No Split for You! Netflix, Qwikster and the Big East

There’s a general assumption by much of the public that the dominant force of home entertainment in the future will be video streaming.  Whether it’s viewing TV shows via the Internet instead of cable or picking out movies for the evening, streaming enables immediate access to content with video quality that is continuously improving.  Thus, many investors earlier this year were pushing Netflix to move away from its cash cow DVD plan business and instead emphasize its streaming service.  In fact, a popular view on Wall Street seemed to be that Netflix’s largest problem was that too many people were still using the DVD-by-mail service that had made the company so dominant in the first place.  So, the opening salvo was when Netflix separated its DVD and streaming plans with higher prices (with the intended effect being that subscribers would choose dropping the DVD plan).  That move was about as popular as Santa Claus at an Eagles game.  Still, Netflix pressed on by subsequently announcing that it would completely split off its DVD business into a separate company called Qwikster, which would force customers to create different accounts for each service.  The public immediately vomited all over this plan and the investors that were pushing Netflix to go full bore into streaming started crushing the company’s stock price.  Finally, Netflix ended up issuing a mea culpa yesterday and reversed its decision to split the two sides of the business.  A firm that had built one of the most loyal customer bases through word-of-mouth over the past decade effectively wiped out all of its goodwill reserves within a couple of months.

The problem with Netflix is that even though it pushed streaming as the future, its streaming content isn’t satisfactory in the present.  There’s only a fraction of the number of movies and TV shows available on the streaming service compared to the regular DVD-by-mail, particularly new releases.  As a result, consumers that once saw Netflix as a good deal started thinking that it wasn’t providing great value any longer.  At the same time, Netflix customers (including me) have generally been perplexed as to why improvements in streaming and the use of DVDs need to be mutually exclusive.  (To be sure, my 2-year twins use the Netflix app on our iPad all of the time to stream Sesame Street and the abominable Spanglish of Dora the Exploer, so there’s certainly a convenience factor for me personally.  It’s also a testament to the late Steve Jobs that he created such intuitive products that my kids were able to figure out how to use our iPad and iPhones by the time they were about 16 months old.)  Netflix gave the public a message that the DVD service was holding the streaming service back, but the reality is that one has little to do with the other.  Instead, Netflix’s issue is that the streaming content still needs a ton of improvements regardless of the state of the DVD business and, more importantly, the service faces paying skyrocketing streaming rights fees to and direct competition from the movie and TV studios themselves (such as Hulu).

The Big East is the Netflix of the college sports world.  It has a product (basketball) that completely built the conference and is still regarded across the nation as high quality.  However, the conference knows that its weaker product (football) is the revenue driver of the future.  The problem is that improving the football product isn’t that simple and really has little to do with basketball.  A lot of Big East football fans would tell you that the basketball side of the conference has been holding the football side back and that’s the reason why schools like Syracuse and Pitt ended up leaving for the ACC.  Therefore, the argument goes, the Big East would be served best by the football members splitting from the rest of the conference.  However, this is a straw man argument similar to Netflix claiming that it needed to get rid of its DVD business in order to build its streaming business.  Just because the Big East was excellent in basketball didn’t mean it caused any type of problem for its football league.  If anything, the only reason why Big East football gets any ESPN coverage at all is its ties to the basketball side.  The Big East’s football problems have been with the performance of its football programs themselves and a lack of a national brand name ever since Miami left for the ACC in 2003.  In fact, the Big East football league was born with two left feet since it never had the one school that really mattered on the East Coast: Penn State.

Ultimately, the Big East’s presidents know this, which is why they haven’t been exactly quick to add on new football schools willy-nilly even with its league under attack and aren’t even considering a split from the Catholic members.  With the Big East basketball TV contract already larger than the football TV contract (both in total amounts and on a per school basis), keeping the top basketball brand names and large markets is now more important for the whoever remains in the conference than ever (even if a lot of Big East football fans are now even more vehement in pushing for a split).

Switching to the Big 12 expansion drama for a moment (as it has a great impact on what the Big East will end up doing), I won’t believe that BYU isn’t joining the Big 12 until that league expands to 12 schools again without them.  Put me in the tin foil hat category of thinking that the reason why BYU has supposedly “fallen off the Big 12 list” according to a number of reports is that DeLoss Dodds and company is trying to put public pressure on the Provo school by getting their alums all riled up.  It appears the major sticking points are TV rights issues with BYUtv, which believe it or not actually receives more rights to broadcasts and rebroadcasts than the Longhorn Network.  However, this all seems to be resolvable by both parties.  If BYU turns down a Big 12 invite because of reruns of football games, then the LDS leaders are on LSD.  BYU makes complete sense as school #10 in the Big 12 if and when Missouri leaves for the SEC.

