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Will The Circle Be Unbroken: How A Mistake 20 Years Ago Has Nuked Conferences And Rivalries

Over the weekend, we linked you to a story from The Kansas City Star in which writer Sam Mellinger wondered if Missouri was now having regrets about leaving the Big 12.  (Two notes: 1. That damnable Mia Hamm ad will pop up as soon as you click the link.  2.  Yes, Tiger fans, we know you think Mellinger is a pro-Kansas, anti-Missouri man.)  Well, Mellinger’s item got me thinking about how things in the SEC, Big 12, ACC and — if all heck breaks loose in the next two months — all of college athletics might have been different had one school not shot itself in the foot more than two decades ago.

Everything at present time is moving in circles.  Mellinger just must not have realized that.  In writing about how the new SEC-Big 12 agreement has made the Big 12 more stable than anyone would have imagined a year ago, he stated:

 

“There is no way to know the answer for sure, but there are now plenty of college sports insiders who believe MU wouldn’t have left for the SEC if it knew this is how the thing would turn out.

The SEC is the most powerful league in college sports, so it’s dishonest to call joining up a mistake, but it’s easy to imagine that in their most unfiltered thoughts the MU decision-makers are now less certain they did the right thing.

The mantra all along was stability, the Tigers saying their best situation would be a firm Big 12. Turns out that’s exactly what they left behind.”

 

Actually, no.  That’s not what Missouri left behind.

When Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC, it was the fourth founding member to leave the league in about 18 months time.  Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State had all just been had their bids for membership in the Pac-12 rejected.  The league Missouri left was splintering.  (Heck, Oklahoma even came close to scuttling the conference’s plans to add West Virginia to replace Mizzou.)

It was Missouri’s departure that actually helped make the Big 12 stable again.  Scared that the league would blow itself to pieces and Big 12 teams would land everywhere from the ACC (who Texas also approached), the Pac-12, the Big Ten, the SEC and who knows where else… ESPN coughed up a huge payday for a 10-school league that covers just five states (including Iowa, Kansas and West Virginia, which are all rather sparsely populated).  ESPN feared that it would either a) have to renegotiate television contracts with every league under the sun or b) risk losing some games to other networks which were ready to bid — NBC/Comcast, Fox, etc.  As a result, the Big 12 got more than market value from ESPN (and from Fox).

But if Missouri doesn’t leave the Big 12, the only thing that’s made the league stable — all that television money — most likely doesn’t reach the levels it did.  Yet still, some question whether the Tigers should have just stayed put and enjoyed the Big 12′s current riches.

See the circle in all that?  Here’s another one.

Over on the Atlantic Coast, John Swofford’s basketball-first league tried to become a better football conference way back in 1991 by adding powerhouse Florida State.  In 2004, the ACC took things further and raided the Big East for Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.  People forget that BC went to eight bowls in a row under Tom O’Brien and was averaging about nine wins per year when the ACC nabbed them.

But FSU’s program fizzled under an aging Bobby Bowden.  Miami’s program was undone by NCAA violations.  Virginia Tech never could win “the big one” and claim a national crown.  Boston College saw it’s successes diminish when O’Brien left for NC State in 2007.

The league’s football fortunes turned sour just as television contracts — which are driven almost entirely by football rights — were booming.  Now some of those very same football schools are talking about leaving the ACC which could ultimately bring down roof on Swofford’s head.

Had the ACC not added all those schools and had it remained a tight-knit, basketball power it likely wouldn’t be as rich as its neighboring leagues, but it certainly would be tougher to blow apart than it is now.  Dumping 60 years of tradition is tougher than walking away from 20.  Or eight.

Want another circle?  Let’s focus on Florida State.

In 1990, the Southeastern Conference put on a song and dance routine in Tallahassee in an attempt to lure the Seminoles into the SEC.  There were no certainly roadblocks from the folks in Gainesville 22 years ago.  FSU officials decided instead that the ACC was the better place for them.  They could dominate in football and bellying up to the lectern with strong academic institutions like Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia put a charge in the bow ties of FSU’s academicians.

But as noted above, FSU’s dominion over the ACC and college football ended.  In the 90s, the move looked sound. In the 2000s, not so much.  State became an average football team and that helped drag down the value of the entire ACC as television rights fees grew.  State fell behind the SEC and rival Florida in the money race.  FSU’s fans complain about having to play basketball schools like Wake Forest on the gridiron (maybe because the Demon Deacons have taken four of the last six from the Seminoles).

