Realignment season is in full swing again. This time, we've got big hitters from the B1G openly discussing 20-team leagues and 9-10 game conference schedules. We have comments from Big12 commissioner Bowlsby stating that the Big12 would be ready to move if the B1G or SEC grew further.
I asked a series a questions to some of the well-known realignment prognosticators around the web. 'Frank the Tank', 'The Dude of WV', 'Mr.SEC' have joined in. Plus, we have two of our local TN experts who voiced their opinions and projections.
It's a lot of reading, and I've tried to organize it so that it's easy to follow. Hopefully the contributors will join in for some follow-up questions.
The Dude of WV
Frank the Tank
1) Which college team do you root for?
Dude: The one and only West Virginia University Mountaineers!
Jim: I am a proud alumni and fan of FSU
SEC: I don't have a college team that I pull for. Strictly a pro guy. Me and the other guys at the site cover the SEC because we live in Tennessee and Missouri, respectively. But we also own the Mr. domain names for all of the other major conferences.
Frank: University of Illinois Fighting Illini
Lou: Florida State University
Ben: Florida State University
2) Do you have connections (that you're willing to share) with any Universities (School admin or Boosters), TV Network, or Conference HQs?
Dude: WV is a small state with at best only 2 degrees of separation. I'm lucky enough to have several contacts at WVU including WVU's administration, the athletic department and the HEPC. After FSU's Eric Barron apparently mentioned me (or to be exact how wrong I was) I had three solid Big 10 contacts approach me with information. I was able to verify their identity and the fact they indeed work for the athletic departments of their various schools. I had a contact at Maryland, via a close contact at WVU, but since Maryland is "persona non grata" in the ACC my best source of ACC information has been cut off. I've received help from several national reporters who took pity on me too.
Jim: Rather not get too specific but have a friend that is in position to know about some of the going ons in the B1G office. They don't leak info but if I bring it up will say yeah that sounds about right or that is just crazy nonsense. I have been friends with this person now going on 7 or 8 years. They are by no means a decision maker in this process and they really could care less about sports.
SEC: I've worked in television, radio and newspaper for going on 25 years. I'm lucky enough to have formed relationships with people at just about every SEC school (either in the school's administration or in its athletic department), in one of the big three television networks' sports department, at a major sports equipment provider (ie: Nike, Under Armour, Easton, etc), and at one of the largest college sports rights-owners in the country.
Frank: I've developed a number of connections with schools, conferences and mainstream media members over the past 3 years as conference realignment has exploded as a major topic. That being said, I haven't ever positioned my blog as a place where I'm constantly trying to break news. I'm much more focused upon analyzing the factors that key players (e.g. university presidents, TV networks, etc.) are looking at, reviewing the issues from a number of angles, and then readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether they agree with me or not.
Lou: None at all
3) Among your sources, who gives the most quantity of information/rumors (Universities, Network, Conference)?
Dude: Quantity? Media people like to talk and gossip almost as much as bloggers. Especially broadcast media -- they seem to have very loose lips.
SEC: Everybody wants to be heard. That's what makes finding good information so difficult. A lot of people present rumors as fact.
Frank: I haven't seen one particular group provide more information than the other. Lots of people like to volunteer information that they believe is juicy. The trick is determining whether to believe any of it.
4) Among your sources, who do you feel gives the most reliable information/rumors (Universities, Network, Conference)?
Dude: By far the best information I received has come from my contacts at WVU and Ohio State.
SEC: Well, I'm pretty skeptical for starters. A lot of folks float theories and rumors and present them as fact. Unless I get something confirmed by two trustworthy sources, I won't touch it. Since I'm always looking to cross-reference things, I really haven't found one group to be more accurate than another. No one's nailing this stuff left and right. At best, they're providing good guidelines. And our focus is on the theory of expansion more than on breaking news anyway.
Frank: Once again, there isn't really one particular group that is more reliable. The number of rumors that I've been presented with over the past few years has been astronomical, but only an infinitesimal percentage of them have come true.
5) Have you ever withheld publishing info you've received because it was too unbelievable?
Dude: Yes. I received word on September 18th that Maryland and Rutgers were headed to the Big 10 and sat on it due to the poor response I received from the people I shared it with.
Jim: I basically just comment mostly on Tomahawk nation. In the past some of the comments I made ended up in several other different places in ways I did not feel comfortable with so I try to be careful with what I say.
SEC: Absolutely. We've heard a heck of a lot more stuff than we've ever posted. The most common thing we hear is: "Big news coming in 48 hours" or "Big announcement this week." We never run with that kind of stuff. There are too many variables that can impact timelines.