Therefore, let’s assume for the moment that the Big East retains all of its remaining 6 football members, including but not limited to Louisville and West Virginia.  With the news that the Big East now wants to go up to 12 football schools (although I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it stayed at 10), it obviously begs the question about who the league should add.  These seem to be the main tiers of candidates that the Big East is looking at:

(1) Service Academies (Navy, Air Force, Army) – By all accounts, Navy, Air Force and Army are the top priorities for the Big East as football members.  As I’ve mentioned previously, adding these schools would be a smart move because I believe that none of the other AQ conferences are going to remove AQ status from a league that has all 3 service academies (or even just two of them).  The academies have great brand names, traveling fan bases and political protection.  Of course, that’s also why they’re going to be hard to get and it’s not a guarantee that the Big East can add any of them.

(2) Classic BCS Buster (Boise State) – It warms my heart that my Big Country Conference dream of a football-only league combining the Big East with the top non-AQ schools from the west is starting to seem plausible with the Providence crowd looking to add Boise State.  (The schools in that original Big Country Conference post will need to change, but the concept remains the same.)  Boise State is in a bind since the Pac-12 will never accept it due to academic and cultural reasons while the Big 12 doesn’t seem to be seriously interested, either.  Meanwhile, the Big East is seeking to strengthen its AQ credentials as much as possible (even though I personally don’t believe the league’s bid is truly in danger of being taken away after 2013, which is when the current BCS cycle concludes).  Thus, the only BCS option for Boise State appears to be the Big East and the Big East’s best option to add some national cache seems to be Boise State, which looks like a horrific geographic fit on paper but really isn’t that bad if it’s a football-only membership.  Football really isn’t the killer on travel costs since it’s only a handful of trips every year – it’s the non-football schools that bear the brunt of travel issues.  Let’s say that the Big East adds Air Force as a football-only member and a couple of Texas-based schools (which will be discussed in a moment) to create a western division.  That cuts down the geographic concerns of Boise State a bit further for football and the school could look to place its other sports in the WCC or WAC.  Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner, has already stated that he’d be open to discussing a non-football arrangement for the former full member Broncos.  This seems like a long-shot for the Big East, but Boise State would be the one potential addition that would truly move the needle nationally, so John Marinatto needs to try it.

(3) Inside the Footprint (Central Florida, Temple) – Most conferences are looking for new markets when considering expansion candidates.  However, the Big East is a bit different because it’s never had an issue with markets themselves, but rather the lack of the ability to deliver such markets.  Therefore, the Big East doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) have the same issues with potentially “double dipping” in many of its home markets since the conference may need to do so in order to even hope to deliver them.  Enter UCF and Temple, which by a number of accounts appear to be the two most likely and immediate all-sports additions to the Big East as the interest seems to be reciprocal between the schools and the league.

In the case of UCF, it’s a massive school in a football recruiting stronghold that would prevent South Florida from being a complete geographic outlier in the conference.  Personally, I see UCF’s ceiling as basically being another version of USF.  I’ll always be skeptical that either of those schools can breakthrough in one of the most competitive college football fan markets in the country with the presence of Florida and Florida State casting overwhelming shadows along with Miami (who I believe a lot of conference realignment observers seem to be mistakenly underrating in terms of long-term staying power) not too far away.  However, the Big East is going to have a tough time to find any school that’s going to be considered #1 or even #2 in any market of substantial size, anyway, so doubling down on the Florida market is a fairly reasonable approach.

For Temple, it’s a matter of location, location, location.  The Philadelphia market is obviously an attraction on paper and, maybe more importantly, it’s virtually impossible to position yourself as a Northeastern football conference without at least some presence in the state of Pennsylvania (which has gone out the door with Pitt to the ACC for the time being).  Temple has made a ton of strides with the financial support of its football program since it was ousted as a football-only member of the Big East several years ago and has a lot of basketball tradition.  At the same time, the objections that Villanova have had (and may still have) to Temple entering as an all-sports member are likely going to go be the wayside (or at least ignored by the other Big East members) when the very survival of the conference itself is in jeopardy.  I’m someone that really respects Villanova as an institution (great academics with a marquee basketball program), but the school has had chances to jump up to AQ status for football that around 60 other football programs would KILL for yet they’ve never grabbed the proverbial bull by horns.  It has always seemed that Villanova considering a move up from Division I-AA status to Division I-A was simply about protecting its basketball program as opposed to actually investing in football, so now the school is going to have to live with the long-term consequences of its slow actions by probably having to let in (or maybe more appropriately, be forced to live with) a direct competitor for all sports in its own backyard.

