According to Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports (and now corroborated by numerous other reports), TCU has been invited to the Big 12. There’s also speculation that there will be another announcement from the Big 12 today. My guess is that it would have to do with also adding BYU or maybe DeLoss Dodds has hoodwinked Missouri into staying. I’ll have more thoughts later, but you can use this post as a new open thread to discuss the latest news.
Posts Tagged ‘TCU Horned Frogs’
Tags: Big 12, Big 12 Expansion, TCU Horned Frogs
Tags: ACC, Big 12, Big East Expansion, Pac-12, SEC, TCU Horned Frogs, Villanova Wildcats
As America is engrossed with the start of the NCAA Tournament and determining which former Illini coach that this year’s Illinois team will lose to this weekend, let’s turn our attention to the business of college basketball for a few moments. I’m actually a hoops guy at heart, but as this blog delved into college conference realignment, the focus here turned to football because of that’s really the driving force between the major moves.
Kristi Dosh and Patrick Rishe have been writing a number of posts at the Forbes SportsMoney blog about athletic department and basketball revenue and profits among the major conferences. (h/t to Slant reader Brian.) What’s interesting to note is that the largest revenue basketball conference on a per school basis isn’t the 11-bid Big East or Dook-UNC-led ACC, but none other than the Big Ten, which an unbiased ESPN SportsCenter anchor lovingly noted this past week was like “watching fat people have sex“. (The Big East has a larger total basketball revenue number, although that’s skewed because it has 16 members.) Concrete factors for this are that for all of the bashing of Big Ten basketball and the reputation that it’s made up of football schools, the conference has a rabid hoops fan base where it has led the nation in attendance for the past 34 consecutive years along with revenue from the Big Ten Network. My personal observation is that most Big Ten football fans follow their basketball teams at a consistently high level, whereas SEC football fans (outside of Kentucky and maybe Arkansas) basically need a Final Four contender to pay attention.
That difference in basketball revenue between the Big Ten and SEC appears to be a major reason why the Big Ten has more profitable athletic departments overall even though SEC profit in the top revenue sport of football is greater. (More detailed charts with estimated allocations taking into account the Big Ten Network are here on Dolich’s website.) Regardless, college conference revenue has essentially created a tier for the Big Ten and SEC with everyone else way behind. As for the importance of football relative to basketball, the Big Ten (22.2%), SEC (16.3%), Pac-10 (22.9%) and Big 12 (19.1%) are actually all fairly close to each other in terms of basketball revenue as a percentage of total athletic department revenue. Not surprisingly, the Big East (36.7%) and ACC (31.8%) are the outliers where those conferences receive a lot higher proportion of their revenue from basketball (and therefore seem to emphasize basketball more than football compared to the other BCS leagues).
That high basketball percentage for the Big East has some implications for conference realignment/expansion insofar that the “this is all about football” mantra that applied to the Big Ten and Pac-12 expansions as well the Big 12 situation (where one of the top marquee basketball brands in the nation, Kansas, was almost left for dead) may not completely apply to the Big East. To be sure, the Big East would love nothing more than to become a football power along the lines of the SEC, but the types of schools that would catapult the Eastern-based league to that status (i.e. Notre Dame and Penn State) aren’t reasonably attainable and no one is going to find them in C-USA. At the same time, the Big East basketball TV deal (average of $2 million per school per year) is worth more than its football contract (average of $1.67 million per school per year), which means that basketball has to be taken in account. (Recall my Big East Expansion FAQ back in November.) With the New York Daily News reporting that a Big East TV network is unlikely (largely because getting basic carriage in the New York City market that’s already overloaded with expensive regional sports networks will be impossible), the “expanding for new markets” argument isn’t very compelling.
That’s why the Big East seems more interested in having Villanova move up to Division I-A than adding any expansion candidates from C-USA. (Please add re-naming the first round of the NCAA Tournament to now be the “second round” after the First Four to the long list of perplexing, nonsensical, confusing and annoying NCAA changes to names that were easily understood by the average bear before.) The argument is that none of those schools would add much to the national TV contracts on the football side, so it’s more important to avoid diluting the already more lucrative basketball side. I wasn’t a big fan of the Big East having Villanova move up when it looked like it was a possibility that the Wildcats would be the only football addition without TCU included. However, what I now understand is that for the Big East football schools to get the Big East Catholic members to vote for any further all-sports expansion in the first place was predicated on Villanova moving up, so the addition of the Philly-area school has to be looked at in the scheme of the entire Big East expansion in conjunction with TCU as opposed to on its own. At the same time, much to the chagrin of the various schools that are looking for a Big East invite (i.e. UCF, Houston, East Carolina, Memphis, etc.), the most important fact is that Villanova is already a full member of the Big East. This isn’t an expansion for the conference – it’s a current member moving up for a sport, which is an incredibly important distinction.
Villanova insiders indicate that it’s increasingly likely that the school’s Board of Trustees will approve the football upgrade. Frankly, the school has to make the move. This isn’t a matter of moving up for football to join a non-AQ conference – if the program is guaranteed AQ status, then this shouldn’t be a difficult decision. The Big East is what it is – an extremely strong basketball conference with revenue in line with that status. Football may drive the bus in college sports overall, but if a conference is unable to add a major power program (the “kings” and “barons” that Stewart Mandel once wrote about), then it makes no sense to weaken or dilute the nation’s best basketball league for little or no revenue upside for the football league. Football in and of itself doesn’t make money for conferences; it’s having marquee football programs that matters. To the extent Villanova provides an extra conference football game on the schedule without having to split the basketball TV contract into an 18th slice, it may very well be most lucrative (or at least revenue neutral) football addition that the Big East can realistically have for now.
(Image from CBS Chicago)
Tags: Big 12, Big East Expansion, Big Ten Expansion, Nebraska Cornhusers, Nebraska to the Big Ten, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Longhorns
There was quite a bit of conference realignment news over the last couple of weeks, so let’s assess the current landscape:
1. Big Ten Making Out Like a Fox – To the surprise of no one except a handful that believes the Big Ten really wants a superconference, the conference announced that expansion has reached its “natural conclusion”. Despite my many writings on the Big Ten expansion topic (and the reason why most of you found this blog), I’m very happy about this personally. Call me old-fashioned, but I actually like it when schools in a conference, you know, actually get to play each other regularly instead of being in some type of massive 16/18/20-team scheduling arrangement. One of the comments from regular Slant reader allthatyoucantleavebehind from several months ago always stuck with me: It’s a whole lot of fun to talk about superconferences and expanding to different markets, but will you actually have fun watching your team play all of these schools? Well, Nebraska is one of those schools that everyone has fun playing with a tradition-rich football program and arguably the best fan base in college sports. Plus, if Bo Pelini thought he hated Big 12 officials, we’re going to witness him murder a Big Ten ref in cold blood in Ann Arbor next season. The Big Ten is making the right move for its alums and fans by stopping at 12.
Financially, it’s the right move, too. Fox outbid ABC/ESPN for the rights to the Big Ten Championship Game and the rights fees apparently are astronomical: $140 million for 6 years, which is an average of around $23 million per year. For comparison’s sake, the SEC title game brings in approximately $14 million per year and the Big East football TV contract with ESPN is worth about $13 million per year for all of that conference’s games. This single game haul for the Big Ten has paid for the addition of Nebraska by itself and we haven’t even gotten to the additional Big Ten Network rights fees and forthcoming increases in the national TV contracts.
The fact that Fox won the Big Ten title game contract is interesting. While Fox is the conference’s partner for the Big Ten Network, I personally had a hard time believing that the ESPN juggernaut would let this game get away. As I’ve pointed out before, as much as we talk about how the Big Ten Network has really changed the TV revenue dynamic in college sports, the Big Ten still gets paid about twice as much more from ABC/ESPN than the BTN. When the Big Ten’s national TV contract comes up for bidding for the 2016 season, expect the conference to really push for a bifurcated rights deal similar to the SEC: coast-to-coast clearance on a national over-the-air network for the top game of the week and 3 or so games on the next tier on the ESPN networks (with probably a guaranteed weekly prime time game). The balance of the games would then be on BTN. If Fox drops or cuts back on Major League Baseball coverage (and as much as I love baseball, any reasonable TV industry observer would recommend that Fox does just that because it’s receiving a horrible ROI for the amount that the network is paying for these regular season ratings), there’s a strong possibility that the network will take over the top Big Ten Game of the Week from ABC. However, I highly doubt that the Big Ten would let the games that are currently on the ESPN networks move to the patchwork quilt of Fox Sports Net stations. Much like the NFL, the Big Ten is going to balance providing a critical mass of games to its own network and maximizing revenue with being extremely exposure conscious with its top matchups. Note that the NFL’s top game of the week package (Sunday Night Football on NBC that has a flex scheduling option to ensure higher-rated matchups later in the season) is actually the league’s least expensive TV contract. The Big Ten could very well end up with a similar setup starting in 2016.
With the new Fox money and anticipated rights fee increases, if the Big Ten were to expand further at this point, each additional school would essentially have to add $30 million to the conference make it into a compelling case for the university presidents – and that’s without the benefit of a bump of a new conference championship game. There’s basically two schools that could even come close to bringing that much: Texas and Notre Dame. For various reasons, the chances of either ever joining the Big Ten in the near future is effectively zero (and we’ll explore them more in-depth later on). Without either of those two schools involved, there’s no way that the Big Ten can add any other schools without the current members taking a pay cut from the new 12-team setup (and I can guarantee you that no one is voting to ever take a pay cut).
