Chip Brown from Orangebloods.com has some new nuggets indicating that the Big 12 athletic directors want to talk about expansion (with Texas seemingly being reluctant) and that Florida State could be a target. There’s really not too much new other than there will be an actual forum for Big 12 officials to discuss conference realignment issues next week (so we may get some concrete news at that point) and that the conference has moved on from its infatuation with Notre Dame. It seems obvious that the Big 12 would want Florida State. That’s in the “No s**t, Sherlock” category of revelations to me. What’s still unclear is whether Florida State wants anything to do with the Big 12. One of Brown’s Big 12 sources said himself, “If it doesn’t make sense to Florida State, then this is all a moot point.” As I said in my last post, ACC schools like their conference as a whole in terms of geography, academics, institutional fit and demographics, but don’t really like their TV contract. The Big 12 is the flip side, where those schools (other than Texas) don’t really like their conference (as evidenced by the fact that every school other than Texas that had the ability to leave for another conference on its own chose to do so), yet are happy with their new TV contract. Maryland had a tough time leaving the ACC for the Big Ten even though it was an exponentially easier decision in terms of financial gain, geography, academics and institutional fit than any potential ACC-to-Big 12 move.
That being said, I’ve learned well enough to never say never in conference realignment. Florida State might indeed be looking around and that more than qualifies as a potential major movement. What I’d like to see, though, is for the reporters covering conference realignment that are going to follow up on this Chip Brown story to ask their sources from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and/or Big 12 some questions that seemed to get glossed over as a result of preexisting assumptions that may or may not be true:
(1) Are the reported rules that new Big Ten schools must be AAU members and new SEC schools must be in a state outside of the current conference footprint truly hard-and-fast rules? – We often hear that the Big Ten wants to only consider expansion candidates that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which is a group of top level research institutions. However, we know that the Big Ten is clearly willing to make an exception for non-AAU member Notre Dame. We also know that while Nebraska was an AAU member when it was added by the Big Ten in 2010, that school was removed from that organization less than a year later. The Big Ten members knew full well at the time of conference expansion in 2010 that Nebraska was at risk of losing its AAU status and, in fact, Michigan and Wisconsin ended up voting to remove NU from the AAU (and those 2 votes swinging the other way would have kept them in the group).
While I believe that the Big Ten would want an AAU member in 99% of the circumstances, Notre Dame is in that 1% (and Nebraska was added with the knowledge of a strong possibility of them ending up in that tiny minority, too). As a result, the question needs to be asked as to whether a school such as Florida State would be in that 1%, as well. There is one word that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said more than any other during the past 3 years of conference realignment discussions: demographics. Well, there are demographics for normal expansion candidates, and then there are DEMOGRAPHICS… and a school that can deliver the entire state of Florida provides the latter. The Big Ten may very well not want anything to do with Florida State (which would be a grave mistake, in my humble opinion), but I hope that reporters on the ground don’t just assume that the lack of AAU status for that school automatically nixes their candidacy.
Likewise, a number of people have advanced the argument that the SEC has a “gentleman’s agreement” among its members that it will not add a school in the same state as a current SEC member without such affected member’s approval. That is, the SEC won’t add Florida State unless Florida consents to it. However, that’s much easier to say in a vacuum when there’s nationwide conference stability. It’s a bit different if a conference that has the flagship school of Texas wants to combine it with a marquee school directly in your top football recruiting territory (right after you’ve established your own conference as the elite football league with beachheads in both Florida and Texas) or, even worse, a league with the financial, television and academic power of the Big Ten decides that it has a desire to follow its Midwestern snowbird alums into Florida. The SEC has been willing to coexist with the ACC in the state of Florida and several other Southern areas for many years, but I’m not sure if they’d be that willing to let the Big Ten or the University of Texas combine their respective powers with Florida State.
