Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Big Ten Expansion coming very soon (hot rumor)

So the end of March brought a hot rumor that makes a ton of sense given the players involved.  The Big Ten is actively looking at expansion.

This rumor originated from a twitter-resident named Bluevod.  Bluevod is described as a poster with some very good insight into the University of Michigan.  (He is credited with being all over the Jim Harbaugh signing long before the rest of the world acknowledged it was feasible.)

This is a guy who has predicted stuff before claiming sources and been proven right.

He claims to have a well-connected primary source (reading between the lines this is his UM guy) and has confirmed the effort with high up sources at Fox and ESPN.

There is enough there to listen.

The reason I am reporting it is because every one of his ideas fits the general methodology of the Big Ten in expansion efforts and the areas targeted fit the needs of the conference.

They like to plot everything out quietly and move quickly to take advantage of sudden changes in the status quo.  They are the ninjas of conference realignment.

What he is saying all makes sense to me as a 28 year tracker of college football realignment.

So what is going on?

First a little background.

Some will deny it, but logic strongly implies that ESPN got at least Florida State, if not the entire ACC, to buy into their latest contract by telling the membership of the ACC that ESPN would launch an ACC network.

It appears times have changed.  Disney wants ESPN to tighten it's belt.  ESPN is apparently looking at comparatively low ratings for ACC content and has decided that they do not want to help the ACC negotiate carriage fees and all the other heavy lifting required to start a network.  ESPN already owns most of the ACC's tier 3 content ---unusual for most power conferences --- and they do not appear all that willing to take something they own (and can put on their own channels) and put it on another channel they would half own --- and have to pay to start.

....Leaving the ACC rudderless and dead in the water.

There is a perception that the ACC grant of rights deal is dead.

Cue Sharks.

This impending situation is why the Big 12 has been looking at converting the Longhorn Network into a Big 12 Network.

The thought widely circulating is that ESPN is willing to see the Big Ten take the AAU core of the ACC ---Virginia, Duke, UNC, and Georgia Tech,  ESPN "holdings" the SEC will add long coveted targets VA Tech and NC State, and half "owned" Big 12 will take Miami, FSU, Clemson, and probably Louisville.

ESPN looks at that and does the math and sees themselves slightly ahead of the status quo and very much ahead of where they would be if they made good on what they promised the ACC, with some of the ACC content drifting down into the AAC's incredibly cheap contract.

But all this ESPN plotting is based on the Big Ten not getting greedy.

Big Ten plotting

[This section has been edited. Bluevod started talking about this Big Ten effort on January 5th and explained the Texas situation then.  I initially missed that.]

On January 5th, Bluevod reported that the Big Ten was looking at Texas, Florida, Atlanta, and the DC markets and was talking to Texas and OU.  The long and short of it, OU was receptive, Texas was not.  No UT, no OU offer? (OU is not an AAU school and for this conference, that matters.)

(This ---come to think of it --- makes sense of that rather random article this spring where OU President David Boren is asked a seemingly very random question about whether OU has a standing offer to join the Big Ten.)

On March 25th, Bluevod wrote if their targeted market pursuit didn't work, they might even consider the California Markets.  That's the Big Ten being greedy.  Also known as being the Big Ten.

That characterization is pretty straightforward and makes a ton of sense.  You look for your homerun first.

This has Bluevod reporting the Big Ten looking at option #2 : AAU schools Virginia, UNC, Duke, Georgia Tech,  plus football powerhouses Notre Dame and Florida State.

This is again a believable scenario.  Let's break it down. 

The Big Ten fully realizes they are playing with house money today.   Cable cutting is real.   This next interval is the Big Ten's big chance to protect their long term standing.

The Harbaugh training camp issue was about one huge factor facing the Big Ten --- their states produce grade A offensive linemen and little else.   To keep the golden goose laying, the conference has to leverage their short term dominance into better recruiting territories.

It is highly likely that the Big Ten is thinking to rip out the heart of the ACC in order to secure a permanent hold on Florida and Georgia recruiting.  Those two states produce the second and fourth most FBS recruits and both always have annual surpluses --- quite unusual.  Adding the large and talent rich states of Virginia and North Carolina (#12 and #10 respectively) as a bridge doesn't hurt either.

