Playing Their Cards Right: Louisville Invited by the ACC

The ACC washed away any rumors of expanding up to 16 by sending out a single invitation to Louisville this morning while also indicating a sea change in the thought process of the conference’s leadership. For years, the ACC refused to consider schools such as West Virginia on the basis of academics, which meant that Connecticut would have been a virtual lock over the likes of Louisville and Cincinnati to have received an invite from the conference if this situation had occurred even one year ago. However, the brand value of the ACC’s football side has diminished so greatly over the past several years that conference commissioner John Swofford and company took a different tact this time around. Even the chancellor of the University of North Carolina (which is to the ACC what Texas is to the Big 12) admitted flatly that the addition of Louisville was completely about athletics as opposed to academics.

Kudos to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich for getting his school into this position. He has proven himself to be one of the top athletic directors in the country in turning a basketball school that was in Conference USA not too long ago into a comprehensive top-to-bottom sports program that made sure it wouldn’t get left behind in a new football-driven world. Louisville already would have the largest athletic budget in the ACC outside of UNC, which is quite amazing considering that the Big East’s conference distributions are completely paltry compared to what the ACC has been doling out to its members. Out of all of the schools that have moved in conference realignment over the past couple of years, no one has gone out and made their own luck like Tom Jurich and Louisville. This is a big-time athletic department that should have been in an AQ conference long before it was invited to the Big East in 2003 and certainly shouldn’t have been sweating it out in the current round of realignment.

Unfortunately, the ACC’s decision left behind another school that deserves better than a watered-down Big East: UConn. I rarely blame the leadership of schools for failing to get spots in different conferences since so much is out of the control of those individual institutions. However, the ACC invite should have been UConn’s to lose. UConn had the academic profile and better geographic fit for the ACC along with a larger immediate TV market (#30 Hartford vs. #48 Louisville) and entry points to two massive metro areas (New York City and Boston). Yet, UConn somehow got characterized as a weaker football addition and athletic department overall compared to Louisville in the past week despite going to a BCS bowl and winning a national championship in men’s basketball in the same season only two years ago. That’s an accomplishment that not even Texas and Ohio State have been able to achieve. I told several UConn fans late last week that their school was doing an extremely poor job in addressing the negative public perception issues and Louisville had taken ownership of being a “football move” for the ACC (never mind that Louisville is the highest basketball revenue generator in the country and it’s not even close). What really wasn’t that large of an athletic achievement gap between UConn and Louisville became perceived as a massive gulf in the eyes of the media and fans and, faced with the increasing scrutiny of whether the ACC ought to maintain its power conference status in football, this might have been the one time that the university presidents were won over by public sentiment in an expansion decision. This is an instance where the UConn leadership can’t take an “it is what it is” look at what has occurred. My impression is that they believed (as I admittedly did) that the ACC was going to vote in UConn over Louisville and Cincinnati on academics just like it did in all of its other raids of the Big East previously. They didn’t bank on the ACC’s mindset changing, failed to address what the ACC was concerned the most about in the college conference landscape and, as a result, got burned. It’s a shame since Connecticut ought to be in a better home than the new Big East, but they whiffed on their best (and possibly only) opportunity to move on up.

I know a lot of expansionistas out there are just waiting for the next defection from the ACC to cause a chaotic exodus beyond Maryland (with names like Florida State, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State moving around), but I’ll reiterate that I don’t see that happening. Conference realignment isn’t necessarily a zero sum game. The Big Ten will likely be able to gain more value out of Maryland than the ACC lost from that school defecting, just as the Big East is losing more value from Rutgers and Louisville leaving than the Big Ten and ACC will respectively gain from those schools. UNC and UVA, in particular, still see themselves as Southern schools culturally (hence a negative reaction toward the Big Ten at this time) along with top notch academic standards (which means that notwithstanding the ACC’s addition of Louisville, this is a large mark against the SEC), and as long as those two schools are there, the ACC is going to receive favored status from the college sports powers that be and that decreases the likelihood of others (such as Florida State) going anywhere else. As with all things in conference realignment, we always have to say “never say never”, but it will likely take years for UNC and UVA to get to the point where they’d seriously consider leaving the ACC.

In the meantime, get ready for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to continue tomorrow night on ESPN, as Rutgers plays Louisville for the Big East football championship.

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

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Tomorrow Never Knows: The Latest Conference Realignment FAQ

The past week has featured more conference realignment moves and rumors in quite some time.  Seven schools switched conferences last Friday, all of whom are really pawns in the college sports game of double chess.  Stewart Mandel has pointed out that ever since the Big Ten announced that it was going to expand back in 2009, 25% of all FBS schools (31 in all) have changed leagues.  Inspired by the use of a classic presciently-titled Beatles song* (along with an appearance by Mr. Belding from “Saved by the Bell”) in “Mad Men” this past week, let’s look into the future** by answering some questions that I’ve been seeing from a lot of readers lately:

(* The cost for “Mad Men” to use an actual Beatles master recording as opposed to a cover version: $250,000.  It was well worth every penny.)

(** As the friendly posters at TexAgs seem to enjoy reminding me about once a month, I had this doozy of a wrong prediction last year.  I’m certainly not a soothsayer.  However, what I hope that readers will appreciate that I try to dig a little deeper than the surface level view to get them to think about the issues of the day in a different way.)

1. Does the removal of AQ status and resignation/ousting of Big East commissioner John Marinatto mean anything for Boise State and San Diego State? – Not really.  BCS auto-qualifier status in and of itself would have been nice for Boise State and San Diego State, but they were well aware months ago that such designation was on its way out the door.  What’s more critical for those two schools is the amount of the next TV contract for the Big East, which should be substantially more than what they would have received in the Mountain West Conference even in the worst case scenario.  The main issue for Boise State will be whether the WAC will continue to live on as a non-football league for the Broncos to place its basketball and Olympic programs.  As long as there’s some home for Boise State’s non-football sports, they’ll be in the Big East (meaning that San Diego State will be there, too).

2. Does the removal of AQ status and resignation/ousting of Big East commissioner John Marinatto mean that the Big East will split? – No.  If anything, it’s a sign that the conference is going to be sticking together for the foreseeable future.  This was a move that appears to have been driven by the Catholic members of the conference and the football members ended up agreeing.  As I’ve stated in prior posts, the Big East isn’t going to be getting a bonus from a TV network for its football league just because it’s an all-sports league as opposed to a hybrid league.  The value of the Big East football side is what it is regardless of the conference’s structure.  In contrast, it’s really the value of the basketball side of the conference that’s the variable and it’s clear that keeping Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, et. al will garner a better per school package than a split league.  As USA Today reported today in an otherwise somber assessment of the future of the Big East:

The conference could begin television negotiations as early as September. College football officials inside the league and out, and others well versed in TV negotiations all said the league would be best served if it stayed together, even in its unwieldy current configuration.

Even if no one in their right minds would create the Big East as currently constituted from scratch today, the Catholic and football members of the conference are still more valuable together than they are apart.

3.  Is the Big 12 raiding the ACC? – I don’t believe so (and you can refer back to my post from February on some of the reasons that I think still stand today).  Sometimes, I feel like I’m a crotchety guy constantly throwing a wet blanket on rumors that the Big 12 is going after the likes of Florida State and Clemson, but everything that I’ve heard on this topic has either originated from not-quite-reliable locales and rooted in what sound like football fan-focused concerns as opposed to university president-focused.  For instance, I see a lot of comments that a school like Clemson would want to join the Big 12 because of the “football culture” compared to the Tobacco Road dominated ACC, yet that belies the facts that (1) Nebraska and Texas A&M, two of the most football-focused schools in the country, couldn’t run from the Big 12 fast enough and (2) the ACC didn’t exactly decide to add Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College back in the day due to hoops prowess.  That’s what I mean by a “football-fan focused concern”.

