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Today I want to discuss game changers in college football. I have some thoughts on the matter that I will put out there, but to be totally honest I am eager to get this article done because really, I want to read your thoughts!
Years ago I came up with what I believe is the one main rule of college football realignment (and maybe the only one).
The candidate who gets admitted is often not the best candidate for the needs of a conference. It is the candidate who could capture the required votes on the day the votes are counted.
It is a rule that makes predicting realignment damned near impossible. I mean I can lay out what I think is a perfectly logical and well thought out argument for any number of possibilities, but it all boils down to what immediate concern the voting principles feel has to be addressed on that particular day when it is time to vote.
Weird (?) decisions
TCU's athletic director Chris Del Conte likes to tell the story about how they got into the Big 12. They had the support of OU and most of the teams in the Big 12, but he was told he needed to get UT behind their candidacy to make it happen.
So he heads down to UT and catches up with DeLoss Dodds to make his case. Dodds agrees to listen to him, but insists they talk at a bar. After hours of drinking in a bar and Del Conte telling Dodds all the great little factoids about TCU, Dodds tells him he has UT's vote. The whole time he has been calling Mr. Del Conte "Dell."
This craziness is repeated over and over.
The Big 12 approached Louisville in 2011 to replace Missouri. The Big 12 was rumored to want a school to quickly accept the offer and start playing the next fall. Less than a year is a quick turnaround that can create a lot of scheduling headaches for the conference being abandoned.
The Big East had a 27 month exit agreement in place that was considered pretty toothy. Louisville didn't think they could exit the Big East on that schedule without incurring a ton of damages. West Virginia, whose lawyer wrote the document, thought they could. So the ass hurt Big 12 added West Virginia as their face-saving move.
When Louisville was admitted into the ACC in November of 2012, all the money was on UConn. If you look at the ACC membership then you look at Louisville and UConn, it is pretty easy to see that UConn is a ton more like the other members of the ACC.
But FSU and Clemson were looking a little shaky in their commitment to the ACC. They wanted Louisville, a football school. The ACC realized there is no replacing FSU so they went that direction.
What if that vote happens 2 years later after Florida State makes the playoffs (in spite of playing in the weaker ACC) and win the national title? Is FSU really concerned about impressions? Does the ACC really pass on UCONN after they win the men's and women's basketball titles the same year?
Moves like this are almost the norm.
Game changing trigger moments
I mention these examples because these moments of decision are keyed by the kinds of other factors I want to talk about today. The slot in the ACC became available because basically the ACC has great markets. The Big Ten feared that should the ACC power schools start winning again, those markets would combine with the conference's on the felid success to force a renegotiation and generate great revenue. If that came into play, how would Penn State feel about the academically strong ACC?
Now many may scoff about the idea of any school leaving the Big Ten and the CIC, but that was the stated reason given by Big Ten leadership for doing it when they did. Expand the footprint around the Nittany Lions so Penn State is not a geographical outlier.
The Big 8 schools pushed for the creation of the Big 12 in response to moves made by the SEC. The Big 8 schools were terrified of losing Oklahoma because the Big 8 conference footprint was based on an earlier travel-centric conference model in vogue in an era when attendance exclusively drove revenue. It was not designed optimally to sell conference TV content to networks. The SEC had twice as many TV households and could likely offer OU up to twice as much!
The Southwest Conference died for many reasons, but the one that really started the ball rolling was pro football coming to DFW and Houston. Those teams killed paid attendance at Rice, Houston, TCU and SMU. Those were 4 of the 9 SWC schools. The conference struggled with that issue for 2 decades before that great conference finally fell but that absolutely destroyed the SWC business model in the days when paid attendance and merchandise sales were paying the athletic bills.
So what will be the next game changer?
Some think non-sports fans chosing to dump cable for a roku will eventually kill the cable financial model that drives collegiate sports. Frank the Tank has written a fantastic article on that.
Some would argue that the totally unlegislated "cost of attendance" checks will allow the SEC to really entrench their recruiting dominance. Now there is a legal avenue for the SEC to pay teenagers to ignore the fact they are going to school in the deep south.
How will the real USC (The Trojans) recruit against schools like Tennessee when the collegiate players see if they go to the SEC school where costs of attendance are actually low and the COA estimates seem inflated, a penny pinching college student could graduate with say $15,000 in his pocket from COA checks (assuming they are given full COA ---not a given) , where the same kid might leave USC $15,000 in debt due to the high cost of living in LA and USC's smaller checks.
(I didn't chose this potential game changer because to me California living is night and day better than living in the south. That won't change. The SEC may use COA checks to bludgeon some schools, but the kings will be fine.)
I am going to throw out another idea. An oldy but a goody.
The NFL has long used Los Angeles as a leverage tool to get new stadiums built.
"You don't want to give us a bunch of prime real estate and $500 Million to a Billion dollars for a brand new stadium? Well...If you, (Insert NFL Community name) are going to be unreasonable, we have no choice but to move to LA."
Eventually, they get their money and their land.
That really doesn't look like that is going to happen this time. The Chargers and Rams look poised to "get their own stadiums built" in LA and the Raiders seem happy to lease from either team to get out of Oakland and the Coliseum.
