D-1 football’s oncoming fault line

Stewart Mandel and I see eye to eye on one consequence of the Pac-12′s ginormous new TV deal:

… The playoff zealots keep telling us that the schools and conferences are committing a grave injustice by refusing to pursue the hypothetical windfall that would come from a hypothetical playoff. Well, there’s nothing hypothetical about the Pac-12′s staggering new contracts with ESPN and Fox. According to The New York Times, the deals are worth a combined $250 million per year — and that’s before additional revenue from a forthcoming Pac-12 Network. That’s about nine times more than the league made from the BCS last season ($28 million) and about 17 times more than it made from the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament ($14.7 million). Each school will earn more than a $20 million share. And to get a sense of just how rapidly things have escalated, consider that just seven years ago no conference was yet earning $10 million per team.

And you wonder why these guys talk so much about protecting the regular season?

The other part of this to keep in mind is that the big boys don’t share.

… And some estimates do suggest that a playoff would net three to four times what the BCS contract does. But first of all, that doesn’t mean each of the conferences would automatically make three to four times as much. An NCAA-sponsored tournament would require certain operating costs, would likely follow a performance-based distribution method and would be spread more evenly among all 11 conferences.

Over the long haul, that’s what a move to an expanded, NCAA-run football tourney risks for every Big Six conference.  And that’s why Mandel is right to ask if you’re a president or commissioner in a BCS conference, what the point is in risking that in moving to an expanded postseason model.

On the other hand, if you’re a mid-major on the outside looking in, the view is only getting gloomier.

… Which completes the continental divide between five of the six “BCS conferences” along with Notre Dame and the rest of the alleged Division I football members. In limbo is the Big East, which remains sort of a stepsister to the others, still in the process of attempting to negotiate a reasonably lucrative TV deal of its own.

So, that makes 61 members of the gated-community football elite; nine others in the Big East counting future immigrant Texas Christian, all of which have cloudier horizons but also a measure of hope; and 50 outliers who have absolutely no chance of catching up.

(In purgatory: FCS Villanova and Conference USA’s Central Florida, either of which might be invited in from the kitchen table to the Big East within the next month or two, neither of which might ultimately survive the move.)

That Forlorn Fifty — consisting of the Mid-American, C-USA, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences — has no more prospect of dining at the main table than uninvited walk-ons have of starting on Saturday. In fact, that’s a very good analogy of what they are. Those 50 bottom-feeders are practice-squad meat. Not even scout-team caliber. Blocking sleds. Warmup fodder.

Overwrought, but basically correct.  The money difference is becoming so great that I don’t see how much longer the status quo can be maintained.  Either the money gets spread over a greater number, or there’s a divorce.  At this point, I don’t see where the middle ground is much more than a convenient fiction.  As Jones hyperventilates,

In the meantime, the hourglass sands dwindle for all the pretend D-I schools such as Temple and Troy and Boise State. They shouldn’t be labeled as equals if they aren’t. And if it’s decided they should be, then give them a level playing field. What’s going on now is ludicrous.

Yep, and you can guess which way Delany, Slive and Scott will jump when the time comes.  It’s one reason I’m somewhat amused reading about the alarm over how the SEC’s TV deal is being eclipsed and what the conference may be stuck with for a long time.  The reality is that’s likely to become a moot point in the near to medium future.

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UPDATE:  The Department of Justice has written a letter to the NCAA asking why there isn’t a D-1 football playoff.  No word on whether that was posed rhetorically.

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UPDATE #2:  According to CNN, the question definitely isn’t rhetorical.

In a letter to the NCAA on Wednesday, the Justice Department said it has opened an antitrust inquiry into the current Bowl Championship Series system, which excludes some athletic conferences from the formula for choosing schools to play in major bowl games…

… In her letter, Varney asked Emmert to explain why college football does not have a playoff when so many other college sports do. She also asked what steps, if any, the NCAA has taken to create a playoff, and whether the NCAA has determined that there are aspects of the BCS system that do not serve interests of fans, colleges, universities, and players.

I can’t help but wonder why she’s asking the NCAA this.  Is there a purpose here I’m missing – is she pushing the NCAA to explain why it’s not a competitor to the BCS, for example – or is she just another person who fails to grasp that the NCAA has nothing to do with the BCS?

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UPDATE #3:  Here’s the letter.  CNN’s read too much into it, but it sounds like Justice wants the NCAA to explain why it hasn’t taken control of the D-1 football postseason away from the BCS.

This may be getting interesting.

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27 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, It's Just Bidness

27 responses to “D-1 football’s oncoming fault line

  1. Go Dawgs!

    But if we break away from the non-BCS conferences, who will McGarity schedule for nonconference games?!