Now, TV revenue disparity is certainly a university president-type concern that could make the Big 12 attractive compared to the ACC on paper.  The Big 12 reportedly has a verbal agreement with ESPN to kick up its total annual TV rights revenue to approximately $20 million per year per school.  (That figure would be the combination of ESPN first tier and Fox second tier TV rights but doesn’t include third tier TV rights controlled by individual schools, such as the Texas deal with ESPN’s Longhorn Network.)  However, it’s still unclear what ACC will end up after its renegotiation with ESPN.  There was a SportsBusiness Journal report in February that each ACC school was looking at around $15 million per year, yet that hasn’t been finalized.

Here’s one thing that’s clear to me, though: ESPN has zero incentive to see the ACC get raided.  None.  Nada.  Unlike its contracts with every other power conference, ESPN has complete top-to-bottom control of all ACC TV rights.  This means that ESPN has more of a vested interest in the survival of the ACC specifically over every other conference – it’s the one league that the people in Bristol aren’t sharing with Fox, CBS or the Big Ten Network.  In fact, think of it in these terms:

The ACC is the single largest content provider to all of the ESPN networks, whether college or pro.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The ACC provides more live content to ESPN than the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.  So, do you really think ESPN wants the ACC to lose anyone, much less actually enable another league (the Big 12) to poach Jim Swofford’s gang?  Is ESPN going to want to trade an entire slate of Florida State games that’s guaranteed annually in order to receive only a handful of tier 1 Seminole games that’s variable from year-to-year?  Well, for all of the talk about how sexy of a matchup Florida State vs. Texas would be, check out the number of times that FSU vs. Miami appears on the list of highest rated games in the history of ESPN.  Since many sports fans tend to forget the existence of anything that happened beyond one year ago, they have forgotten how strong the ACC has been as a TV property over the long haul.

No one knows how much ESPN can single-handedly shape conference realignment more than the Big 12.  There’s one reason why Texas and Oklahoma aren’t in the Pac-16 today: the Longhorn Network.  ESPN was willing to pay Texas $15 million per year alone for bottom-of-the-barrel TV rights just so that its limited tier 1 Big 12 package would be kept alive.  So, my educated guess is that ESPN is going to be more than willing to throw at least an extra $30 million per year toward its single largest content provider of the ACC to make it at least revenue neutral on the TV front (where it’s close enough to the value of the Big 12’s TV deal that any difference would be offset by higher travel expenses) or even more to remove any doubt that the ACC is on equal standing with the other power conferences.

As I’ve stated in prior blog posts, I’m not saying this out of any love for the ACC.  Personally, there’s nothing that I’d love more than to witness those douchebags from Duke get relegated to the Southern Conference.  However, I try my best to separate what I want to see happen from what I believe will actually happen.  In this case, I believe that ESPN is going to end up paying the ACC enough to remove TV revenue as a reason for any school to leave that league for the Big 12.

4. Is the Big 12 going to expand with non-ACC schools such as Louisville? – I find this scenario to be much more likely than any type of Big 12 raid on the ACC, but the issue that the options for the Big 12 besides Louisville are limited.  BYU has been brought up on several occasions as a possibility, but the Cougars have such stringent requests regarding its own TV packages that even Texas says, “Damn!  You’re giving us nothing!”  Cincinnati is a geographic bridge between Louisville and West Virginia, yet their fan base size and football stadium situations aren’t making the heads of anyone in the Big 12 turn.  Rutgers and/or UConn are intriguing options for the Big 12 in my personal opinion, but that hasn’t been validated by anyone that’s actually associated with the conference.

Unfortunately for Louisville, they need a twelfth school to join them, as the Big 12 isn’t going to add them alone as number 11, and there isn’t anything close to a consensus on who that twelfth school should be.

5.  How are the non-power conferences going to end up? – The non-power conferences are in a worse position than they were 4 years ago.  While they will have more access to the new college football playoff on paper, they have few (if any) programs that have the resources to legitimately challenge for one of those 4 playoff sports on a consistent basis.  At the same time, those depleted leagues will likely be giving up any access to the other lucrative BCS bowls, which are going to be even more geared toward contractual tie-ins and a free market system of choosing the most popular schools that draw TV ratings and sell tickets.  To the extent that the Big East might get raided again by the Big 12, the Big East can then turn around and poach from the Mountain West and Conference USA even further (so fans from those conferences should not get any joy in any manner from all of the Big East doomsday stories).

If there’s one rule in conference realignment, it’s this: Shit ALWAYS rolls downhill.  When you’re at the bottom of that hill, you’re the WAC.

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

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Ten Feet Off of Beale: Big 12 Expansion Rumors, Memphis to the Big East and B1G Playoff Proposal

As we adjust to a world where Eli Manning has twice as many Super Bowl rings and MVP trophies as his brother Peyton, conference expansion and realignment talk has picked up again along with a major update from the Big Ten on the college football playoff front.  (Note: I love that Peyton Manning is taking a public stance that he supposedly would be open to an incentive-based contract.  You know that his agent is just baiting Daniel Snyder to offer up a $35 million guaranteed signing bonus behind the scenes.  I have a hunch that the NFL’s 2012 season opener is going to be a Manning Bowl between the Giants and Redskins.)  Let’s take a look at these developments in order:

1. Big 12 Expansion Rumors I: The Unrealistic ACC Raid Scenario – The hot rumor going around conference realignment circles right now is that the Big 12 is supposedly targeting Florida State and Clemson from the ACC, with the source being “The Dude” from West Virginia blog Eerinsider*.  Is this really possible?  I guess there’s a smidgen of a chance of this occurring when taking into account the possible TV rights at stake in a new Big 12 deal.  The fact that Clemson has just formed an Athletic Advisory Committee that is going to review a whole range of issues has added some fuel to the fire.  It certainly wouldn’t surprise me at all that the Big 12 has attempted to lure FSU and Clemson over the past few months.

[* If your life depended upon it, which of the following cartoonish caricatures would you trust the most with expansion news?

(a) The Dude
(b) Frank the Tank
(c) The Wolf
(d) Teen Wolf
(e) Craig James

For me, it’s The Wolf all the way.]

However, I’ll repeat what I’ve stated many times before on this blog: the ACC is much much much stronger than football-focused fans give them credit for.  Believe me – it pains me to say that as someone that would love nothing more than to see Duke get sent to the Southern Conference.  The problem with all of the rumors that we’ve seen over the years about the ACC being vulnerable is that they fall into the trap of thinking like a fan or even an athletic director or coach (who might actually care about losing BCS bowls all of the time) instead of a university president (where the ACC slaps the SEC and Big 12 around in terms of academic prestige even worse than how the SEC and Big 12 beat up on the ACC on the football field).  As much as people are obsessed with football TV dollars, the difference between what the ACC receives compared to the average Big Ten or SEC school really isn’t that massive of a gap, especially in relation to the overall institutional revenue that schools like North Carolina, Duke and Virginia bring in.  The ACC schools are firmly in the “haves” category.  If you don’t believe me, take from Oklahoma and Big 12 partisan Barry Tramel from The Oklahoman, who had the following response to a question about the rumor at the 11:00 mark in this online chat:

No. I haven’t heard it. And I’m sure the Big 12 has talked to a lot of people. I’m sure the Big 12 called Clemson and said, “Hey, we’ve got a great idea. How about you, Florida State and” “No thanks.” “But wait,” the Big 12 responded, “you didn’t let us finish. We’re talking about you, and” “Not interested.” The ACC is solid. Academically and financially and athletically. Let me promise you, while fans get all worked about how Orange Bowls in a row the ACC has lost, the presidents do not.

Let’s put it another way: once you get past Texas and Oklahoma, is there any other current Big 12 school that is more valuable than Virginia Tech,Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Maryland, Georgia Tech or N.C. State?  Heck, is there any other non-UT/OU Big 12 school that would be picked by the Big Ten or SEC (who have more poaching power than anyone) over any ACC school besides maybe Wake Forest?  Kansas is probably the only other Big 12 school in that discussion as a marquee basketball program with solid academics, but even the Jayhawks are one-upped in hoops TV value and ivory tower appeal by UNC and those rat bastards at Duke.  The ACC is significantly deeper than the Big 12 when it comes to the academic, name brand and market values of the institutions from top-to-bottom.  Football fans are focused on the lack of BCS bowl wins by the ACC, while university presidents are focused on the great markets and high academic standards of the conference.  It’s the latter group that makes conference realignment decisions.  So, while the ACC continues to receive potshots from the fan-based blog and message board crowd, I’ll bet heavily that they’re coming out of this unscathed on the heels of their newly renegotiated ESPN deal.

