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.)
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.
I have been meaning to post my responses to the Big Ten Network’s conference expansion survey, but so much realignment news (such as the 7 Catholic schools in the Big East deciding to split off) has intervened that I’m only getting a chance to fill it out now. Here are my thoughts:
1. My favorite school is _____.
The University of Illinois, the ultimate drinking school with a football problem.
2. My favorite school is in the _______ Division.
The Leaders Division… I think. Let me Google this.
3. As the conference expands beyond 12 teams, should the new teams be added to an existing division or should new divisions be drawn from scratch?
These need to be blown up like the 2 versions of the Death Star.
4. What do you think of “Legends” and “Leaders” as division names? (Strongly Like to Strongly Dislike.)
Please see the answer to Question #3.
5. Should the B1G change or keep the current division names?
Please see the answer to Question #3.
6. If you think the division names should be changed, what should they be changed to?
Assuming that logic prevails and the Big Ten has something close to a geographical alignment (a very large assumption when dealing with university presidents and athletic directors that have managed to turn what ought to be a simple exercise into a massive internal political debate), it should be East-West or North-South. If an obsessive Big Ten sports fan like me still needs to stop and think about which school is in which division after two years, then the conference made a mistake. The theme, as I argued over and over again back when the Big Ten added Nebraska, should be K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Stupid.
7. If divisions were to be changed, what criteria should be used to determine them? (Rank by importance Competitive balance, geography, protect traditional rivalries.)
The #1 consideration by far should be to protect traditional rivalries, as those are at the heart of what makes college sports great. Close behind that should be geography, as that is a factor that will never change, whether it’s one year from now or two decades down the road. Competitive balance is honestly a minor factor for me. All programs inevitable go up and down on-the-field over time, so attempting to gerrymander divisions based on historical records virtually always ends up backfiring (see the Leaders Division this past season and numerous occasions with the ACC divisions). The Big Ten made a massive mistake in overweighting what it believed to be competitive balance in constructing the current divisions and I hope that they see the light this time around.
8. How important is it for IN-STATE rivals to be in the same division? (Very important to not important.)
It’s important, but there can be exceptions provided that those rivals are still playing each other annually.
9. How important is it for TRADITIONAL rivals to be in the same division? (Very important to not important.)
As with the answer to Question #8, it’s important, yet workarounds can be accommodated as long as the rivals continue to play each other on an annual basis. The main problem with the way that the Big Ten constructed the Leaders and Legends Divisions is that most of the Big Ten schools have multiple traditional rivals, which means that many of them inherently need to be in the same division in order for the maintenance of those rivalries to work. Wisconsin is getting completely screwed by not getting to play traditional rival Iowa and the Badgers are a natural school to help further integrate Nebraska into the conference. In my opinion, the Wisconsin/Iowa/Minnesota trifecta should have never been split up and Nebraska fits in there as the fourth wheel of that western flank perfectly.
10. Currently, the number of conference games the B1G plays is 8. Should this increase?
Yes, the number of conference games absolutely needs to increase to 9. This is even more important if the Big Ten continues to designate cross-division annual rivalries, where schools would only play their counterparts in the opposite division (excluding designated cross-division rivals) only 2 times in a 12 year period without a 9th conference game. That extra conference game at least turns it into a more tolerable 2 times in a 6 year period cycle (which still isn’t exactly optimal). While every school in the conference wants to maximize home game revenue by playing more MACrifice games, the Big Ten isn’t like the SEC, which has a history of having conference members going very long periods of time without playing each other and doesn’t think much of it. That won’t (or at least shouldn’t) fly in the Big Ten. The fact that the Big Ten had agreed to go to 9 conference games in a 12 school alignment prior to the now-defunct Big Ten/Pac-12 alliance gives me optimism that they’ll do so when it’s even more critical.
11. What is your preference on a B1G Basketball Tourney? (Every team qualifies, or 12 of 14 teams qualify.)
I’m a very large believer that every conference should have all teams qualify for its basketball tournament. Unlike the football conference championship game that only involves 2 teams, the basketball tournament is the one major conference event where the teams, fans and alums from all of the schools can gather together as a shared experience. For those that say that the conference tournament should be about merit, I would reply that leagues should eliminate conferences tournaments all together if people want to be truly merit-based (as the performance over the course of 3 months of regular season games should trump what occurs in 3 days of a conference tournament). Basketball tournaments are purely money-making machines for the power conferences, so you might as well let everyone participate. Plus, there’s the romantic idea that every single school still has one last shot to make it into the NCAA Tournament, which is inherently a more interesting aspect of watching conference tournaments compared to how they’re really just seeding exercises for the teams that already know that they’re going to make it to the Dance.
12. Currently, the B1G has no divisions for basketball. Should this be changed?
I don’t believe that basketball divisions are necessary as long as each school has at least 2 or 3 locked-in annual rivals (e.g. Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, etc.).
13. If yes, why should there be divisions for basketball?
Please see answer to Question #12.
14. If no, why shouldn’t there be divisions for basketball?
Please see answer to Question #12.
15. When people reference “B1G”, do you recognize that to be the Big Ten Conference?
Yes, I do. At first, I wasn’t a large fan of the new Big Ten logo, but that has grown on me (unlike the division names). In the social media context, being able to refer to #B1G on Twitter and have people generally know what that means is extremely useful. That’s not a minor point in today’s world.
16. With 14 teams currently, should the B1G remain the “Big Ten”, or should its name be changed?
It should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be the Big Ten, even if it ends up with 16 schools or more. If the Big Ten didn’t change its name back when it added Penn State over two decades ago, it certainly shouldn’t do it now. There’s way too much name recognition and brand value with the conference name.
17. Do you have any further thoughts on B1G expansion?
Well, I’ve provided my thoughts on Florida State here. Otherwise, I don’t have a preternatural desire to see the Big Ten expand further. The 14 schools that the conference will have going forward fit together well academically and institutionally with geographic continuity across the Northern half of the United States. If there’s a legit football power in a top market such as Florida State available, then I think the Big Ten ought to be aggressive. However, there isn’t an overall need for the conference to expand for the sake of expanding. I’d be perfectly happy with staying at 14 members.
As for how the divisions should actually look, as I’ve stated before, I favor the K.I.S.S. approach. Realistically, I believe that the Big Ten will need the following requirements in any divisional structure at a minimum:
(a) Ohio State and Michigan must play annually – This is pretty obvious.
(b) Ohio State and Penn State must play annually – This might be less obvious to people outside the Big Ten (or even with some fans within the Big Ten), but trust me, this is a non-negotiable game.
(c) Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland must be in the same division – The entire crux of the Big Ten expansion to 14 is to solidify the league’s presence on the East Coast, which effectively mandates that they have to be together.
What’s evident here is that Ohio State and Penn State are really the keys to the new Big Ten divisional alignment. For instance, these parameters mean that there is no way that Ohio State can be in a division opposite of both Michigan and Penn State – the Buckeyes have to be in a division with at least one of those schools. The East Coast bloc of Penn State/Rutgers/Maryland also limits the league’s options. We also have to consider whether the divisions need to split up the four traditional powers (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska) evenly or if 3 of them can be in one division. I personally believe that 3 of them can be in one division provided that the other side has more depth of non-bottom feeders top-to-bottom, but know that others (particularly athletic directors) may disagree with that.
