Wednesday, December 2, 2015

UT's Big score: Why Longhorn leadership is likely against expansion of the Big 12.

I think UT would love to be in a conference with Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Duke....

Maybe that is the ACC....Maybe not.

Years ago, when everything was falling apart in the Big 12 over Deloss Dodd's Longhorn Network,  Chip Brown revealed that Dodds was pondering over some options no one had ever considered truly viable ---Independence or joining the ACC.

Dodds in particular seemed really jazzed by the ACC.  Longhorn fans vomited on themselves as the chill of thinking of a schedule filled with games with local rivals replaced by the distant alien brands (the Marylands, Syracuses, and Boston Colleges) of the ACC.

Video of Dodds talking about an UT/ND/ACC merger made it's way on to the internet. (although I thought I remembered him rattling off ACC schools...Perhaps a different cut? Still this video is a fun watch when Dodds starts talking about possibilities.  Check out the Co-AD's face...)

In my last article, I pulled rumors from some West Virginia tweeters that to my reading imply UT is not only publically against expansion, but that they may also be actively sabotaging expansion efforts --- Now rumors are rumors, but I don't find that really too hard to believe as I think UT sees the Big 12 as just a convenient apartment while it's future luxury home is built.

(Allegedly, last season the Big 12 was on the verge of expansion with Cinci and BYU when the Big 12 leaders heard that Arkansas and LSU might be interested.  The story goes that the rumor effectively killed expansion momentum.  Taking the story further, eventually OU came to believe that the existence of the LHN was the prime reason such a far-fetched sounding move did not occur.  This year UT allegedly insisted Houston ---apparently #5 on the leagues candidate list --- be the second and final candidate pushed for expansion.  If true, does Houston have the support to even be submitted for a vote?  If not, does that mean no one will be submitted for a vote this year?)

Now...It sounds like sabotage...If it happened...

What does UT have to gain?

Let's start by looking at the votes.

UT has their vote and they likely have Tech's vote against realignment.  (I am taking it that Tech realizes if they don't back UT, the Longhorns will kick them to the curb.  UT very well may anyway, but a compliant Tech with a reliable supporting vote might cause UT to bring Tech along if UT is forced west by OU joining the PAC-12.)

Allegedly Baylor was UH's advocate.  Baylor hoped to pull in UH and then use the combined political power of Baylor, Tech, TCU, and UH to bind UT forever to this conference.

As I have covered in great detail in previous articles, OU also appears to favor what adding UH would do to fix the TAMU sized hole in OU's Texas recruiting.

My guess is if there is any truth to all this UT might have anticipated this discussion dragging on to the point where the Big 12 added 4 schools and UH was bumped up by Baylor from #15 to #14.  That is a lot more palatable for the rank and file than UH up from #15 to #12 on a two team expansion --- eliminating a couple of schools that other schools may favor.

So why would UT resist expansion overall and expansion with Houston so much?

I think the obvious answer is that Houston and Baylor are not in UT's long term future plans and the Big 12 may not be either so UT will be damned if they will let in Houston, a school who could possibly help corral UT down the road.

A weaker Big 12 keeps OU and Kansas in play.  Those are useful schools for UT.

To understand why this matters you have to move to a different perspective.

A macroview of the power conferences

The Big 10 and the SEC rule the TV finances at the power conference level. 

The Big 10 is also an elite conference in terms of academics and research.  They have 5 of the top 20 research universities in the US and 12 of the top 50.  UT leaders would love an affiliation like that.  But they also love winning and getting great fan support.  UT's recruiting and fan support would likely take big hits in the Big 10 where despite averaging ~67,000 per game conference-wide, brands like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, all of whom would likely be in UT's division, do nothing to excite UT fans and the cold and the distance does nothing to excite UT recruits.

The SEC has great recruiting territories and fantastic fan support (averaging ~78,000 in attendance) but with the exception of notables Vanderbilt ($478M - #35), TAMU ($666M - #19), and Florida ($636M -#22)  there is nothing all that great (from a power conference perspective) in the areas of academics and research.  Plus TAMU is already in the SEC.  UT will never follow little brother into the SEC and frankly TAMU might try to join South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia's coalition to block in state competition in order to block UT if they tried to join.

