Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Realignment Grades, Raids, and Horse trades (power conference edition)

"Just for fun" - In my realignment articles I tend to write about changes that may or are likely to happen, things that appear to have relevance, or frankly movement that I think is very possible and SHOULD happen. 

This article is none of the above.  In this article I am writing about possible movement that in a vacuum might make sense but where there are hurdles that would prevent them from occurring...even if most of those hurdles are just conventional wisdom driving bad logic.  I think it is a good venue for discussing some under-reported, "hidden" internal pressures some conferences feel, but don't expect these to happen.  This is strictly looking at unlikely optimal scenarios for entertainment, education, and most of all --for fun.

I've had a couple realignment articles banging around in my head for the last two weeks.   I am going to start with this one, which is kind of a "just for fun" article.

Every once in a while it's fun to talk about which realignment moves haven't worked out and look like mistakes.  Or maybe looking at what moves might be really strong ones for a conference.

I am going to go a step farther in this article by invoking the "conference member trade" --- something that posters will sometimes longingly talk about from a somewhat ignorant and very overly optimistic standpoint---but something that never seems to intentionally happen.

(Now it does sometimes occur.  Denver, for example, bailed out on a very fragile seeming WAC to join the Summit League--- only to see Summit cellar dweller UMKC, fearful that they might eventually be kicked out of the Summit, join the WAC.)

With No further ado, let's start at the top of the Power conference pecking order:

The Big Ten

Today, adding Nebraska seems like a huge mistake for The Big Ten...And to some degree to Nebraska.

Nebraska used to pick up supplemental recruiting from all over the Big 8 footprint with occasional kids from California, Texas, and Florida.  All that is gone now --- and with it, so is Nebraska's role as a football heavy hitter.

Realignment associations for conferences like the Big Ten are about long-term academic prestige associations.  The Big Ten made an exception to their expansion philosophy to add another national brand in Nebraska football.

Nebraska got kicked out of the Association of American Universities (the AAU --- a fraternity of elite research schools) and is unlikely to ever be readmitted.  Now that the Big Ten has ties to 15 voting members of the AAU, it is a little more difficult to imagine other "at risk" Big Ten members (Indiana) getting kicked out.  Nebraska is now the only school in the Big Ten not in the AAU.  It may be that Nebraska will forever be the only non-AAU school in the Big Ten.

There is now a clear support to the contention that Nebraska is academically inferior to every other school in their conference.  Nebraska is the Boise State of the Big Ten.  As much as proud Nebraska alumns and faculty would love to point at their very admirable academic record, there is now damning support that Nebraska was just a "football add" designed to deliver B10 credibility ---and as that not the kind of homerun a conference would want at the cost of an undeserved membership slot.

Nebraska has not held up the western division of the Big Ten as the conference had hoped.  Games against Nebraska are just games on the schedule, not marquee matchups.

Nebraska football fans seem to have a general unease at the state of things.  They were happy to get away from Texas and the money is nice, but everything else seems to have come with unforeseen drawbacks.  It seems only the professors at Nebraska who now via the university's membership in the Big Ten have access to the assets of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation are really 100% thrilled with the new status quo.

Grade:  D

If the Big Ten knew that the other two schools they would add would be Rutgers and Maryland, and that Nebraska would be such a forgettable disappointment in the Big Ten, I wonder if they might have made a different decision.

Horse trades:  I wonder if the Big Ten might be amenable to letting Nebraska move to the PAC-12 in a few years?  That is a move that could have a lot of appeal to Nebraska in that it would open the door up for California recruiting and restore a cherished rivalry with Colorado.  Academically the PAC could still provide the same kind of benefits for Nebraska that the Big Ten does.  If all parties were agreeable to it,  Nebraska could still play schools like Wisconsin and Iowa out of conference.

The Big Ten could lose an academic "headache" and could fill that slot with a school they probably regret eliminating due to following today's expansion conventional wisdom which states you only add a single school from each state---Pitt. 

Pitt is a research powerhouse and their addition would do a lot to make the eastern division more cohesive.  While Nebraska might pull more advertising revenue, Pitt has more fans in the rich TV markets to the East and has some rivalries. 

Pitt is great in basketball (important to a conference TV network) and is good enough to compete in football at a high level every few years --- think a lesser Michigan State.  In fact, they could fill the same role Michigan State does for Michigan for both Ohio State and Penn State.  That is a powerful concept for their candidacy.

That trade would create a more appealing eastern division, not to mention a better divisional divide pushing Michigan into the West.

