A 5-Step Summer Plan to Save the ACC

Rumors continue to abound that Florida State and Clemson are looking to leave the ACC for the Big 12.  In the myopic world of conference realignment, a quote from Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas that his conference has tabled expansion for now is met with rolling eyes (and considering the track record of half-hearted denials and misleading statements on this topic over the past couple of years, it’s not surprising).  I had been thinking for the past week about putting together a 5-step plan to save the ACC (to the extent that it needs saving).  Tony Barnhart of CBS Sports actually beat me to it with the same concept here, but while he has a couple of good ideas under steps 4 (scheduling arrangement with the SEC) and 5 (top tier bowl game) that I had been also thinking about, the first step (the old Al Davis motto of “Just Win, Baby”) isn’t possible this summer, while his third step (talk to Notre Dame) is praying for a miracle as opposed to a plan.  Most importantly, Barnhart’s second step (getting Florida State to stay) is what the ACC specifically needs a plan for in the first place (not just a step in an overall plan).  With all of that in mind, here’s my own 5-step plan to strengthen the ACC this summer:

(1) Change the Football Divisional Alignment to North/South – As much as people have talked about national conferences and TV markets with respect to realignment, the only expansion among the five power conferences into a non-contiguous state was the Big 12 with West Virginia.  (The Big East, of course, expanded into a couple of different continents.)  Geography is still a powerful factor for both conferences and schools as isolated members tend to end up being unhappy members over the long-term.  That factor ought to weigh heavily on Florida State and Clemson in terms of staying in the ACC as they would largely be isolated members of the Big 12 outside of being in the same time zone as West Virginia.  However, the ACC’s football non-geographic divisional alignment largely takes that geographical argument off the table.  Currently, Florida State and Clemson only have Wake Forest and North Carolina State as fellow southeastern members in the Atlantic Division.  Here’s how I would re-align the ACC:

Boston College
Virginia Tech

Florida State
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
N.C. State
Wake Forest

Florida State-Miami and UNC-UVA would be protected cross-division rivalries, for sure.  It’s probably not necessary for the other schools to have cross-division rivals, but the schools can set them up that way if they want to.  Miami is placed in the North Division despite being the southernmost school because it’s really a Northeastern school in terms of culture and character, which was why the Hurricanes insisted on bringing along Boston College and (originally) Syracuse in the ACC raid of the Big East in 2003.

Does a change in the divisional alignment alone cause Florida State or Clemson to stay if they really want to go?  Probably not.  However, geography can be extremely important as part of the overall package of factors to persuade those schools to stay.

(2) Lobby the Faculty Members at Florida State and Clemson – There’s a continuous debate as to whether academics ought to matter in terms of formulating athletic conferences.  This has played out at Florida State at the highest levels, where the school’s chair of the Board of Trustees took an almost anti-intellectual viewpoint of stating that “[c]onference affiliation has no impact on academics”, while the university’s president took the opposite view that “the faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker.”  My take is pretty simple: conferences would rather have better academic schools than not, while schools would rather have a better academic conference than not.  That’s not to say academics are completely outcome determinative – the Big Ten chose Nebraska not because it was the best academic school available, but rather it was the best football program with acceptable academics available.  However, the point is that the Big Ten actually does have an academic threshold that potential expansion candidates need to meet.  The only other FBS conferences that have a legitimate academic threshold are the ACC and Pac-12.  It’s a strong calling card for those three conferences, whether football fans want to admit it or believe that it should even be a factor.

It’s one thing if you’re an academic heavyweight such as Vanderbilt or Texas where conference affiliation isn’t going to impact academic perception.  However, are Florida State and Clemson in that same category?  Do the faculty members at those two schools want to go from a conference where academic prestige is a clear value-added to one where it’s net neutral?  (Please note that I’m not saying that the Big 12 doesn’t care about academics or is made up of poor academic institutions.  However, the ACC, much like the Big Ten and Pac-12, have made a conscious decision in targeting highly-ranked academic schools in a way that other conference haven’t.)  This is new territory in the modern world of conference realignment where two schools would leave a conference that’s higher on the academic pecking order, which is a reason why I’ve stated previously that this isn’t anywhere near the no-brainer decision that Nebraska had in moving to the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah had in moving to the Pac-12, Missouri and Texas A&M had in moving to the SEC, Pitt and Syracuse had in moving to the ACC and West Virginia and TCU had in moving to the Big 12.

Much like the geography factor, the outcry of faculty may not overshadow the wishes of blood-thirsty fan and donor bases.  However, academics are certainly critical (let’s not forget that’s why colleges exist in the first place) and it’s an asset that the ACC needs to pound publicly and privately over and over and over and over again if it wants to avoid defections.

(3) Change the Football Scheduling to Appease Florida State and Clemson – The supposed ACC bias in having Florida State and Clemson play tough conference opponents (if not each other) right before their in-state rivalry games with SEC schools Florida and South Carolina, respectively, seems to be a popular complaint among Seminole and Tiger fans.  From an outside view, this seems to be more of a piling on conference leadership when fan bases are simply convinced that everything is being controlled by Tobacco Road (similar to how Big 12 schools view Texas and Big East members look at Providence).  Still, scheduling concessions are an easy give from the ACC’s leaders that takes a red meat on-the-field issue that has been firing up the Big 12 supporting crowd off the table.

(4) Sign an Orange Bowl Tie-in with Notre Dame as the Opponent – This suggestion was the subject of some unsubstantiated message board rumors, but the concept itself makes sense.  Now the Big 12 and SEC champions are locked-in with each other in a bowl and the Big Ten and Pac-12 are obviously bound to the Rose Bowl, the feeling is that the ACC is left standing in the proverbial game of bowl musical chairs.  Should the ACC be sending its champion to play, say, the #2 selection from the Big Ten or SEC?  If I were running the ACC, that might ultimately be acceptable and there are plenty of bowls that would take that matchup in a heartbeat, but that would also be a tough pill to swallow psychologically and in terms of the perception of the league in the college football power structure.  As an alternative, does the ACC really want to play the Big East champ?  That would likely be even less desirable to the powers that be within the ACC and to the bowls themselves.

There’s one power player without a bowl dance partner, though: Notre Dame.  I’ve never been one to believe that the Irish have anything to worry about in terms of qualifying for the new college football playoff (even in a conference champs only format, the TV networks at the very least will insist that an exception will be made for a top 4 independent).  However, the new bowl world outside of the semifinals might be a different story.  In the current system, Notre Dame had access to potential at-large spots in the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls.  It’s very unclear whether the concept of at-large bids will exist in the future – the Fiesta Bowl, for instance, could decide to sign with the Big Ten and Big 12 for their second selections.  The Irish might not have the bowl flexibility that they have had up to this point.  On the flip side, though, is that the new system may present an opportunity for Notre Dame to sign directly with a top tier bowl that would always rather take a 4-loss Notre Dame team as opposed to, say, a 1-loss Conference USA school.

Note that despite the perception that the ACC is toxic horse manure to the top tier bowls, somehow (1) the ACC championship game loser ended up getting a Sugar Bowl at-large bid last year instead of an almighty Big 12 school ranked at #8, (2) the highest paid bowl tie-in outside of the BCS and the Big Ten #2 and SEC #2 slots in the Capital One Bowl is actually the ACC #2 tie-in to the Chick-fil-A Hallelujah That They’re in Chicagoland Now Bowl (NOT the almighty Big 12 #2 tie-in to the supposedly endless flow of cash from the Jerry Jones Cotton Bowl) and (3) a quick look at the top-to-bottom bowl tie-ins indicates that the ACC is, at the very least, has more leverage than the Pac-12 (whose overall bowl depth weakness is masked by the Rose Bowl tie-in at the very top).  All of those facts indicate that the ACC champion isn’t going to have a problem getting a top bowl slot.  The only question is who the ACC champ will end up facing.  The ACC and Notre Dame are the two most powerful players and brand names left that aren’t paired up, so it’s natural and logical that they could end up with each other in a bowl.  It’s the best value proposition that’s available to both entities with the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big12 off the table.

