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Big East Commissioner Resigns Under Pressure; Humpty Dumpty Of Leagues Just Can’t Be Saved

Big East commissioner John Marinatto has resigned his post after being asked by his league’s presidents to do so.

Sidenote question: Which Big East presidents?  That league’s got more schools coming and going than I can keep up with.  Come to think of it… just how many presidents does the Big East have at the moment?

Marinatto is the Big East’s version of Dan Beebe.  He’s the scapegoat.  The Big East’s fortunes have been on the decline since the ACC began raiding the league a decade ago.  Each time the Big East lost a “name” school, it reached into a smaller conference and pulled a replacement school up the ladder.  So wobbly after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced last summer that they would be heading the ACC, the Big East went national and added Boise State, San Diego State, Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Navy, Memphis and Temple.  Some will play football and basketball.  Some will just play football.

Laughably, the Marinatto is quoted in the league’s press release today as saying: “Our recent expansion efforts have stabilized the conference for the long term, and we are likewise well positioned for our very important upcoming television negotiations.”

Uh, yeah.

The problems are just too great to fix.  West Virginia officials saw that the college sports landscape was changing.  Six “power conferences” were about to be whittled down to five with the Big East being shaved off and swept aside.  TCU brass saw the same writing on the wall and ditched the league before ever consummating their marriage.  Both the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs landed in the Big 12 which, while shaky itself at the time, was far less shaky than Marinatto’s league.

The Big East was a basketball giant that tried to become a football league, too.  The problem was that many of the basketball schools in the Big East didn’t and don’t play FBS-level football.  The league tried and tried to get Villanova to step up in class to no avail.  So a mish-mash was created.  The basketball brand was damaged with the addition of schools.  (Seriously, can you name all 16 current basketball-playing members of the league?  I bet it’s easier for you to name the traditional Big East powers of 20 years ago.)  Worse yet, the football brand never became strong enough to bring in the kind of television dollars necessary to prevent member schools from bugging out when given the opportunity.

So Marinatto takes the fall.  Someone else will gladly replace him at a nice salary.  And that someone will fail just as Marinatto did.

The Big East is the Humpty Dumpty of leagues at this point and there’s no fitting all the mismatched football-playing, basketball-playing, East Coast, West Coast, Deep South, Midwest pieces together into a union that will truly thrive.  Example: It’s believed the league’s basketball members were behind Marinatto’s ouster, angry that they hadn’t been given enough say in the league’s overall expansion.

What once was a universe of six power conferences has become a universe of five power conferences.  That’s good news for the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC as they’ll likely have more cash to share amongst themselves.  But that’s very bad news for the Big East because being inside of the velvet rope is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  And the Big East is no longer inside that velvet rope.

 

As a public service, here’s what the Big East is expected to look like in 2015:

Boise State (football only), Central Florida (football and basketball), Cincinnati (football and basketball), Connecticut (football and basketball), DePaul (basketball only), Georgetown (basketball only), Houston (football and basketball), Louisville (football and basketball), Marquette (basketball only), Memphis (football and basketball), Navy (football only), Notre Dame (basketball only), Providence (basketball only), Rutgers (football and basketball), St. John’s (basketball only), San Diego State (football only), Seton Hall (basketball only), SMU (football and basketball), South Florida (football and basketball), Temple (football and basketball), and Villanova (basketball only).

I’m pretty sure that list appears beside the word “unwieldy” in the latest Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

Additionally, Louisville and Cincinnati are — in my view — likely to eventually land in the Big 12.  Notre Dame is coveted by the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.  The ACC and Big Ten have been mentioned as possible landing spots for Rutgers and UConn, too.  In other words, don’t go placing any bets that the lineup will ever actually come together.

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Stanford AD To Take Over As Big 12 Commish; What’s He Gonna Do?

Meet Bob Bowlsby.  He’s the current Stanford athletic director who is about to named the new commissioner of the Big 12.  Upon taking that job, he’ll inherit more problems than an MIT math book.

Will he be the next Larry Scott or Mike Slive — a trend-setter among conference leaders?  Or will he be the next Dan Beebe — a Jefferson Davis type cursed with trying to hold together a “nation” of schools that would prefer to exist as independent states rather than as an actual, you know, nation?

The problems the 60-year-old Bowlsby inherits are obvious.  Texas views itself as the flagship university of the solar system.  Oklahoma and Oklahoma State seem bound together, but both have flirted and played footsie with other conferences the past few summers.  Schools like Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech and now TCU hope only for silence and stability, scared witless that UT and/or OU and OSU might bolt and leave them for dead, like a cattle’s skull in the dusts of the Texas panhandle.  And then there’s West Virginia.  The Mountaineers bring very few cable households to the league and they’re about 900 miles from their nearest Big 12 “natural” rival, Iowa State.