Ultimately, I’m most in favor of going with an East/West split with Michigan going to the East and Michigan State in the West. It would look like the following (with cross-division rivals next to each other and rationale in parentheses):
EAST – WEST
Michigan – Michigan State (in-state rivalry)
Ohio State – Wisconsin (continuation of current Leaders divisional game)
Penn State – Nebraska (continuation of current cross-division king program game)
Indiana – Illinois (two schools in bordering states passing time until basketball season starts)
Purdue – Iowa (continuation of nonsensical cross-division game)
Rutgers – Northwestern (New York City vs. Chicago angle)
Maryland – Minnesota (they pulled the last two straws)
Even though three “King” programs are in the East, I believe that there is still a solid balance of schools with top notch fan bases in the West (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa) to compensate for it. Most other ways of attempting to put two Kings in each division end up with wacky geography or one extremely strong division and the other being very weak. (Yes, I know that I’ve said that I don’t think that competitive balance should matter, but I’m realistic in believing that others believe it’s important.) Now, it’s understandable that the older members of the Big Ten West likely would not be happy only seeing Michigan and Ohio State 2 times every 6 years, so that could be a deal-killer.
The “Inner-Outer” setup that the BTN provided as a choice here is an interesting concept, as it groups the 4 western schools (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota) with the 3 Eastern schools (Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland) in one division while the 7 other schools in the middle are in the opposite division. It’s terrible in terms of geography and the casual sports fan would look at it and say, “WTF?!”, but it does achieve the goal of preserving every single traditional rivalry as an intra-divisional game with the exception of Ohio State-Penn State. I’m not a fan of the Inner-Outer alignment personally (and most people that I know don’t like it either), yet I certainly wouldn’t put it past the Big Ten presidents and ADs to head down this road.
Classic Music Video of the Week – “12 Days of Christmas” by John Denver and The Muppets
The events of the past week really put back into focus what’s most important in life: friends and family. This video always brings back fond memories of my family popping in a VHS tape of the John Denver Christmas Special with The Muppets every year and my own kids now find The Muppets to be just as hilarious as I did. I hope that all of you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday.
The irony of writing a blog that’s largely known for being focused upon conference realignment and Big Ten expansion is that I’m personally not someone that has a preternatural need to see the kingdom of Jim Delany get larger and larger. Back when I originally starting writing about the topic three years ago, I only really saw a necessity for the Big Ten to add 1 more school to create a conference championship game and wasn’t a large proponent of expanding to 14, 16 or beyond. All of the superconference ideas with an emphasis on pods and market shares interest me greatly from a business perspective, but the number of potential expansion candidates out there that make me perk up as fan is pretty small. If the Big Ten needed to go up to 16 to get marquee schools such as Texas or Notre Dame, then that would have been one thing, but expanding simply for the sake of market share can backfire in the long run. Nebraska certainly qualified as a school that I’d go out of my way to actually watch play football, so I was content with the thought of the Big Ten staying at 12. I completely understand the latest moves by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to add Maryland and Rutgers to move the league up to 14 members as a way to stay ahead of the ever-changing demographics of this country, yet that’s largely the business side of my brain coming to that conclusion.
Personally, I’d take a hard look at Florida State because they are so extremely valuable in a key state (especially if the Big Ten is seriously considering Georgia Tech and don’t want them to be a lone outpost), yet the tea leaves are saying otherwise.
But it should be getting more and more clear after Maryland’s departure from the ACC, Florida State is not sitting around playing solitaire.
According to Warchant.com, the Florida State site on the Yahoo!/Rivals network, FSU officials are now exploring conference options and have put out feelers to the Big Ten.
That small line about Florida State putting out feelers to the Big Ten (even though the article overall has a Big 12 slant) has stuck out at me as much as anything that I’ve seen regarding conference realignment over the past three years. As we have seen time and time again with the kabuki dance of switching leagues, the proper order is that a school contacts the conference that it wants to switch to first as opposed to the other way around. To say the least, my line of thinking is really starting to shift here.
Remember back in 2010 how Missouri was repeatedly the most oft-mentioned expansion target for the Big Ten, but then the true intentions of the league were to really go after Texas and then Nebraska? Missouri was effectively used as a stalking horse by Jim Delany to cause instability (or create the perception of instability) in the Big 12 to shake loose one of the most valuable brand names in college football. Now look at the most oft-mentioned targets of the Big Ten in this current phase of realignment: Georgia Tech and Virginia. Both are fantastic academic institutions in fast-growing states, but they aren’t exactly power punches on the football front. They’re really extensions of the pure demographics plus academics strategy that drove the Maryland and Rutgers additions. With the Big Ten at 14 members, we’re possibly looking at the last 2 open spots that the league will ever have to get up to 16. Are Georgia Tech and Virginia who the Big Ten wants to grant those last precious spots to? The academic side of the league would obviously love it, yet there’s something missing on the athletic front (which in turn impacts the financial front).
What we now have is the perception of instability in the ACC just like there was a perception of instability in the Big 12 in 2010 through 2011. If the Big Ten is seriously considering further raids of the ACC, then why wouldn’t it go after the biggest whale possible? Why wouldn’t it make the move that would both the bean counters and the fans would love?
Is getting Florida State the true intended end game for the Big Ten?
Outside of geography, the only real reason that has been given by numerous people, including me, as to why the Big Ten would conceivably pass on Florida State is academics (and specifically the lack of membership in the AAU). That assumption might be faulty, though, especially if Florida State were to come in together with an elite academic school such as Georgia Tech or Virginia. Besides, Florida State is ranked #97 in the U.S. News rankings compared to Nebraska at #101, so it’s nowhere near the academic stretch for the Big Ten in the way that Louisville was clearly outside of the ACC’s prior academic standards. Beyond academics, out of all of the schools in the ACC, Florida State provides (1) the best on-the-field football program, (2) the largest state by population, (3) the highest national TV value, (4) the most regional TV value for the Big Ten Network, (5) the best football recruiting grounds and (6) arguably the best football fan base (neck-and-neck with Clemson). Basically, FSU hits every non-academic metric that you could possibly want in an expansion candidate. Tallahassee and the rest of the Florida Panhandle are definitely Southern in culture (which could clash with the Northern Big Ten culture), but much of the rest of the state of Florida where FSU alums and fans reside has one of the largest concentrations (if not the largest concentration) of Big Ten alums outside of the Midwest. It’s not an accident that after the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten has its top bowl tie-ins with the Capital One Bowl (Orlando), Outback Bowl (Tampa) and Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) and just signed up for a partial Orange Bowl (Miami) tie-in once the new playoff system starts. Much like New York City and Washington, DC, there are potential synergies for the Big Ten in the state of Florida that really go beyond the applicable school that’s being added.
In the same way that Texas A&M fans started complaining so much about the Big 12 that it eventually pushed the school’s administration to approach the SEC, Florida State fans have been rumbling about moving out of the ACC for months. So, if Florida State is truly an unhappy camper that’s ready to move (and to be clear, it needs to start coming from the university president level instead of the fans or even trustee members on a power trip), it would be foolish for the Big Ten to automatically pass on the Seminoles on the basis of academics. AAU membership is obviously highly desired, but the Big Ten would let in non-AAU school Notre Dame in a heartbeat. The Big Ten also admitted Nebraska even though the existing members knew full well that NU’s AAU status was in jeopardy (as the school was kicked out of the organization only months after joining the conference with both Michigan and Wisconsin voting against them). In other words, the Big Ten has demonstrated a willingness to look past the AAU issue for the right school, and Florida State may indeed be the right school in this situation.