Frank: As I stated earlier, I don't position my blog as a news site, so I actually only publish information in instances where (a) multiple sources have confirmed it or (b) it's a source in position to have direct knowledge of the situation. At the same time, I'm a fairly heavy skeptic, especially in the current environment where it can be hard to know whether there's an echo chamber with so many rumors being spread on blogs and Twitter.
Lou: I mostly post on Tomahawk Nation and Twitter. A little bit on some other boards here and there. I don't publish any kind of inside information, but am happy to talk about rumors. I don't position myself as having inside info, but do like to let people know what kind of chatter is out there. I normally don't further rumors that I consider completely implausible though.
6) How much does the popularity of realignment chatter influence your coverage of it? i.e. do you fish for clicks?
Dude: I think I might have been the one to kick off the realignment chatter by writing of FSU and Clemson's interest in the Big 12 in late 2011. I'm not motivated by clicks since I haven't been part of a pay site or received any perks for writing about expansion. My primary interest was curiosity at how the ACC could repeat the very mistakes that made the Big East vulnerable and the ferocity of West Virginia's attempts to apply pressure to the existing fault lines of the ACC. My guess is that most people don't realize the role West Virginia has played in conference realignment / expansion going back to 2010-2011 when Pitt and WVU tried to save the Big East and then tried to get the ACC to accept them as a pair. A block of ACC schools lead by UNC and Duke rejected WVU and forced the Mountaineers into the Big 12. Florida State and Clemson were upset that WVU was blackballed and felt that the basketball interests of the ACC were potentially damning ACC football. The new ACC TV contract, which in reality did not add money to the pot for Pitt and Syracuse, put the ACC's football powers in danger in terms of competition from the surrounding ACC schools and WVU used that fear to sow the seeds for the current volatile state of the ACC.
SEC: At MrSEC.com, we kind of pride ourselves on being old grumps. Personally, I'd rather have 10 MENSA members on the site than a million people just clicking through. That's awful for business, but that's my view. I'd like to think -- and I may be crazy -- that there are still some folks out there who prefer solid information to Twitter-like blurbs and rumors. Also, we're trying to provide analysis of this mess. What are the motivating factors behind expansion/realignment? What is each league looking for? What might the schools be looking for? So it's not a lot of "BIG ANNOUNCEMENT TODAY!" type stuff.
Frank: Well, I don't fish for clicks since I don't have any ads on my site. As a general matter, conference realignment has long been a fascinating topic for me since it combines several areas that I enjoy writing about, particularly sports, business, education, media and entertainment and demographic trends. That being said, when actual conference realignment news isn't on the front burner, I try to move my blog posts away from the specific game of Risk scenarios (as much fun as it is to speculate them) and look at the broader topics related to the businesses of sports and entertainment. For instance, the television dollars driving conference realignment also have a great impact on pro sports (see the new Dodgers TV deal) and how we watch all forms of entertainment in general. That is something that affects people who don't even watch sports. At the end of the day, though, the commenters on my blog really drive the discussion more than anything. I feel fortunate that I have a group of readers that can seamlessly go from discussing the latest football recruiting news to breaking down medical research funding of top universities.
7) As a fan, what would your ideal conference realignment scenario look like?
Dude: Conference realignment is bad for college football. The college game was built upon rivalries and I've seen WVU lose three traditional rivals (VT, Pitt & Syracuse) over the past 10 years. My ideal realignment scenario would have WVU in the same conference with VT, VA, KY, PSU, OSU, UMD, Miami, FSU and Clemson.
Jim: In the dream world FSU in the B1G with Texas and ND. Best way to move out of UFs shadow both on and off the field.
SEC: As a fan of college sports in general, I'd be for everyone tapping the breaks and taking a deep breath. Leagues are rushing into new moves with no idea of how their LAST moves will play out. It's ridiculous. Schools and conferences are motivated out of fear right now -- "If we don't grab School X, somebody else will!" -- and working out of fear rarely results in good business decisions. I think these leagues should halt, see how things play out in a year or two under the new playoff dynamic and THEN make moves if they have to. But that isn't going to happen.
Frank: I'm someone on the record as a Big Ten guy that doesn't want to see expansion for the sake of expansion. I would have been perfectly content if the conference had stayed at 12 schools after the Nebraska addition. If expansion is inevitable, though, then the fan in me needs the Big Ten to add a legit football power such as Florida State. What's interesting is that when I first started writing about conference realignment in 2009 (when the Big Ten announced that it was looking to expand), I put a lot of emphasis on the value of TV markets and academics (particularly the existence of the AAU) since those were factors that very few football fans were discussing at all. Now, I almost feel as if though I have to push in the other direction to temper the thought of Big Ten expansion that simply collects more TV markets and research institutions without regard for the quality of football. There needs to be a balance between all of those factors. I would advise Jim Delany to add the following 4 schools: UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech and Florida State. That would be a home run expansion in terms of demographics, academics, TV markets, football quality and even bringing in a basketball blue blood, to boot.