East Division
Penn State
Ohio State

West Division
Michigan State

Moving down the pecking order...

The PAC-12

Although I will argue to my dying breath the addition of Utah was a negative in their penultimate long term goal of adding the University of Texas, I think there is no question that so far Utah has more than pulled their own weight on the field. That is not horribly surprising given the level of play the Utes showed in their last few years in the MWC.

Grade: A-

To the surprise to many (including myself) is that Colorado has been a major disappointment.  It was always presumed that Colorado would flourish in the PAC as it's alumni move west into PAC territory in fairly large numbers.  They should have been able to harvest a lot more alumni support, media coverage, and recruiting...So far it just hasn't happened for Colorado.

Grade: D

Raids:  The no-brainer raid for the Pac-12 is to invite Oklahoma and Kansas to join at the completion of the Big 12 grant of rights deal.  While I feel the PAC made a huge mistake in passing on OU and OSU, if that pass opens the door for an OU/KU addition, it will have been the right move.  Adding OU with Kansas would permanently eliminate KSU and OSU from consideration. It would likely skunk the Big 12 for UT and have the Longhorns looking favorably westward at the PAC again.  The addition of the two former Big 8 schools would excite Colorado alumns and likely help turn that program around.  OU is a top 10 football brand at least and Kansas is a top 5 basketball brand at least.  Both are national programs.

Horse trades: Compounding that with Nebraska coming in would help the PAC into a position where they could add UT and call it a grandslam. 

Should UT make the very unlikely decision to move alone to the ACC, the PAC could add a school like TCU. This would plant a recruiting flag in DFW for OU and Nebraska and allow the PAC-12 to shed the "anti-religious school" rap by adding a pro-academic freedom religious school.  They could then call it a day.

Or the PAC could possibly look to add 2 out of 3 from the pool of UNM (great basketball), Rice (great academics, Houston DMA), and Colorado State (Good basketball, new stadium, solid academics and research).

Washington State
Oregon State

Arizona State


Today, it's very hard to argue with the SEC's two Big 12 additions.  Missouri has won some eastern division titles.  TAMU has beaten Alabama once and been pretty successful.  While recent events have that success looking pretty much done, today those adds grade favorably.

Grade: A

Raids: The SEC would love to pick off UNC, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma, but the reality is they just do not have the juice.

In addition to being rivals, UNC, NC State, and Duke are research powers which are deeply intertwined.  The area they are in is collectively referred to as "the research triangle".  The ACC allows them to continue their affiliation in the same conference.  They aren't likely going to be split against their will by an offer from a lesser conference academically (ie. an SEC offer).

Virginia Tech had to work their channels in-state to get into the ACC.  One wonders if the University of Virginia and the state would be accepting of them leaving. UVA does not seem all that keen on leaving the NC trio even if a Big Ten offer comes.

I am definitely no ACC expert, but all of the SEC's preferred targets in the ACC look like tough adds.

OU would probably join any power conference willing to take OSU, but they are not yet at a point where they will abandon OSU to be the SEC's single Oklahoma school.

A down the road addition of West Virginia & Florida State would be a smart pairing for the SEC, but there is every reason to believe lawyer turned part-time SEC realignment scribe Clay Travis of "Outkick the Coverage" that Florida would use it's alliance with Georgia and South Carolina to block an FSU admission.

WVU would be very dangerous with Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia recruiting.  WVU, with fans in Pennsylvania and Virginia and their ability to travel well, would bring surprising value to the SEC. 

FSU moving to the SEC could put the ACC in a tough spot as far as Florida recruiting goes.  The ACC might want to add another Florida school, but Miami would probably be able to successfully block USF or UCF  --- the next tier of Florida schools.

A less contentious sneaky big play for the SEC would be tendering future invites to West Virginia, Pitt, Baylor (or Oklahoma State), and Wake Forest (or East Carolina). 

West Virginia and Pitt add a quality rivalry and the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Pitt is a research power that would upgrade the perception of the SEC as a research conference.  West Virginia fits the profile of an SEC school.  Baylor and Wake Forest are quality academic privates who have played very good football over the last decade. 

All are schools their current conferences might be very content to lose to the SEC instead of other members.

After baiting the SEC to add Texas A&M and then trying to sue the SEC, Baylor would be a hated opponent for much of the SEC.  Baylor's scheme and coaching are good enough that they would win a lot of games in the SEC.  That is a great combo  for TV.  Plus most Southern Baptists live in SEC territory, so there is almost no question Baylor would recruit top 20 classes each year and could maintain their current level of play.  

