Back Home: Big Ten Division Thoughts and Sweet Missouri Valley Conference Expansion

I’m finally back from a spring break vacation in Arizona (80 degrees for the White Sox spring training game that I attended last Wednesday compared to 30 degrees for Opening Day in Chicago yesterday), so let’s get a few updates since I haven’t posted in awhile:

(1) Big Ten Divisions – It appears that the Big Ten office is heeding the calls for the “Keep It Simple Stupid” approach of dividing the soon-to-be 14-team conference into East and West divisions, with Michigan State heading East with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland, the West having Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota and the only debate being where Indiana and Purdue will be placed.  IU-PU will then be the only protected cross-division rivalry.  Assuming that this comes true, my message to the Big Ten office is the following: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!  While I initially advocated Michigan State being placed in the West with both Indiana-based schools in the East, the newly rumored setup was the next best alignment from my perspective.  The Pac-12 was smart in not trying to force any protect cross-division games outside of the California-based schools playing each other annually, so it’s great that the Big Ten reportedly will only keep the Old Oaken Bucket as protected while the West can continue to rotate through Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State more often in this KISS alignment.  (Note that it’s a heck of a lot less heartburn for the West schools to see Indiana or Purdue falling off the schedule more often compared to Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, which was likely a large driver for Sparty getting placed in the East.) It still makes a lot more sense in my mind for Indiana to head to the East since it’s (1) actually further East than Purdue, (2) a school with a disproportionately large East Coast student population and (3) better for competitive balance purposes.  The only reason that I can think of for IU pushing back on an Eastern placement is that it knows that it will never break its Rose Bowl drought competing in a division with resurgent Michigan and Ohio State programs.  Regardless, the Big Ten seems to finally be making the right choices on its divisional alignment.  Let’s just hope those right choices also extend to burying the Legends and Leaders division names next to Jimmy Hoffa*.

(* The Meadowlands aren’t that far from Rutgers, so it would still be in the Big Ten footprint.)

(2) Sweet Missouri Valley Conference Expansion – The “new” Big East consisting of the old Catholic 7 schools poached Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10 and Creighton from the Missouri Valley Conference right before the start of the NCAA Tournament, which is likely going to trigger a massive realignment of the midmajor non-FBS conferences.  While the MVC is celebrating Wichita State’s Final Four run, it is also the league most openly pursuing expansion/replacement options as of now (Missouri State’s president actually Tweeted that he’s out visiting interested expansion candidates)*.  Various reports so far indicate that the MVC has had some conversations with Oral Roberts, UMKC, Loyola (Chicago), UIC** and Valparaiso.  The latter three Chicago area schools don’t surprise me at all: I Tweeted a few weeks ago that my gut feeling was that those programs plus Belmont would be at the top of the MVC list if Denver wasn’t going to be considered.  (Reading between the lines in this interview by MileHighMids of Denver’s athletic director, it appears that the MVC would have been interested in Denver if the school were to add more sports, but the AD isn’t willing to commit to that right now.)

(* For a great analysis of potential MVC candidates using Google Maps, check out this anonymous posting.)

(** For disclosure purposes, my parents met at and graduated from UIC, with my father then spending over 3 decades working at that campus. I don’t have any real rooting interest in the UIC Flames sports teams, but I’ll admit to having an affinity for the institution overall with my family connection.)

Perusing some MVC message boards and blogs, I’ve generally seen fans vomit over these choices with calls that they could either (1) do better or (2) stand pat at 9 schools.  It reminds me of the recent UCLA basketball coaching search*, where much of the fan base seemed to be incredulous that they couldn’t lure the likes of Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart and had to settle for the protector of a rapist… er… Steve Alford.**  The MVC fans seemed to have hopes for the likes of SLU and/or Dayton (the former of which is definitely going to be in the Big East, where it’s just a matter of when, while the latter likely will be there but has to sweat it out a bit with Richmond as a competitor for spot #12) and are now facing the reality that the realistic candidates aren’t nearly as desirable.

(* For what it’s worth, I believe that UCLA is an elite program with only Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana and those rat bastards from Duke being in the same class. However, the Bruins’ lack of a sexy hire was the result of an elitist approach to job security by the school and fan base. That is, they just fired a guy in Ben Howland who went to three Final Fours, pulled in a top-ranked recruiting class last year and won the Pac-12 regular season championship this year.  At most schools, that record warrants a lifetime contract – Shaka Smart is going to be able to parlay a single Final Four run into perpetuity at VCU.  I fully understand how many UCLA fans believed the trajectory of the program was going in the wrong direction with Howland and a change might have been needed simply for the sake of a change, but they might have failed to understand how top level coaches in stable positions aren’t exactly enthralled with the prospect of taking a job where a 3-time Final Four coach got canned right after winning a conference championship. Hence, the pool of interested parties was much more shallow than anticipated.)

(** I highly recommend Black Heart Gold Pants blogger Patrick Vint’s message to UCLA fans about Alford on Bruins Nation.)

From my perspective, the MVC isn’t going to be able to add any real home run additions on-the-court. Belmont has the best performance over the past few seasons of the potential candidates, but geographic fit seems to be an issue in that case and their attendance figures have been subpar.  As a result, the MVC likely needs to concentrate on attacking its worst weaknesses as opposed to attempting to replace the irreplaceable Creighton in terms of basketball performance.  To me, that worst weakness is that fact that Wichita is the MVC’s largest TV market at #69 overall in the US.  Those of you that read me regularly know that I’m not in favor of expansion only for the sake of additional markets, but in the case of the MVC, having Wichita as your largest market is Charles Barkley turrible. Even if some of the candidates in large markets aren’t necessarily great TV draws, the MVC is eventually going to need them for recruiting purposes for long-term survival.  (This is why even if SLU and Dayton end up leaving the Atlantic 10 on top of Butler and Xavier, that league is still in much better position going forward with its footprint.) That means that a school like Murray State, which has had solid attendance and on-the-court performance, might appear to be desirable for MVC fans but not so much for the conference’s university presidents.

As a lifelong Chicagoan, I have a particular interest in how the MVC is going to proceed since I firmly believe that it should have a better presence in the Chicago market than it does today. Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Bradley all predominantly draw students from and send alumni to the Chicagoland area (with Northern Iowa and Drake also sending large contingents to the region, too).  However, the MVC doesn’t draw the coverage that it ought to considering the in-place fan base since it lacks a direct Chicago presence (which is critical unless you’re the University of Illinois or Notre Dame).  Therefore, it’s not a shocker that two city schools (UIC and Loyola) and a university on the periphery of the metro region in Northwest Indiana (Valpo) are being visited by the MVC powers that be. The MVC leadership likely recognizes what I see in that Chicago is a large market that can be legitimately leveraged by the conference.  It’s not so much that the MVC thinks that UIC or Loyola can “deliver” Chicago in a way that Illinois, Northwestern, DePaul or Notre Dame are able to, but rather that the critical mass of MVC students from and alums living in the area can give the league a solid presence akin to what the A-10 has in Philadelphia or Washington, DC. The MVC doesn’t have any type of major market anchor right now and that’s increasingly going to be a negative risk factor if it’s not rectified.

I haven’t forgotten that ORU’s crosstown neighbor of Tulsa just got invited to the “Old” Big East (or Conference TBD) today. I’ll have more thoughts on that the status of that league in a separate post. Until then, enjoy the Final Four!

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

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The Big East Name Defects from the Big East: Catholic 7 Expansion and Branding

It figures that a conference that has lost 5 all-sports members, 8 non-football schools and 3 schools that accept invites to join but then backed out before playing a down of football within the past 18 months would ultimately end up losing its own name.  Both Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com and Mark Blaudschun are reporting that the Big East presidents are expected to approve a plan to allow for the “Catholic 7” defectors from the conference (Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette) to keep the Big East name and leave the league for the 2013-14 season.  Pete Thamel of SI.com notes that Fox is pushing for the early exit and is expected to announce a contract with the Catholic 7/Big East when it unveils its plans for its new pair of sports networks of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2.  He also reports that the Catholic 7’s keeping of the Big East name and early exit are effectively being paid for by leaving the exit fees and NCAA Tournament credits of the other Big East schools that have defected or will be defecting (West Virginia, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, Rutgers and Notre Dame).  Meanwhile, a consensus has formed that Xavier and Butler will be added immediately to the new league with the old name for next season with a chance that a 10th, such as Creighton, comes in at that time.  The Catholic 7/Big East would then likely move up to 12 with St. Louis and Dayton (or possibly Richmond) in 2014-15.