(5) Push ESPN to Maintain Value of TV Contract if There are Defections – There might be a point where the fan bases at Florida State and Clemson are putting such overwhelming pressure in favor of a move to the Big 12 (similar to Texas A&M fans wanting the SEC last year) that the schools end up defecting to the ACC.  At that point, the ACC’s goal shifts to preventing a complete unraveling of the league.  Personally, I don’t buy that Armageddon situation at all (as we saw the Big 12 and Big East suffer even more crippling defections with dire predictions of those leagues dying, yet they’re still kicking), but the ACC still has to be proactive to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

This is pretty simple: agree with ESPN that even if Florida State and Clemson leave, ESPN won’t reduce the value of the recently signed ACC TV contract (which averages a bit over $17 million per school per year).  There’s pretty clear precedent for this scenario with ESPN agreeing to do the same with the Big 12 in 2010 and then coming to an understanding with the Big 12 again in 2011 to have a new contract extension.  As I’ve noted in a previous post, the ACC is actually the single largest content provider to ESPN of any sports entity (whether college or pro), so there’s even less incentive for ESPN to see the ACC break apart compared to the Big 12 (with whom ESPN has a much more limited package) the last couple of years.  Contrary to what many fans seem to believe, ESPN has a significant interest in not seeing the formation of superconferences because they do not want to deal with concentrated power entities that have NFL-type negotiating leverage.  Dispersal of power is how ESPN is able to keep college sports rights fees somewhat in check.  (To put rights fees in perspective, the Big Ten, which is the wealthiest conference, currently receives about $100 million per year from ESPN/ABC for first tier rights.  By comparison, ESPN pays over $100 million per game to the NFL for Monday Night Football.)

The irony of this scenario is that would kick in over $2 million in TV money per year extra to each of the remaining 12 ACC schools, which would raise their total annual per school payouts to close to the $20 million level that the Big 12 is reportedly negotiating with ESPN and Fox.  So, Florida State and Clemson could end up leaving for more TV money in the Big 12, which would actually result in an increase in TV money for the rest of the ACC that would match what the Big 12 schools receive.  That would certainly be enough to take TV rights fees off the table as an issue for the remaining ACC members.

These are 5 realistic steps that the ACC can take without having to compromise on their core principles (such as equal sharing of TV revenue).  I’ve said before that I believe that the ACC is stronger than what many football fans give it credit for.  That statement is certainly being put to the test right now.

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

(Image from Zimbio)

Bowling for Dollars: New SEC/Big 12 Bowl and Realignment Rumors

The SEC and Big 12 had a major announcement this past Friday that the two conferences are creating a new bowl pitting their champions against each other (provided that in the event either or both champions end up in the new college football playoff, the bowl will select other “deserving” teams from those conferences). Coupled with ongoing speculation that at least Florida State is looking to move to the Big 12 (with possibly Clemson following behind them), conference realignment fever is back once again. Let’s breakdown a number of questions that have come up regarding the new playoff system and conference movements in the wake of recent news:

(1) How will the new SEC/Big 12 bowl impact the college football postseason? – I’ll give the lawyerly answer that it could range from having very little impact to having a massive impact, with the likely outcome being somewhere in between. Here are the three main scenarios:

(a) Low Impact Scenario: Semifinals Rotated Among Bowls – If the new college football semifinals are simply rotated through 5 or 6 bowls on a regular basis, then this new SEC/Big 12 bowl won’t look too much different than the current Cotton Bowl matchup in most years despite all of the superlatives being thrown around in the media. (To be sure, the perception of where the conferences stand as a result of this new bowl is more important than the matchup itself, which I’ll get to later on.) All this is doing is effectively moving a team that would have played in the Fiesta Bowl to play the SEC champ in the Sugar Bowl (or whichever bowl or site ends up with the new matchup). It creates a clear separation of the Rose Bowl and the SEC/Big 12 bowl from the others in terms of the quality of the matchup and prestige, but doesn’t really impact the nature of the playoff itself in this scenario.

(b) Moderate Impact Scenario: Semifinals Slotted According to Bowl Tie-ins – What’s interesting is that out of all of the hub-bub about the SEC/Big 12 bowl on Friday, very little was mentioned by the media about a playoff format that received a ton of positive traction after last month’s BCS meetings: the semifinal matchups could be slotted according to bowl tie-ins (e.g. a #1 Big Ten champ would play the #4 team in the Rose Bowl, a #2 SEC champ would play the #3 team in the Sugar Bowl, etc.). Under that format, this new SEC/Big 12 bowl is fairly important since, just by basic arithmetic, a bowl with two contractual tie-ins is going to have a higher chance of hosting a semifinal than a bowl with only one tie-in and in practicality, a bowl with two tie-ins with conferences that have performed as well on the field as the SEC and Big 12 lately has an even higher chance of being a semifinal site.

If semifinals are slotted according to tie-ins, it would even further separate the Rose Bowl and the SEC/Big 12 bowl from the others. For example, if the playoff system were to use the selection criteria I proposed here (take the top 3 teams regardless of conference affiliation and the 4th spot goes to the highest ranked of a top4 independent or top 6 conference champ, and if those aren’t available, then it goes the #4-ranked team that isn’t a conference champ/independent), then the Rose Bowl and the SEC/Big 12 bowl would have hosted both semifinals every single year since the BCS system was overhauled in 2005 with the exception of 2009. The Rose Bowl and SEC/Big 12 bowl would more likely than not be semifinal sites on an annual basis.

(c) High Impact Scenario: Return of the Unseeded Plus-One or 4 Teams Plus – An unseeded plus-one system should be dead. The outcome of the BCS meetings indicated the support for a 4-team playoff and the Big Ten (who would have been most likely to fight for a plus-one) has come to a consensus that it supports it at a high level. However, Pete Thamel of the New York Times threw this wrinkle in his commentary on the new SEC/Big 12 bowl:

One notion that became more viable that had long been disregarded is an actual Plus One — the often misused term for a one-game playoff after the bowls are played. If all the power in football is consolidated in the Big Ten, the SEC, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 — especially if teams flee the A.C.C. — could the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl serve as de facto national semifinals and the top-ranked teams play a title game?

It wouldn’t be a playoff, technically. And it would alienate fans, who want simplicity after years of frustration and confusion. But there is an argument that will be heard in the next few weeks that the four league title games would be (essentially) quarterfinals, the Rose and Champions Bowl semifinals and the Plus One game a title game in most years.

Remember the “4 Teams Plus” idea from reportedly Jim Delany that had the Rose Bowl matchup guaranteed to be the Big Ten champs vs. Pac-12 champs regardless of ranking and then the four highest-ranked teams outside of the participants in Pasadena would play each other? Pretty much everyone outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12 hated that idea at the time, but that sentiment could theoretically change quite a bit if the new SEC/Big 12 bowl also had a protected matchup just like the Rose Bowl.

Let’s say the the Big Ten champs and Pac-12 champs would always play each other in the Rose Bowl, the SEC and Big 12 champs would always play each other in their new bowl, and then the 4 highest ranked teams outside of that group would play in two other bowls. Would the ACC, Big East and other conferences actually like that format better since they’d have a better chance to be in that “other 4” group than in a pure top 4 playoff? Would the SEC and Big 12 like having de facto bids to a semifinal game every year?