Now Florida State is on the verge of leaving the ACC because it can make more money elsewhere.  Even though it’s the top reason the ACC isn’t worth as much.

See the circle?  Now look at it in big picture form.

If Florida State had had the foresight in 1990 to join the conference that was clearly the best fit for it, the school would probably be healthier and wealthier today.  But it snubbed the SEC for the ACC.  The SEC got rich without FSU.  It’s landmark television deals in 2008 set off a series of conference moves that wound up destabilized the Big 12.  Eventually, that led Missouri to leave its old Big Eight rivals and flee the Big 12 for Mike Slive’s league.  ESPN then threw huge cash at the Big 12 in the hopes of saving it.  It worked.  And now Florida State is eyeballing a possible move from the ACC to the Big 12.

If FSU had simply done the sensible thing in 1990, the SEC’s roster of teams would definitely look more sensible on a map today.  Florida State would be on solid ground.  The ACC might have remained a basketball-first power and not brought in schools that would have no problem leaving and splitting up the conference.  Missouri might not have had a greener pasture to head to and might have stayed put in the Big 12 to preserve its old rivalries.  And perhaps leagues across the nation wouldn’t be trembling with fear over more possible expansion, realignments, and breakups today.

If FSU had moved to the SEC, Missouri might not have.  And if Missouri hadn’t left the Big 12, FSU might not be contemplating a move to the the Big 12.

And we all might never have become trapped in what seems to be a never-ending cycle — make that circle — of change.

 


22 comments
Dynamite fan
Dynamite fan

I would also add how South Carolina benefited from being the "fallback" team when FSU declined the invite.

 

TheN8tureBoy
TheN8tureBoy

Great article. I've been thinking the same thing for two weeks.

buddha22
buddha22

As a MIZZOU fan I have started to be more amused at the slights from fans about our football program, we'll soon see out on the gridiron how we stack up, B, C or A...That said, the persistence of kU and kSU fans/writers/media is absolutely LOL funny as they try to project their fears/hopes on to an MU fan base that like the university left the B12 willingly and gladly...and is not looking back at all. Their desire to make MU's move (one that was not available to them or they would've broke land speed records to accept) look foolish just underscores how "hurt" on many levels they are, even now with their supposed stability. John, I think your article here is smack on center. Continue the good work, your site is must read for me every day!

MizzouFan
MizzouFan

For more rationalizing for SEC to bring on Mizzou is Mizzou/Missouri really has a more similar culture ID with the SouthEast than the Plains of Kansas and cowboy boots of the SouthWest. Our SEC border states are much more in tune with the outstate Missourians than the plains folks. We do have lots in common with folks of Oklahoma & Texas than anything on the Plains but we love food, entertainment, and everyday life more in tune with SEC country. Mizzou fits in well with SEC even more than they did the old Big 6/8.

Even if Mizzou stays a B program as stated I see their competitive intensity really growing each game in each sport with this move.

I for one Mizzou fan and Big 12 fan have no regrets whatsoever about Mizzou's decision to leave all that dsyfunction of will they go; will they stay; will they go; will they stay ignorance of last four years if the A&M president's recollections are correct.

Let's play some football, basketball, baseball, softball, olympic sports SEC brothers and sisters!!!!!!

MizzouFan
MizzouFan

What the SEC could do to expand is forget either VTech or NCState as a pair for future tv subscriptions. That money would be good but may dilute the quality of the teams as was suggested for bringing on FSU because of brand name as B1G apparently did with Nebraska.

What SEC could do for 'Brand' ID and pulling viewers to games broadcast nationally by CBS,ABC,NBC earning one time payments for that and bring in either VTech or NCState with FSU for those subscriptions on a somewhat permanent basis. Depends on what is more valuable to the conference and school presidents. One time payments for one time viewing to perhaps be reshown on SEC Network w/ad revenue there or the more permanent subscription fees. If it is about earnings... FSU, despite a supposed name brand such as Nebraska, wouldn't be as valuable as the possible subscriptions of VTech & NCState.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Obviously B1G didn't need Mizzou's electronic footprint and AAA rating due to their already considerable earnings from their B1G network and went with the 'Brand' name of Nebraska that actually lucked out in a couple games to beat Mizzou as Mizzou was ever improving. Those losses meant a great deal to Mizzou's program and may have put Nebraska at less leverage with Texas/OU since the Huskers were beaten every way but the score which is the only math that counts at the end of the game... not how you got there but that you won. This isn't bitter complaining but just rationalizing how some things may have transpired in Big12 and their treatment of both Mizzou and Nebraska in the end.