The fight over the Big East was interesting since it’s a brand name that has been dragged through the mud lately yet still had a lot of value to both the Catholic 7 and Conference Formerly Known as the Big East football schools for different reasons.  From my vantage point, the Big East name is more valuable with the Catholic 7, but was more valuable to the football schools.  That is, the Catholic 7 are more able to fully realize the value of the Big East name since it had the bulk of the remaining historical members that weren’t in other power conferences and there wouldn’t be a cognitive dissonance if they held their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.  On the other hand, the football schools have little association with each other besides being new members of the league that was known as the Big East specifically.  The Catholic 7 could have more easily re-branded themselves under a different name since the average sports fan could already largely recognize that group as a cohesive unit, while the football members will need to sell a new untested name on top of educating the public about who is in their conference.  As a result, I’m a little surprised that the football schools didn’t pull out a rant like Marlo did on The Wire about how “My name is my name!”

Of course, the exit fees and NCAA Tournament credits of the other Big East defectors that the Catholic 7 are leaving behind aren’t small amounts.  Some back-of-the-napkin calculations would put that at least on the order of $20 million just for the NCAA credits.  (Edit: Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com reported earlier this month that the Big East actually has a “Realignment Reserve Fund” that is projected to be worth $68.8 million by 2020.)  Significantly, it’s likely that none of that is going to the incoming members of the league as part of their entrance agreements since it is standard operating procedure that new schools do not receive any of the revenue earned before they joined.  This means that UConn, Cincinnati and USF, which are currently the only all-sports members in the Big East with voting rights (Temple still isn’t a full member yet), are probably ending up with all of that money that the Catholic 7 are leaving behind, which would certainly make it more palatable for them to let go of the Big East name in return.  It’s at least some financial consideration for literally the only three schools in all of FBS that will end up earning less conference-level money outright in the new college football playoff system that starts in 2014 than they are in the current BCS regime.

Maybe it is all for the best for the football schools that thought that they were going to be in a conference called the Big East.  Andersen Consulting had to go through an acrimonious split with its parent Arthur Andersen back in the late-1990s, including losing an arbitration proceeding where it was forced to give up any reference to the then-extremely valuable Andersen name*.  The new name “Accenture” was chosen and literally hundreds of millions of dollars needed to be spent on re-branding efforts.  What seemed like a huge branding blow in 2000 ended up becoming one of the most fortuitous name changes in history just a year later when the Enron scandal hit and took Andersen down entirely as an accounting firm.  Sometimes, a fresh name with a new start can end up being better in the long run even if the benefits aren’t obvious today.

(* I was a finance major at the University of Illinois in the late-1990s and, without question, the most prestigious of the then-Big Five accounting firms was Arthur Andersen.  The sad irony of Andersen getting taken down in the Enron scandal partly for enabling poor audit decisions in order to preserve other types of tax services fees was that its main reputation, at least in Chicago, was that it was actually the least sales-oriented and most client-focused of the large accounting firms.)

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

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A TV Network Killed the Big East (and It’s Not the One in Bristol)

Brett McMurphy and Andy Katz of ESPN.com have reported that NBC has verbally offered the remnants of the Big East between $20 million and $23 million per year for six years for the conference’s TV rights for all sports (including both football and basketball).  That would be approximately $2 million per year for each school in the league.  By way of comparison, each individual school in the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 (and depending upon who you talk to, soon the ACC) will make about as much TV money on its own annually than the entire Big East conference.  This is the latest news in the stunning decimation of the Big East since the league rejected an offer from ESPN two years ago worth an average of $130 million per year.  During that time frame, the Big East has lost 5 football members that have actually played in the league (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville), 8 non-football members (Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette) and 2 3 schools that defected before they even played a down of Big East football (TCU, Boise State and San Diego State).  In the middle of that process, the conference also lost its place in the college football postseason structure, where it failed to secure a “Contract Bowl” slot (with its former BCS AQ counterparts Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC) and is now part of the “Gang of Five” non-power conference group (with the MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt as new counterparts).  The Big East made a huge gamble in taking its sports rights to the open market when it turned down that lucrative ESPN offer and even the largest conference naysayers couldn’t have predicted how badly that decision would backfire.

The argument that ESPN systemically devalued the Big East to the point where it was effectively destroyed is taken as gospel by many Big East partisans.  It started back in October 2011 with a quote from the then-AD at Boston College stating that ESPN “told [the ACC] what to do” in the wake of Pitt and Syracuse defecting to the ACC.  This line of thinking then continued on as the Big East lost more access in the new college football playoff system than any other conference (in fact, they’re likely going to be the only league that will end up making less money in the new format than it does in the current BCS system) and then suffered a literal avalanche of defections in the past 5 months.

However, it wasn’t the Bristol-based network that effectively killed off the Big East as we once knew it.  Instead, Fox, in its pursuit of becoming the main competitor to ESPN in US sports television, ended up pulling the trigger.  Consider two critical moves:

(1) Big Ten expands with Maryland and Rutgers – When the Big Ten added Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East, Jim Delany wasn’t looking to aid its first tier national TV slate that’s being shown on the Disney networks of ABC and ESPN (unlike the addition of Nebraska in 2010).  Instead, the main beneficiary from this expansion was Fox, which is 51% owner of the Big Ten Network (BTN), since it now has an argument that the network should be carried on basic cable in the New York City and Washington, DC markets.  If anything, this move was terrible for ESPN since it makes Fox/BTN much stronger on the East Coast and took away schools from the two main conferences – the ACC and Big East – in which the Worldwide Leader owns all tiers of conference multimedia rights.  Without Fox and the BTN, the Big Ten doesn’t take Rutgers directly from the Big East or indirectly causing Louisville to defect (since the ACC replaced Maryland with the Cardinals).  The Big East still had the ability to survive as a viable football conference with Louisville and Rutgers in the fold, but once they were gone, Boise State (and subsequently San Diego State) didn’t believe that they would receive enough TV money to justify being complete western geographic outliers.

(2) Catholic 7 leave the Big East… because Fox convinced them to do so – A few weeks after the Rutgers and Louisville defections, the 7 remaining Catholic non-football schools (DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence and Marquette) decided to split off from the Big East’s football members in order to form a new league (hereinafter called the “Catholic 7”).  Multiple reports from both ESPN (including the McMurphy/Katz report linked above) and Sports Illustrated have stated that Fox is the leading suitor for the rights to the new Catholic 7 league with offers of between $30 million and $40 million per year depending upon whether it has 10 or 12 schools.  That represents the Catholic 7 making around $3 million per year for basketball rights, which is more than the NBC offer to the Big East of $2 million per year for both basketball and football.

I’ve previously set forth reasons why the Catholic 7 would be more valuable than the new Big East even when they don’t offer any football (namely that football in and of itself isn’t what’s driving value and the Catholic 7 brand names and markets are much stronger top-to-bottom in order to garner a premium).  Even if you don’t want to believe that’s the case in terms of comparing the inherent values of the Catholic 7 versus the Big East, a Tweet from Brett McMurphy on Saturday should put this into clearer focus:

Do you see what occurred here if this is true?  Fox approached the Catholic 7 before they split off, which means it’s not so crazy to believe that Fox wanted them to split off.  So, if you believe that Fox is overpaying for the Catholic 7, then you might be right.  However, the point is that Fox needed to overpay the Catholic 7 in order to serve as a catalyst for them to split off.  If Fox just merely offered “fair market value” to the Catholic 7, then they likely would have stayed in the hybrid.  (Anyone that thought that the Catholic 7 would have split off without the knowledge that they’d be getting paid more compared to staying in the hybrid Big East isn’t thinking straight.)  There needed to be an extraordinary financial windfall from Fox in order for the Catholic 7 to take the extraordinary step of splitting off from the Big East football schools.  As a result, it’s almost pointless to try to compare the on-the-court basketball quality of the Catholic 7 versus the New Big East.  The amounts that are being offered by Fox to the Catholic 7 reflect a “blood money” premium offer that they couldn’t refuse, whereas the Big East isn’t going to garner any premium at all and will be subject to the “normal” market forces in play.

That leads to a corresponding question: why would Fox do this?  Why would it want to pay this much for the Catholic 7 instead of, say, simply bidding for the entire hybrid Big East?  Well, let’s take a step back and examine what Fox actually needs in terms of sports content.  The reality is that Fox (and when I say “Fox”, I really mean its new cable networks Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 as opposed to over-the-air Fox) already has a fairly full sports slate in the fall with Major League Baseball, NASCAR, Pac-12 football and Big 12 football rights.  As a result, they don’t have much of a need for other college football games.  The biggest programming gap that Fox has right now is during the winter, where its cable networks are pretty much wide open outside of some Pac-12 basketball rights.