Personally, I think we’re so far down the path of going toward a 4-team playoff that to reverse course suddenly isn’t realistically possible. However, no one can put it past for the rulers of college football to muddy the waters quickly. My guess is that we’ll end up with the Moderate Impact Scenario because it’s a way to enhance the values of both the Rose Bowl and the new SEC/Big 12 bowl without going away from a 4-team playoff. Speaking of which…

(2) What do the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl think of the new SEC/Big 12 bowl? – A lot of media-types enjoy playing up a supposed rivalry between the Big Ten and SEC and, in turn, want to project a similar rivalry between the Rose Bowl and the new SEC/Big 12 bowl. However, as I’ve said several times before, when it comes down to revenue sharing, which is what is truly contentious about the new postseason system (much more than which teams actually get into the playoff), Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive are brothers-in-arms: they believe that they should receive a helluva lot more money than everyone else.

Up until now, much of the college football playoff debate has been characterized as the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl standing in the way of everyone else. Now, that trifecta has company, where the SEC and Big 12 have similar self-interests to protect the value of their new bowl. Frankly, this new SEC/Big 12 bowl is the best thing that could have happened to the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl since there are now 4 heavyweight conferences seeking to maximize their respective bowl tie-ins (instead of just 2).

(3) Does the new SEC/Big 12 bowl mean that Florida State and Clemson are heading to the Big 12? – Not necessarily, but each new bit of news indicates that it’s more likely than each passing day. I’ll fully admit again to being a long-time skeptic of any Big 12 poaching of ACC schools and still believe that it would be a bad idea for Florida State to move (unlike Texas A&M and Missouri, who were 110% correct in moving to the SEC), yet if the money is good enough, no one can actually be surprised at this point. The new bowl game itself really isn’t a game changer – as I’ve stated above, it may end up being the current Cotton Bowl matchup most years under different management. However, the perception of where the conferences stand seems to have changed, which is a much larger take-away. If the mighty SEC deems the Big 12 worthy to have their respective champions play each other, then by extension, the SEC sees the Big 12 as an equal. That viewing of equality between the SEC and Big 12 is certainly a massive change from last September when the SEC raided the Big 12 of two key schools and Ken Starr was ready to use any legal means necessary to stop it.

I don’t know if the new SEC/Big 12 bowl is the panacea of revenue and power that many SEC and Big 12 partisans are trying to make it out to be, but the new deal is really the first indication to me that the Big 12 is truly stable. Oh sure, I wasn’t one to believe that the Big 12 would completely collapse. I haven’t been a subscriber that Texas would be moving anywhere ever since the Longhorn Network was started. At the same time, UT’s modus operandi has been to run a conference in the same way that Notre Dame wants independence in and of itself as opposed to money (which I’ll expand upon further in a moment) and the Big 12 was always in position to get a great TV as long the Longhorns and Oklahoma in the fold. The conference members even agreed to grant its TV rights to the league for the next 13 years in the same way that the Big Ten and Pac-12 already do, which means that even if a school were to leave, such school’s TV rights would still be retained by the Big 12.

Still, it all felt like a situation where there was one big dog in the room (Texas) that had enough power by itself to throw just enough cash out to make the others stay (even if they would all leave if the Big Ten, SEC or Pac-12 came calling). A league with a healthy backbone doesn’t lose Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri (all 4 of whom are valuable schools) in the span of 14 months. What the new bowl deal indicates is that the Big 12 has something beyond the value of its current TV contracts to provide. That’s a big change from the chaos of 2010 and 2011.

Is that enough for Florida State to move? In turn, if this new SEC/Big 12 bowl is going to be a massive revenue generator, how much is the Big 12 going to be willing to expand further? My feeling is that the new bowl isn’t a definitive objective catalyst for major conference changes, but it plays into the shift in the subjective belief that the Big 12 is in one of 4 power conferences while the ACC is on the outside.

(4) Is the ACC going to die? – If there’s one thing that I’ve noticed over the past couple of years in writing about conference realignment, it’s that people love apocalyptic scenarios. For example, if Florida State and Clemson leave for the Big 12, one thought is that schools such as Virginia Tech and North Carolina State might look toward the SEC and the Big Ten could end up getting Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke, which in turn would kill the ACC completely. In the same way that people slow down to watch car wrecks, it’s almost addictive to plot out ways how a conference can be destroyed.

My response to this: simmer down! Just look at the Big East, which has only two members that were playing football in the conference prior to the ACC raid of that league in 2003 (Rutgers and Temple), and one of which (Temple) was actually kicked out and only invited back after the league was raided again. If any conference should be dead, it ought to be the Big East. Despite of all of this, the Big East still lives on*.

(* Counterpoint: Maybe the Big East was never alive in the first place.)

Even in the worst case scenario for the ACC described above with the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC simultaneously raiding the conference, the ACC could still backfill with schools such as UConn and Rutgers and continue to exist in some form. In the more realistic scenario of the ACC losing 2 schools, the league could still choose to take in UConn and/or Rutgers or simply stand pat at 12 schools.

Remember what I stated a couple of weeks ago about the one rule that we have learned in conference realignment: Shit ALWAYS runs downhill. The ACC might get weakened or even mortally wounded, but it’s far from the bottom of the hill. If you’re a fan of a school in a conference other than the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, be careful in delighting too much about the ACC’s suddenly undesirable place in the college sports world, because you’re probably next in firing line.

(5) Can the ACC maintain a place at the big boy table? – I honestly believe that they can, even if they lose Florida State and/or others. My feeling is that UNC, UVA and Duke are wedded to the ACC as much as Texas is to the Big 12 and Michigan and Ohio State are to the Big Ten, and as long as those three schools are there, they’re going to have a seat at the power table. The on-the-field focused people might say, “Those schools haven’t done jackshit in football for years,” and they’d be correct. However, they are also three schools with disproportionate influence and power in the college sports governing structure due to their combination of athletics and academics.

To put the ACC onto the same level as the Big East is misguided. Even if the ACC is the #5 conference today, it’s still quite far ahead of #6 when considering its roster of flagship schools and top academic institutions. On-the-field, Virginia Tech likely would have been in a 4-team playoff last year if it hadn’t crapped the bed in the ACC Championship Game and I believe that it’s foolhardy to believe that Miami is going to be in some permanent funk considering its unbelievable recruiting location advantage, both in terms of local recruits and national allure to 18-year old kids to its campus and metro area, which is only comparable to USC. I’ve seen many arguments about why Miami supposedly won’t bounce back, such as its fair-weather fan base, off-campus stadium and the fact that it’s a private school. All of those certainly are disadvantages compared to the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world. However, what football recruiting ultimately comes down to is convincing 18-year old kids to commit to a program. As a 34-year old with a wife and twin 2-year olds, I might not want to live in Miami, but if I’m a single hotshot 18-year old recruit that is able to be on a gorgeous campus in a place with great weather and basically limitless extracurricular activities with beaches and models galore, I may have a vastly different set of priorities. Don’t count Miami out for the long-term. People were writing the same obituaries about the Hurricanes in the late-1990s, after which they promptly went on a dominant tear of success in the early-2000s.

On the bowl front, the ACC champion was never going to play the SEC or Big 12 champs in bowls, anyway, so the new SEC/Big 12 bowl won’t have a true practical impact. So, let’s say that the Orange Bowl ends up pitting the ACC champ versus Big Ten #2 or SEC #2. The Orange may not end up providing the same payout as the Rose Bowl or new SEC/Big 12 bowl, but it may actually end up being an upgrade compared to the current BCS system (where it seemed as if though the Orange got stuck with a less-than-desirable Big East school a disproportionate amount of the time).

