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May 10, 2010

Another Week of Expansion Speculation

Filed under: Conference,Money — Chas @ 10:05 am

And so it continues.

A little tale to make Louisville and Cinci (among others) quiver. The tale of UTEP. An original WAC, but not brought into MWC to C-USA.

The bad, the blind-side hit that [UTEP AD Bob] Stull alluded to, came on May 28, 1998. Before that, the WAC that UTEP had been a part of since 1968 — the “old WAC” with Brigham Young, New Mexico and Wyoming — thought it was pioneering new ground in the conference landscape by expanding from 10 teams to 16 in 1996.

In came some old members of the Southwest Conference (SMU, Rice and TCU) that fit well with UTEP, but the result proved unwieldy.

Stull still can’t really explain the scheduling concept for football that had schools grouped into four four-team pods, and talk of dividing the conference into two eight-team divisions ended, according to Stull, with Air Force upset with its draw.

On May 26, 1998, a few months into Stull’s tenure at UTEP, eight schools from the “old WAC” staged a jailbreak to form the Mountain West Conference. Two hours before their news conference to announce their plans, they called UTEP president Dr. Diana Natalicio to let her know UTEP wasn’t coming along.

Suddenly, the WAC that UTEP had known for three decades was a new league, and the Miners were in a leftover mishmash.

Now it’s C-USA, and who knows where next. Maybe still there. Maybe brought into the Big 12, or even the MWC belatedly asks them to help out.

Another vaguely pathetic story of a non-BCS program seeing major conference rejiggering as their ticket to big time Big East football.

From what I’m hearing, Cincy is a strong candidate to join the Big 10. If that happens, Southern Miss would be a shoo-in to take the Bearcats’ spot in the Beg East. Even if the move doesn’t happen, Southern Miss is still in the running. The best possible teams for the move to the Big East would be Memphis, Central Florida, East Carolina, and USM.

A couple of things USM has going for them is the strength of the football program, and the baseball program. Let’s face it, basketball is not the drawing point. Although, the women’s team could benefit by playing some better competition.

How awesome would it be to see West Virginia, Pitt, Rutgers and Louisville in Hattiesburg? That would definitely sell out some games at “The Rock!” Oh by the way, it would also mean a jump in athletic funding. The current Southern Miss athletic budget is set at $27 million. The new budget in the Big East would be $50 million.

So many things wrong with that story, it is horrible to get their hopes up this way. Cinci is strong to the Big Something? Southern Miss a “shoo-in?” Wow. Delusional, much?

Speaking of delusional, this scenario where USF and UCF goes to the Big 12? With Texas staying in the conference? Er, OK. Yes, UCF is working to put $70 million into building, expanding and renovating their athletic facilities, but just take that first step out of C-USA before getting too far ahead.

At least the University at Buffalo’s AD seems to have a clue in the face of silliness.

“Ever since I got here there were some people at UB who said we belonged in the Big East,” Manuel said. “I tend to focus on where we are now and obviously I have aspirations for us as an athletic department.”

UB has to have more to offer if it wants serious consideration from the Big East.

“You just can’t say you want to be in another league,” Manuel said. “You have to bring something to the table to have success. You have to bring things to the table that help them as well. This is not just about going into the Big East and saying, “Oh, this will be great and will help us.’ ”

In these challenging economic times, UB more than likely isn’t prepared financially to make such a leap. Manuel estimates UB’s total operating expenses — which totaled just over $21.8 million in 2007-08 — are approximately $15 million less than the average football playing institution in the Big East. Louisville’s budget, for example, is $55.1 million.

How dare he be rational about this.

It has come to this in looking for new ways to talk about expansion in newspapers. Quoting from a message boarder for theories.

Stuart Eastman — a Missouri fan and booster known on one Internet site as Tiger Stu — doesn’t buy the notion that MU officials are just sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be contacted by the Big Ten Conference.

Eastman subscribes to a “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” theory. Contact has been made, if perhaps indirectly, between Missouri and the Big Ten, which seems poised — through expansion by as many as five teams — to change the face of big-time college athletics.

“Oh sure,” Eastman said. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s not like all of a sudden this is going to take place.

“We’ve been talked to. It’s happened.

“And we’re being politically correct and not saying a word because that’s probably the best thing we can do.”

That and because no one actually knows what the hell will really happen.

