Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Expansion

4/ 20 used to just be an underground holiday to honor the memory of some California High school students who would meet at that time after class to celebrate the joys of cannabis. The folks at the prestigious AAU (Association of American Universities) started their annual meeting Tuesday. Least we should forget all 11 conference commissioners are meeting this week in Scottsdale, AZ. Why link these events? All of the Big 10 institutions are members of AAU, thus all Big 10 Presidents will be there at one place; thus the speculation that there will be side bars with tons of smoke bellowing out; presidents emerging delirious and Jim Delany and Jack Swarbrick ND’s athletic director will be in the same spot and either might, after a toke or two, tip his hand.

Ole Sweater Vest said on the topic of expansion this week “It’s inevitable.” A few weeks ago, Jack Swarbrick said there could be a landscape that would force ND to join the Big 10. Let’s not forget that in all other sports ND is a member of the Big East; then to make this work, the power grab of getting ND into the Big 10, the elimination of the Big East as a viable and attractive option is a must; sorry Mountaineer fans. So priority #1 in Jim Delany’s plan is to take The Big East out if the picture. The Big 10 is going to bombard and raid the Big East to take away eyeballs and dollars to the point that ND comes to the conclusion that the Big East is no longer an attractive league for its’ for secondary sports. The lynch pin to conference break up is stripping away the cohesive glue - football. Because the football league for the Big East is relatively small (8), just the addition of a couple of teams is necessary to accomplish that task. (Plus, it is revenue generating additional markets for you; it’s a win/win, except for the causalities of Cincinnati, WVU and leftovers not picked.) You can say that it is a great basketball league and it is, but still the conference cachet (and cash) is because of football; otherwise it is one step above the A-10 conference – not BCS Big 6 conference. For ND playing the “got to remain Independent” card until the bitter end, see the new Big East emerging with CUSA members, and there is no way that ND is sharing a dime or afflation with Memphis or Southern Miss even for its’ secondary sports. Comes across as a bit hoity toity, but it is a reality. In summary Delany sees TO GET football (ND), it has to TAKE football away (from Big East) and it’s a zero sum game. ND will be coerced enough with higher pay outs that it joins – volunteered sort of, after all it’s bizznes’.

So in terms of fish food, to land the whale takes some sort of consortium of Rutgers, Pitt, UConn and Syracuse. All teams aren’t necessary to accomplish the mission; two of the four are a minimum; three of the four maybe in play. Also as the bomber bays open, you know that WVU and Louisville are starting to make phone calls to the Mike Silve and anyone else that will listen, “Hey pick us up!” only furthers the likelihood that the Big East is in shambles with just the threat. Say the Big 10 goes with two universities to land ND; that takes the league to 14, but 16 teams makes the conference more balanced.
Second on the agenda is to increase revenue (this will also be attractive to ND). Because of markets and legends of fans this makes the not much publicized Nebraska a real option (a cut just below Texas as far as national appeal goes) very attractive. Nebraska makes selling of BTN nationwide easier. As well as securing the Kansas City/ St Louis markets, and long rumored likely candidate, Missouri a viable player. Missouri makes sense on many fronts. Missouri is a member of AAU and is likely to be partaking in the side bars. Missouri has ‘natural’ rivalries with some Big 10 schools. It has markets for Delany; it has customers for BTN and Fox News Corporation, who owns 49% of BTN. If there is a shoe in for expansion, it’s the Tigers.

One point, that I had a hard time understanding, but now am clear on is that I thought expansion meant fewer dollars for each institution. No, because of BTN and the proceeds gained from it. First, BTN will be able to charge higher advertising rates in general because of expanded markets. Second, live events offer premium rates more so than infomercials or Bo vs. Woody re-runs. With basketball BTN could offer 2 games every night. Triple headers of football games could be offered. Third, there will subscription fees generated. Right now for BTN, there is a roughly 25% conversion rate between potential subscribers and actually getting BTN. BTN is still mainly on 2nd tier programming. One, they hope expansion will drive BTN down to basic channels (fees per all subscribers) and two, if not, convert a higher percentage. Can you imagine NOT getting a ND game? Catholics would be screaming at local cable providers; then end up paying for 2nd tier programming. Either way moola rolls into Jim Delany’s world. Expansion equals ESPN3 E$PN4, instead of behind CBS College sports channel and potentially maybe on par with ESPN2.

The decision markers are Jim Delany and the university presidents; however, do not under estimate Fox (and their associated advertising agencies) power and influence in this expansion. For Fox, 49 cents on every dollar isn’t spilt umpteen ways. I have read that this deal could conservatively be worth $200,000,000 to Fox’s bottom line. While CBS, CNN, ABC news all are loosing fistfuls of money Fox news would be making gobs of it. That’s enough money to keep Geraldo on the air a very long time - way more than I am comfortable with.