The PAC has financial issues with their athletics due to lesser fan support (averaging around 53,000)and tough geography that won't be cured without a big score in Texas or maybe some kind of Illinois and Missouri combination. They are much better academically than the SEC but only the top half of their conference rivals the Big Ten.  (4 of the research top 20, 6 of the top 30, and 7 of the top 50.) UT decades ago had a deep interest in the PAC, but all of that appears to have cooled substantially.  (I would argue that the inclusion of Utah, a school that would almost without question be pushed into a Texas division, was a mistake for the PAC in terms of landing UT.)  Oklahoma, likely UT's only truly valued conference mate, would likely look at the PAC as an optimal home.

The Big 12 makes solid money due to UT and OU, but is the worst academic conference in the power conferences and does little research.  Although they are great on the field, attendance outside of UT and OU is forgettable.  As a conference the Big 12 is averaging about 58,000.  UT's leadership knows that in terms of what they want ideally, they are "slumming it".  Still it is an acceptable home for the next 10 years.

The ACC rivals the PAC with similar small attendance numbers (~50,000 per game).  They are academically similar to the Big Ten with schools that rival that those in the Big Ten conference.  They have good markets, but presently only one of their two football kings is any good. (That is offset a bit as Clemson is a borderline king and is quite good these days.)

So in terms of research:

Conf.   Top 20 - Top 30 - Top 50
Big Ten       5          1          6
PAC-12       4          2          1
ACC            3          1          1
SEC             2          1         x
Big 12          x         1          x

The pecking order as most see it is:

1) The Big Ten
2) The SEC
3) The PAC
4B) Big 12

OK...Nothing new there...But what happens if the best elements of the ACC and Big 12 are combined?

Katie, bar the door.

Let's say ESPN continues to talk out of both sides of it's mouth to the Big 12 and ACC due to their rumored strategy to try to push UT into the ACC as it now exists.  ESPN has some leverage on the ACC.  They always have.

The thought is that ESPN is in part dragging it's feet on the ACC Network to make the Big 12 membership indecisive about expansion.  With no expansion, there is a great chance that OU will eventually challenge the Big 12 GOR and that when they go, UT will look at the ACC.  ESPN will then basically drop the Big 12 as soon as their contracts allow and the Big 12 will become another American Athletic Conference.

ESPN is rumored to be playing both conferences and absolutely could be.

But what if UT is also playing ESPN?  What if UT's big hope is that ESPN pisses off the ACC elite with delays of the ACC Network to the point where the conference is on the verge of splintering.  Then UT says to Duke, FSU and UNC ---"Let's take the best of both conferences!"

Now what I am going to describe would amount to some real machevellian thinking by UT's leadership if done intentionally.   I don't see evidence of that.  I think the only intentional actions by UT's leadership are their efforts working against Big 12 expansion to keep as many long term options available.  I think UT's leadership sees the possibility of a worthwhile merger with the ACC, but that is it.

The thought out there (and a quite sensible on IMO) is that the only reason an ACC GOR exists today is because ESPN promised an immediate raise for their tier 1 & tier 2 content and an ACC Network for another raise shortly down the road.  (I am one who shares the view that there is no way FSU signed their rights over strictly for a $2-3 M bump per team on tier 1 & 2 revenue. A promise of an ACC network has to be the bait that had them bite.)

The thinking goes on that in ACC circles, without an ACCN the GOR is considered toothless (one of our West Virginia tweeters says  two people with ACC schools confirmed this view), but as every other power conference (besides the SEC who largely doesn't need one) has a GOR that they are counting on to keep them intact, no foreign network will attempt to poach the ACC, lest they inadvertently set precedence on how to disarm a GOR deal.

Lets play this out. If ESPN doesn't honor their ACCN commitment by say 2017-18 (a date that seems to keep cropping up as likely to be a 2010-ish realignment armaggedeon date) and the ACC elite decide the ACC GOR is toothless, how do the ACC elites escape the ACC TV deal?