Delany has kept B1G within a certain geographic footprint versus electronic. Maybe in 20 years if the subscriptions and money is less the conferences may go through another realignment back to more geographic footprints for fiscal needs.

I like getting the money as Slive is doing. B1G and Pac12 are still doing business as in the 60s, 70s as to partnerships. SEC couldn't/wouldn't do it with SWC to use Sugar Bowl as those two do but Big 8 would and did and waala tried to use Fiesta Bowl that way. Was working wasn't it until Texas got wondering eyes carrying OU/OSU/TT/A&M/CU along. 

Tampa Dude
Tampa Dude

John,

 

Are you in anyway beginning to question Slive's strategy here?  I understand the "market over program" approach, especially with a budding network, but its a strategy that has so far been proven to fail.  Look no further than the ACC adding Boston College and Cuse/PITT.  Now with CBS apparently balking at increasing the contract for Mizzou and TAMU, it just makes me wonder.

 

Expanding with mid level teams flies in the face of what got the SEC where they are today.  Every time a Mizzou, or TAMU, or NC State (gasp) or, V-Tech gets added, Tennessee loses a game against LSU/Alabama/Auburn.  LSU loses UF so they can play NC State.  After the next expansion the SEC will have a full 1/3 of teams on the outskirts of the footprint that don't even share the same SEC culture.

 

Is Slive being a little TOO committed to one direction?  Would he chose an ECU or Cincinnati over FSU or Miami?

 

Delaney, the one commissioner with a functioning revenue producing network, could have added Mizzou with a good size market with synergy in St. Louis.  Mizzou wanted badly to be in the B1G, but was passed up without second thought to add a team in a very negligible market in Nebraska.  Why the different strategies?  Who is making the correct decisions here?

 

And finally, why is Slive simply acquiescing to the BIG XII desire to play conference home games in the SEC's backyard?  All of their plans could be easily torpedoed by the SEC inviting Florida State.

 

Perhaps history is repeating itself, only the SEC is the one shooting itself in the foot.

KC Guy
KC Guy

I remember reading Mellinger's column and just being infuriated by his logic. I love that you voiced what we are really thinking... That Mizzou is still thrilled to be an SEC school, no matter what kind of temporary success the Big 12 is having. Make no mistake, I hope the Big 12 does well, but blaming Mizzou for their instability is a ridiculous notion. One other thing that made me laugh was listening to 610 KCSP's Danny Parkins explain how the Big 12 should slow play expansion because Florida State will join no matter if it's today or three years from now. I'm sorry John, but am I out of my mind for thinking that the Big 12 should capitalize on their short lived momentum? If they could land Florida State and get a share of the Florida recruiting ground and new television markets, it would be a huge get. They'd be out of their minds to slow play this and to not go all out to land Florida State. Thus, this is just another example of the mindset of the Kansas City media, which is the Big 12 is now a powerhouse conference again and Missouri will be sorry that they didn't stay.

RoadTrip
RoadTrip

Really interesting, John.

 

In Mizzou's case - they could have stayed a B player in a B league in football and an A player in and A league in basketball. Or, they can step up to an A league in football as a B player initially, while helping to elevate the SEC to an A league in basketball. It's a win-win for Mizzou and the SEC for them to have joined as it was for Texas A&M for different reasons. I still think the SEC makes these moves if FSU had come in two decades back as you state. They may have been made as the 14th, 15h or 16th teams - but they still would have been made IMO. The fact is the Big 12 is a B league in football. Texas makes sure of that. So do FSU, Clemson and Miami change that dynamic and revenue sharing in the Big 12, or do they agree to play second fiddle to Texas? I guess that answer will come soon. But it is a moot point if the SEC will go on and bring FSU and Clemson, or Va Tech, into the mix. Just don't see the muckety mucks moving on it quick enough

WillieT
WillieT

So, hypothetically, let's assume in 1990 FSU decided to join the SEC. What happens to the SEC - They still need either USC or Arky to get to 12. Probably they nab Arky (better football, better basketball thanks to Nolan Richardson). South Carolina remains in the ACC and really never amounts to much more than an also ran (let's face it, SEC $$s is what brought in Lou Holtz & Steve Spurrier)

 

Since the ACC still wanted to get to 12 they'd still hand out the same invites in 2004 and the BigE would still be looking at a hodge-podge of a mess.