While TAMU delivers Texas, having only one team in a state the size of Texas could be a real problem for the conference if TAMU underperforms --- as they often do.  Baylor would be the perfect Robin to TAMU's Batman. Baylor is the kind of school that TAMU leaders wouldn't feel threatened by athletically and try to block. Additionally an TAMU/BU alliance would be very troublesome for UT politically in Texas.  Would Baylor have the votes from SEC members though....?  Very questionable.

Wake Forest is an elite academic school which absolutely loves it's rivalries in the ACC, but has to realize they bring the least to the table in that conference and as such are the most vulnerable to be left behind should some shakeup occur.   Wake would offer the SEC the North Carolina markets the conference desires.  Wake has no illusions.  They know they are a have not member of the power conferences and a somewhat tenuous one at that. If they were offered a slot by one of the richest conferences out there, I think they might very well accept.

That certainly isn't the 4 schools an SEC fan might target if their preferred schools aren't available due to being blocked or being unwilling to come, so I listed OSU and ECU as alternates.  Neither school hits as many of the likely pre-requisites the SEC might want but they look better on the sports page to SEC fans.

OSU is really a peer to Arkansas, so if the SEC cannot land OU, I could see the SEC being OK with OSU. 

ECU is a tougher sell.  Academically they would be the worst school in the SEC and do not match the general profile of the SEC, but in football terms they are a fit, deliver statewide fan support, and could easily blossom as South Carolina did in the SEC into a 80,000+ per game school. 

Should the ACC successfully continue to block SEC access to their North Carolina and Virginia members and Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina continue to block FSU, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, that could create a scenario where the SEC might actually consider this longshot. 

After all, North Carolina is a very desirable collection of markets and none of the ACC North Carolina schools are truly dominant from year to year.  ECU could quickly surpass them all on the field.

Horse trades:  You want a fascinating idea....Vanderbilt for Wake Forest...  Everyone should be aware fo the fact the SEC is tradition heavy...and very proud of their history.  Vandy is the only school in the SEC that I think might consider leaving on strictly academic terms.  I think the Big Ten kicked the tires on Vandy, but if the ACC was not at risk, I think the ACC would have a very decent chance to actually steal Vandy.  Vandy has a lot in common with ACC schools. Whereas Wake Forest might approach realignment with some fear of becoming the Rice (abandoned by the SWC schools) of the ACC, Vandy might feel some camaraderie with and a desire to join the ACC schools.

Considering that, such a swap could be a salve for both schools and a financial winner for both conferences. The ACC is actually probably harmed by having 4 school from the same state in the same conference.  I think in theory the SEC leadership would have no problem with trading one academic power in a state they already own for an academic power in a state they have long coveted. The SEC TV financial pie would still be split 14 ways, just the pie would be bigger.  The ACC would also profit by adding Tennessee's markets and a perfect bridge from Notre Dame to the southeastern schools.  They would also see a similar financial gain.  AND most importantly, that would likely put an end to SEC targeting of the ACC's Research Triangle trio, stabilizing the ACC long-term.

East Division
Florida State
South Carolina
Wake Forest
West Virginia

West Division
Louisiana State
Mississippi State
Texas A&M


Boston College, Syracuse, and Pitt have all disappointed to some degree.  None are really tearing it up in football.   They provide good markets and academics and solid fan bases, but one wonders if the ACC had a do-over would they have added them?


The addition of Louisville at the insistence of FSU and Clemson likely annoyed the crap out of ACC presidents as well.  Still Louisville has very good athletics.

Grade: C

Raids: The ACC knows that any chip in their NC/VA/GA core could lead to the SEC gutting them, so they likely would not want to stir the pot with the SEC.  Flirting with Vandy without SEC approval is too risky.

Additionally, one gets the feeling having Notre Dame in the conference effectively immobilizes the conference. 

As with my suggestion of the Big Ten adding Pitt, in the ACC I feel that there is too much space between schools in the Northeast and it hurts their northern schools.   UConn and Temple would be a sensible pair to add should the conference decide to fix that.  Both are basketball powers who would fit well in the conference and add marketable rivalries.  (Probably too much arrogance and history based bad logic to support adding either school today).

Adding non-football school Georgetown would likewise be a very smart play for the ACC in several areas including cementing their relationship with Notre Dame.

That would create a  salty 16 football team (+ND scheduling alliance), 18 basketball team conference.

