Thursday, February 18, 2016

Big 12 expansion: Coming soon.... (pt. 3)

Lets get to the evaluation part of this 3 part series.

In part one of the series, we looked at what we speculated was happening and ended that discussion with some highlights from our leaks in the distant tail of the conference.  They made several predictions and some interesting observations.

Part two of the series was largely hijacked by articles featuring the first-person perspective of OU president David Boren, the head of by far the second most powerful institution in the Big 12.  These articles give a very clear picture of where the conference is today and how to interpret the views from the conference tail.

I don't think some of our leaks details/predictions will prove correct, but I do think there are a lot things there that just make sense.

In part three we will reflect on this data and interpret it.

"Sensible Stuff" (well... to me anyway)

It appears that Boren has "won" his battle to convince UT and the Big 12 membership not to embrace blind fealty to not expanding. 

It looks like the conference is prepared to accept the findings of the firm they hired. IF the firm says expansion is lucrative, the Big 12 will expand.

Boren likely feels good because he knows the financial argument will favor of his plan (which, tooting my own horn, mirrors the core pillars of the plan I pushed for the conference a few months back.)

I think surprising expansion candidates will emerge.

I do think the potential of the ACC and Pac-12 destabilizing a bit in the next 3-8 years is what is driving current Big 12 behavior.

In general, it is very possible that ESPN may not have a serious motivation to back the survival of the ACC by delivering what they essentially promised the ACC membership in a quality ACC Network.

It is also entirely possible that the basketball/academic core of the ACC has a price that the Big Ten might meet very soon.

I think the PAC is not as stable as it looked a few years ago due to the NFL returning to LA and the troubles the conference has had with revenue generation for their network. 

I think there is every reason to think that Arizona State and Colorado could be in play in a few years...and that that possibility might be really blunting support for Colorado State specifically (and San Diego State to a much lesser degree) as candidates for the Big 12.

The idea that ESPN under a Disney financial crunch might pass on the Big 10...?

I can buy that, too.

I believe ESPN is constantly weighing the benefits of the Big 12 survival vs. the ACC's survival. 

I can buy that such a big decision as the survival of a power conference may effectively be balancing on a much smaller financial decision by ESPN. ("If we are just going to support one new conference network, do we turn the Longhorn Network, an economic loser for us, into a Big 12 Network --- something we can profit on --- or do we take the ACC third tier rights ---much of which we already own --- use them to create an ACC Network and pay the ACC more money for the privilege of it....like we said we kind of told the ACC membership we would?").


Let's talk about the scenario MHver3 volunteered of a tsunami of realignment

But I think what is being predicted by MHver3 in terms of fallout, is being predicted to fall far too cleanly, giving the wrong conclusions.

It doesn't take into account potential plan distortion due to  the national title game caliber play of FSU and Clemson (or the possible emergence of Va Tech, NCSU, UNC, and Miami) potentially making the ACC seem worth saving.

It doesn't account for the changing whims of ESPN and the networks and the personnel at UT, OU, the rest of the Big 12, FSU, UNC, and in the Big Ten.

I believe that,  just like in 2010 when the networks were strongly encouraged to pay the Big 12 to keep the conference together and keep payouts relatively stable in the other conferences, every step of the way the networks are going to try to put the breaks on this kind of movement to mega conferences.

Even with ESPN's Disney-specified financial limitations, networks will give some conferences concessions to try to keep them intact and stave off the era of mega conferences ---  with it's projected huge payouts. 

Still...lets play this out.

What if the ACC collapses?

The Big Ten

The most likely course for The Big 10 is to sweep down for AAU schools Georgia Tech, UNC, Duke, and Virginia.  I can totally buy they would be targeted.  There is way too much smoke there. 

The Big Ten need recruiting territories and North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia are three talent rich states. 

That is a very big score for the Big Ten that would leave the conference at 18 members. 

18 is a fine stopping point, but... so is 20.

