Earlier this week we told you that the revenue split coming from the new college football playoff would act as an accelerant for the drive to a new “super-division” of FBS-level heavyweights within the NCAA. We also told you that we’d learned from a source inside the athletic supplier industry that at least one Pac-12 athletic director had already told all his coaches that the day of 16-school super-conferences is at hand.
Now toss in the word that seven non-FBS schools will be pulling out of the Big East — a conference that’s been plugging leaks for two straight years — and the chain reaction is clearly underway. Whether NCAA presidents or conference commissioners want it or not, the countdown has begun and the race is on when it comes to landing new schools. This is the Big Bang, folks. With DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova planning their exit from the Big East, that league’s football roster is scheduled to look like this by 2015: Boise State, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Navy, San Diego State, SMU, South Florida, Temple, Tulane, UCF.
So the Big East — or whatever it will be called — will likely continue to lose schools before they even actually join. That league will move forward as a new version of Conference USA at best.
It will be interesting to watch the ACC’s next move. Will that league try to strengthen itself by adding Cincinnati or UConn, two schools that desperately want in? Will Boston College finally drop its fight to keep UConn out if it feels it’s a matter of survival for the ACC? And even if the ACC added those two schools, would it be enough to fend off raiding parties from elsewhere? We’re looking at you, Big Ten (since you started this latest round of realignment by nabbing Maryland and Rutgers from the ACC and Big East, respectively). We’re looking at you, Big XII. And, yes, we’re looking at you, SEC.
While many believe we’ll end up with a nice, neat football universe consisting of four 16-school super-conferences — heck, that’s been talked about since the 1980s — there’s no guarantee that all leagues will balloon to 16 or that all conferences will stop growing at the point.
If the ACC is ripped apart by outside raids, then there will likely be a change in the way the new playoff revenue is split with four leagues — not five — taking home the lion’s share of the cash. Would a league like the Big XII expand further in order to gain more cable households for its portfolio or would it hold at 10 schools with each receiving an enormous chunk of change each year? After all, X divided by 10 is greater than X divided by 12, 14, 16, 18 or more. (Also playing a role: Might X grow with new TV revenue if the league expanded?)
Where would the Pac-12 go next? That league prides itself on academics, but Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State aren’t exactly on par with Stanford. If there’s no one left to grab out west other than perceived low-brow schools like Boise State or UNLV, would that conference make such moves or would it stand still at 12 schools with each — again — taking home a bigger chunk of playoff revenue? What moves would aid the Pac-12 from a television standpoint? Adding the states of Idaho or Nevada certainly wouldn’t wow TV executives.
On top of those questions, what the heck happens if none of this goes as planned? Assuming conferences are acting on plans and not just grabbing schools willy-nilly for television or survival purposes. We’ve long said that our sources around the SEC did not want to race into another expansion so soon after making the leap to 14. No one knows long-term how the new league will perform on the field, behind closed doors in meeting rooms, or financially. We at MrSEC.com believe the answer will be well, but there are no guarantees of that. And it’s not like Mike Slive and crew to hurriedly react to other leagues just for the sake of reacting.
But if all this recent motion really is the Big Bang that we believe it to be, the SEC may have no option but to move, expand and grow. And everyone’s got a theory on how that growth may occur.
Here’s one from us.
Let’s assume all of the following schools are up for grabs at this point (and we’ll look only at schools in bigger conferences, with bigger names, or with bigger budgets)…
Boston College (ACC)
Florida State (ACC)
Georgia Tech (ACC)
North Carolina (ACC)
North Carolina State (ACC)
Virginia Tech (ACC)
Wake Forest (ACC)
Cincinnati (Big East)
Connecticut (Big East)
Louisville (currently Big East but moving to ACC)
Pittsburgh (currently Big East but moving to ACC)
South Florida (Big East)
Syracuse (currently Big East but moving to ACC)
Temple (Big East)
Notre Dame (independent but moving to ACC in non-football sports)
Navy (currently independent but moving to Big East)
East Carolina (currently C-USA but moving to Big East)
Houston (currently C-USA but moving to Big East)
Memphis (currently C-USA but moving to Big East)
SMU (currently C-USA but moving to Big East)
Southern Miss (C-USA)
Tulane (currently C-USA but moving to Big East)
UCF (currently C-USA but moving to Big East)
Air Force (MWC)
Boise State (currently MWC but moving to Big East)
Colorado State (MWC)
Fresno State (MWC)
New Mexico (MWC)
San Diego State (currently MWC but moving to Big East)
That’s 44 schools on the buffet table, but many of those schools still aren’t desirable for the biggest leagues.
Boston College brings the Boston television market, but UConn could provide as many eyeballs in the New England area if someone felt they needed them. Wake Forest has too small a budget and is too small a TV draw.
Cincinnati, UConn, and South Florida would all offer some quality cable households, but no one’s beating down those schools’ doors at the moment. Temple lacks big-time athletic clout.
