Sports Data From Nielsen: TV Viewership for College Conferences and Pro Sports Social Media Buzz

This blog has been a hub of activity for conference realignment discussion and other issues in the business of sports for the past couple of years, but it has sometimes been difficult to get quantitative data to back up what many of us observe qualitatively (such as the popularity of fan bases and conferences).  So, the following presentation direct from Nielsen (the TV ratings firm) about the 2011 sports year provides a treasure trove of previously unknown (at least to me) and fascinating statistics about pro and college sports TV viewership, social networking buzz and ad spending:
This slide presentation was uploaded by ceobroadband at slideshare.net.  Nielsen analyzed everything from the four major pro sports leagues to the rising viewership of the English Premier League in the US, so there’s something here for every type of sports fan.  It’s key that this analysis is coming directly from Nielsen itself, whereas a lot of other viewership figures that get reported these days come from leagues, conferences and TV networks themselves and are spun to put them in the most favorable light.  As a result, the slide presentation is about as unbiased as you can reasonably get on the subject matters at hand.
One of the more interesting charts is on slide 4, where Nielsen tracked the social media buzz for the major pro sports leagues over the course of 2011 and news events where activity spiked on Twitter and Facebook.  Major League Baseball can’t be happy to see social networking mentions hover around the NHL’s numbers and its 7-game World Series last year didn’t produce a real spike in activity compared to the NBA Finals.  I’m not surprised by the fact that the NBA has more social networking buzz compared to MLB since the basketball league’s fan base skews younger, but I didn’t expect baseball to be on the social media level of hockey.  (Note that there’s no point in comparing any other sport to the NFL in America: pro football blows everything else away on every metric.  The only discussion is about who can take second place.)
For college sports fans, slide 9 presents some extremely pertinent information that few of us have seen before: the average TV viewer numbers per game for each of the 6 power conferences for both football and basketball.  With so many issues in college sports, such as conference realignment and a football playoff, driven by television money, these viewership figures are enlightening (and surprising in some cases).
Here are the average football viewership totals by conference according to Nielsen:1. SEC – 4,447,000
2. Big Ten – 3,267,000
3. ACC – 2,650,000
4. Big 12 – 2,347,000
5. Pac-12 – 2,108,000
6. Big East – 1,884,000
Here are the average basketball viewership totals by conference according to Nielsen:1. Big Ten – 1,496,000
2. ACC – 1,247,000
3. SEC – 1,222,000
4. Big 12 – 1,069,000
5. Big East – 1,049,000
6. Pac-12 – 783,000
Some takeaways from those figures:
A. The Big Ten and SEC deserve every penny that they receive and then some – The readers of this blog probably aren’t surprised by the football viewership numbers, but the proverbial icing on the cake is how strong both of them are in basketball.  ACC alum Scott Van Pelt of ESPN once said, “Watching Big Ten basketball is like watching fat people have sex.”  Well, the Big Ten even tops the vaunted the ACC in basketball viewership and it’s by a fairly healthy margin.
B. The ACC has an undervalued TV contract – The flip side of the Big Ten and SEC analysis above is that while the ACC’s basketball viewership strength isn’t unexpected, the much maligned football side actually has strong TV numbers.  If you take a step back for a moment, it makes sense.  Florida State and Miami continue to be great national TV draws (even when they’re down) and schools such as Virginia Tech bring in large state markets.
C.  Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott can sell ice cubs to Eskimos – The viewership numbers for the Pac-12 in both football and basketball indicate that they shouldn’t be in the vicinity of the ACC and Big 12 TV contracts, much less currently above the Big Ten and SEC.  The football numbers might be a little lower compared to a normal season with USC having the scarlet letter of not being able to go to a bowl this year, but one would think that some of that would have been countered by strong Stanford and Oregon teams.  Meanwhile, the basketball numbers are just awful – the Pac-12 definitely needs UCLA to resuscitate itself to be viable nationally.  The Pac-12 presidents ought to give Larry Scott a lifetime contract with the TV dollars that he’s pulled from ESPN and Fox.
D.  Big East basketball is a weaker draw than expected – No one should be surprised by the weak Big East football numbers.  However, the basketball and large market-centric side of the league actually had fewer hoops viewers than any of the power conferences except for the Pac-12, which doesn’t bode well with the league losing the strong draws of Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia.  The Big East was also widely acknowledged as the top conference in basketball last year, so the league was at its competitive peak in the post-2003 ACC raid era.  This gives credence to the argument that large media markets in and of themselves don’t matter as much as large and rabid fan bases that draw in statewide audiences.
E.  The Big 12 is appropriately valued – For all of the dysfunction of the Big 12, it might be the one conference whose TV contracts are actually in line with their viewership numbers.  The Big 12 is ranked #4 among the power conferences for both football and basketball and the likelihood is that it will end up as the #4 conference in TV dollars after the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC when all is said and done.
There’s lots of other data to chew on here that I may examine in future posts, but for now, the college conference viewership breakdown is something that I haven’t seen before and puts some quantitative backup to what we have speculated was behind conference realignment moves.
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Slides from slideshare.net)

