It was about 72 hours ago that the world learned of the SEC’s surprising pact with the Big 12. The champions of the two leagues — if they’re not invited into a new playoff — will meet in an unknown city on New Year’s night in a game run by unknown parties. It could be an existing bowl like the Sugar. Or it could be a stand-alone game run by the conferences in Jerry Jones’ Cowboy Stadium, for example. Either way, the leagues will be keeping more profit from a “bowl” than ever before.
The SEC and Big 12 have also consolidated their power in an “oh, yeah” response to the Big Ten and Pac-12′s ongoing loyalty to the Rose Bowl. The SEC and Big 12 have sent many more teams to the BCS Championship Game these last 14 years than the Big Ten and Pac-12 have. ”We’ll see your Pasadena and raise you an Arlington, or New Orleans, or Atlanta,” the SEC and Big 12 seem to be saying.
The response was quick and wild over the weekend with many believing this move to be “The Big One” so long talked about. For 25 years people have speculated that we would eventually come to the point where four superconferences — and only four — ruled the college football world.
But is this really the San Andreas Fault rattling and rolling? Is this really Fred Sanford’s chance to join Elizabeth? And what should Joe Average Football Fan be hoping for?
Monday morning thoughts…
We’ve been hearing for months that Florida State and Clemson fans were ready to bolt from the ACC. Oddly, their fervor for departure didn’t really kick into hyperdrive until FSU trustee Andy Haggard responded loudly to some misinformation on the internet regarding the ACC’s new television deal with ESPN. Now social media is blazing with talk of FSU, Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Notre Dame possibly/probably jumping to the Big 12.
Some websites even claimed earlier this month that a deal was already done between FSU/Clemson and the Big 12. The buyouts had already been figured out and it was only a matter of waiting for the new playoff plan to be announced.
That’s news to many people who are actually in the Big 12 it seems. While some writers say “there is no doubt — none — that the Big 12 wants to get back to a minimum of 12 teams,” others say the league is split on expansion… with four schools for it, four schools on the proverbial fence, one school pushing hard for it (Oklahoma) and one school pushing hard against it (Texas). Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis is in the go-either-way camp telling The Tulsa World:
“…we were very happy with where we are with 10 teams…
To be honest, I think everybody liked it. It was a very good number for our league.
I think it was great that everyone played everyone else in football. I think two games against everyone in basketball was a good thing. I know our coaches liked it. Right now, I’d say we’re pretty happy at 10.”
Hargis is the head of the Big 12′s expansion committee, by the way. While Hargis postures, new reports of FSU moving continue to spew forth. Yesterday, Ingram Smith of ChuckOliver.net went all in:
“According to two people with the strongest ties possible to Florida State’s Athletic Department, FSU fully plans on exiting the Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State will begin its transition to the Big 12 Conference beginning this June. One source went as far as to say, ‘at this point the move is inevitable.’
… Florida State leaving the ACC this summer will culminate a process that began with initial talks with an intermediary representing the Big 12 last November. Florida State did not officially reach out to the Big 12 until a week before the ACC’s most recent deal with ESPN was announced. Florida State has long been frustrated with the leadership of its current conference and in the Big 12 believes it has found a partner that is more focused, and in touch with the current economic climate of collegiate athletics.
Florida State will receive substantial financial help from the Big 12 in their exit fee from the ACC. Look for FSU to receive a similar deal that WVU received last year from the Big 12. FSU will be given anywhere from 10 – 14 million dollars towards the 20 million dollar exit fee. Much of this money will come from the exit fees the Big 12 received from Texas A&M and Missouri’s departure. It is very likely that FSU will additionally then be loaned somewhere in the area of 3 – 5 million dollars from the Big 12. FSU’s AD department will be responsible for the remainder of the costs associated with the departure from the ACC. FSU has boosters that have already pledged the money towards the remaining fees that are not covered by the Big 12.
Florida State will enter the Big 12 as a full member in their first year.”
That’s an awful lot of detail coming from the FSU side of things. Smith also writes that “Clemson will almost certainly pair with Florida State as team 11 and 12 for the Big 12.” In addition, “Georgia Tech is also talking with the Big 12.”
Smith then goes on to blow up the ACC entirely with the usual suspects — Virginia Tech and NC State — landing in the SEC and the Big Ten diving in for the remaining high-minded institutions like Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.
Miami isn’t mentioned by Smith. Maybe that’s because Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald wrote the following over the weekend:
“Though a Yahoo story suggested the Big 12 – which has more a lucrative TV deal than the Atlantic Coast Conference – might pursue FSU and UM, two UM Board of Trustee members said it hasn’t been discussed inside UM and they could not envision Miami being interested. One pointed out UM would need to pay more than $15 million in ACC exit fees even if it wanted to move. ”
Well, now, wait a second. We were told that FSU and Clemson were leaving for the Big 12. Then word came out that FSU was pushing for Miami rather than Clemson. Then we were told Miami couldn’t pay its ACC exit fee even if it wanted to go. And then we’re told the Big 12 will give FSU help with its fee.
