Category Archives: It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

What’s better than awesome?

More awesome, of course.

“Is this (the new four-team playoff) better for all of us in college football?” Petersen asked. “I think a playoff system and a four-team structure, no, I don’t think anybody’s going, ‘That is the answer.’ But it’s moving in the right direction.

“How do you get an eight-team (playoff)? I think that would be the next really awesome step, and then how do you go even bigger than that? Well, how do we get that all done? We can only play so many games. This is college football. They’re students, and you have finals and injuries. I don’t have the answers.”

While it sure sounds like Petersen would prefer a 16-team playoff format, he says he “doesn’t have a clue” how it would get worked out, “because you have to cut down your regular season games for sure. There’s probably enough money for everybody to share in that if they did that. I do think bigger than four is what a lot of people would like to see.”

You can’t blame Petersen for the sentiment.  The way things are set up now, Mountain West dwellers like Boise State are going to have a tough time cracking the four-team field because of strength of schedule considerations.  So move that bad boy out to eight or sixteen teams and watch his frown turn upside down.

That already makes two high-profile coaches who’ve come out advocating a bigger tourney before the commissioners have even settled the details on the new one.  Wanna bet there are more to come?

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

Wednesday morning buffet

It’s a buffet.  Just a buffet.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Gators, Gators..., Georgia Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, Nick Saban Rules, SEC Football

The opposite of a vote of confidence

This is pretty awesome:  last year, Southern Miss sold a home game so it could raise enough money to afford to fire Ellis Johnson.

Now that’s sending a message.

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O’Bannon: another nail in D-1′s coffin?

From Andy Staples’ O’Bannon primer comes this about the possibility of a settlement:

If the class gets certified and the schools and the NCAA decide to cut a deal with the plaintiffs, the possibilities are endless. This is the most logical: The schools agree to set aside a portion of revenue — one power-conference AD I spoke to recently tossed out $2 million a year — to distribute to athletes. This money would be placed in a trust and given to the athlete only when that athlete obtains a degree.

From a practical standpoint, this would require a new NCAA subdivision. The schools of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC are the only ones that could afford such a model. This would offer them an even greater recruiting advantage than they already have over the poorer leagues. They would have to compete only amongst themselves in football. From a viewer’s standpoint, that would be fantastic. School leaders insist such a settlement would require them to distribute the money evenly among all athletes so as not to run afoul of Title IX. If so, it still wouldn’t address the issue of a select few athletes receiving significantly less than market value. It could lead to more legal action, but conversations with those on the plaintiffs’ side suggest this is a deal they’d be willing to make.[Emphasis added.] But it would cost much more than $2 million a year per school.

Assuming that logical and the NCAA isn’t an oxymoron in this setting, there is probably a number out there that both sides could live with.  But it would likely put more than a few smaller, less profitable programs out of the D-1 game, or force a wholesale rejiggering of the division to reflect the new economic realities.  As Staples writes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for fans.  But you wonder how some politicians might feel about it, particularly if a few of the offended small fry choose to complain.

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Filed under It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

From afterthought to lynchpin

On a scale of “it never hurts to ask” to “total delusions of grandeur”, I’m not sure where Boise State’s power play of trying to get the Big East and Mountain West to allow the Broncos to keep their home television rights as a deal maker for its membership fits, but I can’t say I disagree with this sentiment:

“Boise reminds me of the teenage recruit who is starting to believe he’s the biggest star in town,” a source said. “It might be a pretty big letdown when all is said and done. Actually the sentiment of ‘who do they think they are’ is starting to seep into conversations with folks across college football.

“Let’s remember this isn’t Alabama, or even Texas Tech, we’re talking about. This sorry episode is starting to make it seem like Boise is one of the power assets in college football. In reality their value is relative to the conference they belong to.”

But it’s on the table.  And that in and of itself should tell you how much things keep shifting under college football’s feet these days.

One industry source believes Boise State is the “lynchpin” in whether the Big East or MWC survives. Another source said “it’s pathetic it has come to this — Boise State shopping itself to get the best deal. It’s not like they’re Alabama. These guys were a side show until 10 years ago.”

If either conference caves and gives them what they want, if you’re Houston or Cincinnati, both of which sit in much, much larger home TV markets than Boise State does, are you not going to be asking for the very same treatment five seconds afterwards?  And if you get it, too, what’s left for the rest of the conference that does it?

Weird times.

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You’ve got your numbers, and they’ve got theirs, ctd.

What a relief – they’ve figured out how to divvy up the new postseason money between the conferences.  Year2 crunches the numbers and finds that, to no surprise, things are berry, berry good for the SEC:

That math comes out to a $91.75 million guarantee to the SEC each year, and it will go up to $119.25 million in seasons when it puts a team into the Orange Bowl. By contract, the league will have at least three and up to five appearances there. The conference will get even more money from teams participating in the playoff games, and individual schools will receive some of the pot for staying above an Academic Progress Rate threshold.

Two things about that.  First, in its worst year, the SEC will take home more from the postseason than the five mid-major conferences combined.  In its best, it’ll be considerably more.  That, of course, doesn’t even take into account the enormous disparity in regular season revenues.  Haves, for the win!