Would they take FSU --- a single non-AAU caliber school --- in the package to hit that goal?  I think in this situation where FSU's inclusion would have resonance in Georgia as well, where the GA Tech brand is considered somewhat soft, the answer is "yes".

(Some might note that Notre Dame is not AAU as well.  Notre Dame is consistently ranked among the top 20 National Universities by UN News, with schools like Rice and Northwestern rated as peers.  Some have said if Notre Dame allowed some types of research which they consider religiously unacceptable they would be in.  I can't speak to that.  I can only note that the Big Ten ---a conference that really values AAU status --- has had Notre Dame at the top of their want list for decades.)

Should this go down, the Big Ten would have what they need long term.

What about the PAC talk?

That part of it really suck out to me.  Bluevod peppered in California mentions that were a huge red flag to me.  I asked about them and he clarified.  He said they are talking about different scenarios --- from the sounds of it, mergers, partnerships, associations... Nothing concrete but there is a lot of talk.

Based on my knowledge I am going to try to fill a lot of this in.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, The Big Ten moves to protect itself.  It likes it's identity.  It likes its long term association with the PAC-12.  All of this has been perceived to be at risk since the fall of the College Football Association.

Why were Maryland and New Jersey added?  In part, because they generate a lot of students for the Big Ten, but the conference commissioner admitted it was done to protect Penn State.  Geographic outliers are susceptible to poaching.   The Big Ten likely saw the ACC as a potential poacher down the road.   The ACC has some good brands and their collections of markets were second to none.

If the Big Ten rips the beating heart out of the ACC, there are no poachers for the Big Ten.  Now the question becomes, how does the Big Ten encourage the rest of the FBS world to rally around the PAC?

I would think it would not take long for UT to realize that they are in the worst P5 conference by a wide margin.   With the Big Ten slots filled UT would either have to go west or follow little brother A&M to the SEC.  The latter will never, ever happen.

But that is a decade+ long process.  It isn't just waiting on the GOR expiration.  It is also showing a better financial situation before all the Big 12 schools get comfortable...So how do you speed that up?

Logic says the Big Ten could offer to get in bed with the PAC for TV.   Imagine a two networks in unison.  If you live in the Big Ten footprint and subscribe, you get the Big Ten Network plus the Big Ten/Pac-12 network.   If you live in the PAC-12 footprint you get the Pac-12 Network, plus the Big Ten Network.

That can only profit the Big Ten. I would guess these talks are ongoing and probably very serious.

Another option that is (apparently) on the table is the Big Ten merging?/poaching? the PAC.

In terms of a straight merger, adding 14 Big Ten schools to 12 PAC schools yields 26 total members.   Given that three of the PAC schools are not AAU, this might be a tough sale to the Big Ten schools --- although I imagine they are still politely discussing the matter when brought up.

I can totally see the California schools privately asking the Big Ten to consider poaching them as a fallback plan.  There have been rumors floating that the Arizona schools are unhappy.  How deep does this discontent go in the PAC?

The big problem for the PAC is that the mountain timezone is sparsely populated and that the PAC schools are not located in wastelands where football is the only entertainment.  In order for the PAC to reach the kinds of numbers they need to keep up with the Big Ten and SEC, the PAC needs big markets and popular brands added in the center of the US. 

Fans always take this to mean Texas.  But it could also mean Chicago.

If the Big Ten were to poach say AAU members Cal, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, and football power Oregon (my how the world changes...) for 20, they could add the best of the PAC to their network and go to two 10 team divisions.

Slide Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa over to the PAC division and you have fixed the PAC TV problem.

Now the PAC has a GOR deal, so an actual raid would be unlikely, but not impossible.

Now obviously, I think the Big Ten and PAC-12 are likely to work out a mutually beneficial TV alliance and that will be that, but at least we have addressed the question, "What if the ACC somehow holds on?"

The Notre Dame endgame

Notre Dame is the favorite school of Catholics nation-wide in large numbers.   Notre Dame joining the Big Ten would strongly reinforce the Big Ten's media hold in the valuable Northeastern TV markets.  Adding Notre Dame ensures the money will be there long-term.  This is why they have always been at the top of the conference short-list.

Notre Dame signed a deal with the ACC that more or less says that if they are going to join a conference it will be the ACC.

