Getting Krunk on Expansion News (or Lack Thereof)

Ah, I love the smell of napalm and crushed Big Ten expansion dreams in the morning.  Judging by the over 1000 comments to last week’s post (a record number for the blog), we’re all exasperated that Jim Delany and the Big Ten have at least publicly stated that they will stick to original timetable of 12-18 months to examine expansion candidates.  This is certainly a fascinating topic, but Lord help me if I’m still speculating12 months from now about who the Big Ten will be adding.  At that point, I’d rather be speculating about… Big East expansion!  Let’s get to my thoughts on last week’s events:

(1) You lie!!! – In all seriousness, I’m not one of those people that subscribe to conspiracy theories and break every conference official comment down like the Zapruder film.  However, if there’s one thing that needs to be beaten into people’s heads after this past week, it’s this: TRUST NO ONE.  The various of lists of 5 and 15 candidates that the Big Ten leaked and every public comment that has been uttered mean nothing to me at this point.  The one reporter that seemed to actually have a decent clue as to what was going on in the Big Ten expansion story, Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, appeared to get solid information that the conference was fast-tracking adding new schools and then had to make a complete retraction a couple days later.  If Greenstein is getting played by the Big Ten, then every other reporter is getting played, as well.  I’ve received info from credible people that Texas and Notre Dame are definitely still in legitimate play for the Big Ten and other info that the conference has moved on regarding both of them.  Commenters have posted information suggesting that Maryland preemptively nixed any consideration for Big Ten membership and that Northwestern’s president revealed to a sorority that the conference had actually made a decision as to who it was inviting.  Tom Shatel, one of the Nebraska beat writers at the Omaha World-Herald, shared his frustration that people he trusted last week that stated that the Cornhuskers weren’t part of the Big Ten expansion talks are now saying that the school is definitely in the mix.  It’s impossible to parse through what’s true or false in all of this.

At this point, there is no combination of Notre Dame and/or any Big East and/or Big 12 schools that are AAU members that would surprise me.  If the Big Ten announces in June 2011 that it’s adding Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers, I wouldn’t flinch.  If the Big Ten announces in 2 weeks that it’s adding Texas, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, it wouldn’t faze me at all.  It’s all fair game at this point.  The leaks so far have been so contradictory that we’re all better off assuming that they’re red herrings.  There’s a plan out there that might be way more aggressive than even the Super Death Star Conference that I’ve brought up or it could very well be a conservative addition of a geographically contiguous school or 3 purely for households.  No one except for Jim Delany and the Big Ten university presidents knows WTF is going on.

Of course, we’ll still have fun pouncing on every leak and rumor in the meantime.

(2) Backdoor meetings are where it’s at – Some commenters astutely noted that Jim Delany isn’t going to call a press conference one day and say, “I’ve just informed the Big East and Big XII that they need to bend over and assume the position.”  If and when Delany talks to his fellow commissioners, it’s going to be private and it’s likely such commissioners would want to keep it that way so they can start planning for their own raids of leagues like the Mountain West and Conference USA.  Delany would certainly not want anything to do with speaking about anything substantive with the feeding frenzy of the media horde gathered at the BCS meetings last week.  This seems like such a simple and logical concept, yet in a world where we’re craving information on this subject, we’re dying for any type of official statement of a go-ahead.

(3) Time is on the Big Ten’s side – I really doubt the Big Ten is going to take the full 12-18 months to examine this expansion issue.  That’s just my gut feeling as the university presidents likely wouldn’t be able to stomach having this story hanging over their heads in the press for such a long period of time.  It could very well be the case that the Big Ten’s university presidents know how they want to proceed and that they simply didn’t want Delany to inform the Big 12 and/or Big East commissioners of the Big Ten’s targets at the media-filled BCS meetings.  Honestly, I don’t know what could be taking so long unless the Big Ten is vetting every single possibility with the two schools that matter the most: Notre Dame and Texas.  Those are certainly two schools worth waiting for if the Big Ten believes that either of them would be willing to join.  Every single other school in the Big East and Big XII would leap toward Big Ten membership, so if the Big Ten was solely targeting non-Notre Dame/Texas schools, this could’ve been wrapped up weeks ago.

(4) Big East being “proactive” by “hiring” Paul Tagliabue and expanding to Jacksonville – As Brian Cook of Sporting News and mgoblog (not the former Illini quasi-great) stated, “Soviet Big East Raids You!”  (I’m not going to lie – I could keep myself entertained making up Yakov Smirnoff-isms for hours at a time.)  On paper, it sounds like a massive coup that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been tapped as a strategist for the Big East.  He’s actually providing his services pro bono because he has a very direct interest in how all of this plays out as Chairman of the Board of the Directors at Georgetown.  What does this mean?  Well, if Tagliabue has anything to do with it, the hybrid format of the conference will continue on into perpetuity.  Georgetown would be severely damaged if the Big East split up and one of his tasks will be to ensure that doesn’t happen.  If the Big East were to lose multiple schools, he has the gravitas to tell schools that might be ready to split (i.e. Louisville) that the hybrid is still the revenue maximization model for the conference.  The Big East football schools might not trust anything that the Big East office says anymore, but if the former commissioner of the NFL says that ESPN will still pay a lot more money for a hybrid league than a split league, then that’s going to carry a lot of weight.  As a DePaul law grad, though, I really hope that Tagliabue doesn’t decide that the Big East would be better off skipping the Los Angeles market in favor of the next municipality that whores itself with a taxpayer-financed stadium.

Honestly, there is absolutely nothing “proactive” that the Big East can do at this point to prevent a member from leaving for the Big Ten.  Even if the Big East could somehow create a new TV network that could generate large amounts of cash, there’s no way that could be up and running even if the Big Ten takes the maximum amount of time to complete its expansion process.

Of course, Tagliabue unintentionally torpedoed the prospect of the Big East ever creating its own network by dumping on the thought that the Big Ten adding schools in the New York area would deliver homes for the Big Ten Network by saying the following:

“One of the real challenges for the networks is to provide value, but you only provide value in markets where you provide traction,” he said. “Is Minnesota and Rutgers going to get a big rating on Long Island? Give me a break. Every game isn’t Michigan and Michigan State.” He added, “Am I going to rush home from a tennis game on Saturday to watch Minnesota and Rutgers if I live on Long Island?”

Now, I’m not exactly a favorite person with the Rutgers message board crowd, but I’ve got to defend the school here.  WTF was Tagliabue doing completely ripping apart a current member of the Big East when his job is to presumably keep the conference intact?  Maybe he was suggesting that Midwestern schools like Minnesota wouldn’t exactly attract the Long Island tennis club crowd, which is likely true, yet that’s quite a disingenuous statement coming from someone representing a league that includes Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati (who don’t conjure up images of summer parties in the Hamptons).  In fact, the highly-rated 2006 Rutgers game where the Empire State Building was lit up in scarlet red was against Louisville as opposed to an Eastern school, which goes to show you that New Yorkers simply want to watch good teams play other good teams regardless of geographic location.  If I were a Rutgers fan, I don’t know how I could deal with someone in a leadership position in the Big East saying that about my school.  At worst, it was a complete cheap shot and at best, it came off extremely wrong with logic that didn’t follow considering that the Big East isn’t a purely Northeastern football league anymore.

(5) ESS – EEE – SEE SPEEEED! – SEC Commissioner Mike Slive articulated the real reason for expansion: it’s a high stakes pissing contest to see who can lay claim to the “Bad Motherfucker” wallet.  More than anyone, there’s kind of this lingering assumption that if the Big Ten expands to 16 schools, then the SEC MUST respond because it simply can’t handle not being the biggest (and therefore, the best).

Frankly, this line of thinking doesn’t make sense to me at all.  I know a lot of fairly knowledgeable people are convinced that we’re going to end up with 4 16-team superconferences after everything shakes out, yet too many people seem to forget that every single conference other than the Big Ten doesn’t have a financial vehicle like the Big Ten Network that would make it financially viable to perform such a large-scale expansion.  The Big Ten isn’t expanding just to expand – it’s looking to maximize the per-school payout for each of its members.  All of the other conferences are going to do the same and I fail to see how any of them would be able to make it a profitable venture to expand beyond 12 without its own conference network.  Heck, even the Big Ten isn’t guaranteed a windfall by going beyond 12 schools (even though it at least has an argument with the Big Ten Network).

In the case of the SEC, there are very few schools that make sense for it in terms of expansion at all.  I see names thrown around like Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson, but all of them would be duplicate teams in markets that the SEC already owns.  There’s very little point in the SEC adding more schools within its current footprint.  In fact, there are only two markets that would add value to the SEC:  Texas and North Carolina.  The problem is that in order to obtain those markets, it would need to try to add the University of Texas and UNC, both of whom would likely completely shun the SEC due to academic reasons.  Throughout this process, I’ve corresponded with many Texas alums (NOT the T-shirt fans that just care about football) and they’re pretty much unanimous in stating that the UT administration will NEVER entertain any thought of joining the SEC.  It cannot be underestimated how much the academically-minded administrators at Texas loathe the thought of the SEC.  I think about this every time I see a columnist wrongly assume that “Texas = South” and therefore “Texas = SEC”, when in reality UT likens itself to be more like Berkeley or Michigan as opposed to any of the SEC schools.  UNC is even more snobby with respect to academics and the Tar Heels have emotional ties to the ACC that go far beyond what Texas has with the Big XII.  So, the chances of the SEC adding either of those schools is between slim and none.  Without them, there aren’t any other worthy markets in the South that the SEC hasn’t already covered.

(6) Why is this topic addictive? – A number of commenters have been wondering about why this expansion topic is so fascinating.  As someone that had been writing this blog for 5 years about a variety of subjects and didn’t focus on conference realignment until the last few months, I’ve also been thinking about how I got hooked on it.  At least for me, I’ve always enjoyed writing about big-picture movements in the sports world and you really can’t get much more big-picture than power schools switching conferences.  Could you imagine if the Yankees and Red Sox approached the Cubs and Dodgers to join the AL East in order to form a super-division of all of baseball’s most popular teams?  (Please note that as a die-hard White Sox fan, it pains me to admit how popular the Cubs are and will likely always be.  I take solace in the fact that they’re paying $19 million to an 8th-inning setup guy.)  Well, the equivalent isn’t just possible in college sports, but it’s happened numerous times.  Within the past 20 years, Penn State joined the Big Ten, Miami joined the Big East and then later switched to the ACC and Texas helped form the Big XII and could be on the move again.

Let’s face it, though: this is like crack-cocaine to the sports blogging world.  As regular commenter allthatyoucanleavebehind noted, it’s a lot more fun to talk about expanding with schools like Syracuse and Rutgers (or really anyone other than the massive players like Texas, Notre Dame and Nebraska) than to actually have to play them when expansion finally occurs.  Once the Big Ten actually makes an announcement regarding expansion, we won’t have a quick fix of speculative blogging material anymore… at least until we start talking about Big XII expansion.