Now, as with anything in conference realignment, it takes two to tango. The Big Ten could want Florida State all day long, but it means very little unless the interest is reciprocated. That’s what makes Florida State “putting out feelers to the Big Ten” so intriguing. At the very least, that indicates some interest on the part of FSU.
I’m not going to insult the intelligence of Florida State fans and alums that might be reading this, so I’ll be objective here: even though I’m a huge Illinois fan and Big Ten guy, my personal opinion is that the SEC would be the best conference for FSU if it were to move from the ACC (and I’m sure that would be the choice of most Seminoles fans). The SEC fits Florida State geographically and culturally while also providing a juggernaut football league. If FSU has offers on the table from the Big Ten and SEC at the same time, then I’d be hard pressed to advise the school to turn down the SEC when taking my Big Ten goggles off. However, Mr. SEC (probably the closest thing to my SEC counterpart regarding conference realignment) has noted that the SEC is on the precipice of creating a new TV network with ESPN and would prevent any consideration of newly doubling up in existing SEC states for financial reasons. In the case of Florida State, the value of in-state rival Florida is so great that a potential SEC network could easily get basic carriage in the state of Florida based on the strength of the Gators alone, which means that FSU is worth much less to the SEC than it would to the Big Ten or Big 12. (The Big Ten saw this on a smaller scale when looking at Pitt as an expansion candidate. In terms of academics and institutional fit, Pitt was and still is a great match on paper for the Big Ten, but it’s a school that wouldn’t bring in a single cent of additional BTN revenue since Penn State already delivers the entire state of Pennsylvania by itself.) Now, the SEC certainly might see value in adding Florida State simply to prevent the Big Ten or Big 12 from encroaching on the most important TV market and football recruiting territory in its footprint as a defensive measure, but let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that the SEC isn’t a viable option for FSU.
So, if the SEC is out of the picture, why would the Big Ten possibly let the Big 12 walk off with possibly the most valuable school that has been willing to move in conference realignment over the past three years? That would create two power conferences (the SEC and Big 12) that combine the recruiting bases and TV households of both Florida and Texas, which would be dangerous for the Big Ten to allow to occur in the long-term. While I could understand how the SEC would be more attractive to FSU than the Big Ten, I don’t see how Jim Delany would lose in a head-to-head battle with the Big 12 over the school if it came down to that. The only real advantage that the Big 12 provides over the Big Ten is access to the state of Texas. That’s not insignificant, but it’s not outcome determinative in my eyes (as evidenced by Nebraska and Colorado willingly giving up their ties to that state). On the fronts that university presidents care the most about, the Big Ten has all of the trump cards. The Big Ten was projecting over $43 million per year in conference revenue in 2017 when it was talking to Maryland. Now think about what that figure would look like when you add the households in the state of Florida to the Big Ten Network (which has over 5 million more people than the states of Maryland and New Jersey combined with a population base that is a lot more attuned to college sports, to boot). Those are figures that the Big 12 can’t match, even if FSU could procure a lucrative third tier rights deal that the conference allows. The Big Ten also has a clear academic prestige advantage over the Big 12. In terms of geography, the Big Ten is even slightly less inconvenient than the Big 12, where Columbus, Bloomington, West Lafayette and Champaign are actually all slightly shorter distances to Tallahassee than both Morgantown and Austin among the closest existing members of those leagues. I would assume that both the Big Ten and Big 12 would add 1 other Southern ACC member (likely Georgia Tech or maybe Miami for the Big Ten or Clemson for the Big 12) to pair up with FSU, so the Seminoles wouldn’t be a lone geographic outlier in either case. (To be sure, I’m not going to sugarcoat the geography issue for FSU with respect to either the Big Ten or Big 12 – it’s definitely not optimal in either case. That being said, the ACC stuck Florida State in a division with Boston College and Syracuse while not having the Noles play its closest conference counterpart of Georgia Tech annually, so that conference hasn’t exactly mitigated FSU’s travel distances even with a large contingent of Southern schools.) All in all, the Big Ten can offer more money and better academics compared to the Big 12 with similar geographic challenges, so this shouldn’t be a matter of Florida State actually preferring the Big 12 over the Big Ten.
I don’t know whether Florida State is truly serious about wanting to leave the ACC. As I’ve said in other posts, I’m not a believer in the impending destruction of that conference like many others that follow conference realignment. There are still a host of academic and geographic advantages that the ACC provides to its member schools and if it was tough for Maryland to leave at an emotional level (where that school was a completely natural and contiguous expansion for the Big Ten and they didn’t have any true blood reciprocal blood rivals), one can imagine the potential disconnect with a school like FSU. However, Florida State fans might be at the point where they have an “Anywhere but the ACC!” attitude, which is a tough train to stop for a school’s administration. As I’ve been thinking more and more about the Seminoles looking around as a free agent (which is how an FSU official described the process in the event that the Maryland exit fee from the ACC gets reduced or thrown out), it’s the first time since I began following conference realignment that I have actually wanted the Big Ten to create a superconference in a scenario that didn’t include the game changing choices of Texas and/or Notre Dame. The Seminoles provide the best combination of an off-the-field financial windfall off-the-field and increased on-the-field competitiveness and fan interest of any school that the Big Ten could plausibly add at this time. As a result, Florida State is a school that would make a 16-team league worth having and I hope that Jim Delany and the Big Ten university presidents are feeling the same way.
The echo chamber of conference realignment rumors continues on Twitter, blogs and message boards everywhere continues with thoughts of the destruction of the ACC by the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and MEAC and superconferences going up to 20 teams or more (16 is for chumps). Let’s try to separate the wheat from the chaff by addressing some frequently asked questions regarding Big Ten expansion:
(1) Is the Big Ten done expanding? – From the standpoint of the Big Ten initiating another expansion, yes, I believe that they’re done for the time being. In my opinion, it would take another move from the SEC and/or Big 12 for the Big Ten to act again since the most likely targets for Jim Delany won’t want to move unless they are absolutely forced to do so. (We’ll get to those schools in just a moment.) Ultimately, the Big Ten’s expansion with Maryland and Rutgers needs to be looked at in conjunction with the decision to add Nebraska in 2010. When Delany first announced that the Big Ten was looking to expand three years ago (and kick-started a conference realignment process that continues to this day), addressing long-term demographic concerns was right alongside improving athletics (AKA improving football) as the top goal. The Big Ten’s home population base of the Midwest has been slowing in growth for many years (although too many people on the coasts tend to overstate this since their image of Rust Belt tends to focus upon Detroit, whereas places such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Columbus have been growing at a perfectly fine clip), which meant that it was imperative for the conference to address that issue while it was still in a position of strength. For all of the talk about how conference realignment has largely been about TV dollars, the Big Ten’s addition of Nebraska was probably the purest football move that any conference made in this round of realignment with the Cornhuskers bringing along one of the most tradition-rich football programs and a rabid fan base. Nebraska, though, didn’t do anything to address the need to expand the conference’s footprint, hence the latest moves with Rutgers and Maryland. Getting into the New York City/New Jersey and Washington, DC/Baltimore regions addressed the overall demographic concerns for the Big Ten, so there isn’t any urgency to do more. Outside of adding Texas, the conference can’t really add more households with two schools than the #1 (New York) and #4 (DC/Baltimore) combined statistical areas on top of the #3 (Chicago) CSA that it already has. As a result, I don’t see the Big Ten on the proactive prowl unless moves by other conferences (or threatened moves by other conferences) shake some of the schools that I’m about to mention loose.
