Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What the SEC should do with conference expansion, Part One

With all of the bandwidth eaten up by conference expansion or implosion, especially if you are a Kansas/Iowa State/Kansas State fan, I have been thinking about the ramifications and outcomes that are likely in the event all of this goes down.

First, I want to lay out what I believe is the most likely scenario, based on information that is available.  I will then look at an alternative scenario that I believe is the second most likely.

In my most likely scenario, Notre Dame finally decides to join the Big10.  Granted Mizzou and Nebraska have some sort of deadline this Friday to swear their allegiance to the Big 12 and it seems like they may ignore that.  However, looking at the logical conclusion of all the factors involved (football and basketball rivalries/money, non-rev sports, academics), Notre Dame will, in very short order, be faced with joining a conference or becoming what they were before they would accept a bowl invitations, minus any opportunity to factor into the money of the BCS bowls and a mythical national championship picture.  That is to say, they will still play the teams they currently play, but with very little chance to routinely play in BCS bowl games if they have a great season.

Not quite yet, my Jayhawk friends.

Why, you ask? In a new college football firmament, Notre Dame will have much less bargaining power than they did when the BCS was created.  Imagine six conferences (I'll get to that in Part Two) representing at least 76 football programs, up from the current 66 (including Notre Dame) in the negotiations.  If solely by virtue of the increased fingers in the pie, Notre Dame will have less barganing power in those discussions.  To put it another way: Without joining a conference, Notre Dame risks becoming less of a power broker than if they join a conference and have the other schools in that conference relatively by the short hairs.  NBC and Notre Dame simply cannot allow that to happen, in my view.

If Notre Dame does join the Big10, they will ask for and be granted the concession that the Big10 only have 12 teams.  With a 12 team Big10, Texas' destination becomes much less relevant, even if all of the Texas schools leave to go somewhere, granting the money Texas brings to the Big 12 conference is very much on the minds of college presidents outside of Texas, both on the West Coast and in the middle of the country.  In the end, I think the Texas schools all stay where they are, for that very reason.  UT and those other schools will be able to dictate the terms of revenue sharing more with the Big 12 intact than if they go to a Pac-16. As a bonus that even a math idiot can figure, $$$/12 is always more than $$$/16.

Furthermore, I consider Nebraska and Missouri's flirtation with the Big10 to be gambits.  I believe they know that UT makes more money if they stay with the Big 12 even if they have to divide the money up a bit more equally.  The only leverage they have with UT is to force the conference members into deciding if they will remain a conference, thus allowing those 12 teams to share pie or to go to a conference that will have 16 teams sharing (an admittedly bigger) pie.  In the end, I just think the economics of the situation dictates the current Big 12 stays mostly the same.

If the Texas schools stay where they are, the Pac-10 goes after the likes of Utah, Boise State, perhaps Colorado, perhaps TCU, looking to move to 12 teams.  If the Pac10 gets Colorado, TCU moves into the Big 12, something that might happen anyway. I can't see the Big East adding teams, or think who'd they would add in this scenario (although I do have a suggestion in Part Two). Certainly, the Big East wouldn't be able to add the four teams necessary to put on a conference championship game, unless they raided the ACC, something that I just can't see happening.

In this scenario, the only real changes for the SEC is the need to seriously consider the timing of their conference championship game and evaluation of their current bowl tie ins. Now, the conference championship game is usually only one of a couple of games being played on that first Saturday of December.  In the newly imagined world, there could be games with BCS and National Championship implications being played in Charlotte (insert your own joke here), Atlanta, Indianapolis/Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles/Phoenix/San Diego on that day.  Do you move it to a Tuesday night or the following Friday night to garner prime-time attention?  Do you work with ESPN to have it hosted on Sunday night instead of having NFL football that one week?  The biggest advantage the SEC and the Big 12 has had in the current regime has been the attention/hype associated with their conference championship games.  The SEC will consider that in a new world where at least five conferences will have those games, all likely on that first Saturday in December.

As for the bowl tie-ins, it will be even more important, in my view, to create opportunities to play teams from the other power conferences, either with showcase early season games or via bowls.   While I often enjoy the idea of beating down 2-4 Big 10 teams a year in the bowls, the conference should seek opportunities to play Pac-10 teams more often in bowl games and more Big XII teams in both the bowl and regular seasons.

Finally, I don't think the SEC should try to add teams at all.  The only way adding teams makes sense would be if Texas and Texas A&M were on the table independently to be added.   It is possible to add Okalhoma and Oklahoma State and make monetary sense, but I just don't think the pols in Texas will have UT and A&M going anywhere without Tech and Baylor, at least from my view.  The four Texas schools just don't bring enough to the table to justify diluting the money or competition.

As an aside, I just don't see the two teams from a conference rule being lifted in this scenario, but I guess it could be on the table if Notre Dame is becomes part of a BCS conference.  Part of that will be determined by any conference additions to the BCS group after conference expansion settles out. 

I'll look at the other scenario and evaluate those implications for the SEC in Part Two.

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