If you notice that we’re writing the story in one direction, then zigging from our previous zag, you’re paying good attention. The point is, no one seems to know what’s really happening. And anyone who claims after the fact to have seen all this coming — if all this does eventually come to pass — would be akin to the guy who made this film saying he knew man would someday reach the moon via the Apollo space program.
For while one group says the Big 12 has already reached deals with certain schools, arguably the most powerful man in the Big 12 argues in the other direction. Last week Texas AD DeLoss Dodds said Florida State was far both far from the Big 12 geographically… and far from joining it. Last night he said the age of the superconference is a long ways off as well:
“I think that’s way, way out there. The Big Ten likes where they are; they don’t want to change. The Pac-12′s got all they can get. I don’t see superconferences for a while. I think it’d take a crisis for that to happen.”
Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas has said his league hasn’t had any conversations with Florida State. (Today he told KTXX-FM that an SEC colleague told him not to expand past 12 “because 14 becomes unruly.”) He also said that he expects Notre Dame to remain independent. Ah, but that where there’s another break within the Big 12 conference.
Orangebloods.com — the Rivals site that covers Texas and that is viewed by many as a Longhorn propaganda arm — writes that Texas has been “courting Notre Dame carefully since the summer of 2010.” So at least one school inside the Big 12 must feel the Irish can be had.
In the end, we tend to agree with the Orangeblood’s Chip Brown’s assessment of all this expansion talk:
“In short, anyone saying Notre Dame, Florida State or Clemson are done deals are talking to people with wishful thinking or relying on second or third-hand information from people with wishful thinking.”
Amen. But, ironically, many of the folks doing the wishing should actually be wishing for a slow-down, not a speed-up to expansion. Here’s why:
1. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are stable as can be. Due to geography, Larry Scott’s league is practically untouchable by any other raiding party. The massive TV deal he negotiated for his conference insures that Pac-12 athletic departments will make more money than ever. That, by the way, is already what’s going on in the Big Ten. It’s believed that league’s schools will make $24.6 million each when checks are handed out at this year’s league meetings. Why expand now if you’re the Pac-12 or Big Ten?
2. The SEC is renegotiating its own television deals with CBS and ESPN and it’s expected Mike Slive’s league will be at or very near the top of the cash heap when the ink on those new contracts dries. It’s been a backroom fistfight to hammer out the new 14-team SEC football and basketball schedules and that process has stretched all the way to the league’s spring meetings. If you’re filthy rich and the move to 14 schools has caused some issues already, why rush to 16 (or 18 or 20 teams)?
3. The Big 12 had lined up new television deals with ESPN and Fox that were — ironically — designed to help hold the league together. Now they’ve given the Big 12 so much clout that it’s gone from devastation to destination in less than 12 months. The Big 12 is the Michael Myers of conferences. But if you’re uber-wealthy and you only have to split your booty among only 10 programs, why expand? For a conference championship game? Would the financial rewards of that one game be enough to cancel out the additional splitting of the conference revenue pie with two, four or six new schools?
At this point, the traditionalists better hope everyone decides to cool off for a bit. The four leagues mentioned above are safe and secure. They can afford to wait.
For Florida State, Miami, Clemson or anyone else hoping to leave the ACC for better television money, the better goal might be to improve your own football programs first. John Swofford’s league controls just about every major television market up and down the East Coast. The only reason his league can’t equal the other leagues in football TV money is the lack of performance by the three schools mentioned above. If the Noles, Canes and Tigers had just strung together — say — six BCS titles in a row, the ACC would be rolling in mucho dinero.
And speaking of the ACC, their best options for survival appears to be:
1. Somehow convince Notre Dame to join their league.
2. Sign a multi-million dollar deal with the Orange Bowl and Notre Dame… right… this… instant.
Either way, Notre Dame appears to be the ACC’s best hope for a dance partner now that the Big Ten and Pac-12, SEC and Big 12 have paired up.
So what’s the takeaway? Well, this might not be “The Big One” that everyone suspects. Fans of tradition should pray the four most secure conferences realize that they have the time and money to be patient and make well-reasoned moves regarding expansion. They should hope the ACC and Notre find a way to navigate through all this by finding a way to work together.
Things don’t have to be as wild and crazy as now they appear to be.
Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If the hawks in the US military and the hardliners in the Soviet Union had had their way back in 1962, none of us might be around today to talk conference expansion. Instead, the Kennedys were cool, determined to avoid a nuclear war, and Nikita Kruschev gave them a way out with what was believed to be a drunken letter he sent to the US President at the height of the crisis.
If cooler heads prevail now, we might just come out of this without having to go through Expansion War III. Pray for cooler heads to prevail, folks. Just don’t count on that happening.