 

Now, let's assume the dollars continue to drive the bus. Do Colorado & Nebraska still make their moves to the Pac12 & BigTen? Probably. Does the Big12 still face it's summer of discontent? of course. Does Texas A&M come callin' in B'ham? most likely.

 

So, we'd still have reached the end of the 2011 season looking at a 13 team SEC needing a dance partner. The ACC would likely still have snagged the same two from the BigEast, in a preemptive strike. Who does the SEC go after if not Mizzou? USC? Hardly. Clemson would look better but a better population base in Missouri or North Carolina or Virginia would make schools from those states more attractive. With the Big12 still teetering, my guess is Mizzou would still contact Mike Slive's league and gain an invite.

 

So, the circle would still have turned round. Difference is the SEC would have FSU and the ACC would have USC.

 

I know Slive and the boys in the SEC are not interested in expanding beyond 14 teams at this juncture, and I know there are some hard feelings regarding FSU from 22 years ago. But business is business and when opportunity presents itsself, good businessmen make good decisions for their business. FSU is still a national brand & brings value. With SEC type money, they'd be back in the hunt for titles pretty quickly. Analysis done by MrSEC in the last couple of years indicates they would be a good fit for the SEC. On top of that, extending an invite, and gaining the Seminoles keeps the Big12 OUT of one of the nations' hottest recruiting beds while strengthening the SEC's position and weakening the ACC's position.

 

Only problem I see is coming up with a 15 team, 2-division schedule OR one more dance partner.

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

So now we just need Sam Beckett to leap back into Bobby Bowden and "put right what once went wrong?"  It's always interesting to view how things might be different if certain past events had been changed.

 

I do wish FSU had come to the SEC years ago, but I also like all the current teams as well. 

MoKelly
MoKelly

Well, hindsight is 20/20 most of the time. Even in hindsight, why would Mizzou want to still be in the Big 12 --- because of Kansas? Sorry, that is not near enough. The Big 12 may now be rich and stable (all because of Missouri as you note). The move to the SEC is a big opportunity for Mizzou to upgrade its programs and get to the next level. That would not have happened with the Big 12 status quo. This is one person who has absolutely no regrets about our move --- even with 20/20 hindsight.

mitchs3
mitchs3

 @Tampa Dude  To respond to one of your questions/points, I'm not saying that it is THE reason Mizzou was not given the B1G invite over Nebraska (I agree "Brand"/"Program" as you allude to was the biggest reason), but the Big Ten Network is already on basic cable in the St. Louis market, so adding Mizzou would not have had the big cable bounce that one might have otherwise expected.  As for Nebraska, it is clearly a smaller market than MO, but a market with almost unparalled market penetration - everyone in Nebraska seemingly follows NU football.

In hindsight, still very glad it worked out this way - better sports, better money, better weather, growing region rather than shrinking region.  If Mellinger really wants to play the hindsight game throw all three options out there, and I think the vast majority of MU fans would take the one we got. 

 

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @Tampa Dude 

 

I think Slive was the first commissioner to ink TV contracts worth $2 billion.  That set the bar for other league's negotiations which came later.  If he gets a massive new deal from ESPN -- or starts his own network with ESPN -- his strategy will prove wise, once again.

 

The more area you add, the more cable households you add.  The more cable households you have, the more money -- in hundreds of millions of dollars -- you make.

 

For that reason, FSU doesn't make sense.

 

However, FSU belongs in the SEC from every other possible perspective.  It's in the footprint, Tallahassee is a one-horse town (like every other SEC city not named Nashville), and it remains a strong national name.  All great programs have dips... but check the history books and you find that they all bounce back eventually.