2. Big 12 Expansion Rumors II: The More Realistic Louisville/BYU (or TBD) Scenario – I don’t claim Dude-like sources, but for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from two separate places that validate what The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a couple of weeks ago: the Big 12 wants Louisville as school number 11 with BYU as the preferred choice for school number 12.  Louisville is the easy part of the equation – both parties want each other and if the addition of the Cardinals alone wouldn’t result in an odd number of schools, they would have been in the Big 12 a long time ago.  The issue, of course, is that BYU has been far from easy to work with for any conference.  We actually have to twist the mantra here of “Think like a university president and not like fan” and apply the standard of “Think like a church leader and not like a university president” for the purposes of BYU.  From standpoint of the vast majority of universities, it would have made perfect sense for BYU to have joined either the Big 12 or Big East months ago.  However, the decisions at BYU are being ultimately driven by LDS leadership and it appears that they are enamored of their independent ESPN exposure along with the opportunity to build up a greater audience for BYUtv.  Essentially, they’ve caught Notre Dame-itis.

The problem for the Big 12 is that there isn’t any realistic alternative for school number 12 besides BYU (assuming that, like me, you don’t buy the rumor that the Big 12 will raid the ACC).  Floaters about the Big 12 adding other Big East schools, such as Rutgers or Cincinnati, appear to be red herrings and not serious.  (Note that I personally thought that the Big 12 could try a Northeastern expansion with Rutgers and UConn to integrate West Virginia further.  This should be used as a “The More You Know” public service announcement warning of the evils of drinking while blogging.)  So, the Big 12 seems like they would be willing to pull the trigger on adding Louisville at any moment, but the open question is whether that the league would be fine with adding them as #11 without knowing that there’s a satisfactory #12.  That’s where the two people that I’ve talked to diverge: one says yes while the other says no.  My inclination is that the answer is “no”.  The Big Ten was willing to live with 11 schools for almost two decades, but that’s because (1) school #11 was Penn State that was a clear national football power with a huge market (arguably the entire East Coast) and massive fan base and (2) the league legitimately believed that it would add Notre Dame as school #12 in relatively short order.  As a result, the Big Ten was willing to wait for another football power to shake loose from the realignment tree (which ended up being Nebraska) instead of going immediately up to 12.

In contrast, there’s little reason for the Big 12 to go up to 11 without going all the way to 12.  Louisville is a fairly strong revenue generator (especially on the basketball side), but not at a Penn State/Notre Dame-level where it’s enough to justify passing up on conference championship game revenue with a 12th school.  Now, I could see Louisville being added alone as school #11 if the Big 12 gets to a point where it reasonably believes that BYU (or some other school deemed revenue accretive enough) will join as school #12 within a short period of time (no more than one season).  As I noted in my last post, the opening of the negotiations between ABC/ESPN and the Big 12 regarding an extension of their current contract will be a key date.  Once that starts, the chances of the Big 12 expanding in the near-term drop precipitously since the league needs to have (if it knows what it’s doing) a 12-team setup for a conference championship game to offer by that time if that’s truly their end goal.  That means that further Big 12 expansion, if it’s going to occur, will need to happen fairly quickly (e.g. prior to this summer).

3.  Big East Walking in Memphis: More Than a Rumor – In more concrete news, Brett McMurphy of has reported that the Big East is in the late stages of negotiations with Memphis to add the school for the 2013 season, with other reports noting that an announcement will be made tomorrow (Wednesday).  This follows up an initial Kevin McNamara Tweet from last week stating the same.  The irony is that the probable elimination of the concept of automatic-qualifier status from the BCS system was the best thing that could have happened to Memphis even though attaining such AQ status was such an important goal for the school for a long time.  Memphis, on paper, is an excellent fit for the Big East as an institution: large urban school with a good-sized market and a great basketball program.  The problem was that adding Memphis, which has been football-inept for several years now, would have destroyed the Big East’s AQ criteria figures.  Without those figures to worry about anymore, the Big East could add Memphis in good conscience, which it otherwise liked overall.

Now, this brings up the question as to whether the Big East believes that it will have to backfill for a potential departure of Louisville to the Big 12 (as described above), so it moved on Memphis before that occurred.  I’m a little surprised that the Big East hasn’t ended up adding another western football-only school to fill out that far flung division (while keeping the all-sports membership at 16), although that could very well be the next move on the table, especially if there are further defections.  For now, though, it looks like Memphis is finally going to get its long-time wish of a Big East invite.

4.  B1G Playoff Plan – Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune had a story that was extremely significant on the ongoing discussion of changes to the postseason: several Big Ten athletic directors have proactively and openly set forth a plan for a seeded 4-team playoff on campus sites with the higher seeds as hosts.  The national championship game would then be bid out separately to neutral sites, similar to the Super Bowl.  Just as Jim Delany stating that he was open to at least a discussion about a plus-one system last month was a large indicator of a future paradigm shift, the fact that a number of Big Ten ADs are willing to go on-record with supporting a seeded playoff is pretty massive.  Not so long ago (AKA December 2011), a Big Ten AD caught supporting any type of playoff would have been immediately summoned to the Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge and then his lifeless body would be found floating down the Des Plaines River the next day.

To be sure, the caveat to all of this is that, as with conference realignment, any decision regarding the college football postseason will be made by the university presidents as opposed to the commissioners and athletic directors.  However, when the Big Ten as an entity has, for as long as anyone can remember, been so staunchly and uniformly against any hint of a playoff and placed a muzzle on any dissenters, there’s more than just idle chatter here when you see the commissioner and ADs suddenly start openly talk about it.

As Greenstein noted in a discussion on WSCR-AM today, the Big Ten is now effectively saying, “We have now presented a plan for a 4-team playoff.  It’s not our fault if one isn’t passed.”  Thus, it appears that a large impetus for the Big Ten setting forth this proposal is to put some of the onus on the other conferences.  For quite awhile, whether rightly or wrongly, the other conferences could largely deflect criticism over the BCS system onto Jim Delany and the Big Ten (and to a lesser extent, the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl) even if their own university presidents weren’t necessarily on board.  Indeed, the Big 12 and Big East were the ones that ultimately killed a 4-team plus-one proposal from the SEC and ACC in 2008.

One tweak that I’d like to see to this plan (and previously suggested by Andy Staples and Slant commenter Eric, among others) is to have the losers of the semifinal games be placed back into the BCS bowl selection pool.  So, if the Big Ten champ or Pac-12 champ loses in a semifinal game, they would still end up going to the Rose Bowl.  Even though there’s a real concern that the fan base of a semifinal game loser might not be as willing to travel, I don’t see it as being much different than conference championship game losers being selected for top bowls (which happens quite frequently).  Plus, the bowls themselves would still ultimately rather have access to more higher-ranked teams instead of diluting the BCS pool even further.  This seems like a reasonable compromise to preserve the value of the top bowls such as the Rose Bowl while still providing for a seeded 4-team playoff.

To be honest, I never thought that the Big Ten would get behind a seeded plus-one/4-team playoff scenario, much less lead a proposal to do just that.  It’s good to be surprised every once in awhile.

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

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The Big Ten Expansion Index: A Different Shade of Orange

The Big Ten has sent college conferences across America into a tizzy with its announcement that it will examine the possibility of expanding. Of course, the announcement was really a non-announcement – the conference has always looked at expansion issues every few years. However, this feels a little bit different this time around where it feels as if though the conference is finally starting to think about options outside of the Irish-born elephant located in the middle of the conference footprint in South Bend that always seems so stubborn (or what they would call “independent”).

A few years ago, I wrote that if the Big Ten ever wanted to expand with a school other than Notre Dame, then it ought to invite Syracuse for a variety of reasons. A lot of the same analysis still applies today, although I wanted to do a comprehensive review of the various candidates using a 100-point index (as I’ll expand upon in a moment). The conclusion is that the best available Big Ten candidate certainly wears orange, but it’s not who most of the general public is discussing (even though it makes incredible sense considering that a new school has to have a massive impact in order to make it worth it for the conference, which is the nation’s oldest and wealthiest, to split the pot 12 ways instead of 11). We’ll get to that in a bit.


