Expansion FAQs: Clearing the haze around conference realignment
With the Big Ten seemingly moving full-steam ahead with its intent to expand by as many as three to five teams, it's come to my attention -- via your tweets and e-mails -- that there's a whole lot of confusion out there about the conference realignment game. While I can't yet tell you which schools are headed where (I'm not sure
But if late-season exposure were the main issue, the Big Ten could follow the lead of the Big East and Pac-10, which don't have 12 teams, either, but have moved meaningful games to the first week of December. And if Delany viewed a title game as a must-have financially, he would have pushed league presidents to adopt one a long time ago. While a championship game would be the most tangible byproduct of expansion, the Big Ten is after a far bigger prize.
In addition to the traditional TV deal where a network pays a league a flat fee to televise its marquee games (like the Big Ten's 10-year, $1 billion deal with ABC/ESPN), the Big Ten is an equity holder (along with Fox) in the Big Ten Network, which became profitable within two years of its inception. The more the network's annual profits increase, the more its members' portfolios grow. Multi-team expansion helps in two ways: A) It provides for more live programming, which elicits more advertising dollars; and B) It can gain substantially more subscribers by adding teams with large national appeal (like, say, Notre Dame) or those in major media markets (like, say, Rutgers).
Currently, the Big Ten Network (with an estimated 40 million subscribers) garners a reported 70 cents per subscriber in its eight home states but only 10 cents in the rest of the country. As CBSSports.com's
For these reasons, you can automatically eliminate geographically sensible but academically inferior options like Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia (all "Tier 3" schools).
Note that the Catholic school's decision to reject the Big Ten's last invitation in 1999 had mostly to do with its reluctance to join the "secular" Committee on Institutional Cooperation, an academic consortium of the Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago. That sentiment remains very much alive on campus today (at least judging by
The one school the Pac-10 would
It's true, though, that the Big East could be in serious danger if the Big Ten poaches several of its teams. There are a couple of logical replacements out there (UCF? Memphis?), but not many. It's also possible that the ACC, which sources say is not getting the kind of reception it hoped for in its current TV renegotiations (ESPN intentionally overpaid to retain the SEC and thereby set an unrealistic bar for other leagues), could step in to take some of the leftovers. The Big 12 could survive losing Missouri and/or Colorado, though its reconfigured league might look more like the old Southwest Conference (hello, TCU) than the Big 8. And the SEC just began new 15-year TV contracts. It's good for now.
The more pertinent issue would be BCS governance -- specifically, would the Big East lose its automatic qualifying berth, and if so, would another league (most likely the Mountain West) step in to replace it? Or would the BCS simply go with five AQ bids? There's a formula in place to evaluate the leagues' 2008-11 performances for a possible shuffling in 2012, and that happens to be the earliest a reconfigured Big Ten could go into effect due to the Big East's "loyalty clause," which requires departing schools to give 27 months' notice.
Still, I just can't imagine the Big Ten solely adding a bunch of middle-of-the-road programs, no matter how many cable homes they'd provide. Making such a drastic move would require some grander payoff. Surely Delany has something up his sleeve, some crown jewel in his sights that will make expansion worthwhile. If it's not Notre Dame, then I'm going to stick with my
Were the Big Ten to package the nationally revered Huskers with Missouri and one of the New York-area teams, it might as well start printing money. But that's just one man's guess -- the first of probably many to follow between now and July 1.