  2. Phocion

    “…the hypothetical windfall that would come from a hypothetical playoff…”

    Profit from a playoff system has only ever been a minor part of the pro-playoff argument.

    And, Money, specifically this type of money, has always been one of the bigest objections to the system as is. This deal only bolsters that objection…the rich get richer!

    And I would object to the “Forlorn Fifty”…two of those are likely to get tabbed to join the Big Texas, I mean Big 12. Texas needs them to cash future CCG game checks.

    • ACM

      “Profit from a playoff system has only ever been a minor part of the pro-playoff argument.”

      For fans, true.
      But for the people with the power at the major universities, it’s not so minor.

      • Phocion

        True, but it isn’t the major universities that are pushing for the playoff system. Those schools get ‘their money’ no matter what…as you can see by the payday that high quality members of D-1 like Washington State just got.

  3. Kevin

    It seems like The Senator’s conference realignment scheme could be reduced from 80 to 60

  4. Dog in Fla

    Larry’s headquarters probably aren’t as formidable as Mike’s and he probably doesn’t get that sweet deal on rent either

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/gallery/enlargePhoto?id=4749347&story=4749837

    but who can’t like his menagerie of glass in Malibu – All Hail Larry!

    http://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/2011/5/3/2151503/welcome-to-larry-scotts-angular-house-of-vision

  5. Go Dawgs!

    Dear Justice Department,

    Because Lousiana Tech has no hope of ever winning the National Championship.

    Signed,
    The BCS

  6. HK

    “Either the money gets spread over a greater number, or there’s a divorce. At this point, I don’t see where the middle ground is much more than a convenient fiction.”

    I see your point, but I actually do see some middle ground, and its the +1 system. Play the 4 BCS bowls, two of them being a semi-final with the winner going on to the championship a week or two later. Regular season stays just as important so the big boys still get their money and we don’t have “meaningless” games on rivalry weekend, but the non-qualifiers get a legitimate shot at a title.

    Preserving the regular season and money is nice, but the real beauty of the plus one is that it comes pretty close to dealing with the strength of schedule issue. Big 6 guy says, “we can’t just let Boise coast through a terrible schedule straight into the title game. Here’s a BCS game, but we just can’t let you into the title like that.” And I agree. But then Non-AQ guy says, “but what about that time Boise beat Oklahoma, and Utah then Utah beat Alabama, etc.?” I think those teams caught lightning in a bottle, but it is a fair point; maybe they could have beaten the eventual BCS champ. And this conversation happens over and over and over, constantly.

    Well, if you do a plus one system, you don’t have to put that undefeated non-AQ straight into the title game; its got to have already gone undefeated in the regular season AND caught lightning in a bottle in that BCS semifinal against one of the top 4 teams in the country before it gets a shot at the championship.

    Its not perfect; I’d still like to see a a concrete strength of schedule requirement for the non-AQ’s to qualify for that top 4 spot regardless of whether they’re undefeated, and I’m sure they’d like some sort of automatic spot somewhere in the BCS games (which I think would be ridiculous without that strength of schedule requirement).

    But the key is that once a non-AQ gets to that semi final game, which would have happened at least a few times already if that system was in place since the BCS started, they can’t complain about not getting a fair shake, and if they beat one of the best teams in the country in the simi, then do it again in the championship, I can’t really complain that they got lucky and didn’t deserve to be there; you don’t “slip up” and beat two of the top teams in the country two weeks in a row.

    Further, that system won’t get the non-AQ’s the money they want in the short term. BUT, a subtle difference between the plus one and the current system is that right now, nobody is ever going to let a non-AQ into that title game. No recruit will go to a school with no real shot at the title if he has a better option. Right now those schools are completely relying on development and JUCO’s. With the plus one, a non-AQ does have a shot at the title, every single year, and then every one of those non-AQ’s can tell all those recruits that they can actually play for a shot at a championship, not just a trip to a big bowl game. Thats a huge deal.

    Fair shot at a title leads to better recruits; better recruits lead to being more competitive; if you’re more competitive people watch; if people watch, you get more money. Its that simple. It won’t satisfy anyone who wants a big socialist piece of the pie right now, and I say frankly they haven’t done anything to deserve it yet, but a plus 1 system levels the playing field out over the long term for those non-AQ schools who are serious about competing.

    In my opinion, that is a pretty fair middle ground and I’ll be very happy if it happens.

    • You’re looking at this as a competitive fairness question. That’s the fans’ perspective.

      Unfortunately, we don’t count.

      The issue that’s going to control the debate is revenue distribution. That’s the schools’ and politicians’ perspective. There’s no middle ground there.

