FanPost

Conference Realignment (and FSU): A FAQ

 

I’m going to try (with the help of TheJim) to answer a lot of common expansion FAQs.  Some of this is fact, some is just info from enough sources that it has taken on a ring of truth, and some is my opinion.  I have no inside sources whatsoever, but I have spent way, way too much time following this ever since last summer’s shakeup.  I never stopped following it, or bought the idea that a solid peace had been reached in the NCAA.  

I will try to differentiate between fact, quasi-fact, rumor and straight opinion.  That hardly means that I’m the only voice to listen to on the subject.  Several others on TN bring great insight on the issue( and some disagree with me),  particularly but not limited to TheJim who collaborated with me significantly on this.  Much of this is his work.  We welcome any reasonable contributions to the discussion.

Feel free to add more questions for us (or other members) in the comments...

 

 

Why is all this expansion happening now, just one year after it seemed to have been avoided?

The obvious answer is the desire of Texas A&M to bolt the Big 12 and get away from Texas.  And the reason behind that is usually considered to be the Longhorn Network which is seen to drastically upset the already fragile balance of power in the Big 12 and permanently alienate Texas’ conference bren. 

However, the reason behind the reason behind the reason behind expansion is the unprecedented television deal the Pac 12 signed earlier this year.  Quite frankly, the deal was shocking in its scope and earnings potential, especially for arguably the fourth best football conference.  In a stroke of a pen, the SEC was relegated to a very distant third in television revenue, a position it would be locked into through 2025 with its current CBS/ESPN deal.  I believed at the time that the SEC would expand within 18 months, and almost had to as this is the only way to reopen the SEC television contract.

While the Longhorn Network was not a response to the Pac 12 deal, the Pac 12 deal does make it more imperative that Texas not make concessions on the LHN.  Everyone including Texas will be chasing the Pac 12 very soon, and Texas will need the LHN to do it.

 

Where does expansion stand today, September 14th, 2011?

Texas A&M has given notice of withdrawal from the Big 12, and the SEC has conditionally accepted their application.  The condition is that Big 12 schools waive any right to sue the SEC for damages, a condition that has not been met by several Big 12 schools, notably Baylor. 

Oklahoma has not stated that they are withdrawing from the Big 12, but has publicly stated that they are exploring their options and should have a decision within weeks.  Multiple sources have indicated that Oklahoma intends to apply to the Pac 12, and that Oklahoma State will go with them wherever they end up.  There are mixed reports as to whether the Pac 12 would accept their application, but most people believe it would.  I personally think the Pac 12 is the most likely end point for OU, but I believe the SEC will make a very strong final push.  That push, or the unlikely event of a Pac 12 rejection, still has a small chance of landing OU in the SEC I believe.

Currently the SEC/Texas A&M and the Pac 12/OU are in a game of chicken, both hoping to avoid lawsuits as the entity that first broke up the Big 12.  This will not go on indefinitely, and eventually one entity or the other (or both) will just accept the new members and count on the lawsuit being groundless.  A dissolved Big 12 helps that cause.

Florida State just became the third school to publicly take a proactive stance on expansion by announcing a committee to explore its future, either as a member of a new conference or in a revamped ACC.

Just because other schools haven’t publicly broken with the stance that they support their current conference in its current formation, don’t be naïve enough to believe there isn’t a lot of back room negotiation going on.

 

Who makes this decision?

The decision to move to a new conference is made by the President of the University with approval by the Board of Trustees/Regents.  The athletic department might or might not be where the first level talks start and they will have a role as an advisor but that is all they will have.  The new conference will have the current Presidents vote on approval for a school applying to join. 

 

What teams might move first?

At this point the teams most likely to move are currently in the Big 12.  These will be the first movers in the process and start the dominos to fall.  Some rumored moves are OU and Oklahoma St to the Pac 12 with the possibility of 2 more B12 joining them rumored to be Texas and TT or Mizzou and KU.  Another rumor out there is the Big East will offer schools like Mizzou, KU, Kstate and Iowa St a landing spot. 

 

What will happen with Texas?

