about the prospect of the ACC taking both Rutgers and UConn.  If that was really the league’s expansion plan, it would’ve been done months ago.)  I’ve always believed Louisville was a very viable option for the Big 12, but Cincinnati seems like they’re being used as a stalking horse in the same manner that the Big Ten used Missouri and Rutgers.  The next option has a slight variation…

Aggressive Option: Add Louisville and Rutgers – This scenario was given credence in an interview by Oklahoma president David Boren, who mentioned both of these schools by name in connection with future Big 12 expansion.  While Rutgers obviously has a distance disadvantage from the rest of the Big 12, the addition of West Virginia has made a potential move further into the Northeast much more palatable.  West Virginia is actually about equidistant from both Rutgers and Louisville (about a 6 hour 30 minute drive from each), so Morgantown could be looked as a geographic pivot point.  The Big Ten and ACC may not find Rutgers delivers enough of the New York/New Jersey market to justify adding them, but the Big 12 has a lot more leeway to take a risk there.  This scenario seems much more realistic to me with more upside for the Big 12 compared to a Louisville/Cincinnati combo.  However, there’s one other option that I haven’t really seen…

Nor’easter Option: Add Rutgers and UConn as all-sports members and Notre Dame as a non-football member – Whoa!  You’re probably asking what I’m thinking here.  Well, let’s go back to the premise that West Virginia makes further inroads into the Northeast much more feasible for the Big 12.  Rutgers and UConn as a pair would have a much more powerful network effect in the Tri-State area than if Rutgers was taken alone.  Just as the theory when those schools were being considered for the Big Ten was that visiting schools like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State would drive interest in the New York City metro, it would be the same with Texas and Oklahoma coming in to play.

If there’s one thing that the Big 12 showed when it chose West Virginia over Louisville as school number 10, it was that when push came to shove, old money trumped the noveau riche.  Rutgers is certainly old money as a participant in the very first college football game.  Meanwhile, UConn is a very interesting case that makes it difficult to judge how other power conferences value them in realignment.  From a pure football standpoint, UConn is a newbie with a Division I-A program that isn’t even a decade old yet.  This is a massive negative to the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC that I don’t think many realignment observers and UConn supporters fully appreciate.  Power conferences want to see a long football history, even if it’s a bad one like Rutgers has.  (If UConn ultimately gets left behind while other Big East teams leave for greener pastures, it will be for this reason.  That would be a shame as UConn really has done a pretty good job building up the respectability of its football program in a very short period of time.)  However, UConn looks like an old money school in other ways as a flagship university with solid academics and an extended history of success in the Big East in non-football sports (especially men’s and women’s basketball).  Fitting for a Big East school, it’s truly a hybrid.

We also need to take into account the gorilla waiting in the mist: Notre Dame.  Recall that DeLoss Dodds has openly stated that he would happy to invite Notre Dame as a non-football member and Chip Brown reported that the Irish were looking to do just that.  So, Texas is certainly on the record that it’s willing to play ball with Notre Dame in their quest to preserve independence, and where Texas goes, the Big 12 usually follows.  If the Big 12 were to add Rutgers and UConn, that would remove a massive reservation that Notre Dame has in joining that conference, which is that it doesn’t have any Northeastern presence as of now.  This ends up being a pretty good setup for Notre Dame where it would be in a league that has a couple of East Coast schools along with other athletic departments like Texas that are much more like financial peers to the Irish (unlike the other Catholic members of the Big East).

To be sure, I’ve previously warned that the non-Texas Big 12 members may not be keen on allowing Notre Dame to have partial membership as that would set a dangerous precedent for Texas to do the exact same thing down the road (which would be disastrous for the rest of the Big 12).  Still, there are certainly benefits if Notre Dame agrees to an iron-clad scheduling arrangement where the Irish play 3 or 4 games per year (which is much more realistic than the 6 suggested by Brown) against Big 12 opponents.  Schools that would not get a sniff of an opportunity to play Notre Dame would get to do so and a couple Domer games per year would get into the Big 12’s TV package.  Plus, there’s value to the Big 12 in keeping Notre Dame as an independent.  Notre Dame is an effective requirement in order for either the Big Ten or ACC to expand, and if either of them get the Irish, they could very well grab more Big 12 teams (most notably Texas itself) on top.  (The same applies to the Big East, which is why that conference was always willing to tow the line for Notre Dame.  The Irish could unilaterally sign the death warrant of the league at any time by joining either the Big Ten or ACC.)  The point is that if any conference is going to kill the Big East, they’re going to want to do it in a way where either Notre Dame joins such conference or stays independent.  What no one wants to do is kill the Big East and then see Notre Dame head to some other league for football.

The Big 12’s lack of consensus of whether it should be at 10 or 12 members is inherently because there aren’t obvious options that jump out at them.  Most expansion candidates for the league have some type of major flaw (i.e. small market, bad geography, not great football program, etc.), so that makes it difficult to achieve an agreement on any moves.  Getting Notre Dame involved, though, can change the equation drastically for the Big 12.  If adding Rutgers and UConn is the combo that ultimately induces the Irish to move its non-football sports to the Big 12, then that’s something I could see the conference pulling the trigger.  Semisonic really does sum up conference realignment well: every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.

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

(Image from MP3Crank)