Template for Shooting Down Any Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten

It appears that the Earth is now 70% covered by water, 25% covered by schlocky Black Eyed Peas TV appearances and 5% covered by Big Ten expansion Internet ramblings.  I really didn’t think that I could cover too many more angles regarding the positives and negatives of Texas moving to the Big Ten, but the general ignorance of much of American public on the issues at hand that I’ve seen in various newspaper columns, blogs and message boards has brought up a number of additional thoughts.  I guess this should’ve been as predictable as the NFL ignoring all musical acts from the past half century for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Regardless, many Texas alums themselves have debunked a lot of the popular misconceptions themselves (such as well-informed posters like Ice Man on Orangebloods, who went over a lot of the points I’m going to be making in this post), which should serve any non-Texas Big XII fans notice that Texas is NOT joking here.  (By the way, multiple Facebook groups supporting Texas joining the Big Ten have popped up here and here.)  The feedback that I’ve been receiving is that Texas is looking at every possible scenario, ranging from joining the Big Ten or Pac-10 to even becoming an independent.  Let’s reiterate some of the arguments that I’ve seen from Texas alums along with a few more tidbits of my own that ought to blow every common objection to this out of the water.  I’ll warn you ahead of time that this blog post will be almost as long as Greg Oden’s third leg.

1.  More reasons why travel costs are a “penny wise, pound foolish” concern – It’s still the most common financial argument against Texas making a move to the Big Ten, even though I began to address travel costs in this post.  As people continue to bring it up as an issue, I actually went to the Texas Longhorns athletics site to see exactly which sports need to travel for conference games or matches.  Contrary to popular belief, Texas isn’t going to have to send the vast majority of its teams traveling any more in the Big Ten than they do today in the Big XII.  Out of the 16 non-revenue varsity teams that Texas supports, only 5 of them involve substantive conference schedules: baseball, softball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer.  Remember that these teams still have to get onto a plane for every place they travel to in the Big XII other than College Station and Waco, so it’s not as if though they are really losing many bus trips (where the costs savings are really accrued).  As I’ve stated before, once you have to get onto a plane, the actual distance that you have to travel is irrelevant in terms of costs since commercial flights are dependent upon supply and demand on that particular route (where a plane flight from Austin to Oklahoma City could easily cost much more than a plane ticket from Austin to Chicago), while the largest cost for chartering a jet is the fixed expense of having to charter it in the first place.

Meanwhile, the following 11 teams travel to regional non-conference meets for the bulk of their schedules: cross country (men and women), golf (men and women), swimming and diving (men and women), tennis (men and women), track and field (men and women) and rowing (women).  Just take a look at their schedules for yourself.  In almost all cases, the only time that any of those teams face inter-conference competition is for the weekend of the conference championships, which would be the same whether Texas was in the Big Ten or Big XII.  So, Texas moving from the Big XII to the Big Ten would only have a material impact on 5 non-revenue sports with the other 11 non-revenue varsity teams experiencing no real change in travel.

