BCS Meetings & Big Ten Expansion – No Smoke, No Fire, Just Hot Air
Leading up to this months AAU Meeting and then BCS conference in Arizona, the buzz was all about conference expansion. Numerous “leaks” claimed that the Big Ten had pushed it’s timetable for expansion from the 12-18 months commissioner Jim Delaney originally stated, to a more recent timeframe like this upcoming fall or winter. The rationale was that if Big East schools such as Rutgers, Syracuse or Pitt were to leave, the sooner they could announce the better (Big East schools must give the conference a 2 year notice that they will be leaving…on top of an exit fee).
With this rumored push of the timetable to a nearer future, conferences like the Big East, ACC, Pac-10 were more quickly preparing for various outcomes.
So first we had the AAU meetings in which all 11 Big Ten schools met…and then the BCS meetings in Arizona…and the result was: nothing. With all the smoke surrounding Big Ten expansion and their intent to add 1-5 new members and fast-forwarding the timetable, many assumed there would be fire. Instead, there was nothing but hot air.
In the end, the Big Ten again came out and said that the timetable has not changed. And based on this, we should be inclined to believe it. There is no reason to rush what will be a huge decision by the conference that will indeed effect every other BCS conference.
If any Big East schools do leave for the Big Ten, they will be increasing their revenue from roughly $7-$8 million per year to $23-$25 million. So regardless of what fees these schools have to pay, they’d be able to cover it. Meanwhile, the Big Ten knows that expansion, especially to 16 schools, will lock them in to a membership group that will likely remain for quite a long time. Other conferences have grown to 16 teams, such as the WAC, and it failed. But the WAC did not have it’s own TV network and an overall near $250 million dollar TV revenue stream. When it comes to expansion, all sales are final, and the Big Ten needs to get it right and be sure it’s adding members that will guarantee that each of the current 11 members increases their overall revenue. Let’s be clear here: the only reason expansion is being considered is to make more TV money, not to help out a few of the Big East schools.
Meanwhile, an ESPN radio host has claimed that he has sources that the Pac-10 has a deal in place with both Utah and Colorado to join as it’s next 2 members. Perhaps that’s the case, as both schools have been at the top of the list for sometime…after Texas and Texas A&M; who have not expressed interest. But as of right now, despite the claims that the Pac-10 has Utah and Colorado ready for their stable, no announcement has been made and the Pac-10 remains at 10 schools. ESPN provided the smoke, but again it’s just hot air for now. Because until there is more transparent information available regarding the Pac-10 TV contract negotiations, and the Pac-10 can justify adding any members that aren’t Texas (or Texas A&M;), the Pac-10 won’t be making any expansion plans. Because as it is now, they make less money than the Big Ten, SEC or Big 12…so luring a Big 12 team would be a pay-cut at this time.
Also this week, we’ve seen SEC commissioner Mike Slive state that the SEC is preparing in the event that there are monumental conference changes and they too need to expand. Of course, the SEC is in a different spot than the Big Ten, as the SEC relies on it’s TV partnerships with networks as opposed to owning their own network. While the Big Ten has the most money, the SEC has the most recent success. If they were able to renegotiate their ESPN and CBS deals, they could justify bringing in 2-4 new members. A Boston Globe writer proposed the the SEC might make a move to add ACC members such as Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Florida St. All would be fine additions. But just like the Pac-10 and Big Ten, the best option remains Texas along with Texas A&M.; There is an argument to be made that adding Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. would do more for the SEC than adding Clemson and GA Tech, two schools in an already SEC dominated footprint.
The ACC remains in a more interesting position. They are unlikely to lose any members to the Big Ten if they do indeed expand by 1-5 schools. Only Boston College sits as a possibility, but only a strong fit if included with other northeast members Syracuse and Rutgers (as well as Notre Dame, UConn and Pitt as options). But if the Big East were to be raided, and became unstable, the ACC might be able to use the addition of northeast schools such as UConn and Pitt to increase their own TV contract which is soon up for renewal.
Of course, through all of this, the conferences in the most defensive positions are the Big East and Big 12. The Big East has 5 members on the Big Ten radar, when you include Notre Dame. The Big 12 seems to only have to worry about the potential losses of Missouri, Colorado (to Pac-10) and Nebraska. Finding three replacements would not be much of a problem with schools like BYU, Utah, UNLV, TCU, New Mexico, TCU, UTEP and even Louisville as options. The Big East on the other hand would have some much larger issues to deal with if there were to lose over 1/3 of it’s members. Many Big East fans wish that the conference would do something proactive and expand to 12 now to prepare for any departures, by adding schools such as UCF, Memphis and ECU.
But thus far, despite months of speculation, it’s all been hot air, without much more smoke then the announcements that the Big Ten and Pac-10 are considering expansion. The time-frames remain the same until we get some real smoke. And when the first announcements are made regarding extended invitations, it will be the real fire that starts the next round of massive conference realignment, similar to what we had in 2003.