Lou: Out of what could at least theoretically happen, as a FAN, I put FSU+Clemson to the SEC as first choice. FSU+GT+NC+UVA to the B1G next probably.
Ben: This is a tough question. A lot of it depends on how many schools these conferences are willing to add. If 20 is the number, then the scenario I like as an FSU fan, is FSU, UNC, Duke, VT, OU, OSU to the SEC. Behind that, I'd say FSU, UNC, UVa, GT, ND, + 1 to the B1G.
8) What would be the worst realignment outcome you can imagine?
Dude: The Big 10 expanding to 20 and taking FSU forcing the SEC to expand to 20.
Jim: FSU forced to join the Big 12.
SEC: The Big Ten and SEC both jumping to 18 or 20. Sadly, I think that's the most likely end point.
Frank: From my personal fan viewpoint, the worst outcome would be that the Big Ten expands without another football power while the Big 12 walks off with Florida State. If the Big Ten decides that it doesn't want to expand further and stay as a contiguous Northern conference (thereby leaving the ACC intact), then that would be one thing. The prospect of the SEC adding Florida State is also something that I wouldn't have too much heartburn over since I could understand why FSU administrators and fans would prefer that option. However, allowing the Big 12 to take FSU when there are indications that the school would prefer the Big Ten would be horrible long-term mistake.
Lou: The worst scenario, and it would be a long-term one, is the B1G taking UNC, UVA, GT, and Texas. The SEC then takes VT+NCSU+Oklahoma+Oklahoma State. Obviously the Big 12 GOR seems to block that scenario for now, but that's the FSU nightmare scenario.
Ben: I don't really know that there is a nightmare scenario for FSU. I think that if the SEC or B1G move to 20 teams, it's almost certain that FSU ends up in one of them. If 16 is the max, we may not be in the conference that most fans prefer, but the Big12 with an Eastern bloc would be a pretty good home.
9) Putting aside what you would like to happen, what do you expect the next "stable" point in college football to look like?
Dude: All signs point to the Big 10 expanding soon with the ACC as their target. The money disparity is just too great for ACC schools to ignore. At the minimum I believe the ACC loses 6 schools - two each to the Big 10, Big 12 and SEC.
Jim: I can see it going 3 main ways. Status quo being more likely than not if I were laying odds. Next up would be FSU and GT or UVA in the B1G. The last being the big one finally hit college sports with the B1G going to 20. If the B1G goes to 20 then I don't see how the B12 does not blow up within 15 years.
SEC: I think the Big Ten balloons. I think the Big XII and SEC respond by grabbing the ACC schools not scooped up by the Big Ten. The Pac-12 is stuck out in no man's land. And the remnants of the ACC and Big East marry... but they still won't land in what I believe will be a new "super-division" at the top of the college football world. Imagine 4 conferences of 14-20 schools each making up a new division of NCAA football in which schools can pay full-cost-of-tuition scholarships and forget about rules designed to keep them on an even playing field with the Western Kentuckys of the country. That's what I see as the eventual end game. (Before the super-conferences all break back apart a decade or two down the road because it will prove impossible to keep 18 or 20 schools on the same page.)
Frank: There's a pretty good chance that the "stable" point might be right now. I don't believe that the ACC is as weak as a lot of conference realignment observers think - the university presidents of its members seem to genuinely like the league academically and geographically, which goes a long way even if there are TV money deficiencies. More importantly, the ACC schools that the Big Ten and SEC likely want the most (which I'll get to in a moment) are probably the least motivated to move. Maryland was comparatively low hanging fruit for the Big Ten in terms of culture (more Northern than Southern), academics and institutional size, but it still took a lot of cajoling for Jim Delany to close that deal despite the massive TV money difference. Now, I don't think that anyone would feel stable until the Big Ten is at 18 schools. The threat of the Big Ten acting further is creating more instability than any actual moves.
Lou: It is really tough to define stable. If things hold for 3-5 years, is that stable? I think that the highest percentage outcome short term is probably the status quo. At the moment, nobody can get what they really want, be that conferences or schools. I think there is too much money at stake for too much compromise, and I think unless the SEC or B1G come off their objections to FSU, everyone is just going to decide to wait until they can get what they want. But long term, I think stability is the B1G, SEC and PAC at 20 teams, and two "midmajor" conferences of 20 in the Mountain West and the Big East/ACC.
Ben: I think that the next stable point is determined when the B1G renegotiates its TV contract, which I believe expires in 2016. If we get to that point without movement, then I think that's the configuration we keep for a while. I personally feel the B1G expands further, and that the line-up we have when we start the playoffs is where we stay for a while.