When it comes to the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, let’s not forget the obvious example of why travel costs are certainly irrelevant to a wealthy athletic department: Notre Dame.  I believe that we all can agree that Notre Dame isn’t hurting for revenue, even though we’ve established that Notre Dame’s NBC contract ($9 million per year) is actually only worth less than half as much as the TV revenue that each Big Ten school receives ($22 million per year).  What’s interesting is that part of the reason why Notre Dame wants to keep its NBC contract and avoid joining the Big Ten or another conference is exactly the opposite reason why a lot of travel-obsessed people think that Texas shouldn’t join the Big Ten: the Irish play a true national football schedule with games that literally stretch from coast-to-coast annually.  In fact, Notre Dame is even scheduling “home” games in locations far from South Bend, particularly in… wait for it… the state of Texas.  A number of Notre Dame alumni have stated to me that the NBC contract is just a means to an end, where the point is that it’s more than enough revenue to allow Notre Dame to remain independent and keep its national schedule.

At the same time, Notre Dame’s non-football teams play in the incredibly dispersed Big East, which ranges from Milwaukee over to Providence and down to Tampa.  As a result, Notre Dame has to get onto a plane for every conference opponent except for DePaul and Marquette.  For all of this trouble, Notre Dame receives about $1.25 million per year from the Big East in TV revenue.

Let’s put this all together: Notre Dame makes about $10.25 million per year total from its NBC contract and the Big East basketball TV contract.  It plays a completely national football schedule each year where they have games in California, Texas and the Northeast corridor.  As part of the Big East for other sports, the Irish are required to get onto a plane for 13 out of its 15 conference opponents.  Through all of this travel, Notre Dame has leveraged itself into becoming one of the most profitable athletic departments in the entire country.  That shows you how much more powerful television revenue is compared to travel costs.

Seeing that Texas would be making, at a minimum, $22 million in TV revenue per year in the Big Ten (and it will probably be closer to around $30 million) compared to Notre Dame’s $10.25 million per year, yet Notre Dame endures a travel schedule in all sports that would be more than comparable to Texas in the Big Ten, there is absolutely no rational way to think that the Longhorns’ increased travel costs would come even close to approaching the increased revenue or be of the slightest financial concern.

2.  When did at least an extra $10 million per year become “not a big deal”? – It is amazing to me when I see comments, especially from the mainstream media that ought to have the cursory ability to do some research on Google, stating that at least $10 million extra payout per year isn’t a big deal or, even better, that Texas supposedly has “enough money already”.  One Omaha columnist that epitomizes the “N stands for Nowledge” stereotype went so far as to call the extra money “measly”.  Well, I think guys ranging from Omaha native Warren Buffett to Jerry Jones have more than enough money, too, but you don’t see them standing around not trying to make more.  In fact, I don’t know too many high achievers that are satisfied with the status quo – they’re always looking to add to the coffers.  It’s also incredulous to me that the myth that Notre Dame wouldn’t join the Big Ten because it supposedly makes too much from its NBC deal is often advanced yet again.

So, the general argument that we’ve been seeing a lot in the mainstream media is that an extra $10 million per year supposedly isn’t enough of an incentive for Texas to join the Big Ten, yet the approximately $10 million total that Notre Dame is receiving from NBC and the Big East is “too much to give up” to join the Big Ten.  These are completely contradictory statements that any random person (such as a lawyer that writes a blog in his spare time) could instantly debunk by performing a couple of searches on the Internet.  There’s little wonder why I previously wrote about how the newspaper industry was being run into the ground.

Suffice to say, an extra $10 million per year (and I have to emphasize again that this is the MINIMUM that Texas would enjoy because it would likely by closer to an extra $15-20 million based on projections) is the equivalent of a school adding more than the entire value of the Notre Dame NBC contract that allows the Irish to be independent and that people seem to think gives them great power.  That’s definitely a big deal for any school, even one that’s as financially flush as Texas.

3.  The largest slice of the pie in the Big XII is still smaller than an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten – Further to point #2, it continues to perplex me that a lot of people still advance the argument that Texas won’t leave because the revenue sharing in the Big XII favors them.  This is the equivalent of saying that you don’t want to move to a mansion in Beverly Hills because you own the largest house in Compton.  Once again, every Big Ten school in its equal revenue distribution model, from Ohio State down to Indiana, made $22 million in TV money last season.  In contrast, Texas, in an unequal distribution model that completely favors them in the Big XII, with the most national TV appearances and a BCS bowl berth, only made $12 million.  You don’t need to have been a math major to understand that $22 million > $12 million.  I’m not sure why Texas cares about getting the largest slice of the pie in the Big XII when an equal slice of the pie in the Big Ten is so much bigger.