Horse trades:  Should the University of West Virginia ever raise their admission standards to an appropriate level (something I have read is dictated by the state --- foolish if there is any truth to that claim), WVU might become somewhat acceptable to the ACC.  Should that ever occur, trading Louisville for West Virginia might become quite appealing to the conference membership. Rick Pitino is going to retire one of these days and with him out of the picture, travel to West Virginia and association with a state flagship might be much more desirable for the ACC than continuing a relationship with Louisville.

Should UT ever commit to the Big 12 and allow the conversion of the Longhorn Network into the Big 12 Network, Louisville might actually agree to academically downgrade for a better regional home.

Boston College
West Virginia
Notre Dame (Olympic sports+ scheduling deal)
Georgetown (Olympic sports)/Virginia (football)
Virginia Tech

Virginia (Olympic Sports)
Wake Forest
North Carolina State
North Carolina
Georgia Tech
Florida State

The Big 12

Grades:  TCU has been exceptional on the field, media relevant, and has protected UT and OU's DFW recruiting.

Grade: A+

Adding West Virginia was a horrific decision for this conference in terms of identity, but athletically WVU has been a credit to the conference.

Grade: a grudging C+

Raids: I  covered this in depth in the 6 part series.  If you divide the Big 12 's footprint's population by the number of schools in the conference, you see the Big 12 is market starved compared to other power conferences.  That caps the conference's media value.  That will prevent any future significant raids of other power conferences and if left unchecked is likely lead to the collapse of the Big 12 eventually.  This conference needs to add a lot of TVs to be able to match the leveraging power of other power conferences.

This could probably best be corrected with just a western expansion (but admittedly that thinking does not appear popular today among the league's decision makers who follow CW in looking to the east.).

The better candidates today are out west. I would advocate the addition of  Colorado State,and potential football kings BYU & San Diego State,  with the new western expansion supported by Olympic members with great academic and media market locations UC Davis, UC Irvine,  & UC Riverside. 

Adding Olympic members St. Louis and Illinois-Chicago to a northern division would create 3 strong basketball divisions for convenient travel and rivalries.

The addition of only 3 football candidates would create a football only slot.  I had pushed Houston for that football-only but that choice looks too caustic for UT and Tech's leaderships and boosters. A sensible alternative option for the final football spot on a western expansion could easily go to Air Force. 

Air Force kicked the tires on pulling their Olympic sports into a less competitive conference a couple years ago when they were talking with The American about a football-only spot a few years ago.  Air Force as a football-only add would be a strong replacement play for UH.  The academies are all very strong academic brands, have large nation-wide fanbases, and Air Force is a marketable BYU rival.

(Anything that supports the maturation of BYU and SDSU into real kings is a smart play.)

That type of expansion and the formation of a Big 12 network out of the LHN could open the door for a raid on the SEC or ACC down the road.  If the money was same and UT grew into a good partner, would Missouri and Arkansas consider moving to the Big 12?  Possibly. 

Missouri left because the Big Ten passed on them and the Tigers' constant flirtation with that conference had the rest of the Big 12 prepared to abandon Missouri should the conference implode.  It was a defensive move.  Is there too much bad blood there for a reunion if the Big 12 finances made a major correction?

Arkansas has been an afterthought athletically since they left the SWC. Should Missouri move back (or Louisville move to the Big 12), the Big 12 could begin to look like an ideal home for Arkansas with DFW recruiting beckoning and several very large Big 12 fanbases within about a 3 hour drive of Fayetteville.  That could easily lead Arkansas to look at a stadium expansion to 100,000.  They could easily become one of the FBS's true kings, in the 100K club with top 12 recruiting classes.  That isn't happening for them in the SEC. Ever.

If the Big 12 got their act together, Arkansas could be leaving fat money on the table to stay in the SEC.

Additionally, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, and Georgia Tech combo could become available should the Big 12 have a better collection of markets to leverage.

Horse trades: Should the Big 12 ever get their act together and Arkansas want to move west or Missouri want to return, a sensible deal between two peer conferences would be to offer the SEC West Virginia in trade --- should West Virginia ever get their admission policies that downgrade their academic reputation corrected.

Or a deal to the ACC would work too.  WVU for Louisville would be great too.  Really WVU to either conference for no return would be OK.  The conference could backfill with Tulane and likely be about the same as they are today.  WVU is better by far athletically, but Tulane would bring a lot to the table academically and in recruiting terms and they would be less likely to be a spoiler vs. the league's elite teams.

Big WAC division
Air Force (FB only)

SWC division
Texas Tech

I was going to do the non-power conferences too, but I am tired.  Maybe tomorrow...

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