Big Ten people such as Barry Alvarez have gone on the record that the conference adding Maryland and Rutgers was more of a defensive move than a proactive one. They saw that the ACC was moving to lock up the entire Eastern seaboard and could possibly position itself to be attractive to Penn State in the near future, so Jim Delany went and split the heart of the ACC up by convincing Maryland to jump (with Rutgers willing to do anything to get off of the Big East dumpster fire) before the ACC regained its strength in the conference pecking order. (I’ve long said that if all of the conferences could negotiate their TV deals at the same time today, the ACC would be #3 behind the SEC and Big Ten. The ACC is behind the Pac-12 and Big 12 in terms of TV money solely because of timing, where the ACC signed its deal before the current sports TV rights boom while the Pac-12 and Big 12 simply lucked into getting to go to the open market at a later date.) Similarly, the SEC wouldn’t be keen on a Big Ten footprint that stretches from the New York City area down to Florida (if the Big Ten were to add schools in between like UVA, UNC and Georgia Tech) or a Big 12 that neutralizes the Texas/Florida combo advantage that the SEC gained when it added Texas A&M. The SEC might need to play defense just like the Big Ten did and bring in Florida State (which isn’t exactly being forced to take in a football leper) to keep stronger invaders out.
Bottom line for conference realignment reporters out there reading: don’t assume that the Big Ten and SEC are just going to sit on the sidelines regarding Florida State and let the Big 12 walk off with them.
(2) If numerous ACC schools want to leave and are awaiting the outcome of the conference’s lawsuit against Maryland, why did they join in that lawsuit in the first place? – Another common argument that we are seeing is that ACC schools are waiting to see whether the conference’s $50 million exit fee imposed against Maryland will be upheld in court. If that exit fee gets struck down or reduced significantly, then it would supposedly be open season by the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 in terms of raiding the ACC. This begs a simple question: if so many ACC schools truly want to get out yet are concerned about the exit fee, why are they spending craploads in legal expenses defending that exit fee?
It’s one thing if the projected conference realignment scenario resulted in a single school joining a lawsuit and then bolting shortly thereafter. That’s what Virginia Tech did in joining the Big East’s original lawsuit against the ACC in 2003 and then fleeing to the ACC itself when the Virginia legislature forced UVA to give the Hokies a lifeline. However, the line of thinking regarding the ACC seems to be more of an “opening of the floodgates” variety where multiple schools would start bailing. Having several schools going through the motions advancing a lawsuit that they privately want to fail isn’t exactly the best use of limited time, resources and money on their part.
(3) If UVA, UNC and Georgia Tech spurned overtures from the Big Ten (as Chip Brown reported), why would at least one of them (Georgia Tech) supposedly be interested in the Big 12? – According to the Chip Brown story, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech all did not have interest in the Big Ten “for now”. However, in Brown’s words, for the Big 12 to have a realistic chance with Florida State, the conference would need to add “as many regional partners as possible”. At the very least, it would seem that Georgia Tech would have to be one of those regional partners. So, are we to believe that Georgia Tech would actually prefer not joining UVA and UNC in the Big Ten and move over to the Big 12 instead with, say, Florida State, Clemson and 1 or more other random ACC schools? I guess stranger things have happened, but that doesn’t pass the smell test with me.
(4) If the Big 12 can’t add any ACC schools, who else would they be willing to add (if anyone at all)? – Going back to my comment in the opening paragraph to this post, it’s pointless to ask a Big 12 source about whether his/her conference would be interested in adding Florida State. Of course they would! What’s more instructive is what the Big 12 willing to do in the event (and I would characterize it as the likely event) that Florida State and other ACC schools don’t want to join. Is some combination of Cincinnati, UConn and/or BYU worth it for the Big 12 to expand for? Are there less obvious options (e.g. Boise State, UNLV, San Diego State) that could be on the table? Alternatively, would the Big 12 simply shut down all expansion talk completely if it can’t poach from the ACC? It’s an easy question to ask whether a conference is willing to expand for a sexy name – that’s not news. What’s tougher to gauge is what the expansion plans would be (if any) when those sexy names aren’t coming.
What I hope is that the conversation is less about what the Big 12 wants (which we know) and more about why the Big 12 should be able to get what it wants beyond simply offering a larger amount of TV money (even when simply offering a larger amount of TV money hasn’t worked with the Big Ten and SEC in luring ACC targets). Maybe the Big 12 can pull off a stunner and pick off a prize like Florida State, but believe it or not, conference realignment at the power conference level is more complex than saying that everyone is trying to get into Conference A just because it’s making more money than Conference B.
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(Image from New York Times)