On the positive side, the league has glued and pasted its media rights together for six years in an attempt to hang on long enough for the ground beneath it to settle.  That’s a plus… at least for six years.  Television revenue from ESPN and Fox — two networks who don’t want to see the league blown to bits (as the repercussions from such an event would force contracts with other leagues to open up elsewhere all at the same time) — will be good as well.  In addition, there’s been  some talk of a new Big 12 television network though it seems no two schools have a single shared idea on how to get such a channel off the ground.

Speaking of networks, that just leads back to more problems.  The Longhorn Network remains a burr in the saddle for all the Big 12 schools not located in Austin.  And now fielding teams in just five states, the league’s appeal to viewers and recruits across America will most surely begin to dwindle.  For that matter, the league’s pool of talent to draw from is shrinking as people leave the North and Midwest for the South and West.  The Big 12 may sit on vast oil reserves but it no longer sits on a deep well of NFL-caliber prospects.

So what’s a man like Bowlsby to do?  First, he needs to get the league’s presidents to sing a verse or two of “Kumbaya.”  The remaining Big 12 presidents, ADs and coaches have shared more suspicious looks and stink-eyes over the years than the Cowboys and the Earps in “Tombstone.”  A cooling off period is necessary first and foremost.

Once Bowlsby realizes that can’t actually be attained when Texas brass are involved, he’ll need to set out on Mission #2 — growing the league’s footprint.

In typical Big 12 fashion, West Virginia’s entry into the league last fall was almost undone by conference politics.  Backroom deals between Oklahoma officials and Kentucky politicians almost pushed Louisville in and West Virginia out of the league.  In the end, WVU won out, but Louisville remains a likely dance partner for the league at some point.  It opens up another television market, albeit a small one.  It opens up the Kentuckiana region for recruiting purposes.  Louisville would also give West Virginia a rival just a tad bit closer than Ames, Iowa.

If the Big 12 adds Louisville, the Big East will take a further hit, but we wouldn’t expect any of the other big four conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC — to react.  The Big 12 and the Big East are beneath the others now on the food chain.  Only major moves by those lesser leagues could lead to changes higher up on said chain.

Like, say, adding Notre Dame.

As we noted yesterday, we believe that conference commissioners hoping to avoid future shake-ups and further realignment will eventually yield to Notre Dame, give them some more special treatment, and pray that they stay just as they are — an independent in football.  The Big Ten and the Big 12 — two leagues that covet the Irish — might be the only two conferences willing to play rough with Notre Dame in the hopes of forcing them to join one league or the other.

If that happens and Notre Dame enters the Big 12 or the Big Ten, then you might see some more major shifting across the college landscape.  If the Irish settle on the Big Ten, that league would surely look elsewhere for a 14th member and that could mean a raid on the ACC (Maryland) or Big East (Rutgers or UConn).  If it’s the ACC, bigger changes could result.  If it’s the Big East?  Meh.

If the Notre Dame and Louisville both join the Big 12 and bring that conference’s tally of schools back up to its actual title we do not believe that would set off mass hysteria, mass expansion and mass realignment.  It could, but we don’t think it would.

More likely, here’s guessing the Big 12 will add Louisville and Cincinnati to its mix.  That would give the league a bit more stability and it would further destabilize the Big East.  Such a move by Bowlsby would make it clear that what was once the “big six” conferences had become the “big five” and his league would be part of the “in” crowd.  That would be a solid start for the Big 12′s new commissioner.  It would have little impact on the SEC.

Landing Notre Dame, however, would suggest that the Big 12 has picked a go-getter as its new high sheriff.  Such a move may or may not impact Mike Slive’s league (again, we think probably not).  But the goals for Bolwsby are clear — unify the base and grow his league’s footprint.

How he goes about that will tell us a lot about a man most casual fans had never heard of before yesterday.

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Commissioners Concerned With Self-Interests, Not Best Interests Of College Football With New Playoff Proposal

A word of advice for those of you hoping for a simple, fair playoff plan to end future college football seasons: Don’t.

The men making the decision on the playoff — what it will be, where it will be, and who it will be — are too interested in their own self-interests to do what is logically correct and what is best for their game as a whole.  They are motivated by greed.  They are motivated by power.  They are motivated to do whatever the heck is best for their own conference.  The rest of college football — the other leagues, the players and coaches, and you fans — be damned.