I’ll put on my own tinfoil hat here, where my semi-educated guess is that Fox: (a) no longer had much interest in the New Big East football product after Rutgers and Louisville left, (b) still had interest in the Big East’s basketball product in order to provide winter programming and (c) didn’t want to get into a bidding war with NBC and/or ESPN to buy a Big East package for both basketball and football when all it really wanted was basketball.  As a result, Fox went straight to the Catholic 7 (who represented most of the schools that they wanted to showcase for basketball, anyway) and offered up enough money that would simultaneously be a financial boon to those schools while allowing the cable network operation to save money compared to a competitive bidding situation for the all-sports hybrid Big East rights.  It’s the very essence of a “win-win” for both the Catholic 7 and Fox here.

Meanwhile, the Big East has been left with only one legit suitor with NBC since Fox obviously has no interest (seeing that it made an offer to the Catholic 7 to split up the league), CBS has little funding for its fledgling CBS Sports Network and ESPN has had lukewarm feelings toward the league.  Without a bidding war, the already thrifty Comcast/NBC organization zero incentive to drive up the price of the Big East on its own, so this very low offer reflects that reality.  Either NBC takes the Big East rights or ESPN comes in to match it with its right of first of refusal (which the McMurphy/Katz article notes that the Worldwide Leader has), but there’s no other potential fountain of cash out there.

Sometimes, it’s not quite as simple as saying “UConn is a much better basketball program than DePaul, therefore, UConn should get paid more than DePaul”.  Timing matters in conference realignment and TV contracts, so in this case, Fox had a specific need in a situation where the Catholic 7 was in the right place at the right time.  Granted, that’s no consolation for the fans of schools that are left in the Big East and who may need to start hanging up pictures of Rupert Murdoch on their dartboards instead of Mickey Mouse.

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

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New Year’s Conference Realignment FAQ: Big Ten, Mountain West, Big East and Catholic 7

 

As the college football season has come to an end with Alabama and the SEC triumphant once again and basketball season in full swing, let’s take stock of the conference realignment landscape:

(1) Is the Big Ten expanding to 16 or 18 (or more) and if so, when? – Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune recently noted that there are some within the Big Ten that believe that the conference won’t stop expanding until it gets to 18 schools.  That being said, I’m not someone that believes that further Big Ten expansion is imminent.  Sure, there are schools that the Big Ten seem to be more than willing to add to create a legit superconference (e.g. Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and, of course, Notre Dame), but I continue to believe that there isn’t going to be some type of impending exodus from the ACC.  Look back at how much of a sales job the Big Ten needed to procure Maryland, which is a school in a state contiguous to the current Big Ten footprint, has relatively weak conference rivalries (Terps fans may care about Duke and UNC, but it’s not reciprocated), has turned into a Northern school from a cultural perspective and clearly needed more athletic department money.  From my vantage point, the members of the ACC still like the league even if they’re wary about the TV contract (whereas the Big 12 is the opposite where everyone outside of Texas really isn’t a huge fan of the league per se but are happy about the latest TV deal).  Are the Big Ten and SEC stronger than the ACC?  Absolutely.  However, that doesn’t automatically mean that the ACC is a sitting duck that’s about to get picked apart.

Let’s put it this way: if the Big Ten really thought that it could obtain all of the ACC schools that I’ve seen rumored that the conference wants to add in such a quick manner (e.g. within the next year), then I highly doubt that Jim Delany would have granted an invite to Rutgers.  That’s not a knock on Rutgers and what it can bring to the table in the new Big Ten setup (the school makes sense as an addition for various reasons, not the least of which is a presence in the New York City metro area), but UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech and probably Duke (yes, Duke, and yes, I need to take a shower after saying that) would have all been ahead of the Scarlet Knights on the pecking order.  Convincing Maryland to head to the Big Ten was tough enough and that’s nothing compared to persuading truly Southern schools such as UVA and UNC to come along (and by the same token, the SEC isn’t going to be as attractive to those same schools as it was to Texas A&M and Missouri).

As a Big Ten guy, I personally see a ton of benefits for the conference if it raids the ACC further.  From an objective standpoint, though, I don’t see that happening soon.  The threat of the Big Ten being on the prowl probably gives the conference more power than it does in terms of actually striking.  I know this much: the Big Ten will wait for who it really wants at this point.  They’re not going to force anything other than a 100% fit and to me, that would likely need to be some combo of UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech and/or Notre Dame (although I’d personally want to see Florida State become a prime target).  That could take awhile to come to fruition, so I believe we can put the Superconference Armageddon scenarios away for the time being as realistic (even though they’re so much fun to talk about as hypotheticals).

(2) What are the Big Ten divisions going to look like? – Greenstein’s report also intimated that the Big Ten was looking at an East/West split for divisions with the possibility of putting Northwestern in the East due to its alumni contingents in the New York and Washington, DC regions.  However, the word out of Northwestern is that they would prefer to stay in the West with its closer rivals such as Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin along with enjoying a massive influx of Nebraska fans buying up tickets in Evanston every other year.

From what I’ve seen, the divisional alignment that I had proposed a couple of weeks ago with Michigan State in the West and both Indiana and Purdue in the East and every school having a protected cross division rival won’t come to fruition.  If Northwestern is in the West (and I’ll be honest as an Illinois fan that I’d personally be pretty pissed if Northwestern ends up in the East on top of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State), then it would seem that Indiana would make more sense as the Hoosier State rep in the East (look at this Wall Street Journal article from a few years ago about how many East Coast students have been invading Bloomington lately) while Purdue would head to the West.  That would mean the East would have Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana, while the West would have Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.  In that event, I would hope that the Big Ten assigns Indiana-Purdue as the only protected cross division rivalry while everyone else goes on a regular rotation.  This would allow the West schools to continue playing Michigan and Ohio State more often, especially if the Big Ten increases its conference schedule to 9 games.  The Pac-12 did the right thing by only making the games between the various California-based members into annual cross division games and not trying to force any unnatural pairings.  Hopefully, the Big Ten has the good sense to do the same.

(3) What’s going on with the Big East/Mountain West skirmish? – As of now, the conference realignment action is really happening outside of the scope of the five power conferences (Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12).  The latest cog in the Gang of Five wheel is San Diego State, which is faced with a decision of whether to “go back” to the Mountain West Conference (which they are still a member of until July 1st) or “stay” with the Big East as football-only member (which they have committed to join on that date) and the Big West for basketball and Olympic sports.  I don’t envy the decision that has to be made by the Aztecs since neither option is exactly optimal – it’s either being in the MWC, which has a new TV deal structure that will largely benefit Boise State, or the Big East whose membership is in flux and SDSU will almost certainly be the lone extreme geographic outlier.

Even though there’s a case to be made that San Diego State would make more football TV money in the Big East and actually reduce their Olympics sports travel costs in the Big West, I believe that the Aztecs will ultimately stick with the MWC.  It comes down to a simple question: would San Diego State have chosen to join the Big East one year ago if it knew how the league would look today?  In my opinion, it would be an emphatic “No”, as evidenced by schools in smaller markets such as UNLV and Fresno State having since rejected overtures from the Big East.  It would have been one thing if the Big East still had AQ status (or the equivalent of it in the new postseason system) or could reasonably procure an outsized TV contract compared to the MWC (which is what Big East commissioner Mike Aresco has been trying to convince people will be coming down the pike even though no one outside of Big East partisans believes him), but being the sole West Coast team in a league that isn’t receiving favored treatment anymore and looks like it won’t be adding anyone else within 1500 miles of your school (which we’ll get to in a moment) is a rough thing for any university president or athletic director to sign up for.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Big East is a bad choice for everyone.  Houston and SMU, who have been rumored to be targets of the MWC, still make a lot more sense in the Big East.  At worst, those schools will be in a better version of the Conference USA that they will be leaving, so the MWC doesn’t provide much upside comparatively.  As much as some observers seem to want to watch conferences just pack it in and completely die off, the Big East (or whatever it will be called in the future, which is a separate issue) can still survive as an entity with the pieces that it still has left.  Tulsa appears to be a Big East expansion target, which would be a solid addition for its Southwestern flank.  UMass is also out there as a classic “university presidents might love it and fans will hate it” option – they have a nascent and struggling FBS program yet offer a public flagship university in the Northeast that plays football at that level (which otherwise don’t exist at all outside of the 5 power conferences plus UConn).  Several other schools from Conference USA (e.g. Southern Mississippi) and the MAC (e.g. Northern Illinois) might also get a look, but my feeling  is that Tulsa and UMass are the frontrunners to get the Big East up to 12 football members (assuming that San Diego State stays in the MWC) as soon as possible.  The league would then do everything it can to keep Navy on board as an addition for 2015 and, if Mike Aresco is successful in doing so, would target one more school on top of that to get to 14 schools for that season.