There are two overarching rules to examining potential Big Ten expansion candidates:

RULE #1: Think like a university president and NOT like a sports fan.

RULE #2: 11 + 1 = 13

The first rule is something that over 90% of the pundits (whether it’s in the “traditional” media or on blogs and message boards) violate with impunity on this subject. A massive number of sports fans see Team A vs. Team B as being a good matchup in this particular season and think that the Big Ten ought to expand solely based on that reasoning yet not even bother to address any academic requirements. Others put a high value on strict geography without even thinking about financial matters such as whether a school will add any new TV markets. Contrary to an Internet-fueled urban legend, there isn’t any rule that says that all Big Ten states much touch each other. Even if such rule existed, finding the right school completely trumps any geographic issues for a conference that looks at itself as an exclusive club. I’m going to hammer on this geography issue A LOT because too many sports fans are hung up on this when the university presidents really don’t care about it as much as being aligned with peer institutions for BOTH academics and athletics wherever they might be located.

As for the second rule, that isn’t just fuzzy math for a conference with 11 members that still calls itself the Big Ten. The reason why the Big Ten has stood at 11 members for so long is that Penn State, which has been an unqualified success in bringing an enormous amount of resources to the conference, is now the baseline standard for any type of expansion candidate. That is, a new school must bring financial, academic and fan base value to the conference that is way above and beyond what an average school would bring to the table. The Big Ten DOESN’T need 11 + 1 = 12, where all that does is add another mouth to feed without materially changing the fortunes of the current conference members. At the same time, the Big Ten absolutely positively will not even consider 11 + 1 = 11.5, where the revenue split per school would actually go down by adding a 12th member. Instead, a viable expansion candidate has to show that by becoming the 12th school in the conference that it would be the equivalent of bringing value that is above and beyond simply adding a conference championship game – essentially, the Big Ten needs 1 marquee school that is worth 2 average schools. Hence, the proper math for the Big Ten is 11 + 1 = 13.

(Note that the excellent Big Ten lawyer blog The Rivalry, Esq. borrowed a modified version of the 11 + 1 = 13 concept in its own analysis of Big Ten expansion candidates and gave a shout out my way in the process.)

So, when some columnist, blogger or message board poster starts talking about Big Ten expansion, remember those two overarching rules at a bare minimum when considering whether the writer has a financially and academically astute brain built for running conferences or a sports stereotype “What have you done for me lately?” brain. Only the former type of brain has any type of credibility.


As I alluded to earlier, I’ve built a 100-point Big Ten Expansion Index that evaluates the viability of each particular school’s Big Ten candidacy. There are 6 categories (Academics, TV Brand Value, Football Brand Value, Basketball Brand Value, Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit, and Mutual Interest) that receive different weights depending upon how important they are in the decision-making process. If a school were to receive a perfect score in each category, then it would have 100 points. Here are detailed explanations of the categories and how they are weighted:

Academics (25 points) – This is a zero-sum category: either a school meets the academic requirements and receives the full 25 points or it doesn’t. Casual sports fans tend to ignore this component since they just see conferences for how they perform on the field or hardwood. However, academics are heavily weighted in this analysis because membership in the Big Ten also means membership in the Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC). That’s not a small consideration as the Big Ten universities plus former conference member University of Chicago share research and resources among each other for academic purposes. Therefore, any expansion candidate needs to fit in with academic discussions among U of C and Northwestern faculty just as much as they need to bring prowess to the football field against Ohio State and Michigan. Membership in the American Association of Universities is preferred but not required if a school is in the upper echelon of the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Tier 3 schools, however, are going to be eliminated right off the bat no matter how much they might bring to the athletic side of the equation.

TV Value (25 points) – An expansion candidate needs to either bring new major TV markets to the conference or be such a massive national name that it would overshadow a small market. Outside of the obvious school in South Bend, any school that overlaps a market that the Big Ten already has today without bringing new markets on top of that will receive 0 points – the most important point that people need to understand is that being within the current Big Ten footprint is a massive negative to the conference. Too many sports fans mistakenly think the opposite way, where they think that because School X is in the same state as Ohio State or School Y used to have a long rivalry with fellow in-state school Penn State means that they are good fits for the conference, when in reality those types of schools bring little or no value to the Big Ten because they don’t add any more TV households to the table. I’ll repeat the mantra here: think like a university president instead of a sports fan.

Another important consideration here is that the Big Ten’s future media revenues are going to be heavily dependent on the performance of the Big Ten Network. As with any basic cable channel, whether it’s ESPN or the Food Network, the Big Ten Network’s revenues and profitability are largely based upon getting into as many basic cable households as possible – pure and simple. The TV ratings for a particular school in a market don’t mean as much as whether such school has enough leverage and drawing power in a region or market to get the Big Ten Network onto basic cable there. What this means is that there’s going to be a heavy premium (if not outright requirement) that a new school delivers the largest number of cable TV households possible on top of what the Big Ten has now. On the flip side, if a school doesn’t add any new Big Ten Network subscribers, then that school is a non-starter.

Football Brand Value (30 points) – This is the most heavily weighted category as a reflection of the reality of the college sports landscape. The revenue generated from football is so massive in comparison to the other sports (including basketball) that no expansion is likely to happen in the Big Ten unless the new school is a bona fide gridiron power. It’s why the ACC was willing to water down its basketball conference with football schools like Miami and Virginia Tech a few years ago and the root of the massive unilateral pushback from the major conferences about any type of NCAA Tournament-esque college football playoff proposal – there’s so much money involved with football that there’s no rational economic reason for the BCS conferences to share it.

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.

Basketball Brand Value (10 points) – Personally, there’s nothing that would make me more delirious as a sports fan than Illinois winning the national championship in basketball. However, when it comes to conference expansion discussions, basketball simply won’t be much of a consideration, which is why the Football Brand Value category is weighted three times as much as the Basketball Brand Value category. A common argument that you’ll see on blogs and message boards is that “Team A won’t leave Conference X because Team A is a basketball school and Conference X is so much better in basketball than the Big Ten.” Once again, this is a sports fan view as opposed to a university president view. As I alluded to before, the financial value of football outweighs basketball interests by such a massive margin that every single all-sports athletic director in America will take a bad football program in a top drawing football conference over a championship caliber basketball program in the best basketball conference without hesitation.

That being said, if all things are relatively equal in the other categories, then basketball considerations could be the tipping point. In that event, this index assigns 10 points to a school that would be a legitimate marquee basketball program in the Big Ten, 5 points to a middle-to-upper middle class basketball school that isn’t quite a top program but would at least provide some depth and 0 points to a school that doesn’t bring anything to the basketball side of the equation whatsoever. There might also be a specific case where the conventional financial argument between football and basketball could be turned on its head (which will be addressed in examining how Big Ten Network distribution could work with a certain school located in Upstate New York).

Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit (5) – This is more of a “smell test” category. Does a school have existing or historic rivalries with any Big Ten schools? Is the atmosphere balancing academics and athletics at the expansion target in line with the rest of the conference? When the average sports fan looks at the conference alignment, does it seem to make sense? 5 points are given to a perfect fit across the board, 3 points are given to a good fit in some respects but maybe less so in others, while 0 points are given to anyone that simply would stick out like a complete sore thumb (with much more emphasis on the character of the school as opposed to geography).

Mutual Interest (5) – The basic question is the likelihood of whether an expansion candidate would actually accept an invitation from the Big Ten. This is relevant because Notre Dame publicly declined an official Big Ten invitation in the late-1990s, which was a drawn-out process and left a lot of sour feelings among the conference members. As a result, the conference has no desire to invite anyone unless that school has confirmed with its university president and board of trustees that it will say “Yes” without a public debate or discussion. 5 points are given to a school whose university president will be on the next plane to O’Hare and start popping champagne the moment that the Big Ten extends an offer, 3 points to a school that will give an invitation heavy consideration but could go either way and 1 point to a school that will hear the Big Ten out yet will almost certainly reject any offer.