(2) If you’re wrong, Frank, who would the Big Ten go after? – Let’s assume that the SEC and Pac-12 aren’t going to be poached and the Big 12, with each school having assigned its TV rights for the next 13 years to the league (called a “grant of rights”), probably won’t lose anyone else, either*. The amount of a buyout of a grant of rights would likely need to be equal to the present value of the applicable school’s home TV rights for football and basketball games for the rest of the grant of rights period. For example, any conference that wants Texas needs to pay the Big 12 the equivalent of the rights to all Longhorn home games for the next 13 years, which could easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars considering what ESPN is willing to pay for not-very-desirable third tier games. This is what makes a grant of rights (which the Big Ten and Pac-12 have in addition to the Big 12) such a powerful deterrent to schools leaving. As a result, that basically means that the “realistic” (and I use that term very loosely) targets for the Big Ten would come from the ACC or, much less likely, Big East.
(* Besides the obvious value of adding Texas, if the Big 12 were poachable, Kansas would be the most attractive target for the Big Ten out of the Big 12. One thing to remember is that basketball actually matters quite a bit for the purposes of the Big Ten Network, where the sheer volume of hoops content drives the need for cable companies to carry that channel. As a result, the normal “football means everything” mantra that normally applies to conference realignment and TV rights doesn’t necessarily hold for the BTN. Kansas actually made the most revenue off of third tier TV rights in the Big 12 prior to the formation of the Longhorn Network due to the strength of Jayhawks basketball. On a related note, that also means that the value of Maryland basketball is as important to the Big Ten as Maryland football in terms of being able to monetize that school.)
Rumors over the weekend indicated that the Big Ten was poised to invite Virginia and Georgia Tech (which have since been dismissed by Georgia Tech’s president). Certainly, those two schools would fit the Big Ten in terms of institutions, but the question is more about whether they would add enough athletic revenue and can integrate into the league culturally. For all of the consternation about the Big Ten supposedly leaving its Midwestern roots by adding Rutgers and Maryland, those were fairly mild changes geographically and culturally in the context of conference realignment over the past three years (both for the Big Ten and the new schools themselves). Those two institutions are in states that are geographically contiguous with the existing Big Ten footprint and there is much more of cultural difference between the the North and South (like oil and water) compared to the East and Midwest (distinct but complementary with each other). I’m fairly certain that Virginia would be in the long-term plans for the Big Ten as an elite academic institution that’s the flagship in what will now be another contiguous state with the addition of Maryland. However, UVA still very much considers itself to be a Southern school (whereas Maryland has really turned into a Northern school for all practical purposes over the past couple of decades) and that’s going to be a cultural barrier for it to joining the Big Ten no matter how much Jim Delany can offer Thomas Jefferson’s creation. While the influx of transplants to Northern Virginia just south of Washington, DC have been “Northernizing” the Commonwealth, that process isn’t anywhere complete yet.
Georgia Tech is an interesting case to me. There has been quite a bit of smoke about the Yellow Jackets contemplating Big Ten membership, but this is one move that I have a hard time seeing happening. On paper, Georgia Tech seems to fit what the Big Ten is looking for as a top academic institution in the middle of a fast-growing Atlanta market that also happens to be rich with football recruits. The problem, though, is that even if the Big Ten were to add UVA at the same time, Georgia Tech makes little sense as a lone outpost in the Peach State. Atlanta is SEC territory to the core and the Big Ten attempting to challenge Mike Slive there with only Georgia Tech alone would be a complete lost cause. It would be akin to the SEC taking Northwestern and then trying to claim the Chicago market – it simply wouldn’t work. Rutgers and Maryland can combine with the presence of Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan alums in the NYC and DC regions to create positive network effects that are greater than the fan bases of those two schools. While a large number of Big Ten grads are moving to Atlanta, there are so many more SEC grads and fans (along with fans of other Southern ACC schools such as Clemson and Florida State) that it’s one of the few markets that I believe Jim Delany has no chance of ever breaking through in. To be clear, I really like Georgia Tech as a school, but in terms of Big Ten expansion, I actually believe that its location is going to work against it.
Some thoughts on other ACC schools:
North Carolina – UNC is essentially in the same boat as UVA: likely a very top long-term target for the Big Ten, but probably a generation away from becoming “Northernized” enough for the school to consider a move. Plus, UNC effectively has the same status in the ACC as Texas has in the Big 12: the ACC is their conference. As we’ve seen with Texas, having control can often be more of an allure than having money. Therefore, as much as both the Big Ten and SEC would love to add UNC, the Tar Heels aren’t going anywhere until the ACC is completely on its deathbed. UNC certainly wouldn’t start the exodus.
Miami– The Hurricanes have long been a sleeper pick for me if the Big Ten were serious about raiding the ACC further. While Miami isn’t an AAU member, it has research levels that would justify its inclusion in the group and would the 4th highest ranked Big Ten school in the US News undergraduate university rankings (behind only Northwestern, Michigan and Wisconsin). The school continues to be a top national TV draw even in its down years and is located in arguably the best pound-for-pound football recruiting territory in the country. Most importantly for me, it’s the only real power conference school that’s located in the Sun Belt but is really a Northern school culturally. Last week, the Chicago Tribune actually posted data of the most popular out-of-state colleges that Illinois residents attend. While bordering flagship schools such as Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Wisconsin draw tons of students of Illinois, there were only a handful of power conference schools outside of the Midwest and Kentucky (which borders southern Illinois) that were able to draw more than 100 freshmen from Illinois this past year: Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Vanderbilt and… Miami. In fact, Miami draws about 5% of its students from Illinois, which is a higher percentage than any out-of-state Big Ten school other than Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan. The thing is that Miami draws even more students from the New York/New Jersey corridor that the Big Ten is now trying to lock down. This is only one piece of data, but it’s indicative of the fact that if there’s one school in the South that won’t give a crap about being in a Northern conference, it’s Miami. People can note that they’re about to be sanctioned (my retort is to look at UNC) or they have a fairweather fan base with poor attendance (my response is that we just added Maryland), but they actually have a legit football history and the home recruiting base to maintain it regardless of possible NCAA actions down the road. Much like USC, the location of Miami itself means that they will always be in position to win with the right coach. In my opinion, Miami is a potential candidate that works regarding academics, demographics, TV market, football recruiting and football history. The fact that it’s a private school shouldn’t eliminate them from consideration.
Virginia Tech – Another sleeper pick for me for the Big Ten. The assumption of many followers of conference realignment is that the SEC would want Virginia Tech, which is exactly why the Big Ten shouldn’t let Mike Slive walk away with them. With the addition of Maryland, the Big Ten is now committed to owning the DC market. Jim Delany should be able to withstand preexisting ACC ties there, but letting the SEC in with arguably the most popular football school in that area would be particularly damaging. Remember that Virginia Tech doesn’t pose the same academic issues that, say, Texas Tech did when the Big Ten was looking at Texas a couple of years ago. Much like Miami, VT is a school that has AAU-worthy metrics despite not being currently a member and, in the US News undergrad rankings, is tied with Iowa and Michigan State and ahead of Indiana and Nebraska. Similar to Miami, it’s a school that addresses several needs regarding demographics, TV market (locking up DC) and the strength of the actual football program. If the Big Ten wants UVA and they’re say that they’re required to bring VT along with them, it’s a pretty easy decision to say yes if I were running the conference.