At that point, all I’ll want to do is to rush home from my tennis match to catch the Illinois vs. Rutgers game.

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

(Image from Retecool)

The Value of Expansion Candidates to the Big Ten Network

The Big Ten appears to be stepping up the timetable for expansion dramatically, where what once looked like a 12-18 month process might now result in announcements prior to the end of June.  So, this is a perfect time for a guest post from Slant reader Patrick, who is a long-time veteran of the television industry.  (This means that he can actually drop some knowledge, as opposed to being a speculative Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer like myself.)  If you’ve been following the comments on last week’s post, Patrick has been providing incredibly insightful analysis based on industry information and has pinpointed some critical items in the Big Ten Network revenue model that definitely has changed some of my prior thoughts on expansion.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that he has provided the most informative viewpoint that I’ve come across since the Big Ten announced that it was exploring expansion back in December and it has changed a number of my views on the candidates.  So, everyone should give Patrick some major kudos for investing his time on this critical issue.  Here’s what he has to say (and my take on it thereafter):

With all the talk of Big Ten expansion lately I could help but wonder why the richest conference with the highest pay outs would want to expand. Wouldn’t that break up the pie into smaller pieces? Wouldn’t that cut the take from the current conference members? In short, NO, a resounding NO! The Big Ten schools together made roughly  $214,000,000 as of the last report. $100,000,000 from ABC / ESPN, $2,000,000 from CBS, and the schools collected $112,000,000 from the newly formed Big Ten Network. That is $19,454,545 per school. The regular network haul of $102,000,000 per year isn’t going to change. Any new members would need to make up that difference, plus carry their own weight of $38,146,166 in new revenues to the Big 10 Network. The conference only controls 51% of the Big 10 Network, FOX News Corp owns the other 49% and takes 49% of the overall profits. So each possible addition would need to earn the conference $19,454,545 per year AND earn FOX News Corp $18,691,621 AND make up the difference in the take from ABC / ESPN / CBS to break even for the current members. Since the conference reported a $112,000,000 payout, the actual profit margin of the Big Ten Network is around $219,607,840. In addition, there are a number of news stories indicating that the universities take this year was just shy of $22,000,000. I haven’t seen anything official on that but if it is true than the BTN made around $272,000,000 in the most recent year. Almost a $50,000,000 climb year to year for a brand new network. So why would anyone mess with that? How could any university earn that much for the BTN?

Advertising!

By the Big Ten’s own admission they are clearing about $0.36 per subscriber per month for the states inside it’s footprint. They also tell us that there are 26,000,000 subscribers and it is AVAILABLE to 75,000,000 people. The BTN wants to increase the available number but even more important is to increase the subscriber numbers, and there is an opportunity to do that within the current footprint. Regardless, at $0.36 per month for 26,000,000 households over 12 months I only came up with $112,320,000 for a cable carry rate. Well short of the $272,000,000 that the network likely made last year. The other $160,000,000 is advertising revenue! Live sporting events get big advertising dollars and the BTN is loaded with them. As Frank pointed out, if the conference were to expand, many more games would be on the BTN. Football, basketball, and maybe down the road a Big Ten hockey conference. Throw in a few conference championship games in different sports and expansion makes money just by added Live programming and increased quality of programming. A few creative tweeks in the scheduling and you could have every Big Ten game make it to air somewhere, which is good for everybody. For the Big Ten to get to 12 schools the addition would need to equal $38,200,000 to break even, for 3 schools they need to reach $114,500,000 combined, and for 5 schools a whopping $190,800,000.  If I were to just pull the #2 – #6 schools from my estimate they would bring in roughly $266,000,000. In that scenario, FOX News Corp profit (by adding 5 schools) goes from $107 million up to $201 million. It would not surprise me to see FOX News Corp gently nudging this process along. If advertising is earning the BTN in the ballpark of what I am thinking, then FOX has realized they opened a gold mine and want to see how deep it goes.

But what about the schools being batted around? I did my level best to average numbers, to play it conservatively, to be fair across the board with finding any schools potential. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are a little tough to gauge because they don’t add any new television markets. But I found that by extrapolating what is already happening with the conference and the Big Ten Network, combining that with my television experiences, and taking into account some of the posters comments and thoughts I came away with what I feel is a pretty fair assessment of the potential of the candidates. As many of you have noted, game attendance and athletic revenue are important. I used attendance to gauge the level of support and fan interest to help me put a dollar value on ratings potential. If the fans won’t even fill their own stadium, how valuable is the team overall? Any team that joins the Big Ten will share in the Big Ten pie, so I subtracted off the current tv pay out for those teams to gauge strength in their home markets. Then extrapolated to find a decent estimation of a new tv markets potential for advertising revenue. I also averaged in the carry rates for the home market or markets with the number of cable subscribers. I did add a category to try to account for additional Live programming on the BTN and gave each school a flat $10,000,000 for the additional sports coverage, that is probably too low but I am leaning to the conservative side.  The following is a summary of the totals of my findings.

CANDIDATES TOTAL ADDED REVENUE ESTIMATE
 
Texas $101,369,004
Rutgers    WITH NYC $67,798,609
Nebraska $54,487,990
Maryland $50,818,889
Boston College $48,382,692
Notre Dame $47,629,255
Kansas $46,320,092
Missouri $45,901,459
Syracuse $43,504,813
Connecticut $38,080,271
Pittsburgh $34,365,175
Iowa State $31,831,077
   
Syracuse  WITH NYC $65,874,573

For a full chart with my calculations, please see this Word document:

Big Ten Candidates TV Analysis

This table could be read many different ways, I have no clue what the Big Ten will do. I could make a strong argument for Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas. If Syracuse can deliver NYC then they might be in but the amount of research they do will hurt their cause. Texas is an absolute no brainer, they lead in almost every category. I don’t think Iowa State is viable, but I was VERY conservative with these numbers. It would be hard to ignore Notre Dame and Nebraska being the #2 and #4 most valuable college sports franchises. Interesting that Kansas is right there behind Nebraska and ND in athletic revenue. If anyone wants to pass along better or more current numbers, I would appreciate it. In addition, with the talk and discussions that were flying around Sunday about the AAU meetings and the accelerated time table, I firmly believe that my estimates are probably too low. The fact that they want to move this quickly with an expansion means that the potential revenue is HUGE and the decision isn’t even a tough or close one. Also in some of the statements coming from the Big Ten brass and Notre Dame, I highly doubt Notre Dame is going to be included in the expansion. I now think that the expansion will happen, and I think that they will go all the way to 16 teams. I believe they will get AAU member schools, and the Big Ten presidents seem to be very interested in graduate research.

 I for one can’t wait, Bucky Badger playing against Nebraska would be an awesome sight!

– Patrick

Based on Patrick’s analysis, there are a few important things that I take away from this:

(1) The 60/40 Rule – This might be the most important piece of information regarding Big Ten expansion that I’ve seen to date: the Big Ten Network makes 60% of its revenue from advertising and 40% 0f its revenue from carriage fees.  I’ll be honest with you – I thought that it would’ve been the other way around and it has definitely altered the lens through which we need to look at expansion candidates.  What this basically means that if push comes to shove, the Big Ten should pick a school that has a great fan base (which translates in viewers for ad revenue) as opposed to market size (which contributes to carriage fees).  This actually brings some common sense back to the discussion, where somehow the world has been convinced over the past few months that Rutgers must be the most valuable school on Earth due to the location of its campus.  We’ve been very focused on footprint sizes and research funding in our discussions lately, but at the end of the day, ad revenue is the #1 source of dollars for the Big Ten Network and that’s based on finding schools that Joe Blow in Anytown, USA will want to watch.  Here’s a chart of some of the expansion candidates with their football TV ratings from last year.  (Note how well Nebraska and Pitt performed compared to everyone else.)  Now, that doesn’t mean that expanding the footprint is irrelevant (as the New York City market is still an important target for the Big Ten), but it definitely lets people “think like sports fans” a little bit here.

(2) Pitt MIGHT make money for the Big Ten – Most of the readers out there know that I personally love Pitt as an academic institution and athletic program, but just couldn’t find any way how the school could add to the Big Ten’s coffers financially.  Well, if Pitt’s ratings for football and basketball are good enough (and judging by the chart I linked to above, they probably are), then the school can end up being financially viable.  Patrick has stated that his figures for Pitt and Notre Dame are very conservative, so if Pitt continues to draw high football ratings, it changes the equation significantly.   Now, Pitt can’t really be put into the same category as Notre Dame or Nebraska where the national draw clearly overrides a lack of new BTN households, yet it does have the advantage of being one of the few expansion candidates that has strong programs in both football and basketball.  Speaking of Nebraska…

(3) If the Big Ten wants to make a ton of TV money, it will invite Nebraska – I’ve been increasingly become more and more supportive of Nebraska joining the Big Ten lately and Patrick’s analysis completely sealed it.  Nebraska’s small market be damned – the Husker fan base is as rabid as any other in the country and they will tune in anytime, anywhere.  (If you were wondering, the photo at the top of this post is evidence of how Nebraska fans completely took over South Bend a few years ago when they played Notre Dame.)  In fact, Patrick’s figures mean that we should remove Nebraska from the realm of “Well, they might be coming instead of Missouri” or “They’re a good back-up if Notre Dame doesn’t want to join” and put the Cornhuskers into the “lock” category instead.  I will now officially be shocked if Big Ten expansion occurs without Nebraska involved.

(4) 16 Schools = Huge Inventory – The 60/40 rule that favors advertising revenue also gives a whole lot more credence to making a 16-school conference financially viable. I recalled this piece from Don Ohlmeyer on that examined how ESPN chose to schedule programs:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=ohlmeyer_don&id=4582425

The message that I got from this was that LIVE EVENTS = RATINGS. A live hot rod competition after a college football game actually holds more viewers than a studio show that talks about said game, even though they have nothing to do with each other at face value.

The Big Ten expanding up to 12 schools really doesn’t increase the inventory of conference football games (which are the higher value games) very much at all. Assuming that the Big Ten continues with an 8-game conference schedule, it would have 48 conference games as opposed to 44 conference games in a season. At 14 schools, it would go up to 56 conference games. At 16 schools, though, the Big Ten would almost certainly go to a 9-game conference schedule, which would catapult the inventory up to 72 conference games.

What does 72 conference games allow you to do? Well, let’s assume that the Big Ten provides 4 games to ABC/ESPN every week (2 games on ESPN and ESPN2 at 11 am CT, 1 game on ABC at 2:30 pm CT, and 1 prime time game), which is a package that would likely see a substantial increase in rights fees when it’s now presumably including Notre Dame and/or Nebraska on top of the current Big Ten members plus a conference championship game. This leaves 2 conference games for the BTN for every single week of the season (except for maybe Labor Day weekend, which is reserved for MACrifice games). With non-conference games mixed in, the BTN could have football triple-headers virtually every week. Going up to 16 schools increases the amount of live football on the BTN in a dramatic fashion and if twice as much live football compounds the amount of ad revenue earned, then I’m starting to see how going up to 16 schools makes more financial sense under the BTN model than 12 or 14 schools.

