Tuesday, February 16, 2010


So I'm back from vacation and I decided that I should probably write something. What's that? It's been 10 days? Hmmm ... fortunately I've got plenty of stuff to write about, despite the fact that pretty much nothing interesting has happened while I've been away. I gave up on my Signing Day post since it was getting ridiculously outdated, but I will have something about the incoming freshmen posted either later today or tomorrow.

Anyway ... for the past week, expansion (Big Ten, Pac-10 and otherwise) has been the topic of conversation on message boards everywhere. The news heard 'round the world:
“There have been preliminary exchanges between the Big Ten and Texas,” the source told the Journal-World on Wednesday. “People will deny that, but it’s accurate.”
I have two comments on this:

1. Texas is the ultimate prize in college sports. The football, basketball and baseball programs are all elite and the school has both excellent academics and a ginormous endowment. It's also in the mother of all TV markets as the primary team of choice for just about everyone in the second-most populous state in the country.

2. There is still almost no chance that Texas will end up in the Big 10 -- but not for the reasons most people think.

The determining factor in all this will be money, of course. Jim Delaney would be swimming around in a pile of cash like Scrooge McDuck, but would Texas really benefit? There are a few misconceptions about that, so let me do some clarifying.
  • I've had trouble finding a specific number, but according to Outside the Lines, each Big Ten team made about $22 million last year from the TV deal with ESPN and the Big Ten Network. Texas, according to the only detailed breakdown I can find, made $10.2 million in TV revenue last year (more than any other Big 12 team because of a wildly uneven conference distribution based on number of TV appearances). Considering that the Big Ten would be adding ALL of Texas and probably some surrounding areas, that $22 million payout would go up significantly (I've seen several estimates of around $8 million extra per team, although I can't find a link right now).
  • If you assume that a Big Ten championship game would be make about as much money as the SEC championship game, the conference as a whole would make about $15 million a year, and each team would get about $1.25 million. That's chump change compared with the TV deals, so just bringing in a mediocre 12th team to set up a title game won't cut it if the Big Ten wants to do anything of real value.
  • Travel costs won't stop Texas from joining the Big Ten. The school would be making roughly an additional $20 million from TV deals alone, so to steal a line from Brian at Mgoblog, even the crew teams could travel first-class and there'd still be money left over that wasn't there before.
  • Losing the conference rivalry with Oklahoma won't matter either. Until half of the old Southwest Conference merged with the Big 8 in 1996, Oklahoma-Texas was always a nonconference game. That could continue with no problem.
  • The Texas A&M game would be a little tougher, and that's where things start to fall apart.
I don't doubt that Texas would at least consider the idea of joining the Big Ten. There was a discussion back in the SWC days of joining the Pac-10, and there was even some talk with the Big Ten before things eventually fell into the place for the Big 8 supermerger. But part of the reason for that merger was the Texas Legislature. Texas is a state school, meaning it receives its educational funding from the state. When the state government got wind of Texas and Texas A&M planning to leave for the conference that would soon be known as the Big 12, everyone threw a shitfit. The conclusion: Baylor and Texas Tech had to come along. If they hadn't been allowed to join and Texas still would have joined the Big 12, the state would have pulled the school's funding. In other words, Texas had no real choice.

I don't know if the same thing would happen now that those schools have established themselves (sort of) in a BCS conference, but I think there'd be a huge fight. Nobody would be very happy about losing so much of the state's marketing power and economy to places like Columbus, Ann Arbor and Iowa City. Red tape will probably be the end of it.

And if you think maybe the Big Ten will bring along A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor just to get Texas, you're wrong. The more I hear from people about a hypothetical 14- or 16-team superconference, the less I think it will happen. Here's why:

1. Every team added beyond No. 12 has diminishing financial returns, even if it's Nebraska or Missouri or Pitt or Syracuse or somebody else that's not Baylor. If every team is getting (hypothetically) $30 million in TV revenue, a new team would have to add that much in order to be worth bringing in. Nobody other than Texas could do that -- Texas Tech and Baylor wouldn't even come close -- so the Big Ten would be taking a financial hit by cutting extra pieces from its revenue pie.