Duke – Full disclaimer here: I hate Duke. I REALLLLLLY HATE DUKE. Even as a massive Bears fan, Duke ranks ahead of the Packers as the team that I hate the most (whether college or pro) on the basis that a Green Bay win could conceivably help the Bears in a playoff race depending upon the records, whereas there is absolutely nothing positive that could come out of Duke winning a game. The thing is that there are many people that feel the same way even though (like me) they aren’t even a rival of my alma mater (Illinois), which is why they can’t be discounted as a potential Big Ten candidate or thought of as powerless in the football-focused game of conference realignment. The academics at Duke are obviously impeccable and the basketball program draws attention and ire like no one else in college sports outside of Notre Dame football. In 99.9% of the cases, basketball is truly irrelevant in conference realignment, but Duke is that 0.1%. Even though few conference realignment stories would give me greater personal joy than seeing Duke getting relegated to the Southern Conference, it won’t be happening. Much like Virginia Tech with UVA, it’s a pretty easy “yes” decision for the Big Ten if the league has a chance with UNC with Duke being part of the package.
Syracuse, Boston College – It’s not inconceivable that the Big Ten could go after either or both of these schools as part of a Northeastern-centric expansion, but Jim Delany seemed to emphasize expansion into the “Mid-Atlantic” (which would intimate more of focus on Virginia and North Carolina in the future) much more than the Northeast and New England per se. That makes sense since the Mid-Atlantic region is where the long-term demographic shifts are very favorable (not to mention much stronger football recruiting territories, whereas Upstate New York and New England are growing as slowly as the Midwest. I was someone that always like Syracuse as a Big Ten candidate since its basketball program could actually help get BTN subscribers in the NYC market as much as any other school and it might even make more sense to pair them up with Rutgers, but the feedback that I’ve always received from Big Ten circles was that the conference has been lukewarm on the Orange. Boston College has the presence in a major market, yet it might be even tougher for the Big Ten to crack that area than even NYC. New England doesn’t have the same critical mass of Big Ten alums that the New York/Jersey area has. That being said, I think the value of BC is often underrated by fans as to how much it is overrated by conference commissioners and university presidents (if that makes sense), so I wouldn’t ever discount them.
Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Louisville – Pure athletics focused expansion candidates with good-to-great recruiting territories and markets, but the academics likely wouldn’t be good enough for the Big Ten. Personally, I’d take a hard look at Florida State because they are so extremely valuable in a key state (especially if the Big Ten is seriously considering Georgia Tech and don’t want them to be a lone outpost), yet the tea leaves are saying otherwise.
Pitt – As I’ve stated in previous posts, it’s a great academic school with a solid athletic department, but it is one of the few schools out there that wouldn’t add any BTN revenue at all since Penn State already delivers that market. This is too bad since the Panthers fit into the Big Ten extremely well on almost all other levels.
Wake Forest – I personally like Wake Forest at some levels, but it’s a small private school without the research capabilities of Duke or the market of BC.
As for the Big East, the only school that would even have a chance at the Big Ten is UConn, and I’d put the odds of that merger occurring as extremely low. Connecticut is in a similar position as Syracuse and Boston College – Upstate New York and New England have large populations as of today just like the Midwest, but the demographic shifts favor the Big Ten waiting to get into Virginia and North Carolina. Also, I had previously stated how an ACC invite was UConn’s to lose and I stand by that with Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich saying, “UConn wasn’t penciled in [for the ACC]. It was penned in.” However, I underestimated how much the relative youth of UConn playing football at the FBS level could really affect perceptions of the school negatively. For better or for worse, the Big Ten wants to be able to show grainy footage of schools from the 1960s and 1970s on BTN and claim them as conference successes. (Those 5 Nebraska championship teams were among the greatest Big Ten squads of all-time!) I’m only half-joking there. The fact that Rutgers has a really long history of playing college football as the first school to participate in a game seems to trump the fact that such history hasn’t exactly been illustrious. The Big Ten is ultimately an old school league, and while UConn was at the Division I-AA level for many years prior to moving up to the top level in 2003, that history (whether fair or not) doesn’t seem to count with the power conferences.
So, this is a really long post with a ton of interesting hypotheticals, but I don’t believe that the Big Ten itself will pull the trigger on any of them unless UVA and/or UNC is ready to bolt. My feeling is that those schools aren’t anywhere close to being ready to leave the ACC, so my money would be on the Big Ten waiting for awhile as other leagues decide about whether to react. I’ll be taking a look at the realistic options of those other conferences over the coming days.
The sports world has been throwing me some curve balls over the past week, with my Bears and Illini combining for only 3 fields goals worth of offense, the Lakers trying to tell the public with a straight face that Mike D’Antoni is a “better fit” as a coach for their team than Phil Jackson, and the Marlins just handing over half of their team to the Blue Jays after fleecing Florida’s citizens out of public funds to build a brand new ballpark. Let’s try to digest what has actually occurred with the new college football playoff system by answering some frequently asked questions:
(1) What exactly is the new playoff and top tier bowl format? – For someone like me that constantly dives into the minutiae of these details, this seems like a basic question, but it’s apparent to me after reading a lot of questions from people out there that the powers that be haven’t really done a good job of explaining how the new postseason format is going to work very clearly to the public.
What we know is that there will be 6 top tier bowls, with 3 of them being “contract bowls” with contractual tie-ins (Rose Bowl with the Big Ten and Pac-12, Sugar Bowl with the SEC and Big 12, and Orange Bowl with the ACC and SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame) and the other 3 being “host bowls” (likely the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Chick-Fil-A Bowl) that provide “access” slots (the equivalent of at-large bids in today’s BCS system). The major new news is that the FBS conferences just announced that one of those access slots will be allocated to the highest ranked champion of the conferences that do not have a tie-in with a contract bowl (the Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC, who are generally referred to in the media as the “Gang of Five” and I call the “G5” here). Over the past month, the powers that be had considered adding a 7th bowl that would match up the top G5 champ against a team from the Big 12 or Pac-12, but the feedback from the marketplace was that such game would not be worth very much. Thus, the compromise was to incorporate that G5 access into the 6-bowl rotation.
A 4-team playoff will be played within the confines of those 6 bowls, meaning that 2 bowls will be designated as semifinal sites each year and the other 4 bowls are “normal” bowl games. In a year when a contract bowl is designated as a semifinal, the champions from each conference that it has tie-ins with are guaranteed a spot in one of the host bowls if such conference champ is not a semifinalist. For example, if the playoff were in effect last year and the Rose Bowl was a semifinal site, Wisconsin, as the Big Ten champion that did not make it to the semifinal, would have an automatic slot in one of the host bowls. On the flip side, when a contract bowl is not a semifinal, it is guaranteed to have teams from its tie-in conferences no matter where they are ranked. So, in another example, if the playoff were in effect this year where the Rose Bowl is not a semifinal site and Oregon is the Pac-12 champion and finishes in the top 4, the Rose Bowl would take another Pac-12 team to replace Oregon whether such team is ranked #5 or #50.
The 4-team playoff field will be determined by a selection committee, presumably with at least one representative from each FBS conference. That selection committee will also determine who receives the at-large host bowl slots and which G5 conference champ is the highest ranked.