While the Big 10 has been making the headlines, Joe Pa let us know last week that the Pac 10 was making its own waves behind the scenes and wanting to expand to divisional play as well. First, likely candidate that I see is Colorado. They are on par academically (easy sell to Presidents) and they bring in the Denver market. The other team would be either Utah or Boise St, if jumping just to divisional play. Boise would be pressing the flesh hard, but I suspect the nod would go to Utah for the Salt Lake market. If they go to all the way to 16 teams, I could see BYU, TCU (for a Texas footprint – Dallas market; the Long Horns already said no a couple years ago) and (this is thinking out of the box, for a “national appeal” to the conference & “the reason to expand is football”) Oklahoma, as well as the other team not chosen for 12th team expansion. For the Pac 10, I see value in 12 (championship game), but less for 16. I see 16 teams splitting not increasing revenue, like the Big 10. They have no TV deal/ network – although many are syndicated on local Fox Sport channels programming already, a very loose affiliation. Also, you can forget about San Jose, Fresno St, San Diego St – stay classy - joining. That make sense geographically, but Pac 10 sees those schools as UGA sees Kennesaw St joining the SEC – over grown commuter/ JC schools.

If I am either Dan Beebe, Big 12 commissioner, or John Marinatto, who has been on the job less than a year after succeeding Mike Tranghese as Big East commissioner, I am quaking in my boots right now. The silo tops are open, and nukes to the college landscape are getting rocket fuel and aimed directly at you. Does the ACC finish off what it started in seven years ago, completely dismantle the Big East and go to 16 teams with sloppy seconds?

It has been nearly a generation since the SEC expanded. For nearly 20 years the SEC has been the preeminent athletic conference, the benchmark that Roy Kramer envisioned. However, now a $5 Million gap, per year, exists between each Big 10 and SEC institution (and growing if expansion takes place). Obviously, the first school and call go to Austin, TX, but what if Texas says no. They value the Red River Rivalry or they demand a disparate share – a higher percentage of revenues, like they have in their Big 12 deal, which Mike Silve would have to say No to; otherwise, he has a tempest breaking out in Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Baton Rogue, Knoxville and Athens. What if Texas says they are going to make the Big 12 work with OU, by picking up Arkansas and ? What if the Prom Queen says yes, but have to double date with the less attractive step-sister (TAMU)? What does Mike Silve do to increase revenues by $136 Million dollars per year? (16 teams raking in $22M – $352M and 12 team hauling $18M -$216M----Just to MATCH Big 10 payouts and status/ membership or a $48M variance if remaining @ 12). SEC TV is already in Dallas and Houston. It just signed a $3 BILLION dollar contract with CBS & ESPN last year. Could the contract be re-done for SEC doubleheader on Saturday’s for CBS? Does the SEC have a $1 surcharge on all tickets sold to go to home office for later re-distribution? How does Alabama feel about money raised going to Auburn?

Can any combination of teams bring up the SEC’s value that much - $136M per yr? Again Texas, helps. It helps a lot. Could they, would they go single? IF you add UT and TAMU to go to 14, then don’t you HAVE TO go to 16 for balance? Does the SEC try to pick 2 more “old Big 12” teams OU and ??? What impact on secondary sports schedules does “Going West” do to the travel budget? Would targeting WVU add enough of a Mid-Atlantic/ parts of PA presence for the SEC to consider? Ditto Va Tech. Would Miami and FSU sign up? Miami and Donna Shalala has in previous comments indicated that Miami is too good for the SEC – academically and her preference is to keep the ACC strong, but would $22M per year change her mind. FSU has said No thanks previously. Clemson makes geographical and sports sense but does it bring bucks to the negotiating table? What does Louisville offer that Kentucky doesn’t already bring? Ditto Cincinnati. USF or UCF look like attractive candidates for the SEC – really? Does a UNC leave the ACC – doubt it? Break up Basketball along Tobacco Road? IF there is a 16 team conference does it go to a 7 divisional -1 other cross division game (to keep rivals alive AU/ UGA; Tenn/ Bama) – 4 non-conference games schedule format for football, to keep teams that want 8 home games happy? Is that 1 cross division game fixed or does it rotate? Or do you mandate a 7 -4 – 1 schedule, flip flopping the other 4 teams the following year? That gives a more competitive argument. That only allows for 7 home dates max and virtually eliminates out of conference rival games (GA/GT; Clemson/ S.Car). Would that eliminate neutral site games to be assured 7 home dates???? (Jax?)

Just for fun say Texas, TAMU (west), FSU and Miami (east) all join w 7-4-1 format.
UGA schedule could be Tenn, FL, S. Car., Kentucky, FSU, Miami, Vandy, AU, MSU, Ark, and Texas. Costal Carolina for Homecoming
The following yr it could be Tenn, FL, S. Car., Kentucky, FSU, Miami, Vandy, Bama, Ole Miss, LSU and TAMU. W. Kentucky for Homecoming.
3rd year flip the sites of 1st year, replace homecoming opponent.
4th year flip the sites of 2nd year, replace homecoming opponent.
Brutal for anyone, any year – no one would go undefeated, but great football. A 2 Loss Divisional champ is highly probable. Have the ties breaks down to the 10th degree. This format probably not enacted but fun to look. More realistic is something along the line of the 7-1-4 format.

I don’t know which way the SEC moves, but if any part of the Big 10 coo is successful; the SEC will be forced to act. Although it could be argued that the $5M gap is already evidence that his plan is working. But I ask why not take the aggressive route and make the proactive strike before shrapnel hits the league?...Bombs Awayyyyy

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