(4) Yellow Roses of the Big East (SMU, Houston) – If Boise State and/or Army don’t end up joining the Big East as football-only members, then I expect SMU and Houston to be next on the list as potential all-sports candidates.  I’ve really been warming up to SMU lately despite its taint of Craig James, as it’s a great academic school in a top-tier market.  If the Big East basically believes all of the C-USA candidates are effectively on the same tier of quality (and I think that’s essentially what the league is thinking), then SMU starts looking pretty attractive as an overall institution.  As a school, there are a lot of similarities there to the former Big East member that never played a Big East game TCU (albeit not with the same recent football success).  Houston doesn’t bring in great academics (which is a mark against them), but fits the urban profile of the rest of the Big East as a similar school as Louisville, Cincinnati, USF and potential member USF along with bringing in another large market and recruiting territory.  It also helps that Houston has been fairly competent on the football field lately and can point to excellent tradition in basketball.

(5) So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance (East Carolina, Memphis) – Speaking to a lot of Big East football fans, it seems that East Carolina is a common “people’s choice” as an expansion candidate.  It makes sense on some levels as it’s a program that has fairly strong attendance and fan support for a non-AQ school as well as being unequivocal in its desire to join the Big East.  However, I get the impression that the Big East looks at East Carolina in the same manner that the SEC looks at West Virginia: despite a geographic fit and solid fan base, those factors aren’t enough to overcome what’s perceived to be a small market (unlike a national name like Nebraska or Boise State).  East Carolina is arguably the best pure football school on paper out of the Big East candidates besides Boise State, but the Pirates aren’t so far ahead of the other C-USA candidates that the Providence crowd would choose them over schools located in better markets or have stronger academics.

Meanwhile, there might not be a school in the country that has had worse timing in terms of going through its ugliest stretch of football performance (or non-performance) in its history than Memphis.  If the Memphis football program had ANY type of pulse, it would be near the top of the list of Big East expansion candidates with its strong basketball fan support (which could conceivably bleed over to football), FedEx corporate ties, a Liberty Bowl tie-in and traditional rivalries with Louisville and Cincinnati.  Instead, the Tigers are almost certainly going to be relegated to non-AQ status for quite awhile.

Call me crazy, but put me in the camp as someone that believes that the Big East will continue to survive as an AQ conference in some shape or form.  Notre Dame certainly wants the league to live (although not enough to actually join the Big East as a football member) and the other AQ conferences aren’t really that hot to either destroy the Big East completely or kick it out of the AQ club.  Continuing to grant a BCS bowl bid to the Big East champ is chump change to the rest of the AQ conferences compared to the political heat that could result from throwing out a league that has any service academies and large flagship universities in the Northeast.  It’s imperative to the Big Ten, SEC and other AQ conferences that the BCS system itself is preserved, which likely means that they need to keep the Big East in the fold.

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

(Image from moviefone)


Offensive Spread and Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay – 9/11/2008

In my opinion, one of the most underrated keys to gambling “effectively” is knowing when to not put money down (you’ve got to know when to fold ’em).  For instance, regular poker players usually feast on amateurs that make the mistake of needing the action and playing too many hands.  Likewise, there are certain times where you’re better off putting all of your savings on “black” at the roulette table than even entertaining the thought of betting on certain football games.  When looking at mgoblog’s account of how the line on the Notre Dame – Michigan game swung 5 points in one direction a week ago and then 9.5 points in the other direction this week, it’s apparent that the Vegas bookies have thrown up their hands with a collective “WTF?!” as to predicting either the Irish or the Wolverines.  I’d advise that those heading to Las Vegas this weekend stay far away from ND/UM considering that I trust the following sources with predictions in life in this order: (1) the Iowa Electronic Markets, (2) Vegas bookies, (3) Warren Buffet, (4) the Farmer’s Almanac, (5) Nostradamus, and (6,602,224,175) Woody Paige.  On to this week’s parlay (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Ohio State Buckeyes (+10.5) over USC TROJANS – The most highly anticipated inter-conference matchup of the season has some of the buzz removed as a result of tOSU’s troubles with tOU last week and the injury to Beanie Wells.  Couple this with the increasing aura around USC its dismantling of Virginia in week one and you now have the national conventional wisdom that the Trojans are going to slap the Buckeyes out of L.A. in the same manner as my Illini back in January.  Given my preternatural disposition to going against such a tidal wave of group think and the fact that Ohio State has a history of looking lackadaisical the week before a big game (i.e. Illinois seems to catch Ohio State off guard on a regular basis partly because they usually play the week before the OSU/Michigan game) but then following it up with a performance up to par with the team’s talent, I believe that this is going to turn into the instant classic that college football fans were banking on during the offseason.  And make no mistake, people, the Buckeyes, even without Wells, still have a loaded team.  At the end of the day, 10.5 points is way too large of a spread for two relatively well-matched teams in what should be an emotional game – take the points here.