4.  Texas has the nation’s wealthiest athletic department IN SPITE of the Big XII (not because of it) – Following up on points #2 and #3, the notion that Texas won’t move because it already has the nation’s richest athletic department is the same thing as arguing that a minimum of $10 million extra per year isn’t a big deal and the Longhorns should pass that up so that they can preserve road trips to Lubbock.  Texas isn’t competing with Texas Tech and Baylor in order to win the Texas state college championship.  On the national scene, it’s competing with Florida, Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State, all of whom will each take in about $100 million more than Texas over the next decade just for showing up to play if the Longhorns stand pat.  That’s going to have a material long-term impact on Texas competing at a national level.  Texas might be the wealthiest athletic department in the nation today, but that’s IN SPITE of the Big XII and its poor prospects for television revenue as opposed to because of it.

5.  The Pac-10, with its own expansion plans, is REALLY helping the Big Ten out – Out of all of the BCS conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10 arguably have the closest relationship with very similar academic institutions and, of course, the connection through the Rose Bowl.  Whether intentional or not, the rumors that the Pac-10 is considering to add Colorado and Utah has started to really make the Big XII look incredibly unstable and ripe for the picking by the Big Ten.  I explained in the Big Ten Expansion Index post that Missouri was essentially a “stalking horse” in this expansion process, where the threat of Mizzou leaving for the Big Ten (which would take away the most populated state in the Big XII other than Texas) would cause Texas to engage in CYA measures of its own and consider bolting the conference instead.  The practical issue, though, was that the Missouri-to-the Big Ten rumors never really seemed legitimate other than to some sportswriters and fans that still see conferences as purely geographic exercises and the pining has almost been completely coming from Mizzou as opposed to the Big Ten.

Colorado going to the Pac-10, on the other hand, is a different story.  Check out this interview of CU’s Phil DiStefano chancellor in the Denver Post, where he is already talking about weighing the exit penalties for leaving the Big XII and the school’s better alumni base in the Pac-10 region.  Remember my mantra that you need to think like a university president instead of a sports fan when talking about expansion?  Well, CU’s chancellor, who is the actual person who will be making the decision to switch conferences, has come out talking publicly about the machinations of moving to the Pac-10 when the normal answer to a newspaper reporter at this point in time would be “No comment.”  That’s about as clear of a sign that Colorado is ready to bolt to the Pac-10 ASAP without actually saying, “Smell ya later!” and there are a lot of indications that the interest is mutual.

Losing Colorado is just as damaging to the Big XII as losing Missouri (and from the Longhorns’ perspective, CU is the closest cultural and academic match that Texas has in the conference).  Colorado represents the second largest population base in the conference in the Big XII outside of the Texas along with the largest single TV market (Denver) in the conference other than Dallas and Houston.  This sets up the scenario that Texas blog Barking Carnival has brilliantly described in this post examining what should be the thought process of University of Texas president William Powers.  Here’s a great quote:

Even though the Big 10 began expansion discussions first and needs to add just one school, expect the PAC 10 to move first. Importantly, the PAC 10 will be useful to Texas when it breaks the seal of the Big 12 with the recruitment of Colorado.

While inside the mind of Powers, take note of how important it will be for Texas not to make the first move. Powers’ job description involves managing a complex brew of relationships, not the least of which is big-P Political (versus small-p political, which is a rich tradition in universities of all sizes and reputations). Were Texas to initiate the move that drops the value of Texas Tech’s share of a TV deal in half, the talk in the capitol building will be about Texas’ greed and complete disdain for other parts of the state. The West Texas lobby may not be strong enough to keep the deal from going forward, but a university president can die from a thousand papercuts.

You want more control over tuition? You want relief from the top-10% rule? Cry me a river, Mr. Ivory Tower. We’ll show you who runs the show in this state. Sorry that we can’t afford to fund your building maintenance requests. Better luck next year.