In a simple world run by rational people who understand that a rising tide will lift all boats, a four-team playoff would be created in order to crown football’s national champion.  The bowl system would be incorporated into that system in an attempt to save a little bit of tradition and, yes, in an effort to make sure the biggest conferences still make the biggest share of money.  While that too could be classified as looking out for one’s self-interests, is there anyone out there who really believes the University of Nevada will be as responsible as the University of Alabama for the new TV dollars a playoff package will create?  Is college football thriving because of the UCFs, North Texases and Western Michigans or because of the previous work of the Floridas, Texases and Michigans?  So let the big boys keep most of the money while still providing the little guys with more cash than they’ve ever seen.

And for gosh sakes include the top four teams in the nation in the playoff.  One would expect that to be the most obvious, simplest, no-brainiest part of the battle.

But it’s not.

Just weeks after floating an idea that would have created three semifinal games in the hopes of giving the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten and Pac-12 special treatment above all other leagues, Big Ten commish Jim Delany is at it again.  Late yesterday, Delany told a group of reporters that the conference commissioners now working on a playoff plan are considering a proposal — no doubt backed by Delany and the commissioners of leagues like the Sun Belt and Mountain West — that would guarantee a slot in the playoff to any conference champion ranked among the nation’s top six teams.  If four conference champs failed to rank among the top six, then and only then would the highest-ranked non-champs or independents be welcomed into the playoff.

It’s a busy day for yours truly so I’m just going to cut to the problem here.  While last season would have ended with a playoff involving #1 LSU, #2 Alabama, #3 Oklahoma State and #5 Oregon (instead of #4 Stanford), imagine this scenario:

 

#1.  LSU — 13-0 SEC Champion (from a 14-team league with a championship game)

#2.  Alabama — 12-1 SEC non-champ (from a 14-team league with a championship game)

#3.  Southern Cal — 12-1 Pac-12 runner-up (from a 12-team league with a championship game)

#4.  Boise State — 12-1 Big East champ (from a 12-team league expected to have a championship game)

#5.  Oklahoma — 10-2 Big 12 champ (from a 10-team league with no championship game)

#6.  Ohio State — 10-3 Big Ten champ (from a 12-team league with a championship game)

 

In that event, the second and third best teams in the nation would be out of the playoffs, replaced by teams either a) from easier-to-win, smaller leagues or b) with lesser records.  If you think that’s not a likely scenario, fine, but it would be a possibility under Delany’s “anything to keep two SEC teams from making the field” plan.  And until last January, who would have predicted a two-teams-from-the-same-league BCS Championship Game scenario?  What may seem unlikely today can quickly come to fruition tomorrow.

Too bad the guys making this decision can’t wrap their pointy heads around that fact.

How hard is it to simply take the four best teams in the country and put them in football’s version of the Final Four?  Not all leagues are created equally.  The SEC has proven that fact in eight of the last 14 and six of the last six BCS title games.  It also happens to recruit and churn out more pro draft picks than any other league.  And it just expanded to 14 teams making it even more difficult to win.

The Big 12, by comparison, looks to be a 10-team league for the foreseeable future.  As we showed earlier this week, it’s recruiting zone is shrinking.  Ditto the Big Ten.  Those leagues — like it/don’t like it, fair/not fair — do not look to be on even footing with the SEC or even the ACC or Pac-12 moving forward thanks to their current footprints and the migration patterns of the modern American citizen.  The idea of putting those leagues on a bigger pedestal than the one they’re already resting on is patently absurd.

Their advantage is the fact that they helped create this nation’s love for college football and that they will rake in bazillions of bucks via the new playoff system.  The SEC and ACC should have an advantage because they’re 14-teams deep at this point.

Some of the smaller conferences will get an increase in funds and — with a playoff open to anyone ranked among the nation’s top four teams — more opportunities to play for crowns.  Whether they deserve it or not.

Take the Big East (please).  Here’s the group Boise State would have to best to win its league — UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Navy, Rutgers, San Diego State, SMU, UConn and South Florida.  Hate to tell ya, Big East’ers, but winning that league would equate to finishing second, third or fourth in some of the bigger, tougher conferences.  Winning that league and finishing sixth in the ranking should not automatically jump the Broncos over #2 or #3 ranked teams.  Now, if Boise is deemed to be in the top four by the voters and/or computers, okey-dokey.  But the eyeball or a computer chip will still have a say.

 

For the college football fan out there, you should drop to your knees and pray to your favorite omnipotent being that eventually — wisely — these commissioners will simply agree on a ranking formula that can be used to determine the playoff participants.  If three teams come from one league, so be it.  Everybody still makes money.  If four conference champions get in, super.  If four conference runner-ups make the field, fine as well.  Just so long as the four highest-ranked teams are involved.