Then, we get to basketball, where a 16-school conference can get at least one basketball game onto the BTN onto every day of the week except for Friday, whereas now the BTN usually only has games on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s a dramatic jump in the number of high quality basketball games on more nights of the week. This also still leaves enough for the Big Ten to add 1 or 2 more basketball games on ESPN per week for widespread exposure (and likely garner a rights increase there, too, if schools like Syracuse or Pitt added to the mix). Of course, Friday night can be reserved for the new Big Ten Hockey Conference game(s) of the week if Notre Dame joins. There’s even some side benefits in the spring with baseball (as Nebraska and Notre Dame lift up the quality of that league substantially) and lacrosse (where a new Big Ten league could be formed with Syracuse as the national headliner if that school is invited). Other sports such as women’s basketball and volleyball can end up with new national (and TV-friendly) brand names, too.

So, maybe that’s why the chatter about a 16-school conference has taken center stage: if you have that many more high value football and basketball games plus a ton of other sports of interest where you’ve got live programming every night of the week that’s comparable to the college games on the ESPN networks, that can increase ad revenue dramatically (and in turn, carry rates could increase as the BTN becomes more “essential” to viewers’ lives).

(5) My Latest Prediction That Will Change in a Week – Looking at Pat’s figures, it’s clear to me that the Big Ten pretty much has to at least try for the New York market unless Texas and Texas A&M come walking through that door.  The question will be whether the Big Ten believes that it’s worth it to take both Rutgers and Syracuse.  I get the feeling that the Big Ten’s university presidents have a fondness for Rutgers as  fellow public flagship (and I’ve stated before that they make sense in a multi-school expansion), even though my personal choice would be Syracuse if we had to take one or the other.  The academically-minded people in the Big Ten love Pitt and I think that if there’s any financial case for the conference to to be able to take them, they’ll likely do it.  Missouri, although it doesn’t have gangbuster financial numbers, would  probably be seen as a “safe” option because it can at least be counted on with reasonable certainty to deliver any households in its home state that don’t already carry the Big Ten Network on basic cable at the Tier 1 rate.

The one item that I disagree with Patrick on is Notre Dame – if his figures are close to correct, then I have a hard time believe that the Irish will turn down such a huge windfall for playing a lot of the same teams that it already plays annually in football (especially if its home for basketball and Olympic sports is destroyed).  I feel pretty good that Notre Dame, Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers would all be involved in a 16-school Big Ten.  This essentially leaves Pitt and Syracuse for the last spot (unless the Big Ten wants to cut further into the Big XII by taking a school like Kansas).  If the Big Ten wants the better institutional fit, it will choose Pitt.  If the Big Ten really thinks that locking down New York is possible for college sports, then it will choose Syracuse.  With such a large-scale expansion, the Big Ten may put more emphasis on institutional fit to ensure maximum cohesion (especially since renegade Notre Dame is very likely to be involved), which would give the edge to Pitt (as much as it pains me as an avowed Syracuse supporter).  I know that this an about-face from what I’ve been saying for quite awhile.

So, here’s my current bet on who will join a 16-school Big Ten: Notre Dame, Nebraska, Missouri, Pitt and Rutgers.  If Notre Dame continues to balk, I believe that we’ll see Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers added for a 14-school conference.  This will probably change by the end of the week (and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Pitt is replaced by Syracuse in the 16-school scenario), but that’s my line of thinking right now.

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

(Image from Ning)

Multi-Phase Big Ten Expansion: How to Create a Super Death Star Conference

As I was going through the always insightful comments (since people seem to love talking about superconferences) and pondering life’s great questions, such as what Desmond’s plan is on LOST or why Justin Bieber has been a trending topic on Twitter for the past 15 years, it occurred to me that a multi-phase expansion for the Big Ten may actually be a strong strategy for the conference.  For a very long time, I thought that if the Big Ten was going to add multiple schools, it would do it all at once because it wouldn’t want to risk not ending up with its desired end combination by inviting 1 or 2 schools and then hoping that someone like Notre Dame would join down the road.  However, what if the Big Ten could invite 2 specific schools who would accept that would (a) apply maximum pressure on the big names to join in “Phase 2” and (b) even those big names don’t end up joining, those 2 schools plus another school that the conference apparently likes would still provide enough value where expansion would be considered to be a success?

A large part of the leverage that the Big Ten has right now is due to the fact that it stands at an odd number of 11 members, which provides the possibility of the conference adding 1, 3 or 5 schools (or even standing pat).  Basically, it’s the conference equivalent of the “triple threat” position in basketball, where the player with the ball has the ability to dribble, pass or shoot.  No one knows which direction the Big Ten is going to go right now.  The mere threat of Big Ten expansion has caused the Big East and Big XII to wonder if they’ll survive and at least making the ACC consider some contingency plans.  If the Big Ten just adds one member in an attempt to have a multi-phase expansion, then a lot of that threat goes away – the perception will be that the Big Ten is at a stable 12 members with a conference championship game and provides a strong possibility that it wouldn’t look any further.  However, if the Big Ten invites 2 strategically targeted schools that would almost certainly accept, then the conference creates even more fear and chaos in the college sports world.  Standing at 13, it’s clear that the Big Ten is pursuing a superconference strategy and there is an absolute guarantee that it needs to add 1 or 3 more members.  If there’s a frenzy about the Big Ten’s plans today, just imagine what it would be like if the conference expands with a guarantee that it will add at least one more.  The Big Ten would also show schools like Notre Dame and Texas that the conference isn’t bluffing when it says that it’s moving on.

Let’s look back at the Big Ten Expansion Index, which is likely how most of you found this blog in the first place.  After Texas and Notre Dame, I had ranked Syracuse and Nebraska as the next two best candidates for the Big Ten.  For separate reasons, Syracuse and Nebraska also happen to serve as the ideal “Phase 1” invitees to the conference.

Reading the tea leaves from Notre Dame, a split of the Big East current hybrid structure is the most likely way to “force” it to join a conference (regardless of what the school’s alums believe).  Well, if the Big Ten were to choose just one Big East school that would most likely cause the Big East to split, it would be Syracuse.  The Orange are the glue that holds the hybrid together because no other Big East football school has as much invested in rivalries with the conference’s Catholic schools for basketball.  Without Syracuse, the other football schools would almost have to split simply for self-preservation.  Those remaining Big East football schools wouldn’t know whether the Big Ten would really want any of them in Phase 2 of the expansion and with only 7 members, they absolutely have to add another member immediately just to have the minimum number for a conference to exist in the first place.  Practically speaking, they would likely want to split from the Catholic schools to have the leeway to add 2 new members to cover the situation where the Big Ten may end up taking another Big East school in Phase 2.

On the other side of the Big Ten footprint, we should note something very important with respect to the Big XII: it takes 4 schools to stop any changes to the current inequitable revenue sharing structure that favors Texas more than any other school.  Missouri’s chancellor has complained about this openly.  Right now, there’s a solid bloc of 4 schools preventing those changes:  Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma… and Nebraska.  Those 4 schools consistently receive the most national TV appearances of the current Big XII members, so they receive the largest share of conference revenue on a year-in and year-out basis.  (Note that as much as a lot of otherwise incredibly civil Husker fans complain about how much Texas supposedly controls the Big XII, Nebraska is one of the reasons why Texas has such a large financial advantage over the rest of the conference because the Cornhuskers are still a net beneficiary from that revenue distribution model.)  If the Big Ten takes Nebraska away, then the other Big XII schools will have a super-majority to enact the revenue sharing changes that they’ve long wanted and block the prospect of allowing member schools to create their own TV channels (such as the Longhorn Sports Network).  Who is going to be really pissed off in that situation because it now no longer has the supposed financial “control” of the Big XII?  Texas, who is already behind all of the schools in the Big Ten and SEC in TV money even with the Big XII’s deck completely stacked in the Longhorns’ favor.  If Missouri could be considered a “stalking horse” to try to get Texas, actually taking Nebraska can directly hit the pocketbook of Texas like no other Big XII school except for Oklahoma (who won’t ever get a sniff of a Big Ten invite due to academic concerns).  Texas A&M would be in a similar position.  Nebraska leaving the Big XII gives those two Texas schools a clear financial reason for them to move conferences (to the extent that it’s not there already) AND the political “moral authority” (as Barking Carnival has noted before) of telling the state’s politicians that they need to move pronto regardless of what happens to Texas Tech and Baylor because the Big XII is a dead man walking.

In summary, the Big Ten can announce that it’s inviting Syracuse and Nebraska, both of whom I believe the conference likes regardless of who else might be added.  The effect of this is even more panic in the college sports world since 2 BCS conferences will have lost key members and it’s clear that the Big Ten is going to want to add at least 1 more school (or maybe 3).  This causes the Big East to split up simply for self-preservation (which would drive Notre Dame to the Big Ten) and the Big XII’s power schools would no longer have veto power to avoid changes to its revenue distribution model (which would drive Texas and Texas A&M to the Big Ten).  We would then have a Super Death Star Conference (the one that the Empire attempted to build in Return of the Jedi):  Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M, Syracuse and Nebraska as new members of a 16-school Big Ten.

Now, what if the desired fallout doesn’t go as planned for the Big Ten, where Notre Dame and/or the Texas schools stay put?  (In the words of future Ole Miss mascot Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!!!”)  This is not really a problem because the Big Ten has already added a huge national football name (Nebraska) and a marquee basketball school that happens to be the only BCS school in the state of New York (Syracuse).  The Big Ten would then invite Rutgers as school #14, which gets the conference to stake its geographic claim to the New York/New Jersey area.  As a result, the Big Ten has increased its national cache for both football and basketball while adding on concrete households in the form of a major presence in the nation’s largest TV market.  (This is “JoePa’s Quasi-Dream Conference” that I wrote about here.)  Adding Syracuse and Nebraska as schools #12 and #13 allows the Big Ten to disrupt the current comfort zones of Notre Dame and Texas and applies serious pressure on them to join the Big Ten themselves, but also provides a hedge in the event that those major players aren’t persuaded at the end.

I’ve stated before that Nebraska would be the one school that could make me eat my words that the Big Ten wouldn’t expand without Notre Dame or Texas involved.  Frankly, JoePa’s Quasi-Dream Conference is a pretty good outcome for everyone associated with the Big Ten.   The sports fans get great national programs in football and basketball (plus major upgrades in other sports with Nebraska baseball and women’s volleyball and Syracuse lacrosse).  The academically-minded people maintain a conference entirely composed of members of the American Association of Universities.  The traditionalists get a geographically contiguous conference that “conservatively” adds on to both sides of the league footprint.  The TV executives get another marquee football name for national TV contracts and entry into the New York/New Jersey area for Big Ten Network households.  Maybe most importantly, these are all schools that seem to actually WANT to be in the Big Ten (as opposed to feeling forced to join).  This can maintain the close-knit atmosphere that I believe is the Big Ten’s greatest qualitative strength.