2. Football scheduling would be a bitch. Any more than 12 teams and you basically have two different conferences. The teams on each side would play maybe two teams on the other side each year (not including the conference title game), so you'd lose a crapload of rivalries and create a clusterfuck of rotations that would be just about impossible to keep track of for the casual fan. One of the great things about the Big Ten is the seemingly ancient traditions -- even nonrivals like Minnesota and Michigan have rivalry games and trophies like the Little Brown Jug -- so there's no way to split up the current teams into two divisions and not piss of a whole bunch of people and destroy part of the conference's history.

3. I don't think most Big Ten teams would approve adding more than one team. Even if the new schools were all good additions athletically AND academically (which is unlikely), I have a hard time believing that some schools -- Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example -- want to be relegated to complete irrelevance in most sports while still having to coordinate travel thousands of miles away for even nonrevenue stuff like field hockey. A little extra money is nice, but probably not at the expense of losing some national recognition because nobody cares about your school's athletic programs anymore.

So yeah, for all those reasons along with the obvious difficulty in actually organizing the theft of three or five teams from other major conferences, the superconference thing isn't happening. Texas probably isn't either, although I'd say the possibility exists; we'll call it 5% instead of the 0.1% I suggested a few months ago.

Nebraska also came out and said, "Hey, why not us?" this week, which was pretty much a kick in the groin to the Big 12 but an understandable move given the financial disparity between the Big Ten and most of the Big 12. I don't think that'll happen, though, because the Big Ten gains nothing except a football program (albeit a great football program). Terrible basketball program (no NCAA tournament wins EVER!!!), crappy baseball team, no major TV market, mediocre academics ... there's not a whole lot to get excited about there unless the Big Ten just wants to boost its view in the football world (which I admit is a possibility). Nebraska is a probably a little bit more likely than Texas because of the lack of red tape, but maybe 10% instead of 5%.

Pitt, Missouri and Rutgers -- and possibly Syracuse -- are still the most likely candidates. Here's a remarkable stat: Every team in the Big Ten made almost twice as much in TV revenue last year as the ENTIRE Big East. Yes, that's right. I wasn't sure a few months ago whether Syracuse would make the jump because of Jim Boeheim's role as de facto Big East spokesman, but financially, there's no way they (or anyone else in the conference) could turn down a chance to join the Big Ten. Missouri's in the same boat.

The Big Ten's in a good situation here; they can take pretty much anybody they want from that group, with no negotiation necessary.

The one thing I haven't mentioned that should be seriously considered: making the conference better on the field (or court, preferably both). Rutgers might add a nice chunk of TV money in the New York market, but does that make up for bringing in an East Coast version of Northwestern? In my opinion, no. That difference in TV revenue would more than be accounted for with a couple BCS berths or Final Four appearances, which you might get by adding Pitt or Missouri.

When people talk about the Big Ten, they think of a group that's largely below the SEC and even the best of the Big 12 on the football field. Again, the money would be nice, but that perception won't change unless the 12th team is more than just a money tree. Given the available options, I'll be a little disappointed with anyone other than Texas or Pitt. I'd be satisfied with Nebraska or Missouri.

For visual purposes, here are my odds:

Pitt 2-1
Missouri 3-1
Rutgers 3-1
Nebraska 10-1
Syracuse 10-1
Texas 20-1
Superconference 100,000-1

No, I don't care that those numbers don't add up to exactly 100%. So that's that ... wait, what? Now the Pac-10 wants to expand too? Gah!!!

Let's start with a basic premise: The Pac-10's situation is waaaay different from the Big Ten's. The Big Ten already has a ton of money and just wants to complete its master plan. The Pac-10 is in somewhat of an identity crisis, falling below every conference except the Big East in TV money and becoming a national afterthought outside of USC football. In other words, the Pac-10 doesn't have a whole lot of leverage.

There also aren't a whole lot of desirable teams, so the list of potential candidates is short and sweet. It goes something like this:

1. Colorado
2. Utah
3. BYU
5. Colorado State

Oregon blog Addicted to Quack put together a solid and well-researched piece and basically came to the conclusion that Colorado is the key to everything. The only major TV market in the western half of the U.S. that isn't already covered by the Pac-10 footprint is Denver, so that's the target. A rejection from Colorado probably makes everything else moot.

