I am starting to think that expansiopocolypse won’t end until we have a “conference” of 64 teams, divided into 5 divisions and each division bifurcated into two sections.
The latest shots fired come from the Big 10, in what can only be considered to be their biggest “all about the money” move in this never-ending program shifting.
The University of Maryland is in serious negotiations to join the Big Ten Conference, sources told ESPN on Saturday.
If Maryland goes from the ACC to the Big Ten, Rutgers of the Big East is expected to follow suit. The addition of Maryland and Rutgers would give the Big Ten 14 members as the league gears toward negotiations on a new media rights deal when its first-tier rights expire in 2017.
No date has been set for a potential announcement, though it could come as soon as Monday. The Maryland board of regents will meet at 9 a.m. Monday morning to decide on the move, a source with direct knowledge told ESPN.com Sunday morning.
But there is not a consensus among athletic department officials. The source said the school is leaning toward the move but there is still time for the school to decide to stay in the ACC.
Except the biggest homers for Maryland and Rutgers — no one is pretending that this possibility is about anything other than money. Specifically, the Big Ten Network (BTN).
There can be speculation about how the move by ND to partial membership to the ACC spooked Jim Delaney and the Big 10, but the most that did was make it clear to the Big 10 powers that even considering waiting for ND is finished. This is all and completely a money play.
There is no perfect answer but Rutgers and Maryland do bring TV sets for the Big Ten Network to be placed on basic cable tiers, and thus generate millions in additional revenue. The states should also provide fresh recruiting ground for current members to fan out and potentially improve their rosters.
It certainly isn’t to immediately bolster football credibility.
Still, the money from potentially being able to jam the Big Ten Network into the home of every cable subscriber in each state (combined population: 14.6 million), is significant. It also allows the league to extend some reach into major Eastern media markets such as Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and even New York City. That said, the Big Ten added the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights, not the Giants, Jets, Eagles, Ravens and Redskins. College football just isn’t that big of a deal.
The Maryland addition to the Big 10 has long been a speculated possibility. Rutgers was half-hearted, with the whole New York City market fools gold. Yet, there may be a just as enticing subplot that makes Rutgers a more logical addition — in terms of money: Fox.
Fox holds a partial ownership stake in BTN. They are also looking to take an interest in a very important cable channel in New York and New Jersey.
News Corp is expected to announce this week that it has taken a minority stake in the YES Network, a New York-based sports channel that broadcasts Yankee baseball and Nets basketball games. The deal could be announced as early as Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction.
The deal would expand News Corp’s network of 13 Fox regional sports channels and four other channels in which it is affiliated. Those channels have 67 million subscribers in Los Angeles, Houston and other cities.
The YES network is available in approximately 15 million homes.
The deal would allow YES to raise the $2.99 monthly fee per subscriber it currently charges cable and satellite operators to carry the channel, said the person. News Corp could negotiate on its behalf with the operators as part of a larger package of sports channels.
Bundling is so very important. On its own, BTN would have a hard time getting a deal in New Jersey and especially New York City. But as part of a sports bundle that includes the New York Yankees network? Suddenly the BTN money train takes a huge jump.
The interesting thing is that the Big 10 is apparently given up most pretenses of anything but money with this move. Yes, both Rutgers and Maryland hold the nice AAU membership in addition to being good schools. But there is nothing competitively attractive about adding these teams. Unlike their past flirtations and words. Somewhere in Columbia, Missouri a chancellor is kicking his wall.
The domino is Maryland, though. The Big Ten won’t expand to just 13 or take Rutgers without the Terrapins. Rutgers is simply the best throw-in. Just as Mizzou was for the SEC when they took Texas A&M.
The money is obvious for Maryland, but they also have a $50 million exit fee to pay the ACC. And it isn’t clear if Maryland really wants to leave the ACC. The money might be too much to pass, but this isn’t the no-brainer of a Big East team fleeing to another conference.
Regarding the ACC exit fee of $50 million. Frank the Tank — who becomes required reading during expansiopocolypse scenarios — makes the salient point.
The $50 million exit fee that the ACC instituted back in September when Notre Dame joined as a non-football member is certainly a deterrent for Maryland to leave, but we have learned in conference realignment that no one has ever turned down a conference upgrade because of an exit fee. These types of exit penalties inevitably get negotiated down to lower figures. At the same time, it’s doubtful that Maryland (whose athletic department is about as solvent as Greece) will have to pay that exit fee out-of-pocket. The Big Ten might front some of that money and deduct an amount from Maryland’s conference earnings for several years. (This is what the Big 12 is doing with West Virginia.) So, $50 million might sound like a lot, but the reality is (1) that number will likely end up being much lower and (2) someone other than Maryland itself is probably going to be paying a lot of that in the beginning.
Paging Kevin Plank. Mr. Plank, please pick up the red and black courtesy phone.
As for what that means for the ACC if Maryland leaves? The assumption would be that UConn would get the call if the ACC wanted to stay at 14/15. But, the ACC could well decide to wait. Keeping at 13/14 means no extra expansion if/when ND finally has to join. And the fact is adding UConn wouldn’t make much of an impression one way or another. Well, other than putting the ACC closer to a configuration of half former Big East refugees.
Best guess, if Maryland leaves for the Big 10, the ACC holds for at least another year or two while UConn does everything it can to throw itself at the conference.