That would be my maniacal multi-phase expansion plan if the Big Ten is truly looking to move up to at least 14 schools – go for the proverbial royal flush in a way where the conference is still guaranteed to be the chip leader no matter what happens.

(NOTE:  In response to several requests, I’m putting together an updated post on the potential fallout on other conferences, so stay tuned.)

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

(Image from Eco Auto Ninja)

Notre Dame AD Runs His Trap Again and Land-o-Links for 3/29/2010

If you were a reader of this blog prior to it becoming a hub of conference realignment viewpoints, I would regularly run “Land-o-Links” posts that had some random links to usually unrelated news stories or blog posts that I simply found interesting.  In the wake of having my faith in the journalistic instincts of Barbara Walters re-affirmed today, I figured that it was time to re-institute the Land-o-Links posts with a mix of expansion news and other random items on a regular basis in between my full-length missives.  So, here are today’s links:

(1) Notre Dame AD Expands on Expansion Talk (Kansas City Star) – I had put up this news article in the comments in the “Ain’t No Party Like a West Coast Party” post and wanted to focus on it a little bit more.  Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick talked to reporters again about the prospect of the Domers joining a conference and he didn’t say anything to make the fine folks at NDNation feel better.  Here’s the key quote for me:

Swarbrick indicated the dilution of Big Ten revenues could be offset by the success of the leagues own TV network, apparently on sound footing.

“The traditional model, where a conference had a fixed fee media rights deal, if you added somebody you sliced the pie a little thinner,” Swarbrick said. “When you’re dealing with equity in a network … it’s a situation we haven’t had before.”

Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds a lot like Notre Dame wants a piece of the Big Ten Network gravy train.  It’s a clear message to the Domers that don’t already realize the following: the NBC deal is a relic of the past while controlling your own content like the Big Ten Network is the future.  At the very least, the quotes coming out of Notre Dame about its commitment to independence are increasingly more wishy-washy.

(2) The Great Baseball Card Bubble (Slate) – This excerpt from a new book on how baseball cards went through a tulip bulb-like craze (which I’m now going to have to read in full) hits pretty close to home.  My youth coincided perfectly with the explosion of baseball card speculation in the late-1980s and early-1990s where I spent virtually every penny that I had during that era on wax packs.  Years later, a good portion of my basement closet is taken up by boxes of gems like the Todd Van Poppel rookie card.  Are these pieces of cardboard now so worthless that I sometimes wonder if I’d be set for life today if I just opened up an IRA when I was 10 years old instead of plowing through boxes of Donruss and Fleer?  You bet.  Do I even dignify a response to my wife that annually asks about “getting rid of some cards to make it more organized” right around spring cleaning time?  Heck no.

And finally…

(3) Doc Jensen/Totally ‘Lost’ (Entertainment Weekly) – As a huge ‘LOST’ fan, there’s quite a mix of emotions as we enter into the final weeks of the show.  While there have been cable shows like ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ that might arguably be at the top of the heap in terms of quality television over the past decade, ‘LOST’ is the best network TV drama that I’ve ever seen.  Doc Jensen of Entertainment Weekly has provided some of the most mind-blowing analysis of the show out there with an avalanche of literary references, religious allegories, and pop culture notations.  The fact that Entertainment Weekly could be home to such a deep high-brow look at this show is mind-blowing enough.  This also serves as an excuse for me to write about ‘LOST’.

If you don’t watch ‘LOST’, please feel free to ignore the rest of this post because you won’t know WTF is going on.  As of now, I’m subscribing to the common theory that the “flash sideways” story lines represent the epilogue for each of the characters, where the people who sided with Jacob have ended up with semi-happy lives and the ones that sided with the Smoke Monster/Fake Locke are doomed to the same negative lives that they had before.  It seems to be the way that everything ties together and would give those scenes a purpose that currently isn’t quite clear.  I’m really intrigued by Jensen’s prediction that the purpose of Jack is ultimately to take Real Locke’s body back to the Temple and bring him back to life in the pool, which is a not-so-veiled reference to the resurrection of Christ.  This way, Real Locke, who has really taken a figurative beating over the past season with Fake Locke’s references that Real Locke led a pathetic life, will end up being the strong leader that we originally thought that he would be when the show first started.

This provides Real Locke the opportunity to make everything right by taking down Smokey once and for all (in a manner yet to be determined) and taking his rightful place as the chosen “candidate” to replace Jacob.  What’s my guess as to what his first (and only) act as Jacob’s replacement will be?  Sacrifice himself by sending everyone home.  That’s right – I don’t think that Juliet’s detonation of the bomb last season was the cause of the “reset” in the flash sideways, but rather Real Locke, with his power as Jacob’s replacement, destroys the island that he had always wanted to stay on in order to send his friends back to a 2004 world where Oceanic 815 never crashes.

Of course, this means that Real Locke would be giving up his power AND sending himself back to a world where he couldn’t walk, which would be an incredible sacrifice.  This has to work out for him, right?  Well, I can’t think of a more apt ending to the show than Jack, the world-class spinal surgeon, fulfilling his purpose in the real world by finally being approached by Real Locke for a consultation and “fixing” his problem.  Jack has already shown the ability to fix Sarah after a car accident that should have left her paraplegic.  If Jack resurrects Real Locke on the island, then the perfect mirror would be Jack getting Real Locke to walk in 2004.  Then, the show closes with Real Locke fulfilling his dream of going through the Australian outback, which he was previously prevented from going on because of his disability, with a huge hunting knife in hand and looking every bit as strong as we had seen him on the island.

Now that I’ve put all of those theories down, it virtually guarantees that it will end up in a completely different manner.  That’s perfectly fine with me – I’m ready to savor these last few episodes before a big TV void opens up in my life.  I’ll be back with a full-length post later this week.

Ain’t No Party Like a West Coast Party: How the Pac-10 Can Affect Big Ten Expansion

As I continue to follow the Illini (NIT) championship run with bated breath and brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack, I wanted to address this interesting story from Dennis Dodd.  The Pac-10 has explored the possibility of staging a conference championship game with its current league of 10 teams.  Of course, this would require changing the NCAA rule that mandates that a conference have at least 12 schools and divisions where the members of each division play an intra-division round robin in order to stage an “exempt” championship game.  (“Exempt” refers to the fact that such championship game won’t count against the 12-game regular season schedule limit.  Please see NCAA bylaw 17.9.5.2(c).)  This reminds me  of the “Amendment to Be” song from The Simpsons – “If we change the Constitution, then we can make all kinds of crazy laws!”

Regular commenter Adam has pointed out the byzantine process in which it would take to change the NCAA rule on this matter, which made it seem only slightly easier than going through a Senate confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court nominee or having to tell Suge Knight that you don’t have the money that you owe him.  What’s interesting from Dodd’s article was that changing the conference championship game rule would supposedly be “non-controversial”.  Who knows why it would be non-controversial today when the ACC was rejected several years ago in its attempt to stage a championship game with less than 12 members prior to adding Boston College.  Maybe schools in all conferences (whether BCS or non-BCS) believe that changing the rule would result in more conference membership stability or at least avoid having conferences add schools simply for the sake of a championship game.

The Big Ten could use a rule change to its advantage in a number of ways.  On the one end, the Big Ten could simply stand pat at 11 schools and stage a conference championship game without expansion.  This would yield an instant boost in revenue without having to add another school to split it with.  Other conferences that are at risk of being poached by the Big Ten (particularly the Big XII and Big East plus possibly the ACC) would likely be very supportive of this rule change if it meant that they could save the status quo as a matter of survival.

On the other end, though, the Big Ten could push for a further change to the championship game rule in exchange for supporting the Pac-10 on its proposal: remove the division requirement.  Why would the conference want to do that?  Because if the Big Ten goes up to 14-schools, not having divisions could ensure that all conference members would play each other at least 2 out of every 4 years in an 8-game conference schedule.  Each school could have 3 permanent annual rivals and then play all other conference members 2 years on/2 years off.  This solves all of the headaches of trying to figure out which schools should go in which divisions and making sure that every single currently protected annual rivalry is maintained.  The Big Ten is NOT like the SEC where it’s going to be acceptable for schools to go 4 straight years without playing each other – most Big Ten members freak out when they skip playing Michigan or Ohio State only 2 years per decade.  The lack of divisions also has a side benefit of having a stronger conference championship game by pitting the top two schools in conference regardless of geography, so there won’t be the 2008 Big XII worry about having 3 national championship contenders in one division and a bunch of scrap metal in the other division.  Adam has had a solid argument that if the 2008 Big XII South situation didn’t result in a change to the championship game rule, then nothing would.  However, I think the circumstances have changed as a result of all of these expansion talks and that conferences are going to want a lot more flexibility either immediately (10-school leagues wouldn’t have to expand) or in the future (12-school leagues would be more open to going up to 14-schools with such flexibility).

I’m tending to think that the Big Ten would want championship game rules to account for the latter scenario.  As I’ve stated from the beginning, the conference championship game is NOT the primary driver for Big Ten expansion.  (This is in contrast to way too many media pundits that continue to insist that the Big Ten just wants to expand so that it can maintain relevancy for the last couple of weeks of the season, which is ridiculous when you take two seconds to think about it since that could simply be solved by the conference scheduling regular season games in December just like the Pac-10 and Big East.)  The main revenue driver in this expansion process is and always will be new basic cable households and higher fees for the Big Ten Network.  The revenue that comes from that cable property blows everything with respect to a conference championship game out of the water.  So, the Big Ten isn’t going to drop expansion plans simply because it might have the ability to stage a championship game with 11 schools.  In fact, changes to the NCAA rules could embolden the Big Ten to have a larger expansion since it removes the concerns the scheduling concerns that I’ve described above.

The other important takeaway from Dodd’s article is that it appears that the Pac-10 is going to be very hesitant to expand.  It noted that the conference members were having a “hard time finding value” in two extra members (which would likely be accurate if one of those extra members isn’t Texas).  This doesn’t surprise me at all – I said back in January that I thought that the Pac-10 would end up standing pat no matter what happened.

That’s contrary to the widely mistaken perception that the Pac-10, which is hunting for revenue in order to catch up to the Big Ten and SEC, would supposedly be more willing than the Big Ten to bend its traditional requirements to maybe take in schools like Texas Tech in order to lure a school like Texas.  Here’s the problem with this line of thinking: the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion.  Let me repeat that again: the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion.  I need to beat this into all of your heads one more time: the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion.  (As someone that grew up and continues to work in Cook County, where vote counting is an art form as opposed to a science, I’m hyper-sensitive to voting requirements.)

