Thursday, February 11, 2010

Texas and Notre Dame: Why the Big Ten Could Add Both

As you've probably heard by now the stodgy and traditional Big Ten is talking expansion, and according to the Lawrence Journal World of Kansas they're now officially talking to Texas. Because of this, the also stodgy and even more traditional Pac 10, who last expanded in 1978, are also talking expansion. The pieces have set in motion for The Big Ten to drastically alter the landscape of college football, and with it perhaps grab two of the biggest fish available to them in Texas and Notre Dame. Both schools are coveted by the conference, and both seemingly have their reasons for joining and not joining. So how is it the Big Ten could get both? Follow along, with me, if you will...

The best place to start this whole discussion is with the TV revenue for each BCS conference and Notre Dame for 2009, which was reported by ESPN's Outside the Lines:

Big Ten: $242 million ($22 million per school)
SEC: $205 million ($17.08 million per school)
Big 12: $78 million ($12.5 million for Texas, $6.5 million per school for the other 11)
ACC: $67 million ($5.58 million per school)
Pac-10: $58 million ($5.8 million per school)
Big East: $13 million for football/$20 million for basketball ($2.8 million per football school)
Notre Dame: $10.25 million (about $9 million from their NBC football deal, and another $1.25 from Big East basketball)

For those scoring at home, the Big Ten made more money in TV revenue last year than Notre Dame, the Big 12, ACC, Pac 10 and Big East COMBINED!!!! Let that sink in for a minute. Got it? Got your head around that figure yet? The Big Ten took an enormous risk by starting their own network, but it's paid off even better than they could have dreamed. Therefore, if they're going to add another school(s) the current members are not going to want to cut into that revenue pie. They're only interested in increasing the value of the conference and increasing the revenue for their current members.

Remember, the conference is currently splitting their revenue 11 ways: While a football conference title game would add a few more millions for the conference, when you add in at least one more school and are then splitting the difference 12 ways, or even 14 ways, your schools are likely to be taking in less revenue. The new member(s) need to make each Big Ten school at least the $22 million per school they're currently receiving now, if not more. Otherwise, what's the point?

Even with a title game, adding someone from the likes of Mizzou, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn or even Nebraska does NOT increase revenues for the other schools. Even if you add three of them, splitting revenues 14 ways does not increase the overall revenue for each member school.

The Big Ten is going to expand only if it gets them a substanial revenue increase, and there's only two available schools that can offer that: Notre Dame and Texas. That's it. That's all. That's the list. If the Big Ten is able to get neither of those two, I don't think they end up expanding. That is unless Nebraska can make a compelling case that they can add the needed value and revenue to the conference, but they're the only ones outside of the Horns and Irish who by themselves could make that case.

I'm not even going to bother with the argument for why the Big Ten would want Notre Dame and Texas. Pretty sure that's been covered, and should be self explanatory. But what hasn't been, or what apparently hasn't been made mainstream enough, is why both of those schools would be crazy NOT to join the Big Ten.

Frank the Tank has an incredibly detailed and compelling argument for why Texas should join the conference. I highly recommend the read (I believe he's also done three follow-up posts which are also excellent), but make sure you carve out about a half hour of your time to digest it all. It's long, but it's really, really good.

Let's summarize Frank the Tank's argument for why Texas would be crazy NOT to join the Big Ten:
- Yes, the Longhorns get more revenue than other Big 12 schools, as they received $12.5 million last year while the other eleven schools got about $6.5 million each.
- But they would get substantially more than that in the Big Ten. Remember, each school last year got $22 million, so even if bringing Texas in and splitting it 12 ways gained the conference no extra revenue, $242 million split 12 ways is still $20.17 million per school. Just that amount alone is much more than Texas receives from the Big 12.
- However, if Texas were to join the Big Ten, the Big Ten Network would then be added to 90+ million homes in the state of Texas that it's not in now. By adding that many new viewers and paying customers, even a conservative projection would have to put the Big Ten Network's payout to 12 schools at somewhere around $25 million each. At least.
- So that means Texas can stay in the Big 12 and make $12.5 million, or move to the Big Ten and make more than double that. Every year.
- Add to that the fact the Big Ten is a much better conference academically and would open a lot of doors for research and academics that Texas simply can't get in the Big 12, and it's hard to see a reason why they wouldn't.

Shooting down two other counter-arguments:
- Rivalries with Texas A&M and Oklahoma. To me, this is minor, and one that's being overblown. Texas and Oklahoma have only been in the same conference for less than two decades. And, as Frank the Tank explained, the Horns were ready to ditch A&M in the early 90's when Texas almost joined the Pac 10 (but instead ended up forming the Big 12). Texas cares about Texas and will- and should- do what's best for them. They can always play the Sooners and Aggies in the non-conference.

- The Texas Legislature: this is the one big hurdle the Longhorns would have to clear. If Texas left, the Big 12, and its many remaining Texas schools, would be in serious trouble. Not hard to envision delegates from the counties and cities in the other Big 12 school areas voting against them leaving. Because Texas is a state-funded university, the legislature does have the right to make them stay put.

So that about covers Texas. Who cares if they're not connected to the other Big Ten teams geographically? The revenue to be gained for everyone involved would be so staggering, it makes too much sense for them not to try it. Another reason is because without Texas, or Colorado, or Nebraska, or Missouri, or whomever ends up leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Pac 10, it means those left behind in the Big 12 will REALLY be left behind.