Well, my first thought is that they pull a "Mountain West Conference" --- That is the best schools leave as a group to start their own conference.  "Not The ACC".

And what does that conference do?  It invites UT, OU, and Kansas to join them when the Big 12 GOR is up (or as soon as they can). Possibly with Notre Dame on a special deal.  Then they set about negotiating a TV deal.

Who would be in?  My thoughts would be "whoever UT wants in".  Why UT? Why not FSU or UNC?

Because at that point UT would be the "Kingmaking" King.  That is, wherever UT goes would move that conference up to the elite level in the power conference ranks.

And UT might be able to throw in the LHN as the conference network as their ante. The LHN can go long before the Big 12 GOR is up.  You think the LHN is a rotting carcass discouraging Big 12 survival today...

Wherever UT goes, OU and Kansas could and likely would follow.  UT would have a choice of the PAC with Utah and western travel or an ACC offering.  Whatever conference UT choses suddenly has an entirely different relationship with ESPN and the networks.  Do they chose the California powered PAC or the Florida, Georgia, NC, VA powered ACC group?

Dodd's actions in the last few years has had the Big 12 missing out on all of the available research powers.

UT is the only school in the Big 12 ranked  in the top 50 in research dollars (#30).  A move in either direction would correct that for UT.

Do you see why UT might just give the ACC elite a list of UT's preferred handpicked collection of ACC schools and the ACC elite might be OK with that?

So who are we talking about?

I am going to guess every school in the ACC that does mad research....

Or more specifically, The research triangle (UNC, Duke, and NC State),  Pitt, and Georgia Tech joining targets that bring extreme football value (Clemson, FSU, Va Tech, UVA, and Miami?)

School  Research total (rank)
Duke $980 M (#4)
UNC $746 M (#14)
NC State $357 M (#53)
Pitt $806 M (#10)
Georgia Tech $611 M (#24)
Va Tech $393 M (#46)
UVA $271 M (#73)
Clemson $144 M (#116)
Florida State $208 M (#89)
Miami $278 M (#72)

state population total = 59 M


UT $531 M (#30)
OU $105 M (#135)
Kansas $148 M (#110)

state population total = 33 M

total state populations = 92.4 M

Now that is an interesting collection of 13 schools in several  ways.  The only bad parts  are the geographically isolated nature of the central trio and having 10 in the east and the needed  number of top academic athletes in the east.

Now let me throw some other ideas at you.  Duke really likes the association with Wake Forest. Wake Forest is another elite academic school, but they are not a research power ($192-#96) and like Duke they draw poorly in football (27,210  in 2014).

Duke wants to know..."Is there any way we can bring along Wake Forest?"

What if the conference did a little horse trading with Duke?   Duke and Wake Forest are in as Olympic-only members.

Each receives a half media share and full voting privileges. They get a long term in-conference affiliation with UVA, UNC, and NC State.  They also get to play all 3 schools out of conference in football.  The duo agree to never pay football players a cost of attendance stipend and to play football in another conference.

Duke effectively gets WF in, sheds their FB problem, and gets a second vote!

(Now I fully realize I am getting into murky legal waters here, but both schools are private schools which means they largely can do what they want.  If I am framing the deal I start with the concept that the agreement is Wake Forest and Duke buying a 100 year in-conference affiliation with UNC and NC State for essentially agreeing not to compete with them for the rarest of creatures ---the 4-5 star blue chipper who can handle the academics at UNC and UVA---This is the reason why UNC has football scandals.)

I have to think CUSA and the AAC would love to add the duo as football-only members.  

From Duke and Wake Forest's standpoint, If they are being honest, it would solve the biggest problem with football.  In the CUSA/AAC-level most schools are using 2 and 3 star athletes.  It is a level where they can compete honestly. It is a ton easier to find 2-3 star football players who might just need occasional tutoring to handle the workload at Duke and Wake Forest.

Additionally, the cost of attendance stipend hits private schools very harshly. Wake Forest and all the ACC schools struggled with it.  This would pretty much erase most athletic problems at the four schools and give all the 4 North Carolina schools the ability to compete in all sports at a high level.