(2) How will the revenue be split? – Some of it is very clear while other parts of it is up in the air. While every conference expects an increase in revenue on an absolute basis, a chosen few are going to receive the lion’s share of the gains. The contract conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC) will retain the media revenue from their respective contract bowls in the years that such bowls are not hosting semifinals. The Rose Bowl signed a TV contract with ESPN worth $80 million per year. The Sugar Bowl is believed to be making the same $80 million figure under an ESPN deal finalized today while the Orange Bowl is estimated to be worth $60 million per year. This means that all of the contract conferences are expected to make $40 million each in the years that their respective contract bowls are “normal” non-semifinal bowl games. The G5 doesn’t touch this money.
A separate pot that includes the national championship game, semifinals and host bowls has a tentative deal on the table from ESPN worth approximately $475 million to $500 million per year. This is where the revenue distribution issue gets a bit murkier. The FBS commissioners have said that a portion of that pot will distributed in the form of fixed annual payments to the various FBS conferences and independents, while another portion will be allocated based upon who actually attains bids to the semifinals and host bowls. It is unclear how those portions will be split up. The current understanding regarding the fixed annual payments is that the contract conferences will take the bulk of that money on top of their contract bowl revenue in equal shares among those 5 leagues, with a CBSSports.com report that it would be an overall 80%/20% split with G5 conferences compared to the current 85%/15% split in the current BCS system (although that “give” by the contract conferences is a quite misleading since that doesn’t include contract bowl revenue that the power leagues keep 100% of in the new system yet was shared in the current BCS system, so the net effect is essentially nothing in terms of overall percentage splits).
(* Regardless of what anyone thinks about how much the Big East will be worth in the TV and bowl marketplaces going forward, a massive amount of credit has to be given to the league’s new commissioner Mike Aresco for completely managing the media in all aspects on this playoff issue along with the recent Notre Dame defection. If this announcement were made during John Marinatto’s tenure as Big East commissioner, the news stories would be talking about how the Big East is dead with the loss of an auto-bid as opposed to being anything close to a winner.)
The Big East is really the entity that is most affected by the changes in the postseason system since it went from being an AQ league where its champion was guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl (the equivalent of a contract conference in the new format) to one where its champ is pooled in with the champs from the other G5 leagues to fight for one spot (the equivalent of a non-AQ conference in the current format). From that vantage point, it’s very difficult to call the old members of the Big East (Louisville, UConn, Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida) as “winners” since this is a clear downgrade. Even if they make more money in absolute dollars in the new system, they will be behind the power conference teams that they were once grouped with on a relative basis in terms of revenue and access. The old members of the Big East in the negotiations with the powers that be in the playoff negotiations were basically in the position of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader told him, “I am altering the deal. Pray that I don’t alter it any further.” As a result, the best that you could say for the old members of the Big East was that it could have been worse, where the power conferences might not have provided any dedicated bowl slot to the G5 at all.
On the other hand, the new Big East members (Temple, Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Memphis, San Diego State and Navy) are definitely winners. They have received an upgrade in top bowl access (albeit not a great of an upgrade as they might have originally anticipated) and will take home multitudes more revenue compared to the current BCS system. There’s really very little downside for any of them, if only because they could only go up from where they are in the BCS landscape.
In theory, the Big East is in the best position to win this G5 bowl access slot year-to-year since it is the strongest conference of that group from top to bottom. That being said, I believe that theory only holds true where the Big East champ has the same record as any of the other G5 champs. The danger for the Big East is not necessarily other conferences passing them by, but simply when another team from one of those conferences has a hot year. For example, a 1-loss Louisiana Tech team is 1 spot ahead of 1-losss Rutgers and only 1 spot behind 1-loss Louisville in this week’s BCS rankings… and that’s while playing in a WAC league that will no longer be in existence when the new playoff starts in 2014. That seems to indicate that a 1-loss Louisiana Tech team would definitely jump 2-loss Louisville and Rutgers teams if the new system were in place today (and it’s already virtually dead even with all of them having the same records). At the same time, even though the Big East conference games will provide its league members with stronger strength of schedule rankings compared to the conferences games in the other G5 leagues, that can be mitigated by the fact that other G5 teams are more willing to take one-and-done guarantee games on the road with power conference teams. Using Louisiana Tech as an example again, they have stronger BCS computer numbers than both Louisville and Rutgers this year based on playing one excellent SEC team (Texas A&M) and two craptacular Big Ten (Illinois – ugh) and ACC (Virginia) teams in road one-and-done games. As a result, Big East teams can’t get very comfortable at all about thinking that this G5 slot is always going to go to their league. That might be true when all records are equal, but if the Big East champ has a worse record than one of the other G5 champs, then it’s a major risk.
(4) What other winners and losers are there? – The other G5 conferences are overall winners since they have managed to obtain better access and revenue compared to the current system despite generally having weaker leagues on the field due to defections with conference realignment. Of course, lest that you believe that the power conferences have been charitable, the Big Ten and SEC are definitely large winners, as well. In part of the announcements this week, the champions from the SEC and Big Ten will always play in one of the host bowls if they are not semifinalists instead of the Orange Bowl (which those leagues have a secondary tie-in with shared with Notre Dame). So, instead of, say, a #5-ranked SEC champ heading to the Orange Bowl when the Sugar Bowl is hosting a semifinal (thereby freeing up a host bowl slot for someone else), that SEC champ will go to one of the host bowls and the Orange Bowl can take another SEC team on top of that. Jim Delany and Mike Slive definitely pulled a fast one there, particularly when the media seems to intimate that this was some type of concession.
(5) What happens to independents, particularly Notre Dame and BYU? – Independents (excluding Navy who will be joining the Big East in 2015, these currently consist of Notre Dame, BYU and Army and will include conference-less Idaho and New Mexico State next year) do not have any prescribed access to the semifinals and host bowls outside of ranking high enough for the selection committee to choose them for those slots. However, Notre Dame has a contractual tie-in with the Orange Bowl, so host bowl access would have been gravy to them, anyway.
Most speculation about the impact on independents has centered around whether the new G5 bowl slot will spur BYU to join the Big East. As I’ve stated in other blog posts, I don’t believe that BYU will end up in the Big East because its interests are much more about providing maximum TV exposure for the football program and the LDS church as a whole, which is exactly what they get now as an independent with an ESPN contract, as opposed to making the most TV money possible. Now, I do believe that the bowl access situation will give BYU and LDS leaders (never forget that they are intertwined here) something else to chew on, but if you take a step back, you’ll realize that nothing has actually changed for the school in terms of top tier bowl access. As of today, the only way that BYU can get automatic access to any BCS bowl is to qualify for the national championship game itself, which is practically no different than BYU only gaining automatic access if it qualifies for a semifinal in the new system. Since BYU chose independence under the current BCS circumstances with virtually no prescribed access at all, no one should assume that the new G5 bowl spot will seriously alter their thinking. At the end of the day, I continue to believe that Air Force will end up as football school #14 in the Big East while BYU will maintain its independence.
While the nonplayoff Sugar Bowls will be exclusively between SEC and Big 12 teams, much as the Rose Bowl is exclusively between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, the semifinals can feature teams from any conference, although if an SEC or Big 12 team is seeded first or second, its game will be in the Sugar Bowl.
The rotation for the semifinals is yet to be set. Hoolahan said he did not know which year would be the first for New Orleans to host a playoff game but understood the Sugar Bowl would be paired with the Rose Bowl.
“That way, we’ll have an uninterrupted afternoon and evening of playoff games,” he said. “That’s going to be exciting.”