Ahhh yes, the Pac 10. The conference that is even more stodgy and traditional than the Big Ten. The one who hasn't expanded since 1978, and who wouldn't be looking at expanding unless they absolutely had to. And with the Big Ten expanding, and the dominoes that will start falling because of it, the Pac 10 has quickly realized it has to expand, as much for the survival of the conference than anything else.

You saw the TV revenue figures up at the top, and you saw that the Pac 10 is down near the bottom. The big reason they even got that high in the rankings is because of the television market in southern California, and especially because of USC. The Pac 10 knows that SC is vital to their survival, and keeping them happy, and in the conference, is imparative.

IF the Big 12 is able to keep Texas but loses another member(s) to the Big Ten, there's no reason to think they won't come calling to have the Trojans join them. The Pac 10 is without a lucrative TV deal and has some of the worst bowl partners outside of the Big East (obviously the Rose Bowl is great but that's really all they have). Texas is the one television market that could support a lucrative TV deal for the Big 12, and if you add in southern California and the massive LA market, well, you can see how that one would make a whole lotta sense, and a whole lot more money, for SC.

And if USC goes, why wouldn't UCLA go with them? So that means the PAC 10 has to be proactive, and that's why they're looking at expansion too. Like the Big Ten, they're certainly going to aim for Texas, and because of their history of courting them, they might have a decent chance. Colorado is the second no-brainer school, as the Buffs bring an excellent academic reputation AND the Denver TV market with them. Because Colorado cares so much about academics and the Pac 10 is such a better academic conference, it would not be a tough sell to the folks in Boulder.

IF the Pac 10 can't get Texas, and Texas ends up leaving for the Big Ten, few other schools make sense. First let's eliminate just about all of the other candidates I've been hearing mentioned. The two most important things to remember about Pac 10 expansion are the following:

- the conference requires a unanimous vote to add a school(s)
- the Pac 10 takes their academics just as seriously as the Big Ten, and perhaps even more so. Any school in consideration must be a "research institution."

Therefore, schools like Boise St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Hawaii, and the rest are out because they simply don't meet the academic requirements. They also wouldn't bring enough new viewers in TV revenue.

BYU is an excellent school and has very good athletics, but unless the Pac 10 changes their rules for acceptance they're not getting in either. The reasons are that they are NOT a research institution and because there's no way in hades Cal lets them in because of their religious differences (Frank the Tank explains here). It just would never happen.

That leaves Utah, who is pretty good academically and would bring the 31st largest TV market as well as some good athletics. However, nobody in the Pac 10 is going to be excited to bring in the Utes. The one school other than Texas who would? Oklahoma.

Think about it: If Texas goes to the Big 10 and Colorado bolts for the Pac 10, what is Oklahoma left with? What they're left with is a football conference that's suddenly worse, and would make less money, than even the Big East. Joining the Pac 10 with the Buffs puts them right back in the money. The Sooners as a candidate is a totally unsubstantiated rumor at this point, but I'm just saying if the dominos start falling, it makes sense, and their addition would bring more to the Pac 10 than anyone else besides Texas.

Finally, IF Texas leaves for the Big Ten, then Colorado bolts for the Pac 10, what would that mean for everyone else? Suddenly Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the rest of the not-so-Big 12 are scrambling to find a life raft. The Big Ten and SEC would have vaunted themselves into another financial stratosphere, leaving everyone else, including Notre Dame, behind. The result? Super conferences.

IF this happens I could see the Big Ten and SEC not stopping at 12 teams, but increasing to 14. The evidence (aka the money) for Notre Dame to join the Big Ten is currently already overwhelming. Even with an exclusive TV deal with NBC, the Irish only made about $10 million last year. They also no longer have their sweetheart BCS deal (Before the addition of a fifth BCS game, it used to be that everyone had to finish in the top 8 to be eligible for an at-large selection. Everyone, that is, except for the Irish, who only had to finish in the top 14. But now, everybody is eligble with a top 14 finish). The Irish are also seeing non-BCS bowl options disappearing, most of which are going to the Big Ten and SEC. So if the Irish don't make a BCS game, their runner up options are...the New York City Bowl? The Sun Bowl? The Champs Sports Bowl? As of now, all of the non-BCS New Year's Day bowl options are gone.

Really, the only thing keeping Notre Dame from joining a conference are their alumni and boosters. Thus far, Irish alums simply do not want to give up the independent status because they like to think they're special. That's it. That's all. And because no school relies more on their alums and boosters than do the Irish, at the moment they're not at a point where they can go against their wishes. But that point in time for a change is coming and its coming soon.

Being an independent no longer gets Notre Dame more revenue, better bowls, and a better shot at a BCS bowl. If I were Irish AD Jack Swarbrick, I'd be sending out pamphlets about the benefits of joining the Big Ten to every alum and booster on the mailing list, because to stay sustainable and viable, Notre Dame is going to need to join a conference.

So what happens if it looks like Texas is going to join and Notre Dame suddenly wakes up and says "Hey!! We were just kidding! We really want to join!" who would the Big Ten take? I think the answer would have to be both, wouldn't it? Adding both the Horns and Irish would make the Big Ten just an obscene amount of money, and since you can't have a conference with 13 schools, they could then add just about anyone (Oklahoma? Nebraska? Mizzou? UConn? Pitt?) for 14 and a real and true Super Conference.

And if that happens, you have to think the SEC counters by adding Texas A&M and another school left behind in the wake of the Big 12's demise so they can also have 14.

While all of this may seem really premature, we do know the Big Ten is talking to Texas, the Pac 10 is talking expansion, and it makes more sense than ever for Notre Dame to join the Big Ten. While it's just discussion now, the rumblings we're hearing could cause an avalanche of change in college football that alters the landscape in a major way.

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