So, now that we know that the Pac-10 has a unanimous voting requirement for expansion, then we also know that all it takes is a single school to nix all conference expansion plans.  You can completely count on Stanford to be that school.  If the public thinks that the Big Ten university presidents are too methodical (and in reality, they are actually very forward-looking considering that they invited Penn State before it was fashionable to look for new markets and created the Big Ten Network when it was considered to be extremely risky), then Stanford is downright reactionary by comparison.  Stanford might be the one school in the entire BCS that literally doesn’t give a crap about TV money – the school has an endowment that is valued at over $1 million per student and its academic standing is right alongside Harvard, Yale and Princeton.  The Cardinal rejected Texas back in the 1990s, so even if the Longhorns are acceptable now, you can be sure that there’s NFW schools like Texas Tech will even be considered.  I think you’d be very hard-pressed to get Stanford to approve even a match-on-paper like Utah.  Stanford is in a position where it’s not going to compromise at all on academics and, as a result, the rest of the Pac-10 won’t be able to do anything even if the 9 others thought that some of the 16-school plans that I’ve seen in the comments were brilliant money-makers.  The Pac-10 can’t be aggressive because its voting requirements are specifically built to prevent such aggression.  (As a side note, you’ve haven’t lived until you’ve played EA Sports NCAA March Madness in mascot mode with the Stanford Tree vs. Otto the Orange at 2 am while hammered.  All I can say is that the visions on the screen must be what Keith Richards experienced non-stop from about 1965 through 1989.)

All of this means that the Big Ten’s chances to grab Texas (however small they might have been in the first place) could drop precipitously.  As plenty of observers such as Barking Carnival have noted, while Texas might want to switch conferences in a world without crazy-ass Lone Star State politicians, it would take the Pac-10 taking Colorado from the Big XII to give the school the political cover to make a move.  I’ve never bought that the Big Ten is seriously interested in Missouri, so I doubt that the conference would go after the Tigers simply to get Texas to act.  Therefore, if the Pac-10 is gridlocked in its expansion plans, there isn’t the requisite instability in the Big XII for a major Texas/Texas A&M shakeup.  That’s not to say that it still can’t happen (and no one should ever assume any school would preemptively reject any conference proposal without performing its own due diligence), but it pushes the chances of a Westward Big Ten expansion clearly down below an Eastward move.

If I had to bet on where the Big Ten goes in terms of expansion as of today (and I’ve changed my mind on this numerous times), I’m feeling that “JoePa’s Dream Conference” with Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse would be the most likely.  (Yes, I know there’s a contingent out there that think that I overrate Syracuse as an expansion candidate.  I still think it would be a big mistake to leave them out in an NYC-centric strategy.)  Jack Swarbrick all but said that Notre Dame would join a conference if the Big East was destroyed, so it would make little sense for the Big Ten to take any Big East school without the Irish coming, too.  Securing the New York/New Jersey area as much as it can be locked down is really what takes the Big Ten to the next level in an Eastern-based expansion (although as I’ve stated elsewhere, the conference really needs Notre Dame in the mix if it wants to successfully pursue that strategy).  I wouldn’t be surprised if my opinion changes on this as more details come out, but if Texas is off of the table, then the Big Ten needs to add a population base that’s the size of the New York City market in order to make a 3-school expansion financially acceptable to the current members.

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

(Image from Retro Music Snob)

Notre Dame to the Big Ten: Thy Will Be Done?

Big Ten expansion news continues to fire out at a rapid pace, which means that there isn’t any rest for me other than watching the latest episode of LOST and wondering if Bruce Weber was giving Demetri McCamey a lesson on the Bolshevik Revolution this past Sunday.  (OT rant – Joe Lunardi, why are you fucking with my head on the Illini?  What the hell do you see in us?  Does the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee secretly like teams with RPIs in the 70s that go down by double-digit deficits in the first half, mount furious comebacks within the last 10 minutes of the game, and then commit insane fouls like tackling opposing players to blow any chance of winning?  You’re telling me that I actually still need to care this week during the Big Ten Tournament and Selection Sunday?  Damn it all to hell. /OT rant)  Everytime that I think this story is going to slow down until the summer, something pops up that throws everyone for a loop.  The surprise this week is that the latest expansion tidbits are coming from the almighty University of Notre Dame itself.  Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick basically said that Notre Dame’s hand could be effectively forced to give up independence in the event of a “seismic” shift in the college sports landscape.

Just as I wondered what purpose the Big Ten had in leaking its study of 5 different expansion candidates last week (including Notre Dame), I’m perplexed as to why Swarbrick started spouting his mouth about whether Notre Dame would end up joining a conference.  Up until today, there seemed to be a media consensus that Notre Dame was a “pipe dream” for the Big Ten (which I never really believed, but that was the perception), so it wasn’t as if though he was trying to bat down any specific rumors.  Maybe Notre Dame was just testing the waters with its own alumni base to see how they’d react?  (I already know the answer to this: it is vitriolic anger and they’d rather drop to football program entirely than dare join a conference.)  Perhaps the Irish were getting a little tired of hearing how great Rutgers would be in the Big Ten or that Texas would actually be way better for the Big Ten than the Domers ever could be?  Or could Swarbrick and Notre Dame’s administration be seeing the proverbial writing on the wall where conference membership will become a necessity in terms of having a financially viable athletic department and they’re preparing their alums for an unpopular decision down the road?

I really don’t think that Swarbrick is really saying anything that contradicts with what he’s stated before.  As I noted in point #2 in this post, he’s a shrewd attorney skilled at wordsmithing and there isn’t a single comment that he’s uttered over the past several months that would be considered to be a lie if Notre Dame joined the Big Ten tomorrow.  What’s a little more unusual in Swarbrick’s latest comments is that he stepped out with an affirmative acknowledgement that Notre Dame could indeed consider conference membership under the right circumstances.  Of course, everyone wants to know what those circumstances would be.

I’m not going to presume anything about Notre Dame.  As much as the Irish are criticized as being selfish, they have actually been willing to leave money on the table in order to preserve certain traditions.  Notre Dame doesn’t play games in South Bend in prime time even though NBC would love to see that happen, there isn’t any advertising in Notre Dame Stadium and its NBC contract is worth a lot less today than the Big Ten’s TV deals.  In contrast, Texas became the #1 revenue generating sports school in the country because it squeezes every penny out of its athletic department.  The Longhorns have every home football game sponsored by a major corporation (i.e. “Texas vs. Louisiana-Monroe is presented by JetBlue Airlines”) along with an electronic scoreboard that would make Jerry Jones proud.  It’s difficult for me to see Texas leaving any money on the table, which is why I’ve scoffed at the notion that an extra $10 million or more doesn’t mean anything to that school.  That’s not a criticism at all.  They’re just acting rationally in their economic self-interest in the same manner that almost every other school in the country would.

So, I fully acknowledge that Notre Dame is different from everyone else.  If you’ve been fortunate enough to attend a game in South Bend as I have (courtesy of Sully), it’s one of the most amazing settings that you’ll ever come across in sports.  The school’s self-image is intertwined with independence going back to the days when there was a horrible anti-Catholic sentiment across much of the country in the early 1900s, including within the Big Ten (who wouldn’t allow Notre Dame to join on those religious grounds).  Notre Dame became the team for Catholics across the country even if they didn’t have any direct connection to the school itself (AKA the Subway Alumni), which provided it a unique national fan base that has reinforced its independent nature.  That being said, it has been easy for Notre Dame to claim an adherence to independence over the past few decades when it was in its financial interests to do so.  When Notre Dame rejected an invitation from the Big Ten back in the 1990s, the Irish were making about twice as much TV money as every Big Ten school.  As of today, though, the positions are reversed.  I noted in the Big Ten Expansion Index post that Notre Dame is now #3 in TV money… in its own home state behind Purdue and Indiana.  Independence isn’t quite the no-brainer choice for Notre Dame that it used to be from the financial side of the ledger.

Here’s the other thing to consider and which I’ve alluded to before: whether the school wants to admit it or not, Notre Dame has the freedom to be independent only as long as it believes that it can join the Big Ten whenever it wants.  The Irish can proceed with independence with very little risk if the worst case scenario is having to join the Big Ten, which is the best case scenario from a financial standpoint for virtually every other school in the country.  When talk about Big Ten expansion centered on Rutgers and Missouri, that certainly didn’t give Notre Dame any pause at all.  Even if the Big Ten added Rutgers or Mizzou as school #12, Notre Dame could be confident that they could be added in a larger Big Ten if the Irish ever needed to join a conference 20 or 30 years down the road.  When Texas and Texas A&M entered the discussion, though, then that completely changed the story.  If the Big Ten added the Texas schools plus one other random school (i.e. Rutgers, Missouri, Alaska-Anchorage, Toronto, Little Sisters of the Poor, etc.) for a 14-school conference, that’s a scenario where Big Ten membership could very well be closed off to Notre Dame forever.  The Big Ten legitimately doesn’t need or even want Notre Dame if it adds a school like Texas.  That turns Notre Dame’s current worst case scenario from joining the Big Ten, with all of its academic and financial advantages, into having to join the Big East in all likelihood, whose ENTIRE football TV contract last year was worth $13 million to be split amongst 8 schools (compared to $22 million for every single Big Ten school).  Thus, Notre Dame faces a real risk of being completely screwed in the long-term if it passes up an invitation to the Big Ten in this round of conference realignment, which is something that it hasn’t faced before.

This leads to the key question: what change on the college sports landscape would be “seismic” enough to get Notre Dame to join a conference?  Swarbrick mentioned the notion of 16-school superconferences, although I have a hard time believing that those will come to fruition in the near future.  However, I would certainly consider the Big Ten adding Texas and Texas A&M to be a massive seismic shift in college sports.  Could Notre Dame seriously let someone else take the 14th spot in the Big Ten if that were to happen?  That would certainly satisfy the Irish need for a national schedule.  If the Big Ten couldn’t get the Texas schools, would simply adding 2 Big East schools be enough?  The scenario that I described as “JoePa’s Dream Conference” where the Big Ten would add Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse could also represent a seismic shift.  That would effectively kill off the Big East while creating a massive East Coast presence for the Big Ten.  As much as Notre Dame might claim to not care about basketball and its non-revenue sports, I think that it still cares that those athletes are participating in a BCS power conference.  I have a feeling that the Atlantic-10 or even a league made up only of the Catholic members of the Big East wouldn’t suffice for Notre Dame if the Big East split apart.  Regardless, Notre Dame’s administration is starting to realize that it might not be an island that is immune to the greater market forces around them.  The alumni can continue to take a hardline stance regarding independence based on tradition and emotion, but Notre Dame’s leadership is going to be facing some extremely tough choices in the new economic paradigm in college sports.

Remember what I said at the end of my post on the Big Ten study that was leaked: “If the Big Ten doesn’t add Notre Dame, then it’s going to go after a school that’s even better (not secondary choices that are lower in terms of impact).  Call me naive, crazy or one-track minded, but money has a way of making ‘pipe dreams’ on paper  in sports fan terms become much more realistic.”  Jack Swarbrick just confirmed that at least one “pipe dream” might not be that far from becoming a reality.

