Pac-10 power, Big 12 ultimatum and more in all-expansion Mailbag
As you may have guessed, the Mailbag's
To be perfectly honest, I find the whole Pac-10/Big 12 storyline riveting. I can't stay off Twitter for longer than five minutes for fear that I'm missing another new tidbit. It's not that I
So without further ado, guys and gals, I give you the first-ever ALL-expansion Mailbag:
I'm not going to rehash the backstory of the Big 12's internal strife and Nebraska's long-standing resentment toward Texas, though that's undeniably a factor in the current stalemate. The more pertinent reasons why this is happening
In 2007, with the Big 12's network television package coming up for renegotiation, then-commissioner
When ESPN signed its game-changing, 15-year, $2.25 billion deal with the SEC last year (CBS signed an additional 15-year, $825 million deal with the league at the same time), it did so because the SEC was seriously considering starting its own network. Yes, the SEC is a more coveted property than the Big 12 -- but not by
Enter the Pac-10, which has been buried by its own second-tier TV deals for years but has renegotiations coming up next year, and a savvy new commissioner,
All that said, Texas, which boasts the nation's richest athletic department, isn't in desperate need of more money. Texas would like to remain in the Big 12, but has indicated it may have no choice but to leave if Nebraska bolts. We'll see. This could all still be a big bluff, with Scott and Weiberg providing the ammunition. But as I wrote last week, the "Pac-16"
My sense is that it's not an official conference-office ultimatum as much as it is a deadline imposed by Texas and the other potentially impacted schools. As in, "You need to tell us by this date (reported to be anywhere from
And that will most definitely be the case if the latest reports that Nebraska may defect
While those are all solid football programs, none would add any great value to the conference's television properties due to their relatively small markets (or in TCU's case, the fact that Texas already delivers its market). The league would be dividing the pie into four more pieces without actually making it that much bigger, which means each of the existing schools would get less than they would if they stayed at 12.
And remember, the two most important cogs to the league's future, Texas and Nebraska, are old-guard schools with the cachet to be picky. I don't doubt Texas prefers the Big 12 as currently constituted to the proposed Pac-16. But faced between joining forces with USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford or Boise State, Utah, BYU and TCU -- it's going to choose the former. Ditto for Nebraska in the Big Ten. That's why the Big 12 is stuck in an uncomfortable position --- its marquee teams are far more attractive to other leagues than any available teams are to the Big 12.
There's definitely truth to that. BCS-conference schools clearly exert far more control in football than in basketball, where the NCAA-controlled tournament is king. The value of BCS affiliation, both financially and from a perception standpoint, is undeniable at this point, and much of the shuffling revolves around that status.
But at the end of the day, football's regular season is infinitely more valuable than basketball's --- the stadiums are vastly bigger and TV ratings are much higher. Therefore, football television contracts drive expansion. A good illustration of this comes from the SEC, which, in releasing its aforementioned 2009-10 revenue data, was kind enough to provide an exact breakdown of the sources. Football television accounted for $109.5 million, with another $26.5 million coming from bowls and $14.5 million from the SEC title game. By comparison, basketball TV accounted for $30 million, "NCAA championships" $23.5 million and the SEC basketball tournament $5 million.
Granted, the SEC is indisputably a football conference first, and we'd probably see less of a disparity in the ACC or Big East -- but not in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10. These leagues make as much money off the BCS as they do the NCAA tournament, and even those figures are puny compared to their massive (or potentially massive) football TV deals.
I hear you. Boise looked like a slam-dunk done deal late last week for that very reason. However, the Mountain West presidents read the same articles we do. This time last week they were operating under the premise that the Big 12 might lose one or two teams and therefore come after theirs. By the time they got to Wyoming on Sunday, there was suddenly the possibility of there being no Big 12, that schools like Kansas and K-State might become free-agents and that their league might soon find itself in a position of power.
Therefore, it's now a no-brainer to at least wait a week and see if anything dramatic happens. Boise State is in the bag whether the MWC invites it this week or two weeks from now. The only drop-dead date is July 1, the deadline by which the Broncos must join to begin play in 2011 and count toward BCS auto-qualification. And by all indications, commissioner
It depends on how far the dominos fall, but one school with genuine reason for concern is West Virginia. The Mountaineers boast arguably the strongest football program in the Big East, yet if the Big Ten and/or ACC make a run at the Big East, West Virginia won't likely be one of their targets due to the state's small population and the school's academic reputation*. I'm not sure where the Mountaineers would land if, say, Rutgers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh went elsewhere, but it probably would not be a current BCS conference. Ditto Cincinnati and possibly USF and Louisville.
And now, to the most important question I received all week.
It's a very interesting time. There's no question fans are consumed by this topic right now. I think most are generally fascinated by it (as they have been for as long as I've covered the sport) and love hypothesizing the various possibilities -- like college football's very own hot stove or trade deadline. Yet at the same time, I don't sense much collective "excitement" about realignment, even from fans of the teams expected to benefit. If anything, I'd say most people fall somewhere between "intrigued" and "concerned," with a noteworthy contingent that seems borderline-disgusted by it all.
My two cents: No college administrator could possibly tell me with a straight face that 16-team super-conferences, severed rivalries and politicians having to grovel to protect their states' programs is a good thing for college football. The sport is built on tradition, but tradition clearly is not the top priority for many parties right now. They'll undoubtedly tell you how all that extra television money and exposure will ultimately benefit their "student-athletes" (more so those in the sports being funded by football than in football itself), or how excited they are to be aligning themselves with such academically renowned peers, but the average fan doesn't care. He or she just wants the Ohio State-Michigan game to still matter.
But college football has undergone an unbelievable amount of change over the past 15-20 years. If someone had told you in 1990 that Penn State would join the Big Ten, the Southwest Conference would crumble, the Rose Bowl would start occasionally hosting non-Big Ten and Pac-10 teams, the amount of bowl games would more than double and 6-6 teams would be eligible, the Orange Bowl would be played on Jan. 5, shoe companies would alter schools' uniforms beyond the point of recognition, coaches would make $5 million and most major teams would play one or two games per year against I-AA foes ... well, you would probably have been horrified. And that's before even bringing up the BCS.
And yet, the sport has never been more popular.
So something tells me that whatever ultimately results from all of this -- no matter how clunky, no matter how blatant a money-grab, no matter how many fans are initially resistant, disappointed and/or ticked off -- the new world order will eventually seem normal, much like everything I just listed above. As long as there are still brats to be had in the parking lot and hits to be seen on the field, people will still crave college football. The landscape is ever-changing, but the game remains the same.