Ever felt like you’re watching something that’s inevitable. You know the feeling. Your favorite team has a two-point lead but the other team has the ball, two minutes left on the clock, and only needs a field goal. You’ve already voted, but the election returns are about to come in from states that don’t typically vote your way.
Well, we’re all watching college football’s final push toward a new “super-division” of uber-rich programs splitting off from the paupers of the football world. It’s inevitable.
In the past three years we’ve seen conferences expand and realign wildly. The ACC, SEC and Big Ten will all be 14-school leagues shortly (though there’s now little chance of them applying the brakes to expansion thanks to the Big Ten’s recent moves). The Pac-10 has become the Pac-12. The Big East is crumbling and has already lost its top tier status when it comes to football cash. Television contracts and league-owned networks have become all the rage with conferences locking up new schools for their cable footprints rather than their football programs. Coaches, conference commissioners and even the NCAA president have finally decided that Big Football Program X can’t be expected to play by the same rules as Little Football Program Y. Coaches, conference commissioners and NCAA prez Mark Emmert have also started talking openly about giving players larger, full-cost-of-tuition scholarships.
Oh, and NCAA presidents have also agreed to launch a college football playoff after a century spent fighting that very idea.
Now comes word via Brett McMurphy of ESPN that the most powerful football conferences in the country — the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12 and SEC — will receive an average of $75 million more per year in playoff revenue than the five smaller FBS conferences:
“From 2014 to 2025, the SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12 and ACC will earn an average of at least $91 million annually, sources told ESPN Tuesday. By comparison, the average for the group of five — Big East, Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA and Sun Belt — during that 12-year period will be about $17.25 million annually.”
According to USA Today:
“The average numbers are not firm because the revenue escalates over the life of the (ESPN television) contract. In 2014, the first year of the new system, the total revenue would be less than $400 million; in 2025, the last year, the revenue would be well over $600 million.”
With so much money on the table, a split between the five — or four — biggest conferences of the FBS from the rest of the FBS leagues is most definitely coming.
In speaking with a source from a major equipment supplier this morning, MrSEC.com has learned that at least one Pac-12 athletic director has already told all of his school’s coaches that the age of 16-school super-conferences is upon us. Here’s guessing he’s not the only AD who’s had that chat with his/her coaches in recent months.
Now it’s looking as though the Big East’s seven Catholic basketball schools might break away from what’s become a hodge-podge’d football conference. For the record, we wrote two years ago that those schools should break away to form their own “everything-but-football” league (and if they’d done so at the time they might still have Notre Dame in their ranks today).
When the Big East disintegrates, schools like Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis, Boise State, San Diego State, Tulane, and East Carolina will all be desperate to find new homes for themselves. Which of the remaining major conferences could help themselves by adding any schools from that list?
From a business perspective, just look at the ACC’s precarious state. Other conferences have to be looking at John Swofford’s league and thinking “Big East Part II.” If the Big Ten could swipe a couple of teams from the ACC — say Virginia and Georgia Tech — and if the Big XII could steal a pair — say Florida State and Clemson — and if the SEC could land a pair — maybe North Carolina and Duke — then the ACC could go the way of the Big East in terms of its revenue split from the new football playoff. Instead of splitting the biggest share of the cash among five leagues, the biggest revenue would be split only among the largest four remaining conferences. To put it simply, with fewer big boys at the table, there’s more for the remaining big boys to consume.
How will this new super-division of super-conferences be set up? What will its rule book look like? Will those schools break away in football only? (Probably.) Will teams from top conferences still play teams from the lower divisions? (Probably, as they do now.) Will some conference — seeing the potential for even greater revenue — move beyond the imaginary 16-school barrier to expand to 18 or even 20 schools? (Probably, if there’s cash in it.)
All of those are good questions to be thinking about now. Right now. Because a new higher division of NCAA football teams within the FBS is coming.
At this point, it’s inevitable.