The Big Ten is going to look to raid the ACC first because ESPN has figuratively gutted the conference and left it out for the raptors.

But I think maybe that was in part because ESPN always knew the Big Ten would come for the ACC.

An interesting thought is that if the Big Ten were to raid the California schools, the Big Ten might be able to actually finally address the Irish's biggest objection to the Big Ten --- the cost of their National schedule that allows the Irish to tap catholic fans nationwide.

With their network, the Big Ten can do things other conferences wouldn't dare, like conceive a 24 team 4 division conference.

You might have Notre Dame playing Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, and Northwestern in division with Stanford, USC,  and a rotating opponent (or Washington?) out of division.  Add the academies out of conference and Notre Dame would be pretty happy with that.

I guess tag that as another PAC idea for the Big Ten to ponder as they consider eating the ACC.

18 comments:

  1. ESPN's contract with the ACC says that if there is no ACC Network by July 1, 2016, then ESPN must start paying the ACC an additional $45 million PER YEAR (starting with the 2016-17 school year), in addition to what they are already paying the league. You did not factor that into your analysis. And based on reports I have read, that is over $3.5 million per school each year.

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  2. A fair point, but consider the market conditions. Adding 3.5M to the ACC per team total still has the ACC behind the Big 12 and the SEC and Big Ten are pulling away from the pack. The only way the ACC can conceivably keep up is if an ACCN existed, and this payout would very clearly say it won't be created. I can totally buy that this could be the nail in the ACC coffin.

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  3. The same reports I've read say the payout places the ACC above the B12 in terms of payout. But you need to think in terms that lawyers understand. That $45M is a lot (perhaps too much) for ESPN to handle right now. But just how much is it worth to them? I bet it is enough to waive whatever contractual restrictions are in place that are preventing the ACC from shopping their network idea in the open market (Fox, Comcast, ect.). As long as ESPN keeps an option to match whatever offer the ACC comes back with, I bet that $45M gets negotiated away somehow. Point is, it gives the ACC the upper hand, not ESPN.

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    1. I think the one chance that exist today is the fact that reportedly ESPN is under a mandate to cut costs. I don't think what I'm going to say next is totally the right path to take (and I've covered that path in the next article) but at bare minimum there is an opportunity for the ACC to in essence surrender that contractual financial gain in order to recoup their tier 3 rights from the ESPN as well as a couple of tier 2 games. I strongly suspect Disney would okay that over ESPN brass's objections. The ACC would still get the same money from ESPN they're getting today, just it would be for Tier 1 and most of tier 2 content --- The ACC content ESPN values anyway. That would give the ACC the available content to try to build a regional Network.

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  4. It's certainly an interesting thought, but I'm not sure how likely it is. Most conferences tend not to be horribly proactive in their actions even when their backs are against the wall. I'm not overly optimistic that the ACC is going to want to leverage their Newfound monies in that way. In general Behavior among schools would tend to imply they pocket the money and then take individual offers from more lucrative conference.

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  5. Additionally if the payouts do exceed the Big 12 payouts, it wouldn't be by much at all and I would question how much the ACC can leverage them. In general schools like OU and Kansas have very little interest in the ACC. Part of having more money than the Big 12 would be that you could theoretically out-duel the Big 12 for a school or two. That isn't going to work for anyone in the Big 12 outside of West Virginia. If the ACC takes West Virginia the Big 12 just adds BYU and some would conclude the Big 12 would be better. Being surrounded by the two most lucrative conferences really hurts the ACC. The difference in money is going to be irrelevant to your game changer UT.

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  6. For the B1G going the ACC route to 20 teams, the weakest link seems to be adding non-AAU member Florida State. The solution is simple, have both the B1G and SEC waive entrance fees for Florida schools. The Florida Gators, an AAU member, moves from the SEC to the B1G which they would gladly do for the academic and research benefits (if my figures are correct, both Maryland & Rutgers annual endowments have jumped by about $250 million since joining the B1G). With Florida no longer in the SEC there is nobody to block Florida State's entry into the SEC, which they might prefer anyways, and possibly Miami's as well.