(4) What is the TV Contract and Expansion Status for the “Catholic 7”? – The Catholic 7 defectors from the Big East (DePaul, St. John’s, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova and Providence) have upended the “football means everything and basketball means nothing” axiom of conference realignment.  According to Darren Rovell of ESPN. com, Fox has offered $500 million over 12 years for the Catholic 7, with the assumption that the group adds 5 more schools to get up to 12 members.  That figure will likely be larger than what the football playing schools in the Big East will receive for both football and basketball.  I’ve said many times on this blog that football in and of itself isn’t what’s valuable, but rather quality content.  In this case, the Catholic 7 are offering quality content in their sphere of non-FBS basketball schools with traditional schools in large urban markets.  The problem with so many conferences is that they’re trying to apply the way that the Big Ten and SEC make money via football when they don’t have the assets to do it properly.  It would be akin to a mom-and-pop corner store trying to run a business like Wal-Mart or Target without the requisite supply chain.  Not every conference can be all things to all people in the manner of the Big Ten and SEC, so the Catholic 7 was smart enough to realize (or at least make the right decision when backed into a corner) that they can exploit a lucrative niche.  They became the Trader Joe’s of college conferences as opposed to Wal-Mart, if you will.  Instead of being subject to the whims of raids from the 5 more powerful football conferences as members of the hybrid Big East, the Catholic 7 have positioned themselves as arguably the most powerful non-FBS sports conference out there.  The non-FBS market might be much smaller than the FBS market as a whole, but there’s something to be said to being #1 in the former with complete control of your destiny as opposed to #6 (or even #7) in the latter without any buying power.

With the Fox offer apparently contingent upon the Catholic 7 adding 5 schools, that brings into question who would be the expansion candidates.  Xavier and Butler have been continuously named by several separate outlets as locks, so that takes up the first two spots.  The next 2 most likely targets appear to be Dayton (great fan base) and Creighton (ditto with a top notch on-the-court program right now on top of that).  All 4 of those schools should feel fairly comfortable about getting into the new league with the Catholic 7 (which may very well still end up with the Big East brand name when all is said and done) with this news about Fox wanting a 12-team league.  That leaves the last spot that appears to be a battle between St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth.

If I were running the Catholic 7, I’d definitely recommend SLU as school #12.  From my vantage point, this is an opportunity for this group of schools to create a conference with branding that goes beyond athletics with like-minded institutions.  Essentially, the new league can be to urban undergraduate-focused private schools in the Midwest and East Coast what the Big Ten is to large research institutions in the same region.  In that regard, SLU is a perfect institutional fit with the Catholic 7 and the 4 other schools mentioned.  SLU also has excellent basketball facilities and a solid history in the sport, so it’s not as if though this would be a poor on-the-court move.

VCU, on the other hand, would purely be a basketball resume addition.  Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that approach, as this new league is going to need top notch hoops teams on-the-court to gain the requisite NCAA Tournament credits to pay the bills.  At the same time, VCU would be an Eastern-based addition to balance out all of the other probable expansion candidates that are located in the Midwest.  However, I’m wary about VCU being an addition based on short-term results as opposed to long-term institutional fit.  What surprises me is that there has been zero buzz about the Catholic 7 looking at Richmond, which has a solid basketball resume itself and is a better institutional fit as a private liberal arts school located in the same market as VCU.

It’s not an accident that SLU was added by the Atlantic 10 immediately after Conference USA stopped its hybrid model after the Big East raids of 2003, while VCU and Butler were only invited this year.  SLU would be a long-term move in a solid TV market that’s a great institutional fit and makes geographic sense assuming that the Catholic 7 wants to add Creighton.  I have all of the respect in the world for VCU as a basketball program, but SLU would be best for the new Catholic 7 league for the long run.

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

(Image from CBS Sports)

Big Mistake by the Big East: Overconfidence in TV Valuation Caused Exodus Beyond Rutgers and Louisville

In my observations of conference realignment over the past several years, I’ve actually believed that the various oft-maligned leaders of the Big East have often received a bad rap.  The frequent criticism that the basketball side ran the Big East rang hollow to me since having great basketball while improving football are not mutually exclusive, meaning that it made no sense to dilute what was legitimately an elite basketball conference just to add mediocre football bodies.  At the same time, there was never going to be a “proactive” move that would have prevented any Big East member from accepting an invite from the ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten.  Adding the likes of Houston, SMU, East Carolina, Memphis and Tulane earlier was never going to change the minds of Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and Rutgers when they got the opportunity to find different homes.  No one can really blame any Big East leader for those schools leaving.

The last two defections (Rutgers to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC), though, should not have caused an exodus that has seen the non-football “Catholic 7” group (Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette) leave the league that several of them founded and Boise State decide to never even join as a football-only member (with San Diego State likely leaving right behind them).  Just because UConn and Cincinnati are doing everything that they can to leave the Big East didn’t have to mean that this league needed to split apart entirely.  Big East commissioner Mike Aresco, who came into the office this past summer with great fanfare and accolades from college sports industry veterans, has made a number of missteps that can’t be simply blamed on Rutgers and Louisville leaving.

Back in the heady days of October, the spin coming out of the Big East was that their new TV deal would be well in excess of $10 million per all-sports school and could even approach ACC-level figures.  Aresco, being a long-time TV industry executive with CBS Sports and ESPN, seemed to have some street cred on the issue.  However, the problem with all of the Big East valuations was that they were based on external broad-based market factors, such as new ESPN competitors (e.g. NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports One, etc.) needing the magic word of “inventory” and the overall rise in TV sports rights, as opposed to anything at all with the intrinsic value of the Big East itself.  The Big East tricked themselves (and many of their fans) into believing that they could turn down whatever ESPN was offering during an exclusive negotiating window period that ended on October 31st simply because they were selling a new TV contract in a rising market.  Even if Rutgers and Louisville had never left the Big East (as those defections occurred after the ESPN window expired), it was playing with fire.  There was never a guarantee that notoriously cheap Comcast was going to step up with a large offer on behalf of NBC Sports Network while Fox seemed to be more focused on other college conferences.  This isn’t just 20/20 hindsight from my viewpoint – the Big East got cocky about their TV valuation back in the fall and set themselves up to get burned on a number of levels irrespective of the actions of the Big Ten and ACC.

That cockiness about the potential TV deal led the Big East down a path where they mistakenly thought that they could convince BYU to join the league as a football-only member.  As I’ve stated several times before, BYU’s decision to become an independent was much more about obtaining exposure in and of itself with its ESPN contract and the leveraging of BYUtv than TV money itself.  However, reports out of the Big East repeatedly indicated that they wanted to keep going after BYU in a misguided belief that the conference could throw enough money to get the Cougars to bite.  This waste of time with respect to BYU prevented the Big East from moving on to different football-only alternatives for its proposed western flank, such as concentrating more on Air Force or going after other Mountain West members.  By the time that it was clear that the TV deal that the Big East was holding out for would never materialize, it was too late to get even Fresno State or UNLV (much less BYU). Without further western members willing to come to the Big East, that forced Boise State to reevaluate its own status and ultimately decide to remain in the Mountain West.  Whether or not the Big East should have offered Boise State some favorable TV deal terms in the same vein as the Mountain West did (where Boise State’s home games will be sold as a separate TV deal with financial bonuses to schools for national TV appearances) is irrelevant here.  It would never have come to this if the Big East hadn’t overvalued its TV prospects three months ago.

Meanwhile, the Catholic 7 had been witnessing the league that many of them founded start turn completely into Conference USA 2.0 over the past several years.  What kept them around up until last month was the prospect of a TV deal driven by the bubble in college football.  However, what the Catholic 7 figured out (and something that every single college sports fan that follows conference realignment should take note of) is that football in and of itself is not valuable.  Instead, what’s valuable is having the right football teams, and the Big East no longer had them.  Thus, hitching their wagon to schools simply because they played football no longer provided extra value to the Catholic 7, which meant there also wasn’t any point to being in an unstable hybrid that was getting picked apart due to football-focused conference realignment.  Receiving roughly the same TV money in a league that the Catholic 7 could control without worrying about football while also being an aggressor within its sphere of basketball-focused conference realignment (instead of being a victim) became much more appealing.  Of course, that TV calculation by the Catholic 7 would have never happened if the Big East had taken the ESPN offer this past fall since the league would have locked in an amount for the basketball schools that wouldn’t have made it worth it to consider splitting off.

At this point, the Big East mainly has to ensure that schools such as Houston and SMU don’t end up heading over to the Mountain West along with Boise State and presumably San Diego State, as well.  Now, I personally don’t believe that the Big East will lose anyone else to the MWC (the Big East still seems to be a better value proposition for the Texas-based schools), but perception of who is weak or strong can change pretty quickly in conference realignment.  It’s one thing for the Big East to be losing head-to-head battles with the Big Ten and ACC, yet it’s an entirely different matter when the MWC seems to have more momentum.