The first portion of Hoolahan’s info doesn’t surprise me, where the contract bowls would get preferences to host their respective conference partners when they are semifinal games. It makes complete sense that a #1 or #2-ranked Big Ten or Pac-12 team ought to go to the Rose Bowl if that game happens to be a semifinal site for that particular season. However, the second portion about how the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl would always be semifinal games in the same year is completely perplexing to me. I understand Hoolahan’s point that the years when both of them are hosting semifinals would make for an exciting New Year’s Day, but the flip side is that there would now be no New Year’s Day semifinals at all in 1 out of every 3 years. A clear and logical annual setup of 1 host bowl being a semifinal on New Year’s Eve and 1 contract bowl being a semifinal on New Year’s Day seems to be thrown up in the air with this information. Usually, I’m able to understand the intent and reasoning behind various actions by the powers that be (even if I don’t personally agree with them), but I’m at a loss as to why the commissioners believe that this is a good idea.
All-in-all, there has been a flurry of progress over the past couple of weeks on the playoff front after a long pause in deliberations. Hopefully, we’ll get some final information about how the semifinal rotation will be set up, confirmation that ESPN will be the television partner, and where the national championship game itself will be played sooner rather than later.
It’s the home stretch for the college football regular season. Let’s get to it.
(1) College Football Playoff News Leads to More College Football Playoff Questions – Every few weeks, a flurry of news about the college football playoff comes out and it ends up being more head-spinning than clarifying. Last month, it appeared that a 7th BCS bowl (or whatever we will call the system going forward) would be a lock in order to provide more top tier bowl access to the new class of “non-contract” conferences (Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC) known as the “Gang of Five” (hereinafter referred to by me as the “G5″*) along with an additional contract spot for the Pac-12 and Big 12 (to match the Orange Bowl contract spot that the Big Ten, SEC and Notre Dame are occupying opposite of the ACC). It now looks like that idea lasted about as long as Mike Brown’s coaching tenure with the Lakers, complete with the BFFs of the Big Ten and Pac-12 getting into a tiff over the bowl’s viability.
(* Whenever I hear a reference to a G5, I always think of this moment.)
As a result, the FBS commissioners are going to recommend the original plan of a 4-team playoff incorporated into 6 bowls, with the Rose, Sugar (which has finally been named as the home of the SEC-Big 12 matchup and allows all of us to stop calling it the pompous Champions Bowl) and Orange Bowls as “Contract Bowls” and 3 other “Access Bowls” that will likely consist of the Cotton, Fiesta and the I Really Love Chick Fil-A Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches So Please Have Your CFO Not Talk About Politics So I Can Eat Them Without Guilt Bowls*.
(* In full disclosure for those that don’t already know from some of my past blog posts, I have long considered myself to be a libertarian Republican, so I have a constant tension in my head between my belief that there needs to be significantly lower government spending with fewer regulatory restraints on the free market and social viewpoints that I completely disagree with. This election year certainly didn’t ease that tension at all. At least we can all depend upon Nate Silver.)
That leaves a multitude of questions that need to be answered ASAP:
How often will the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl host semifinals compared to the other top bowls?
How will the conferences split the playoff money?
Will the G5 conferences receive a dedicated bid to the access bowls, a provisional bid based on a top 15/20 ranking threshold similar to the current BCS system, or no guaranteed access at all?
Are playoff games really going to be played on New Year’s Eve or will TV interests nix that prospect?
What happens when the first Monday after the NFL Wild Card weekend, which TV partners have said is the optimal date for the national championship game, comes on a date that is less than a week after New Year’s Day?
Where is the first national championship game going to be played?
Since ESPN is ready to pay over $600 million per year for the college football postseason, when will a further expansion of the playoff become too irresistible for the powers that be?*
(* Unlike a lot of people, I personally don’t believe that an 8-team playoff is going to be inevitable by any means. If there’s an expansion of the postseason, I think a “plus three” system of a 4-team playoff with the participants chosen after the bowls are played would be more likely, but that’s another discussion for another day.)
With the new playoff starting for the 2014 season, there honestly isn’t that much time to hammer all of these details out. We’ll see what comes out on Monday after the Presidential Oversight Committee hears from the FBS commissioners.
I had been holding out on elevating Oregon to #2 since I believed that Notre Dame had a much better resume, but the Ducks continuing its thrashings against USC combined with a game that the Irish should have completely lost versus Pitt has finally gotten me to go with the conventional wisdom among the human pollsters (if not the computers that still like Kansas State much better).
(3) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)
Minnesota (-3) over ILLINOIS
SYRACUSE (+2) over Louisville
Northwestern (+9.5) over MICHIGAN
(4) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)
BEARS (PK) over Texans
EAGLES (+1) over Cowboys
Lions (-1) over VIKINGS
(5) Classic Music Video of the Week – “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube
It’s been a crazy week in the Frank the Tank household, so I just have time for my BlogPoll Ballot and parlay picks for this post. Some more in-depth posts about conference realignment, the college football playoff picture and TV contracts are forthcoming.
This is the first time in history where an undefeated Notre Dame team is actually underrated. The Irish resume is deserving of a #2 ranking.
(2) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)
Illinois (+27.5) over OHIO STATE – As evidenced by last week’s post, I’m waaaaaay down on the state of the Illinois football program, but for whatever reason, the Illini generally outperform expectations whenever they play Ohio State (if only because this matchup typically comes with trap game timing for the Buckeyes).
USC (+8.5) over Oregon – I’m feeling upset #1…
LSU (+8.5) over Alabama – … and upset #2. Identical lines for two uber-talented home teams in the biggest games of the weekend. Get ready for that Notre Dame vs. Kansas State national championship game.
(4) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)
Bears (-3.5) over TITANS – I’m going to chalk up last week’s sub par performance by Smokin’ Jay Cutler and the Bears to a short week coming off of a Monday Night Football appearance.
FALCONS (-3.5) over Cowboys – Atlanta should honestly be getting more love from the oddsmakers here.
Ravens (-3.5) over BROWNS – This Browns team was challenging to be the among the worst Cleveland teams ever (which is saying something) before it pulled out that cringe-inducing victory over San Diego last week. I think they’ll revert to true form against the Team Formerly Known as the Cleveland Browns.
Enjoy the weekend, stay safe if you’re on the East Coast and, no matter what your political persuasion might be, please vote on Tuesday!
It has been quite crazy in the real life of Frank the Tank over the past couple of weeks, so I apologize for the hiatus. Let’s get right back into it:
(1) The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend: Fox Emerging as Top Competitor to ESPN Instead of Comcast (Because That’s How ESPN Wants It) – When I wrote this post on potential challengers to ESPN back in March, I was fairly skeptical of anyone being able to step up to create a full-fledged all-sports network competitor. Unlike Fox News Channel and MSNBC, which were able to establish audiences to compete with CNN with internal programming decisions within their full control, new sports networks are largely dependent upon winning sports rights from third parties (which aren’t guaranteed). To its credit, though, Fox has been able to assemble a broad array of what I called “tier one” properties since that time, such as cable rights for Major League Baseball (including postseason games) and NASCAR. When combined with the Big 12, Pac-12 and soccer (e.g. future FIFA events such as the World Cup, English Premier League, etc.) rights that Fox already has in hand, the likely-to-be-formed “Fox Sports One” looks like a legitimate counterweight to ESPN. Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. certainly has a lot of experience building empires based on sports properties with BSkyB in the United Kingdom breaking through after the purchase of English Premier League rights and over-the-air Fox doing the same after winning NFL games here in the United States. (If you were around in the early-1990s, there were legitimate concerns and tons of late night talk show fodder about whether enough people would be able to find the Fox network. Within a couple of years of having NFL games, though, Fox established itself as every bit as powerful of a network as ABC, CBS and NBC.) It looks like he’ll finally have a cable sports network in the US that will have access to top properties during the entire calendar year.