2. Big East Football Member Number 9… Number 9… Number 9… Number 9 – The expansion action has shifted to the Big East, which smartly added Rose Bowl-bound TCU for all of the right reasons. At least I got one prediction of a Texas-based school heading to a conference to the east correct. With the Big East having previously stated that its members had approved expansion up to 10 football members, the outstanding issues are (1) whether Villanova takes up the Big East’s offer to move up from Division I-AA (for the love of all things that are good in this world, such as the removal of Brett Favre from the national consciousness, please go back to logical division names, NCAA) and (2) if Villanova refuses, is it really worth for the Big East to go up to 10 with the realistic expansion candidates.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto has indicated that the conference was “not going to wait for Villanova”. However, I believe that his quote (which has gotten a lot of Big East blogs and message board over-excited) was under the guise that if a school such as Notre Dame called up and wanted to join the league for football, then of course there would be an immediate expansion. In practicality with the realistic expansion candidates, the Big East isn’t going to do anything else until it knows for sure about Villanova’s final stance. I’ve generally heard two extremes regarding Villanova with very little in between. There’s a segment of the Big East that completely believes that they’re moving up and the main item to accomplish is finalizing a deal to play at PPL Park in Chester (an 18,500-seat Major League Soccer stadium). The other segment of the Big East absolutely believes that there’s no chance that Villanova will move up because the university’s leadership has a tepid view of it and the financial commitment required is far beyond the school’s reasonable means.
I know what I would do if I were running Villanova: I’d take that invite, ride it like Zorro back to Providence with a big “YES” and figure out the details later. Why they haven’t already done so is fairly maddening. It’s incredulous to me that a school could be taking this much time to decide on whether to accept a golden ticket that sixty-plus other university presidents would sacrifice their math departments for. My impression is that Villanova fancies itself to be more of a Boston College-type than a Holy Cross-type with respect to sports and if Nova wants to protect its basketball team and athletic department overall from future conference realignment earthquakes, the best way to do so is having a BCS football program.
Now, I don’t really believe that adding Villanova for football will do much to help the Big East, although the conference gets a bit more rope to work with after having added TCU. If extending an invite to Villanova was the political grease to get the Catholic members of the Big East (or at least enough of them) to address the football expansion issue overall, then it was a necessary move. Villanova is one of the old-line members of the Big East and if it wants to move up for football, everyone has to expect that the school will get to join that pigskin league first even if other programs are supposedly more “deserving”. I’m just a bit wary that Villanova seems to have been dragged into this kicking and screaming, which I doubt will draw much sympathy from the Boise States of the world.
UCF appears to be the school-in-waiting if Villanova rejects the Big East football invite. I really didn’t like the thought of UCF getting invited to the Big East over TCU if the conference was choosing only one of them, but the Knights make more sense as part of an expansion on top of the Horned Frogs. With the sheer size of the school’s student base coupled with the prime recruiting location, the Big East is looking at UCF as a high upside school. Now, I’ve probably spent more time in Central Florida than any place other than Chicago and Champaign and believe that the area is always going to be Gator country by a wide margin, but the rapid growth of UCF cannot be denied. A school such as East Carolina has a better pure fan base in terms of actually showing up to games and Houston offers a larger market, yet UCF seems offer enough of each of those factors that it appears to be the best choice of the rest for the Big East overall.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Big East has to go up to 10 football schools immediately (and thereby possibly 18 schools for other sports). As I noted in the Big East Expansion FAQ post, the Big East still makes more TV money from basketball than football and a school such as UCF likely wouldn’t move the ESPN rights fee meter very much (if at all). None of the C-USA schools are going anywhere, so the Big East can choose to see if a school such as UMass, which will likely be moving up the Division I-A level, develops into a viable Northeastern-based program that would fit extremely well into the conference. Now that the Big East has 9 members with the TCU addition and the Big Ten has put its expansion on hold, there’s not the same sense of urgency to add school #10.
I’m personally about 50/50 on this. Part of me believes that 10 football/18 basketball members in the Big East would be more desirable for the “perception of stability” factor that the league needs more than anyone else while getting a program such as UCF up to speed at the BCS AQ level. (I’ve also got a way to split up an 18-team Big East basketball league into divisions that I believe will make pretty much all of the schools happy with home-and-home annual games with their top rivals and still playing everyone else frequently enough to maintain some conference unity. However, I’ll save that for another post.) On the other hand, there’s no real need to rush and the Big East may be well-served to just concentrate on integrating TCU for the next couple of years.
3. Knife the WAC and Head for the Mountains – Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson has been coming after the WAC like Freddy Krueger ever since this past summer when there was a brief moment where the WAC looked like it was going to be the raider instead of the raidee. Hawaii is all but confirmed as the latest defector from the WAC to the MWC as a football-only member. I’ll give Thompson a whole lot of credit on this front: the MWC is going to be significantly weaker on an absolute basis with the losses of Utah, BYU and TCU, but it’s stronger on a relative basis compared to the other non-AQ conferences by mortally wounding its top competitor of the WAC. The national perception of the MWC is that it’s still a desirable league at the non-AQ level, which is a fairly impressive feat considering that any conference losing its three most valuable members would typically be reeling. Thompson obviously took some notes of what to do (and what not to do) from how the Big East reacted to the ACC raid of 2003 and had a prepared disaster recovery plan on how to react to any defections. There’s absolutely no chance that the MWC is going to rise up to AQ status in this next bowl cycle (or probably ever), but it’s in a great position to be first in line for any non-AQ BCS bowl bid annually.
4. The Texas 12 - There are still days where I can’t believe that the Big 12 survived, yet now that it has, it must be emphasized once again that the conference is a whole lot more stable than many pundits give it credit for. To be sure, the Big 12 isn’t bound together because its members actually want to be with each other. However, Texas wants this league to survive more than ever with the newly anticipated ESPN-owned Longhorn Network and that’s about 99% of the battle.* I know that it’s VERY fashionable for college sports fans to believe that Texas eventually wants to become independent and then all hell will break loose in the Big 12, but that’s ignoring the constantly volatile emotions of Texas-based politicians. The single biggest mistake I made in my early posts regarding Big Ten expansion and UT was completely underestimating the extent to which Texas politicos would get involved in conference realignment. Even if UT really wants to go independent and/or Texas A&M really wants to go to the SEC, they’re bound together by the threat of mutually assured destruction if one of them makes a first move similar to the US and USSR during the Cold War. Neither UT nor A&M can be perceived to be the one that killed the Big 12 and then drawing the wrath of Texas Tech and Baylor sympathizers in the legislature. For all of the school’s financial power on paper, recall how much Texas needed to show that Missouri and Nebraska had wandering eyes first before it could attempt to create the Pac-16. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott himself said that the exclusion of Baylor from the Pac-16 proposal gave rise to a “tsunami effect” in Texas politics that killed the deal as opposed to anything with UT’s TV plans.
(* In what will surely be an interesting case study in testing how strong the Chinese walls are between the business and journalistic sides of ESPN, the Worldwide Leader filed a lawsuit last week against the University of Texas System under the Texas Public Information Act (h/t to duffman) to obtain documents from this past summer’s conference realignment discussions even though the network is right in the middle of negotiations with UT on the formation of the Longhorn cable channel.)
As a result, those 4 Texas-based schools are politically bound together as a group. Add in the similarly bound Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (with OU being on the record that it is always going to want to be in the same conference as UT) and you have 6 total schools that have to be together no matter what, which severely limits them being anywhere other than in the Big 12. With 2 of those schools being national marquee brands, any conference that has that group is going to survive just fine and make enough TV money for all of its members even in an unequal revenue distribution system. The “Little 4″ of Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State might be wise to continue to have good relations with the Big East as a fallback option (which KU coach and Illini defector Bill Self said almost happened this past summer), but they’re not going to affirmatively split off from a league where they can still play UT and OU annually in a new round-robin Big 12 schedule unless an inebriated Big Ten suddenly throws invites their way after a Saturday night binge on Rush Street.
While the Big 12 isn’t safe in a warm and fuzzy family way, it looks like it’s safe in a maximum security prison way. No one’s getting out of there even if they want to very badly.
5. Notre Dame Network? – Let’s me repeat another item that I didn’t quite fully understand until the last few months: NOTRE DAME WANTS TO BE INDEPENDENT FOR THE SAKE OF BEING INDEPENDENT. It isn’t about making the most TV money, or else they’d join the Big Ten. It isn’t about having the easiest road to BCS bowls, or else they’d join the Big East. Instead, Notre Dame’s independence is a PRINCIPLE and about SCHOOL IDENTITY. As a result, ignore the recurring columns suggesting that Notre Dame joining the Big East would somehow provide a nice geographic distribution of opponents while providing easier BCS access. (Remember that Notre Dame has failed to even play 3 Big East opponents per year that it agreed to back in 2003, much less a full conference slate. Why the heck would they all of the sudden want to play 5 or more Big East conference games as even a “partial member” when they just signed scheduling deals with Texas, Miami and BYU after the summer’s conference shuffling? None of that makes any sense. At the same time, the Irish see a “national” schedule as playing schools such as USC, Michigan, Miami and Texas, not just any random schools that happen to be located in certain states.) You can also ignore anything from Big 12 country suggesting that UT’s ability to create a TV network within a conference would spur Notre Dame to join, too. Maybe those strangely delusional Big 12 fans that suddenly believe that they can pick off Notre Dame along with members of the SEC (i.e. Arkansas and LSU) or Pac-10 (i.e. Arizona and Arizona State)* have forgotten that as an independent, the Irish can create a network anytime it freaking wants to.