Notre Dame might be the only school strong enough that one of the four major remaining leagues might allow it to be a sorta/kinda member while keeping its football program somewhat independent. Navy and Army are doomed from a “super-division,” “super-conference” perspective. BYU would make sense for someone, but the school’s unwillingness to play games on Sundays hurts it.
Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF might bring someone some cable households, but the rest of the C-USA roster lacks drawing power.
Boise State (football) and UNLV (budget) would likely be the only schools worth pulling from the Mountain West. But that’s if a conference decides to ignore academic reputation and — in UNLV’s case — the proximity of gamblers to campus. Egads.
Our guess — and that’s all it is at this point — is that the Big Ten will try to grow to at least 16 by adding Virginia and Georgia Tech. Or North Carolina and Duke. If Jim Delany’s league feels it can make more money and tie-up more households and provide more content for television networks (including its own) by taking all four, we believe it would. Connecticut would remain a fallback option as the league has already grabbed the New York market by adding Rutgers and the DC and Baltimore markets by adding Maryland. Boston might not be viewed as a necessity at all. If it were, Boston College might get the call ahead of UConn. But the Big Ten is looking to expand southward for reasons of population growth, television expansion and recruiting. Needling the SEC probably wouldn’t bother Delany either.
The Big XII could look to expand further eastward by chasing schools like Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Memphis or some combination thereof.
If forced into another round of expansion, the SEC would love to land Duke and Carolina to get into the Tarheel State, to aid its basketball reputation, to aid its academic reputation, and to land two of the biggest athletic brands on the table. Would the league grab NC State, too, if all three Research Triangle schools insisted on a move together? Would the SEC pass on expanding into new territory and instead make a defensive move by wooing FSU, Clemson, or Georgia Tech in order to keep the Big Ten and/or Big XII out of its area? If we’re talking about cable households, FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech provide nothing as Florida, South Carolina and Georgia already allow the SEC to claim the households inside those states’ borders. But if we’re talking about quality content and brand awareness, FSU and Clemson — especially the Seminoles — provide national pull. Would the league go back to the future with Georgia Tech? Would Slive try to grab Virginia Tech as a bookend for Texas A&M?
Out West, the Pac-12′s options are more limited. As noted, Boise State and UNLV would be available. So would BYU. To date the Pac-12 has made no moves in those schools’ directions. Houston and SMU might finally get Larry Scott into the Lone Star State, but with much less fanfare than would have been garnered by gobbling up Texas and Texas A&M a couple of summers ago.
As you can see, the tumblers could spin in dozens of different directions. And not all leagues are suited to arrive at or stop at the magic 16-school barrier.
In terms of a summary, if the ACC goes bye-bye — and we believe it will barring a full-time football addition of Notre Dame plus UConn or Cincinnati to reach 16 schools — then we suspect the Big Ten will land Virginia and Georgia Tech. Delany’s conference will also likely have an eye on North Carolina and Duke if the decision to aim for 18 schools is made.
If politics force NC State into the mix with Duke and UNC, pencil all three into the SEC along with Virginia Tech. (The Big Ten would likely balk at adding NCSU due to its lack of Association of American Universities credentials.) Yes, 18 schools for the SEC is a possibility. And no, taking three schools from North Carolina wouldn’t be the perfect means of expanding, but if it meant landing Duke and UNC, we believe the SEC would take NC State, too. Two nine-team divisions would be easy to schedule.
The Big XII will likely nab Florida State and Clemson to expand its “electronic footprint” and to get back in the business of holding a money-making conference championship game. If the league looked to expand further, Cincinnati and Memphis would provide good basketball, pretty good football in Cincinnati’s case (Tommy Tuberville would just love that move, wouldn’t he?), some new recruiting territories and two decent television markets.
The Pac-12 would be looking at, well, uh, standing pat at 12. Or grabbing some mix of Boise State, UNLV, BYU, Houston and SMU just to add television sets and build its content level.
And then there’s Notre Dame which will have its choice of entering the Big Ten or the Big XII. If Notre Dame is interested in tapping into the South’s population boom, the Bob Bowlsby’s league would likely have the advantage.
Got all that?
Remember — and it should be clear as hell to you by now — that conference expansion and realignment has nothing to do with travel costs for secondary sports or packaging better games for fans. It’s about business. So when you’re charting out your own new world order on a cocktail napkin later today, remember that cable households, expanded television content, larger television markets, population growth, academics (at least in the case of the Big Ten), and larger slices of the new playoff revenue pie are all driving this bus on this. Not tradition. Not the simplicity of having four 16-school super-conferences in a new super-division. Business.
Now break out your Rand McNallys and go to town. The Big Bang is nearly upon us and we’re not talking about the Mayan calendar. The next few weeks and months are going to get pretty bumpy.
Traditionalists, you’ve been warned.