The candidates are listed in reverse order from least desirable to most desirable. For the purposes of this evaluation, I’m assuming that the only viable expansion candidates are currently independent or members of the Big East and Big 12. For various reasons, the Big East and Big 12 have the most unstable conference situations where a move to an extremely stable Big Ten would be attractive on paper, while there is little reason for any school to leave the SEC, ACC or Pac-10 at this time (meaning suggestions that I’ve seen elsewhere that the Big Ten should add the likes of Maryland, Vanderbilt and/or Kentucky aren’t going to be examined here). I’ve placed the candidates into tiers of Pretenders, Contenders and The Only Real Choices.

A. Pretenders

Academics: 0
TV Value: 0
Football Brand Value: 10
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 0

Mutual Interest: 5
Total: 20
: This is the ultimate example of the short-sighted sports fan “What have you done for me lately?” choice based upon this particular year’s results as opposed to thinking like a university president. Cincinnati is in the third tier of the U.S. News rankings, doesn’t add any new Big Ten Network subscribers since Ohio State already has the city of Cincinnati covered for the conference (and then some) and it would be an urban commuter school in a conference that is largely composed of large flagship universities where nearly all of the students live on campus. For those that think that the Football Brand Value is too low at 10, remember that the criteria is a long history of football success as opposed to recent gains. At the end of the day, Cincinnati couldn’t sellout 40,000 seats until it was in the national championship race (which indicates a high level of bandwagon fandom), its coach couldn’t take the Notre Dame job fast enough despite being the #3 team in the country, and the school doesn’t even have a football practice facility. In contrast, Ohio State has practice facilities that put almost every NFL team to shame. Here’s my personal litmus test for expansion discussions: anyone that mentions Cincinnati as a viable Big Ten candidate loses all credibility whatsoever with me on the issue.

Academics: 0
TV Value: 10
Football Brand Value: 15
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 0
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 40
Overview: Similar to Cincinnati, Louisville is a tier 3 school, which eliminates them off-the-bat. Elite basketball program and excellent fan base overall (even with the football team being in the doldrums lately), yet there rightfully isn’t much buzz about Louisville as a candidate.

Academics: 25
TV Value: 0
Football Brand Value: 10
Basketball Brand Value: 0
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 43
Overview: The only expansion name that gets thrown out by the pundits more idiotically than Cincinnati might very well be Iowa State. I’m not exactly sure why the Big Ten would want to take one of the least valuable schools in the BCS that is located in a small state which is already covered by the conference with a much more popular flagship. If it wasn’t for Iowa State having a halfway-decent engineering school, it would be the worst possible Big Ten expansion candidate out there. Yet, Iowa State’s name gets tossed around merely because it’s within the Big Ten footprint, which I’ve already explained is actually a massive negative mark as it doesn’t open up any new markets. Therefore, I’ll amend my original litmus test for expansion discussions: anyone that mentions Cincinnati or Iowa State as a viable Big Ten candidate loses all credibility whatsoever with me on the issue.

Academics: 0
TV Value: 10
Football Brand Value: 25
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 43
Overview: On the field, West Virginia is a solid school across-the-board: excellent football program with a great traveling fan base, an upper tier basketball program and a dormant rivalry with Penn State. However, the off-the-field considerations will kill any talk about the Mountaineers – it’s a third tier school academically and the school brings very few new TV households.

B. Contenders

Academics: 25
TV Value: 0
Football Brand Value: 20
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 63
Overview: Pitt is mentioned by a lot of pundits as a top candidate for Big Ten expansion or maybe even the very best candidate outside of Notre Dame. Certainly, there is a lot to base this upon: excellent academic research reputation, long history in football, elite basketball program, a great-but-dormant rivalry with Penn State and there’s no doubt that Pitt would accept a Big Ten offer. However, WAY WAY WAY too many people have completely forgotten about the obvious problem with Pitt: just like Iowa State and Cincinnati, Pitt wouldn’t add a single new Big Ten Network subscriber. Penn State already delivers the Pittsburgh market and much more (Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania), so Pitt’s TV value to the Big Ten is zero. It’s unfortunate that Pitt couldn’t trade locations with Rutgers – if that were the case, then Pitt would be an excellent candidate. Alas, the one thing that Pitt can’t change is its location, which means that it won’t ever receive an invite from the Big Ten.

Academics: 25
TV Value: 15
Football Brand Value: 15
Basketball Brand Value: 0
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5

Total: 63
Overview: Another popular name that’s being discussed in the general public and it’s almost solely based on the location of Rutgers in the New York DMA. The problem is that it’s highly debatable as to whether Rutgers has the leverage to get the Big Ten Network onto basic cable in the New York City area overall or even in just New Jersey. In fact, a lot of neutral observers would say that the Big Ten already has the most popular school in that market in the form of Penn State, so adding Rutgers wouldn’t even do much on that front. Therefore, the market of Rutgers is fantastic on paper, but its ability to deliver that market is questionable at best, which results in it only having a TV Value of 15. Without guaranteeing the NYC market, Rutgers isn’t really very attractive.

Academics: 25
TV Value: 15
Football Brand Value: 15
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 3

Total: 66
Overview: As an Illinois fan, it would be fun to see the Braggin’ Rights games for both football and basketball be taken in-house. However, as someone that always wants the best for the Big Ten overall, Mizzou is more of a “meh” move. There’s some decent value on all of the fronts in terms of academics, TV markets (the portion of the St. Louis market that the Illini don’t deliver and Kansas City), football, basketball and cultural fit, so it’s not as if though there’s anything particularly bad about the school. Yet, nothing screams out that adding Mizzou is a spectacular game changing move by the Big Ten, either. As I stated earlier, Penn State is the standard for Big Ten expansion, and on that front, no one can reasonably put Missouri anywhere near that level. If the Big Ten just wants to expand just for the sake of expanding, then Missouri is a decent choice, but I don’t think that’s the Big Ten’s modus operandi. Therefore, I think that the heavy talk about Missouri going to the Big Ten is mostly coming from the Mizzou side as opposed to the Big Ten side. (Please see this interview with the Missouri athletic director, who seemed to be saying, “Please invite us to the Big Ten!” in the most diplomatic way possible.) Plus, as I’ll get to later, it’s possible that all of the Big 12 schools are up for grabs, in which case there truly is a non-Notre Dame game changer available.

Academics: 25
TV Value: 15
Football Brand Value: 30
Basketball Brand Value: 0
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 3

Total: 76
: I’m giving Nebraska the benefit of the doubt on the academics front here – its undergraduate admissions standards are significantly below anyone else in the Big Ten, but it’s an AAU member with solid graduate programs. Still, Nebraska brings maximum points in the most important category of Football Brand Value. Hypothetically, is Average Joe Sports Fan in Anytown, USA going to be that interested in watching Missouri vs. Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State or Rutgers vs. Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State? Probably not. However, Nebraska vs. Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State will get marked on the calendar by ABC for national distribution immediately an draw massive ratings year-in and year-out. Nebraska’s issue, though, is that while its national reputation is great for traditional TV contracts with ABC/ESPN, its tiny home state doesn’t help much with the Big Ten Network since the school probably won’t spur many cable providers outside of its home markets to add the channel. As a pure football move, Nebraska would be a fantastic addition, but I think the TV market issue is significant enough to keep the Cornhuskers from receiving an invite.

Academics: 25
TV Value: 20
Football Brand Value: 20
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 5
Total: 83
: As I noted earlier, Syracuse was my favorite Big Ten expansion candidate outside of Notre Dame for a long time. The analysis from my original post still largely stands. If the goal of the Big Ten is to gain entry into the New York market and effectively dominate the East Coast in the same way that it dominates the Midwest, then I believe Syracuse is a much smarter addition than Rutgers. While Syracuse football probably doesn’t have the leverage to get the Big Ten Network into New York DMA households just as Rutgers, the difference-maker here could be Syracuse basketball. New York is a terrible college football town, but it’s a pretty good college basketball city, and on that front, Syracuse is at or near the top in that market. So, NYC residents may not care to get the Big Ten Network for a handful of Rutgers or Syracuse football games per year, but they may very well have enough interest in 10-15 Syracuse basketball games per year to launch the BTN into basic cable distribution there. In essence, the “football means everything in college sports” mantra could be turned on its head here with respect to New York where basketball is the driving revenue factor. I’m not saying that this logic will hold in practicality, yet at least it seems more likely to me than the thought of either football programs at Rutgers and Syracuse really having an impact for the Big Ten in the NYC market.