(* Just because no one can get out of the Big 12 maximum security prison doesn’t mean anyone else actually wants to get in.)
In fact, that’s exactly the latest item on the rumor mill. You should take the following with a heavy grain of salt, but I’ve heard and seen in a few places is that Comcast/NBC is working on putting together a Notre Dame Network that would be an Irish Catholic-focused cross between the Longhorn Network for sports and the BYU network for religious programming. The Universal Sports network that’s currently being shown on a number of cable systems and NBC-owned digital subchannels across the country and broadcasts Olympic sports could possibly be converted into this Notre Dame Network. The main thing that makes this plausible to me is that this sounds like something that Notre Dame would want to do. The school has been consistent in insisting upon its own branding and independent identity (which kills the prospect of any joint network with the Big East that a lot of that conference’s fans are hoping for other than working with them to procure rights for Notre Dame’s non-football sports). It doesn’t want a network that’s under the umbrella of the Big East, Big 12, Big Ten or any other conference. Instead, this is about complete and 100% autonomy for Notre Dame in all respects.
Believe me, I sympathize with all of the fans of conferences that continue to dream about Notre Dame. Many of us college football fans complain about Notre Dame 364 days per year about their “special treatment”, but when that one day comes with a semi-possible rumor that the Irish are looking to join your conference, you immediately get starry-eyed with thoughts of world domination. It happened to me based on the logic that the Big Ten actually was (and still is) the one conference with the concrete financial wherewithal to make the Irish richer. Let me be clear: there is no such thing as logic regarding independence with the Notre Dame alumni base that runs that school. As a result, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Notre Dame Network comes to your TV within the next year or two and the Irish will be more independent than ever.
With the conference realignment situation settling down, we’ll turn to another favorite topic in my next piece: the annual “How can we make the college football postseason better?” post. I know every two-bit columnist and blogger in the country covers that topic to the core, but let’s face it: it’s fun to talk about, so that’s all that matters. Until then, let’s bask in the glow of the Illini football team going to the Texas Bowl even after having predictably Zooked themselves against Fresno State (the biggest positive development of Big Ten expansion is that it takes football scheduling after Thanksgiving completely out of the hands of Ron Guenther), the Illini basketball team gathering steam with big back-to-back wins against North Carolina (I don’t care if they’re down this year) and Gonzaga, both the Bears and Bulls leading their respective divisions (Derrick Rose continues to be my favorite active athlete on Earth right now with Julius Peppers vaulting up to #2), the Blackhawks looking a bit better again (although let’s hope Patrick Kane comes back as soon as possible) and the White Sox actually shelling out money for free agents (adding Adam Dunn AND probably keeping Paul Konerko – I love it as long as Dunn doesn’t spend a single moment in the outfield). Not a bad holiday sports season in the Frank the Tank household so far. Not bad at all.
(Image from Husker Locker)
Tags: Big East Expansion, TCU Horned Frogs
The New York Daily News is reporting that TCU has been invited to the Big East and there will be a 1 pm CT announcement today. If this actually occurs as reported, then I’m happy (1) that the Big East has overcome its internal inertia and made the right choice and (2) for TCU fans as that school has truly been a BCS-level program for a long time. I’ll have more as this story develops.
(Update: AOL FanHouse is reporting the same regarding TCU to the Big East.)
Tags: Big Country Conference, Big East Expansion, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, UCF Knights, Villanova Wildcats
The Pitt beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes that the Big East is purely looking for football-only members, and with the athletic director of TCU going on the record of only wanting to consider all-sports memberships, UCF and Villanova are considered to be the “Plan A” expansion candidates (with Temple as a back-up if Villanova decides against moving up from the FCS level) because they’re more willing to move just for football. I’ve heard people with connections to other Big East schools state the exact same thing. Frankly, if this is all true, it’s quite a shortsighted and underwhelming stance by the Big East as it ought to do whatever it takes to grab TCU, but not surprising as 16 members for basketball and other sports is already a massive league. For all of those that want to make the divisions in the Big East to be simply “basketball vs. football”, the fact of the matter is that if the football members were all on the same page with anything, they would get their way with the Catholic schools. The problem is that they aren’t even close to being on the same page – some were ready to split yesterday, others are hell-bent on keeping the hybrid together, some don’t care if the league adds multiple all-sport members and others don’t want any more all-sport members at all. Therefore, if the Big East fails to add TCU or expand at all, the football members have only themselves to blame as opposed to the Catholic schools or the people in the conference offices in Providence. (Note that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is a bit more optimistic that the TCU-Big East marriage will eventually be consummated.)
Let me throw some spaghetti against the wall here. If I was running the Big East and the members were looking to make a significant move in football but preserve its strength and membership in basketball, I’d turn the concept of football-only membership on its head. Instead, the Big East football members could head the formation of a football-only conference. In essence, it would be a quasi-split – the Big East football members would separate from the conference in only football while keeping all other sports there. This would preserve the 16-team league in basketball and all of the large markets and television contract advantages that come with it. (Note that in my Big East Expansion FAQ post, I neglected to include the Big East basketball contract with CBS in the conference TV revenue figures, which is $9 million per year. That means that each school makes $2 million per year total for basketball between the ESPN and CBS deals, which is actually more than what the football members make for football. This only serves as further evidence that the Big East doesn’t want a full split and will do everything to keep its basketball league together.) There is precedent for this type of structure, where the Missouri Valley Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference share the same branding and headquarters with several common members, but are operated as separate entities with different charters and voting procedures.
After that, the new conference, which I’ll call “The Big Country”, will cherry-pick the best non-AQ schools from across the nation to create a strong and TV-friendly football league. In fact, instead of the Big East members fearing the Big Ten and/or ACC raiding them to form 16-team leagues, they could form the first BCS superconference themselves. Since it would be a football-only conference, the concerns about travel largely go out the window as the expenses as the non-revenue sports wouldn’t have to trek across the nation. With two separate 8-team East/West divisions, even the travel for football itself would largely be minimized. For the sake of argument, check out this proposed 16-team league:
EAST COAST FAMILY DIVISION
1 of Temple/Villanova*
1 of UCF/ECU**
WEST SIDE IS THE BEST SIDE DIVISION
1 of Houston/Memphis***
2 of New Mexico/Nevada/Hawaii****
Each school would play the 7 teams in its division plus 2 cross-division games, so the wide geographic range of the conference is a lot more manageable than how it looks on its face. (Admittedly, Cincinnati and Louisville would get the shaft in terms of travel under this format, but remember that they had to travel all over the place in the much less lucrative former C-USA that stretched from West Point to Texas.) A conference championship game would then be played (likely at the home stadium of the school with the best record or highest BCS ranking).
(* Whether it’s right or bone-headed tunnel vision, the Big East football members REALLY want a presence in Philadelphia. In a way, it makes sense to the extent that it’s difficult to position yourself as the Northeastern BCS representative without a Philly school when you’ve already conceded Boston and DC/Baltimore to the ACC, don’t have a great hold in New York City and Penn State has such a solid fan base throughout the entire East Coast. While the Big East would know with about five minutes of market research that Philly will probably only support Penn State en masse if it supports college football at all, the location in and of itself appears to be extremely important to the conference in this expansion process.)
(** Maybe it’s just me, but UCF doesn’t excite me as much as they seem to have excited Big East officials. It’s a large and growing university that happens to also be the college home of Michael Jordan’s kids, yet I’m always wary of adding a school in an area that already faces an overload of direct BCS competition. East Carolina actually has a very good fan base for a non-AQ school, but having 4 other BCS schools in the state of North Carolina that is an overwhelmingly ACC state is a killer. On that front, UCF would get the nod purely because of its physical location where the Florida market is large enough to pump in enough additional quality BCS-level football players.)
(*** Is there any athletic department that has messed up more since the 2003 conference realignment than Memphis? With its strong basketball program, solid fan base for an urban school, historic rivalries with Louisville and Cincinnati and financial backing from Fred Smith and the FedEx Mafia, Memphis would’ve been the next-in-line for an all-sports Big East membership if it had ANY football pulse whatsoever. Instead, the Tigers might have the worst football team at the FBS level right now with dwindling attendance and are almost certainly getting passed over again. I’ve only put them here as a football-only option as a geographic bridge between Louisville/Cincinnati and the rest of the West Division, but Houston would reasonably get the nod if I had to choose one of those two.)
(**** The one thing that I like about all of these schools: they’re flagship universities in growing areas that don’t have any other direct in-state BCS competition. These are truly markets that this football league can own outright even if they’re on the smaller side. In fact, I’d be willing to sign up all three in lieu of picking one of Houston/Memphis. UNLV could also emerge as an option instead of Nevada here, but the Wolf Pack has clearly been stronger in football recently.)