10) What do you expect to be the next big realignment move, and when?
Dude: When is easy. The next move is UVA and GT to the Big 10 as soon as their is a clear direction on where the Maryland - ACC court battle is headed. The ACC's only chance at survival is to win the lawsuit and force Maryland to pay the full $52 million exit fee. Anything less than $40 million and the economics demands a move by those target to the Big 10.
Jim: If there is a move to be made I don't see how it does not involve FSU to the B1G. Sure the SEC could try to go for a block but if the talks are that far along with the B1G it will be too late. I don't see how UNC or NCST can move first because of the way their BoT is set up. Never mind the huge amount of state politics involved. Even if either wanted to move they would need political cover to make such a move and that would need to be the ACC falling apart. I don't see VA politics being that different. The players that pushed UVA to include VPI are still have political power in the state. And while everyone just assumes that the SEC sweeps in and takes VPI its just that an assumption. Same goes for NCST as I personally don't think they look all that good as an option compared to other schools that might be left hanging in the ACC. I don't see why either the B1G or SEC would want any of the northern schools in the ACC. Pitt is the one with any real value left but to the B1G they just don't bring in to much value. I have to laugh at the idea that BC is a real candidate. Horrible research, religious school not named ND, minor national brand at best, they don't bring Boston, and they are not the key to bringing ND along. Michigan State and Purdue much bigger rivals to ND then BC. Clemson is in too small of a state and they are behind FSU in research. No one trusts their USNEWs rankings as they are open about gaming them and rumored to have sent junk data. That leaves basically FSU and GT to be desirable easy moves. Well I guess Miami too but they have so many other problems that their edge in research and academic rep just can't cover these short-comings up.
SEC: From what I've heard and from what we've reported at MrSEC.com, Virginia and Georgia Tech have definitely spoken to the Big Ten. Once a little more of the Maryland exit situation is straightened out, I think you'll see Jim Delany add two or three ACC schools (plus, maybe, Kansas).
Frank: Assuming that I'm wrong in question #9, then I think the Big Ten would expand to 18 and the SEC will go up to 16. The ACC, though, will still survive, even if it ends up looking like the Big East circa 1998. The Big 12 and Pac-12 don't have as much poaching power (the latter more because of their geography), so no one should assume that they can expand in the same manner as the Big Ten and SEC could.
Lou: Honestly, I think the next big realignment move is ESPN stabilizing the ACC with more cash. I just really think they have too much to lose if the B1G eats the ACC and takes all that programming to Fox. Because if that happens, the B1G will squarely have Notre Dame and Texas in its sites. I don't think ESPN stomach the prospect of 20 years from now having no B1G programming, no ACC basketball, no FSU, no Texas and no Notre Dame. I think that is just not an option, and they'll see that money spent now to preserve the ACC will be better spent than trying to win the rights to the 18 or 20 team B1G. I think the ACC Network could be a way into this, and I still think there is a very slim chance that Notre Dame joins too, if it sees itself being forced into the B1G down the line. In a way, ESPN vs. Fox and ND vs the B1G may have more of an impact on the ACC than the ACC vs.anyone else.
Ben: If a move is going to happen, I think it has to be by this summer. Those that have read the Maryland Lawsuit against the ACC know that one of the major points of contention is the date when the exit fee becomes effective. I'm sure the B1G is well aware of the potential fallout of waiting to make a run at ACC teams in the future. I waffle on whether I feel the B1G will be successful or not, but I do think we'll know one way or another this year.
11) What do you think is the B1G's wishlist for realignment?
Dude: According to my Big 10 sources its UVA, GT, UNC, Duke, FSU and Boston College.
Jim: Duke is hard to place on their own they probably are lower on the list but with even GT or UVA they are very attractive. ND, Texas, UF (not going and not starting a rumor here just if they called they would be in), UNC, UVA, GT, Duke, FSU, UGA (see UF), VPI, Miami, KU, Pitt, UConn, and Cuse. I don't think anyone else would be considered and I am not sure about the last 4 either.
SEC: Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and perhaps Pittsburgh. All are AAU schools. All would add TV markets and all are major brands. I've heard the first five schools mentioned... I'm giving you a theory on Pittsburgh. Penn State would have some say on that one, of course.