Ultimately, the decisions of Boise State and the Catholic 7 indicate that the new Big East TV valuation wasn’t going to be much of an increase (if there was an increase at all) over the Mountain West’s current fairly pedestrian deal and what the Catholic schools could receive in basketball TV money on their own.  All of that shows that Aresco turning down ESPN’s offer that would have surely been enough to keep Boise State and the Catholic 7 in the fold was a monumental error.  The Big East wanted to believe that it could still be in the power conference conversation or even argue that it was a stronger football league than the ACC.  However, they got put back into place quickly by the conference realignment gods with a major assist from the hubris of the Big East leadership.

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

(Image from Yahoo!)

Excommunication of the Big East: 7 Catholic Schools Will Split

When I was attending DePaul for law school a decade ago (it makes me feel ancient to say that) and the Blue Demon athletic program was toiling away in Conference USA, the university looked at joining the Big East as an aspirational goal in the same way that Rutgers looked at the Big Ten or Utah looked at the old Pac-10 for many years.  The Big East was the home of the schools that DePaul either saw as urban Catholic school peers (such as Vincentian counterpart St. John’s) or academic leaders (Notre Dame and Georgetown).  When Conference Realignment circa 2003 reared its head and opened up spots in the Big East, DePaul couldn’t run to that league fast enough.  While the non-Catholic Big East schools at the time such as Syracuse and Pitt were attractive partners in terms of pure athletics, it was the Catholic school base that was DePaul’s draw.  The belief was that no matter what happened, DePaul would be linked to those major Catholic schools going forward.

Now DePaul is moving forward with Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence and Marquette in breaking off from the Big East and forming a new basketball conference.  There are some formalities that need to take place on figuring out the process of how this will actually occur, but it’s conceptually a done deal.  I’m not someone that was ever a large believer in the inevitability of a split between the Catholic schools and football members of the Big East.  Ever since the initial ACC raid of the Big East in 2003 of Miami, Virginia Tech and Syracuse, the hybrid model of the league was still a net positive for all of its members even if a lot of fans complained about it.  The Catholic schools benefited from having a power conference image via the Big East’s AQ status in the BCS system despite not playing FBS football, while the all-sports members got direct basketball access to the major markets of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington.  They were all worth more together than they were worth apart.

The equation changed with Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville leaving, though.  The network effects of those brand names (well, at least with respect to Louisville and Notre Dame for basketball) coupled with the Catholic schools were eradicated.  With the value of the Big East’s new potential TV deal plummeting in the marketplace due to defections, the Catholic schools believed that they weren’t receiving a clear financial benefit from the hybrid anymore.  Maybe they would still a little bit more by sticking with the Big East, but it wouldn’t be enough to make it worth it to continue to be subject to the whims of football-driven realignment.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: stability can trump even money in conference realignment.  The Big East Catholic schools finally got tired of getting dragged through the mud on account of a sport that they didn’t even play at the top level.  Even an extra $1 million per year in TV money for staying in the hybrid is fairly small in the scheme of things if you have a choice between controlling your own league or other conferences poaching your league controlling you.

Ultimately, I believe the new basketball league using the Big East Catholic schools as a basis will be successful within the parameters of what can be reasonably expected out of non-football conference.  If the new league moves forward with poaching Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10, who have apparently already agreed to join with St. Louis University, Dayton, Creighton and VCU under consideration for the 10th spot or possibly 3 spots to form a 12-team setup), then it’s an attractive proposition to the TV networks.  ESPN, for example, can throw $20 million to $30 million per year at this conference (which would be less than what ESPN currently pays the Big East for basketball in a pitiful contract that was signed for a rock bottom amount in the mid-2000s) and that would constitute a pay raise for the Catholics on a per school basis.  It’s not exactly a stretch to believe that ESPN would rather do that to get the bulk of the Big Monday games that they would have wanted, anyway, while completing avoiding the need to pay for Big East football games that the network doesn’t have any use for.

To be sure, the Catholic schools would not have bolted if the Big East had the composition that it had when this year’s college football season started.  A split was always a very last resort and that moment came when Louisville got invited to the ACC.  Staying in the hybrid for the sake of continuing to play UConn was no longer enough (even if new incoming members such as Memphis were strong in basketball).

The one good thing out of all of this is that the Big East Catholic schools will be going from a league with no institutional identity to a new conference with as strong of an institutional identity as any other out there.  Institutional fit is a hallmark of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other stable conferences and that will serve the new league well.

This Big East basketball season is going to take on the air of the last year of the Southwest Conference, where no one knows whether many of schools will ever play each other again.  I’ll have more on this as the story continues to develop.

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

(Image from The Sports Bank)

Rumor Has It: Conference Realignment Has Fans on Edge

Earlier this week, we had a flurry of concrete conference realignment news crammed into a 48-hour period, and then we went cold turkey (no pun intended) over the Thanksgiving holiday.  That has left Twitter rumors to fill the void and potentially affected fan bases on edge (culminating in Cincinnati fans chanting, “ACC!” when they saw the school’s president walk through the stands).  For what it’s worth, I take extra care to not pass along Tweets with every single realignment rumor that comes my way (and believe me, I pretty much get them all ).  (For those that aren’t following as of yet, my Twitter handle is @frankthetank111.) My personal filter is to make sure that the original Tweeter has some real reason or connection to know what he/she claims to know and/or apply my own view of plausibility.  As most of my regular readers know, I’m not a believer that a world of 4 16-team superconferences are inevitable (at least not in the short term) or that the ACC and/or Big East are one or two losses from complete destruction.  I certainly don’t see a rush by the Big Ten or SEC to get to 16 members in this round of conference realignment.  These are interesting Armageddon scenarios, but I tend to believe in a more logical downward pressure in the conference ranks, or as people say colloquially, “S**t rolls downhill.”  Maybe the ACC will lose some more schools, but that league will backfill from the Big East, who in turn will backfill from Conference USA and/or the Mountain West, and so on and so forth.

Without any concrete news, we’re basically left with trying to parse out what is legitimately plausible and whether the proverbial smoke around certain topics indicates either a real fire or just some dude in his basement toking.  From my vantage point, there are two themes coming together that have relevance:

(1) ACC Mindset Change and a Surge of Support for Louisville – In my last couple of posts, I stated that I would bet on Connecticut getting an invite to the ACC.  If the ACC follows its prior actions and academic and TV market criteria for expansion candidates, UConn would be near a 100% lock.  As a result, the mere fact that there is even a debate about Louisville going to the ACC at all (much less Louisville being ahead in the race, which a number of observers are claiming) indicates that there’s a major mindset change in the conference brewing (or at least some schools outside of the Duke/UNC old-line faction that are throwing their weight around, particularly Florida State).

Whether it’s right or wrong, the widespread perception is that Louisville would be the “football smart” move for the ACC and anything other than that could lead to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and/or others bolting to the warm arms of Texas and the Big 12.  As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t believe that Florida State would leave for the Big 12 all, but the ACC obviously can’t take any chances with its most important football member.

One interesting example of Twitter having fans on edge was a Tweet from Brian Miller, a Tallahassee Democrat reporter that said that the ACC wouldn’t even make a choice between Louisville and UConn, but rather add both of them along with Cincinnati* to create a 16-team conference.  By the time that Tweet spread like wildfire, Miller had removed it from his timeline.  Time will tell whether that was removed because it couldn’t be backed up or the information was too sensitive for the reporter’s source to put it out there for public consumption immediately.  The ACC may very well have the most incentive to grow to 16 first to create a perception of strength in numbers (even if it might not look like the most financially lucrative move).

(* Much like the athletic departments at Louisville and UConn, I have a ton of respect for what Cincinnati has been able to do on-the-field during its time in the Big East.  The Bearcats have arguably been the most consistent football program in the circa 2005 version of the conference, so it would be sweet justice to see them land softly.  We’ll see if that soft landing actually happens, though.)

Regardless, Louisville and the school’s surrogates are getting the message out that they are the best football move for the ACC (despite being a basketball school by any other measure).  The wants and needs of fans rarely matter to commissioners and university presidents in conference realignment, but if enough Florida State fans are out for blood (similar to how Texas A&M fans pounded their administration to push for a move to the SEC), this might be one instance where the fans win out if Louisville ends up getting the ACC invite.

(2) Prospect of Big East Catholic Schools Splitting Off – For many, many, many years, one of the easiest reflex responses that I’ve had in conference realignment discussions was that the Big East football schools and non-football Catholic members wouldn’t split into a separate leagues.  Up to this point, it made zero financial sense for either side – the value of the Catholic schools were enhanced by the presence of Louisville, UConn and Notre Dame (even without Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia) while the football members needed the traditional brand names and major media markets of the non-football schools.  While the two sides might not have liked each other, they were worth more together than they were worth apart.