If the power brokers of college football are truly ready to respond to waning bowl ratings and falling attendance figures then they’d best start putting fans first, not their own self-interests.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

And if the proposal Delany mentioned yesterday winds up getting a thumbs-up, here’s the scenario we at MrSEC.com would absolutely love to see play out in Year One of the new system:

 

#1.  Ohio State — 13-0 Big Ten champion

#2.  Michigan — 12-1 Big Ten runner-up

#3.  Wisconsin — 12-1 Big Ten non-champ

#4.  LSU — 11-2 SEC champion

#5.  Boise State — 11-1 Big East champion

#6.  Oklahoma — 9-3 Big 12 champion

 

That playoff would nix a pair of Big Ten powers in order to provide space for guaranteed league champions with lesser records.  Such a scenario would also dole out a healthy dose of karma for guys like Delany who would rather do what’s right by his own league than what’s right by all leagues, all teams, and all fans… which is to just take the four best teams in the darn country and play ‘em off.

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You Do Realize That College Football’s New Playoff Won’t Be Official, Right?

College football does not recognize an official national champion.  Check the NCAA record book and you’ll find official champions for every other sport (and for every other division of football other than the FBS level).  When it comes to FBS champs, only major poll-winners and BCS champs are listed.  But they’re not the “official,” outright champions of their sport in the way that the winners of the College World Series or NCAA basketball tournament are.

Well that’s going to change when the new playoff is adopted, right?

Uh, probably not.

As we wrote way back in December of 2008, any playoff coming to college football will have to remain outside the full, sanctioned control of the NCAA.  Here’s why: If the NCAA sanctions an official postseason tournament it will most likely have to spread the wealth from said playoff evenly across all of the FBS.  Instead of about six conferences and 70 schools controlling the majority of the sport’s postseason money, everyone would get an even slice (with perhaps a bit more cash going to those teams and leagues who reach the playoff).

If you’re wondering why the current talks over a playoff are taking so long, that’s part of the answer.  But at least the commissioners are talking.  Their motivations for talking now, finally, are as follows:

 

1.  Ratings and attendance are down for college football bowl games.

2.  There is more cash to be made from a four-team playoff plus a BCS package than from a BCS package alone (in part because there are more competitors to vie for television rights than in previous years — ESPN/ABC, CBS, Turner, Fox, NBC/Comcast).

3a.  The race to achieve and hold on to “automatic BCS qualifier” status has led to major realignments, expansions and moves across conferences over the past three years.

3b.  No one is sure how those moves will turn out and most university presidents and chancellors would prefer to gauge those actions before being forced to react to further shifts.

4.  Every commissioner outside of Birmingham is tired of the SEC’s dominance.

 

Add it up and you have a set of BCS commissioners who appear willing to share a bit more wealth with the smaller conferences.  Sounds good.  But the biggest power brokers still aren’t going to give up control of the pursestrings entirely.

Bowl games are still part of the current playoff discussion because of tradition, yes, but more importantly because they allow for a gradual shift into the new era.  While going from two teams to four teams appears huge to most college football fans, it’s a rather small step when you take everything into account.  And now there’s talk of adding more BCS bowl games into the mix as some current BCS sites might possibly moved up into a semifinal round of playoffs.

These bowls are tied first and foremost to the BCS leagues.  They would rather have Florida or Michigan in their games than Tulsa or East Carolina.  So while “AQ” status may go the way of the dodo bird, those schools with all the traditional advantages — facilities, recruiting base, money, brand name — will still have an advantage in a new, more open, playoff universe.  In other words, the big leagues and big-league teams will still control most of the cash, even in a playoff setting.

Oh, and did we mention the fact that the current NCAA rulebook states that schools can’t participate in more than one licensed bowl game per year?  Obviously, Bylaws 17.9.4 and 18.7.2.3 will be scrapped when this new system is launched, but they provide further proof as to why college football’s most powerful men will want to keep their new playoff away from NCAA rule.  If the NCAA runs the thing, the NCAA will spread the wealth.  If the biggest leagues control the playoff, they decide how much cash to share.  That’s a difference likely worth several hundred million dollars.

Currently there are 12 people involved in trying to devise the new system.  Those folks are the commissioners of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC, Sun Belt and WAC.  Number 12 is Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.  They are having to decide the obvious issues first:

 

1.  How many teams will take part in the new playoff system?  (Four teams looks to be a lock at this point.)

2.  How will those teams be selected for inclusion?  (Some favor a BCS-style formula while others push for a selection committee.  SEC fans should hope/pray for the continued use of a formula and here’s why.)

3.  Where will the games be played?  (There are all kinds of options on the table — home fields, rotating bowl sites, bowl sites determined by traditional conference tie-ins, non-bowl sites granted games via cash bid, or some combination of the aforementioned.)