The Duke/Wake Forest deal would solve some problems for the conference.    Lets say the conference wants to add Notre Dame under some kind of deal like the current ACC deal --- most of the framework is there.  Notre Dame academically is very similar to Wake Forest and Duke.  They could join as Olympic members with a full vote but only a 1/3 share in return for being allowed to protect their national schedule and have the conference's backing.   They are allowed to only play say 3 games vs conference opponents.  UT gets a Chicagoland anchor.

Further implications --- Groundwork laid for an SEC raid?

Now at this point the athletic TV money is huge and is only being split into 13 1/3 shares.  They would rival or exceed the TV payouts of the Big 10 or ACC.  The recruiting would match or exceed the SEC.  The academics would certainly exceed the SEC's.

If you are Vanderbilt and you have a chance to "remain true to your southeastern identity" while joining a stacked research conference with academic stars in UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame...You would jump, wouldn't you? 

Vandy is a basketball school.   How do you pass on Duke, UNC, Kansas, Wake Forest, Virginia, Texas....?

The SEC arrogantly believes they have no need to have a GOR deal because no one would ever leave a conference that draws so well.  Well, I think this is the scenario in which Vandy would leave.

What does that do to the SEC? Some would argue, "Nothing."  The SEC just brings back Tulane.

Maybe they are right.  Maybe not.

I think it would resonate at the next dominos...Florida and Texas A&M.

Maybe they'll fall....Maybe they won't.

Florida is a true King.

I admire UF a lot.  Florida is just like UT.   They are awesome at everything. Football, basketball... Undergraduate education?  Really good.  Research?  $592M annually; 15th best in the country.

Florida is an SEC blue blood but they are also a top notch academic and research university.  The loss of Vandy would bother them a lot, but that isn't what would have them thinking about moving.

Consider what happens to UF if this new conference puts Miami in the central division (Miami in it's heyday pulled a few blue chippers from DFW and Houston) with Georgia Tech and put Florida State in the eastern division with Clemson and the other traditional ACC schools?

That really gives a lot of power conference schools a chance at UF's native blue chip recruiting territory.  They already share with the rest of the SEC and a little with the southern ACC schools.   Are they ready for a more aggressive ACC push with UT and OU coming hard after blue chippers in Florida and Georgia?

Does tradition win vs. a "Big ACC" invite to Florida and rival Georgia?

Should those two football giants move, it effectively cuts off SEC recruiting at the Florida/Georgia borders --- effectively retaining the recruiting status quo at both SEC powers.  Rather than losing a chunk of the region to the SEC and the new conference, they just lose what they would normally lose to the SEC to the new conference.

With or without Georgia, I think Florida ---an SEC school that is actively blocking other Florida schools from joining the SEC --- would have to consider the offer for a surprising length of time.

TAMU has Aggie insecurities...

I think TAMU could happily tolerate the replacement of Vandy with a closer opponent in Tulane, but could they tolerate UT being in what would be perceived to be a far, far better conference?


An Aggie nightmare.

It would grate on them over time.

I think if Florida left, cutting off the SEC's Florida recruiting and removing the only other serious research university in the SEC, TAMU would sheepishly inquire about following and I think UT's leadership would quickly rubberstamp that.  (Only Dodds and A&M boosters wanted TAMU in the SEC.)

Other SEC & Big 12, etc. schools who might make sense.

A potential Florida departure would be a seismic impact. LSU would certainly consider pulling up stakes if Florida left.  They are in a mineable area for recruits for UT and OU. They would be welcomed by UT and OU.

Arkansas was UT's #2 rival.  UT would love to steal them back and such a conference would be hard for Arkansas's leaders to pass on, even if the rest of the SEC holds firm.

TCU would be an immensely sensible addition as they effectively protect the DFW recruiting territory that OU and UT rely on, but would it happen?

I think Texas Tech needs to hope for a UT/Tech PAC-12 invite or the Big 12 to survive.

Baylor could make sense in this kind of conference as in theory they should be able to recruit the SEC footprint for supplemental talent very effectively.  Hurting the SEC helps the conference. BU is quite good in football and basketball these days.

And football schools might not be the only schools considered...