Some historians will note that Texas had a hand in leaving TCU, SMU, Houston and Rice in limbo when the Big 12 was formed. The way former K-State president Jon Wefald has told the story, the Big 8 made an initial overture to form the Big 16, and that it was Texas president Robert Berdahl who indicated his preference to split the pie twelve ways rather than sixteen. But it is also important to note that UT already had very poor relations with the Legislature at that time, something Larry Faulkner and now Bill Powers have worked effectively to improve.

On the other hand, if Colorado or Missouri make the first move (and both could make a move without directly impacting another university in their respective states), then Powers will have the moral authority to make the move that best serves Texas. Adding TCU to replace a defector will result in a net loss to Texas. While Powers may be politically prohibited from initiating a move, he will be held blameless for reacting to one.

While I’m personally not a fan of the 16-school conference proposal described at the end, everything else in that post is spot-on.  In fact, it elevates the “think like a university president” rule to the maximum degree.  Colorado, Missouri and now even Nebraska are beginning to look like the first actors here, which can give Texas the political cover to make a move first.  The Pac-10 making overtures to Colorado has now given even more incentive for Texas to move and the Big Ten gets a lot of leverage from it.

6.  Texas isn’t doing this for leverage because the Big XII can’t give anymore – Another common argument that I’m seeing is that Texas is only talking to the Big Ten and Pac-10 in order to get more concessions from the rest of the Big XII.  The problem with this argument is that it only works if the other Big XII members can actually give anything more to Texas.  The Longhorns already receive the most TV money in the entire conference.  The football conference championship game is likely to be played at Jerry World in Arlington more often than not.  The Big XII headquarters are already in Dallas.  There’s virtually nothing else that Texas can extract from the Big XII, yet as reiterated in point #3 above, it still pales in comparison to what it could receive in the equal revenue sharing model in the Big Ten.

Kansas State blog Bring on the Cats, using an apt poker analogy, brought up a well-written argument that Texas might be doing this in order to scare Missouri and other schools back into line so that the Big XII status quo and the unequal revenue sharing that favors the Longhorns isn’t disturbed.  Indeed, as I mentioned in the comments to that blog post, Missouri badly misinterpreted its bargaining position in the expansion process.  Mizzou likely thought that it was in a “no lose” situation where it could either extract more revenue concessions from Texas and other Big XII members in order to stay in that conference or bolt to the Big Ten.  Instead, Mizzou has spurred Texas to make a move first (just as the Barking Carnival discussion that I linked to in the Big Ten Expansion Index post predicted), which wind up leaving Mizzou in a much weaker Big XII without any chance of moving to the Big Ten.

However, the issue with the poker analogy in Bring on the Cats is that I don’t believe that Texas is bluffing at all: they have the nuts in this scenario and all of the other Big XII schools are going to lose one way or another (either through not getting any type of better revenue sharing in the conference or Texas actually leaving).  At the same time, while Missouri might be scared back into its place since a Big Ten invitation really isn’t imminent, Colorado could leave for the Pac-10 anyway and take down the proverbial house of cards itself.  In that case, Texas would bolt anyway.

7.  The Big XII won’t magically sign a new TV contract that is anywhere close to what the Big Ten and SEC are receiving today – Another popular argument from non-Texas Big XII fans is that the Big XII will supposedly sign a much better TV contract over the next few years that will be competitive with the Big Ten and SEC.  While I’m not a television executive, let me point out exactly why this is not a reasonable proposition whatsoever.

First, let’s take a look at the population bases of the states comprising the 5 BCS conferences other than the Big East (which I’m only excluding because they have large states on paper but don’t really deliver the key ones that well for football), with the numbers coming from the always reliable Wikipedia:

Big Ten 67,379,505
ACC 59,697,664
SEC 58,581,019
Pac-10 54,047,294
Big XII 44,097,046

The Big XII, as of today, has over 23 million less people than in its footprint compared to the Big Ten.  What’s worse is that it’s not even diversified, where around 24 million of those people reside in the state of Texas.  The reason why the Big Ten and SEC have such massive TV revenue is that they are able to combine intense passion for their schools with fairly large population bases.  There might be some intense passion within the Big XII, but it has nowhere near the population base to even come within the vicinity of the deals of the other conferences.  Not only that, but Texas has to compare any prospective Big XII revenue to what the Big Ten revenue will look like with the Longhorns included, where the Big Ten’s population base would catapult to over 90 million people.  On a financial level, the Big XII simply will not be able to compete with the Big Ten.