Second, look at the impact conference expansion has had on the math.  If this deal were in place five years ago, the Big East would be sharing the big bucks with the rest of college football’s royalty.  Instead, it finds itself sitting below the salt with the rest of the mid-major peons fighting over the table scraps.  The big boys get to cut their revenue pie into fewer, but bigger slices.

Cannibalization pays.  Which should be a cautionary tale for John Swofford.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness

You’ve got your numbers, and they’ve got theirs.

It’s an exciting time to be a college football fan, my friends.  Conference realignment and expansion is bringing us regular season matchups we never dreamed of just a few years ago.  A new postseason that promises a better resolution to determining a national champion is on the horizon.  Add those to the existing level of passion, and that should translate into ever greater levels of enthusiasm which should result in more… greater… attendan… ah, hell, you know where this is going:

Regular-season attendance at college football’s highest level dipped to 45,274 fans per game in 2012, the lowest average since 2003.

Some of this can no doubt be blamed on the usual suspects.  The economy is still in the doldrums for many.  Some programs in decline inevitably suffer attendance losses.  But the malaise is widespread enough that it should be a warning signal to the people in charge that something is amiss.

Fifty-six percent of the FBS schools reported fewer fans in 2012 than the previous season. Some of those dips were very minor, but others saw huge chunks of fans disappear.

Eight BCS schools experienced attendance declines of 10 percent or greater from 2011: Kentucky (17 percent); Maryland (15 percent); Stanford (13 percent); and Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Colorado (10 percent each).

Five of the nation’s top 20 attendance leaders experienced noticeable declines, led by 5-percent drops at Penn State and Tennessee. Penn State faced the aftermath of a child-molestation scandal that resulted in a postseason ban. Tennessee had its fourth losing season in the past five years.

Florida, which finished third in the BCS standings, was down 2 percent in attendance. Auburn declined 4 percent during its worst season in 60 years. ACC champion Florida State dipped 3 percent with an unattractive home schedule beyond Clemson and Florida.

Of course, these being the same people who’ve made it pretty clear that administration of college athletics has devolved into little more than a money chase, they’re more the problem than the potential solution.  Right now, they’re engaged in wallet calibration.

In 2012, a face-value ticket for an SEC game reached $100 for the first time. Four years ago, the SEC’s priciest ticket was the Iron Bowl at $65. This season, 30 SEC games cost at least $65, including nondescript matchups such as Mississippi State-Tennessee, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Missouri-Kentucky.

On the other hand, the minimum SEC season-ticket price in 2012 — defined by al.com as the cost of regularly-priced season tickets plus any required minimum donation — showed no increase from 2011. Half of the league’s returning schools reported decreases in their cheapest season-ticket cost.

And that’s likely to intensify as fans stay away on game day.  Everywhere, seemingly.

The Big Ten averaged 70,387 fans per game in 2012, its lowest since 2008. The Big 12, in its first season with West Virginia and TCU rather than Texas A&M and Missouri, experienced the league’s smallest average (58,712) since 2005.

The Pac-12 (53,586) was the only BCS conference with an increase. But that’s largely due to California returning to its renovated stadium after playing last season in a smaller stadium. The Pac-12 average has declined 8 percent since setting a record in 2007.

The ACC’s average crowd of 49,544 was its smallest in 12 years and down 11 percent since 2004, the first year Miami and Virginia Tech played in the conference.

This, it seems to me, is the natural result of what happens when you compete against yourself for the fan-driven dollar.  (Kudos, Jim Delany.)  Realignment has been driven by TV money.  Postseason expansion is fueled by more of the same.  And if fans reject the watered down home scheduling that results and increasingly prefer the convenience of staying home and watching, what’s the response?  Why, it’s to offer the people in the seats more of the TV viewing experience.

This season, the SEC began allowing stadium scoreboards to air multiple replays of any play, including those under review by officials. The NFL used a similar approach. The idea is to try to provide similar same bells and whistles fans can get by saving money and watching at home.

College football taking clues from the No Fun League on product promotion is dumbassery of the highest order.  This is why I despair of listening to all who would insist that everything’s going to work out fine.  The recent track record of the Slives and Delanys suggests nothing more than an ability to seek short-term fixes to the threat of reductions in the revenue stream.  Remember, it was the panic over the BCS attendance numbers and television ratings that motivated those folks to make huge changes to the college football postseason in a remarkably short period.  So what happens if the magic fixes turn out to be not so magical and the trend continues?

Well, if you’re looking for the canary in the coal mine about that, perhaps you might want to keep an eye on the Big East.

The Big East, now minus top draw West Virginia, averaged 39,185 for its smallest crowds since 2006. Four of the Big East’s top five attendance leaders will soon be in new conferences: Louisville, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

Yeah, that’s a problem.  The problem is reflected in the numbers being discussed for the conference’s new TV deal.  Instead of getting something in the neighborhood of the $10-20 million per year each school was expecting, the number is likely to be little more than what each conference team is currently receiving, if that, about $4 million annually.