If I’m running ESPN or another network, this is a conference worth paying some real money for compared to the current Big East or even an expanded 10-team Big East football league that includes TCU. The Big East football members get the benefit of controlling their own destiny for football but still keep their profitable basketball league together. As for what the other schools in this football-only league do with their other sports, the Big East members can legitimately say, “Not my problem.” If this superconference is formed, then this permanently kills the chances of any other presently non-AQ conference like the Mountain West rising up to AQ status, so the stance can be either get onto the AQ gravy train now or forever hold your peace in the non-AQ world. The Big Country wouldn’t make Big Ten or SEC TV money on a per school basis, but it would certainly present the opportunity for a massive upgrade that neither the Big East football members nor the non-AQ schools could hope for in more measured and conservative expansion scenarios. This would make it a whole lot more palatable for schools such as TCU to agree to find a separate home for its other sports in comparison to the good-but-not-great revenue bump that it would receive if it were tacked on as a 10th football-only member of today’s Big East. With other schools such as Boise State looking for a conference for other sports in the same manner, they can all agree to end up in a place like the WAC, WCC or even a brand new conference, which would provide a quality league for such other sports.
Do I think that the Big East football members are even considering this at all? Heck no! I’m sure that plenty of people will look at this proposal and perform some virtual vomiting all over it. Yet, when The Big Country is framed and managed as a football-only conference, I don’t think it’s nearly as crazy logistically as it looks on a map. This is a way that the Big East football members can throw in all of their last poker chips on the pigskin without risking anything on the basketball side. In a way, the low revenue of Big East football gives those schools freedom to make moves that would be impossible for the Big Ten and SEC – they have little to lose on the football end, so this is a chance to go for a huge gain that will excite the general public and legimitately change the perception of the league. Regardless, there’s no reason for the Big East football schools to split off (whether it’s just for football or all sports) unless it does so in a massive game-changing way.
(Image from Last.fm)
Tags: Big 12, Big East Expansion, BlogPoll, Hawaii Warriors, Longhorn Network, Mountain West, MWC, Ohio State Buckeyes, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Longhorns, WAC
Some thoughts as we head into the weekend:
(1) Mr. Numb Existence – Somehow, I ended up with the Mr. Numb Existence Award this week in the BlogPoll that’s given to the pollster with the individual ballot closest to the overall result. This occurred even though I deviated from the overall poll almost immediately by putting TCU at #2 instead of Auburn. Regardless, and I say this as someone that has long been skeptical about the top-to-bottom quality of the non-AQ conferences, but TCU can and will pretty much kick the crap out of everyone this season.
(2) Mo Money, Mo Texas - Shortly after posting this generally blase post about the initially underwhelming projected financial figures for the Longhorn Sports Network, our good friend Chip Brown from Orangebloods.com reported that ESPN came in with a bid to pay Texas $12 million per year, which is a massive game-changing number on its face. This swung the pendulum in the public eye from “Why did Texas do this?” to “Texas could almost afford to pay Cam Newton if it wanted to”. The one reservation people should keep in mind is whether this $12 million per year includes radio and other media rights, as well, which this Austin American-Statesman article intimates. If that’s the case, then the $12 million figure isn’t necessarily that crazy. Ohio State’s radio and multimedia rights deal with IMG and RadiOhio is worth an average of $11 million per year, which is all on top what the Buckeyes receive from the Big Ten TV contracts. It’s unclear how the ESPN arrangement will interplay with the Texas deal with IMG, which is the primary multimedia rights holder for the school and is running the search for the Longhorn Network partner.
A question that I’ve been continuously getting is, “Why would ESPN be willing to pay so much for maybe one Texas football game per year and a handful of non-conference basketball games?” Well, one has to consider that since the Big Ten Network has been formed, ESPN has been overpaying for college sports in large part to prevent other conference networks from coming to fruition. Those networks represent extra competition to the Mothership itself along with taking away properties from its ESPN Regional syndication arm. The Worldwide Leader had to pay both the SEC and ACC hundreds of millions of dollars in Godfather offers in order to keep them bolting to competitors and starting their own networks. In contrast, ESPN has just destroyed the chances of a Big 12 network ever forming by paying a mere $12 million per year to Texas. When you look at it that way, $12 million is a complete bargain compared to what ESPN had to ward off potential competition from the SEC and ACC.
(3) Return of the WAC - Oh, poor WAC. This summer, it looked like it might nab BYU for non-football sports and possibly start a chain reaction where the Mountain West would start crumbling and the WAC could pick up the pieces. Instead, the MWC embarked on its own smack-down raid by grabbing Nevada and Fresno State on top of conference headliner Boise State and BYU ended up taking its non-football programs to the WCC, which left the WAC wondering if it would even have enough members for a football conference in 2011. It’s been a rough go-around for a non-AQ conference that has sent its champion to BCS bowls 3 out of the last 4 years.
At least the WAC will receive a reprieve with Nevada and Fresno State agreeing to stay until 2012, which is when replacements Texas State and the University of Texas-San Antonio come in for all sports and hockey/skiing power Denver joins as a non-football member. Rejection was still in the air for the WAC, though, as Montana declined an invite. (Note that Texas State, UTSA and Montana are all currently FCS schools, so the new WAC members will be moving up to the FBS level.)
Also, as discussed by a number of commenters, Hawaii is possibly the next most likely school to declare independence with a possible home for non-football sports in the Big West. I vacillate back-and-forth as to whether it’s a good idea for Hawaii to become an independent. In theory, it ought to be able to fill out its football schedule because of the extra game exemption provided by the NCAA, but we have already seen the Big Ten schools essentially abandon playing in Honolulu because of a combo of high costs and the desire to play more home games. As more BCS leagues go to 9-game conference schedules, Hawaii is going to face more challenges scheduling AQ teams than before. Finally, who knows whether the Big West schools are really going to be willing to shoulder the costs of sending non-football sports to the Honolulu, which means that Hawaii might need to hold onto its relationship with the WAC. On the other hand, Hawaii is uniquely attractive to a network like ESPN because its home games fit perfectly into late-night time slots on the mainland. Thus, it’s possible for Hawaii to get a BYU-type TV deal in place, which would make it more than worth it financially to become independent.
It appears that the conference realignment game will see the most action at the non-AQ level for the next few years besides an addition or two by the Big East… unless it decides to follow one of my “modest proposals” for the league that I’ll present next week. Until then, have a great weekend with Illini-Gopher football, Illini-Saluki basketball, Derrick Rose vs. John Wall and hopefully Julius Peppers decapitating Brett Favre.
Tags: Big East Expansion, TCU Horned Frogs, Villanova Wildcats
With the Big East announcing that it’s looking to add two football programs, a lot of the same questions about what the conference should do have been continuously coming up, so let’s address them here:
1. Why don’t the Big East football schools grow some cajones and split from those bloodsucking Catholic schools already?! – As with most decisions of consequence in life, it’s all much easier said than done. First of all, the gospel that “football money rules all” that has been advanced over the past few years is not quite correct. Most people blindly follow the Underpants Gnomes Plan for college sports:
Phase 1: Expand for football
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit
However, football in and of itself really isn’t what drives money in college sports. Otherwise, the 14-school MAC would be the richest league anywhere and the 12-team Conference USA would be looking to poach the Big East as opposed to the other way around. Quantity does not equal quality, and what TV networks pay for is quality. Instead, it’s the marquee football schools (i.e. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Miami, USC, etc.) that disproportionately drive revenue and adding anything less than one of those schools is speculative and by no means any guarantee that ESPN or another TV network will pay a single cent more. (Stewart Mandel’s 2007 grouping of the BCS schools into four different tiers is still a pretty good assessment of how where various programs stand in the long-term.) It’s even unclear that the expanded Pac-10 will really gain much (if any) revenue with Colorado and Utah and that’s with the revenue pop of the creation of a new conference championship game.
Without any marquee schools involved, we can’t apply the same standards for expansion for the Big Ten or SEC to the Big East. The Big East receives around $33 million per year from ESPN, with about $20 million allocated for basketball ($1.25 million per basketball member) and $13 million for football ($1.625 million per football member). As you can see, basketball is on the same tier financially to the Big East as football. Plenty of people have criticized this fact, but it’s a classic “it is what it is” situation. Without a Notre Dame or Penn State-type addition, the Big East can’t reasonably expect to add any school that adds enough to the football revenue side that would make it worth it for the league to split.
The Big East football members make $2.875 million in TV revenue each annually (including both football and basketball). That means a 10-team all-sports league would need to have a total TV contract of $28.75 million compared to the current $33 million contract which includes a whole host of large basketball markets just to break even. Of course, the Big East schools aren’t going to go through the hassle and inevitable lawsuits to split in order to simply break even. The only good reason for a split would be to see a big-time increase in revenue to make it worth it. So, in order to make $5 million per school (which would still be the lowest out of all of the BCS conferences by a substantial amount), a 10-school split league would need a $50 million annual TV contract ($17 million more than the current 16-school contract) while a 12-school league would need a $60 million contract ($27 million more than the current deal). Even if we assume that a split league would somehow lose absolutely no value on the basketball side (and that’s a very generous assumption) and the current 8 Big East football members alone can start at the $33 million level that’s being paid out to the entire 16-team conference, 2 additional schools would need to add about $8.5 million each to the Big East TV contract while 4 additional schools would need to bring $6.75 million each.