C. The Only Real Choices

Academics: 25
TV Value: 25
Football Brand Value: 30
Basketball Brand Value: 5
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 5
Mutual Interest: 1

Total: 91
: It’s pretty simple as of today – if Notre Dame wants to join the Big Ten, then it’s in. The national fan base of its football program is unparalleled and, frankly, it would propel the conference into East Coast markets such as New York better than pretty much any school that’s actually located on the East Coast.

Of course, it’s easy to see what’s in it for the Big Ten. However, the issue has always been about what’s in it for Notre Dame. While I personally believe that Notre Dame will continue with its current stance in favor of independence, the college sports financial landscape has drastically changed since the Fighting Irish rejected a Big Ten invite in the late-1990s. What the average sports fan doesn’t realize is that Notre Dame’s NBC contract, which is what the uninformed pundits point to as the major reason why the Irish wouldn’t join the conference, pales in comparison to what every single Big Ten and SEC school makes from their respective conference TV contracts. Notre Dame reportedly makes around $9 million per year from NBC, which was a level that made it the top TV revenue school back in 1999. In contrast, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported last week that the Big Ten is currently making $242 million per year in TV revenue which is split equally among the 11 schools, meaning that everyone from Michigan to Northwestern is taking in $22 million per year. Think about that for a second: the vaunted Notre Dame was the #1 TV revenue maker in the entire country up until just a few years ago, yet it’s now only #3 in its own home state behind Purdue and Indiana (and less than half as much of each, at that).

How did this happen? It’s the fact that the TV landscape has tipped completely in favor of cable over the past decade. Cable channels have a dual revenue stream, where they make a certain amount of money for each subscriber it has every month plus advertising on top of that. In contrast, over-the-air networks can only rely on advertising. For instance, about $3 of your monthly cable bill goes to ESPN whether or not you watch it. ESPN is in over 100 million households, which means that it’s making $300 million per month and $3.6 billion per year in subscriber fee revenue… and that’s before the network sells a single ad… and that’s not counting its revenue from ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU and ESPN Classic. As a result, ESPN is the single most profitable entity in the entire Disney empire, which is why the network can afford to pay much more for high profile sports events such as Monday Night Football (note that ESPN is paying almost twice as much for MNF as NBC is for a better flex option slate of Sunday Night Football) and the BCS bowls than the traditional TV networks. When Comcast bought NBC Universal last month, the main prize was the stable of profitable cable channels such as CNBC, MSNBC and Bravo. In contrast, NBC itself is bleeding over several hundred million dollars per year in losses and is the main reason why General Electric wanted to sell the entertainment unit in the first place.

While the Big Ten has ensured that its top tier games continue to be shown on ABC for football and CBS for basketball, it has taken advantage of the sports landscape by securing massive cable revenue for its second tier games on ESPN and its own Big Ten Network. The SEC has done the same via its own wide-ranging media rights deal with ESPN. Notre Dame’s issue is that it’s almost impossible for it to take advantage of these financial changes by being outside of a conference unless it moves all or most of its games to cable (i.e. Versus, which is now a sister company to NBC in the new Comcast conglomerate), which defeats the main advantage of having an independent TV contract in the first place (nationwide over-the-air NBC coverage whether you have cable or just rabbit ears). As a result, independence has turned from Notre Dame’s greatest financial asset into possibly its greatest long-term financial liability.

Therefore, the “Notre Dame makes way too much money as an independent with the NBC contract to ever join a conference” argument is simply not true anymore. For the first time in a century, it may very well be in the rational economic interest of Notre Dame to join the Big Ten. The academics and faculty in South Bend already strongly supported a move to the Big Ten in the 1990s because of the CIC research opportunities and now the financial people might be on board. Of course, this type of logic doesn’t necessarily apply to Notre Dame alums (no offense intended for the Irish fan readers of this blog – I sincerely mean it in a positive way that describes the special passion that alums have for the school) – it’s “independence or die” for them. As I’ve thought about this issue more, this longstanding mentality might actually be as much of a roadblock for the Big Ten as it is for Notre Dame. On one side of the ledger, you have school that has spent most of its history protecting itself and profiting from independence. On the other side, you have the nation’s oldest collegiate conference where most of its members have dealt with each other for over 100 years, share everything equally and have a legitimate “all for one and one for all” mentality. Ohio State truly understands that what’s best for the Big Ten overall is best for Ohio State individually. Could Notre Dame ever adopt that type of worldview? It might be impossible, which could lead to a lot of heartburn down the road.

As a result, it would behoove the Big Ten to look toward another powerhouse university where there appears to be much more mutual interest than the pundits are generally acknowledging. This is a school that the Big Ten could add as a 12th member and unequivocally never think about Notre Dame again…

Academics: 25
TV Value: 25
Football Brand Value: 30
Basketball Brand Value: 10
Historic Rivalries/Cultural Fit: 3
Mutual Interest: 3
Total: 96
: You’re not seeing a misprint – the University of Texas-Austin is the single best possible addition for the Big Ten and the Longhorns are a whole lot more open to it than what the public seems to realize. The average sports fan that has been raised to view college conferences in a regional geographic context probably believes the notion of Texas going to the Big Ten is weird, crazy, upsetting and will never happen. However, as I stated under the Notre Dame overview, the college sports landscape has completely changed from a decade ago where national TV contracts and cable channel distribution now rule the day.

Putting aside any geographic concerns for the moment, Texas is a perfect fit in almost every possible way from the Big Ten’s perspective. The academics are top notch where Texas is one of the nation’s top 15 public universities in the latest U.S. News rankings and its graduate programs are right alongside Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin as among the elite for public flagships. The football program in Austin was just ranked as the most valuable in all of college football by Forbes magazine (#2 is… Notre Dame) and, unlike Nebraska, the Texas basketball program is playing at an elite level, as well. As I’m writing this blog post, both the Texas football and basketball teams are ranked #2 in the country. At the non-revenue sport level, Texas would completely put Big Ten baseball back on the map. Finally, the value of the Big Ten’s traditional TV deals and Big Ten Network revenue would skyrocket with the addition of the #5 (Dallas-Fort Worth) and #10 (Houston) TV markets in the nation plus the entire state of Texas (the country’s 2nd most populous after California). While it’s questionable whether Syracuse or Rutgers could really break the Big Ten into the New York area, there’s absolutely no doubt that Texas would deliver the Big Ten Network to every single cable household in the Lone Star State. The market impact is incredible – the Big Ten, which already has the largest population base of any conference, would further increase such base by over 1/3 with Texas to over 90 million people. When you start thinking about Texas as a possible Big Ten candidate, the thought of inviting Missouri, Syracuse or Rutgers feels like a inconsequential move.

It’s clear why the Big Ten would want Texas. So, why on Earth would Texas want to join the Big Ten? Well, the financial implications are massive. As I stated earlier, the Big Ten receives $242 million per year in TV revenue to split evenly among its 11 members, which comes out to $22 million per year for every single school. In contrast, the Big 12 receives $78 million per year in TV revenue that is split unevenly among its 12 members based on national TV appearances. That comes out to $6.5 million per year for the average Big 12 school. Even Texas, which is a beneficiary of the Big 12’s unequal revenue distribution model since it receives a large number of TV appearances, received only about $12 million in TV revenue last season according the interview with Missouri’s AD that I linked to earlier. In other words, every single Big Ten school makes $10 million per year more than Texas does on TV revenue whether such school is on ABC 12 times or the Big Ten Network 12 times. Remember that the $10 million difference is more than what Notre Dame receives from its vaunted NBC contract. If Texas were to simply bring enough to the Big Ten to maintain the status quo of per school revenue, that would be an 83% jump in TV revenue for the Longhorns immediately off the bat. Considering that the addition of Lone Star households to the Big Ten Network’s distribution would yield an even greater increase in revenue, Texas would easily see in excess of a two-fold increase and maybe even close to a three-fold increase in TV revenue whether it wins or loses.