Second, there aren’t networks out there that would pony up that type of money.  The main entity that can afford to pay the most in rights fees, ESPN, already has its best time slots locked in with – guess who – the Big Ten and SEC.  The Big Ten dominates the 11:00 am CT time slot on both ESPN and ESPN2.  At the 2:30 CT time slot, the Big Ten is guaranteed nationwide reverse mirror coverage on ABC/ESPN, where if a Big Ten game isn’t shown in a particular region on ABC, it is guaranteed to be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 in that region (which effectively gives the Big Ten nationwide coverage for all games in that time slot just like the SEC on CBS).  Meanwhile, the SEC is guaranteed to have a prime time game on ESPN or ESPN2 every single week.  As a result, ABC/ESPN simply doesn’t have any more room and, as a result, doesn’t have much incentive to pay much more than it does now for Big XII games.

With respect to the other networks, NBC is satisfied with Notre Dame football and, frankly, is the cheapest network out there when it comes to paying for sports rights.  (Please note that the NHL is actually paying NBC for airtime as opposed to the other way around.)  CBS has its own massive deal with the SEC for 2:30 CT national games, so it’s definitely not looking for any more college football games.  Fox is committed to Major League Baseball for most of the college football season, so it doesn’t have any time slots on Saturday for college football along with having much less incentive to broadcast the sport after giving up the rights to the BCS bowls.

So, unless the Big XII thinks that Fox Sports Net or Versus is going to come through with a massive new offer, there’s literally not much upside to look forward to in the next conference TV contract.

8.  The Longhorn Sports Network (which is why there isn’t a Big XII network today) is an open question mark – Further to point #7, lots of non-Texas Big XII fans have suggested building a Big XII network modeled after the Big Ten Network.  Of course, that was an idea that was proposed several years ago but was vetoed by – guess who – the University of Texas.  Texas has looked into starting the Longhorn Sports Network where it would build its own TV network and keep all of the revenue itself.  This is actually probably the only financial argument that could possibly support Texas staying in the Big XII as opposed to moving to the Big Ten.  However, let’s take a reasonable look at how viable this network could be.

Starting up a new cable network, while it looks like easy money on paper, is not for the faint-of-heart.  Here’s a list of major sports organizations that have endured one year or more involved in nasty carriage disputes:  the NFL with the NFL Network, the New York Yankees with the YES Network and the Big Ten with the Big Ten Network.  These only happen to respectively be (1) the most powerful and highest-rated professional sports league in the nation, (2) the wealthiest Major League Baseball franchise and most popular sports team in the nation’s largest media market and (3) the most powerful college sports conference that has the largest population base.  If you could pick any 3 organizations in the country that would have the most leverage in cable negotiations, those would likely be at the top of the list.  Even with all of that leverage and, more importantly, a whole lot of high value programming to offer in the form of exclusive coverage of live sporting events that a critical mass of fans deem important, it took an extremely long time for all of them to get the desired cable carriage and they all ended up having to accept lower subscriber rates to get their deals completed.

The University of Texas has leverage in the state of Texas in theory, but the issue would be whether a potential Longhorn Sports Network would have much (if any) high value programming that would make it into a must-have for basic cable systems.  It took over a year for the Big Ten to get basic cable carriage and that was with a full slate of high value football and men’s basketball games from across the conference to offer viewers.  Texas might not have control to televise any live football games or men’s basketball games, which would likely result in the network not (a) getting full basic cable carriage in the state of Texas and/or (b) receiving a desirable subscriber fee.  On top of that, Texas would need to lay out a large amount of capital expenditures in order to get the network off the ground.  This is in contrast to the Big Ten Network, which Texas could enter into with no risk or capital expenditures and have an important stake in a true national sports network (as opposed to one that’s just confined to the Lone Star State).