There could also be a rotation from year-to-year among tie-ins either to account for semifinals or at-large bids in a new BCS system (or whatever it’s called). For purely the sake of discussion, let’s say that the Sugar Bowl becomes the home of the SEC/Big 12 bowl and then the Cotton and Capital One Bowls are elevated to top tier status. In year 1, the tie-ins could look like the following:

Rose Bowl: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
Sugar Bowl: SEC #1 vs. Big 12 #1
Orange Bowl: ACC #1 vs. SEC #2
Fiesta Bowl: Big Ten #2 vs. Big 12 #2
Capital One Bowl: at-large vs. at-large
Cotton Bowl: at-large vs. at-large

Then, the tie-ins would rotate the next year as follows:

Rose Bowl: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
Sugar Bowl: SEC #1 vs. Big 12 #1
Capital One Bowl: ACC #1 vs. Big Ten #2
Cotton Bowl: Big 12 #2 vs. SEC #2
Orange Bowl: at-large vs. at-large
Fiesta Bowl: at-large vs. at-large

Depending upon which format is used, the at-large bids can also be placeholders for the 4 teams that are playing in the semifinals of a playoff (or even the “other 4” in a 4 Teams Plus system). This way, conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC get bowl tie-ins in the markets that they care about the most regularly (Florida and Arizona in the case of the Big Ten, Florida and Texas in the case of the SEC) while not subjecting their fans to fatigue of having to travel to the same set of locales every year.

Regardless, the ACC still has assets to get a good bowl tie-in, even if it might not be great on the level of the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC or Big 12. I can’t really say the same about anyone else in the new system.

(6) What will Notre Dame do? – My 99% feeling is absolutely, positively nothing. There is .99% of me that thinks that Notre Dame could end up in the Big 12 as a non-football member, and I’ll leave a .01% chance that the Irish give up independence in football. As I’ve stated in several other posts, Notre Dame is NOT an independent as a result of money from its NBC deal. If Notre Dame simply wanted to make the most TV money possible, it would have chosen to be an equal revenue sharing member of the Big Ten. Instead, Notre Dame is independent because its alums have completely and thoroughly convinced themselves that independence in and of itself is the end game value that makes the Golden Dome special. I have a good number of Texas and Texas A&M readers and enjoy their stereotyping of each others’ fan bases – it’s what takes college sports fandom to another level beyond pro sports fandom. However, there is absolutely nothing compared to the laser-like unwavering focus that Notre Dame alums have upon independence with a groupthink that crushes every single other argument that the entire rest of the world deems to be “rational”. While Florida State alums might be wondering why the Seminoles aren’t maximizing their TV dollars as a member of the ACC, Notre Dame alums are the opposite and constantly on guard (and withholding large donations) about selling out independence for a few more dollars. Unlike many other schools, where members of the board of trustees might be political appointees, the alums are truly in control of Notre Dame.

The upshot is that Notre Dame alums aren’t rational regarding the issue of independence and that matters because they have the ultimate power at that school (as opposed to the board of trustees or the university president). As a result, attempting to use rational arguments to say, “Notre Dame needs to join a conference to be competitive for the college football playoff” or “Notre Dame could keep its NBC deal if they joined us instead of them” isn’t going to get anyone anywhere from South Bend on board with that. Believe me – I’ve tried.

For what it’s worth, the Domers aren’t completely irrational, either. BYU has a freaking TV deal worth millions of dollars per year with ESPN and Texas gets paid $15 million per year for bottom-of-the-barrel sports rights on the Longhorn Network, so the thought that Notre Dame couldn’t sell 7 home football games (of which there is guaranteed to be at least a game against Michigan or USC every year) for a price where it can more than afford to maintain independence is ridiculous. With every article, column, blog post and column that I see claiming that Notre Dame is “irrelevant”, I also see at least 3 power conferences (the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC) that would add the Irish in a heartbeat and if the Pac-12 and SEC were actually viable options, they’d take the Domers, too. Every power conference bending over backwards to add a school is the antithesis of irrelevance.

Now, could I see Notre Dame end up moving its non-football sports to the Big 12? That’s certainly possible if the Big East gets raided again, although if the Irish haven’t left the Big East by now when schools that it actually cared about such as Pitt, Syracuse and Miami left, it’s hard to see them getting too hung up about the likes of UConn, Rutgers or Louisville leaving. Let me put it another way: Notre Dame would absolutely take a non-football membership in the Big 12 before it would take an all-sports membership in the ACC or Big Ten because independence is truly the end game for the Irish. However, there shouldn’t be any assumption that the willingness of Notre Dame to take a non-football membership in the Big 12 has any bearing on whether the Irish would ever join the Big 12 for all-sports. The Big East already knows that very well.

There are countless possibilities of how the college football world is going to look by the end of the summer, whether it’s how conference realignment is finalized or what format will be used for a college football playoff. Some words of wisdom actually come from Chip Brown of Orangebloods, who stated that “it’s important to remember that realignment plays out in real time. So you have to keep up. If you want to keep score on stories like these, good luck. Everyone will. But you have to keep up, because what is true now, might not be true in a week, a month, a year.” Lots could be happening or nothing could be happening at all, but only time will tell.

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

(Image from Bleacher Report)

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Rumors of Florida State and the Big 12

For long-time readers of this blog, you know how important that I consider TV rights to be in shaping the world of sports, both college and pro.  It has driven conference realignment the past couple of years, convinced the reactionary leaders of college football to finally institute a playoff, turned the NFL into a financial juggernaut and exacerbated the differences in the fortunes of franchises in the NBA and Major League Baseball.  From the first post that I had in writing about Big Ten expansion, I emphasized how important that the TV revenue from the conference’s deals with ABC/ESPN and the Big Ten Network would be in luring a football power when most fans only thought about geography and historical rivalries.

However, it feels as though the world has gone in the other direction where even hardcore football fans seem to believe that TV revenue is all that matters in conference realignment.  That’s not quite correct, either, as I also tried to indicate in that original Big Ten Expansion post.  Factors such as academics and cultural fit matter if a conference wants to be strong for the long-term as opposed to just the length of the current TV contract.

So, it was quite amazing to me to witness Andy Haggard, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Florida State spew out inflammatory comments against the new ACC television deal with ESPN and suggest that the school should explore options with the Big 12.  Never mind that Haggard was wrong about the details of that TV deal that he was complaining about, which was subsequently corrected by Florida State president Eric Barron and caused Haggard to somewhat backtrack from his initial comments.  The damage is done – the Florida State blog and message board crowd, to the extent that they didn’t already believe that they weren’t getting screwed by the Tobacco Road crowd, are now wholeheartedly ready to sign over the deed to their athletic department to DeLoss Dodds.

Before I get into my opinion, I’ll give credit to The Dude from Eerinsider.com for writing about his belief that Florida State would be going to be Big 12 for several months.  Frankly, I still don’t know how people from West Virginia could know more about the intentions of schools such as Texas, Florida State, Clemson and Louisville than those schools’ own respective insiders and beat reporters, but The Dude has certainly been unwavering in his beliefs and deserves some kudos for, at the very least, socializing the idea that Florida State going to the Big 12 is viable.  I know that I and many others have been dismissive of that speculation, so I’ll need to eat some crow for that.

As for my opinion: if Florida State is seriously considering leaving the ACC for the Big 12, then that would be incredibly short-sighted.  This is the ultimate “penny wise and pound foolish” move.  Eight months ago, the world was discussing whether the Big 12 would even exist going forward.  Texas or Oklahoma sneezing gives the entire Big 12 pneumonia and that’s something that’s never going to change.  Regardless of how large and long the new Big 12 TV contract might be, the one thing that you know about the ACC is that its core of North Carolina, Duke and Virginia aren’t interested in going anywhere.  Maybe the ACC can be weakened on the football front by defections by the likes of Florida State, but the league is going to live on.  In contrast, the biggest flight risks in the Big 12 are the members of its core itself: Texas and Oklahoma.  A blue blood athletic program like Kansas was talking to the Big East back in 2010 for fear of not having a place to land.  As a result, any complaints from Tallahassee about the supposed power of Duke and UNC over the ACC ring hollow for anyone that can remember only eight months back to the primary example of what happens when a school truly runs a conference.  The Big 12 is a power conference that has cheated death twice in two years.