Frank: I'll give two separate wishlists with the same names but different orders: Jim Delany's wishlist: (1) Notre Dame, (2) UNC, (3) Florida State, (4) UVA, (5) Georgia Tech, (6) Kansas Big Ten presidents' wishlist: (1) Notre Dame, (2) UNC, (3) UVA, (4) Georgia Tech, (5) Kansas, (6) Florida State If Notre Dame and the Big 12 are off-limits, then the different orders are a moot point. I think Florida State is going to get an audience with the Big Ten presidents simply because they are the single largest potential revenue generator that the conference could conceivably add outside of the University of Texas. Whether the AAU requirement is going to be a hard and fast rule for the Big Ten presidents in this particular case is interesting because the financials and demographics are so overwhelmingly compelling. What's clear, though, is that the Big Ten would add UVA and UNC in a heartbeat if possible. The problem is that it's difficult to see UNC being a catalyst to an exodus from the ACC, and if there isn't an exodus from the ACC, then the ability to get UVA goes down, too.
Lou: I suspect it's something like UNC, UVA,GT,Texas,KU,ND. I think that Texas is out for the foreseeable future, and ND is out unless things change. I think in addition to all the benefits FSU brings, I think its possible that the B1G can't pull the other ACC schools without FSU, particularly GT. Does UNC+UVA and stop solve all the B1G issues with population growth and recruiting? Not so sure. I could see the B1G going the FSU route to get to 18, and then pausing to see if they can shake loose ND and/or TX later.
Ben: I think Delany's list is probably ND, UT, FSU, UNC, UVa, GT, Kansas, and then some others. I do think there may be a difference between what Delany and obviously the BTN wants, and what the member schools are willing to consider. Maybe FSU gets an audience, but I'm skeptical that an invite is in the near future for FSU.
12) What do you think is the SEC's wishlist for realignment?
Dude: The SEC covets any major school in NC or Virginia for the media footprint. They have actively pursued UNC and Duke but would settle for VT and NC State.
Jim: Texas, probably about half of the B1G schools, UNC, Duke, UVA, ND, OU, FSU, NCST, KU, Pitt, GT, Miami, Clemson. Not sure if anyone else gets interest but Okie State might be able to ride coattails.
SEC: North Carolina and Duke would be the targets. Virginia and Virginia Tech would also make sense. NC State is continually thrown out, but I don't hear a lot of chatter from inside the league suggesting NCSU would be a target unless the league had to grab a foursome of UNC, Duke, NCSU and some other school. However, if the SEC decides a defensive move makes more sense than an offensive move... could Florida State (and maybe Clemson) get an invite? I think people around FSU and the SEC know that the two entities should have partnered 20 years ago (when FSU balked). Will both parties get it right this time around?
Frank: UNC and UVA are at the top, but just like the Big Ten, the SEC faces the same issue that UNC isn't a school that wants to move and they have a disproportionate impact on the overall health of the ACC. If SEC can't get those two schools, then they move onto Duke, Virginia Tech and NC State. Florida State probably has a shot as a defensive measure. If I were Mike Slive, I wouldn't want either (a) the Big Ten taking a major foothold in the state of Florida and printing money on SEC turf for the next century or (b) the Big 12 neutralizing the SEC's newly minted Florida/Texas football recruiting combo by taking FSU for itself. The SEC would much prefer for FSU to stay exactly where it is right now in the ACC, but if it becomes apparent that the Seminoles are going to move somewhere else, then they may not be able to risk letting stronger competitors to buy up important real estate within their football empire.
Lou: I suspect their preference would be UNC and VT and stop forever. However, I don't discount a defensive move either. If it becomes clear that the B1G is shooting for 20 (like the Pac 16 gambit became public) I'm not so sure that the SEC (with encouragement and $$ from ESPN) doesn't shoot for 20 with UNC, VT, Duke, GT, Clemson, FSU. It's kind of hard to believe that the SEC would want to share the heart of their footprint with two other conferences when they could share it with nobody at all. Especially when one of them (the B1G) is going to be making much, much more money. I think ESPN would much prefer those programs land in their SEC, than in Fox's B1G. They might make it worth their time.
Ben: The SEC is the hardest conference to read, in my opinion. Frank mentions the necessity of the B1G to get a football brand with its next move, but that's one thing the SEC seemingly has enough already. They don't need more football power, and that's why many think a couple of schools like UNC and UVa/Duke/VT would be perfect to expand their footprint. I do wonder how much the impending SEC Network model will influence potential candidates.
13) How much do you think the Networks (ESPN, Fox, NBC, etc.) wishlists differ from the conferences' wishlist?
Dude: I don't think there is a difference. The networks advise the conferences on the value of the target schools and in some cases participate in the valuation.
Jim: FSU is higher on the networks wishlist but otherwise probably very similar.
SEC: I think they're 95% the same. Leagues want schools for TV revenue. Networks want contracts with leagues that are national draws.
Frank: They're generally the same since the networks and conferences all want to make the most money possible. A university president might place a school like UVA higher on a wishlist than FSU, whereas TV networks would switch that around, but the networks and conferences are more often aligned than not.
Lou: Probably similar.