Texas is trying to hold the Big 12 together, and still has a chance if it can bring OU back in.  The Big 12 offers Texas the best of all possible worlds, and I believe that they will do everything in their power to keep it together.  I believe this is still a possibility, despite reports out of Oklahoma.

Texas is has been reported to have three main options, to either go to the Pac 12, go independent, or join the ACC.  Many people also believe Texas to the Big 10 is a likely scenario.  The LHN would likely need to be altered in some way to find a home in the Pac 12 or Big 10, and might be accepted as is in the ACC due to the ACC’s weaker position. 

I personally believe that Texas is a big enough crown jewel for the Pac 12 or Big 10 that something acceptable to both sides could be worked out.  I believe the Texas to the ACC talk is a way for Texas to gain leverage in negotiations with the Pac 12 and/or Big 10.

Independence is reported to be very unattractive to Texas, and seems to be more speculation based on the Longhorns’ behavior rather than actually stemming from sources.

 

Will the SEC add a 14th (or 15th or 16th)?  How soon?

I believe the consensus now is that the SEC would like to have a 14th in tandem with Texas A&M, both for scheduling purposes, and also to stem speculation for another year (and looking like a predator for another year).

However, I do not believe the SEC will add a 14th simply for scheduling purposes.  This is potentially a 100-year decision, and they’re not going to make the wrong choice to avoid a wonky schedule for one or even two years. 

I think it’s very likely that the SEC announces a 14th relatively soon, even if that school can’t start play until 2013 and the league needs to play with 13 in 2012.

I don’t believe the SEC will announce a 15th and 16th team until Oklahoma and Texas are snuggled tightly into new homes in the Pac 12 or Big 10.  I believe they will hold spots for those schools for as long as they possibly can, even years (if some form of the Big 12 is again salvaged).

 

Why would the SEC want to add powerhouses like Texas, Oklahoma or FSU?  Why not just add mediocre teams so they can reopen the TV deal, but who wouldn’t challenge the balance of power of the original members?

That’s not how reopening the TV deal will work.  Expansion doesn’t trigger a full reopening of the contract allowing the SEC to get full market value for the conference (even though the once-outrageous CBS/ESPN deal with the SEC now leaves them woefully undervalued just a few years later).

The renegotiation will be ONLY to add the value of the original schools.  The SEC must show that Texas A&M and #14 are worth $XXX much, and that’s how much they get added to their contract (if their TV partners agree).

In other words, they are not supposed to see any increased value from the tremendous success of current SEC powerhouses since the contract was signed.  All the added value must be in the new teams.

Therefore, I believe weak football programs like NC State, Louisville or Maryland that are frequently bandied about are non-starters.  When you consider that the pie is split one more way for each new member, those schools simply don’t add enough value to even pay for their own share, let alone increase everyone else’s share.

 

But what about markets?  NC State or Maryland would be great new markets for the SEC.

Ahh, the market question.  It is frequently mentioned that markets are the factor deciding SEC expansion, but that is no more than half the story.  Expanding the market footprint is a goal of every conference right now.  However, program prestige (read TV ratings) is at least as important.

Consider the Big 10 expansion last year.  The Big 10, through the Big 10 Network, can directly monetize every new market it enters.  They receive a carriage fee for every household that gets the Big 10 network on their cable/satellite system.  Therefore, when the Big 10 network gets added to the cable package in a new region, they directly turn those households into cash flow.

By all reports, the Big 10 last year had the opportunity to add big markets by inviting schools like Missouri, Pittsburgh, BC, Maryland, Syracuse or Rutgers.  They chose the school in the weakest market available that would add the least amount of potential households to the BTN, when they chose Nebraska.

Why Nebraska? Because while the BTN gets carriage fees for each household, it turns out that carriage fees only account for half the revenue the Big 10 Network provides.  The other half?  Advertising .  Adding a prestigious national brand in Nebraska was more important.  In other words, the bump from Nebraska programming across the breadth of the BTN was more important than the potential carriage fees that might arise from being in St. Louis or D.C. 

And it’s not as if the BTN provides most of the TV revenue to the Big 10, their most valuable property is still the 1st and 2nd tier rights they currently sell to ESPN.  And in Nebraska, they also added another national brand to sell in their 1st and 2nd tier TV package to the networks.  The top tier package is where most of the money is made.