Is it reasonable to assume that individual schools will be able to bring to the Big East revenue increases that are close the entire TV contracts for the conferences that they would be leaving such as the Mountain West or C-USA? (The MWC makes $12 million in TV money per year for all sports and the C-USA deal with CBS College Sports is between $7 to 8 million annually.) Absolutely not, which is what the Big East’s university presidents understand and why they are adamant about not splitting.
This doesn’t even get into what would happen to the Big East’s accumulated NCAA Tournament credits over the past five years, which represent a significant amount of money equal to about five years of BCS bowl payments. The football schools would risk giving all of that up to the Catholic schools in a split situation (since the football schools would be exiting the conference from a legal perspective) and, at the very least, there would be massive lawsuits involved. The Big East football members aren’t stupid enough to get within the vicinity of that type of potential trouble and financial loss unless it’s adding a certain Catholic school from South Bend (which won’t happen).
2. Didn’t you go to DePaul for law school, which makes you a hack homer and completely biased in supporting a program that can’t play basketball worth crap or justify its existence in the Big East? Yes, I went to DePaul for law school, but my emotional sports investment is with my undergrad alma mater of Illinois and the Big Ten. Also, I completely understand DePaul sucks royally hard in basketball right now. Oh man, do they suck. My eyes are burning. Personally, I don’t really care whether the Big East splits or not – my only long-term preference for DePaul (and what the school’s administration cares about) would be staying with the Catholic schools that it considers to be its institutional peers in some form or fashion. (I’m sure the alums of the old-line Big East schools such as St. John’s and Georgetown would feel very differently about that – they are definitely invested completely in the hybrid.)
That being said, the value of DePaul and all of the other Catholic schools in the Big East is as a collective as opposed to the individual schools. The Catholic members are what allow the Big East to go into any negotiation and state that it’s the conference that covers the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Providence/Boston markets. Believe me when I say that this fact is pumped up on slide #1 on any Big East PowerPoint presentation and that the relative peanuts that the conference is receiving from ESPN today would be even less without that market argument. The Big East can’t point to massive fan bases or schools like the Big Ten or SEC (and likely will never have any), so the competitive advantage that it has to sell is its presence in nearly all of the largest markets in the Eastern half of the United States. Otherwise, the differentiators between the Big East and C-USA or the Mountain West (much less the other BCS conferences) from a TV perspective are virtually nil. The Big East is still more valuable with the Catholic schools than without them for that reason.
3. Doesn’t the Big East need to protect itself from getting pillaged by the Big Ten and ACC? The bad news in Providence is that every Big East member would jump to the Big Ten or ACC immediately no matter what the Big East decides to do – no expansion decision or financial scheme would ever change that. The good news is that the Big Ten and ACC aren’t interested in any Big East schools. So, for the foreseeable future, the answer to the question is an emphatic NO. Similar to the analysis of the financial prospects (or lack thereof) in a Big East split situation in the answer to question #1 above, the financial incentives simply aren’t there for either the Big Ten or ACC to expand beyond 12 barring Notre Dame or Texas being added. In the Big Ten’s case, each additional school needs to bring in $22 million just to break even in today’s world without Nebraska or a Big Ten title game – that number is probably going to push toward the $30 million over the next year or two in the 12-team league. Once again, the entire 16-school Big East contract is worth $33 million. While the Big Ten Network is lucrative, it can’t perform David Copperfield magic tricks – 2 or 4 Big East schools aren’t suddenly going to be worth $30 million each to the Big Ten when a 16-school league is valued at $33 million total. Similar math applies to the ACC situation, albeit with lower figures in the $15 million per school range. ESPN isn’t going to add $30 million to its new ACC contract so that the league can expand with 2 Big East members (or a $60 million increase with 4 additional members) when it currently can get all 16 Big East members for $33 million. None of it adds up. Therefore, the Big East should be expanding to better itself as opposed to some type of defensive measure against other conferences.
4. Can’t the Big East make up the revenue gap with other BCS conferences by creating its own TV network? Well, a lot of people seem to apply the Underpants Gnomes Plan to the notion of a Big East network, too. Just because a conference (a) starts a network and (b) has teams in certain markets doesn’t automatically mean that such conference network is going to magically get the basic carriage at a high subscriber rate that’s required to make it financially viable. Case in point is the mtn (which is the Mountain West’s network that’s owned by CBS College Sports), which hasn’t been able to get basic carriage in its two largest markets of Dallas-Fort Worth and San Diego. So, if TCU wasn’t enough to get the mtn onto basic carriage in DFW, it’s not going to suddenly get a Big East network on in the same market when the Big East has no substantial alumni or fan presence in that area otherwise. The Minnesota Twins also started a network that ended up folding, and that’s actually a team that legitimately “delivers” its home market. Even the Texas Longhorns network isn’t really going to be the financial boon that many were predicting and there’s no single school in the country that’s better positioned to start one up.
Without leverage, you don’t get basic carriage, and without basic carriage, you’re better off just signing a comprehensive deal with ESPN. That leverage doesn’t come in a linear fashion, either – it’s faulty reasoning to say, “The Big East is 50% less popular than the Big Ten in its home area, so the Big East network can just charge 50% less than the Big Ten Network.” Instead, there’s a tipping point where there’s a critical mass of fans in a market that care about the network so much that they will actually leave (not just threaten) their current cable provider for another one that carries the network. At that point, the current cable provider is better off paying up $.70 per month (or whatever the subscriber rate is) to that network than losing more money in cancelled $80 monthly cable bills. The Big Ten and the New York Yankees had that leverage and even they had to endure fights with cable providers for a year or more in order to get basic carriage.
That leads to another issue specifically related to the Big East – in order for its conference network to work out in any form, it needs to get basic carriage in the New York City market. Remember that this was a market where Cablevision argued that the freaking Yankees were “niche programming” and there’s already three extremely high-priced regional sports networks (YES, SNY and MSG) to compete with. Frankly, if any combination of Rutgers, Syracuse and/or UCONN was enough to get a cable network basic carriage in NYC, then such combination would’ve been invited to the Big Ten months ago. The problem is that the NYC market is fool’s gold for conferences because the sheer size of it and the way that college sports fans are so dispersed among all of the conferences there means that no single conference could ever get the critical mass required to make a network work in that area.
This issue applies to pretty much all of the large markets that the Big East is located in (Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington). The conference has a presence in each of them where they provide value for the purposes of an ESPN national TV contract or signing up the syndicated Big East package with an RSN, but none of them provide the critical mass of fans that would meet the threshold of getting a Big East network basic carriage. Heck, the only Big East markets that I could see as “guaranteed” to get basic carriage are Louisville, Hartford and the state of West Virginia. Pittsburgh and Central New York probably could be added to that list, but everywhere else would be speculative. The Big East has the high population numbers on paper, but not enough fan intensity within that population base to justify creating a TV network.
5. Couldn’t Big East consultant/savior Paul Tagliabue figure out how to create a Big East network? Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue? The guy that took the single most valuable sports property in America and created a network that initially couldn’t get carriage anywhere other than DirecTV, where the NFL has Godfather powers due to Sunday Ticket access? The guy that created a network that couldn’t reach a deal with Comcast until he left the commissioner’s office and Roger Goodell took over? The guy that created a network that still doesn’t have deals with Time Warner, Cablevision or Mediacom seven years after it went on the air? You want that guy giving you advice on starting up a cable network? Seriously?!
I remember traveling to London for work a couple of years ago and found that the BBC carries the NFL Network Thursday Night package live. Think about that for a second: people living in the United Kingdom literally have more access to NFL Network games than people in the United States. That’s Paul Tagliabue’s cable network legacy.
6. Why can’t the Big East get Penn State or Notre Dame? C.R.E.A.M. The Big East will get farther trying to ask USC and Florida to join.
7. Why can’t the Big East get Boston College or Maryland? C.R.E.A.M. Note that other than the schools that moved up from C-USA to the Big East, there was no single greater financial beneficiary from the 2003 conference realignment than Boston College. The people that matter at BC are very happy with the ACC.
8. Why can’t the Big East go after the almost-leftovers of the Big 12 such as Missouri and Kansas? First, as I’ve written over the past few months, the Big 12 will be stable as long as Texas wants the league to stay alive, and pretty much everything points to that being the Texas long-term position for a multitude of reasons (TV network, political heat, etc.). As a result, no one should be shortsighted in thinking that the Big 12 is going to collapse at any point soon.
Second, C.R.E.A.M. Texas might be a mean pimp a la Wayne Brady, but they’ll pay out juuuuuuust enough money to keep its employees from drifting off and getting legitimate jobs. It’s not as if though the Big 12 has really had completely poor payouts. I don’t buy Dan Beebe’s projections of $452 gazillion per year per school that will all be funded by his multi-level marketing “business”, but even if the Big 12 can simply keep its current payout levels, that will still provide between $6 to 7 million annually for each member. Those numbers far surpass what the Big East can ever hope to provide. As noted earlier, revenue is driven by the marquee football schools and the Big 12 has two of them in Texas and Oklahoma. Regardless of whether UT, OU and Texas A&M have guaranteed $20 million annual payouts, it’s going to be extremely tough for any of the Big 12 schools to leave for a league whose best football anchor is arguably West Virginia.