I can buy that at TV payouts in the neighborhood of $50 to even $60M per school, there would be mutual interest between the ACC 4 and the Big 10.  But...

Lets be clear here.  The targeted ACC schools have the leverage here, not the Big Ten.

Surrendering NC State to the SEC in order for Duke and UNC to get into the Big Ten gives the SEC ownership of North Carolina's football talent and resigns North Carolina's keystone schools to football irrelevance forever. 

I think the NC keystone schools are going to demand more as their cost of admission.

Lets say the ACC's academic bluebloods demand NC State comes with them. 

"We are the research triangle." They bluntly tell the Big Ten.

What is the Big 10 going to do?    Kiss off the likely $10-15 Million each extra they were going to pocket by adding the ACC foursome?  No. 

Virginia likely only comes if Duke and UNC come and Georgia Tech isn't going alone.

UT was going to get to bring five to the PAC.  I would think UNC and Duke would want at least one.

The Big Ten will take NC State. 

This is a scenario I could totally see happening.

Now an interesting thought.  Does the Big Ten take all 5 or do they make a common realignment mistake and grudgingly concede one target school for an unwanted but required random element?

Would the Big Ten add UNC, Duke, Virginia, and NC State and pause at 18 in order to follow expansion conventional wisdom in maintaining flexibility?  That is how most conference memberships tend to think.  

Could Georgia Tech be lost to the general tendency of conferences to expand a little and then enter a re-evaluation period before the next expansion?

Should they take all five, that would make going to 20 a requirement.

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I don't buy MHver3's prediction that Notre Dame and Boston College would be teams 19 and 20.  That kind of expansion is too damned tidy first off.  Realignment is never tidy.

More to the point Notre Dame's value is based on their national schedule.  In the Big Ten, the Irish are...Northwestern.  The Big Ten has never understood this. 

Throwing in Boston College would do nothing for the Irish and BC is not an AAU school, so BC does nothing for the Big Ten.

ND is not going to be #19 and, frankly, they probably are not going to be #20.

To me, that is a glossy view and ---with no offense meant --- a sloppy prediction.

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A much more likely scenario to my way of thinking is that the Big Ten's ideal finishing total is 20 and target #19 is Florida.  ...Just think about it for a second.

UF is basically the University of Texas without the headaches, in a state with the same amount of talent, but fewer local suitor schools.

Florida is an AAU school.  It may be SEC proud, but they are also pretty much on an island.

The only real incentive for Florida to stay in the SEC if faced with this offer is the rivalry with Georgia.  Is it worth it vs. that joining that kind of Big Ten?

If Florida joins, the finances are off the chart. The academic prestige is unmatched ---ridiculously more than the SEC could ever offer.  And with the seal broken, anyone in the SEC would be available.

It the Big Ten can avoid NC State and Florida is #19, the options are pretty mind-blowing.

They could offer Notre Dame a membership and even with Notre Dame's desire to keep the national schedule, the money alone could make the offer tough to pass on.

AAU Vanderbilt would also be a sweet #20, giving top notch academics, great basketball, great recruiting, and bridging Georgia Tech.  If Florida's leadership could be wooed, Vandy's probably would be as well.

Even though they are not AAU, Georgia would be a fine #20.   Imagine the SEC without a member in Georgia and sharing Florida with the Big Ten.  It boggles the mind.

...Or Florida State or Miami in with Florida would be amazing too....

But I think in this scenario NC State would be team 19, making it a much more interesting question.

Does Florida join as the last member of the Big 20?   If they say no, would Vandy also decline?  Who then?  Does The Big Ten concede the AAU point one more time and add FSU?

Before you say, "Oh, hell no! Florida would never take that offer..."  Remember if they say no, they are rolling the dice they may let little brother Florida State jump into a far richer, far better academic conference.

I can't see Florida's leadership letting that happen, can you?

I think they would join the Big Ten.

And that could change EVERYTHING.

The SEC

It has long been speculated that the SEC would offer Florida State a slot rather than allow the Big Ten to take them. 