Now, consider the fact that the SEC does NOT have its own network, and therefore doesn’t even have the same ability as the Big 10 to directly monetize new markets.  They need to max out those 1st and 2nd tier rights.  Will more eyeballs on ESPN in the state of North Carolina really offset adding a team with nearly zero appeal outside the state?  CBS and ESPN are national channels, remember.

 

So markets don’t mean anything?

Sure, they mean something, but not everything. Other than some potential new eyeballs in a new market, more importantly it extends the SEC brand and opens up more new recruiting ground rather than cannibalizing the recruiting grounds of current members.  I think clearly, the ideal is to add a nationally prestigious team that is also in a new market.

The problem is, there are only two of those that clearly fit the bill, Texas and Oklahoma, and those two appear to be off the table.  Moving on to the second tier, you have teams in great markets that are nearly nationally prestigious, in Texas A&M and Virginia Tech.  I believe the SEC would love both of those.  They have Texas A&M, but for several reasons VT would be a very difficult pull.  No team has been more adamant than VT about publicly spurning potential SEC advances.

So that’s potentially one for four, with up to three spots remaining.  All additional teams under consideration are lacking in either market, or prestige, or both.  The SEC will have to carefully consider which ones will add the most money despite those deficiencies.

 

So where does FSU fit in?

FSU clearly doesn’t add anything new to the SEC footprint.  However, don’t underestimate the size of the Florida market.  There would be some value for example in UF playing on CBS in the afternoon, and FSU playing on ESPN in primetime.  That’s a double dip in the SEC’s now second-largest state.

More importantly, if Texas and Oklahoma (and obviously Notre Dame) are out of reach, there is no available team, including Texas A&M and Virginia Tech, that brings the national attention and viewership of Florida State.  Make no mistake about it, FSU may be the only available team that CBS and ESPN would open up their wallets for without question.  We’ve seen with their lousy ACC schedule over the years that FSU is virtually always “televisable” nationally no matter who they are playing.  Florida State does excellent regular season ratings and exceptional bowl ratings.

Does no market/elite prestige put FSU ahead of Missouri, with good market/decent prestige?  I think so, but it’s debatable.  It is very difficult to make a case that any other available team comes close to Florida State’s value.

 

But, what about the Gentleman’s Agreement?

It takes four teams to block the application of a new team to the SEC.  It has been widely reported that Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky have sworn a blood oath to unite to block their in-state rivals from SEC admittance.

I personally believe this is closer to an urban legend than it is to fact.  And like any good urban legend, it probably has some grain of truth in it, and then it is embellished by mixing it with factual events.  I believe that the very real fact that the SEC might prefer to expand its footprint beyond its current states somehow gets mixed with and adds credibility to the “Gentleman’s Agreement” story.

But that’s just my opinion, it’s impossible to know at the moment.  Outkickthecoverage.com swears it’s real.  MrSEC.com states he has multiple sources that confirm that such an agreement doesn’t exist.  But let’s just say for the sake of argument that some version of it has existed.  I still don’t think that it is an issue in FSU being invited.  Consider:

-          Such agreement didn’t prevent us from an invite in 1990

-          That is not generally consistent with how the SEC does things. The SEC is not going to allow four schools to block a move that would result in increased revenue across the board, especially in the face of deficits to the Pac 12 and Big 10

-          It would likely only take an assurance that one or more instate rivals were not under consideration to have the Gentleman’s Agreement fold

-          Why would the other SEC schools cut their own paychecks to assuage Florida, one of the most dominant and advantaged programs in the league, and who just signed a monster third-tier rights deal?  Who do they think they are, Texas?

 

Why would Florida State even want to go to the SEC?

In a choice between the status quo and joining the SEC, there are reasonable arguments either way.  However, status quo is not a choice we’ll be given.   Money equals success in college football, and if you doubt that, just look what Oregon has done with Phil Knight money or Oklahoma State has done with Boone Pickens money.