There will be smarter people than me looking further into this issue.  Honestly, this is really the critical question for Texas other than politics (and definitely more than emotionally-based thoughts like rivalries): does starting up the Longhorn Sports Network trump the revenue that would be received from the Big Ten Network?  If the answer is no, then I think Texas moving to the Big Ten becomes even more likely.

9.  You think that Texas recruiting would be hurt by moving to the Big Ten because players would supposedly rather travel to Waco and Lubbock?  Seriously?!  Have you heard of the power of “national TV” in recruiting? – One of the more ridiculous arguments out there is that Texas would supposedly be hurt in recruiting by making a move to the Big Ten.  Deciding which college to attend, whether you’re an elite athlete or average student, depends upon a whole host of factors and is a highly personal decision.  That being said, the typical top football recruit isn’t going to attend the University of Texas just because it’s close to home.  If that were the case, top kids from the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas would end up attending places like SMU, TCU, the University of Houston and Rice instead.  Top recruits go to Texas because they want to play big-time games and big-time environments that are beamed across the country on national TV so that they can watch themselves on SportsCenter late at night.  I have a hard time believing that Mack Brown sold Colt McCoy on coming to Texas based upon trips to Texas Tech and Baylor instead of, well, the home-and-home series against Ohio State back in 2005 and 2006.  While there might be a handful of kids that will only go to where their families could theoretically drive to all of the games (which, by the way, doesn’t happen in the Big XII with the widely dispersed Big XII North states), it’s the games in the Big House, Horseshoe and Happy Valley that get the blood pumping for the vast majority of elite athletes.  These are guys that are going to prioritize getting maximum exposure in terms of getting to the NFL way more than worrying about how far the road games might be.  If top recruits cared that much about family road trips, USC would always have terrible recruiting classes since they have to travel by plane for every road game except for the UCLA game.  We obviously know that’s not the case.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if though the University of Texas at Austin campus would be physically moving to the Great White North.  If you reasonably assume that all 4 non-conference games would be played in the state of Texas (Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas, home-and-home against Texas A&M, and 2 patsies to play at home in Austin) plus 4 conference home games, that means that UT would still be playing 8 games in the state of Texas every season.  The road games that aren’t in the state of Texas are in some of the largest and greatest venues in all of college football that would get maximum coast-to-coast coverage.  Anyone that attempts to compare the road trip desirability of Waco and Lubbock to even the least picturesque Big Ten college towns (much less all-world places like Chicago, Madison and Ann Arbor) has literally no fucking clue about what he’s talking about.

At the same time, if I hadn’t made this clear before, every single Big Ten football game is available across the country via ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network in high-definition.  It seems to me that this is a much more important selling point to elite athletes, especially when you consider how many recruits the school might lose by making them pay $39.95 just to watch a third-tier blood money game in Austin itself against Louisiana-Monroe.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing your state rivals and they’re close by if the games aren’t available on television – last year’s Texas A&M-Texas Tech game wasn’t even televised!!!

For all of the consternation about the relative handful of athletes and families along with the few thousand fans that might be inconvenienced by the longer travel involved in the Big Ten, people have completely missed out on how appalling it is that Texas still has to have millions of its fans fork over nearly $40 just to watch a third-tier home game on pay-per-view.  That will absolutely never be a concern for recruits, families and fans in the Big Ten.

10.  The weather is actually pretty nice in Big Ten country during football season – This is another ignorant argument that I’ve seen in dozens of places: “Why the heck would Texas want to play in the snow in the Big Ten?”  Any person that writes this obviously hasn’t gotten out of his or her bunker to realize exactly what the weather is like in the Midwest from September through November.  The first two months of the season actually provides spectacular football weather for the most part – it’s not agonizingly hot like Texas can be in September while October normally provides great fall weather.  It can get colder in November, but you’ll virtually never see snow during that time.  Does the weather suck royally hard in the middle of February as I’m writing this blog post?  Absolutely.  However, football season is a completely different story.  Even if we grant that it can get chilly in the Midwest in November, Texas would likely only have one road game in that environment anyway every year (since you can presume the Texas A&M game will always be played Thanksgiving weekend).  This isn’t any different than Texas having to take a trip to a Big XII North school during that time of year.  The weather issue is both a red herring AND completely wrong.

