UH is on the cusp of your list of 75 at 77. UH also has excellent TV ratings in the 4th largest city in the United States. I predict the Coogs will land nicely in Super Conferences.
Across the college sports landscape, folks are trying to make sense of what the Big Ten has just done. While smack in the middle of negotiating a new playoff with all the other major football conferences, Jim Delany’s league was secretly negotiating with Maryland and Rutgers on the side. Until the weekend, very few saw the Big Ten’s move coming.
Now that the Big Ten is a 14-team league and it’s caught most everyone off guard, what comes next?
* Mark Schlabach of ESPN believes the age of the super-conference might finally be at hand.
* Dennis Dodd of CBS says that television insiders are having trouble wrapping their heads around the Big Ten’s move.
* Some folks are calling the Big Ten’s move “dumb” and “greedy.”
* UConn and Louisville are the favorites to replace Maryland in the ACC.
* Boise State, San Diego State and BYU could all join the Mountain West Conference. (You know things have gone crazy when schools exit conferences as soon as they enter them.)
* The Big Ten could target all sorts of southern schools.
* Even Nate Silver — The New York Times blogger who nailed this year’s election projections — weighs in to say that the Big Ten’s move east could dilute the league’s brand.
The reality is pretty simple: The biggest schools want the biggest share of television revenue from college football and its new playoff. Period. End of story.
Academics play some role in all this — the Big Ten added two more AAU schools in Maryland and Rutgers, for example — and geography matters, too, if only in terms of adding cable households. In addition, the biggest schools would like to pay their athletes “full-cost-of-tuition scholarships.” But all of those issues tie back to money.
So if we’re all headed into a super-conference era, you need to ask yourself two questions:
1. Which schools can afford to give full-cost-of-tuition scholarships?
2. Which schools can provide an increase in cable households for a conference?
We’ve already got the answers for you.
The 75 biggest-spending athletic programs in the country — according to the US Department of Education’s 2010-11 numbers — belong to:
ACC (14 of 14, with Maryland definitely leaving)
12. Florida State
23. Notre Dame (joining as part-time member)
26. North Carolina
35. Boston College
45. Virginia Tech
49. Pittsburgh (joining)
54. NC State
56. Syracuse (joining)
62. Georgia Tech
66. Wake Forest
Big East (8 of expected 11 schools, with Rutgers definitely leaving)
65. South Florida
67. Memphis (joining)
70. Central Florida (joining)
71. SMU (joining)
75. San Diego State
Big Ten (14 of 14 schools)
2. Ohio State
13. Penn State
30. Michigan State
44. Maryland (joining)
55. Rutgers (joining)
Big XII (10 of 10 schools)
42. West Virginia
51. Oklahoma State
60. Iowa State
61. Texas Tech
63. Kansas State
Pac-12 (12 of 12 schools)
22. Southern Cal
53. Arizona State
57. Oregon State
69. Washington State
SEC (14 of 14 schools)
15. South Carolina
25. Texas A&M
59. Ole Miss
64. Mississippi State
50. UNLV (Mountain West)
68. BYU (Independent)
74. Yale (Ivy League)
Now, some of those budgets will rise and fall depending on new television contracts. Also, you’ll note that there’s no room for Air Force, Army or Navy in a “full-cost-of-tuition” world. There’s been debate over whether or not the military academies could legally offer up extra cash even if they so desired.
You’ll also notice that schools like Houston (77), Hawaii (80), East Carolina (82), and Boise State (96) aren’t throwing cash around like their neighbors. They’re not currently in big-time conferences, either, which means they probably won’t be landing in big-time leagues if/when the super-conferences rise. It’s hard to imagine any major conference extending an invitation for membership to any school not on the above list.
The major conferences are determined by television revenue at this point. In terms of the current television contracts, the leagues in the best shape are and will continue to be the Big Ten, the Big XII, the Pac-12 and the SEC. The ACC just doesn’t play good enough football to bring in big TV dollars. The remaining conferences are in even worse shape.
If super-conferences are coming, we believe they’ll be 16-, 18-, or even 20-schools in size. A 20-team league would basically be two conferences with a scheduling arrangement and a much better bargaining position for television deals. (For the record, we suspect — and you heard it here first — that schools will indeed form super-conferences, those behemoths won’t work as well as expected, and they will eventually split back up into smaller leagues. If you think politics in 12-team leagues are rough just wait’ll some poor commish tries to keep 16 to 20 schools all on the same page.)
The idea that everyone will move to 16-teams and stop seems rather silly at this point. There’s no sign of anyone stopping. The Big Ten’s surprise move has torn the lid off expansion/realignment again and it’s clear with teams bouncing from league to league that there are no expansion caps. If Commissioner X thinks his league can make more cash with 17 schools or 18 schools or more, don’t expect him to pass on that cash just because 16 is a nice number.
So assuming super-conferences are coming and knowing that conferences’ goals are to run up the number of cable households and expand their footprints with big brands, there are really only six schools that fit the criteria for the SEC… and all are currently in or will soon be in the ACC:
Duke – If the ACC goes bye-bye, Duke would be a top get. The Blue Devils bring a national brand that would flip dials across the country during hoops season. Football? Meh. But grabbing Duke could help land…
North Carolina – UNC would be a coup. Like Duke, Carolina is an AAU school (SEC presidents would love both) and it would upgrade the SEC’s basketball reputation. Most importantly, Carolina has the biggest following in the state of North Carolina. All those cable households and the big markets of Charlotte and Raleigh would increase the value of the SEC’s television deals.
NC State – Adding NCSU would put the state of North Carolina into play, but not to the extent that UNC alone or a UNC/Duke combo would. If the SEC had to take all three, would it? If the money was right, probably. And that’s why we think leagues could grow past 16 schools in size — package deals.
Pittsburgh – Pitt would open up Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia and Ohio to the SEC in terms of television ratings and cable households. It’s also an AAU school which would please SEC presidents. For those who wanted West Virginia in the SEC, Pitt’s not much farther north for WVU. And if the goal is to grab new territory, “north” has no bearing on these decisions. That’s why the Big Ten now stretches from Nebraska to New Jersey and what’s left of the Big East reaches from Connecticut to California. Rand McNally isn’t a consultant on conference expansion.
Virginia – A big-budget school with a tremendous academic reputation (it’s another AAU school) located in fertile recruiting grounds. While the Cavaliers haven’t been great in football, UVA is the state school and that means viewership and cable households from one end of the state to the other.
Virginia Tech – Tech is probably the most SEC-like of all the schools mentioned above. The Hokies are good in football and they play in a town where there’s little else going on (much like every SEC school not named Vanderbilt). But like the North Carolina schools, there might have to be some packaging involved to land UVA or Tech.
From a budgetary standpoint, all of those schools would be A-OK in a super-conference world in which programs would hand out full-cost-of-tuition scholarships.
In terms of increasing the television footprint, the SEC could conceivably add the states of North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia to its portfolio, depending on which schools it could land. SEC games would also get higher ratings in top 30 television markets like DC, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte with the right additions and that, too, would equal more television revenue.
If the Big Ten is eyeballing UNC, Duke, Virginia or others on that list, then the SEC should probably be laying the groundwork for potential moves right now. (As much as we hate to say it.) And if it means cutting package deals that would expand the league past 16 schools, unfortunately, that has to be up for discussion, too.
The only rule in all this mess is that there are no rules. It’s a pure money grab and whoever collects the most cable households will — theoretically — win in the end. If the Big Ten has started the ball rolling toward super-conferences, the SEC had better be taking a good long look at the six schools listed above and figuring out which ones and how many of them it can grab.