9. Won’t the Mountain West become an AQ conference in a few years? – My educated guess is no based on the losses of Utah and BYU. Even with the addition of Boise State next season, the issue with the Mountain West and the BCS evaluation criteria will always be with the depth (the performance of the schools from top to bottom) as opposed to the top 2 or 3 schools. Regardless, why would TCU take the risk of that not happening in a few years when it could get into a BCS conference right away? The answer is that they wouldn’t – TCU and any other non-AQ team would jump at any BCS invite.
10. Why the heck would TCU or anyone else agree to a football-only Big East invite? – The crappiest house in Beverly Hills is worth more than the nicest house in South Central LA, and the crappiest spot in an AQ conference is worth more than the nicest spot in a non-AQ conference. It’s a hell of a lot more difficult to find a spot in a BCS football league than a home for basketball and other non-revenue sports. TCU is at its absolute peak in terms of marketability and attractiveness and the leadership there likely knows that it needs to strike it while it’s hot. Any other non-AQ school that might receive a football-only invite from the Big East would be wise to do the same because future opportunities aren’t guaranteed.
At the same time, TCU or any other non-AQ school HAS to run the table in order to have shot a BCS bowl bid, and even that’s not necessarily a guarantee if there are multiple undefeated non-AQ teams. Going undefeated every single season is simply unrealistic for even the very elite football programs. In contrast, there’s a fairly good chance that this year’s Big East champ will have 3 losses (or even more). Being in an AQ conference means that a school has some margin for error during the course of the season, which doesn’t exist in the non-AQ world.
11. Won’t TCU try for a Big 12 invite instead? It takes two to tango: TCU can try for a Big 12 invite all it wants but the Horned Frogs will be rejected every time. I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again: the single biggest issue with the Big 12 financially is that it lacks viable markets outside of the state of Texas. Putting aside the fact that neither Texas nor Texas A&M want anything to do whatsoever with TCU (which is definitely the case), TCU is simply in the same place with respect to the Big 12 as Iowa State and Pitt are with the Big Ten – overlapping markets will kill any chance of an invite. As long as UT and A&M are in the Big 12, TCU will NEVER receive a Big 12 invite. Big East schools don’t have to worry about TCU bolting down the road.
12. What do you think will happen even though you have the gambling skills of Charles Barkley on a bender? I believe that the Big East will do the right thing and invite TCU as a football-only member, with TCU sending its non-football sports to the Missouri Valley Conference. (Note that under NCAA rules, a school cannot play its non-football sports in a league that sponsors football when its football team plays in another league. Notre Dame is compliant because its football team is independent. Thus, the WAC, C-USA or staying in the MWC for non-football sports aren’t options for TCU. The Missouri Valley Football Conference exists at the FCS level, yet it’s administratively a separate league from the MVC despite having common members and sharing the same branding and headquarters. Not to open up another can of worms, but that MVC/MVFC setup might work for separating the leadership of the Big East football and non-football leagues in the future while still keeping the same name and branding.) Meanwhile, Villanova will accept its outstanding invitation to move up from the FCS level since I just can’t see how anyone can turn down a BCS invite with the way college sports is heading. It’s not what I believe is the right thing to do for the Big East (as I personally believe that adding Villanova would be a mistake), but the tea leaves seem to indicate that this is the most likely outcome.
13. How confident are you that the Big East will actually expand? The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette summed up the Big East expansion situation very nicely yesterday:
The logistics of this expansion will be tricky because its basketball league has 16 members.
That means to add two football programs, the conference either must go to 18 teams (or 17 if Villanova is one of the two football teams added) — which nobody seems to want– or eliminate one or two basketball members. That does not seem to be desirable, either.
A third, but likely unrealistic, option would add two football-only members.
Let me get this straight: nobody wants 18 schools, nobody wants 17 schools, eliminating basketball members is undesirable and adding football-only members is unrealistic. Well, that inspires a lot of confidence, doesn’t it?
(Image from Webshots)
Tags: Big East Expansion, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Villanova Wildcats
News is trickling out from the Big East meetings that the university presidents have agreed to expand to its football league to 10 members. (See Tweets from Stewart Mandel and Pat Forde.) The conference has temporarily refuted my pessimistic concern that it would elevate Villanova alone as opposed to adding TCU (which I thought was a no-brainer back in February), although there’s still plenty of time for the current Big East members to mess that up. If I were to guess today which 2 schools would be added, I’d say TCU and either Villanova (as a move-up from the FCS level to FBS) or Temple in order to keep some semblance of a Northeastern tilt. There also definitely won’t be a split between the football members and the Catholic schools. Without a Penn State/Notre Dame-type addition, there aren’t any potential football additions that would bring enough revenue to compensate for the loss of the large markets in the Big East basketball contract. I’m not saying those are the right decisions for the Big East - this is just my semi-educated prediction as to where I think the conference will end up. I’ll certainly be writing more about this story as it unfolds, but in the meantime, what does everyone else think?
Tags: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Longhorns, Villanova Wildcats
I’ve been spending the last couple of months powering through The Wire for the first time on my Netflix queue. (I just finished Season 4. Until further notice, if anyone mentions a word about Season 5, I will hunt you down like Omar.) The overarching theme of The Wire is that our institutions in society are largely intractable, where “good soldiers” that follow orders and tow the party line are rewarded with promotions while bold thinkers usually end up getting demoted, fired or shot. “The System” is fixed in place with little hope for change, whether we’re talking about the drug trade, police tactics, political maneuverings or old people continuously believing that young people like the Black Eyed Peas. (As depressing as that sounds, The Wire manages to weave in at least a few laugh out loud moments in each episode and I understand why plenty of critics call it the greatest TV drama of all-time. I can’t believe that it took me this long to watch it.)
What the conference realignment process over the past year has shown is that college sports has its own entrenched system. Slant reader duffman put together some incredibly detailed analysis of various college football programs over the years (here and here), with some of the takeaways being that decisions and circumstances from the early 1900s set up the system that we have today and not much has really changed in the sport’s hierarchy since World War II. (This doesn’t count institutions that voluntarily de-emphasized athletics since then, such as the University of Chicago, Ivy League schools and service academies.)
When I first wrote the Big Ten Expansion Index post, I imagined conference commissioners and university presidents taking a Machiavellian approach in raiding each other to advance their own interests. However, it has borne out that risk aversion largely rules the day. For all of the talk about demographics, geographic footprint and basic cable subscribers, the Big Ten performed the equivalent of Berkshire Hathaway buying stock in Coca-Cola by adding tradition-bound and geographically contingent Nebraska. (To be sure, it was definitely the right move.) Texas, despite having the most powerful college program in the country on paper, couldn’t shake off the political shackles of Texas A&M and Texas Tech… assuming that it wanted to shake them off at all. Big IIX commissioner Dan Beebe somehow kept the conference together based on a bunch of pie-in-the-sky promises regarding exit fees from Nebraska and Colorado (which have turned out to be about a third as much as predicted) and supposed future increases in TV revenues. Now that the Big IIX has averted the Conference Grim Reaper, Texas-based politicians are likely going to keep it alive in perpetuity. I know a lot of people believe that Texas is on the road to becoming independent in a few years, but I don’t see it. Texas is in a very different situation than Notre Dame, not the least of which is having to answer to a whole lot of politicians and members of the general public that are going to demand UT to spread some wealth as opposed to just its fanatical alumni base. Besides, Texas wants to own a massive plantation and sip mojitos while watching a bunch of worker bees from Lubbock and Waco do the landscaping work. Notre Dame, on the other hand, just wants everyone to get the f**k off its lawn. Both Texas and Notre Dame are power-hungry, but have different approaches in seeking/maintaining such power.
It took a guy from the world of women’s tennis in the form of Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott to attempt a truly revolutionary move. Yet, in Wire-esque fashion, the Pac-16 proposal was rejected at the very last moment and the Pac-10 had to settle for the “good but not great” additions of Colorado and Utah that may not even raise conference revenues much compared to the status quo (if at all). Plus, ESPN, who is still the ultimate sugar daddy for every conference (even the Big Ten), came down hard against the prospect of 16-school conferences and appears to be willing to pay up in order to prevent them from ever forming. As a result, I’ve become extremely skeptical that there’s going to be much change for the foreseeable future among the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-10, ACC and Big IIX. (On a side note, the commenters have been discussing what the new name for the Big IIX ought to be. My vote would be for the Big Country: instant association with a band and song that you won’t be able to get out of your head for 8 hours straight after hearing it along with the ability to use Oklahoma State alum Bryant Reeves as the official conference mascot.)
This brings us to the Big East, which is the epitome of institutional dysfunction. The conference has reportedly has offered Villanova a spot to move up from FCS and is in talks with TCU. Now, TCU receiving an invite makes complete sense to me and I said as much back in February for a whole host of reasons. What’s amazing to me, though, is that the Big East-related people that I’ve talked to believe that if it came down to having only a single spot for either Villanova or TCU, then the invite would go to Nova since the conference is hell-bent on preserving its hybrid format at all costs. This would be the case despite the fact that Villanova has less history, a smaller student population and alumni base and worse stadium situation than Temple, which is a school that the Big East kicked out as a football member in the same Philadelphia market that has proven to focus almost completely on pro sports. Of course, I’m not an advocate of the Big East splitting for the sake of splitting in order to add a bunch of C-USA schools at the expense of breaking up arguably the nation’s best basketball conference, but the last thing that the Big East needs to be doing is trying to add in an FCS program. That’s a WAC-fighting-for-its-survival move as opposed to an expansion worthy of a BCS AQ conference. (By the way, please see this incredibly honest and straight-forward email from the athletic director of current FCS program and prospective WAC member Montana that several people sent to me and went into great detail as to what it would take to move up to FBS and how the FCS playoffs are losing money.)