(2) Wisconsin Badgers (-1.5) over FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS – tOSU isn’t the only Big Ten school heading to California this weekend.  Quite frankly, I’m shocked that Wisconsin, which has largely adopted the 1990’s Kansas State approach of scheduling entire non-conference slates of women’s prison league teams, is actually playing on the road against any school, much less a ranked non-BCS conference team.  In the same manner as the Ohio State – USC point spread, the spread in this game is partly a function of the lackluster performance by the Badgers last weekend against a clearly inferior opponent.  Still, I believe that Wisky is legit – as much as I correctly loved East Carolina and Central Florida in their respective home stadiums last week, I’m giving the points for the major conference school on the road this week.

(3) ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (-24.5) over Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns – Add non-conference body bag games with spreads of over three touchdowns to the list of contests that I would never actually put money on.  At the same time, judging by the fact that I’m perfect so far in my pro and college picks on games not involving my favorite teams while laying a goose egg on the Bears and Illinois, there’s a reaffirmation of the wise old adage of never betting on a team that you actually care about in real life.  Still, this is an Illini blog with a promise to include the Illini game in the weekly parlay, so I’ll give the points here relying on the assumptions that (a) Juice Williams will avoid telegraphing his passes to defenders in the first quarter, (b) the Ragin’ Cajuns come out with as little in the tank as it did in its 30-point loss to Southern Mississippi two weeks ago, and (c) Illinois couldn’t possibly fail to cover the spread when Frank the Tank is attending this game in person in Champaign.

The NFL parlay picks are coming tomorrow.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-1

Illini Games for the Season: 0-1
Overall Season: 4-2

(Image from New York Times)

Arch Rivalry Rundown and Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay – 9/4/2008

With week one of the college football season in the books, there are a few conference-wide trends: the Big East looks bad, the ACC looks worse, and the jury is still out on how the Big Ten is going to look at the top.  Illinois lost to a simply better Missouri team, which wasn’t a surprise, but at least hung in well enough to justify the Illini staying in the top 25 in both polls, which was personally a pleasant surprise (and in the end, fair considering that Illinois was playing a team over 10 spots ahead of them in the polls going into the game).  The two main concerns coming out of the game for Illinois were the horrendous lack of tackling, which resulted in roughly 8,000 YAC for Mizzou (and Chase Daniel shred the defense overall) and the completely dead running game in the wake of the loss of Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL.  At least the running situation was mitigated by the fact that Juice Williams had a banner day stats-wise and nailed more accurate passes than ever before.  Mizzou practically stacked eight guys in the box the entire game to take away the Illini running “attack”, which allowed Juice to find some mind-boggling wide-open receivers downfield on a number of occasions.  Hopefully, the fact that Juice burned a pretty solid Missouri defense with his arm will make future opponents think twice in terms of stacking the line, which would open back up the Illini running game.  There really isn’t an excuse for the sloppy tackling, though.  The one bright spot on defense was the coverage ability of Vontae Davis – if he continues playing like he did this past week, he’s going to be taken very high in the first round by an NFL team in the near future.

There aren’t any odds available on the Illinois – Eastern Illinois since it involves a Division 1-AA team (I will continue to refuse to use the FBS/FCS monikers), so that game won’t be part of the parlay this week.  However, I’ll throw out a prediction that Illinois will win by at least 24 points.  On to this week’s college football picks from the worst slate of games of the year that features a dangerous number of spreads of 20 points or more (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Miami (+21 1/2) over FLORIDA – When the marquee game of the weekend features a 21 1/2 point spread, that means it’s a pretty bad football Saturday.  (It will all be made up next week, though, with Ohio State – USC.) I know that the Hurricanes were brutal last season, they have a bunch of freshmen playing, and Tim Tebow has a Zen-like hold on Erin Andrews.  However, have the mighty Canes fallen so far that they would be over three touchdown underdogs to the Gators in the revival of a once-heated rivalry?  I think not – I’m taking Miami with the points.

(2) CENTRAL FLORIDA (+14) over South Florida – Staying in the Sunshine State, I’m selling off USF stock after a couple of seasons of outsized returns.  This is one of those games that means a whole lot more to UCF (who believes they were just as worthy of a Big East invitation as USF) and it’s on their home field, so I’m taking the points again.

(3) EAST CAROLINA (+8) over West Virginia – Here’s a true home game for East Carolina against a top ten team one week after upsetting Virginia Tech in Charlotte.  At the same time, one of the few items that I have been consistently correct on through the years is knowing that West Virginia finds a way to stumble every season even though there is always a contingent of pundits that believes the Mountaineers will back into the national championship game since they always have a schedule where they could theoretically run the table on paper.  I’m not calling a straight-up upset here for ECU (and I’m sure WVU is on notice after VT stumbled last weekend), but it looks like I’m taking the points across the board on this week’s parlay.

The NFL parlay picks come tomorrow.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-1

Illini Games for the Season: 0-1
Overall Season: 2-1

(Image from Chicago Tribune)