 

While I now hope the SEC stops at 14 schools -- and I believe that's what the league wants to do barring a total implosion of the ACC -- I think the league would have really boosted itself if it wound up with Missouri (area), Texas A&M (area and tradition), Virginia Tech (area and recent tradition) and FSU (a national brand with great tradition).

 

In 1990, the University of Florida didn't balk at adding FSU to the SEC.  But TV and the SEC title game have given that school a BIG advantage over FSU since then.  I'm told that's changed they're thinking and that they don't want FSU in the SEC.  I still get the impression some old-timers might hold a grudge against FSU for spurning the SEC's advance the last time.

 

All that said -- if all things were equal and I was a businessman running the SEC -- I'd add FSU if and only if further expansion became necessary. 

 

Thanks for reading,

John

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @KC Guy 

 

I think short-term, landing FSU makes sense for the Big 12 for the reasons you mentioned.  However -- and I intend to write this when I get the chance -- having a hanging chad of a school way off by itself and not bordering a single state in your conference, well, that seems dangerous long-term.

 

Thanks for reading the site,John 

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @WillieT 

 

I agree.  FSU adds no new TV markets or cable households, but they remain a top brand and if the SEC has to expand, then I think FSU should be considered.

 

I've just come to believe they won't be.

 

But things change by the minute.

 

Thanks for reading,

John

mitchs3
mitchs3

Except I don't think South Carolina was in the ACC. They were an independent when they joined.  Maybe they would've received an ACC invitation somewhere along the way, but I thought they left the ACC at some earlier point, so maybe not.

 

Other than that I would like to think Mizzou would have wound up in the same place anyway, but we'll never know.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @AllTideUp 

 

Good nerdy reference.  I got it.  And once liked that show.

 

Thanks,

John

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @MoKelly 

 

Uh, I didn't say Missouri had regrets.  I said the landscape would have been different for everyone had FSU simply joined the SEC.  Missouri might not have had anywhere to go last year.  At the same time, if Missouri had stayed in the Big 12, it likely wouldn't be as stable today had it not gotten a cash injection for salvation.

 

Thanks for reading,

John

mitchs3
mitchs3

 @MoKelly   +Infinity. 

 

Good article, John.  No Mizzou regrets whatsoever, and the irony of B12 apologists wondering that is amazing. 

 

I also appreciate the insight on the B12 TV contract.  The bottom line is that the new B12 TV contracts MAKE NO SENSE.  It is by definition a less valuable product than the ACC should be.  Apart from the UT/OU game each year and to a lesser extent OU/OSU, they're paying these numbers for TTU v ISU, Baylor and ku, etc.  This has to be ESPN and Fox propping up the league (in ESPN's case, maybe to protect their LHN investment).

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

 @mitchs3   That's correct.  South Carolina actually left the ACC in the 70s I believe.  They were also a perfect fit for the SEC so I don't regret having them in the league at all.  Who knows what would've happened if FSU was the choice school instead of USC?  There was also a time when the SEC was flirting with Texas and Texas A&M as a package deal when they were discussing going to 12, but I've heard that the Texas state legislature nixed that.

 

The Big 12 still would have formed and all the same conditions that screwed that league up would probably still have been in place as well as it was not directly related to anything that the SEC or FSU did or didn't do.  A&M wanted to be in the SEC for a long time and the SEC wanted A&M for a long time.  And the Big 12 was not well run giving everything an opportunity to play out the same way. 

 

I suppose it is possible that the ACC would have never sought to expand at all when they were shot down by FSU and that the Big East would still be a viable league today.  And maybe the Big 12 would have still lost the big 4 programs and may have still looked for 2 more additions although I doubt WVU would have been an option in that scenario.  Who knows?

MoKelly
MoKelly

 @John at MrSEC No no no -- I wasn't referring to you as saying Mizzou had regrets. I was referring to the KC writer noted in your article. Sorry for the confusion.

Walter
Walter

 @AllTideUp "There was also a time when the SEC was flirting with Texas and Texas A&M as a package deal when they were discussing going to 12, but I've heard that the Texas state legislature nixed that."

 

The SEC wanted both, but even then texas wanted nothing to do with the SEC.  Texas wanted the PAC-10 and A&M wanted the SEC.  If Bob Bullock hadn't stepped in to protect his precious Baylor the Big 12 would never have come into being.  

 

Hard to even speculate how things would have gone after that, too many moving parts.

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