Ben: I think the networks and conferences share targets. I do think the member schools may disagree with the networks at times. With a limited number of games, decreasing the frequency of match-ups with historical conference rivals may be tough to swallow. Does UF, UGa, etc. want to play Bama/LSU less frequently so that they can play Mizzou every year? I'm sure they'd feel the same way about UNC, Duke, UVa, NCSt., etc.
14) How much collusion do you think occurs between major conferences?
Dude: More than we think. Clearly the Big 12 and SEC have had discussions and clearly the Big 12 and the Big 10 have had discussions. If each conference stops at 16 and each has blood on its hands from the ACC we'll know it for sure. My best media contact, from ESPN, told me that it's like the Roman senators each taking a stab at Julius Caesar. Each conference must have "blood on its hands" to share the guilt and share the risk of any potential lawsuit from the ACC schools who are left behind. The Big 10, Big 12, SEC and Pac 12 certainly will benefit from the demise of the ACC by splitting the ACC's share of playoff money and absorbing the ACC's bowls.
Jim: Does not occur. Everyone wants Texas, everyone wants UNC. Everyone wants ND. They are competing against each other for TV dollars, for bowl slots, for expansion candidates. Hell they are even competing with each other over eligibility rules.
SEC: Personally, I think there should be MORE collusion between the SEC and the Big XII. They've dominated the BCS era and they're located -- mainly the SEC -- in the most fertile recruiting zone in the nation. If Mike Slive and Bob Bowlsby banded together, they could doom the ACC, improve their own leagues, and forever lock the Pac-12 and Big Ten together as secondary competitors. Those leagues just don't have enough quality athletes at home. (And that's IF those leagues want to expand.)
Frank: Very little to none. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are about as good of friends as conferences can be and Jim Delany was flabbergasted by Larry Scott's attempt to add Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Colorado back in 2010. One year ago, ACC commissioner Jim Swofford was looked at as a bridge between Jim Delany and Mike Slive on college football playoff issues since he had such great relationships with both of them, yet now we're discussing all of the ways that Delany and Slive can carve Swofford's league apart. At the same time, the power players generally want the same schools (Notre Dame, Texas, UNC, UVA), so they're not ceding ground to anyone. All of these conferences have shown to be completely cutthroat and ruthless when all is said and done.
Lou: I don't think there is any, with the possible exception of the SEC trying to encourage the Big 12 to try to break the ACC. And I don't think that is in any sense of "partnership" with the Big 12 (Champions Bowl or not), I think it's just the SEC trying to get what it wants. Other than that, I don't think there is any collusion, they are too much in competition.
Ben: This is also a tough question, and one of the fun speculation points in realignment. We know that the conference commissioners speak with one another. They themselves reference their "friendship", etc. when questioned about realignment. I don't necessarily think that any two conferences are working together against another, but I think they're aware enough of each other's desires and goals to act in a way that may seem orchestrated.
15) How much influence do the networks have over their respective conferences?
Dude: Look at the Big East and ACC. Each went against the wishes of their partner network and each will be brought down by the decision to go against their wishes. The ACC is in jeopardy because UNC and Duke rejected WVU. If the ACC takes WVU and Pitt then FSU and Clemson would not have been looking elsewhere. The ACC was forced to allow Notre Dame into the conference as a partial member to mollify FSU and Clemson. It was Notre Dame's partial membership in the ACC that spurred the Big 10 take Maryland and other ACC schools. You can trace the ACC's troubles directly to the ACC's refusal to honor ESPN's wish to take WVU and Pitt from the Big East.
Jim: Of course the conferences talk to their TV partners and of course they use the information about how much school X will add to the bottom line. That said its only to gather more information about how much value the school brings to a conference. ESPN and Fox could tell the Pac or B1G that adding Boise State will bring the schools an extra 3 million a year but there is still 0 chance of either taking them. The good news is most of the target schools produce excess value to the average.
SEC: Enormous. The SEC's future moves will certainly be tied to its new ESPN/CBS contracts and its new SEC Network deal (which will likely be a partnership with ESPN).
Frank: I don't think it's direct influence per se where ESPN or Fox tell leagues who they specifically want leagues to add, but rather that the financial incentives for conferences to expand are largely (if not not entirely) about increasing TV revenue. As a result, conferences are obviously going to give a ton of weight to what would benefit their network partners.
Lou: I think quite a bit in the case of conferences that are tied to contracts already. ESPN can discourage the Big 12 from having any chance as ACC schools by refusing to pay more. In a situation like the B1G's where they are about to be a free agent, I think they are largely free from network control.
Ben: I think it's significant, and I honestly think this is where the idea of orchestration/collusion gets its ammo. There's no doubt that there is a war of content going on between ESPN, FOX, NBC, etc. and I think the conferences may sometimes follow the networks' desire to the extent that it seems like they're working together.