But, man, is Mizzou ready to go.

While we are obviously more preoccupied with the end result for Pitt, the Big East and to some extent the schools in the BE that could be screwed; the Big 12 and member schools are starting to get edgy.

Follow the steps. If Missouri leaves, the Big 12 could likely remain viable with eleven teams or by adding TCU. If Missouri and either Nebraska or Colorado leave, it becomes more difficult and if all three are gone then its hard to see the Big 12 continuing to exist in any meaningful form.

Texas is the driving force here. If Texas is OK with whatever is left of the Big 12, the conference can probably keep going. But that’s not likely if the Big 12 is down to scraps, and if Texas bolts for the SEC or Pac-10, then KU and K-State are scrambling to save their own existence on the national scene.

Both Kansas schools have strong athletic programs and loyal fan bases, but in the new world of college athletics would be left in the cold because of geography and the state’s relatively small population.

The worst-case is still several steps away for KU and K-State, but now’s not a bad time to begin thinking and talking about it. Barring drastic measures by legislature, both schools would be knocked out of so-called power conferences. Kansas could become the test-case of a school trying to fund its athletic department primarily on men’s basketball.

Really edgy in Big 12 land.

Iowa State could be in even worse shape.

I’ll give some credit to the Big 12. Rather than hire an unpaid consultant from the NFL and saying they might look into their own network, the Big 12 is actually working on ways that could stave off one conference raid while building a stronger relationship for more revenue.

…an alliance in the works with the Pac-10. Initial meetings between the two league’s commissioners and some athletic directors from the conferences occurred Wednesday and Thursday, and according to Dan Beebe, the talks were “very positive”.

What this all means is that the Big 12 wanted to act, and probably had some form of plan as soon as the Big Ten began its expansion talks. In a not so subtle dig at the Big Ten, Beebe indicated in regards to conference size that “12 is the maximum number that operates well in football”.

The Pac-10 side of things seems to point to this “strategic alliance” as a way for the conferences to jointly negotiate deals with television networks, including possibly formulating their own combination network.

This deal is probably an extension of what was already started with the Big 12 versus Pac-10 basketball series. It will likely mean scheduling preferences for the schools in each of the two conferences in the major sports. It’s almost like getting many of the major benefits of a super conference without all the mess of merging the two or having 14, 16, or more teams in your conference. It could also be a significant bargaining chip for any team considering leaving for the Big Ten especially considering that the slice of revenue sharing a joint network and TV deal provides could be quite large. We obviously don’t know any details yet, but I’m sure that the Conference Commissioners told the Athletic Directors behind closed doors what the potential windfall could be for each school.

Imagine that. Forward thinking and something constructive.

Meanwhile, the ACC starts its meetings today, so they need to figure out what their plan is.

The ACC did get a good initial TV contract from expansion but that contract ends after the 2010-2011 season. The ACC is in the midst of its negotiation for a new football deal and the numbers that are being offered, I’ve been told, are not particularly good given the marketplace, where the economy is down and the Big Ten and SEC are sucking up about 50 percent of the available dollars. Don’t be surprised if the ACC brings on another TV partner, like Fox or the NFL Network, hoping to generate more revenue.

The fact is that the ACC is as vulnerable right now as the Big East was back in 2003. Here’s why:

If the Big Ten expands to 16 teams the SEC may feel the need to follow suit. The SEC could look to the ACC and take some teams (like Florida State) to solidify its Southern footprint.

Here is another item that should concern you as an ACC fan. My buddy Blair Kerkoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the Pac-10 and Big 12 are having discussions about the possibility of forming an alliance and negotiating their TV deals as one unit. Together they would have more clout (and more television sets) than individually.

And if the Big 12 and Pac-10 work something out, it may force the Big Something to focus more on the eastern expansion. Beyond potentially seeing a possible raid of Maryland and the Big East getting raided, the Big Something would be a bigger factor in the East period. Add in getting squeezed by the SEC, and they could have their own problems.

Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune has been one of the reporters out in front of the Big Something expansion. He had a Q&A, where Pitt is never mentioned in his expansion possibilities. Of course, he seems to be focused solely on the Big Ten Network market share targetings, so he seems a little dismissive of Syracuse as well.

Then there is a rehash of the Big East might look into their own network — at some point. Having teams in major media markets does not mean people want to watch them. If so, then the A-10 would get more exposure than it does.