The average sports fan will look at those numbers and retort, “It’s not all about the money. It’s about rivalries and the passion.” That’s a fair enough point. However, consider that Texas has only been in the Big 12 for 15 years, compared to the original Big 8 members like Nebraska and Oklahoma that have been together for nearly a century. Texas cares about playing Oklahoma (which was a non-conference rivalry for decades up until the formation of the Big 12 in 1994) and Texas A&M. After those two schools, the general consensus among Texas fans is that they could care less about Texas Tech, Baylor and virtually everyone from the Big 12 North (who are all old Big 8 members). Similar to how most of the schools in the East (particularly Big East schools) consider Penn State to be a rival yet the Nittany Lions don’t reciprocate that feeling, all of the Southwestern schools think of Texas as their main rival while the Longhorns simply don’t care about them. Also note that outside of the states of Texas and Colorado, the Big 12 is a decidedly Midwestern conference, only those Midwestern states pale in population size compared to the Big Ten’s Midwestern base. What this means is that the Texas ties to the Big 12 are fairly loose and not ironclad at all in terms of history while the geographic factor really isn’t that important considering how many Big 12 schools are in the Midwest. If Texas maintains its rivalries with Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the non-conference schedule, the Longhorns keep their two most important regional rivalries alive while opening themselves up to the entire nation during the conference schedule.

Speaking in terms that the average sports fan in Texas ought to understand, think of the Dallas Cowboys. When the NFL realigned its divisions in the 1990s, it strongly considered moving the Cowboys to the NFC West. It made geographic sense and, at the time, the Cowboys were in the middle of its run of great games against the San Francisco 49ers, so there was some emotional juice that could’ve been taken to a higher level with those teams in the same division. However, Jerry Jones completely insisted that the Cowboys stay in the geographically-challenged NFC East. Why? Because the Cowboys wouldn’t be able to continue being “America’s Team” by playing teams in the South and West Coast. In order to obtain a national fan base, you need to play in the major markets in the East. If Texas were to move to the Big Ten, it would break out from being a school with a strong regional fan base into one that could be the equivalent of the NFL Cowboys with a national fan base by playing in a disproportionate share of the largest markets in the country located East of the Mississippi River.

Academics are also an extremely important selling point for Texas. The issue with the academic standards in the Big 12 is that there are no academic standards in the Big 12. Texas is the highest ranked Big 12 school in the U.S. News rankings tied at #47 (the Big Ten schools ahead or tied are #12 Northwestern, #27 Michigan, #39 Illinois, #39 Wisconsin and #47 Penn State) while every single other school in the Big 12 except for #61 Texas A&M is ranked lower than every other Big Ten school (the lowest ranked are Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa tied at #71). No one else in the Big 12 comes even close to the academic research abilities of Texas. The potential entry of Texas into the Big Ten would include membership in the CIC, which opens up a whole new level of academic research opportunities for the school that simply doesn’t exist in the Big 12. The first general rule that I mentioned about discussing Big Ten expansion was that people need to think like a university president as opposed to a sports fan. If moving to another conference would (1) make more money for the athletic department AND (2) improve the academic standing of the university, you’ve made quite a powerful argument to the Texas university president.

Finally, there’s a CYA aspect to all of this for Texas. Please take a look at this discussion about expansion options on Barking Carnival, which is my favorite Texas blog. I was shocked to find very few “BIG TEN FOOTBALL SUX”-type comments and instead saw a whole lot of consternation about the long-term viability of the Big 12 overall. Here’s something that I didn’t think about before: if Missouri were to hypothetically leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten, then the Big 12 could end up imploding (i.e. Colorado would bolt for the Pac-10) or at least be severely weakened. The reason is the subpar Big 12 TV contract that I mentioned earlier. St. Louis and Kansas City are decent markets and Missouri is a decent state for a conference like the Big Ten, but none of them have much of an impact when the conference already has Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and the entire states of Ohio and Michigan. In contrast, St. Louis and Kansas City are respectively the 4th and 5th largest markets for the Big 12 (and more importantly, respectively the 2nd and 3rd largest markets outside of Texas) and Missouri is by far the largest state in the conference other than Texas. Therefore, the loss of Missouri would cause the currently bad Big 12 TV contract to get even worse since no possible replacement school from, say, the Mountain West (i.e. BYU, Utah, etc.) would come close to replacing those markets and households. In turn, all of the Big 12 schools might be sent scrambling for new homes. While that might be a doomsday scenario, Mizzou leaving for the Big Ten would severely damage the Big 12 at the very least.

So, if all of the Big 12 schools could be theoretically up for grabs, why the heck would the Big Ten go after a minnow (Missouri) when it could get a whale (Texas) instead? Why the heck would the Big Ten take Missouri or even Nebraska and let Texas possibly walk off to the much less financially powerful Pac-10? Why the heck would Texas just let a middle tier school like Missouri leaving for another conference put its future in limbo? Simply put, if a decent-but-not-great school like Missouri leaving could have that much of a potential impact on the Big 12, then that’s clearly evidence that the conference is unstable and maybe a powerhouse school like Texas will understand that it needs to start evaluating more stable options (if it hasn’t already). This presents a monster opportunity for the Big Ten to swoop in and solidify its place as the nation’s most powerful sports conference.

Sports-wise, the Big Ten has a reputation of being staid and conservative. In terms of overall conference management, however, the Big Ten is quite forward looking and thinks outside of the box. It’s easy to say that the Big Ten Network is an obvious cash cow for the conference as of today, but at the time of its formation, it was a massive risk considering that it could’ve easily taken a massive traditional rights deal from ESPN in the same manner as the SEC without the pain of a year of fighting for basic cable distribution in the Midwest and Pennsylvania. It now looks like the Big Ten is going to benefit from that risk. Similarly, I’m convinced that the Big Ten isn’t going to make a “meh” move simply to get to the 12 teams needed to stage a football conference championship game. The new school has to be strong enough where if Notre Dame all of the sudden decides that it wants to join a conference in 10 or 20 years, the Big Ten can comfortably say “No” and not have buyer’s remorse about the 12th member that it added. I don’t think that Missouri, Syracuse or Rutgers would come close to meeting that standard, but Texas hits the mark and even more. Therefore, there’s one task for the Big Ten over the next year or so:

Hook ’em.

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

UPDATE #1 (1/4/2010) – Tons of great feedback on this post, so I’ve addressed some additional issues in Big Ten Expansion Index Follow-Up #1: Superconferences, Conference TV Revenue and More Reasons Why Texas to the Big Ten Makes Sense.

UPDATE #2 (1/8/2010) – Confirmation that the Big Ten “contiguous state” rule is a myth, responses to blogs and message boards from across the country and, most importantly, the views of Texas fans in Big Ten Expansion Follow-Up #2: Nationwide and Longhorns Fan Responses on Texas to the Big Ten.

UPDATE #3 (1/20/2010) – More on the financial gap between the Big Ten and Big 12, how Notre Dame almost joined the Big Ten and thoughts on the East Coast schools and fallout in other conferences in Big Ten Expansion Follow-Up #3.

UPDATE #4 (2/1/2010) – Why the “Pitt Joining the Big Ten” Rumors are False.

UPDATE #5 (2/11/2010) – Newspaper reporting that the Big Ten has entered into preliminary discussions with the University of Texas.

UPDATE #6 (2/17/2010) – Template for Shooting Down Every Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten

UPDATE #7 (2/21/2010) – Explaining why the “initial list” of 15 Big Ten candidates is an examination of who would join WITH Texas and/or Notre Dame (NOT instead of them).

UPDATE #8 (3/2/2010) – What’s the purpose of the Big Ten leaking a study of Notre Dame, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt?

UPDATE #9 (3/6/2010) – How Rutgers could work in the Big Ten (as long as another national marquee name also comes along)

UPDATE #10 (3/9/2010) – Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick leaves an opening for the Irish to join a conference.