There could be three NFL teams in Los Angeles. Perhaps the proposed Los Angeles Stadium in the City of Industry or the proposed Farmers Field in Los Angeles could re-emerge as a contended for an NFL team, but today it looks like the trio will be playing in Carson and Inglewood.
This will have USC and UCLA, both of the PAC-12's football kings (using that very loosely with UCLA based on their recent success. Really historically they are is as much of a real football king as Texas A&M--- meaning a king in clothing but not in substance. ) competing head to head with NFL teams for fan ticket and merchandising revenue. (Unlike TAMU at least UCLA has basketball dominance...)
Currently the PAC-12 has a significant advantage over the Big 12, but should both PAC-12 kings crash and the Big 12 kings recover, that advantage diminishes significantly.
Now USC has always had to compete with NFL teams. The Rams were a co-tenant at the Coliseum from 1946 to 1979, and the Raiders from 1982-1994, but when the Rams moved to Anaheim and there were two NFL sucking up fan dollars in greater LA, I would allege there was a greater affect on USC.
Here are the records of UCLA and USC over the last 45 years divided into 3 time frames pre-NFL in LA, Raider+Ram Era, and Post-NFL in LA Era.
You can track the attendance here. (I would have normally compiled this minutia for you readers, but I am in a computer principled standoff with acrobat reader and all the raw data is in PDF format. :/ Today I only have the last 15 years of attendance data easily accessible in my xl spreadsheets.)
College football is viewed as lesser football than the NFL in large cities. Unaffiliated football fans spend their football money on tickets and merchandise to the highest level of football in an area. USC (and to some degree UCLA) will see revenue --- a lot of revenue --- lost to NFL teams.
This will be a lot more pronounced than the 1980's. You are talking about 3 NFL teams in LA county proper!
I think USC in particular would be smart to either sick their boosters on trying to help the Rams stay in St. Louis or revamp The Coliseum to optimize crowds over the next 20 years. (Let me know if you want to hire a stadium consultant, USC! I'll help you manage the NFL incursion...Here's a good starting point but you have to pay for what I can give you. :) )
A PAC collapse.
What happens if the PAC-12 has no kings, less attendance (weather on the west coast offers a lot of alternatives to football games), and a smaller market share than other power conferences? Nothing good for schools like Washington State, Oregon State, and Utah.
That scenario creates a situation where the PAC-12 makes less money than the other power conferences AND they do not have the pull to draw in OU with Texas ---the PAC's demographic game-changing targets.
This is why Stanford and Cal shooting down the addition of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on academics terms may prove a fatal error for the PAC-12. It allowed the Grant of Rights to come into existence ---a deal that makes any Big 12 acquisition tough to imagine in the next decade. Although today's PAC is loaded with quality coaches, the conference could really devolve as a power conference if the LA schools dim in the next decade.
There is huge potential for a stalemate there where neither ruling caste in the PAC-12 or Big 12 gets what they want financially from their conferences.
And one where the PAC schools no longer have the better leverage.
This reopens the door to something that probably drove the PAC-10 to expand in the first place --- fear of their academic elite departing to join the Big 12 academic elite.
Such a move would likely cut very close to the bone. I would not be shocked if UT's position was, "You bring your 6 best plus Colorado, and we'll bring OU and Kansas and we will recruit 2-4 we like and we'll share control. We promise to leave out PAC poison pills Baylor and BYU."
To be clear, that would mean the PAC goes the way of the equally legendary SWC, with the research powers UT covets --- USC, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Washington, and Arizona, and Colorado --- walking out on the rest of the conference, just like the football attendance powers of the SWC left for the Big 12.
With UT and OU in, that conference would be looking at TV money equal to or in excess of any other conference, access to rich California investment sources, academics in the Big Ten range, and recruiting in the SEC range...without having to be in the deep south.
UT would also gain the leverage to literally chose whoever they want in the conference. The academic arguments they could make to SEC outliers would be tough to ignore as the financial and recruiting positions would be a wash and everything else would be overwhelmingly in the new conference's favor.
It has always been the optimal return for the USC and UT, but it is a total scorched earth policy for the PAC. The PAC has not had to seriously consider such a proposition, but these days everyone is trying to keep up with the SEC and Big Ten's TV financials and the Big Ten's academics.
UT would likely take OU, Kansas and then offer the last two to four slots to valued rivals.
I would think Nebraska would surprisingly be high on UT's list. Rivalries sell. OU/NU was an exceptional rivalry and the hatred between UT and NU should be quite marketable. Plus OU and KU will always want them back.
My guess is the UT pecking order would be Notre Dame (not off the table, but not happening as a full member), Arkansas, TAMU, Nebraska, LSU (not impossible, but unlikely) , TCU, Missouri, then Tech and OSU.
Down the road a 16 team PAC/SWC would make a ton of sense to end the kind of frustration an NFL driven weakening of the PAC might create.
|PAC Division||SWC Division|
|Arizona||Notre Dame (olympic only w/a 3-4 game football agreement) or TCU|
|Colorado||Missouri or LSU or OSU or Tech|
Potentially, three NFL teams in LA county for the next 20 years is a huge game changer.