I think if the Big Ten takes the academic core of the ACC,  the choice on where Florida State goes won't be the SEC's to make.

Should the SEC lose Florida, however, it would be immensely in character for the SEC to offer Florida State the Florida slot and invite Va Tech and I think Wake Forest (even though they don't fit the SEC's profile) in order to get the North Carolina TVs they have long coveted.  Wake is an academic Gem too and that certainly wouldn't hurt the SEC to add.

Should Florida State accept, the SEC remains the #2 conference in America.

The Big 12

This is where smart action today could mean the world tomorrow.

If the Big 12 can retask the Longhorn Network into a Big 12 network and take their conference footprint headcount from the embarrassingly inadequate total of today (a little under 38 Million) to a number in the same ballpark as the PAC-12 (or a little higher),  they have a chance to be in the catbird's seat to carve up the other conferences, due to their central location.

If the conference is sitting on a footprint of say 75M with 12 schools or 90 Million with 14, they may have the best financial argument among the rest of the power 5 conferences to land to these target schools who may be looking at the Big Ten money and thinking "I'm getting what?"

OU President David Boren is probably looking at things and thinking,"....If the Big Ten adds UNC, VA, GT, and Duke;  And the SEC adds Va Tech and NC State... That would leave Miami, FSU, Clemson, Louisville, and Pitt available for us to consider and possibly a few really nice candidates to the West like Arizona State and Colorado..."
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Florida State would probably accept an SEC invite to replace Florida based on the idea that UF would be burning some bridges and FSU might be able to close the gap in southern perception, but this is actually not a given and that potentially could really mess up the SEC.

My perception is that FSU has grown accustomed to thinking of itself as a member of a prestigious academic conference and it's leadership doesn't actually think much of the SEC in that regard. 

FSU football fans may crave the southern legitimacy an SEC invite might bring, but there is also the potential that when the day comes FSU fans may harbor more resentment to the SEC membership for allowing UF to block them for years.

Remember the most important rule of realignment: The only conditions that matter are the conditions on the day realignment actually happens.

What happens if the Big 12, due to a smart footprint expansion today, can make a similar financial offer with better perks (more beloved opponents)?

Lets say the Big 12 pulls Louisville (or Georgia Tech), Clemson, & Miami...I think FSU could chose to go either way....

If the Big 12 gets all four, what does that do to the SEC?

Which conference would you rather be in at that point if you are Arkansas, Missouri, and LSU? 

If they join, one would think A&M would bitterly come slinking back....

(Or throw in Pitt for an academic bump if the Aggies stick to their guns... it is still a salty conference.)

Overnight there might be two Big 20's and two "little brother" power conferences....

The SEC could be in trouble if things break poorly for them and FSU flips them the bird.

This possibility is likely why Boren is trying to angle for an expansion to 12 only right now.

I think this kind of idealized view is pie in the sky thinking...
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My gut feeling is that if Boren was running the show the two schools that would be admitted would be BYU (for their athletic support as well as their nationwide and international value) and UConn (for the NYC market).  The fact both are excellent in basketball is just another plus.

Let's roll with that. Given that landing UConn gives the conference Connecticut and the 20M people in the New York City DMA, that expansion would give the Big 12 about 63M people in their footprint.  

With the quality of football in the Big 12, that would generate quite a bit of revenue with a Big 12 network probably comfortably putting the conference 3rd in that benchmark ----well ahead of the PAC and ACC.

With the ACC gutted, Louisville, Miami and Clemson would be sensible adds for football strength.  Pitt would be a smart add for academic reasons and to better mine the value of West Virginia. 

Miami is a great national program, but this scenario screams that it is the right scenario to add UCF and USF to allow the conference to fight the Big Ten and SEC's Florida recruiting efforts by having a Big 12 school in all three of that state's top 20 media markets.  That would give the Big 12 pole position in the state. 