With three Olympic-only members a fourth would seem to be desireable.  After seeing their football program shuttered on a whim by Alabama and Auburn, could UAB shut it down and join as the conference's fourth Olympic only member?  They are geographically well placed.  They do a ton of research and are often the state's best basketball program.  They are in a fairly large city...I like them as a possibility...but there are sexier brands out there.

How about Washington DC based Georgetown?  How would Georgetown look as Olympic member #4?  With Notre Dame in the conference, that is an acceptable conference move for a religious private.  They are a dynamite academic school and basketball brands do not get much better...

I think even if SEC blue blood solidarity stays in place, you could see a conference like this emerge.

"The Southern Powers Conference"

football divisions
Hurricane Division Mountaineer Expanse
Kansas WVU
Vandy Pitt
Arkansas Va Tech
Oklahoma UVA
UT NC State
Georgia Tech Clemson
Miami FSU

basketball divisions
Domer Division Dukie Division
Notre Dame (Oly) Va Tech
Georgetown (Oly) UVA
Pitt NC State
Vandy Duke (Oly)
Arkansas Wake Forest (Oly)
Kansas Clemson
Oklahoma Georgia Tech
UT Miami

...Now admittedly the Olympic travel would be brutal for UT on those ND/ Georgetown trips, but the money and prestige would be amazing.

Notre Dame and UT putting together a 20 team association...Isn't that exactly what DeLoss Dodds described?

(Some may question some of the decisions I made in conference makeups.  In football, they were designed to ramp up ACC football attendance and drain the SEC talent reservoirs of Georgia and Florida as quickly as possible in a way that restores kings UT, OU, and Miami. In basketball they were arranged to feature ND and Duke.)

This is fleshing out for all to see the magical fantasy unicorn UT's leadership occasionally glimpses to the east from the corner of their eyes.

And wait...There's more...

There is no guarantee UT has to go east.

There may be another magical unicorn to the west!

I am not at all certain that UT's leaders' anti-PAC stance is at all sincere.  It may be all about laying the groundwork for a better offer.

If faced with the potential of losing any chance at UT or TAMU for good to an ACC merger, what might the PAC research elite do?  Would they sell out their conference mates?

I don't think a new PAC-14/16 --- the PACC-14/16? "The Western Powers Conference" is an impossibility.

A smaller conference membership gives everyone a bigger voice.

football divisions
Domer Division Sooner Territory
Notre Dame UT
Washington OU
Oregon Kansas
Cal Nebraska
Stanford Colorado
USC Arizona

Olympic divisions
PAC Division Central Division
Washington Notre Dame
Oregon Xavier (Oly)
Stanford St. Louis (Oly)
Cal Kansas
USC Nebraska
UCLA Colorado
Arizona OU

Final thoughts...

Now I am sure UT's leadership has much better things to do with their time than mapping out future longshot scenarios, but I bet they know UT's big score is what the ACC or the PAC is going to do to land them down the road --- not what the Big 12 does today to get to 12.

This is why I have said repeatedly, the Big 12 membership needs to think bigger.  The conference is at an artificially low point.  Smart moves can quickly recoup a lot of lost ground.  If they want to retain UT long term, they have to cobble together enough flawed, but valuable assets to move their position a lot closer to the above described scenarios. UT does like having a central conference...Make it easier for them to consider staying.

If they can't retain UT, they are in a much better position if possible kings San Diego State and BYU (along with other valuable assets) are already on board, than if they have to fight the AAC, MWC, and independent status for those assets when the current Big 12 TV deals are up.  That is a position that I think UT's leadership might legitimately understand.

Adding 1-2 meh schools for TV markets and then sitting for a few years doesn't fix the long term outlook for the Big 12.

In researching the tweeter article, I read posts repeatedly that UT's leadership seemed disinterested in what is going on.  And yet they have allegedly derailed expansion last year and may again this year. To my reading, they seem interested enough.

If UT seems unfocused or unmotivated, it is only because the future of "ACC vs. PAC for UT" is a ton more interesting and relevant to and for UT than whether or not UT's UH block maneuver will prevent the Big 12 from adding Cincinnati.

And that itself should be worth pondering.

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