This isn’t a criticism of Texas: the Longhorns have the most powerful college sports brand outside of Notre Dame, so they’re wisely leveraging the assets that they have.  Any school would have taken ESPN’s offer for the Longhorn Network in a heartbeat.  The skepticism comes in as to whether the “third tier” TV rights that are now the subject of so much consternation really have that much value for schools other than Texas.  As Matt Sarzyniak noted, the definition of “third tier rights” is vastly different depending upon the conference.  (Note that it is difficult to find accurate information about the value of third tier TV rights alone.  Many third tier media rights calculations include radio rights, coaches’ shows and Internet streaming capabilities, which all of the major conferences, including the ACC, allow schools to keep for themselves.)

Is it reasonable to assume that Florida State would automatically garner $5 million extra or more per year from selling its third tier TV rights, or is that number going to be mixed in with radio rights that the Seminoles are already selling, so the additional dollars that would be garnered in theory by going to the Big 12 isn’t as much as it would seem?  I don’t have an answer to that question, but it’s not nearly as simple as, “Texas is getting $15 million for its third tier rights, which means that Florida State has got to be able to make at least half of that amount.”  The Longhorn Network is such an outlier for third tier TV rights that it can’t really be used for comparison purposes.  In fact, the best comparison for Florida State would be what Texas A&M made off of its third tier rights in the Big 12 as school that is #2 in its home state with a large and loyal fan base.  My understanding is that amount really wasn’t that much (which is partially why the Aggies had such an issue with the Longhorn Network in the first place).  The third tier TV rights disparity ended up driving Texas A&M away from the Big 12 and now it’s being argued as a lure to draw Florida State in.  (Note that the SEC still reserves third tier rights for individual schools in a similar fashion as the Big 12, so A&M might be seeing better revenue from those rights in its new home.)  It’s fascinating to see that turn of events.

The bottom line: Florida State would be leaving the ACC for the Big 12 solely for money.  That’s the entire argument.  Now, that certainly can be a persuasive argument that will rule the day.  However, in every other major conference move, there was something more than money at stake.  Nebraska got a better academic home in the Big Ten, Colorado culturally fits better in the Pac-12, Texas A&M and Missouri received stability in the preeminent football conference in the SEC, and Pitt and Syracuse and West Virginia and TCU left even more unstable situations in the Big East for the ACC and Big 12, respectively.  Even if you were to argue that money was the driving factor in all of those moves (and without a doubt, it mattered a ton), there were still other holistic arguments that could be made to respective universities that could convince the ivory tower types that there were positives beyond the value of the current TV contract.  That simply isn’t the case when comparing the situations of the ACC and Big 12.  Academically, the ACC is higher-rated than the Big 12 and is the only power conference besides the Big Ten with a research consortium*.  Stability-wise, the ACC has stayed together since 1953 with only one defection (South Carolina to the SEC became independent in 1971**) compared to the musical chairs in the Big 12 over the past two years.  Geographically, Florida State goes from a contiguous coastal conference to one that starts looking like a big budget version of the Big East.  Market-wise for recruiting and TV, Florida State would get access to Texas but lose all of the other fast-growing states in the ACC’s southeastern footprint.  Culturally, for all of the talk about the ACC being a “basketball league” and the Big 12 being a “football league”, the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech purely for football purposes (and drawing the ire of the supposedly almighty Duke and UNC) while pure football schools Nebraska and Texas A&M couldn’t leave the Big 12 fast enough.

(* EDIT 1: The SEC also has an academic consortium.)

(** EDIT 2: South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992.)

I know that plenty of fans will continue to believe that factors such as academics don’t matter and that it’s simply about the money.  Heck, even Haggard himself believes that when he said, “No FSU graduate puts on his resume or interviews for a job saying they are in the same conference as Duke and Virginia.  Conference affiliation really has no impact on academics.”  That’s an understandable position and considering how much university presidents are searching for every penny these days, it’s not surprising.  However, the people running universities day-to-day certainly don’t believe that, as Barron stated in a memo that the “faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker.”  My much more connected SEC expansion counterpart, Mr. SEC, also says that academic prestige is a massive issue with actual decision-makers in conference realignment.

Look – I have no skin in this game.  I’ve stated many times before that few things would make me happier than Duke being relegated to the Southern Conference.  There is no personal affection for the ACC from my end at all.  I’m just looking at this from an outsider’s point of view.  If Florida State absolutely needs the short-term revenue boost from the Big 12 (and that could certainly be the case with the school’s athletic department deficit), then I understand the Seminoles jumping.  I’m past the point of being shocked that a school would move for a few extra TV dollars.  However, I would still be surprised if they defect on the basis that every single other factor for Florida State (academics, stability, geography, markets) points to staying in the ACC, which is unlike any of the other power conference moves over the past two years.  Long-term, the TV money difference between the Big 12 and ACC on its face isn’t enough to discount all of those other factors.

The irony is that for all of the complaints that Florida State fans might have about the supposed basketball focus of Tobacco Road, if the Seminoles had performed half as well in football as they have had in basketball recently (four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, a Sweet Sixteen run and an ACC Tournament championship), no one would be talking about a “weak” ACC football league and ESPN probably would have thrown even more money toward the conference.  Regardless, don’t just look at the TV money, as important as that might be.  Nebraska would have gone to the Big Ten even if there wasn’t a clear increase in TV money.  For that matter, West Virginia would have gone to the Big 12 regardless of the TV contract.  However, the answer isn’t clear that Florida State would ever choose the Big 12 over the ACC if the TV money wasn’t a factor.  There’s a difference between taking money for the short-term (and in college sports parlance, a 13-year TV contract can definitely still be “short-term”) and determining the best choice for the long-term.

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

(Image from KC College Gameday)

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Latest Conference Realignment FAQ

The past week has featured more conference realignment moves and rumors in quite some time.  Seven schools switched conferences last Friday, all of whom are really pawns in the college sports game of double chess.  Stewart Mandel has pointed out that ever since the Big Ten announced that it was going to expand back in 2009, 25% of all FBS schools (31 in all) have changed leagues.  Inspired by the use of a classic presciently-titled Beatles song* (along with an appearance by Mr. Belding from “Saved by the Bell”) in “Mad Men” this past week, let’s look into the future** by answering some questions that I’ve been seeing from a lot of readers lately:

(* The cost for “Mad Men” to use an actual Beatles master recording as opposed to a cover version: $250,000.  It was well worth every penny.)

(** As the friendly posters at TexAgs seem to enjoy reminding me about once a month, I had this doozy of a wrong prediction last year.  I’m certainly not a soothsayer.  However, what I hope that readers will appreciate that I try to dig a little deeper than the surface level view to get them to think about the issues of the day in a different way.)

1. Does the removal of AQ status and resignation/ousting of Big East commissioner John Marinatto mean anything for Boise State and San Diego State? – Not really.  BCS auto-qualifier status in and of itself would have been nice for Boise State and San Diego State, but they were well aware months ago that such designation was on its way out the door.  What’s more critical for those two schools is the amount of the next TV contract for the Big East, which should be substantially more than what they would have received in the Mountain West Conference even in the worst case scenario.  The main issue for Boise State will be whether the WAC will continue to live on as a non-football league for the Broncos to place its basketball and Olympic programs.  As long as there’s some home for Boise State’s non-football sports, they’ll be in the Big East (meaning that San Diego State will be there, too).

2. Does the removal of AQ status and resignation/ousting of Big East commissioner John Marinatto mean that the Big East will split? – No.  If anything, it’s a sign that the conference is going to be sticking together for the foreseeable future.  This was a move that appears to have been driven by the Catholic members of the conference and the football members ended up agreeing.  As I’ve stated in prior posts, the Big East isn’t going to be getting a bonus from a TV network for its football league just because it’s an all-sports league as opposed to a hybrid league.  The value of the Big East football side is what it is regardless of the conference’s structure.  In contrast, it’s really the value of the basketball side of the conference that’s the variable and it’s clear that keeping Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, et. al will garner a better per school package than a split league.  As USA Today reported today in an otherwise somber assessment of the future of the Big East:

The conference could begin television negotiations as early as September. College football officials inside the league and out, and others well versed in TV negotiations all said the league would be best served if it stayed together, even in its unwieldy current configuration.

