I have to say that I really surprised to hear you putting LAX into the conference realignment puzzle You've banged on the drums from the beginning that this is driven by academics/research and football to the extent that even basketball is a long-forgotten consequence. Living in Maryland when Maryland basketball made a real run and later when multiple LAX teams were at the top, I can tell you that LAX plays a significant back seat to college basketball. And this is in what I would think is one of the bigtime LAX centers in the country.
The Big Ten will move to at least nine conference football games per season and possibly 10 according to league commissioner Jim Delany. The move has been rumored for several weeks, but Delany confirmed the decision yesterday:
“There’s real recognition that we now live in two regions of the country, and we want to make sure those are bound together as best we can, so more games (makes sense). Eight games is not on the table. It’s nine or 10.”
Ohio State AD Gene Smith also said: “There’s television considerations there when you have intriguing conference matchups that are better than some of our non-conference matchups, that’s an important piece.”
That could also be an important piece for the SEC moving forward. Under current plans, the Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big XII will all be playing at least nine conference games per year. The SEC currently plays eight league games. The SEC’s format results in one more cupcake game per year for each school and fewer visits to and from conference rivals.
Eventually — as we’ve stated for more than a year — the Southeastern Conference will move to a nine-game schedule. It will have to (barring a scheduling alliance with another conference). Its television partners and the league’s own SEC Network will require such a move for content purposes. And with a selection committee deciding each year’s four playoff participants, the SEC won’t be able to allow other leagues to claim their teams are playing tougher schedules. There is already a move to “spread the wealth” of football championships or else there would be no new playoff in the first place. If members of the selection committee can point to something as simple as “SEC teams play more creampuff non-conference games,” you better believe they’ll do so in order to get teams from as many leagues as possible into the playoffs each year.
But look again at Delany’s statement. “We now live in two regions of the country,” meaning the Midwest and the East. There are hardly as many Big Ten schools in the East as there are in the Midwest. But more are probably on the way.
In recent weeks we’ve reported that our sources have said Virginia and Georgia Tech have both had contact with the Big Ten. We’ve been told those schools are waiting to see the final bill Maryland will have to pay to get out of the ACC before they decide whether or not to follow the Terrapins’ lead. Everyone and their brother is now reporting the same thing (or at least reporting on the reports that are already out there).
There have also been rumors that the Big Ten is wooing North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, and Florida State. At MrSEC.com, we don’t see BC or FSU as being realistic partners with the Big Ten as they lack AAU status, but we’ll mention the rumors just the same.
By adding Maryland and Rutgers late last year, Delany’s league made it clear that it is a) looking to add large numbers of cable households for its Big Ten Network and b) trying to expand southward. As Delany himself has mentioned time and again, part of the decision to look south is driven by population shifts and demographics. Several Big Ten states have the slowest growth rates in the country. Some of the fastest growing states are in the South. So if you want more television revenue and you need robust populations to create new students and donors, clearly you try to grab a number of top schools farther south.
So what’s this have to do with adding conference games?
A move to nine or 10 conference games could be a lure to a number of ACC schools. “Come with us and you can continue to pal around with a number of your old buddies.” If the Big Ten — and this is simply speculation — were to add Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, and Georgia Tech to the recently nabbed Maryland and Rutgers, well, that would be an East Division.
And Delany seems to be considering several moves that would please the ACC schools on his wish list.
There have been recent rumblings that the Big Ten might add lacrosse power Johns Hopkins to its roster of teams in some partial capacity. That league’s academic consortium — the Committee on Institutional Cooperation — already includes the University of Chicago, once a full-fledged Big Ten member before it downshifted out of the world of big-time athletics. Opening a door to Johns Hopkins for lacrosse and the CIC would not require a paradigm shift as the Big Ten already has a partial member.
Now consider the fact that the Big Ten has three lacrosse-playing schools who have to play that sport in other conferences. And also keep in mind that the four current, lacrosse-playing ACC schools are Maryland (moving to the Big Ten), Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke. Hmmm.
Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture here. Delany has said that his league has to pay attention to population shifts into the Sun Belt region. He’s just grabbed Rutgers and Maryland. One of those schools brings the nation’s largest television market into the Big Ten fold. The other provides the Washington, DC and Baltimore markets as well as a gateway into the South. Adding Johns Hopkins would give the Big Ten the opportunity to create a lacrosse league for new ACC targets and it would further strengthen the Big Ten’s academic reputation. Finally, Delany’s league will be adding conference games which will allow any new ACC targets to play each other more often and soften the blow of realignment/expansion.
That’s a lot to sell to the administrations of Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Duke.
They could join the richest college conference (which also makes the Big Ten a stable college conference). They could enter a peer group of some of the top academic universities in the country (including the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins). Lacrosse schools like Virginia, Duke and North Carolina could partner with Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan to form a strong league. And those Eastern/Southern teams could play each other more often in football and basketball.
Imagine a Big Ten consisting of three six-school divisions:
|Nebraska||Ohio State||North Carolina|
It would be hard for the SEC or any other conference to match such a league in terms of cable households, nationally-known sports brands, and academic reputation. If the Big Ten could pull all of that off it would — in theory — set itself up for years of success to come.
And from lacrosse rumors to changes in the league’s scheduling format, we believe that’s exactly what the Big Ten is indeed hoping to pull off.