Just as soon as football and basketball and recruiting and spring practice are put to bed, talk of conference expansion and realignment goes from a simmer to a boil. Funny how that works. My email box is currently filled with questions and rumors and “mark this downs.”
Granted the current discussions on a new postseason playoff format as well as the Big 12′s own cloudy future are helping to feed the messageboard chatter, but we’re not so sure at least some — read: all — of this buzz hasn’t been ginned up in an effort to drive fans to websites all summer long.
For those who haven’t been keeping up with recent internet whispers, the Big 12 formed an exploratory committee on expansion way back in January. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione let everyone know about it, too, which set off a bit of a panic. Soon after, word began to spread that Clemson, Florida State, and maybe even Georgia Tech might join the Big 12 from the East. Louisville and Cincinnati might climb aboard from the Midwest. And the powers-that-be at Notre Dame — oh, sweet, succulent, delectable Notre Dame — were reportedly so tight with Texas’ brass that the Irish would surely become Team 16 in the Big 12′s new mega-design.
And for those who’ve forgotten, Arkansas was also mentioned as a potential Big 12 target for the umpteenth time.
Depending on the “insider” or “big money donor” you choose to listen to, the Big 12 could land any combination of those teams. Clemson and FSU are ready to move to the Big 12 for the 2013 season! Florida State needs to leave the ACC due to poor finances! The television networks are secretly working behind the scenes to bring this whole thing together!
Closer to the homefront, some will tell you that the SEC is still having under-the-table chats with Virginia Tech and NC State as a backup plan, too (even though we’ve actually done the research and found it’d be pretty tough politically for those schools to leave their current friends and family).
Sorry, I’m not buying this latest noise and I’ll list five reasons why in a second. But the first thing we all need to remember is just how many of these rumors and reports have come true in the past — and that’s not many. How ’bout that done deal of a 16-team Big Ten with Missouri being the first lock? What about the reports that Clemson, Florida State, Louisville and Georgia Tech were SEC done deals? That Pac-10/Big 12 semi-merger? West Virginia to the SEC? West Virginia to the ACC?
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.
Now some will defend the messageboards as being the place where word first spread of Texas A&M moving to the SEC and of Missouri being a possible expansion target, too. Well, uh, no. Anyone who’d done their research on the subject knew full well that A&M AD John David Crow and LSU AD Joe Dean had actually tried to bring the Aggies to Harvey Schiller’s SEC a quarter-century ago. The SEC and A&M had played footsie for years and there was no doubt in our minds here at MrSEC — even when A&M said in 2010 they’d be staying the Big 12 — that they would indeed one day partner up with the league that they were predestined to join. And that was long before the messageboards warmed to such talk last summer.
As for Mizzou, again, this site first tossed the Tigers out as possibility — due to television markets, population size, etc — back in May of 2010, long before anyone else considered them to be an option at all. In fact, the messageboards we read after the fact poked quite a bit of fun at our suggestion that MU would be just as good an option for SEC expansion as Virginia Tech. We fielded a number of “yoo’re a mo-ron” emails from folks just sure that Mike Slive and company would add Texas and Oklahoma and Clemson and Florida State instead of A&M and, and… Missouri.
And that leads into the list of reasons I don’t believe you’ll be seeing FSU or Clemson in the Big 12 anytime soon:
Ever notice how folks on the boards are always quoting “big boosters” and “top money donors?” Well, I’ve learned over the years that for the most part, the bigger the booster, the more he keeps his mouth shut. Oh, there are exceptions to the rule, of course. A tip o’ the hat to you, T. Boone Pickens. But most of the true power brokers at a school — and there are usually just one or two mega-boosters at each school — like to keep their business to themselves. They don’t type messages in internet chat rooms. They don’t leak info to the guy gassing up their private plane.
In fact, the folks who I’ve found do the most talking are the guys who want you to think they’re in a position of power. Mid-level boosters talk a lot more than the actual, school-driving boosters. And mid-level boosters aren’t the guys State U’s president calls to ask for advice.
Now, that’s not to say messageboards are useless. Sometimes stories can really break in those kinds of places. But we’re usually talking about “Our quarterback got busted for smoking dope” type stories and not “Clemson will sign a binding letter of agreement with the Big 12 in Dallas on May 20th” type stories.
We take ‘em with a grain of salt. Many feel the same way about the myriad of websites out there. We do, too. We feel our own track record is solid enough at this point that you should know a) we’ve got some good contacts out there, b) we don’t throw a lot of crap at the wall just to see what sticks, and c) we also have no problem admitting when we’re wrong. Example: We fully expected — and still expect — that the SEC will someday be forced to go to a nine-game conference football schedule. But it looks like that might be 12 years down the road. Consider that a miscalculation on our part regarding the leadership of Slive. He’s off base on this issue, we were off base to expect him to override his ADs this summer.