Right now, the ACC is not insurmountably behind their regional peers, the SEC in television payouts.  About $7 million a year per team, which is a lot, but not impossible given Florida State’s tradition, support, and most importantly, recruiting stronghold.  However, the Big 10 and the Pac 12 will leave the ACC in the dust, and the stated goal of the SEC is for their revenue to be on par with those conferences.  We are looking at a near future where three conferences are earning multiples of what any other conference generates from television.  It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario in which FSU thrives in such a scenario. 

Remember, even if FSU manages to be competitive talent-wise with the big boys because of Florida recruiting, the already poor competition in the ACC and Big East is only going to get worse and worse, which could drastically effect our strength of schedule, our attendance, our fan support, our prestige, and our preparation for facing stiff competition in a BCS game.

 

Can’t the ACC strike first and expand to become a more lucrative conference?

Can the ACC lure Texas, Oklahoma and/or Notre Dame?  If not, the short answer is no.  Despite large populations in the markets of some potential targets, no team has nearly enough prestige to increase per team payouts.  The addition of WVU and Pittsburgh might conceivably raise the football quality level in the ACC enough to realize a small increase in television money, but that’s far from assured.  And even so, any increase would be far, far behind the Pac 12, Big 10 and SEC.

 

Can FSU even compete in the SEC?

Unknown.  Would it be a more difficult path to undefeated seasons, certainly.  However, national championships won by five different teams since the last SEC expansion bodes well.  The fact that South Carolina is by far more successful in the SEC than it ever was as an independent or in the ACC is also indicative.  South Carolina had zero bowl wins EVER before joining the SEC.

This is certainly debatable, but I personally believe it’s been shown that iron strengthens iron in college football.

 

Ok, then FSU to the SEC is a slam dunk, right?

Hardly.  It’s still possible that the SEC manages to lure more attractive targets like Oklahoma, VT, or maybe Missouri. 

It’s also possible that FSU or the ACC comes up with some new arrangement to make remaining in the ACC more palatable.   I personally think that some kind of modified distribution plan that awards a larger percentage of the TV money to the top two finishers in each division might cause FSU to think carefully.  FSU might see a landscape where if it holds tight, the SEC is shut out from all its “home run” scenarios, and some form of guarantee from the ACC to keep FSU close to financial parity with its regional peers might hold them.

The other thing to consider is the difficulty of extracting a team from the ACC.  We are unlikely to ever again see a raid like the ACC on the Big East a few years ago.  It’s a PR and litigation nightmare.  The new power conference mantra is “schools come to us, we don’t go to schools.” 

It’s a complicated dance, and look how difficult it’s been to get Texas A&M.  Texas A&M has clearly coveted the SEC, the Big 12 is notoriously shaky, and Texas A&M is at best a distant third most important piece of the conference.  If that has been this difficult, imagine the possible hassles involved with trying to take the crown jewel of a “solid” conference like the ACC.  It’s possible that the ease of getting a Missouri after the Big 12 dissolves or extracting a WVU from a Big East on life support is much more palatable to the SEC.  If they feel the ease of transition of those schools will outweigh the perceived benefits of adding FSU, other schools might get the nod instead.

 

What about other conferences, can FSU potentially join the Big 10?

This might not be as farfetched as one might think.  The biggest obstacle for FSU joining the Big 10 would be academics and more specifically research.   From leaked AAU documents FSU is currently 93rd in the ratings that they use, which is higher than ND (a B1G target), as well as Syracuse and Nebraska.  In ARWU rankings we are at the same tier as Nebraska.  So going in we would be towards the bottom in academic research and prestige.  That said we are not an embarrassment in the academic department, but not exactly a home run either, and are right around the line of what B1G presidents (Wisconsin and Michigan specifically) would consider . 

What we offer the B1G is a big new market that already has a number of B1G alumni and fans to expand the BTN.  We are a national brand for the 1st and 2nd tier rights that are about to go back on the market.  Not to mention a foothold in a the best recruiting state, and a high population and growth state. 