4.  When will the games be played?  (Most assume this is the perfect time to take back New Year’s Day, but that’s not guaranteed at this point.)

 

The goal is for the commissioners and Swarbrick to reach their decisions by mid-summer, but we think that’s going to be very hard to pull off.  First, a new playoff would not be launched until after two more BCS Championship Games are played.  So while there is a rush, it’s not the typical, last-minute, Congressional-style, get-her-done-right-now-or-we’re-all-screwed type of deadline that these men are facing.  Second, the decisions made will require a lot of give and take and heavy negotiation.  There’s a lot more at stake than just determining a new means of tabbing a football champ.  For example:

 

1.  The big leagues will still run the system and the bowls will likely still play a role in determining the ultimate champion.  But will the smaller leagues band together to demand more concessions, more bowl opportunities, and more cash from the bigger conferences?  Or will they be satisfied that their lots have been improved overall, if even just incrementally?

2.  What happens with Notre Dame?  Do the Irish get the same shot as a New Mexico State to make the playoff field or will they be given special treatment (as has been the case under the old system).  Will Notre Dame be given a bigger chunk of the television revenue than the smaller leagues just because they’re Notre Dame?  And what about the other independents, like BYU and Army?  (Navy will be joining the Big East for football only in 2015.)

3.  If Notre Dame isn’t given special treatment, the Irish could finally be forced to join a conference and the Big Ten would be the most likely destination.  That would further destabilize the Big East (of which Notre Dame is a member in all sports but football).  Additionally, the Big Ten would likely look somewhere — Rutgers?  UConn?  Maryland? — for a 14th member to join with the Irish.

4.  Speaking of the Big East, if “AQ” status is done away with, what happens to a league that just rushed out to grab teams from as far away as San Diego and Boise just to maintain that status?  Do those schools feel they could do better elsewhere if there’s no need to be in an AQ league?  Even if automatic qualifier status does go away, will the Big East still be viewed as one of the “big six” conferences and will it still take home a larger slice of television revenue than leagues like the Mountain West or Conference-USA?  Or will the other big leagues cut the Big East’s share and keep more for themselves?  Or use that Big East cash to help give the small conferences more money?

(For what it’s worth, if the goal in part is to slow realignment and stabilize the college football landscape — and we believe it clearly is — then we also believe it’s likely Notre Dame will continue to be given favored son treatment while the Big East will continue to be paid like a major conference.)

5.  All of this is taking part at a time when BCS conference commissioners and even NCAA president Mark Emmert are questioning whether or not it’s right to try and keep 120+ FBS schools playing under one set of rules when clearly, some schools have more cash than others.  All that talk of paying “cost of attendance” scholarships is designed to separate the bigger schools from the smaller schools.  While it’s highly unlikely that the BCS leagues will ever break away from the NCAA, it’s quite likely in our view that we are headed toward a new classification of school being created.  The Haves Division, for lack of a better term, would consist of the major schools from the biggest leagues.  The Have-Nots Division would include the leftovers.  Whether those 50 or so leftover FBS programs — some of whom have just recently achieved FBS status — would band together to play a step above the FCS level or simply drop back to the FCS classification is anyone’s guess.

 

The point of this post is simply to remind you that while the number of teams involved and where they’ll play is fun to discuss on sports radio shows and at your local watering hole, there are much, much bigger issues to be decided before a new playoff is launched.  There are literally hundreds of variables involved in this equation.  Change one small one and the commissioners might change the endgame in dynamic fashion.

Also, to some extent, everyone has a little bit of leverage in these talks.  Say “To heck with Notre Dame,” for example, and the commissioners might set off another wave of massive expansion.  Offer the small conferences too few bucks and those chaps might start getting their local congressmen involved.  No one from a big conference wants that headache.

And amazingly enough, after all of the debate — when a new format is finally chosen, a new television partner is picked, and the new revenue splits are agreed upon — we’re still not likely to have an “official” NCAA football champion when it comes to the governing body’s record books.

This mess just isn’t as easy to clean up as many believe want to believe.

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The SEC Is About To Get Even Richer

In the summer of 2008, Mike Slive negotiated and inked a pair of television contracts that opened eyes across the nation.  The two 15-year deals the SEC signed with CBS and ESPN for a combined $3 billion did more than raise eyebrows, they helped kick off two straight offseasons filled with conference expansion and school realignment.

As we’ve stated before, when one record contract is signed, it’s only a matter of time before someone else tops it.  That has happened in the SEC’s case as well. 