At that point the finances would be so far ahead of the PAC that Colorado might be agreeable to coming home.  They appear likely to struggle in the PAC for the next few years.  (I totally get that the move to the PAC was for academic reasons, but at every school there is a point when you just want the bleeding to stop.

Arizona State academics are constantly the butt of jokes in the PAC.  They might be more than willing to give that role up for a fat paycheck. 

Having a mountain trio of Arizona State, Colorado, and BYU would do a ton to elevate BYU into fulfilling it's potential to be a king.

...Or...

You could see the recommendation of the firm be for the conference to expand to 14 now and both take the best possible money now and maximize the perception of conference wealth to disrupt the PAC in case the ACC doesn't collapse....with some very surprising candidates.   I would not be totally surprised to see the Big 12 add UConn and expand from the east.

UConn (+22 M) + Temple (12 M) + Cinnci (12M) + BYU (3M+ national/international audiences)  would give the conference 87 Million in the footprint and would likely get the dollars pretty high  ---lets guess at 80% of the SEC Network driven payouts?)

It would also be a fantastic academic and basketball expansion (yielding more NCAA tourney money).

Should no ACC collapse occur, the Big 12 could potentially add Arizona State and Colorado and call it a day at 16 members.

Should the ACC collapse, then add Louisville, Clemson, Miami, and Pitt from the ACC and USF and UCF from the AAC and you are at 20.

Rivalries galore. Ideal Spacing/playing off each other. Big markets. Great football and basketball.

(If I sound like I am harping on 20, it is because if the Big Ten has 20 and is blowing every other conference away financially, I think other conferences would feel a need to pull all the markets they can to try to keep up. )


The PAC

The PAC would have some tough choices to make.  Staying at 10 would not make sense.  

Adding Colorado State to keep the Denver and the Colorado markets could be a smart move.  CSU does significant research and would be somewhat academically appealing as an 11th member.

With the high population northern states of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota bereft of non-Big Ten power conference candidates, again the glaring target for the PAC would be the state of Texas.  

I could see the PAC inviting limited candidates SMU and Rice for the academic prestige of both schools....As well as access to the DFW and Houston TV and recruiting markets.

The University of New Mexico, with it's good research totals could be a grudgingly tolerable #14 if UNM made some academic reforms.   (I'd be tempted to say Tulane would fill the last spot better in PAC terms, but I don't think the somewhat expansion conservative PAC membership would approve the travel).

I wouldn't bet against a real dark horse --- The University of Hawaii --- stealing that last slot.  They do a ton of research and the liberal western schools appreciate Hawaiians, even if the travel is no fun.

UC Davis + San Diego State,  Tulane + Tulsa, or even a non-football pairing of St. Louis and Denver would be sensible expansion choices too, but I don't see the PAC making those decisions for several years down the road.

It may sound like gloom and doom for the PAC, but really it is more long term thinking.  Marketing to Asia and Mexico are lucrative down the road revenue streams. 

There are some immediate bright spots though....

Notre Dame would be a natural, sensible, and most importantly, available, ally.  The Irish could play basketball in the Big East and football as an independent with the PAC providing them a similar access point to the playoffs to what the Irish enjoy in currently in the ACC.

The arrangement makes sense for both parties in that a strong Notre Dame keeps the PAC relevant in power conference discussions and, if the PAC has a bad year on the football field , Notre Dame would likely be ready to step in.

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....But given history, predicting a realignment shitstorm is a low odds prediction.  It is highly likely someone will slam the breaks when this entropy starts. 

I would not be at all surprised to see 4 leave the ACC and ESPN keep the total money to the ACC the same --- essentially mirroring the 2010 Big 12 decision ---bumping up ACC per team take home in an effort to keep the ACC schools from making the SEC and Big 12 into mega conferences.

I would also not be surprised to see the PAC Network suddenly gain steam if realignment is threating to build 20 team mega-conferences.  I could see cable companies offering more on the frontend to avoid huge payouts on the backend.

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