This is a display as to how entrenched schools and conferences can be within their own microsystems at the expense of programs such as TCU and BYU that by every reasonable measure are BCS-level schools TODAY. The Big East was formed as a basketball conference that later tacked on a football component as a matter of convenience and that attitude still permeates even though the economics of college sports have changed over the past 2 decades where football rules all. True to form, the Big East decided to replace the retiring Mike Tranghese with his long-time lieutenant John Marinatto as commissioner this past year as opposed to going after a Larry Scott-type outsider that could actually make an unbiased judgment as to how the conference is perceived in the outside world. Combine that with former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue being brought on board as an advisor (who has an unabashed interest in preserving the hybrid as a trustee of Georgetown) and it feels as though we’re more likely to see a remedial or reactionary move by the Big East geared toward placating the delicate balance between the Catholic schools and football members than a forward-looking one in the form of inviting TCU and/or other worthy programs. I have nothing against Villanova, but the thought of that school having an easier time being granted BCS AQ status over a whole host of other schools is ridiculous.
With my understanding that the Big Ten isn’t going to be looking to add anyone unless Notre Dame and/or Texas suddenly have a change of heart, any members of the Big East that want to better themselves are likely going to have do it individually instead of looking toward the conference. Pitt, realizing that a Big East network isn’t on the horizon and likely wouldn’t work even if it ever came to fruition, has actually started its own TV network called PantherVision, which is largely made up of coaches’ shows, Olympic sports telecasts and bits of real panther, so you know it’s good. It would behoove the other Big East schools that have strong local fan bases (i.e. Louisville, West Virginia, Connecticut) to start their own similar channels because I certainly wouldn’t have much confidence in the lackluster leadership in Providence if I were running any of those institutions.
The shuffling among the non-AQ conferences will certainly continue with the WAC on the endangered species list. Among the power conferences, though, expect more of the same (with maybe a Big East addition or two) as opposed to bold moves for the next few years. I hope that the Big East does the right thing and invites TCU, but don’t be surprised if the institutional bias in that conference ends up elevating Villanova alone.
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)
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Tags: Big East Expansion, Big Ten Expansion, Big Ten Expansion Index, Mountain West, TCU Horned Frogs
I attended Illinois for undergrad, so my heart will always be with the Fighting Illini first and foremost, but as a DePaul Law graduate, I also keep close tabs on the state of the Big East. The fan base of the Big East is by far the most skittish of any conference regarding expansion issues because it was obviously the main victim of the last major conference realignment in 2003 (when the ACC poached Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College). This resulted in the Big East scrambling to protect its automatic bid to the BCS by inviting Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida for all sports (including football) along with DePaul and Marquette as non-football members. In that round of expansion, Louisville was already an obvious BCS-ready school that was within striking distance of the Big Ten footprint, which made it a logical choice for a replacement member, while Cincinnati and USF were in the midst of building up their own programs. USF ended up putting together some great seasons in the all-important Florida market while Cincinnati came within a couple of seconds massaged by a Jerry World time clock operator of making it to the national championship game this past season. The problem today for the Big East is that if it loses any member to the Big Ten (which, if you’ve read my previous blog posts regarding the Big Ten Expansion Index, isn’t necessarily as likely as the general public believes since I believe that the Big Ten is looking toward Texas and the Big XII), there isn’t any Louisville-type school located east of the Mississippi River that’s a logical “no-brainer” replacement. There are some schools comparable to USF and Cincinnati circa 2003, but the conference enters dangerous territory by adding more “project” schools in terms of keeping the top-to-bottom strength of schools high enough to justify inclusion in the BCS.
Before anyone can even get to talking about additional Big East schools, though, the overarching question is “WTF does the Big East want to be?” Should the football members (hereinafter defined as “Big East Football”) split off to form a separate all-sports conference? Are the Catholic basketball members (hereinafter defined as the “Big East Catholics”) too valuable for the football members to leave? Is it worth it to risk breaking up arguably the nation’s best basketball conference under the current hybrid structure in order to have a maybe good/maybe not that good football conference? The purpose of this post is to provide a more high-level examination of the choices between Big East Football splitting off or keeping the Big East Catholics in the fold. I’ll name some expansion candidates in hypothetical scenarios that I’d personally favor if I were in charge of the Big East, but it’s not worth it as of now to provide an in-depth examination of each of those candidates in the same manner of the Big Ten Expansion Index since it’s largely pointless without knowing out what the Big East wants to do structurally. In fact, I’ll state upfront that I’m sincerely 50/50 about whether the Big East ought to split whether or not it even loses anyone from Big East Football (with the caveat that the way that my split proposal is far more aggressive than what I see typically proposed). Thus, I’m giving everyone two options that I would examine if I were Big East Commissioner along with the pluses and minuses of each. Then, you can decide which one you like better – think of it as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for Big East expansion.
I’m using the following assumptions:
(1) The Big Ten does NOT take a Big East member – I’m going to examine this from the perspective of the Big East as presently constituted because I don’t believe the high-level analysis really changes that much even if a school like Syracuse or Rutgers leaves. The issue of whether the Big East should split exists as of today and will be applicable regardless of the actions of the Big Ten.
(2) The Big East won’t kick out Notre Dame – About every 3 or 4 hours on any Big East message board, you’ll see a brand new thread stating, “WE MUST GIVE ND AN ULTIMATUM!!!!!! JOIN US 4 FB OR GTFO!!!!!” It’s about as predictable as Amy Winehouse ignoring all 12 steps of all of her rehab programs on a random Friday night. Let’s put aside the fact that such a suggestion usually entails “threatening” probably the most famous and powerful athletic department in the nation in order to invite a school like Memphis or East Carolina. First off, if Notre Dame refuses to join the Big Ten for football where the school would maintain its rivalries against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue and actually make more money in the process, then I can’t really see the Irish taking a pay cut to play USF and Cincinnati annually. I’ll let Domers like Sully comment further on this, but that’s just my gut feeling. Then, as a practical matter, let’s simply count the votes in the Big East to gauge the interest of kicking out ND. The other Big East Catholics absolutely fall all over themselves to be associated with the nation’s preeminent Catholic sports program, so that’s 7 votes against kicking out ND right there. Pitt has a longstanding relationship with Notre Dame for football which it isn’t going to mess with – I would imagine that ND would easily go back to playing Penn State annually and drop its games with Pitt if the Panthers ever supported kicking ND out. Syracuse and Rutgers are also holding out hope for Big Ten invites. Since any kicking out of Notre Dame could possibly nudge the Irish into the Big Ten and close off that 12th conference spot forever, SU and RU aren’t going to want to do anything to ND, either. Those are 10 schools right there that will automatically support Notre Dame, which means that ND will be in the BE as long as there is the current hybrid structure.
(3) The Mountain West Conference will NOT receive an auto-bid to the BCS – There’s a dangerous assumption percolating out there that the Mountain West becoming an automatic-qualifying (AQ) conference with respect to the BCS is a foregone conclusion. This is based on the MWC reaching certain numerical criteria that the BCS previously set out to evaluate conferences. There’s kind of big hitch that too many people are forgetting, though: the current BCS conferences have the final say and they don’t really have any incentive to let the MWC into their club at all. It’s the equivalent of me trying to obtain membership into Augusta National Golf Club. If I’m a scratch golfer that can afford to pay the initiation fee (not that either one of those things are true, but bear with me here), that’s still not enough to get an invitation – the people at Augusta have to REALLY REALLY REALLY like me on top of all of that. In another real life example, think of it as achieving a really high SAT score. Even though that score might indicate that you could get into Harvard on paper, the fact of the matter is that Harvard’s admissions committee evaluates bunch of other byzantine factors, such as whether you’re a native female Alaskan who moved to Kenya that can play the oboe at a professional orchestral level. In the case of the MWC, the BCS conferences might have set the criteria, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to follow it.
Here’s the bottom line for the MWC: the Pac-10 and Big XII aren’t going to approve AQ-status for the MWC because they don’t want to empower direct competition in their home markets and that conference is a prime target for their own expansion and/or replacement plans. The Big Ten and the SEC are virtually guaranteed 2 BCS bids every year under the current system, so they don’t have an incentive to potentially give up one of those spots to the MWC. The Big East is the most vulnerable of the current BCS conferences, so it doesn’t want to give any opportunity to let the other BCS members remove AQ-status for the Big East while bringing the MWC in as a 7th member. I guess the ACC doesn’t have quite as much of a dog in this fight, but as you can, the other 5 BCS conferences have direct incentives to say “No” to the MWC regardless of how well the conference performs. That’s not really fair (and my feeling is that they’re more bothered by letting the likes of Wyoming and San Diego State into the fold than harboring any grudges against Utah and BYU), yet it goes back to the cynical version of the Golden Rule (“He who has the gold makes the rules”) as applied to the chasm between the AQ and non-AQ conferences. You’ll see pretty clearly in a moment why the MWC’s continued non-AQ status is very important to the Big East’s options.