It took a couple of years but the Big Ten Network became a money-maker and now Jim Delany’s league is believed to bring in more dough per school than the SEC.  The Pac-12 — in the greatest smoke-and-mirrors sales job in history — zoomed past everyone with even bigger deals last May (and then followed those contracts up with one of the worst years of its worst basketball seasons ever).

In addition, the ACC — through the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse — should make enough through renegotiated TV pacts to gain each league member an additional $1-2 million per year.  That may not be Bill Gates-style cash, but I don’t know many schools that would turn down an extra mil or two a year.

And now it appears that the Big 12 — yes, the same depleted, 10-team Big 12 that lost two schools to the SEC in recent months — will be the next conference to hit the jackpot.

According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, “The Big 12 is on the verge of a blockbuster TV contract that will put its media revenue among the top tier of college conferences.”  The site reports that by signing an extension with ESPN, the league will stand to make $1.3 billion from the four-letter network and an addition $1.2 billion from Fox before both deals expire in 2025.

All that with a rejiggered lineup that features TCU instead of Texas A&M and West Virginia (with less than two million cable households in that state) in place of Missouri (about six million cable households in that state).  It doesn’t take Will Hunting to read the writing on the blackboard and realize that the SEC is about to really hit the mother lode.

How do ya like them apples?

Texas A&M is a bigger brand with a bigger alumni base and a bigger national following than TCU.  Missouri simply has a bigger population with more eyeballs than West Virginia.  Now factor in the following Nielsen television ratings which we showed you late last month:


2011 Average TV Viewers for Football

1.  SEC = 4.44 million
2.  Big Ten = 3.26 million
3.  ACC = 2.65 million
4.  Big 12 = 2.34 million
5.  Pac-12 = 2.10 million
6.  Big East = 1.88 million


2011 Average TV Viewers for Basketball

1.  Big Ten = 1.49 million
2.  ACC = 1.24 million
3.  SEC = 1.22 million
4.  Big 12 = 1.06 million
5.  Big East = 1.04 million
6.  Pac-10 (pre-expansion) = .78 million


Add those averages up and the SEC sat at 5.66 million average viewers prior to gaining viewers in Missouri and Texas while the Big 12 topped out at 3.40 million average viewers… before downgrading in brand name and in cable households.

No wonder Mike Slive is currently holding discussions — or “look-ins” — with the SEC’s television partners.  As he recently told The Birmingham News: “They know who we are and what we have.  None of our schools will be hurt financially (in 2012-13).  But that’s just today.  It’s tomorrow that’s the real issue.  The discussions are very important.  They’re longterm.  We’ll leave it at that.”

The SEC gets higher ratings for its television partners than any other conference.  The league is synonymous with championships.  It just added two new “name” brands to its roster of schools and tapped into the cable household-rich states of Missouri and Texas in the process.

Whether the league simply squeezes more cash — a lot more cash — out of CBS and ESPN or creates its very own network — something that we were the first to discuss right here back in the spring of 2010 — the Southeastern Conference is about to set the standard for television revenue again.

Bank on it.


(Correction: Above you’ll see that while writing a story about television dollars and cable households we slipped and used the term “cable households” when we were actually referring to overall population.  Our bad.  But when you write as much as we write in a day with zero time for proofreading, you get a brain fart every now and then.)

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TV Viewers Dig The SEC

There’s a reason CBS and ESPN are paying billions of dollars to the SEC for the league’s television rights — people watch SEC football.  And basketball.

According to this Nielsen ratings report, viewership of college football games by conference in 2011 (September 1st through November 30th) stacked up as follows:

Football Viewership

Rank Conference Average TV Viewers
1 SEC 4.44 million
2 Big Ten 3.26 million
3 ACC 2.65 million
4 Big 12 2.34 million
5 Pac-12 2.10 million
6 Big East 1.88 million

Even SEC basketball — which usually receives shrugs when mentioned alongside the likes of the almighty ACC and Big East — pulls in the viewers.  Here’s how the leagues stacked up in 2011 (January 1st through March 13th):

Basketball Viewership

Rank Conference Average TV Viewers
1 Big Ten 1.49 million
2 ACC 1.24 million
3 SEC 1.22 million
4 Big 12 1.06 million
5 Big East 1.04 million
6 Pac-10 (pre-expansion) .78 million

The above charts should also make it clear why football was so much more important than basketball in all of the recent conference realignment shuffling.

Below, we add up the numbers and you can get a clearer sense of which leagues draw in the most viewers or their football and basketball games combined:


Football and Basketball Combined Viewership

Rank Conference Average TV Viewers
1 SEC 5.66 million
2 Big Ten 4.75 million
3 ACC 3.89 million
4 Big 12 3.40 million
5 Big East 2.92 million
6 Pac-12/Pac-10 2.88 million

Observations:

* Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott did one helluva job in lining up a new, rich TV contract.