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

(Image from ESPN.com)

How Rutgers Could Work in the Big Ten

When I created the Big Ten Expansion Index, I was 99.9% sure that the Big Ten was simply looking for the perfect school #12, which led me to write that the “Only Real Choices” for that spot are Texas and Notre Dame.  Since that time, lots of rumors have been circulated, including ones about Missouri, Texas and Pitt.  The latest rumor is that Rutgers is supposedly at the top of the wish list after the no-brainers like Texas and Notre Dame.  That spurred me to write essentially that Rutgers was fool’s gold in terms of delivering the ever elusive New York market, where Scarlet Knights fans then responded that I ought to be re-enacting the critical scene in Deliverance.

After mulling it over for a little while and engaging in a great discussion with all of the commenters out there (who I must commend for a multitude of ideas and incredible wisdom during a literally 24/7 debate), I’ve come to the conclusion that Rutgers could make sense in the Big Ten as long as it’s in a 14-school conference that concurrently has another big national name involved.  Personally, I think that 12 schools is really the perfect size for a conference in practice and I’ve gone over how there needs to be a massive value proposition in order to make a 14-school conference work financially.  However, the Big Ten may decide that the New York market is too big to ignore even if they don’t really watch college football out there.  If that’s the case, here are 3 ways to do it correctly in terms of adding packages of 3 schools:

(1) JoePa’s Dream Conference (Notre Dame, Syracuse, Rutgers) – If any conference really wants to secure the New York market as much as it could possibly be secured, it needs that old standby Midwestern university involved: Notre Dame.  The Irish arguably have the largest fan base in the NYC market simply due to the large Catholic population constituting the Subway Alumni.  Adding Syracuse and Rutgers on top of Notre Dame and current Big Ten member Penn State would get the 4 top fan bases in NYC, which would create a “penumbra effect” where all of those schools together would turn New York into a Big Ten town.  This league would effectively be a high rent version of Joe Paterno’s proposed Eastern football conference merged into the Big Ten.  For the geographically inclined, there’s also a certain elegance to this hypothetical conference as it’s a pretty natural extension of the Big Ten’s footprint.  Out of the 5 schools examined in the Big Ten study that was leaked, I’m fairly certain that this had to be the highest value 3-school combination since it legitimately locks down the Northeast for the conference.

(2) JoePa’s Quasi-Dream Conference (Nebraska, Syracuse, Rutgers) – I’ll reiterate that I truly don’t believe that the Big Ten will expand without Notre Dame or Texas involved, but if there’s one school that could prove me wrong on that statement, it’s Nebraska.  In my discussions with commenters, I’ve noted that Nebraska is really “Notre Dame lite” as an expansion candidate.  When you really look at everything closely, the Cornhuskers provide the same main attributes that Notre Dame would bring to the table: a national football brand name and huge fan base that trump the lack of a substantive home market.  If Nebraska has the national name without a great home market while Rutgers has a great home market without a national name, then putting those two together could make financial sense together when either one on its own as school #12 in a 12-school conference wouldn’t cut it.  Add Syracuse on top of those schools to further solidify the Big Ten’s presence in the Northeast and the conference can come pretty close to getting the same value as it would’ve gotten with Notre Dame.

(3) Game of Risk Conference (Texas, Texas A&M, Rutgers) – Let’s say that the Big Ten can nab the two Texas schools and Notre Dame continues to refuse to join.  If the Big Ten has the entire state of Texas in the fold, then it’s playing with house money where it can make a bet to shoot the moon with the New York market on top of it with Rutgers.  It would be like a game of Risk where the Midwest would be flanked by the two power schools in the Southwest (Texas and Texas A&M) and then two major East Coast schools (Penn State and Rutgers).  On paper, the demographic power of the Big Ten would be staggering, with 4 of the 5 largest TV markets in the country in the fold (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Fort Worth), 3 others in the top 15 (Houston, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul) and 6 of the 11 largest states by population (Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey).  This is one of the best situations that you could possibly construct in terms of maximizing the number of households available to the Big Ten Network outside of heading into the state of California.  All of this assumes, of course, that Rutgers can actually deliver New Jersey households for the Big Ten Network (which is a very open question).

So, Rutgers fans, I’m not entirely opposed to your school joining the Big Ten.  However, the Big Ten is going to need a marquee name to come along in order to back up the risk that the conference would be taking on whether Rutgers can deliver its home market.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant @frankthetank111)

(Image from Takhoma.com)

Big Ten Study Leaked: What’s the Purpose?

 

The Chicago Tribune reports today that the Big Ten has received a study from William Blair & Co., a Chicago investment banking firm, that analyzed five expansion candidates: Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, Missouri and Notre Dame.  According to the Tribune’s source, the report indicated that the Big Ten members would be able to increase their current payouts of $22 million or more with expansion with the “right team or teams”.  The source also said that these were the “obvious candidates” and other schools could be considered.

I’ve worked on enough business deals and seen enough positioning in the media through the years (whether we’re talking about trades in sports or political wrangling) to know that leaks to the press rarely occur without a purpose that was authorized from above, especially when dealing with places that have tightly-run ships like Jim Delany’s Big Ten.  So, what was the purpose of this leak?  Was it to put cold water on the thoughts of Texas or even other schools like Nebraska or Maryland joining the conference?  Maybe Notre Dame is a legitimate candidate after all and we shouldn’t assume that they’ll never join?  Is it to try to get Big Ten fans comfortable with the idea that the 12th school isn’t going to be nearly as sexy as we hope?  Or could it be a classic stalking horse case, where the Big Ten is effectively telling the rest of the Big XII schools like Texas and Nebraska, “Just so you know, we make more TV money than you do now.  We’d make a lot more money if we take Missouri and we’re willing to do it, while you’d make even less.  So, maybe we should do lunch?”

All of those reasons are certainly possible.  My personal opinion is that it would be unconscionable to have Texas alums legitimately considering a move to the Big Ten (and generally not having a knee-jerk reaction to it in the same way as Notre Dame alums) and then add a school like Rutgers or Missouri instead, but I’m just an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.  Teddy Greenstein, who wrote the Tribune article, is of the opinion that Rutgers is at the top of the list (if you discount, in his words, the “pipe dreams” of Texas and Notre Dame).  Now, I believe that Greenstein is one of the better writers in the Chicago sports media (and believe me, having suffered through a period where both Skip Bayless AND Jay Mariotti were competing columnists here at the same time, I appreciate the good ones), but I have to take issue with this line of thinking:

Fans wonder: Does New York care about Rutgers? The simplest answer: When Rutgers wins, yes.

During Rutgers’ football nirvana season of 2006, its game against Louisville on ESPN drew an 8.1 rating in the New York market, a “phenomenal number,” according to one TV executive. That night, the Empire State Building was lit up in scarlet.

This anecdote continues to keep coming up and it’s a red herring.  I fully expect any school that’s competing for a possible slot in the national championship game to receive incredible ratings in its home market, even in a historically poor college football town like New York.  That’s not the issue!  Here’s what I stated in the original Big Ten Expansion Index post:

It must be emphasized that Football Brand Value puts much more weight on the long-term history and financial underpinnings of a program over short-term or recent success. Thus, Team A that has sold out 80,000-seat or even 100,000-seat stadiums for decades whether it wins or loses is much more valuable than Team B that only sells out a 40,000-seat stadium when it’s in the national championship race, even if Team A has had a mediocre seasons recently and Team B happens to rank in the top 3 of the BCS rankings this year. The “What have you done for me lately?” attitude of most sports fans doesn’t apply here. Instead, the proper question is the opposite: Even if the target school goes 0-12 in a season, will it still attract TV viewers and attendance? In other words, the true value of a football program is really measured by how much attention it still receives when it’s down as opposed to how much attention it gets when it’s up. The Big Ten will only consider programs that have large and real hardcore fan bases that will stick them in good times and bad as opposed to programs that have bandwagon fans that will bolt when there’s a 7-5 season.

The fact that then-35-year old Danny Almonte led his baseball team to the Little League World Series and was front-page news in New York for the better part of a month in 2001 didn’t turn the NYC market into a “Little League” town.  Even the New Jersey Nets could deliver the New York market once a decade when they’re competitive.  The problem is the other 9 years in the decade when they’re non-entities, where the fact that they play a few miles away from Midtown Manhattan becomes irrelevant.  Taking the NBA analogies further, commenter Dcphx brilliantly described Rutgers as “the 7′ 3″ athletic center that NBA GMs can’t avoid drafting.”  My initial response was that I was worried that Rutgers would be the expansion equivalent of Michael Olowokandi.  Like NBA GMs ignoring the fact that Olowokandi didn’t have a post-up game, basic boxing-out fundamentals, or any discernible basketball skills whatsoever other than being REALLY tall, it feels like a lot of people (particularly the TV executives that are disproportionately based in the NYC market) are blinded by the size of the the New York market or even just the New Jersey portion of it with respect ot Rutgers without taking into account their actual athletic history (whether it’s in football or basketball).  Upon further review, the thought of adding Rutgers might even be closer to the Pistons drafting Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony in 2003, where a team on the precipice of a championship felt it was better to keep its “chemistry” than adding a guaranteed superstar to a top-of-the-line squad.  As applied to Big Ten expansion, concerns about “geography” are the equivalent of the Pistons wanting Darko for “chemistry”.  (FYI – if you’re able to combine my concurrent dreams of being a conference commissioner and NBA general manager, I will turn into warm puddy.)

Let’s think of it this way: the Big Ten has spent the last two decades waiting around for Notre Dame.  During that process, they’ve actually looked at Missouri, Syracuse, Rutgers and Pitt several times and they were never deemed worthy of being invited before.  They’ve also given up conference championship game revenue during that period of time as a result of waiting for the Irish.  The Big Ten then took a massive risk of building its own TV network (which a lot of people ridiculed at the time), which has now paid off in spades in the form of TV revenues that far surpass what Notre Dame receives from NBC.  This means that the Big Ten has never had more leverage in terms of adding schools in its entire history.  So, after all of this time and at the height of its power, is the Big Ten really going to cash in all of its chips after all of that time on a potential project like Rutgers?  A “safe but not glamorous” choice like Missouri?  Is the Big Ten, with all of its financial advantages today, really going to add a school that doesn’t bring as much to the table as Penn State did to the conference or even Miami did to the ACC?  While there might be some Big Ten ADs out there like Ron Guenther that think small, Jim Delany is a big-time visionary and I have full faith that he’s not going to push a move just for the sake of making a move.  If the Big Ten doesn’t add Notre Dame, then it’s going to go after a school that’s even better (not secondary choices that are lower in terms of impact).  Call me naive, crazy or one-track minded, but money has a way of making “pipe dreams” on paper  in sports fan terms become much more realistic.

(UPDATE: This was written without taking into account today’s story, but The Rivalry, Esq. has a great look charting the ups-and-downs of talk regarding various Big Ten expansion candidates.)