So, let’s review the two divergent roads that the Big East can take Robert Frost-style.
OPTION A – KEEP THE HYBRID STRUCTURE
Here’s the reality for the Big East: Penn State isn’t walking through that door. Boston College isn’t walking through that door. Maryland isn’t walking through that door. While the presumption is that college conference choices revolve almost entirely around football (as indicated by how I gave Football Brand Value three times the weight of Basketball Brand Value in the Big Ten Expansion Index), if there aren’t major pigskin programs that are willing to join the Big East, it may very well be in the best interest of the conference to continue to focus on what it’s exceptional at: basketball. If the Big East were to split, the usual suspects of candidates from Conference USA wouldn’t really add that much financial value to the football side of the ledger while it could destroy much of the greatness of the basketball side.
At the same time, the value of the Big East Catholics is as a collective instead of individual schools. You’ll see plenty of comments from bloggers and message board posters out there that they don’t understand what schools like newer member DePaul and original member Providence bring to the Big East. The point is not what DePaul and Providence bring as individual programs, but rather the 8 Big East Catholics happen to deliver the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston/Providence markets, which are all top 10 TV markets. For all of the ragging that Big East Football schools might have on the Big East Catholics, you can be guaranteed that the number of top 10 markets that are in the conference as a result of the Big East Catholics are on PowerPoint slide #1 in any Big East presentation to ESPN or other TV networks. That staggering large market PowerPoint slide goes away if Big East Football separates themselves from the Big East Catholics.
In fact, it could be argued that if Big East Football loses a member to the Big Ten or another conference (i.e. collateral damage if the Big Ten takes a school from the ACC, who in turn will look to the Big East for a replacement), the Big East Catholics would be more valuable than ever. Any reasonable replacement that could be out there may not bring as much as value on the football side as keeping the basketball side as elite as possible. While football is going to rule the day for the other BCS conferences in terms of revenue and expansion, the Big East simply “is what it is” – a great (if not the nation’s best) basketball conference that happens to play some football. As long as the Big East maintains its BCS AQ status, maintain the current hybrid structure could be making the best of a situation where the perfect scenario isn’t a viable option.
OPTION B – SPLIT (BUT DO IT IN A BIG WAY)
The Big East split advocates often argue that as long as the Big East stays in its current hybrid form, it can never hope to achieve the stability of the Big Ten or SEC. Of course, the Big XII, an all-sports conference which has Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma in the fold, is unstable, too, with members openly talking about moving to the Big Ten or Pac-10. So, a split for the sake of “stability” is an unreasonable goal – other than the Big Ten and SEC, no conference will be completely safe in this next round of realignment discussions. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t split scenarios that could add value to the Big East immediately.
The problem with most of the Big East split advocates is that they are making the classic sports fan mistake of thinking in purely geographic terms. This leads them to only considering some “meh” schools from C-USA located east of the Mississippi River such as Memphis, East Carolina and Central Florida or maybe even MAC schools like Buffalo and former Big East football member Temple. Those are all schools that bring in various positives to the table, but none of them are anywhere close to slam dunks where it would be worth it to split away from the Big East Catholics for those “usual suspects” alone. So, if the Big East is finding only ho-hum choices of schools east of the Mississippi, why isn’t the conference looking west? Specifically, the Big East needs to be taking a hard look at Texas Christian University.
I know what a lot of you are thinking – here’s a d-bag Chicago lawyer that has argued that the Big Ten ought to invite Texas for several weeks and now is saying that the Big East should add TCU. WTF is going through that crack-induced head of his with him adding Texas-based schools to Eastern/Midwestern conferences?! Doesn’t he know that the schools, politicians and fans in the Lone Star State just want to beat up on each other (because the old SWC worked so well) instead of dealing with a bunch of Yankees?! Well, as you can tell from my blog posts, I’m not hung up on geography when it comes to conferences. I know that will simply be a fundamental issue for a lot of people, but we live in a world where Penn State is in the Big Ten, Boston College is in the ACC, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida are in the Big East, Louisiana Tech is in the WAC… and TCU is aligned with a bunch of Rocky Mountain schools in the Mountain West. It appears to me that the long distance conference cherry was popped long ago.
Regardless, TCU going to the Big East isn’t a novel idea. Jake, a regular commenter on this blog who has a fear that TCU could get screwed in this realignment process (and I’ll explain why that’s a legitimate fear in a moment), has mentioned the possibility. ESPN’s Big East blogger Brian Bennett addressed his thoughts on the prospect of TCU in the Big East (who, as you’ll see, I disagree with). Finally, the very knowledgeable denizens of BigEastBBS have discussed TCU a number of times.
There are a couple of items that impress me about TCU. First, its revenue in 2007-08, which was a “normal” season where it didn’t receive a jackpot of funds from participation in a BCS bowl like this past season, was $43.4 million, which was by far the highest figure of any non-BCS school. This was greater than in-state Big XII competitor Texas Tech, in the same range as schools like Syracuse and Miami, more than 3 Big East schools (Pitt, USF and Cincinnati) and greater than the next highest non-BCS school (BYU) by nearly $7 million. Second, guess which school has had the most NFL draft picks in history out of any non-BCS program? TCU, who is ahead of an entire slew of BCS programs on that measurement. Those two factors show that TCU isn’t just a fly-by-night program that got hot this past season. Its long-term revenue levels and history of churning out quality players mean that TCU is a legitimate BCS-level program as of today that also happens to be in the major market of Dallas-Fort Worth (even if it doesn’t deliver that market in the manner of Texas or Texas A&M).
The opportunity for the the Big East is that TCU probably can’t get into the Big XII (whereas too many people assume the opposite, including Mr. Bennett from ESPN.com). As I explained in point #4 in this post, TCU’s chances to get into the Big XII are almost a carbon copy of Pitt’s chances of getting into the Big Ten: they’re too much of a geographic fit (where they’re already within the conference footprint) in a world where expanding the conference footprint into new markets is more important for TV purposes. If you’ve followed my posts examining the prospect of Texas joining the Big Ten, you know that the #1 reason why the Big XII has issues is that it has TV revenues due to the lack of markets outside of the state of Texas. Thus, if the Big XII were to lose one or more members, adding TCU as a replacement doesn’t address that conference’s main problem that has caused such instability in the first place. As I’ve stated before, the only legitimate shot that TCU has to get into the Big XII is if both Texas and Texas A&M leave that conference.
Thus, TCU looks a lot like Louisville circa-2003: a BCS-ready program whose immediately geographically-close BCS conferences (in Louisville’s case at the time, the SEC and ACC) will probably never invite it. Even worse, the thoughts of the MWC becoming an AQ conference diminish dramatically if the Big XII and/or Pac-10 start picking off schools like Utah and BYU. Meanwhile, an expanded Big East that includes TCU looks a whole lot better than being limited solely to its standard C-USA options. Take a look at this hypothetical 12-school conference with North and South divisions:
In my opinion, that’s a pretty solid football AND basketball conference from top-to-bottom that covers a multitude of major markets. For the people that still care about geography, this league actually bears little difference to the old C-USA when Army was still a football member, where the league stretched from Texas to New York. Still, please don’t get hung up on the non-TCU schools that I inserted since they are really gut-level choices. I chose Temple (despite its horrid experience as a football-only member of the Big East where it was kicked out even when the conference was in search of warm bodies in the wake of the 2003 ACC raid) simply because if the Big East is going to split, I feel that the conference is going to need a presence in the Philadelphia market (even if it’s more for the basketball side of the equation). Memphis is sort of a natural extension for the Big East after having added Louisville and Cincinnati. The Tigers from Memphis with respect to the Big East feel a lot like the Tigers from Missouri with respect to the Big Ten – the geography works and there are some pre-existing rivalries, but it’s not exactly an exciting game-changing move. Houston provides a large market and travel partner for TCU. Regardless, you can exchange ECU and/or UCF for any of those choices I’ve mentioned above if you’re so inclined. The overarching point is that a Big East split looks a whole lot better with TCU involved than without. If the Big East were to lose a member to the Big Ten or another conference, then including TCU is even more vital for the conference in terms of maintaining its BCS AQ status. Maybe it would behoove the Big East to make the first move here by inviting TCU immediately so that it doesn’t even give an opening to the Big XII to potentially grab them in the event that both Texas and Texas A&M go to the Big Ten or Pac-10.
What would happen to the Big East Catholics? I’d envision a 10-school all-Catholic league league that would consist of the legacy Big East members plus Xavier and St. Louis University. That would be a legitimate major basketball conference in great TV markets with a side benefit of DePaul possibly winning multiple conference games in a season. (Actually, the Blue Demons still wouldn’t with that lineup.) If Notre Dame were to take a Big Ten invite, you could plug in Dayton (who might very well have the best college basketball fan base in the nation that no one seems to know about) and continue to have a fantastic 10-school conference. That’s not a bad ending for the Big East Catholics in a split situation.
I don’t know if the Big East Football schools are bold enough to go forward with Option B, but it’s at least a colorable argument for a split if TCU is included. If TCU can’t be brought in, though, then I don’t think a split would be wise.
With all of that in mind, which scenario would you choose if you were running the Big East?
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)
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