* Missouri and Texas A&M aren’t blowing smoke when they say they’re going to get a lot more exposure in the SEC than they did in the Big 12.

* The Big Ten — with its huge alumni bases and major metropolitan areas — is doing quite well.  Especially with its own television network in tow.

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UT-Memphis Rivalry Could Come To A Close

Tennessee likes playing Memphis in basketball for recruiting purposes, but they don’t like playing the Tigers in football (there’s more to lose than to gain).

Memphis likes playing Tennessee in football for financial reasons, but they don’t like playing the Vols in basketball (because it gives UT a recruiting foothold in the Bluff City).

With Memphis joining the Big East, the two cross-state schools may finally be axing their relationship.  Tiger hoops coach Josh Pastner wants to kill the series and further build a wall around Memphis.  He also wants to avoid playing Arkansas in Memphis.  Why let nearby schools woo his local talent?

In the past, UT has told the Memphians that if they continue to want to get nice paydays from Vol football games, they would have to keep scheduling the Vols in hoops.  For that reason, Memphis AD RC Johnson has always kept both series alive.  But Johnson is now stepping down and the Tigers are entering a BCS-level — read: more monied — conference.  So he’s tune is changing:

 

“Particularly now with the Big East, I think that should be a decision now between Josh and the next athletic director. That’s changed a lot now.  We used to worry about our (nonconference) schedule for name and RPI. Now, that’s basically been a role reversal. It’s not nearly as significant.

I don’t have any influence on whatever the next athletics director decides he or she wants to do. But from a personal standpoint and as an AD, I always felt it was to our advantage. Every coach I worked with didn’t want to play them, and I understand that. But the in-state thing I always thought was kind of a special thing.”

 

Pastner’s take is written in stone:

 

“I do know that the Tennessee series needs to be cut after next year. Whether we’re going into the Big East, Conference USA, any other league, we don’t need to play that series. No disrespect to Cuonzo Martin, because I think he’s a heck of a person and he’s done a great job. This is just strictly about I believe what (former Tigers) Coach (John) Calipari felt about it. There’s no need to play it, and I’ve not wavered on that stance since Day One I got the job.

So next year is the last year of the contract. I expect and hope that we are done with them in terms of playing them in the nonconference, obviously unless the Big East-SEC Challenge forces you to do that. That’d be out of our control.”

 

Calipari actually suggested the game be played in Nashville each year as part of a “Governor’s Cup” type series.  Anything to keep the Vols out of Memphis.  Pastner wants the rivalry dead, period.

And if he gets his wish, new Tennessee AD Dave Hart should scratch Memphis from his list of potential non-conference opponents for his football Vols.

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Big 12 Reopens The Expansion Can Of Worms

Get ready for talk of a 16-team league.  Get ready for talk of four-team pods.  Get ready for speculation as to whether Florida State, Virginia Tech, NC State, Louisville, Canisius or Utah State might join the SEC.

The Big 12 has reopened the whole expansion can of worms.

Two “high-ranking sources” from the Big 12 have told The Houston Chronicle that further expansion is “very possible.”  West Virginia and TCU have already been tabbed to replace Missouri and Texas A&M, of course, though the Mountaineers can’t gain entry until they escape the Big East.

A new move would take the Big 12 — eventually — to 12 or even 16 teams.  Or 11?  “The Big Ten made 11 work for a number of years,” said one Big 12 source.  (Thirteen is also on the table because the Big 12 does not have a conference championship game and the scheduling requirements that go with it.  A 13-team model wouldn’t be as tough on that league as it would have been on the SEC.)

Louisville — which almost snuck in past WVU for the league’s last bid this past fall — would be the most likely 13th member.  From there, BYU and Notre Dame would probably generate the most chatter, whether those schools are realistic options or not.

“I don’t want to send the message, ‘Oh, they’re getting ready to expand,’ Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione said… sending the message that his league’s getting ready to expand.  “But you’d be naive to think there’s not instability still in our business.”

Part of the instability could go away when the BCS commissioners decide on a new format for the end-of-season system.  Leagues like the Big East and non-BCS schools like Boise State, UCF and San Diego State have been racing to form an alliance all in the hopes of getting a slice of BCS reaches.  The league wants to maintain its automatic qualifier status.  The schools want an easier shot into the BCS.

But if the new model does away with automatic qualifier status altogether, schools wouldn’t necessarily need to be in a particular conference to get a BCS invite.  And one has to wonder if the Big East would move forward as a coast-to-coast national league if it’s not a necessity.