In contrast, it appears that Comcast has very few options left for its NBC Sports Network. For all of the bluster from Comcast that it was looking to invest heavily in NBCSN, it has ended up losing out on every competitive bidding situation for sports rights over the past 2 years with the exception of retaining the NHL and Olympics rights that it already had. The other properties that NBCSN has added during that time frame are generally low value, such as MLS soccer, Formula One racing and Atlantic 10 basketball. Comcast may no longer have much incentive to spend significantly on NBCSN since there is literally nothing else of value available over the next few years outside of the Big East rights (which we’ll address separately in a moment). As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see NBCSN go more toward the CBS Sports Network route of trying to keep costs down while providing an overflow outlet for the main over-the-air NBC Sports operation.
What’s interesting here is that ESPN effectively picked the winner between News Corp. and Comcast when it chose to work with Fox in winning the Pac-12 rights against NBC last year. Once that occurred, it established (or maybe just reflected) a fascinating bond between Disney (ESPN) and News Corp. (Fox) along with Time Warner/Turner (TBS/TNT): no matter how much they might have hated each other, they all hated Comcast even more and showed that they would rather work together to squash NBCSN than let the fledgling network gain any traction. ESPN and Fox have partnered on the new Big 12 TV deal, while Turner is going to pay twice as much as it does now for MLB rights for half as many games (with virtually all of the games that they’re losing heading over to Fox). From the perspective of these media companies, it makes complete sense. Comcast is the largest source of subscriber fees for all of the top cable networks, which means that a Comcast-owned sports network that has enough top tier properties to be used as leverage in carriage fees negotiations is much more dangerous for ESPN, Fox and Turner than any other potential competitor. So, for ESPN, it was much better for them to allow Fox to rise up as its primary competition than Comcast/NBC. It’s a classic “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation.
The Big East is sitting back seeing this dance unfold. A few months ago, many sports media industry observers thought that it was a foregone conclusion that the Big East’s new TV contract would end up with Comcast/NBC. Now, the view seems to have shifted to where a number of people are betting on an ESPN/Fox combo for the Big East (similar to what they have in place with the Pac-12 and Big 12). What’s hard to tell is whether this is going to end up working out financially well for the Big East since, whether or not they ultimately sign a contract with any particular media entity, they need all three of ESPN, Fox and Comcast/NBC (plus CBS for basketball) to be legitimately interested in the conference’s rights to drive up the price. If ESPN and Fox are working together while Comcast/NBC decides that it’s going to take a low cost approach, then the Big East may not receive the payday that many of the league’s fans are hoping for. Therefore, the Big East had better hope that Comcast/NBC is willing to legitimately pay up to compete with ESPN and Fox and not just sell the availability of “exposure” with open Saturday time slots that ESPN can’t offer. The fact that Comcast/NBC wasn’t willing to do that with MLB rights is a negative sign, but as always, we’ll find out whether that will be the case here soon enough.
I seriously don’t try to win the Jim Tressel’s Numb Existence Award every week, but I’m on top of the list again despite my love for Toledo.
(3) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)
Indiana (+1) over ILLINOIS – I don’t care how bad Indiana might be (and believe me, they’re awful) – Illinois should not be giving points to any team. Look, I’ve had some prolonged rough stretches as an Illini fan. During my first three years of college in Champaign, the Illinois football team amassed a 5-28 record (including a winless season in 1997). When Illinois finally won a game in 1998, fans rushed the field even though that win was against the mighty Middle Tennessee State. 2003 through 2006 featured an 8-38 stretch, which was mitigated a little bit by some glory years for the Illini basketball team. However, I’m not exaggerating here when I say that this is the most dejected that I’ve ever seen the Illini football fan base. At least with Ron Zook, there was the inkling of hope that his legendary recruiting ability would eventually turn things around. Plus, I think we’ll eventually remember the Zook years as being “funny bad”. Between the asinine 2-point conversion attempts in the first quarter, rugby punts and water skiing without water skis, Zook at least sucked with some style. (Other examples of “funny bad”: “Evil Dead 2”, the “Cheaters” TV show, and the Henry Burris stint as quarterback for the Bears.)
The Illini team under Tim Beckman, on the other hand, has been completely listless since the loss to Louisiana Tech in week 4. To use a sports cliche, it’s not that the Illini are losing per se that bothers me, but rather how they are losing. Several other top Illini boosters are bothered by it, as well, and have made it known publicly that they aren’t happy at all with Beckman or Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas. Granted, it’s tough to fire any new head coach after only one season (compounded by the fact that the Illinois athletic department is still paying buyouts to both Ron Zook and Bruce Weber at the same time), but we’re getting dangerously close to the point where fan anger turns to fan apathy, which is the worst thing that can happen to a program that can’t count on 100,000 people showing up every week no matter what like Ohio State and Michigan. For practical purposes, I’m resigned to the fact that Beckman will almost certainly get another year (if only because Thomas would be admitting he made a major mistake in the hiring by axing Beckman so quickly), yet Illinois might be trading a short-term contract buyout issue for a legitimately long-term setback once again.
Cincinnati (+4) over LOUISVILLE – Even though Cincinnati lost a trap road game to Toledo last week, I believe that the real fight in the Big East will eventually come down to between the Bearcats and Rutgers. Louisville has already had multiple close escapes with a very weak schedule, so the Cardinals’ undefeated record and #16 ranking are paper thin in my eyes. (The sharps in Las Vegas apparently agree with me since this line has been dropping with money heading towards Cincinnati all week.)
Michigan (+2.5) over NEBRASKA – This ought to be a fun atmosphere in Lincoln with Michigan coming to town, but my feeling is that the Wolverines will end up running the table for the rest of the year to get to the Rose Bowl.
(4) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)
BEARS (-8) over Panthers – An organization in a tailspin versus the NFL’s best defense isn’t a great combo for Cam Newton and Ron Rivera. Granted, I’m concerned about Jay Cutler’s bruised ribs (as his passes were nowhere near as crisp in the 2nd half against the Lions on Monday Night as they were in the 1st half), but the Bears have definitely taken care of business against all of the teams that they were supposed to beat so far this season. Lovie Smith has had this team completely focused game-to-game.
LIONS (-1) over Seahawks – As stifling as the Bears defense might be, the Lions were actually able to move the ball fairly well down field in the 2nd half and it took multiple disastrous red zone turnovers by Detroit for Chicago to come away with the win. I have no idea why Matthew Stafford seems to miss on half of his throws toward Calvin Johnson with Megatron being such a massive target, but those two connecting consistently is much more likely at home against Seattle than it was on the road against Chicago.
Falcons (+2) over EAGLES – I know that Atlanta has to eventually lose, but I don’t feel that it’s going to come against an underachieving .500 squad in the middle of Philly fan calls for the scalps of Michael Vick and Andy Reid.
(5) Classic Music Video of the Week: “No Sex in the Champagne Room” by Chris Rock
In honor of Tom Fornelli starting up The Champaign Room at SBNation to cover the Fighting Illini (the logo is even better than the name), here’s a memorable ditty from Chris Rock:
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.
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.