Notre Dame has left the Big East for the ACC as a non-football member, though, and at least one of Louisville or UConn is heading out the door possibly as soon as next week.  Heck, even Cincinnati might be heading out with them.  Going forward, it may no longer be truism that the Catholic schools would make more TV money staying with the football members, in which case Georgetown and company are likely wondering whether it’s worth it to deal with constant football-related defections in a hybrid league when they could have a league all to themselves and be considered power players in the non-football marketplace that they inhabit.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated indicated that there have been informal discussions of a nationwide basketball conference (“think Georgetown to Gonzaga”).  At the same time, the Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal has brought up the possibility of the Catholic schools voting to dissolve the Big East entirely and go off on their own, which would be possible when Louisville and/or UConn leave since they’ll have the voting majority in place to do it (as the new members such as UCF and Houston don’t have voting rights yet and any defecting members won’t have votes, either).

I could spend hours dreaming up national basketball conference scenarios (all of which would include Pepperdine because visiting that school is like visiting a beach resort), but my semi-educated guess is that in the event of a Big East split, the Catholic schools would team up with the top handful of Atlantic 10 members to form a new league.  For discussion purposes only, it would look something along the lines of the following:

Georgetown
Villanova
St. John’s
Seton Hall
Providence
DePaul
Marquette
Xavier
Dayton
St. Louis
Duquense
Butler

It’s not unfathomable that ESPN could step in and pay that type of league the same amount that the Big East Catholics would have received in a new Big East hybrid TV contract or more if only to keep top college basketball brand names such as Georgetown and Villanova under the Worldwide Leader’s control.  From my vantage point, I see a lot more Big Monday-worthy matchups coming out of that league compared to a new Big East without Louisville and/or UConn.

Once again, I have never been a Big East split believer or proponent, but the latest conference realignment moves could be upending the conventional wisdom.

In any event, there’s a full slate of spectacular college football games to be played on-the-field on Saturday.  Even as a conference realignment aficionado, here’s to hoping that we all can concentrate on the games themselves for a day.

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

(Image from Restricted Data)

Like A Drifter I Was Born to Walk Alone: Beastly Big East Expansion, DePaul Arena Dreaming, BlogPoll Ballot, Parlay Picks and Classic Music Video of the Week

You just knew that one of either Tony Romo or Jay Cutler was going to have a sub-zero passer rating game on Monday night, right?  It was preordained with a prime time game featuring the two erratic quarterbacks.  Fortunately for the Bears, Bad Romo showed up that even more gloriously led to a nostalgic appearance by the Neckbeard.  Let’s get onto some other news:

(1) Beastly Big East Expansion – I didn’t get to write about this at all last week, but the Big East reportedly has been looking at BYU and Air Force for its 14th football member (and might even add those 2 plus Army to have a 16-team football league).  If the Big East can pull off that trifecta, that’s effectively the best that the conference could realistically do considering the circumstances.  However, I continue to have doubts about the viability of a BYU candidacy for the Big East because of that school’s very different leadership structure and goals compared to any other FBS school.  Indeed, Brett McMurphy, in his report linked above, said, “BYU was close to joining the Big East last November, until the deal blew up essentially at the last minute when the Cougars refused to relinquish their home television rights.”  That’s such a basic fundamental issue that I find it difficult to believe that it could have possibly only been brought up at the last minute unless a group far above the athletic director’s pay grade (AKA the actual leadership of the LDS Church) purposefully lobbed in a grenade to tank the negotiations.  My understanding from BYU people has always been that TV exposure trumps TV money by a wide margin to LDS leadership, which means that they aren’t going to be persuaded by merely a larger check from a share of Big East TV rights versus the guaranteed widespread exposure that the school receives now in its ESPN contract.  Plus, BYU has effectively stated previously that Comcast’s dealings with the Mountain West were the biggest reason why the school turned independent in the first place, so it will be an extremely tough sell for the Big East to pitch the value of any potential NBC/Comcast deal to the Cougars no matter how much it might pay.  The Big East’s largest selling point to BYU would be that the access to the new 7th top tier bowl discussed here last week may only be open to the champions of the “Gang of Five” conferences (the Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC), which means that the school’s ability to make it into the new BCS (or whatever it will be called) system will solely be via a handful of access bowl slots determined by a selection committee.  Essentially, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco has to convince the LDS Church (NOT the BYU athletic department, which seems to be much more open to conference membership) that the exposure gained from having access to this new 7th bowl trumps the week-to-week exposure that the school is receiving from its current TV deals.  I think the chances of BYU joining the Big East are better than they were two weeks ago, but still nowhere near a foregone conclusion.  Hence, the hedging comment in the McMurphy piece that the Big East is “divided over whether to pursue Air Force or BYU.”  It’s very clear that BYU is the superior option, but the Big East needs to make it look like that it chose Air Force (instead of getting rejected by BYU) if it ends up adding the Falcons.  (“You didn’t reject us!  We rejected you!”)

As you can see, I believe that Air Force is a much more realistic addition to the Big East compared to BYU.  Things have changed greatly for Air Force since it rejected the Big East’s overtures 1 year ago, particularly the fact that the Big East decided to raid Air Force’s home of the Mountain West of Boise State and San Diego State.  Navy has also committed to join the Big East for football since that time, so that gives the Air Force a service academy rival to potentially enter the league with.  In contrast, nothing has really changed for BYU other than potentially the bowl situation.  As a result, if I were a betting man, Air Force is going to end up as Big East football school #14.

On another note, Big East Coast Bias points out that the new Atlantic 10 TV contract shows why the Catholic members of the Big East aren’t going to be splitting off to create a CYO basketball league.  In this era of skyrocketing sports rights contracts, the Atlantic 10 is going to be receiving $40 million over the course of 8 years.  That translates into $5 million per year to be split among 14 members, which amounts to an average of a little more than $350,000 per year per school.  This has to be a scary figure for the schools that solely depend upon basketball revenue.  Granted, I believe that a CYO basketball league made up of the current Big East Catholic schools plus a handful of others (e.g. St. Louis University, Xavier, Dayton) would command a better TV contract than what the Atlantic 10 is receiving, but this new deal effectively ensures that those Big East members won’t even take the chance of a split.  As I noted last year, splitting up the Big East would be as misguided as the maligned and eventually overturned decision to split up Netflix and this is more evidence of that being the case.

(2) DePaul Arena Dreaming – Speaking of the Big East and on a more personal note, the notion of DePaul basketball returning to the Chicago city limits is finally gaining steam.  DePaul is looking at either moving home games to the United Center or partnering with the city and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to build a new arena near McCormick Place.  I have been arguing that DePaul basketball ought to move to the United Center at a minimum ever since I started this blog (see this post about DePaul’s very first Big East game, which happened to be against Notre Dame, complete with an outdated reference to the now-defunct Demon Dogs), so it’s been a long time coming.  Personally, I like the McCormick Place proposal even more since the funding appears to be available, Rahm seems to want to get it done (meaning that it’s much more than a pipe dream) and it would be an arena whose primary tenant is DePaul (compared to the United Center, where the order of precedence is (1) Ringling Bros. Circus, (2) Disney on Ice, (3) Bulls, (4) Blackhawks and (5) everything else).  A new CTA Green Line Station at Cermak Road to serve McCormick Place is being built, which means that even though the arena isn’t necessarily close to Lincoln Park, it would be easily accessible by public transportation for students on the North Side and even easier for people based at DePaul’s expanding South Loop campus.  There is also plenty of parking structures already in place for people that want to drive.  It’s not as desirable as having a Lincoln Park location, but considering the practical issues of cost and transportation, this is the most viable option for a DePaul arena within the city limits that we have ever seen.

Also, I can see Rahm’s reasoning for pushing this plan from an urban planning perspective.  As someone that lived in Chinatown for a time (which is one mile directly west of McCormick Place straight down Cermak Road), there’s definitely a major gap in commercial development (or at least conventioneer/tourist-friendly commercial development) in the blocks between the Chinatown Red Line station and the convention center complex.  Considering that McCormick Place is arguably the largest single draw for business visitors to Chicago (who have expense accounts to spend), there is decidedly very little in the way of restaurants and bars in that area.  A new arena can be a catalyst for more development in a spot that definitely needs it along with connecting the McCormick Place area to the more developed Chinatown to the west and the rest of the South Loop that is already gentrified to the north.  Granted, there have been plenty of DePaul arena options that have fallen through over the years, so we’ll proceed with cautious optimism here.

(3) BlogPoll Ballot

My main disagreements with the overall poll is that I believe that LSU, Notre Dame (out of all teams) and Northwestern are underrated, while the winner of the Georgia-South Carolina game this weekend is going to end up overrated.  Also, I will continue to bring the love for Louisiana Tech as long as they keep winning.  That’s a legit BCS buster.

(4) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

WISCONSIN (-14) over Illinois – I’m counting down the days to basketball season at this point.  It’s getting ugly for the Illini.