And that’s just on the football side.  Don’t forget that the Big East has a sizeable non-football playing contingent.  And those folks are getting restless.

Faced with an uncertain future and the reality that the Big East’s next television deal won’t be as lucrative as it once projected, officials from the Big East’s seven non-football members met in New York within the past 48 hours and discussed, among other things, the possibility of breaking away from the Big East’s football-playing members, a source confirmed to CBSSports.com.

It’s hard to blame them.  The basketball money the new contract is expected to provide them works out to a puny $1 million per year.  Maybe.  There are practical problems, too.

… just as important, a new basketball-only league wouldn’t force schools like Georgetown and Marquette to water-down their schedules and blow their budgets playing against and traveling to schools like Tulane and Houston.

Regular season college football revenue is the ring that binds a conference together.  Take that away and it’s likely you’ll see the membership spin off elsewhere.  Too many diverging interests.

Even with the increase in postseason money, it’s hard to see how the have-nots keep up.  Or why they’d want to.  For one thing, go back and look at the chart at the end of Solomon’s article.  The bottom of that chart is populated by MAC and WAC teams that saw heavy drop offs in their attendance figures.  Eastern Michigan drew less than 4,000 fans per game.  What’s the future for that school?

Sure, there will be some sharing, as long as it’s useful to throw the mid-majors a bone or two.  But face it:  existing at the sufferance of Jim Delany is hardly a viable long-term business strategy.  It seems inevitable that D-1 is headed towards some sort of split.  And while that’s probably for the best, financially speaking, for all concerned, that concentration of market power is also going to hasten the devolution of college football from a fan-driven sport to a broadcast-driven one.  That’s where the money is and that’s where it will continue to be in at least the near future, split into fewer slices.  And that’s as far as college athletics decision makers can see.  Draw your own conclusions about where that will take things over the next decade.

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Filed under College Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness

Third snarky bowl thought of the day

When you’re the third place finisher in a conference that will cease to exist, being choosy about which bowl game you want to play in probably isn’t the brightest strategy in the world.

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“The bottom line is ‘more.’ “

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the presidents have settled on a new postseason structure for college football.  ESPN’s generosity made their job easier.

… Current rights-holder ESPN is in an exclusive negotiating window that ends later this week, according to BCS executive director Bill Hancock. Sports Business Journal reported last week the network was close to a deal worth as much as $500 million annually and perhaps as much as $7.3 billion over the life of the 12-year contract. But there was at least some sentiment to test the value with potential bidders like Fox, NBC or Turner.

Navigate Research, a Chicago-based firm that measures the value of marketing and media rights, originally estimated the package might be worth from $400-450 million annually. On the open market, Navigate’s director of analytics Jeff Nelson estimated the annual value could reach $550-600 million.

“It’s clearly very, very valuable,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Monday.

The current BCS TV deal pays $180 million a year.

When you’re looking at a tripling of revenue, it’s easy to afford to spread around a little more green.  So the big dog threw the little dog a bone by guaranteeing access to one of the major bowls to the Big East, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences.  That’s not exactly what the mid-majors wanted (and note that the Big East has officially slid to the next level).  But it’s what the market left them with.

The Group of Five couldn’t find traction for its own contract bowl within the system because there was no market for it. While the Rose and Sugar Bowls will be worth $80 million, a contract bowl featuring the best of the Group of Five would have been worth a fraction of that figure.

The current Liberty Bowl is comparable to what a contract bowl would have looked like featuring the best of the Group of Five vs. Pac-12/Big 12 as was proposed. The Liberty features the Conference USA champion against an SEC No. 8 selection. Its TV rights per year are $1 million according to a source.

Call it Jim Delany 1, Antitrust Proponents 0.  Math is a cruel mistress sometimes.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness

While you were out watching the games, they were inside preparing to slice the pie.

The wheels of commerce keep turning, people.

BCS commissioners meet as a group for the first time since assembling a playoff beginning Tuesday in Chicago.

On the agenda is how to distribute that financial windfall from a playoff. Two sources have already confirmed to CBSSports.com that conferences involved in the Rose, Champions and Orange bowls will keep all the revenue in years those bowls don’t pass through the national semifinals.  [Emphasis added.]

Sucks for you, mid-majors.

Oh, and speaking of the Orange Bowl, they’re about to lock that sucker up tighter than a drum.

The Atlantic Coast Conference and Orange Bowl are finalizing a deal that would pit the ACC champion against either Notre Dame, an SEC or Big Ten team starting after the 2014 regular season, sources told ESPN.

The ACC champion, or another team from the conference if its champion qualifies for the national semifinals, will play annually in the Orange Bowl. How the ACC’s opponent will be selected from Notre Dame, the SEC or Big Ten is still being determined.

First thought:  my Lord, in just how many high tier bowl games is the SEC gonna place a team?

Second thought:  isn’t it ironic that the new playoff structure is going to be the excuse to direct even more football revenue to the power conferences?

Third thought:  scratch “ironic” and substitute “inevitable” in second thought.

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