If the BCS commissioners create a model that’s easier to reach, leagues and teams should — should — become a bit more stable.  And that would mean that further Big 12 expansion by one or even two teams isn’t likely to create nationwide ripples.

We still firmly believe the SEC is set at 14 schools and won’t eye 16 unless the landscape around it changes in a major way.  Louisville and BYU to the Big 12 is not sweeping change.

So while the Big 12′s blows off smoke like a volcano about to erupt, we don’t believe the college football landscape will be blasted apart this time around.

But never say never.

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Mizzou Chancellor, A.D. Talk SEC Move; Football Schedule Coming Next Week

Yesterday, Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton and athletic director Mike Alden opened up with the press about their school’s move to the Southeastern Conference.  In a long Q&A the two discussed everything from exit fees to timelines.  It’s all interesting and you can read it in full here.

We wanted to provide a couple of quick excerpts:


Q:  Can you say with certainty you will be in the Big 12 in 2012?  There is the situation with West Virginia maybe not being able to get out of the Big East and come to the Big 12 for three years, which could have ramifications for you.

Deaton:  Our full plans are to go in 2012, and we think West Virginia will be in the Big 12 in 2012.  There is the technical possibility — we don’t think it’s very possible at all — and as you can tell by our actions we’re reasonably confident and have some assurances of that.

Q:  But if West Virginia can’t come to the Big 12 next year?

Deaton:  We’re going to the SEC regardless.  We’re on our own pathway here.  I’ve had good discussions with the president of West Virginia over time, and I understand where they are and he understands where we are.

Alden:  I was in Birmingham yesterday (Tuesday), and in a week we’ll be rolling out the 2012 football schedule.  So I can assure you that the 14 institutions there working for the last day and a half in Birmingham are all set and everything is set for Mizzou and Texas A&M being part of the SEC in 2012.  The SEC will come out with that schedule in the middle of next week.

Deaton:  We made an application to the SEC after having phone calls of assurance from the Big 12 commissioner and chair of the board that it was okay to do that from their standpoint.  We then, later on, got a call that said, “Oh, well, you know, we’re not sure because of this, that and the other because West Virginia might have difficulty.”  I said to them, “Look, you set things in motion.  We set things in motion.  We’re continuing down this pathway.  We feel certainly within our rights to do that within our bylaws.”


The takeaway?


1.  SEC fans will get an early Christmas present if the 2012 football schedule is released next week as Alden suggests.  We were told by SEC PR man Charles Bloom just a couple of weeks ago that the league usually doesn’t release an “official” schedule until the spring, but clearly that was just a totally unnecessary smokescreen.  Good thing we wrote at the time that the schedule would have to be rolled out sooner for the purposes of — ya know — ticket sales and travel plans.

2.  Regardless of West Virginia’s efforts to exit the Big 12, it certainly seems that MU and SEC officials are confident the two parties will be wed in time for next season’s kickoff.

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SEC Headlines 12/4/2011

1. Report: Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze expected to be offered Ole Miss job today. Also here. He’s expected to accept.

2. Report: Texas A&M hires Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.  Sumlin denies report.  Push for former Florida assistant and current Louisville coach Charlie Strong  is “surging.”

3. Kentucky 73 – North Carolina 72. Blocked shot in final seconds preserves the victory for the Wildcats.

4. John Clay: “The Rumble in Rupp was 120 glorious minutes of everything we hoped it would be.”

5. Connecticut 75 – Arkansas 62.  Razorbacks drop to 5-2 as the Huskies win their 38th straight non-conference game at home.

6. Pittsburgh 61 – Tennessee 56.  A late chance to tie for Tennessee gets all tied up.

7. LSU 55 – Rutgers 50. Tigers now 3-0 on the season when scoring less than 60 points.

8. Mississippi State 75 – West Virginia 62.  21 points and 13 rebounds for Arnett Moultrie.

9. Freshman guard Trevor Lacey may not be starting at Alabama, but he is making quite an impression.

10. Holding on to leads a priority at Ole Miss as the Rebels prepare to take on Penn State.

11. A struggling South Carolina team faces Clemson today.

12. When is the 2012 SEC football schedule coming out? “Very soon,” according to Mike Slive.

13. Looks like Vanderbilt is headed to the Liberty Bowl against a Big East team.

14. Florida a favorite for the Gator Bowl.

15. Matt Roark – genuine Kentucky folk hero.

16. Keeping tabs on Trent Richardson’s Heisman competition.

17. Post season autopsy on the Tennessee football season, the report cards, and the highs and lows

 Extra

18. 13 fans injured - two critically – after Oklahoma State fans storm the field Saturday night.

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