Miami (+14) over Notre Dame (game at Soldier Field in Chicago) – Despite my belief that Notre Dame is actually underrated in the polls at this point, I don’t think that I’ve agreed with a single Vegas line for the Irish all year.  Miami isn’t nearly the pushover that it looked like they could have been after getting waxed by Kansas State.

Georgia (+1) over SOUTH CAROLINA – I think both of these teams are a bit overrated from the glow of the top of the SEC, but I have more faith in Georgia this year.

(5) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

RAMS (+2.5) over Cardinals – Arizona is worse than their record and, as I said last week, St. Louis is better than their record.

REDSKINS (+3) over Falcons – I don’t quite know what to make of the Redskins so far this season, but RGIII certainly makes them interesting.

JAGUARS (+5) over Bears – The Bears should be winning this game, but this is the type of matchup that always puts us fans on edge.  We were at least able to count on Bad Romo rearing his head this past Monday night.

(6) Classic Music Video of the Week – “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake

If the Mo Money Mo Problems video was a late-1990s time capsule, then this classic from Whitesnake is everything that a late-1980s trash rock video should feature: lots of hair, lots of guitars, and lots of a pre-husband abuse/Celebrity Rehab Tawny Kitaen.  Of course, this song is also a favorite of my namesake Frank the Tank.

Enjoy the games!

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

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)

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Frank the Tank’s Big East Expansion FAQ

With the Big East announcing that it’s looking to add two football programs, a lot of the same  questions about what the conference should do have been continuously coming up, so let’s address them here:

1. Why don’t the Big East football schools grow some cajones and split from those bloodsucking Catholic schools already?! – As with most decisions of consequence in life, it’s all much easier said than done.  First of all, the gospel that “football money rules all” that has been advanced over the past few years is not quite correct.  Most people blindly follow the Underpants Gnomes Plan for college sports:

Phase 1: Expand for football
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit

However, football in and of itself really isn’t what drives money in college sports.  Otherwise, the 14-school MAC would be the richest league anywhere and the 12-team Conference USA would be looking to poach the Big East as opposed to the other way around.  Quantity does not equal quality, and what TV networks pay for is quality.  Instead, it’s the marquee football schools (i.e. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Miami, USC, etc.) that disproportionately drive revenue and adding anything less than one of those schools is speculative and by no means any guarantee that ESPN or another TV network will pay a single cent more.  (Stewart Mandel’s 2007 grouping of the BCS schools into four different tiers is still a pretty good assessment of how where various programs stand in the long-term.)  It’s even unclear that the expanded Pac-10 will really gain much (if any) revenue with Colorado and Utah and that’s with the revenue pop of the creation of a new conference championship game.

Without any marquee schools involved, we can’t apply the same standards for expansion for the Big Ten or SEC to the Big East.  The Big East receives around $33 million per year from ESPN, with about $20 million allocated for basketball ($1.25 million per basketball member) and $13 million for football ($1.625 million per football member).  As you can see, basketball is on the same tier financially to the Big East as football.  Plenty of people have criticized this fact, but it’s a classic “it is what it is” situation.  Without a Notre Dame or Penn State-type addition, the Big East can’t reasonably expect to add any school that adds enough to the football revenue side that would make it worth it for the league to split.

The Big East football members make $2.875 million in TV revenue each annually (including both football and basketball).  That means a 10-team all-sports league would need to have a total TV contract of $28.75 million compared to the current $33 million contract which includes a whole host of large basketball markets just to break even.  Of course, the Big East schools aren’t going to go through the hassle and inevitable lawsuits to split in order to simply break even.  The only good reason for a split would be to see a big-time increase in revenue to make it worth it.  So, in order to make $5 million per school (which would still be the lowest out of all of the BCS conferences by a substantial amount), a 10-school split league would need a $50 million annual TV contract ($17 million more than the current 16-school contract) while a 12-school league would need a $60 million contract ($27 million more than the current deal).  Even if we assume that a split league would somehow lose absolutely no value on the basketball side (and that’s a very generous assumption) and the current 8 Big East football members alone can start at the $33 million level that’s being paid out to the entire 16-team conference, 2 additional schools would need to add about $8.5 million each to the Big East TV contract while 4 additional schools would need to bring $6.75 million each.

Is it reasonable to assume that individual schools will be able to bring to the Big East revenue increases that are close the entire TV contracts for the conferences that they would be leaving such as the Mountain West or C-USA?  (The MWC makes $12 million in TV money per year for all sports and the C-USA deal with CBS College Sports is between $7 to 8 million annually.)  Absolutely not, which is what the Big East’s university presidents understand and why they are adamant about not splitting.

This doesn’t even get into what would happen to the Big East’s accumulated NCAA Tournament credits over the past five years, which represent a significant amount of money equal to about five years of BCS bowl payments.  The football schools would risk giving all of that up to the Catholic schools in a split situation (since the football schools would be exiting the conference from a legal perspective) and, at the very least, there would be massive lawsuits involved.  The Big East football members aren’t stupid enough to get within the vicinity of that type of potential trouble and financial loss unless it’s adding a certain Catholic school from South Bend (which won’t happen).

2.  Didn’t you go to DePaul for law school, which makes you a hack homer and completely biased in supporting a program that can’t play basketball worth crap or justify its existence in the Big East? Yes, I went to DePaul for law school, but my emotional sports investment is with my undergrad alma mater of Illinois and the Big Ten.  Also, I completely understand DePaul sucks royally hard in basketball right now.  Oh man, do they suck.  My eyes are burning.  Personally, I don’t really care whether the Big East splits or not – my only long-term preference for DePaul (and what the school’s administration cares about) would be staying with the Catholic schools that it considers to be its institutional peers in some form or fashion.  (I’m sure the alums of the old-line Big East schools such as St. John’s and Georgetown would feel very differently about that – they are definitely invested completely in the hybrid.)

That being said, the value of DePaul and all of the other Catholic schools in the Big East is as a collective as opposed to the individual schools.  The Catholic members are what allow the Big East to go into any negotiation and state that it’s the conference that covers the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Providence/Boston markets.  Believe me when I say that this fact is pumped up on slide #1 on any Big East PowerPoint presentation and that the relative peanuts that the conference is receiving from ESPN today would be even less without that market argument.  The Big East can’t point to massive fan bases or schools like the Big Ten or SEC (and likely will never have any), so the competitive advantage that it has to sell is its presence in nearly all of the largest markets in the Eastern half of the United States.  Otherwise, the differentiators between the Big East and C-USA or the Mountain West (much less the other BCS conferences) from a TV perspective are virtually nil.  The Big East is still more valuable with the Catholic schools than without them for that reason.

3.  Doesn’t the Big East need to protect itself from getting pillaged by the Big Ten and ACC? The bad news in Providence is that every Big East member would jump to the Big Ten or ACC immediately no matter what the Big East decides to do – no expansion decision or financial scheme would ever change that.  The good news is that the Big Ten and ACC aren’t interested in any Big East schools.  So, for the foreseeable future, the answer to the question is an emphatic NO.  Similar to the analysis of the financial prospects (or lack thereof) in a Big East split situation in the answer to question #1 above, the financial incentives simply aren’t there for either the Big Ten or ACC to expand beyond 12 barring Notre Dame or Texas being added.  In the Big Ten’s case, each additional school needs to bring in $22 million just to break even in today’s world without Nebraska or a Big Ten title game – that number is probably going to push toward the $30 million over the next year or two in the 12-team league.  Once again, the entire 16-school Big East contract is worth $33 million.  While the Big Ten Network is lucrative, it can’t perform David Copperfield magic tricks – 2 or 4 Big East schools aren’t suddenly going to be worth $30 million each to the Big Ten when a 16-school league is valued at $33 million total.  Similar math applies to the ACC situation, albeit with lower figures in the $15 million per school range.  ESPN isn’t going to add $30 million to its new ACC contract so that the league can expand with 2 Big East members (or a $60 million increase with 4 additional members) when it currently can get all 16 Big East members for $33 million.  None of it adds up.  Therefore, the Big East should be expanding to better itself as opposed to some type of defensive measure against other conferences.

4.  Can’t the Big East make up the revenue gap with other BCS conferences by creating its own TV network?  Well, a lot of people seem to apply the Underpants Gnomes Plan to the notion of a Big East network, too.  Just because a conference (a) starts a network and (b) has teams in certain markets doesn’t automatically mean that such conference network is going to magically get the basic carriage at a high subscriber rate that’s required to make it financially viable.  Case in point is the mtn (which is the Mountain West’s network that’s owned by CBS College Sports), which hasn’t been able to get basic carriage in its two largest markets of Dallas-Fort Worth and San Diego.  So, if TCU wasn’t enough to get the mtn onto basic carriage in DFW, it’s not going to suddenly get a Big East network on in the same market when the Big East has no substantial alumni or fan presence in that area otherwise.  The Minnesota Twins also started a network that ended up folding, and that’s actually a team that legitimately “delivers” its home market.  Even the Texas Longhorns network isn’t really going to be the financial boon that many were predicting and there’s no single school in the country that’s better positioned to start one up.

