Conference expansion, a zero-sum game?

One reason I enjoy reading Brian Cook so much is that he’s the one college football blogger out there who’s even more consistently cynical than I am.  So needless to say, his recent crap-over of Big Ten expansion is right up my alley.

… This is a stupid idea no matter how much money some amalgamation of Big East teams, spare parts from the cornfield section of the country, and an orphaned Notre Dame will add to the bottom line. Adding more than one additional team pushes the Big Ten from a tight federation of teams with meaningful relationships with each other to two conferences loosely pasted together. The current setups in the Big 12, ACC, and SEC are silly enough-remember that year Kansas skated into the top ten because it had a Kansas-State-worthy non-conference schedule and missed Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech? A 14 or 16 team conference exacerbates that immensely. With 14 teams you play two of the seven members in the other division. With 16 teams it’s one of eight. Conventional two-divisions-and-game-at-the end ceases to make sense once you push past 12 teams.

I will say that there’s no reason a 16-school conference has to stick with a 7-1-4 scheduling format.  In fact, if you’re arguing, as Brian (correctly) does, that this is a move for, by and about the almighty dollar – “As with a lot of things that promise to make money hand over fist, the only people who benefit are the ones pulling the strings.” – then going to something like a 7-3-2 arrangement makes a lot of sense, if only to cut out the need to pay some piddling lower mid-major or 1-AA school the better part of a million bucks to show up and be cannon fodder.

Speaking of money, Dennis Dodd does a nice job of laying out the dilemma that Texas may be facing if the Big XII finds itself being carved up.

… Along with Notre Dame, Texas is the only other schools that makes complete expansion sense — to any conference. If Texas leaves the Big 12, Oklahoma would have to make a decision to leave as well or make a go of it in a severely altered Big 12. Wedged in the middle of everything is the Big 12 TV contract that puts the conference in a kind of purgatory. Its deal with Fox expires in two years. But a more lucrative deal with ABC/ESPN still has five years to run.

“What was viewed as a benefit at the time [when they were signed],” Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said of the latest contracts, “is probably more of a detriment … We don’t have the same numbers of homes as the Big Ten and the SEC.”

No one does. The Big 12 stance seems to be that geographic relationships work. Get much outside your natural region and there are concerns.

“I’ve said that to some people at Texas,” said Duncan, who still works as director of the Big 12 championship game. “How much better does Texas have it, when you get the recipe right? You better be conscious of experimenting with that recipe.”

To answer that last question, Texas has it great right now, with the stacked deck that is Big XII revenue distribution.  Whether it can find a deal with another conference that’s as lucrative is the $64,000 question.

Dodd summarizes what’s going on right now thusly:

What this latest round of expansion comes down to is dividing 50 percent of the nation’s college sports-viewing population. The Big Ten (with approximately 26 percent of the population in its eight-state region) and SEC (23 percent) already have sewed up the other 50 percent.

Which further boils down to this: if the Big East and the Big XII are in play because of the Big Ten’s plans, and the mid-major conferences (as distinct from the three or four top mid-major schools) are irrelevant to the discussion, how do the SEC, the ACC and the Pac-10 react to grab that market share?



Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

8 responses to “Conference expansion, a zero-sum game?

  1. Connor

    That’s pretty much it. But it’s worth noting that if it happens, it won’t be some top down, organized break up. Each of the remaining conferences will do for themselves. I can already imagine the SEC and PAC 10 in a bizarre bidding war for Texas.
    One other thing to think about is the potential harmonizition, if you will, if the landscape settles on 4 conferences of 16 teams. I’ve read a good deal where people parse this team or that team as a candidate for their conference, and how they don’t add enough TV viewers or they aren’t this type of school and therefore it will never happen. If the Big 10 goes to 16, I just can’t image the rest of the conferences won’t follow. They’ll follow partly because that event will set off a giant game of conference musical chairs, and no conference wants to have to sit down with the dregs of the Big 12, Big East and mid majors as it’s only opitions. But they’ll also follow because suddenly 12 isn’t enough, and 16 becomes the next equilibrium point, the way 12 became the new 10 when the SEC went there 20 years ago. Four 16 team conferences with conference championships could stage a 4 team playoff (that would really be an 8 team playoff when you count the championships) that could be fairly lucrative. It might be lucrative enough that the hope of attaining it would allow some conferences to make some additions they wouldn’t otherwise make. But as I said, this won’t be organized, so expecting some kind of semi-rational organization to emerge from this chaos is probably idealistic.
    I should add that I’m not advocating any of this, but I could see it happing. Or the Big 10 takes Mizzou, the Big 12 patches the hole, and we move on. For a little while.


    • Four 16 team conferences with conference championships could stage a 4 team playoff (that would really be an 8 team playoff when you count the championships) that could be fairly lucrative.

      That’s the silver lining I’m hoping for.


      • sUGArdaddy

        I’d be all for that, as long as home field advantage is part of the equation. There has to be incentive for those late, non-conference games. Otherwise, we’d be insane to play banged up players vs. Tech if we’ve already locked up a spot in the national quarterfinals a week later. But if beating Tech will mean possibly hosting a semifinal in Sanford, then go after it.

        People think rivalries would prohibit coaches from doing that, but the first QB to go down in a rivalry game that meant virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things would signal the end of such. Put a premium on the 2 most elite teams (i.e., 2 best records) hosting a playoff game? Now you’ve got something cooking for the regular season and the post-season.

        Win your conference, you’re in. Go undefeated, you’re almost guaranteed a home playoff game. Of course, we’ve got to figure out something to do w/ those semifinal losers.


  2. Jordan

    I understand why they use the population and TV markets within the footprint of the conferences, but I don’t think that’s fair in assessing a conference’s true footprint and reach.

    For example, Louisville might be considered a Big Ten or Big East market considering Louisville’s proximity to Ohio and the UofL’s inclusion in the Big East, but I’m sure if you look at the numbers it’s a highly SEC-dominated market.

    Also, doesn’t the SEC pull in the best national TV ratings? And considering CBS broadcast it’s weekly 1 or 2 nationally televised games, plus ESPN/ABC’s new contract with the SEC putting even more broadcast nationally, I’m not sure why the numbers boil down to population per region and local TV markets instead of national reach.


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    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Hey, the SEC is in play, too. Rather than repeat it all here please see my April 19 post at “Waiting for the man.”


  4. Thomas Brown

    A lot of words about nothing.

    Why not talk about the Graduation Success Rate at 49 percent for the incoming class 2002 given 6 years to graduate ?

    Or talk about the Support Mett where 3 football players on the roster this year were listed as Administrators ?

    Is this really a blog about Big Ten (11) Expansion, when what The Big Ten (11) is actually trying to do which none of you even mentioned, is trying to be relevant when Ohio State has been completely shout out by The SEC and Michigan has been horrible.


    • Hackerdog

      I want to congratulate you on the shortest post (by far) that you have ever written.

      If you could now work on making your posts comprehensible, you could really be onto something.