 

Why would FSU want to join the B1G?  Two main reasons, money and prestige.  The B1G currently pays out about 22 million in shared revenue and that is with the old contract.  Adding just FSU and getting even half the carriage rate in Florida for the BTN should put the FSU per year payout around 35 million in the current environment by 2017.  The matchups should more than help any attendance issues for FSU with games against Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, tOSU, Penn St , Michigan St and Illinois all of whom have a fairly large number of alumni or fans in the state (in the case of Nebraska they sell out everywhere they go).  There are some schools that are just as bad for attendance as the ACC nobodies like NW, Minn and Indiana but you are looking at only 1 or 2 of these types of games a year.

The Big Ten is an international brand when it comes to academics behind only the Ivy League.  You can go most places around the world in educated circles and say Big 10 and they will talk about how great the schools are.  This goes along with membership to the CIC that helps reduce overhead in research and makes it easier to set up joint research projects with other Big 10 members that will only help the school at large as well as allows FSU grad students to take classes or even a semester at say Michigan. 

The draw backs of joining the B1G for FSU are increased travel mostly for fans, possible negative recruiting from SEC schools,  and the chance of bad weather late in the season.   The biggest problem I really see though is selling this move to the fan base. 

 

 What about academics?  Surely this is a factor in realignment.

Academics are important to the presidents that make the decision.  They are not the driving force by any means but bad academics can disqualify a team before discussions can even start.  The most important rankings if you must look at them are the ARWU rankings.  The Big Ten and ACC just do not want to consider a school like WVU because of the academics.  This is the reason why Boise St will never join an AQ conference.   Even the SEC is looking to improve its academic reputation and will not take flat out bad schools with WVU being about as low as they will go. 

FSU is right at the border line for the Big Ten and more than good enough for every other AQ. 

 

There’s so much conflicting information flying around about expansion? Who and what should I trust?

The 2 best resources around are the MrSEC.com website and the Frank The Tank’s Slant at http://frankthetank.wordpress.com.  They might not always be right but they have the correct thinking which is: “Think like a President, not like a fan.”  The most trustworthy sources are the ones that have some kind of comment that acknowledges that no one knows what is going on right this second.  It’s a good idea to be very wary of predictions, and look for sources that simply report what is being discussed and what is in play.  Predictions are impossible at this point, and I think most people have learned that by now.  Even Chip Brown of Orangebloods has backed off predictions and is all about what is being discussed or “currently planned”.

To debunk a few of the common ideas that are floating around and show the person has zero clue on what they are talking about when it comes to expansion.

Boise State to the Pac 12.  There is no chance that this happens. Their academics are just that bad, never mind they play in a 32k stadium they can’t sell out. 

Texas to the SEC.  This is their last choice behind: staying where they are, national conference with ND, ACC, B1G, Pac 12 and even Independence. 

SEC contract gets voided if they expand.  No, based on leaked contracts from other conferences as well as former TV execs what happens is CBS/ESPN and the SEC have good faith negations over what the new schools bring to the table.  Each new school has to bring in about 8 percent in additional revenue just to pay for itself otherwise everyone in the SEC takes a pay cut.

The SEC can start its own network.   There will not be a SEC network that comes out this, at least one that in anyway resembles the Pac 12 and BTN.  At least 8 of the SEC schools have long term deals already in place for their 3rd tier rights which is what makes up the networks.  This to go along with the widely held belief that ESPN put into place provisions in the contract that prevent a SEC network through 2025.  Going for markets with an eye on an SEC network is an extremely long play indeed.

Any other current non AQ to the ACC, SEC, B1G or Pac.  The only possible exception to this might be Hawaii to a Pac 16 if they had to find a 16th team.  Otherwise this is very unlikely to happen.  No one has the combination of new market, acceptable academics, brand and facilities to make this jump right now. 

The Super Conferences are the first step toward schools leaving the NCAA.    No.  The differences between the schools and the NCAA are not even close to the level necessary to cause a split.  The conferences would still need a body that controls the commercial rights and promotion of post season play for non football sports and they would still need a body that writes the rule books.  The area where there is disagreement is eligibility rules and enforcement.  The NCAA has moved closer to where the presidents are in many areas about eligibility.  The issue with enforcement is not so much about the severity of the punishments, it’s about how haphazardly the decisions appear to made, with no predictability.  This is an area the NCAA needs to work on but by no means a reason to walk unless schools like UF, Michigan, and Texas start getting the Death Penalty for minor violations.  

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