11.  Texas A&M or no Texas A&M?  That is the question – I vacillate back-and-forth about whether I’d want Texas A&M in a hypothetical 14-school Big Ten if the Aggies are politically required to tag along with Texas.  Texas A&M is kind of like a girl that isn’t that terrible looking from certain angles, yet she seems a little bit off where you wouldn’t be surprised if she engaged in things like ritual animal sacrifices.  The Aggies don’t fit in with the Big Ten at a cultural level in the same manner that Texas does, although the main things that A&M has going for it is an excellent academic research reputation (much more so than other Big XII candidates like Missouri and Nebraska) and the combo of Texas and Texas A&M would truly lock down the state of Texas as completely Big Ten territory (which does carry a lot of long-term value).

In this post, I voiced my original skepticism as to the desirability to build a 14-school conference from a financial standpoint.  Frankly, I’ve been surprised by how many people out there like the prospect of 14 or even 16-school super-conferences.  In my opinion, there are just significant diminishing returns as you move past the 12-school conference model, not the least of which is that it doesn’t do much good to have Texas, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the same conference if they’re only playing each other a couple of times per decade because the conference is too large.  (This matters to both university presidents AND sports fans.)  Personally, I think that adding Texas alone for a 12-school conference would be the best thing from a competitive and cultural fit standpoint as well as being the per school revenue maximization point.

That being said, the prospect of the Big Ten adding Texas is just too great to pass up and I’m resigned to the fact that if it means Texas A&M has to come along, then the conference needs to pull the trigger. At that point, the Big Ten can give one last shot for spot #14 to Notre Dame (and I think that they’re probably going to be much more open to taking it than people generally believe with the knowledge that the Big Ten would truly close off membership forever) and if the Irish turn it down, then virtually every school in the country outside of the SEC will be gunning for that slot and the Big Ten can have its pick.

Once again, I’d much prefer just adding Texas alone for a 12-school Big Ten.  However, if A&M needs to come along, then the Big Ten has to take heed the words of the great Joel Goodson: “Sometimes you’ve got to say, ‘What the fuck, make your move’.”  Only instead of “Looks like the University of Illinois!”, it’s now “Looks like Agricultural & Mechanical!”

12.  How to sell this to the Texas Legislature: Better Academics + More Research Funding = More Jobs – Out of all the arguments against Texas moving the Big Ten, the one that truly has real validity is that Texas state politicians would block the move.  One major way to alleviate this concern has already been addressed, which is to take Texas A&M, too.  The other way is to make sure that it’s emphasized that a move to the Big Ten doesn’t just affect some football games in Austin.  The CIC, which as discussed before is the academic arm of the Big Ten (plus the University of Chicago), would likely invite the University of Texas Medical Branches located in Dallas, Houston, Galveston and San Antonio to participate as guest members, which is similar to how the University of Illinois at Chicago (which performs a large amount of biomedical research as the home of the U of I Medical School) is able to take advantage of the consortium.  The UT Medical Branches actually perform $1.4 billion of research annually, which is nearly three times as much as the Austin campus itself.  This means that the major medical centers in all of the largest cities in the state of Texas would have access to more research funding, which in turn translates into more jobs in those cities (and high value jobs, at that).

In this economic environment, Texas state legislators will be put on the defensive if the frame of the debate is that they are trying to protect a football conference at the expense of more research funding and jobs for the top hospitals in the state’s major cities.  As much as football might be a matter of the highest political importance in the state of Texas, there are concrete medical research and economic incentives that would apply to places outside of Austin with UT making a move to the Big Ten.

So, when you get into an argument about Texas joining the Big Ten at your local bar, I’ve provided you with a template to refute every knee-jerk response out there.  I’m getting a little more optimistic each day that this is the massive move that the Big Ten is going to make.

(NOTE:  The long-promised Big East analysis is forthcoming.  Until then, feel free to follow me on Twitter @frankthetank111.)

(Image from Doc’s Office)