When we’re right — which is more often than not — we’ll tell you. When we’re wrong, we’ll admit that, too. Some sites are worse than us, some are better (hey, we’re humble). But just as you shouldn’t believe everything you read at “TechIsGonnaWin.com,” you shouldn’t believe every “high-level booster” you hear from on a messageboard.
2. Television Networks
Television money has been the number one driving factor of conference realignment dating back to the CFA’s landmark Supreme Court win over the NCAA way back in the 1980s. But to think the TV networks are hoping to further shift the college landscape now? That seems a bit out of left field.
ESPN and Fox have pretty much cut the 10-team Big 12 better deals than the league deserves simply to hold the thing together. If the Big 12 blew completely apart, teams would have scattered hither and yon and the networks would have been forced to rework nearly all of their contracts in major ways all at once. That’s not a good negotiating strategy.
So the idea that the networks would aid the Big 12 in destroying the ACC, for example, doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. So far, the ESPNs of the world have simply reacted when the five big leagues have acted. Oh, they might have given the ACC a knowing wink before that league’s raid of the Big East for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, but the Big East’s football deal is the smallest of the BCS leagues. No harm, no foul from an ESPN standpoint.
If ESPN and/or Fox is aiding a Big 12 raid of the ACC those networks would have to know that John Swofford’s league would be destabilized. That would open it up to raids from the Big Ten or SEC. That might mean some sort of hodge-podge’d union with a weakened Big East. That’s a lot of TV deals to hammer out in a short time.
3. Notre Dame
As we wrote earlier this week, the current playoff talks are about a lot more than just playoffs. Both the Big Ten and the Big 12 lust after Notre Dame. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Irish remain America’s top college sports brand name more than two decades since their last national title. They bring prestige academically and athletically. They bring clout to the negotiating table and they would bring big dinero to any league that landed them.
So Jim Delany of the Big Ten and now Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12 have reason to tweak Notre Dame in the ongoing playoff talks. If the Irish aren’t given the same kind of special treatment they’ve received under the old BCS format — both in money and in opportunity — then the school might find itself finally backed far enough into a corner that it will have to join a conference, much to its administration’s chagrin. The Big Ten and Big 12 believe they would be the likeliest landing spots. The ACC has been mentioned as a potential landing zone as well (which would make ESPN and Fox and the other TV networks have to work even harder on the contract renegotiation front, by the way).
Here’s the question then: Would Delany and Bowlsby be willing to blow up the entire current landscape in an effort to possibly land Notre Dame? Because if Notre Dame moves, there’s a good chance other schools will move. Do the leagues really, really want that? Or do they simply want Notre Dame? If the answer is the latter, then we think Delany and Bowlsby will blink before Notre Dame’s leadership. After all, the other nine commissioners involved in the current playoff talk would prefer expansion and realignment slow down long enough for everyone to catch their collective breath and assess the gains and losses of their many recent moves.
4. Clemson’s AD
People in power lie. They lie all the time. It’s part of business. You keep your cards to your chest, you bluff, and you lie when forced into it. That said, Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips issued a pretty strong denial back in February when his school was first being mentioned in connection with the Big 12. ”… I can say for sure with Clemson there is no substance to that,” he said before adding that no Clemson officials had been contacted by Big 12 representatives at all.
Today at Orangebloods.com — the Rivals site covering the University of Texas — those good folks posted behind a paywall that they’ve been told by Clemson people that they have still not been contacted “in any way, shape or form” by the Big 12 and that their school would only entertain a possible move if Florida State acted first. For a site that many believe to be a pro-Texas, pro-Big 12 mouthpiece that’s hardly a ringing endorsement for the “done deal” theory.
(Sidenote — Orangebloods also reports that the Big 12 will extend its current six-year shared media rights deal to 13 years when ESPN’s new contract with the league is announced this summer. If that comes to pass it will do wonders for the stability of the Big 12.)
5. Our Sources
I talk to sources — some better than others — at every school in the current SEC. You’d be surprised how many times a school administrator wants “the real story” put out by someone in the press and — thankfully — because we have three times the average number of college grads reading our site, a lot of those academicians will drop us notes and texts and tips from time to time.
I also know media folks from across the country who are tapped into these same schools on the local level. In addition, this site has connections to some of the biggest companies in college sports (companies that handle everything from schools’ local media deals to their ticket sales to their public relations).
That’s not to brag, everyone’s got sources and — as noted above — some are better than others. But I mention those sources for this reason: I’ve yet to speak to anyone who seriously believes Clemson and Florida State will wind up in the Big 12. Or that another Big Bang of conference expansion is on the way.
Anything is possible. ”Never say never,” is our mantra around here and our longtime readers know that. Situations change and evolve. That could happen in this case and the Big 12 could be the Big 20 by tomorrow. If so, we’ll admit that we were scooped.
For now, though, we’re not buying all the talk. We think it’s driven more by the slow news period and conjecture than by actual, already held conversations.
But did we mention, “Never say never?”