UPDATE #11 (3/19/2010) – Rumors that the Big Ten is looking to add Boston College, Notre Dame and Rutgers.

UPDATE #12 (3/24/2010) – How the Pac-10 could affect Big Ten expansion.

UPDATE #13 (3/29/2010) – Notre Dame’s AD runs his trap again.

UPDATE #14 (4/6/2010) – Big Ten considering a 16-school conference.

UPDATE #15 (4/12/2010) – How a multi-phase expansion could be a good idea for the Big Ten.

UPDATE #16 (4/19/2010) – The value of expansion candidates to the Big Ten Network.

UPDATE #17 (4/25/2010) – Getting krunk on expansion news (or lack thereof).

UPDATE #18 (5/2/2010) – Rumors about a 5-team expansion with Nebraska, Missouri, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse.

A Defense of Big Ten Football


When I wrote this post on the “Conference Pride Paradox” a little over two years ago, Big Ten football was at its zenith with 2 BCS bowl victories during the prior season and its premier rivalry (which, in my opinion, is also the best rivalry in all of sports) of Ohio State vs. Michigan was being hyped for weeks as the Game of the Millennium with a #1 vs. #2 matchup for the first time.  After the Ohio State won that classic game, the national debate was centered around how Michigan deserved another shot at the Buckeyes in the National Championship Game.  Thinking back about those days that really weren’t very long ago at all, it’s amazing how far the national reputation of Big Ten football has fallen.  With Ohio State’s loss last night to Texas (albeit one that could have been prevented had the Buckeyes just kept a safety or two back in the secondary to make a tackle), the Big Ten has now lost 6 straight BCS bowl games (2 in each of the last 3 seasons).

There’s no doubt that the nation has a right to be skeptical about the prospects of the next Big Ten invitee to a National Championship Game (and frankly, no one should be surprised if Ohio State is right back in that mix next year with the players that they have coming back).  However, with Big Ten bashing becoming so fashionable among college football fans, I believe that the performances of the conference over the past 3 seasons need to be into context.  Please note that the following comments aren’t excuses – if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best at anytime anywhere, and the Big Ten teams that have gone to BCS bowls have failed miserably on that front.  It’s just that when one looks at who and where the Big Ten has played in its recent BCS matchups, it becomes apparent that the only ones that have the right to say anything are USC and the top tier of the SEC (as much as I loathe them).  Everyone else that is piling on the Big Ten (i.e. Big East, ACC, and Big 12 fans, Pac-10 schools that aren’t USC, Mountain West Conference bandwagoners riding a hot Utah team, etc.), though, need to STFU since they all likely would be in the exact same position of the power Midwestern conference if they had to play the same games.

Here are the Big Ten’s BCS opponents over the past 3 seasons:

  • USC in the last 3 Rose Bowls in Pasadena
  • Florida in the 2006 National Championship Game in Arizona
  • LSU in the 2007 National Championship Game in New Orleans
  • Texas in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona

Look at that list of teams – it’s complete murder’s row of marquee national programs without a single breather.  The Big Ten didn’t get to play the likes of Wake Forest, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Hawaii, who were BCS participants in other bowls during this period.  Unlike the conferences that are participating in Thursday night’s National Championship Game, the Big Ten didn’t lose to non-BCS conference teams in the manner of the Big 12 (the Boise State-Oklahoma gem in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl) or the SEC (last week’s stunning Utah beat-down of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – there was nothing fluky about the Utes in that game).  Yet, those conferences haven’t been indicted in their entirety even though their marquee teams failed to beat smaller schools whose stadiums have fewer amenities than the average SEC weight room.

The one true horrible loss for the Big Ten was Florida’s thrashing of Ohio State in the 2006 National Championship Game, where the Buckeyes had been ranked #1 nearly the entire season and were strongly favored to win the game.  After that, though, note that two 2nd place Big Ten teams (Michigan in 2006 and my alma mater Illinois in 2007) along with this year’s Penn State team got to play USC in de facto Trojan home games right outside of Los Angeles.  How many champions from any conference, much less 2nd place teams like the Big Ten has sent, are going to beat USC head-to-head in Los Angeles?  Anyone that has even a smidgen of knowledge about college football knows that this is a monster task in a sport where home field advantage is a huge deal and nowhere near the same as playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl or Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.  The Big Ten doesn’t have a Rose Bowl problem or a Pac-10 problem – it has a USC problem.  Of course, every other conference would also be “exposed” as having a USC problem if its champion or 2nd place team had to play the Trojans in LA every year.  (Please note that I wouldn’t trade the Big Ten’s relationship with the Rose Bowl for anything in world since it’s the one BCS bowl outside of the National Championship Game that people actually care about.  My trip to Pasadena following the Illini last year was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life, with the exception of that game thingy.)  If USC didn’t crush its Pac-10 competition every season (outside of the annual obligatory game where they don’t show up against a ridiculously inferior team, which ruins their national championship chances) where some other team from that conference would get to the Rose Bowl, then there likely wouldn’t be a Big Ten drought in that game.

Similar to the USC situation, LSU arguably received an even greater home field advantage with last year’s National Championship Game being played in New Orleans.  Once again, would any team from any other conference have won essentially a road game at LSU in that situation?  SEC fans have earned the right to crow here, but any other conference that throws stones at the Big Ten has to realize that if they had sent a representative to that game, they also would have been crushed.  West Virginia would have received the honors to get thrashed if they had taken care of business against a pathetic Dave Wannstedt-led Pitt team while Missouri would have been the victims if they had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on the last weekend of the regular season.  None of that happened, so Ohio State, whose resume by the end of that weekend consisted of doing to the least wrong of any of the BCS conference champions that season, backed that ass up into the right to play in the title game on the road where they were guaranteed to be huge underdogs.

Finally, Texas was heavily favored to crush Ohio State in last night’s Fiesta Bowl but the Longhorns only salvaged a win because of a Buckeye defensive meltdown in the last 2 minutes of the game.  (By the way, it was fascinating to witness Jim Tressel use the reverse-Tebow technique of using Todd Boeckman to spot Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, where the intent was actually to bring in a traditional pocket passer for one or two plays at a time in order to change the pace from having a running quarterback.  The increasing reliance on spread or spread-esque offenses isn’t necessarily the greatest trend for college football overall, particularly for young QBs that want to reach the NFL, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Once again, I’m not saying that the Big Ten’s performances in BCS bowls have been anywhere near satisfactory.  The Big Ten receives a ton of perks for having teams that draw huge television ratings (the only BCS bowls that have had over a 10.0 rating outside of the National Championship Games since the ACC-spurned conference realignment in 2003 are all of the games that have featured a Big Ten team) and the most national and wealthiest fan base of the BCS, which includes placement in the Rose Bowl (the highest profile bowl) and the other BCS bowls salivating over taking one of the conference’s other teams for an at-large bid.  With that elevated position, the Big Ten is justifiably going to receive more scrutiny when compared to USC or teams from the SEC and the conference’s teams will need to start performing.  I have faith that the Big Ten will bounce back soon enough since conference performance is cyclical, which is often hard to remember in a “What have you done for me lately?” world.  Earlier this decade, the SEC and Big 12 were the conferences being criticized as being weak and without depth.  The Big East was hailed as being back as a power conference two years ago but now is facing calls of not deserving an automatic BCS bid.  The old cliche of “what goes around comes around” is very true in college sports, so the haters out there won’t have the Big Ten to kick around much longer.

(Image from Arizona Republic)

Frank the Tank’s Football Parlay – 10/24/2008

Quick picks on a Bears bye week with the Illini visiting Madison (home teams in CAPS):


(1) LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (+4.5) over South Florida Bulls
(2) MIAMI HURRICANES (-3) over Wake Forest Demon Deacons
(3) Illinois Fighting Illini (-2.5) over WISCONSIN BADGERS

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

Illini Games for the Season: 3-3
Overall Season: 13-10-1


(1) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (+3) over San Diego Chargers
(2) PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-3) over New York Giants
(3) TENNESSEE TITANS (-4) over Indianapolis Colts

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 3-0

Bears Games for the Season: 2-41
Overall Season: 9-9-3