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

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Choose Your Own Adventure For Big East Expansion: It’s Not Easy Being Green (or Purple)

I attended Illinois for undergrad, so my heart will always be with the Fighting Illini first and foremost, but as a DePaul Law graduate, I also keep close tabs on the state of the Big East.  The fan base of the Big East is by far the most skittish of any conference regarding expansion issues because it was obviously the main victim of the last major conference realignment in 2003 (when the ACC poached Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College).  This resulted in the Big East scrambling to protect its automatic bid to the BCS by inviting Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida for all sports (including football) along with DePaul and Marquette as non-football members.  In that round of expansion, Louisville was already an obvious BCS-ready school that was within striking distance of the Big Ten footprint, which made it a logical choice for a replacement member, while Cincinnati and USF were in the midst of building up their own programs.  USF ended up putting together some great seasons in the all-important Florida market while Cincinnati came within a couple of seconds massaged by a Jerry World time clock operator of making it to the national championship game this past season.  The problem today for the Big East is that if it loses any member to the Big Ten (which, if you’ve read my previous blog posts regarding the Big Ten Expansion Index, isn’t necessarily as likely as the general public believes since I believe that the Big Ten is looking toward Texas and the Big XII), there isn’t any Louisville-type school located east of the Mississippi River that’s a logical “no-brainer” replacement.  There are some schools comparable to USF and Cincinnati circa 2003, but the conference enters dangerous territory by adding more “project” schools in terms of keeping the top-to-bottom strength of schools high enough to justify inclusion in the BCS.

Before anyone can even get to talking about additional Big East schools, though, the overarching question is “WTF does the Big East want to be?”  Should the football members (hereinafter defined as “Big East Football”) split off to form a separate all-sports conference?  Are the Catholic basketball members (hereinafter defined as the “Big East Catholics”) too valuable for the football members to leave?  Is it worth it to risk breaking up arguably the nation’s best basketball conference under the current hybrid structure in order to have a maybe good/maybe not that good football conference?  The purpose of this post is to provide a more high-level examination of the choices between Big East Football splitting off or keeping the Big East Catholics in the fold.  I’ll name some expansion candidates in hypothetical scenarios that I’d personally favor if I were in charge of the Big East, but it’s not worth it as of now to provide an in-depth examination of each of those candidates in the same manner of the Big Ten Expansion Index since it’s largely pointless without knowing out what the Big East wants to do structurally.  In fact, I’ll state upfront that I’m sincerely 50/50 about whether the Big East ought to split whether or not it even loses anyone from Big East Football (with the caveat that the way that my split proposal is far more aggressive than what I see typically proposed).  Thus, I’m giving everyone two options that I would examine if I were Big East Commissioner along with the pluses and minuses of each.  Then, you can decide which one you like better – think of it as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for Big East expansion.

I’m using the following assumptions:

(1) The Big Ten does NOT take a Big East member – I’m going to examine this from the perspective of the Big East as presently constituted because I don’t believe the high-level analysis really changes that much even if a school like Syracuse or Rutgers leaves.  The issue of whether the Big East should split exists as of today and will be applicable regardless of the actions of the Big Ten.

(2) The Big East won’t kick out Notre Dame – About every 3 or 4 hours on any Big East message board, you’ll see a brand new thread stating, “WE MUST GIVE ND AN ULTIMATUM!!!!!! JOIN US 4 FB OR GTFO!!!!!”  It’s about as predictable as Amy Winehouse ignoring all 12 steps of all of her rehab programs on a random Friday night.  Let’s put aside the fact that such a suggestion usually entails “threatening” probably the most famous and powerful athletic department in the nation in order to invite a school like Memphis or East Carolina.  First off, if Notre Dame refuses to join the Big Ten for football where the school would maintain its rivalries against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue and actually make more money in the process, then I can’t really see the Irish taking a pay cut to play USF and Cincinnati annually.  I’ll let Domers like Sully comment further on this, but that’s just my gut feeling.  Then, as a practical matter, let’s simply count the votes in the Big East to gauge the interest of kicking out ND.  The other Big East Catholics absolutely fall all over themselves to be associated with the nation’s preeminent Catholic sports program, so that’s 7 votes against kicking out ND right there.  Pitt has a longstanding relationship with Notre Dame for football which it isn’t going to mess with – I would imagine that ND would easily go back to playing Penn State annually and drop its games with Pitt if the Panthers ever supported kicking ND out.  Syracuse and Rutgers are also holding out hope for Big Ten invites.  Since any kicking out of Notre Dame could possibly nudge the Irish into the Big Ten and close off that 12th conference spot forever, SU and RU aren’t going to want to do anything to ND, either.  Those are 10 schools right there that will automatically support Notre Dame, which means that ND will be in the BE as long as there is the current hybrid structure.

(3) The Mountain West Conference will NOT receive an auto-bid to the BCS – There’s a dangerous assumption percolating out there that the Mountain West becoming an automatic-qualifying (AQ) conference with respect to the BCS is a foregone conclusion.  This is based on the MWC reaching certain numerical criteria that the BCS previously set out to evaluate conferences.  There’s kind of big hitch that too many people are forgetting, though: the current BCS conferences have the final say and they don’t really have any incentive to let the MWC into their club at all.  It’s the equivalent of me trying to obtain membership into Augusta National Golf Club.  If I’m a scratch golfer that can afford to pay the initiation fee (not that either one of those things are true, but bear with me here), that’s still not enough to get an invitation – the people at Augusta have to REALLY REALLY REALLY like me on top of all of that.  In another real life example, think of it as achieving a really high SAT score.  Even though that score might indicate that you could get into Harvard on paper, the fact of the matter is that Harvard’s admissions committee evaluates bunch of other byzantine factors, such as whether you’re a native female Alaskan who moved to Kenya that can play the oboe at a professional orchestral level.  In the case of the MWC, the BCS conferences might have set the criteria, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to follow it.

Here’s the bottom line for the MWC: the Pac-10 and Big XII aren’t going to approve AQ-status for the MWC because they don’t want to empower direct competition in their home markets and that conference is a prime target for their own expansion and/or replacement plans.  The Big Ten and the SEC are virtually guaranteed 2 BCS bids every year under the current system, so they don’t have an incentive to potentially give up one of those spots to the MWC.  The Big East is the most vulnerable of the current BCS conferences, so it doesn’t want to give any opportunity to let the other BCS members remove AQ-status for the Big East while bringing the MWC in as a 7th member.  I guess the ACC doesn’t have quite as much of a dog in this fight, but as you can, the other 5 BCS conferences have direct incentives to say “No” to the MWC regardless of how well the conference performs.  That’s not really fair (and my feeling is that they’re more bothered by letting the likes of Wyoming and San Diego State into the fold than harboring any grudges against Utah and BYU), yet it goes back to the cynical version of the Golden Rule (“He who has the gold makes the rules”) as applied to the chasm between the AQ and non-AQ conferences.  You’ll see pretty clearly in a moment why the MWC’s continued non-AQ status is very important to the Big East’s options.

So, let’s review the two divergent roads that the Big East can take Robert Frost-style.

OPTION A – KEEP THE HYBRID STRUCTURE

Here’s the reality for the Big East:  Penn State isn’t walking through that door.  Boston College isn’t walking through that door.  Maryland isn’t walking through that door.  While the presumption is that college conference choices revolve almost entirely around football (as indicated by how I gave Football Brand Value three times the weight of Basketball Brand Value in the Big Ten Expansion Index), if there aren’t major pigskin programs that are willing to join the Big East, it may very well be in the best interest of the conference to continue to focus on what it’s exceptional at: basketball.  If the Big East were to split, the usual suspects of candidates from Conference USA wouldn’t really add that much financial value to the football side of the ledger while it could destroy much of the greatness of the basketball side.

At the same time, the value of the Big East Catholics is as a collective instead of individual schools.  You’ll see plenty of comments from bloggers and message board posters out there that they don’t understand what schools like newer member DePaul and original member Providence bring to the Big East.  The point is not what DePaul and Providence bring as individual programs, but rather the 8 Big East Catholics happen to deliver the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston/Providence markets, which are all top 10 TV markets.  For all of the ragging that Big East Football schools might have on the Big East Catholics, you can be guaranteed that the number of top 10 markets that are in the conference as a result of the Big East Catholics are on PowerPoint slide #1 in any Big East presentation to ESPN or other TV networks.  That staggering large market PowerPoint slide goes away if Big East Football separates themselves from the Big East Catholics.

In fact, it could be argued that if Big East Football loses a member to the Big Ten or another conference (i.e. collateral damage if the Big Ten takes a school from the ACC, who in turn will look to the Big East for a replacement), the Big East Catholics would be more valuable than ever.  Any reasonable replacement that could be out there may not bring as much as value on the football side as keeping the basketball side as elite as possible.  While football is going to rule the day for the other BCS conferences in terms of revenue and expansion, the Big East simply “is what it is” – a great (if not the nation’s best) basketball conference that happens to play some football.  As long as the Big East maintains its BCS AQ status, maintain the current hybrid structure could be making the best of a situation where the perfect scenario isn’t a viable option.

OPTION B – SPLIT (BUT DO IT IN A BIG WAY)

The Big East split advocates often argue that as long as the Big East stays in its current hybrid form, it can never hope to achieve the stability of the Big Ten or SEC.  Of course, the Big XII, an all-sports conference which has Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma in the fold, is unstable, too, with members openly talking about moving to the Big Ten or Pac-10.  So, a split for the sake of “stability” is an unreasonable goal – other than the Big Ten and SEC, no conference will be completely safe in this next round of realignment discussions.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t split scenarios that could add value to the Big East immediately.

The problem with most of the Big East split advocates is that they are making the classic sports fan mistake of thinking in purely geographic terms.  This leads them to only considering some “meh” schools from C-USA located east of the Mississippi River such as Memphis, East Carolina and Central Florida or maybe even MAC schools like Buffalo and former Big East football member Temple.  Those are all schools that bring in various positives to the table, but none of them are anywhere close to slam dunks where it would be worth it to split away from the Big East Catholics for those “usual suspects” alone.  So, if the Big East is finding only ho-hum choices of schools east of the Mississippi, why isn’t the conference looking west?  Specifically, the Big East needs to be taking a hard look at Texas Christian University.

I know what a lot of you are thinking – here’s a d-bag Chicago lawyer that has argued that the Big Ten ought to invite Texas for several weeks and now is saying that the Big East should add TCU.  WTF is going through that crack-induced head of his with him adding Texas-based schools to Eastern/Midwestern conferences?!  Doesn’t he know that the schools, politicians and fans in the Lone Star State just want to beat up on each other (because the old SWC worked so well) instead of dealing with a bunch of Yankees?!  Well, as you can tell from my blog posts, I’m not hung up on geography when it comes to conferences.  I know that will simply be a fundamental issue for a lot of people, but we live in a world where Penn State is in the Big Ten, Boston College is in the ACC, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida are in the Big East, Louisiana Tech is in the WAC… and TCU is aligned with a bunch of Rocky Mountain schools in the Mountain West.  It appears to me that the long distance conference cherry was popped long ago.