Even if no one in their right minds would create the Big East as currently constituted from scratch today, the Catholic and football members of the conference are still more valuable together than they are apart.

3.  Is the Big 12 raiding the ACC? – I don’t believe so (and you can refer back to my post from February on some of the reasons that I think still stand today).  Sometimes, I feel like I’m a crotchety guy constantly throwing a wet blanket on rumors that the Big 12 is going after the likes of Florida State and Clemson, but everything that I’ve heard on this topic has either originated from not-quite-reliable locales and rooted in what sound like football fan-focused concerns as opposed to university president-focused.  For instance, I see a lot of comments that a school like Clemson would want to join the Big 12 because of the “football culture” compared to the Tobacco Road dominated ACC, yet that belies the facts that (1) Nebraska and Texas A&M, two of the most football-focused schools in the country, couldn’t run from the Big 12 fast enough and (2) the ACC didn’t exactly decide to add Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College back in the day due to hoops prowess.  That’s what I mean by a “football-fan focused concern”.

Now, TV revenue disparity is certainly a university president-type concern that could make the Big 12 attractive compared to the ACC on paper.  The Big 12 reportedly has a verbal agreement with ESPN to kick up its total annual TV rights revenue to approximately $20 million per year per school.  (That figure would be the combination of ESPN first tier and Fox second tier TV rights but doesn’t include third tier TV rights controlled by individual schools, such as the Texas deal with ESPN’s Longhorn Network.)  However, it’s still unclear what ACC will end up after its renegotiation with ESPN.  There was a SportsBusiness Journal report in February that each ACC school was looking at around $15 million per year, yet that hasn’t been finalized.

Here’s one thing that’s clear to me, though: ESPN has zero incentive to see the ACC get raided.  None.  Nada.  Unlike its contracts with every other power conference, ESPN has complete top-to-bottom control of all ACC TV rights.  This means that ESPN has more of a vested interest in the survival of the ACC specifically over every other conference – it’s the one league that the people in Bristol aren’t sharing with Fox, CBS or the Big Ten Network.  In fact, think of it in these terms:

The ACC is the single largest content provider to all of the ESPN networks, whether college or pro.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The ACC provides more live content to ESPN than the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.  So, do you really think ESPN wants the ACC to lose anyone, much less actually enable another league (the Big 12) to poach Jim Swofford’s gang?  Is ESPN going to want to trade an entire slate of Florida State games that’s guaranteed annually in order to receive only a handful of tier 1 Seminole games that’s variable from year-to-year?  Well, for all of the talk about how sexy of a matchup Florida State vs. Texas would be, check out the number of times that FSU vs. Miami appears on the list of highest rated games in the history of ESPN.  Since many sports fans tend to forget the existence of anything that happened beyond one year ago, they have forgotten how strong the ACC has been as a TV property over the long haul.

No one knows how much ESPN can single-handedly shape conference realignment more than the Big 12.  There’s one reason why Texas and Oklahoma aren’t in the Pac-16 today: the Longhorn Network.  ESPN was willing to pay Texas $15 million per year alone for bottom-of-the-barrel TV rights just so that its limited tier 1 Big 12 package would be kept alive.  So, my educated guess is that ESPN is going to be more than willing to throw at least an extra $30 million per year toward its single largest content provider of the ACC to make it at least revenue neutral on the TV front (where it’s close enough to the value of the Big 12’s TV deal that any difference would be offset by higher travel expenses) or even more to remove any doubt that the ACC is on equal standing with the other power conferences.

As I’ve stated in prior blog posts, I’m not saying this out of any love for the ACC.  Personally, there’s nothing that I’d love more than to witness those douchebags from Duke get relegated to the Southern Conference.  However, I try my best to separate what I want to see happen from what I believe will actually happen.  In this case, I believe that ESPN is going to end up paying the ACC enough to remove TV revenue as a reason for any school to leave that league for the Big 12.

4. Is the Big 12 going to expand with non-ACC schools such as Louisville? – I find this scenario to be much more likely than any type of Big 12 raid on the ACC, but the issue that the options for the Big 12 besides Louisville are limited.  BYU has been brought up on several occasions as a possibility, but the Cougars have such stringent requests regarding its own TV packages that even Texas says, “Damn!  You’re giving us nothing!”  Cincinnati is a geographic bridge between Louisville and West Virginia, yet their fan base size and football stadium situations aren’t making the heads of anyone in the Big 12 turn.  Rutgers and/or UConn are intriguing options for the Big 12 in my personal opinion, but that hasn’t been validated by anyone that’s actually associated with the conference.

Unfortunately for Louisville, they need a twelfth school to join them, as the Big 12 isn’t going to add them alone as number 11, and there isn’t anything close to a consensus on who that twelfth school should be.

5.  How are the non-power conferences going to end up? – The non-power conferences are in a worse position than they were 4 years ago.  While they will have more access to the new college football playoff on paper, they have few (if any) programs that have the resources to legitimately challenge for one of those 4 playoff sports on a consistent basis.  At the same time, those depleted leagues will likely be giving up any access to the other lucrative BCS bowls, which are going to be even more geared toward contractual tie-ins and a free market system of choosing the most popular schools that draw TV ratings and sell tickets.  To the extent that the Big East might get raided again by the Big 12, the Big East can then turn around and poach from the Mountain West and Conference USA even further (so fans from those conferences should not get any joy in any manner from all of the Big East doomsday stories).

If there’s one rule in conference realignment, it’s this: Shit ALWAYS rolls downhill.  When you’re at the bottom of that hill, you’re the WAC.

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

(Image from Gothamist)

The More Things Change, the More Things Stay the Same: Thoughts on BCS Bowls as Semifinal Sites and a 12-Team Event

In an update to last week’s news that the powers that be in college football are finally instituting (or more precisely, are submitting to their respective university presidents for approval) a 4-team playoff system, both Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com and Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated have reported that the early leader for the format for such playoff is the use of the contractual conference tie-ins for the 4 current BCS bowls to slot the semifinal games. For example, if a Big Ten team is ranked #1, it would host the #4 team in the Rose Bowl, while an SEC team that is ranked #2 would host the #3 team in the Sugar Bowl. This is a way to preserve the relationship between the Rose Bowl, Big Ten and Pac-12 (and for that matter, the relationships that other conferences have with their respective bowls) while still having a 4-team playoff. I wrote a college playoff proposal last week that incorporated this concept. Mandel has also reported that the powers that be would like to elevate two more bowls to BCS status (or whatever status we’re going to call it when the term “BCS” is dropped, which is a 99% certainty). In practicality, this would really only add 2 more BCS bowl bids to the system with 12 bids for 6 games (compared to 4 BCS bowls and national championship game currently providing 10 bids).

A few thoughts on this:

1) Get ready for the Big Ten and SEC to start agreeing a lot more – Many of the media reports regarding the formulation of a college football playoff have positioned Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive to be massive rivals. However, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports indicated that they were generally in agreement regarding the major principles of a playoff system during the BCS meetings. In reality, there’s very little reason for the Big Ten and SEC to be far apart. While Delany and Slive might have differences in opinion regarding how to implement the playoff system at a high level, they fundamentally have the same financial and fan base underpinnings (which is why both of those leagues are so powerful compared to the rest)*. For instance, as much as the Big Ten might prefer on-campus semifinals, the use of bowls as semifinals protects the Rose Bowl, which the countervailing interest of the conference. On the flip side, the SEC would have received a larger benefit from the use of on-campus semifinals than any other conference over the course of the BCS era. The point is that the Big Ten and SEC can work well in either format since they both have great home game attendance yet also travel well to neutral sites and bowls.