16) From what you know of each other's work, what points/conclusions do you disagree about?
Dude: I don't disagree with anyone. I read their work and I respect what they write. Each has different sources. Those sources have different agendas and a different spin on the information they share.
SEC: In the end, everyone's got their own voice and their own conscience. Others might go with something we would never touch at MrSEC.com. But others might also have a great source or two that we lack. It's up to the readers to decide who's credible and who's not.
Frank: All of the writers here have interesting viewpoints and I've learned that you can never say never in conference realignment. My main overarching point of contention, as I've noted earlier, is that I'm much more skeptical about the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 poaching the particular schools that they would want from the ACC (and I say that as a Big Ten guy). Of course, I could end up being completely wrong about that. As reporters would say, the situation is fluid.
Lou: No particular bones to pick, but I do think one seriously under-respected aspect is how the Tobacco Road schools feel about the ACC, and how much money (outside of TV) it generates in donations. It is going to be tougher for UNC/Duke/NCSU to move than most people think.
17) Where do you think FSU ends up after this current round of realignment? (ACC, B1G, Big12, SEC)?
Dude: The most likely destination for FSU is the Big 12. They don't fit the academic model of the Big 10 and they would duplicate an existing market in the SEC.
Jim: Most likely the ACC. If FSU does move it will be to the B1G.
SEC: If the ACC holds, FSU will stay put. Clearly there are some academicians who like the status quo. But if there's movement, the Big XII is more likely to offer up a spot than the Big Ten due to the AAU thing, based on the league's history. (There are tons of schools who claim to be on the verge of gaining AAU status, by the way, but it's rare that the AAU adds members.) That said, the SEC makes more sense and everyone can see that.
Frank: If I had to wager, FSU will still be in the ACC. The ACC could get raided again, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to collapse. On paper, the Big 12 should have collapsed when Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri all defected, yet it still held together based upon the single massive ego of Texas. The ACC has a similarly situated school with UNC. Now, in the ACC Armageddon scenario, I honestly believe that FSU would end up in the Big Ten before the Big 12 or SEC. The lack of AAU status is a negative, but remember that the Big Ten is more than willing to make an exception for non-AAU member Notre Dame. FSU is in that category where they score so high in every other metric that matters in conference realignment that Jim Delany can convince his presidents that they can't pass them up (and believe me, what he says would be best for the league carries an enormous amount of weight with the Big Ten presidents no matter how much they might be eggheads).
Lou: What is this round? I tend to think ACC short term, B1G or SEC long term.
Ben: I honestly think that for FSU, it's either ACC or Big12. As far as the idea of moving to the B1G, here are my thoughts:
Premise 1) The B1G definitely wants UNC and UVa.
Premise 2) It's likely that UNC and UVa won't leave the ACC until it's falling apart.
If the B1G is really willing to invite FSU as part of a Southeastern bloc, then I don't understand the delay. Maryland left, and everyone said "see you later". Last year, FSU flirted with the Big12, and the ACC panicked. Grabbing FSU would be the easiest way to force the ACC to fall apart, and if the B1G were serious about FSU, they could make their moves so much easier by going through Tallahassee first.
Granted, this might be the type of thing that goes on behind closed doors. If the B1G is truly serious about inviting FSU, they might use that idea to pressure UNC and UVa into considering a jump.
18) What can the ACC do to fend off further raids?
Dude: Sign a grant of rights. Only a grant of rights can save the ACC and there doesn't seem to be much support for a GoR in the ACC unless there is an ACC network.
Jim: Cute answer match B1G payouts. Offer enough that schools stay until 2016. If they ACC makes it to that point it is good to go.
SEC: Sign a grant of rights agreement, land Notre Dame as a full-time member, or agree to a very good scheduling deal with the Big XII, SEC or Pac-12. It's hard to imagine any of those scenarios playing out.
Frank: There are some mechanisms such as a grant of rights that can make the ACC less susceptible to poaching. It will also be key for the ACC to at least make sure their ESPN contract is raised to be in line with the Big 12's TV numbers, which will prevent a complete collapse even if the Big Ten and/or SEC pick off some more ACC schools. However, it's less about what the ACC can do as a conference and more about what individual core schools such as UNC decide to do. Generally speaking, the ACC members like their conference but don't like their TV contract, whereas the Big 12 members don't like their conference but like their TV contract. As long as a school like UNC stays firmly committed to the ACC, there won't be a sense that there's going to be an imminent collapse of the league and other members will stop panicking.
Lou: I think ESPN has to pay them more, whether through a network or some other means. I don't think they have to pay them B1G money (and can't) but I think they could stabilize them by putting them ahead of the Big 12 and within 20% of wherever the SEC ends up. Probably not possible, but I think that would do it UNLESS UVA already is on their way out.