      • HK

        You’re right about that. But public opinion is actually a huge element in this, and a lot of the public is on their side right now and its not because the public agrees those schools deserve more money. They’ve simply aligned themselves and their financial goals with the portion of the public that wants a playoff, and its working (see Update). If you satisfy the public with some sort of playoff, they’ll quit caring.

        This is the point: I know they don’t want a fishing pole, they want fish… someone else’s fish and now. But if you give a man a fishing pole anyways, he suddenly looks a lot more ridiculous complaining about how he has no fish, doesn’t he?

        • HK

          “But public opinion is actually a huge element in this”. Sorry didn’t mean to be that guy who acts like you’ve already disagreed with him before he finishes making his point.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      +1. The Plus-One Game is the best short-term solution. It solves 90% of the problems. Politics (which, unfortunately is what this has become) is the art of what is doable and the Plus-One Game is doable.

  7. No One Knows You're a Dawg

    Not to get too Limbaugh-ey here, but the Justice Dept. is where the truest of the True Believers reside in the Obama presidency. They embrace activist government and, at least in my experience, are ideologically-driven and very difficult to deal with. Ultimately, I think it will all amount to sound and fury, and nothing will result. But they will give both the BCS and NCAA severe stress headaches for awhile.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      “Before he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama said in 2008 that he was going to “to throw my weight around a little bit” to nudge college football toward a playoff system.”

    • Meh

      “[T]he Justice Dept is where the truest of the True Believers reside in the Obama presidency.” Dude, Varney’s the only person in the DOJ’s Antitrust Division that Obama had the power to nominate. Everyone under her stays no matter who’s in power. The asst US atty who drafted the NCAA letter is a career attorney almost certainly hired during the Bush years.

      Also, the DOJ’s most recent expansion involves attracting experienced trial lawyers (many of them DAs) into federal service to prosecute the Mexican drug cartels. Ideologically driven activists? Perhaps, but not Obama’s type. Any “true believers” hired into the antitrust division post-Nov-2008 are likely going after price-rigging pig feed operations in the Cleveland field office.

      But I’ll grant you that federal agents and assistant US attys can be difficult to deal with. If we dealt with the people they deal with every day, though, we’d all develop some rough edges.

      • Faulkner

        That’s all great and dandy, however if the head of the department controls what you work on everyday, then there is plenty of ideology infused in the DOJ’s decisions. Holder, who is appointed by the president, has made no secret on his motives and thoughts on “justice”. Only cases he approves of come out of the DOJ.

        • Meh

          “Holder, who is appointed by the president, has made no secret on his motives and thoughts on ‘justice.’ Only cases he approves come out of the DOJ.” Man, I don’t know who’s teaching civics now, b/c 99.9% of the decisions made by the DOJ are NOT made by political appointees. They’re made by thousands of assistant US attys–attys who stay regardless of who’s in power, who even the prez can’t fire without cause, and who are hired based on qualifications, NOT politics (e.g. grades, law review, mock trial, prof. experience & record). If you see someone prosecuted for cocaine trafficking, picked up for a parole violation, sued for price fixing, or reach a plea bargain — you’re looking at the decision of an assistant US atty. Also, every time a prisoner files a petition in federal court (and they file LOTS of petitions; what else is there to do in the pen), an assistant US atty has to get involved. If Holder approves every case the DOJ files, he’s found a way to work 500 hours a day.

          Also, I have no clue what Holder’s “motives and thoughts on ‘justice’” refers to. Could it be his continuation of military tribunals for enemy combatants? Or his active strategy to attack the Mexican drug cartels? If you’re mad that a Democrat is setting policy for the DOJ instead of a Republican, grow up; that’s life in a republic. And if you’d really like to see “ideology” in the DOJ, go back to 2006 when Congressmen & donors convinced Bush to replace US attys HE had appointed with lackeys to sweep corruption and fraud charges under the rug (or so that an aide to Karl Rove could take over). Or to Reagan’s DOJ, which drove a software company into bankruptcy when it requested payment for the software it had sold the DOJ (and also got the company’s attorney fired from his firm). I’m not taking a side, i’m just sayin’ that if you want to attack Obama’s DOJ, you’re already wrestling with the pig here.

  8. Dboy

    Maybe a 5 game regular season against natural rivals, then a conf championship game, then a 64 team playoff. Sounds like utopia

  9. gastr1

    Did anyone catch Bill Hancock’s priceless response???

    ” ‘Goodness gracious, with all that’s going on in the world right now and with national and state budgets being what they are, it seems like a waste of taxpayers’ money to have the government looking into how college football games are played,’ he said.”

    I’m picturing this.