Without leverage, you don’t get basic carriage, and without basic carriage, you’re better off just signing a comprehensive deal with ESPN.  That leverage doesn’t come in a linear fashion, either – it’s faulty reasoning to say, “The Big East is 50% less popular than the Big Ten in its home area, so the Big East network can just charge 50% less than the Big Ten Network.”  Instead, there’s a tipping point where there’s a critical mass of fans in a market that care about the network so much that they will actually leave (not just threaten) their current cable provider for another one that carries the network.  At that point, the current cable provider is better off paying up $.70 per month (or whatever the subscriber rate is) to that network than losing more money in cancelled $80 monthly cable bills.  The Big Ten and the New York Yankees had that leverage and even they had to endure fights with cable providers for a year or more in order to get basic carriage.

That leads to another issue specifically related to the Big East – in order for its conference network to work out in any form, it needs to get basic carriage in the New York City market.  Remember that this was a market where Cablevision argued that the freaking Yankees were “niche programming” and there’s already three extremely high-priced regional sports networks (YES, SNY and MSG) to compete with.  Frankly, if any combination of Rutgers, Syracuse and/or UCONN was enough to get a cable network basic carriage in NYC, then such combination would’ve been invited to the Big Ten months ago.  The problem is that the NYC market is fool’s gold for conferences because the sheer size of it and the way that college sports fans are so dispersed among all of the conferences there means that no single conference could ever get the critical mass required to make a network work in that area.

This issue applies to pretty much all of the large markets that the Big East is located in (Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington).  The conference has a presence in each of them where they provide value for the purposes of an ESPN national TV contract or signing up the syndicated Big East package with an RSN, but none of them provide the critical mass of fans that would meet the threshold of getting a Big East network basic carriage.  Heck, the only Big East markets that I could see as “guaranteed” to get basic carriage are Louisville, Hartford and the state of West Virginia.  Pittsburgh and Central New York probably could be added to that list, but everywhere else would be speculative.  The Big East has the high population numbers on paper, but not enough fan intensity within that population base to justify creating a TV network.

5.  Couldn’t Big East consultant/savior Paul Tagliabue figure out how to create a Big East network?  Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue?  The guy that took the single most valuable sports property in America and created a network that initially couldn’t get carriage anywhere other than DirecTV, where the NFL has Godfather powers due to Sunday Ticket access?  The guy that created a network that couldn’t reach a deal with Comcast until he left the commissioner’s office and Roger Goodell took over?  The guy that created a network that still doesn’t have deals with Time Warner, Cablevision or Mediacom seven years after it went on the air?  You want that guy giving you advice on starting up a cable network?  Seriously?!

I remember traveling to London for work a couple of years ago and found that the BBC carries the NFL Network Thursday Night package live.  Think about that for a second:  people living in the United Kingdom literally have more access to NFL Network games than people in the United States.  That’s Paul Tagliabue’s cable network legacy.

6.  Why can’t the Big East get Penn State or Notre Dame? C.R.E.A.M.  The Big East will get farther trying to ask USC and Florida to join.

7.  Why can’t the Big East get Boston College or Maryland? C.R.E.A.M.  Note that other than the schools that moved up from C-USA to the Big East, there was no single greater financial beneficiary from the 2003 conference realignment than Boston College.  The people that matter at BC are very happy with the ACC.

8.  Why can’t the Big East go after the almost-leftovers of the Big 12 such as Missouri and Kansas? First, as I’ve written over the past few months, the Big 12 will be stable as long as Texas wants the league to stay alive, and pretty much everything points to that being the Texas long-term position for a multitude of reasons (TV network, political heat, etc.).  As a result, no one should be shortsighted in thinking that the Big 12 is going to collapse at any point soon.

Second, C.R.E.A.M.  Texas might be a mean pimp a la Wayne Brady, but they’ll pay out juuuuuuust enough money to keep its employees from drifting off and getting legitimate jobs.  It’s not as if though the Big 12 has really had completely poor payouts.  I don’t buy Dan Beebe’s projections of $452 gazillion per year per school that will all be funded by his multi-level marketing “business”, but even if the Big 12 can simply keep its current payout levels, that will still provide between $6 to 7 million annually for each member.  Those numbers far surpass what the Big East can ever hope to provide.  As noted earlier, revenue is driven by the marquee football schools and the Big 12 has two of them in Texas and Oklahoma.  Regardless of whether UT, OU and Texas A&M have guaranteed $20 million annual payouts, it’s going to be extremely tough for any of the Big 12 schools to leave for a league whose best football anchor is arguably West Virginia.

9. Won’t the Mountain West become an AQ conference in a few years? – My educated guess is no based on the losses of Utah and BYU.  Even with the addition of Boise State next season, the issue with the Mountain West and the BCS evaluation criteria will always be with the depth (the performance of the schools from top to bottom) as opposed to the top 2 or 3 schools.  Regardless, why would TCU take the risk of that not happening in a few years when it could get into a BCS conference right away?  The answer is that they wouldn’t – TCU and any other non-AQ team would jump at any BCS invite.

10.  Why the heck would TCU or anyone else agree to a football-only Big East invite? – The crappiest house in Beverly Hills is worth more than the nicest house in South Central LA, and the crappiest spot in an AQ conference is worth more than the nicest spot in a non-AQ conference.  It’s a hell of a lot more difficult to find a spot in a BCS football league than a home for basketball and other non-revenue sports.  TCU is at its absolute peak in terms of marketability and attractiveness and the leadership there likely knows that it needs to strike it while it’s hot.  Any other non-AQ school that might receive a football-only invite from the Big East would be wise to do the same because future opportunities aren’t guaranteed.

At the same time, TCU or any other non-AQ school HAS to run the table in order to have shot a BCS bowl bid, and even that’s not necessarily a guarantee if there are multiple undefeated non-AQ teams.  Going undefeated every single season is simply unrealistic for even the very elite football programs.  In contrast, there’s a fairly good chance that this year’s Big East champ will have 3 losses (or even more).  Being in an AQ conference means that a school has some margin for error during the course of the season, which doesn’t exist in the non-AQ world.

11.  Won’t TCU try for a Big 12 invite instead? It takes two to tango: TCU can try for a Big 12 invite all it wants but the Horned Frogs will be rejected every time.  I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again: the single biggest issue with the Big 12 financially is that it lacks viable markets outside of the state of Texas.  Putting aside the fact that neither Texas nor Texas A&M want anything to do whatsoever with TCU (which is definitely the case), TCU is simply in the same place with respect to the Big 12 as Iowa State and Pitt are with the Big Ten – overlapping markets will kill any chance of an invite.  As long as UT and A&M are in the Big 12, TCU will NEVER receive a Big 12 invite.  Big East schools don’t have to worry about TCU bolting down the road.

12.  What do you think will happen even though you have the gambling skills of Charles Barkley on a bender? I believe that the Big East will do the right thing and invite TCU as a football-only member, with TCU sending its non-football sports to the Missouri Valley Conference.  (Note that under NCAA rules, a school cannot play its non-football sports in a league that sponsors football when its football team plays in another league.  Notre Dame is compliant because its football team is independent.  Thus, the WAC, C-USA or staying in the MWC for non-football sports aren’t options for TCU.  The Missouri Valley Football Conference exists at the FCS level, yet it’s administratively a separate league from the MVC despite having common members and sharing the same branding and headquarters.  Not to open up another can of worms, but that MVC/MVFC setup might work for separating the leadership of the Big East football and non-football leagues in the future while still keeping the same name and branding.)  Meanwhile, Villanova will accept its outstanding invitation to move up from the FCS level since I just can’t see how anyone can turn down a BCS invite with the way college sports is heading.  It’s not what I believe is the right thing to do for the Big East (as I personally believe that adding Villanova would be a mistake), but the tea leaves seem to indicate that this is the most likely outcome.

13.  How confident are you that the Big East will actually expand? The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette summed up the Big East expansion situation very nicely yesterday:

The logistics of this expansion will be tricky because its basketball league has 16 members.

That means to add two football programs, the conference either must go to 18 teams (or 17 if Villanova is one of the two football teams added) — which nobody seems to want– or eliminate one or two basketball members. That does not seem to be desirable, either.

A third, but likely unrealistic, option would add two football-only members.

Let me get this straight: nobody wants 18 schools, nobody wants 17 schools, eliminating basketball members is undesirable and adding football-only members is unrealistic.  Well, that inspires a lot of confidence, doesn’t it?

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

(Image from Webshots)