Regardless, TCU going to the Big East isn’t a novel idea.  Jake, a regular commenter on this blog who has a fear that TCU could get screwed in this realignment process (and I’ll explain why that’s a legitimate fear in a moment), has mentioned the possibility.  ESPN’s Big East blogger Brian Bennett addressed his thoughts on the prospect of TCU in the Big East (who, as you’ll see, I disagree with).  Finally, the very knowledgeable denizens of BigEastBBS have discussed TCU a number of times.

There are a couple of items that impress me about TCU.  First, its revenue in 2007-08, which was a “normal” season where it didn’t receive a jackpot of funds from participation in a BCS bowl like this past season, was $43.4 million, which was by far the highest figure of any non-BCS school.  This was greater than in-state Big XII competitor Texas Tech, in the same range as schools like Syracuse and Miami, more than 3 Big East schools (Pitt, USF and Cincinnati) and greater than the next highest non-BCS school (BYU) by nearly $7 million.  Second, guess which school has had the most NFL draft picks in history out of any non-BCS program?  TCU, who is ahead of an entire slew of BCS programs on that measurement.  Those two factors show that TCU isn’t just a fly-by-night program that got hot this past season.  Its long-term revenue levels and history of churning out quality players mean that TCU is a legitimate BCS-level program as of today that also happens to be in the major market of Dallas-Fort Worth (even if it doesn’t deliver that market in the manner of Texas or Texas A&M).

The opportunity for the the Big East is that TCU probably can’t get into the Big XII (whereas too many people assume the opposite, including Mr. Bennett from ESPN.com).  As I explained in point #4 in this post, TCU’s chances to get into the Big XII are almost a carbon copy of Pitt’s chances of getting into the Big Ten: they’re too much of a geographic fit (where they’re already within the conference footprint) in a world where expanding the conference footprint into new markets is more important for TV purposes.  If you’ve followed my posts examining the prospect of Texas joining the Big Ten, you know that the #1 reason why the Big XII has issues is that it has TV revenues due to the lack of markets outside of the state of Texas.  Thus, if the Big XII were to lose one or more members, adding TCU as a replacement doesn’t address that conference’s main problem that has caused such instability in the first place.  As I’ve stated before, the only legitimate shot that TCU has to get into the Big XII is if both Texas and Texas A&M leave that conference.

Thus, TCU looks a lot like Louisville circa-2003: a BCS-ready program whose immediately geographically-close BCS conferences (in Louisville’s case at the time, the SEC and ACC) will probably never invite it.  Even worse, the thoughts of the MWC becoming an AQ conference diminish dramatically if the Big XII and/or Pac-10 start picking off schools like Utah and BYU.  Meanwhile, an expanded Big East that includes TCU looks a whole lot better than being limited solely to its standard C-USA options.  Take a look at this hypothetical 12-school conference with North and South divisions:

NORTH
Syracuse
Rutgers
UConn
Pitt
West Virginia
Temple

SOUTH
Cincinnati
Louisville
Memphis
USF
Houston
TCU

In my opinion, that’s a pretty solid football AND basketball conference from top-to-bottom that covers a multitude of major markets.  For the people that still care about geography, this league actually bears little difference to the old C-USA when Army was still a football member, where the league stretched from Texas to New York.  Still, please don’t get hung up on the non-TCU schools that I inserted since they are really gut-level choices.  I chose Temple (despite its horrid experience as a football-only member of the Big East where it was kicked out even when the conference was in search of warm bodies in the wake of the 2003 ACC raid) simply because if the Big East is going to split, I feel that the conference is going to need a presence in the Philadelphia market (even if it’s more for the basketball side of the equation).  Memphis is sort of a natural extension for the Big East after having added Louisville and Cincinnati.  The Tigers from Memphis with respect to the Big East feel a lot like the Tigers from Missouri with respect to the Big Ten – the geography works and there are some pre-existing rivalries, but it’s not exactly an exciting game-changing move.  Houston provides a large market and travel partner for TCU.  Regardless, you can exchange ECU and/or UCF for any of those choices I’ve mentioned above if you’re so inclined.  The overarching point is that a Big East split looks a whole lot better with TCU involved than without.  If the Big East were to lose a member to the Big Ten or another conference, then including TCU is even more vital for the conference in terms of maintaining its BCS AQ status.  Maybe it would behoove the Big East to make the first move here by inviting TCU immediately so that it doesn’t even give an opening to the Big XII to potentially grab them in the event that both Texas and Texas A&M go to the Big Ten or Pac-10.

What would happen to the Big East Catholics?  I’d envision a 10-school all-Catholic league league that would consist of the legacy Big East members plus Xavier and St. Louis University.  That would be a legitimate major basketball conference in great TV markets with a side benefit of DePaul possibly winning multiple conference games in a season.  (Actually, the Blue Demons still wouldn’t with that lineup.)  If Notre Dame were to take a Big Ten invite, you could plug in Dayton (who might very well have the best college basketball fan base in the nation that no one seems to know about) and continue to have a fantastic 10-school conference.  That’s not a bad ending for the Big East Catholics in a split situation.

I don’t know if the Big East Football schools are bold enough to go forward with Option B, but it’s at least a colorable argument for a split if TCU is included.  If TCU can’t be brought in, though, then I don’t think a split would be wise.

With all of that in mind, which scenario would you choose if you were running the Big East?

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

(Image from Wikipedia)

List of 15 Big Ten “Candidates” is Who May Come With Texas or Notre Dame (not Instead of Them)

Lots of people have been discussing in the comments section on the “Template for Shooting Down Any Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten” post a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel stating that the Big Ten has hired a research firm to evaluate an “initial list” of 15 schools, with a quote from Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez saying that Texas isn’t on that initial list.  (H/T to WolverinePhD, among others, for sending in the link.)  I don’t interpret this study as Texas not being a target.  As Dennis Dodd stated on CBS Sportsline (who has voiced skepticism about Texas joining the Big Ten):

[I]f Notre Dame and/or Texas showed a willingness to join the Big Ten, there wouldn’t be much research to do.  The two schools are seen as the only slam-dunk candidates in an otherwise muddied expansion picture.

Exactly.  The Big Ten doesn’t need to pay presumably tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) to hire a research firm to say that “Adding Texas and Notre Dame would be sweeeeeeeeeet!!!”.  The conference knows that already and its university presidents don’t need to be convinced of the attributes of those schools.  Instead, you hire a research firm to evaluate the schools that you AREN’T sure of and look at the positives and negatives of them.  A research firm that’s providing value is going to look at issues that aren’t obvious, such as whether Syracuse or Rutgers can really deliver the New York City market or Nebraska’s national brand name can compensate for its small home market.  It’s a waste of money to have someone come in and state that “Texas would really add a lot of eyeballs to the Big Ten Network while being awesome in sports and academics.”  No shit, Sherlock.  Tell me something that I don’t know.

The fact that the Big Ten has a list of 15 schools that it’s looking at is an indication that the conference is looking at numerous schools that are significantly outside of its conference geographic footprint.  To me, this exercise looks a lot more like an evaluation of “Who do we add on top of Texas and/or Notre Dame if we’re willing to go to 14 schools?”  From a realistic standpoint, schools from the SEC aren’t going to ever move while the 2 schools that the Big Ten would want from the Pac-10 (USC and UCLA) are no-brainers in the same category as Texas and Notre Dame where there’s no point in even examining them because they’re in if they want to join.  Here is my semi-educated guess as to who is on that list of 15 schools as well as the key questions that the Big Ten ought to be asking about them:

1.  Syracuse – Does it really bring in the NYC market?  Can it bring in the NYC market when it’s combined with Penn State?  If yes, does Syracuse or Rutgers do this better?

2.  Rutgers – See comment for Syracuse.

3.  UCONN – Can it make inroads into both the NYC and Boston markets?  It’s not an AAU member but its overall rankings are pretty solid, so is that good enough academically?  Is the youth of the football program at the Division 1-A level a complete non-starter?

4.  Pitt – Great for both academics and athletics, but can they really add much in terms of TV viewers with Penn State already delivering the Pittsburgh market, especially when there are other candidates that are similar but can bring in new markets?

5.  Maryland – Is it more trustworthy in its ability to deliver the DC and Baltimore markets than the other East Coast candidates with respect to their own markets?  What does a Maryland/Penn State combo do for the conference in terms of delivering the Mid-Atlantic region?  Is there enough commitment to the football program in terms of long-term competitiveness?

6.  Virginia – An unequivocal academic superstar, but are its athletic programs good enough to add more value?  Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland?

7.  Virginia Tech – Rising in terms of academics but not an AAU member, so is that satisfactory?  Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland or UVA?

8.  Boston College – Can it really deliver the Boston market?  Is the fan base large enough to justify inclusion?  Very strong undergrad program but isn’t an AAU member, so will it fit academically?

9.  Miami – Can it deliver the Florida market by itself?  It’s not an AAU member and doesn’t have great graduate programs, but it’s a top 50 undergrad school.  Is that enough in terms of academics?  Is the poor attendance and traveling fan base for the football program trumped by its extremely strong national TV drawing power?

10.  Missouri – Has the ability to draw in the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, but is that enough considering that there are options in more populous regions like the Northeast, Florida and Texas?  Many assume that it’s an academic fit as an AAU member, but it’s actually lower in the US News rankings than Nebraska, so does it really meet the Big Ten’s academic requirements?

11.  Nebraska – Is the national drawing power of its football program enough to compensate for its tiny home TV market?  Lots of questions as to whether it would be an academic fit even though it’s an AAU member already.  Does it meet the Big Ten’s academic standards?

12.  Colorado – Long assumed to be a top Pac-10 target, but could it be a viable Big Ten candidate since it’s actually a better academic and cultural fit with the Big Ten than anyone in the Big XII besides Texas?  Is the population growth trend in the Denver area more attractive than adding presently larger markets like the state of Missouri when looking at this decision 20 or 30 years down the road?

13.  Oklahoma – Obvious national football power, but without AAU membership (unlike Missouri or Nebraska) or high academic rankings (unlike UConn), can it fit in academically?

14.  Kansas – 99% of these decisions are about football, but Kansas isn’t any ordinary basketball school (where only Duke, UNC and Kentucky can compare nationally).  Is the elite status of its basketball program enough to compensate for a historically weak football program that no longer has the services of Baby Mangino?

15.  Texas A&M – Is the Big Ten truly fine with the thought of Texas A&M coming along with Texas in a package deal?  Are the Aggies really a threat to go to the SEC if the Big Ten doesn’t invite them?  What do they bring to the table that Texas doesn’t bring alone?

The Big Ten will NOT expand unless it adds Texas and/or Notre Dame.  The conference is in a financial position where it doesn’t make any sense to settle for anything less.  This “initial list” is examining who might come along for the ride on top of the main targets.

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

(Image from Scout.com)