Ben: I think ND joining as a full member is the only chance. Even if the B1G strikes out on all their ACC targets, until they get to 16, they're a threat to the ACC. If the B1G or SEC come calling for FSU, I have a feeling we're gone. I don't think ESPN is willing to come anywhere close to matching what the B1G would be able to offer.
19) What are the chances a profitable ACC Network is started?
Dude: Slim to none. ESPN has been at best lukewarm to the idea. They (ESPN) have invested a significant amount of money into the SEC network that debuts in 2014 and my contact at ESPN tells me they are unlikely to invest money into a competing product. I also wonder why would ESPN pay more for something they already own for the next 15 years? Why would ESPN release those rights back to the ACC only to buy them back at a higher price? The answer is ESPN isn't going to invest money in an ACC network.
Jim: Depends on what they can get back. The ACC has enough quality content around the year that it can actually be successful. But, it would need ownership or to buy into equality over the course of the current ESPN contract.
SEC: Slim. Football drives TV revenue these days and the ACC -- barring some surprising expansion moves -- isn't particularly strong on the gridiron. The league certainly has enough major markets and cable households within its geographic footprint to get a channel off the ground, but the content is the problem.
Frank: Low. ESPN would need to form it and they haven't indicated that they're interested, so it's out of the hands of the ACC. That being said, ESPN and its sublicensor Raycom could certainly eventually decide that they can better monetize their second and third tier rights by forming an ACC Network as opposed to selling those games via syndication. An ACC Network may not get the carriage fees on the same level as the Big Ten Network or the soon-to-be-formed SEC Network, but the conference arguably has a stronger ability to get basic carriage in most of its footprint than the Pac-12 in its region.
Lou: Unlikely, unless it's simply a way for ESPN to throw more money at the ACC to stabilize things, not unlike some people feel like they did with Texas with the LHN, or the Big 12 in general, to keep the PAC from scooping them up. I don't think it's truly viable any time soon, but might happen anyway.
Ben: The only thing that hasn't been mentioned is Raycom. The subliscensing agreement that ESPN has with Raycom for Tier 2 and 3 content has to throw a wrench into this process. I'm not an expert, but the only way I see an ACC Network is by buying Raycom, who is still in business only because of the ACC deal.
Jim: One thing I still see way too much of is fan thinking. To many seem to think there is some collusion and an end game of 4x16 because well it just makes sense. Not understanding that each conference has its own business model, its own culture, its own short-comings and its own strength. Never mind each school involved. Just because you want it nice and neat means nothing. The B1G is talking about going to 20 because it is in position to make 20 profitable in the next 5 years. No one else is in that position. Given the reported troubles that the SEC had with upping their CBS deal its not even certain the SEC can go to 16 profitably. A schools fan base might want to go somewhere or might be perceived to have a fan base that wants to go to somewhere it does not mean the actual decision makers and the rest of the stakeholders want to go there. To use my FSU as an example everyone just assumes its fan base is a perfect fit for the SEC but they ignore that the state of Michigan, which is 6th of B1G states, would be 3rd in the SEC in sending students to FSU. Illinois sends more students to FSU as Mississippi and Alabama combined. The Pac is not going to add 4 schools just to add 4 schools.
SEC: People want everything to play out in a nice, neat fashion. As we've written on MrSEC.com for a while now, it's highly unlikely we'll end up with four super-conferences of 16 teams each with a nice even playoff split of four teams from each league. We're not talking about the NFL. Colleges and conferences are each out to grab the most cash possible. Expecting them to play nice or do what's right "for the good of the sport" is wishful thinking.
Frank: A lot of fans believe/hope that we'll end up with a logical and orderly setup of 4 16-team superconferences (which could form a nice playoff system in the future), but I don't think that it will happen that way. Conference realignment is really made up of a lot of messy micro decisions by individual conferences and schools. You can see it now with so many of the key players in the Big 12 not even wanting to expand to 12, much less move up to 16 or 18. I could see the five power conferences all range from 10 to 18 members. While every conference has the same general goal of maximizing TV revenue, they all have to take different approaches to reaching that goal.
Lou: 4 .x 16 just doesn't work. I think the end game is 3 x 20, or really 5 x 20 counting two mid-majors. That's 80-100 teams with access, although the big three would be on another level, much like the big five are now. If you can figure out scheduling, 3 x 20 works out better in just about every way.
Ben: I think realignment ultimately comes down to the B1G. I think it is fairly clear that they desire to add more ACC teams. Whether or not they are successful is the question that determines where we end up. If they can get UVa or UNC without first going through FSU, that leads to a much different outcome than if they can't