(* Think of this as the equivalent to competition between Wal-Mart, which happens to be based in SEC country, and Target, which is headquartered in Big Ten territory. They are rivals and the two largest players in their market by a large margin, but when you break it down, they make their money the exact same way by leveraging their large footprints to control costs with suppliers in order to provide discounted prices to their customers. Wal-Mart and Target might be high profile competitors in the marketplace, but on big picture economic, trade and labor issues, their interests are completely aligned. It’s the same way with the SEC and Big Ten regarding the college football postseason. The SEC is Wal-Mart and the Big Ten is Target.)

It’s really the Pac-12 that needs the benefit of the Rose Bowl even more than the Big Ten since the Pasadena connection masks the fact that the West Coast league has the worst bowl lineup top-to-bottom compared to any of the other power conferences. (Yes, even worse than the ACC.) If the Rose Bowl were eradicated tomorrow, the Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls would still fall all over themselves to get a Big Ten tie-in, but the Pac-12 isn’t in that same position. That’s why the supposedly “reactionary” Jim Delany was more open-minded in his comments regarding a playoff last week than the typically-lauded “visionary outsider” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (who took a much more strident and hardline view about the Pac-12 protecting its Rose Bowl connection).

Regardless, when the discussion turns to how the playoff revenue is split and which conferences get multiple BCS bowl bids (which will make any differences between the FBS conferences up to this point look like minor spats), the Big Ten and SEC are going to be brothers-in-arms. They have the same approach: “Bowls want us, so we should get the bids and the revenue.”

2) Multiple BCS bowl tie-ins are possible (if not probable) for the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 – Is it possible that the BCS could actually add more bowls yet still cut down the access to the non-power conferences (which may or may not include the Big East now)? Absolutely.

Mandel indicates that there’s a proposal that there would be 6 BCS bowls with at-large bids needing to meet some type of rankings threshold (e.g. top 15 in the final BCS rankings). There would also be a cap of 3 teams receiving bids each year from any single conference. The Cotton Bowl is usually assumed to be next in line for elevated status and I’d bank a Central Florida bowl (either the Capital One or Outback) getting a nod, as well. (See my reasons in point #3.)

Thinking like a free marketer here, is where any reason for the Cotton or Capital One/Outback Bowls to pay a massive amount to receive elevated bowl status but actually get worse matchups (in the eyes of a bowl organizer that needs to sell tickets and a TV network executive that needs viewers) than they do now when they have desirable Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 teams locked in today? That really doesn’t make much sense if you’re actually running those bowls. Outside of a chance at getting Notre Dame every once in awhile, the Capital One/Outback Bowl is going to want Big Ten and SEC teams while the value of adding the Cotton Bowl is diminished almost completely if a Big 12 team isn’t playing there. Access to Pac-12, ACC and non-power conference teams really doesn’t do anything for them (and they certainly don’t want to be losing the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 teams that they would have received in the current system to other bowls in the new system while having to simultaneously increase their payouts).

In fact, the main benefit to the Cotton and Capital One/Outback to getting elevated to BCS status is to be guaranteed the teams that they have been contracting for over the past several years but haven’t been getting in reality. For instance, the Capital One Bowl is supposed to get Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2 under its contract, yet it has actually received Big Ten #3 vs. SEC #3 every single season since 2005 because both the Big Ten and SEC have sent a second team to the BCS bowls annually. So, the Capital One can pay up to guarantee to get those Big Ten #2 and SEC #2 tie-ins back every year, which is an acceptable trade-off for likely not getting to host any semifinal very often as that’s going to be an extremely high profile bowl matchup. (Under this system, the phantom 2010-11 Sugar Bowl matchup between Ohio State and Arkansas, where the win has since been vacated and both participating head coaches have been fired, would have been played at the Capital One Bowl. Who wouldn’t have wanted that game?!)

On the flip side, why would the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 give up high profile bowl tie-ins that they already have guaranteed in hand today and send them up for grabs in an at-large system? That doesn’t seem too likely, either. Even if the Big Ten and SEC in particular would benefit the most from a flexible at-large arrangement in the majority of seasons, it’s still not the same as having guaranteed tie-ins.

As a result, I’d envision that the BCS bowl system would look like the following:

Rose Bowl: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
Sugar Bowl: SEC #1 vs. at-large
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 #1 vs. at-large
Orange Bowl: ACC #1 vs. at-large
Capital One/Outback Bowl: Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2
Cotton Bowl: Big 12 #2 vs. at-large*

(* The Cotton Bowl currently shares the SEC #3/4 tie-in with the Outback Bowl. If the SEC has to choose to drop a tie-in, I believe it would let go of the Cotton as opposed to one of the Florida-based bowls since pairing up with a Big Ten school is more lucrative and the Sunshine State is unambiguously an SEC market. In contrast, the state of Texas has a strong SEC representative in Texas A&M but is still a Big 12 state overall. Now, if the new system allows the SEC to have a third contractual tie-in, then more power to them and they could and should take advantage of that in a heartbeat.)

3) The likelihood of a Central Florida bowl getting BCS status – Expanding on the prior point, here are a few reasons why I believe either the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl is going to be elevated to BCS status:

a) Big Ten and SEC tie-ins – These are the conferences running the show and the main common relationship that they have is that they love Florida-based bowls. To the extent that the semifinals are going to be played outside of the Midwest, the Big Ten is going to have a lot less heartburn with using the Central Florida bowls that are the conference’s strongest tie-ins outside of the Rose Bowl compared to, say, using the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. Both the Big Ten and SEC can get on board with this (and I’ve said before, when they agree on something, that’s usually what gets done).

b) People WANT to travel to Central Florida during Christmas break regardless of whether there’s a bowl – The Capital One Bowl has had horrific facilities for many years, yet they’ve still managed to attract both of the best conference tie-ins (Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2) and provide the highest payout outside of the BCS system since the very beginning of the BCS era. Why? Because it’s freaking Orlando! The wife and kids would rather go to Disney World than Dallas, college kids would rather go to Daytona Beach than Atlanta, and retired alums would rather be in warm weather Florida (where they probably already live) than cold weather Indianapolis. Central Florida is the easiest sell in terms of the overall vacation experience during the holidays of any bowl (and that’s why the Capital One has continued to receive such great funding and tie-ins despite the horrible facilities). Just like a mansion in a terrible neighborhood won’t be as valuable as a tiny apartment in a great neighborhood, the greatest stadium in the world in a less than desirable winter vacation destination can only do so much competing against subpar facilities in a place that most people love traveling to. Location, location, location.

c) ESPN (owned by the Walt Disney Company) is likely paying for this new playoff – Why is this important? Well, have you ever been to Disney World on New Year’s Eve? I went almost every year with my family growing up and one thing that you’ll notice is that a significant portion of the people going to the parks, staying at the hotels and generally emptying their wallets on all things Disney that week in between Christmas and New Year’s happen to be football fans attending the Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls, all of which are an easy drive from Disney World.

So, do you see why ESPN is currently willing to pay a premium for the Big Ten and SEC tie-ins for the Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls and then have them played all at the same time on New Year’s Day? These are massive fan bases that travel from out-of-town (note that local teams aren’t necessarily the best thing for the primary purpose of bowls, which is to attract out-of-town tourists) and spend tons of money at Disney World while people at home watch the games on Disney-owned ABC/ESPN/ESPN2. It’s a synergy of one big business for Disney (college football on TV) with another big business (theme park admissions and hotel revenue during the holidays).

I think both of the Central Florida bowls already have large enough financial war chests to win a bidding war for a BCS bowl slot regardless of any ESPN consideration, but rest assured that its helps significantly if Disney happens to be pushing one site over another when they’re spending $600 million to $1 billion per year on a playoff. It’s going to be a contest between the better stadium in Tampa and the more attractive vacation destination in Orlando.