With so many possibilities and permutations, the Mountain West is feeling even more helpless than the Big East or Big 12.

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said the league continues to “passively” examine the landscape and consider whether it also needs to expand, though none of the “bits and pieces” assessment has progressed into meetings, committees or formal analyses.

Yet like many other leagues caught up in the swirling drama, the Mountain West might not wind up in full control of its future.

“We’re kind of playing this three-dimensional chess game right now,” he said.

Kind of.

What happens if the Pac-10 and/or the Big 12 raids the MWC?

“We’ve talked about some things. You’d better have a Plan B,” Thompson said. “There’s not a sheet of paper with Plan A or Plan B. But theoretically, and philosophically, there are various scenarios we’re ready to implement.”

This week, Thompson is attending annual meetings with the league’s athletic directors and other administrators. The topic of the changing landscape of college football is bound to come up, either formally or informally. Thompson will meet with the presidents of all nine MWC institutions for annual meetings on June 6-8.

“We’ve got regular business to conduct,” Thompson said. “I would say there will be a lot of conversations about ‘what ifs,’ that sort of thing.”

With television contracts expiring around the country, conferences are looking to strengthen themselves and position themselves for a potentially lucrative future. Changes could come relatively soon.

Relatively meaning June or December. It just doesn’t seem likely that the Big Something can wait much longer than December to make a decision.





Great stuff, Chas. Thanks.

My question is why aren’t other conferences moving preemptively rather than sitting on their hands waiting for the Big Infinity?

For example, if I were the ACC commish, I’d be on the phone with some BE teams right now.

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 12:38 pm

Listening to Rivals in the morning, all the talk is about expansion, nearly every day. I don’t know what will happen. However, I think that it is safe to assume that it will not take 12-18 months for the Big Ten to act. Frankly, they run the real risk of the ACC or SEC pulling the trigger first. Several schools (Pitt, RU, UCONN, Syracuse) might be facing a “take my lesser deal now or face being left out of Big 10 expansion later” choice. The ACC has demonstrated that they can and will be ruthless in the pursuit of their self interest. I would not be one bit surprised if they announed out of the blue that they were addding RU and UCONN.

Comment by HbgFrank 05.10.10 @ 12:45 pm

Money, no school being considered for the B11 is going to do anything until they make their minds up.
While I think the ACC may be a better fit, especially for hoops, the money they would be offering isn’t even close. The BE raid hasn’t worked out quite like they thought, especailly the football championship game(I forget which year, but you can google some images of nearly 2/3 empty stadiums for a few of them). So, for now, all ACC can do is have some back channel conversations and see who’s left after the B11 makes up their minds.

Comment by Rob 05.10.10 @ 12:47 pm

link to sports.espn.go.com

Pitt is a Factory for NFL talent…..

Comment by JSS 05.10.10 @ 1:26 pm

Update- Pitt over Nebraska in first round:

link to sports.espn.go.com

Comment by Dan35 05.10.10 @ 1:52 pm

A factory for talent but a losing machine. Too many one-horse teams I guess.

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 3:24 pm

I overreacted. Not a losing machine but certainly not #3 in win percentage.

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 3:26 pm

I now leared that Cincy is a shoo-in for the B10, So Miss for the BE, and for sure that the UB AD has more sense than most of his bigger college counterparsts.

If the ACC was proactive 6-7 years ago, they may well consider the pre-emptive action of picking up 4 BE teams (Pitt, WVU, Cuse, UConn) to team with BC, MD, VA & VA Tech for the northern division of a 16 team league. This would provide basketball and football balance to both divisions …. and would bring in every major TV market on the East Coast except for Philly.

Comment by wbb 05.10.10 @ 3:47 pm

Our team gets good pub, and our fans still find a way to bash it. Simply amazes me.

Comment by PITTapotamus 05.10.10 @ 4:15 pm

Yes, yes, mea culpa.

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 5:24 pm

Newsflash on ESPN: Big 10 reportedly offering entrance to ND, Mizzou, Neb, Missouri

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 6:08 pm

Newsflash on ESPN: Big 10 reportedly offering entrance to ND, Mizzou, Neb, RU

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 6:09 pm

oops, add RU

Comment by steve 05.10.10 @ 6:09 pm

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