    While we're going expansion crazy, let's have the B1G add AAU member Boston University as the only power five non-football school, requiring them to upgrade club teams to varsity status for baseball (stand-in for Wisconsin), wrestling (stand-in for Notre Dame), and women's gymnastics & Fencing (Title IX compliance). They would fill in about 20 gaps where at least one of the other schools are missing a team, while being the 21st team in only 4 sports (5 when Duke adds softball), and 2 of those are men's & women's basketball which you would expect for a full member. Also, you could bring elite academic MIT as an associate member for women's rowing with Boston U from the Patriot League. Fill in the New York sized gap in the geographic footprint by adding as associate members, former AAU member (like Nebraska) Syracuse for men's & women's lacrosse and as the needed 6th women's hockey team, AAU member Stony Brook (currently an associate member in the MVC) for men's tennis as a stand-in for Rutgers, and AAU member Buffalo (currently an associate member in the CAA) for women's rowing as a stand=in for Penn State. Just for fun let's also add AAU member Pitt's women's gymnastic team as an associate member.

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    1. UF will never leave the SEC. They'd burn their AD's house down literally. You have no idea how strong their conference affiliation is. It's religion. Far more than even B1G schools. And UF wasn't even a national brand until the 1990s.

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    2. You also fail on another point. If this jump the shark UF to B1G situation actually happened (it won't)...the SEC wouldn't turn around and invite TWO Fla schools. Good grief man.

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    4. Answering your second point first, Miami & Florida State are just about as far away from each other as possible while being in the same state, and Florida would no longer be an SEC member to block them from joining. Would this really be any more unlikely than Alabama-Auburn, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, or Ole Miss-Mississippi State.

      The B1G adding any School in Florida only happens if Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame, & Georgia Tech agree to join first. Virginia to the B1G is a matter of when, not if it will happen. Virginia is just too perfect of a fit for the B1G to pass up, and Virginia will find the B1G money too much to turn down. North Carolina & Duke will only join the B1G if there is no longer ANY hope of saving the ACC. I believe Notre Dame will eventually join the B1G, but probably not for at least a decade unless the ACC collapses. Georgia Tech to the B1G is a much question mark in my opinion. Their popularity is restricted mainly to Atlanta, which may be enough, but they would more attractive to the B1G if they were popular state-wide. Also Georgia Tech is not a member of the Universities Research Association. All 14 full members of the B1G, both associate members, and former member U of Chicago are members of the URA. Florida State may work for the B1G, but are they academically borderline, which does matter in the B1G. Florida is a much better fit for the B1G academically. Florida would not leave the SEC for any conference except the B1G, but I do believe they would join the B1G if given the opportunity. The money from both the SEC and the B1G are close the same, but the academic & research benefits are much better in the B1G, which matter to academic schools like Florida. Remember these types of decisions are made by school administrators, not athletic directors, and seldom before they told a poll of the fan base. Based on the recent on-field performance, the SEC might prefer Florida State over Florida.

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    5. No offense Steven, but you clearly have no idea what you're talking about when it comes to UF. That school is a SEC school through and through and through. Have you ever been to Gainesville, FL or Alachua County? The idea of the gators leaving the SEC (it's RELIGION - they love their league more than B1G'ers do by far). They have deep roots with teams like UGA, UTn and LSU. They have NO history with ANY of the other schools you're talking about (incl VA/Carolina schools). The idea of them leaving their very close conference brothers to fly from GAINESVILLE (trying getting there) to St. Paul, State College, E. Lansing...or even any distant southern ACC acquisitions is absurd. This is where conference talk jumps the shark. School administrators make these decisions? UF isn't some old guard institution like Michigan or even Ohio State. Ever hear the name Kent Fuchs? No one else has either. It's their unheralded Prez. Sports and the SEC-aspect (and the SOUTH in general) are integral to a decision
      like this. Which will end with..."are you crazy...we're an SEC school. Go SEC!". You've got to be kidding.

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  8. I should have added Syracuse field hockey as an associate member as well to keep them out of the Big East Conference.

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  9. I know nothing, but I am pretty sure that the B1G is not expanding anytime soon.

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  10. i think the big 10 should bring in RICE and TULANE both UAA schools in hotbeds for recruiting and large TV markets NEW Orleans and Houston. Dont offer much else but they are still better than RUTGERS will ever be

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  11. It's certainly an interesting thought, but I'm not sure how likely it is. Most conferences tend not to be horribly proactive in their actions even when their backs are against the wall.



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