4. Revenue sharing will likely be about bids to the “12-team event” overall instead of the semifinals specifically – Let’s have a quick reminder about how much of a bonus that a conference receives when it has a team that makes the national championship game today: $0.

To be sure, such conference will receive an amount equal to a BCS bowl bid (or if such conference already has another BCS bowl bid, then a partial additional share for the national championship game bid), but the point is that LSU garnered the exact same amount of revenue for the SEC last year in the national championship game as Wisconsin got for the Big Ten by going to the Rose Bowl and Alabama netted the exact same payout for the SEC as Michigan earned for the Big Ten by going to the Sugar Bowl.

Thus, when I see proposals from fans online suggesting that a conference that makes it to the semifinals will receive $50 million while a conference that doesn’t make it will only receive $10 million, I shake my head and wonder how many fans actually learned how college sports money works after witnessing massive conference realignment moves over the past two years. Simply put, what has happened in the past is a pretty good guide to what will happen in the future, and what the past says is that the power conferences want very little to do with variable pay based on merit and, instead, want to maximize guaranteed dollars for themselves whether their respective champions in a given year are ranked #1 or #100. Even in the mighty SEC, which would have been a beneficiary of a variable pay system over the past several years, wants guaranteed money as opposed to shooting the moon in a season like last year when it had the top 2 teams. A school such as Mississippi State needs to be able to pencil in x amount of guaranteed postseason dollars at the beginning of every year for budget purposes, which it can’t do if most of it is based upon whether one or more of its conference-mates end up in the top 4 at the end of the fall. Do you think the SEC wants a system where the difference between receiving $50 million or $10 million could be dependent upon a freshman placekicker hitting a field goal in an overtime game so his team ends up at #4 instead of #5? Would the Big Ten want that? Any of the other power conferences?

University presidents are already a risk averse group by any normal standard, so this scenario simply won’t fly, especially when the current system has such clear revenue guarantees. Contrary to the belief of most fans, schools aren’t looking to hit a massive jackpot in the years that they win the national championship. Instead, schools want to know that they are going to receive a large sum of money whether they are 12-0 or 0-12.

As a result, the most likely revenue sharing approach going forward is likely to be effectively the same as today: all bids to the new 12-team event, which encompasses the semifinals will be treated the same financially (just as all bids to the current 10-team event, which encompasses the national championship game, are treated the same financially). This obviously puts a massive premium on having contractual tie-ins, since any conference with a contract with a BCS bowl is going to receive a full share of the new postseason money, whether it sends a team to the semifinals or not. It also shows, once again, the elimination of AQ status is really only a matter of semantics for all of the current AQ conferences except for the Big East (which currently doesn’t have a contractual tie-in with any BCS bowl and most likely won’t be getting one in the future). The Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 are all going to receive at least one full postseason share annually (and if they have multiple bids or tie-ins, then they’ll get multiple shares) no matter what, while the non-AQ conferences would only receive full shares if they actually make it to semifinals or receive an at-large BCS bowl bid*. The non-AQ conferences will receive more money in total compared to today’s BCS system, but no one should expect the revenue disparity to change much from the current 90/10 split between the power leagues and non-power leagues**.

(* My educated guess regarding the Big East is that it will be treated as a “tweener” for revenue purposes. The Big East would no longer receive an amount that’s equal to the other power conferences since it does not have a contractual tie-in, but still get an amount larger compared to the other non-AQ conferences based upon the fact that the Big East is a “founding member” of the BCS system.)

(** I’ll repeat an analogy that I’ve used before: think of the semifinals as the Oscars and the other BCS bowls as movie theaters. The Oscars should be based upon merit regardless of box office revenue, where movies such as “The King’s Speech” and actors like Daniel Day-Lewis get rewarded. Likewise, the college football playoff semifinals should be based upon merit without regard to conference affiliation or popularity. However, a free market society should also not force movie theaters to show Daniel Day-Lewis movies when Tom Cruise vehicles and terrible Transformers sequels sell 1000 times more movie tickets. By that same token, bowl games that exist for the purpose of selling tickets, drawing TV viewers and bringing legions of tourists into their towns should be able to freely choose teams and conferences that, well, sell tickets, draw TV viewers and bring legions of tourists into their towns. Many fans have tried to assign a higher purpose to the bowls, which is a mistake.)

Now, there might be a bonus for the conferences that make it to the national championship game since that’s technically a separate “bowl” game beyond the 12-team event. However, based on the tea leaves that I see along with past actions, that bonus is likely going to be relatively small compared to the guaranteed revenue in the 12-team event. The very fact that the leading proposal is to use the traditional BCS bowls with their tie-ins supports the notion of guaranteed revenue as opposed to variable pay. The Rose Bowl would only find out in December whether it’s going to be hosting a semifinal or not, so it can’t feasibly come up with a payout that’s worth twice as much within a couple of weeks if a Pac-12 or Big Ten team happens to be ranked #1 or #2. That points to all BCS bowl bids (which includes the semifinals) being worth the same.

Those are all of my thoughts for now. I’ll be back soon with new posts on the WAC being the worst victim of conference realignment (along with shuffling among Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt and Colonial Athletic Association) and tweaks to my latest college football playoff “flex wild card” proposal.

P.S. My long-time readers and Twitter followers know that (1) I’m a massive Chicago Bulls fan and (2) Derrick Rose is my man crush to end all man crushes. So, when D-Rose went down for the season on Saturday with a torn ACL, it was legitimately one of the 5 worst sports moments of my life (if not in the top 2). The last time I had ever felt a pit in my stomach that badly sports-wise was when Illinois lost the 2005 NCAA National Championship Game to North Carolina, but even then, I could reconcile that the Illini had their chance to get to the very end without outside factors intervening (along with providing the best sports memory in my lifetime next to the last minute of Michael Jordan’s performance in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals). The Bears losing Super Bowl XLI to the Colts was fairly terrible personal experience for me, too, yet I could also comfort myself in knowing that the Colts were the better team overall and that there was the Chicago crutch of Rex Grossman at quarterback. (Unleash the dragons!) My 2007-08 Rose Bowl trip was more like playing with house money – the Illini weren’t expected (and probably didn’t deserve) to be there and even a thrashing at the hands of a bunch of ineligible USC players can’t kill the buzz of actually getting to be in Pasadena at that time of year. (While I’m a playoff supporter, I also fully understand and appreciate why the Big Ten and Pac-12 protect the Rose Bowl so much. Comparing the Rose Bowl to the other BCS bowls is the equivalent of comparing The Masters to the PGA Championship – they might technically have the same major status, but they are no way, shape or form equal in stature and prestige.)

In the case of the Bulls, though, they had a legit championship-caliber squad (which doesn’t come around very often) that won’t even have a chance to even attempt to fulfill its potential. Maybe the Miami Heat would have ultimately beaten the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the fact that there won’t be any opportunity at all to see both teams go at it at full strength is shame. (The Bulls could certainly get past the Sixers in the first round and maybe hang with the Celtics or Hawks in the second round. Even without Rose, the Bulls are still the best defensive team in the NBA, which is going to keep them in games. Beating Miami over the course of 7 games without the offensive firepower of Rose, though, would be a miracle. I’ll certainly be cheering for it to happen, but I’m also going to be realistic about it.) Even worse, I’m now going to have to worry whether Derrick Rose is ever going to have the same type of athleticism when he comes back from his injury. Frankly, the only sports-related discussions over the past few days that haven’t made me want to lock myself in a dark room alone and nurse bottle of Jameson have been the comments on this blog, so I thank all of you readers out there for that.

As bad as I might be feeling right now along with other Bulls fans around the world, I could only imagine what Rose himself might be feeling right now with the long road ahead. Let’s pray for his speedy recovery (and somebody somewhere to knock off the Heat).

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

(Image from Yahoo!)