Utah appears to be a clear-cut No. 2 and would probably be the 12th team if Colorado decides to get the ball rolling.

One thing I'm surprised by is the lack of discussion about BYU. The academics aren't impressive (there's no research program, for example) and no games are allowed on Sundays, but the athletic programs are consistently good and there's a LOT of money to go around. Also, there are a lot of Mormons. National fan support wouldn't be an issue. According to Utah blog UteFans.net, the BYU situation goes beyond sports:
BYU is a parochial school that a number of Pac-10 schools would never allow to be invited ... there are a lot of admins/students/faculty/boosters in UCLA, Cal, Stanford, and other Pac-10 schools who have issues with the Prop 8 thing and the LDS church support of it.
Prop 8 was passed in 2008 and banned gay marriage in California. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but the general lack of public consideration lends credence to the idea that there's a little bit of a stigma around BYU that it wouldn't fit well into the Pac-10 culture (whatever that is). Addicted to Quack agrees:
A conservative, non-secular, non-research university that hardly has graduate programs and won't play on Sundays? There is no way BYU would be allowed into the conference. To get the SLC market, Utah makes more sense on every possible level ...
I'm not sure I agree with that last statement, but whatever. If, by some bizarre occurrence, Utah turns down the Pac-10's offer and the conference decides that it just isn't interested in BYU, the situation gets ugly. Colorado State has solid academics but offers little athletically or financially (unless you think CSU would bring in a lot of viewers in Denver, which is wildly optimistic). UNLV brings a nice market but is basically a community college and has been terrible at football for as long as anyone can remember. I think UNLV would be the first choice between the two, only because they have a consistently good basketball program and bring in the third-largest available market. Colorado State would provide a natural rival for Colorado but wouldn't actually add anything to the conference as a whole.

But it'll probably never get to that point. There's no reason Utah wouldn't jump at the chance to get into a BCS conference. Colorado, of course, is already in a BCS conference. Is there any reason they'd consider a move to the Pac-10? Well ... yes and no.

The Big 12 could make my research a lot easier (no specific payout numbers for individual teams are available), but based on my mathematical brilliance, it appears that Colorado made about $7 million in TV money last year. The Pac-10, on the other hand, paid less on average but will be negotiating a new TV contract next year (hence the desire to expand). Assuming a 50% increase in total revenue -- which seems reasonable based on the HUGE bumps seen by the Big Ten and SEC -- that number would go up ... all the way to $7.25 million. Woooo! There'd also be a roughly $1 million payout from a conference championship game and maybe a slight boost in some other areas, but the difference wouldn't be drastic.

Obviously, it'll come down to whether Colorado feels that it has more long-term earning potential in the Pac-10 than the Big 12. If it seems like a real possibility that Texas or Nebraska might jump ship for the Big Ten and leave the conference scrambling to fill holes, CU might just decide to be proactive and get out while the getting's good. The school would be docked a year's worth of conference payout -- approximately $13 million (this is the total payout, not just TV money) -- if it leaves without giving two years' notice, but that shouldn't be a sticking point if the powers that be decide a move is for the best.

Given the clear interest in listening to an offer and the fact that school administrators are already heavily researching a potential move, my guess is that Colorado will be a member of the Pac-10 in 2011. There's no real attachment to the Big 12, and the idea of getting a financial boost (along with the potential growth of a looming Pac-10 Network) and an academic boost from joining the Pac-10 will probably be enough motivation.

Where does that leave the Big 12? The loss of Colorado would be irritating but not devastating; the problem is that there's no one of comparable quality who could step in. TCU? Houston? Meh. Interestingly, BYU has been mentioned in the past as a Big 12 candidate, and if Utah ends up in the Pac-10, that'd probably be BYU's cue to find its own big-money conference. Plug BYU into the Big 12 North and everyone's happy -- except the Mountain West, of course, which would then be looking to rebuild.

Hopefully you got all that, because there will be a quiz tomorrow.

No comments: