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May 24, 2010

Spent the weekend computer free. Not really by choice. This was one of the first weekends home where there was nice weather. That meant trying to work on clearing out the garage and a lot of sanding and staining a couple dressers that we really need to put into service soon.

The P-G and Trib finally come in with bland, perfunctory — and quite late — pieces on expansion. No new ground broken there. It’s about money and it could have a far-reaching effect on college sports. Good work, guys.

Heading into the weekend the Johnstown area paper scored some quotes from Coach Jamie Dixon regarding potential expansion and Pitt.

“I think tomorrow we’ll be in the Big East,”?he said. “That’s what I believe. Do I think it will be the same for the next 100 years??Probably not. It’s probably going to change somewhat. We’re going to be in a great situation. Looking at our situation academically, the university where it stands as an AAU?institution, as a highly ranked academic university, where our athletic programs are, and our commitment by our administration, I?know we’re going to be in a good situation in a good conference, in a power conference, and we’re going to continue to be a power player in the NCAA.

“I?can’t tell you exactly what teams will be on our schedule five years from now, but we’ll be playing some pretty good teams,”?he said.

Dixon won’t be leading the campaign to leave the Big East.

“We’re in the best conference in the country for basketball, and our conference in football is getting better and better,”?he said. “There’s not a lot of complaints coming from us. If there’s changes, there’s changes. We have the administration in the background to make the adjustments, and we will.”

This is really just a non-answer. Still it is a bit of a step back from his previous statements in March — that seems to get quoted frequently — when he indicated complete opposition to it and it had people idly thinking it might cause him to leave Pitt if Pitt left the Big East.

He’s obviously not a big fan of moving, but he knows that his opinion does not enter into this. Besides, he also knows that a move means more money for the basketball program. Not just for his salary, but to pay assistants and the recruiting budget.

Not that this actually has anything to do with Big 11 expansion, but there is this.

A quick look at football and basketball performance over the past 10 years makes an interesting case for many of the schools that have been mentioned.

Of all the teams considered, Texas is the one that would bring the biggest immediate impact. The Longhorns have a record of 110-19 in the past 10 years in football, and the basketball program has produced a mark of 251-93 (a two-sport winning percentage of .763).

The second-best team from a winning percentage standpoint? Pittsburgh, paced by a 264-79 mark in basketball the past 10 years, has a two-sport combined winning percentage of .725. The Pitt football team has had a steady 74-49 record.

Connecticut ranked third (.684), followed by Syracuse (.642), Notre Dame (.630), Missouri (.581), Nebraska (.557) and Rutgers (.470).

A columnist in Utah, meanwhile, cautions fans in his state not to presume that either program is leaving the Mountain West for the Pac-10 and/or Big 12.

Based purely on population — more specifically, on TV sets — neither school is particularly attractive as a primary target. The Salt Lake market (which includes all of Utah and parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada) has grown. And moved up the rankings — we’re now No. 31.

But the estimated 944,060 TV-equipped homes here constitute only .822 percent of the national total. That doesn’t make a Utah-based school particularly attractive.

Interesting. Despite a growing population, that significant factor for it — religion — also plays a role in their limited actual TV impact.

Whenever talk turns to the Big Something going to 16, the WAC experiment in the mid-90s comes up for discussion as evidence of its spectacular failure.  The situation, though, was more than a little different.

So it was for the 16-member WAC, which spanned nine states and five time zones. The 16 schools weren’t exactly peer institutions, either. “We had six privates and 10 publics,” Benson said. “We ranged from 2,500-enrollment Rice with average SAT of whatever to California state system schools with 25,000, 30,000 or 40,000.”

With the exception of Northwestern, the Big Ten schools are large state institutions. The eight-state footprint is geographically contiguous, and unless the Big Ten pulls a shocker and lands Texas, all the expansion candidates mentioned — all large state institutions aside from Syracuse — would allow the league to maintain a contiguous footprint. And even if that footprint stretched 1,065 miles from Syracuse, N.Y., to Lincoln, Neb., travel between the two farthest-flung schools would seem like a Sunday drive compared to the 3,826-mile journey from Tulsa to Hawaii in the 16-member WAC.

As important as geography and membership are, they’re not as important as television revenue. WAC presidents voted to expand before the breakup of the College Football Association, the consortium (or cartel, depending on your perspective) that negotiated TV deals for major programs at the time. Even after the CFA dissolved, WAC presidents were optimistic their league, with several huge television markets, could command a lucrative TV deal.

The league would lose money on the front end, because before expansion was finalized, presidents approved a contract with ESPN/ABC that would pay the league $3.5 million a year for five years starting in 1996. That deal was designed for a 10-team league.

So, they were losing money on TV. Spending a fortune on travel. And the schools were too different. That’s a recipe for tension and disaster. It really is remarkable that the Big East has held together as long as it has.

For a program like Indiana, expansion could make competition that much harder with their basketball still in rebuilding and football, well, still stuck in neutral.

The AD for Michigan State gave a very vague Q&A on expansion.

Q: What’s the feel among Big Ten athletic directors about expansion?

A: Cautious. I think for the most part athletic directors are cautious about where that could lead to, and we have a lot of faith in commissioner Delany, where he gets the big picture and he’s kind of guiding that whole process. I say cautious, we’re more into the operational aspects of it vs. the global, what’s best for the Big Ten. We’re getting down to, ‘How’s it gonna work? What’s it gonna look like.’ We’re trying to be on the front end of that, if and when that comes forward.

We may reach a point, one of the comments I made there is it’s important we continue to go back to why are we talking about expansion, rather than just get caught in the frenzy of expansion. In my opinion, we don’t need to expand to be a strong conference. I think there might be some angles out there that would make us stronger, and that would be a reason to do it.

But I don’t want to see any of us get caught into a frenzy of … we’re not backed into a corner where we have to expand, and I think that needs to be clarified over and over again. If the right situation comes up, if there’s a right combination, if there are programs that want to be part of the Big Ten and we want them to be part of the Big Ten, I think that’s when that marriage takes place. But there’s a lot of things that need to be accomplished before we reach that point.

Q: When you’re talking about potential scenarios, are you talking about 12 (schools), 14, 16, going through all that?

A: Yes.

Q: And what do you think about a 16-school Big Ten?

A: Again, your perception gets changed every time you look at different aspects of it…

The issue of rivalries being diluted is a big issue. Whether the Big 11 goes to 14 (two divisions) or 16 (4 quadrants), what do you do with say Michigan and OSU? If you put them in the same group than you guarantee that they can’t meet in the Big Something football championship game. If you put them separate groups (like the ACC with Miami and FSU), but have them play every year, you remove more scheduling felxability and limit the chance of other teams in the Big Something to play the two biggest names in the conference — unless they are within the same division or quadrant.

Here’s another aspect of expansion for consideration. The rental game. If for example the Big Something went to 16 teams, they would have to consider 9 conference games. For whatever Big East team comes, they would have to worry about scheduling 2 less games. Plus all the Big 12 refugees with Big 11 teams that is one less game to buy schedule.

That’s a drop in demand for the continually rising cost of the guarantee game. That has schools that rely on that worried. Especially if expansion goes throughout the BCS conferences.

Those dominoes could affect the MAC and its members in several ways besides the potential loss of one or more schools. It could affect scheduling (especially in football), TV contracts and the general way business is conducted.

“In terms of what the ramifications are, the only thing we can do is anticipate all possible scenarios and be prepared for what decisions are made nationally,” Miami Athletic Director Brad Bates said.

Shocking. Lou Holtz was in South Bend, and he rambled.

“I would continue to be an independent, but (I make that decision) without all the facts,” Holtz said. “You have maybe 30 sports at Notre Dame. What happens if the Big East is raided? Where are your other 29 sports going to go in order to get a championship?

“The Big Ten’s probably as good a conference as there is in the country. You look at academics; you look at research; you look at all the other things. The fact is, Notre Dame has always been a national institution. We have fans all over the country. We played the best there was in the country, that was (then president) Father (Theodore) Hesburgh’s goal.

“However, those things might be changing now within the structure of football. What was right for Notre Dame in 1946, 1986, may not be right for them in 2010. That’s why I’m not the president.”

Among many other things he is not.

Hey, what about academics?

Considering AAU universities receive about 57 percent of all federally funded research provided to universities annually, the Big Ten has become known as a home for the best research universities in the country.

By comparison, the Big 12 has seven AAU members; the Ivy League, seven; the Pac-10, seven; and the Atlantic Coast, five.

“I’m not sure that it brings you any more funding automatically,” Northwestern University’s Alan Cubbage said of being a Big Ten school.

“You are recognized as one of the best universities in the country as a result.”

Yes, the AAU issue.

“My Google alerts for ‘AAU’ have gone up considerably,” said Barry Toiv, the AAU’s vice president for public affairs. “Every story about Big Ten expansion mentions the AAU now. It has certainly put it on the sports pages, where I don’t think it’s ever been before.”

That’s because membership in the prestigious AAU is considered almost essential for any candidate for the Big Ten.

“I think it’s very important to our presidents and to our league,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said last week at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago.

Really, it’s a non-issue now. With the exception of ND, all serious candidates for Big Something  expansion (sorry, UConn), are members. It’s just something that gets mentioned. Heck even longshots Maryland and GT (just admitted) are members.





Dixon’s words are definitely less emotional than they were before. Not sure if that means he knows something…probably not much more than we do.

Comment by Tony Cancilla 05.24.10 @ 12:48 pm

while the potential for B10 network expansion still appears to be the primary decision criterion, the final vote is up to the college presidents; thus, AAU membership may well hold more weight than suspected.

Also, national TV ratings also has to be somewhat important … ND is already in BTN country; the state of Nebraska and Austin, TX and surrounding are smaller TV markets, yet the B10 would allegedly welcome these three because of their national appeal. If so, it may be a plus for Pitt since it has more than twice the national FB ratings than RU, UConn or the Cuse.

Comment by wbb 05.24.10 @ 1:23 pm

wbb – I’m not discounting your point about a national following being important, but Texas’ appeal is not just because of a national following. The population of the City of Austin is actually higher than the City of Pittsburgh, and the metro areas are similar (to be fair, Austin has annexed many of its “suburbs” into the city limits). Also, San Antonio is only 70 miles away and has a lot of UT followers. I haven’t checked recently, but when I lived in Austin a few years back, San Antonio had grown to the 9th largest city in the country.

Comment by Pantherman13 05.24.10 @ 1:41 pm

Holy smoke!! Will somebody please inform Josh Sickles of RIVALS that Pitt recruit Andre Givens of Hubbard, Ohio is a gifted RB and NOT an OL. It’s goofs like this that make it difficult to recruit out of state. I do endorse forgiveness, however. George from Columbus

Comment by rev. george mehaffey 05.24.10 @ 4:12 pm

Chas,
The winning percentages you used were part of an article written by Terry Hutchers(Indystar.com) on 5/23/10 “Big Ten Expansion: If goal is better football and basketball…” In the article they go on to say Texas and Pitt have best athletic winning percentages for football and basketball of all the B10 expansion candidates which is interesting because of all the B10 expansion candidates Texas and Pitt rank 1 and 2 for research budgets , translation 1 and 2 academics too. Should be easy call for B10 presidents and athletic depts. Who is to say that other expansion candidates can’t provide the TV revenue while one selection is there for academics and sports teams ?

Comment by Marty 05.24.10 @ 5:27 pm

Marty,

Yeah. That’s why I linked to the article. So others could read the rest.

There has never been any question that Pitt would be the best “fit” in all things Big Something other than in the BTN revenue model. That is the key point, and expansion is all about money.

You can try to claim that Mizzou or Rutgers may or may not do that, but in any and all projections that have been made there is a nice bump in revenue with those two that Pitt cannot offer. That is why expansion of the Big 11 has primarily focused on schools outside their footprint.

The fact is, that taking those two flagship schools of their respective states, gives the BTN more leverage in negotiating rates and tiers with the cable providers in those states. Even though Pennsylvania has the lowest penetration of BTN in the states with members, it is still at 83%. There is simply much more room to add subscribers in Missouri and New Jersey/Metro NYC.

Once more, the fact that Pitt is in consideration is a reflection of just how good a “fit” it would be despite the revenue issue.

Comment by Chas 05.24.10 @ 6:06 pm

Enough about expansion already. Does anyone know if J.J. Moore qualified yet?

Comment by Gas 05.24.10 @ 7:05 pm

“The population of the City of Austin is actually higher than the City of Pittsburgh” City population is a completely irrelevant number. It’s absolutely useless. Metro’s are cities, except when talking TV where it’s DMA’s. Austin proper is at least a couple hundred square miles because it has expanded land area. Pgh is like 55.

Is Jacksonville really the largest city in FL? Do you think any business that wants to be in the biggest city in FL would consider JAX, the biggest “city” but not even the 3rd largest metro in the state, and several times smaller than Miami in reality…

Comment by JoeP 05.24.10 @ 10:25 pm

Thank you. Some astute individual corrected the RIVALS error and has correctly identified Pitt’s recruit, Andre Givens as a running back and not an offensive lineman. Ah yes, this day is off to a grand start. George from Columbus

Comment by rev. george mehaffey 05.25.10 @ 7:29 am

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