Conference realignment and socialism

With the announcement over the weekend about the ACC’s move to add Pittsburgh and Syracuse, it seems that the game of conference musical chairs is picking up tempo.  There are competing rumors about West Virginia and Missouri as the SEC’s fourteenth team and it looks like Texas may be swallowing a little Longhorn Network pride in submitting itself for admission to the Pac-12.

One thing’s for sure about all of this expansion talk.  It’s making Mark Emmert sound increasingly impotent.  Indeed, it’s becoming clear that his one major concern is protecting the NCAA’s cash cow.

… Emmert made the point about how important the NCAA’s $10.8 billion, 14-year deal for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament with CBS/Turner Sports is to the membership and yet another reason why there isn’t anxiety at headquarters over four super conferences leaving and forming their own version of the NCAA.

“(The contract) supports something in the order of 96 or 94 percent of the revenue that flows into the NCAA,” Emmert said. “It’s very important to the membership and a vast majority of the money indirectly or directly flows back to them and supports the various championships that we support. The only real question now is when this is all over whether or not the automatic qualifiers (to the NCAA tournament) have to change over time and the same thing with the BCS. We’ll see where this ends up when it’s all done.

“I’ve been talking pretty constantly to all the commissioners and presidents involved in these things since the beginning,” Emmert said. “My job is to shape the outcome and to make sure the decisions are made with good information. Just like last year, it looked like monstrous changes but only a few schools moved around. Let’s see what really happens this time.”

Well, maybe so.  But maybe not.  If these realignment moves are motivated by the chase for the almighty dollar (Who am I kidding here?  Of course they are.) how long will it take for the major players to move to grab the basketball postseason revenues once the dust settles?

And that highlights a conflict about conference consolidation I raised a long time ago.  As Ed Gunther puts it,

There’ll be more money for (almost) everyone

No, not everyone is going to make out like a bandit here. That’s not my point. My point, that I’ve made before and will continue to make, is that while college football rakes in billions of dollars, the schools and the NCAA are not demonic institutions or greedy businesses – at their core they’re institutions of higher learning who’s missions are to educate people. Their budgets are being slashed right and left, and the cost of providing quality educations is skyrocketing. If these colleges and universities can make some extra money by playing football, I’m all for it. They need the money, and whether you can admit it or not, the majority of the money eventually goes to education. As it should.

We’re that much closer to a playoff

This is the big one, and in some ways the most baffling. A lot of the people crying and moaning all these years about how it’s a travesty that college football doesn’t have a playoff are the same ones now complaining about conference realignment. A playoff is so much closer to happening with this setup, especially if things go down fast and new conferences start playing next season. That leaves plenty of time before the 2014 re-negotiations about the BCS bowls to get some sort of post-season playoff set up.

It’s gonna be real messy, but it’s happening. The reasons not to are crumbling, and soon will be overshadowed by the money, and at that point we’re going to see a whole new college football postseason. There’ll be spots for the champions of the superconferences as well as some at-larges, which will be monopolized by the big boys. All of the schools that get excluded (either officially or unofficially) are gonna be pissed, and there’ll be fallout, but it’ll happen.

Here comes the final conflict.  The overwhelming majority of fans want a playoff, but could care less about whether San Jose State gets a fair share of the pie.  That’s why Baylor is fighting tooth and nail to find a home in a BCS conference.

And that’s why there’s one loose end, one catch that might cause some of this to unravel.  It may be that Mr. Starr found some sympathetic listeners on his recent trip to Washington.

… In a telephone interview early Sunday morning, a congressman from a state with a university that could be harmed by realignment said that the issue raised concerns over taxes, antitrust law and, potentially, Title IX.

While no one has formally approached Congress yet, the congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the situation was “spinning out of control.”

“I think the situation is rising to a level where getting Congress engaged may be unavoidable,” he said. He added: “Congress has the nexus to engage. These are tax-exempt organizations now making billions off of unpaid athletes. When it’s a regional league, it seems to make sense. When you’re taking schools practically from coast to coast and putting them in big-profit revenue leagues, we may be at a point where the N.C.A.A. has lost its ability to create a fair system for all to play in.”

Logically speaking, that’s a lot of claptrap.  Why the geographic spread of a conference makes a difference in fairness makes little sense.  And as Mark Emmert would be the first to tell you, the NCAA never had the ability the anonymous congressman alludes to there.

But as a threat to make sure that the politically connected are taken care of when the realignment dust settles, it’s effective.  That “tax-exempt organizations” reference is particularly chilling if you’re a school president.

There’s no guarantee that Congress gets formally involved in the process, of course.   But if it does, you can count on two things:  the process will slow down dramatically and the spin from certain quarters about what’s going on will be hilarious.


Filed under It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery, The NCAA

30 responses to “Conference realignment and socialism

  1. Chuck

    Yeah, Congress, they can straighten things out. (snarky sarcastic sneer with major eye-rolling) Really?


    • Big Government Averse



      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        You gotta remember that the Federal Government is broke. All this conference realignment business kicked a sleeping dog in DC. Look for special legislation that makes profits from collegiate athletics and sales of athletics related items taxable income to universities while retaining their non-profit status as to other matters.


        • The feds are certainly not broke. They’ve just got a bunch of chiselers who don’t want to pay for anything.


          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            What do you call running Trillion Dollar deficits and having legal mandates requiring multiple Trillions of dollars in the future when you don’t have the money to pay? I call that broke. That’s why they are looking for new sources of revenue wherever they can find it.


            • I call it lack of fiscal discipline.

              This is the richest country on earth. It’s not broke. The political class simply lacks the will to behave responsibly. Of course, that’s largely with our approval.


              • Sunbelt Conference Commissioner

                Now don’t go gettin’ all philosophical on us. The country (i.e. people and businesses here) are not broke (at least not yet–not all of ’em). But the Federal Government is broke meaning that it has more debts than ability to pay and financial obligations so huge and so far out into the future it is incomprehensible. One could argue that governments cannot go broke because they can just print more money or nationalize assets–and that is true. That is also just playing word games because that is what governments do when they are broke. I doubt that you would argue that the Federal government is not in bad shape financially, would you?


  2. gastr1

    I’m not sure the geography argument makes no sense. Little sense, as our own congressman (Blutarsky, ya’ll), points out,maybe–perhaps one could make the case that the travel expenses alone would be deleterious to a school that was not one of the cash cow athletic departments.


  3. gastr1

    Also, regarding “grabbing the post-season basketball revenues,” how would they do that? A lawsuit? On what grounds, anti-trust? (It would be a big gamble. Someone would spend a lot of money to get out of a tournament with potentially very few followers to form the new one.) Conferences already have their own tournaments but the NCAA owns the one that makes all the money. The conferences could try to start their own national one, but it would likely never happen because the small schools have too much of a stake/impact on the NCAA version.

    See, when the NCAA let the basketball tournament take more teams it actually was a smart move from a business standpoint–it protects their tournament from potential competition from the big conferences. Whether the NCAA had this in mind or not I wouldn’t know, but given how they had been sued in the past by their own members, I would not be surprised if it was discussed.


  4. TennesseeDawg

    It’s turning into something akin to a Wall Street panic. There is no real problem but everyone is afraid to sit still and it’s causing a mad rush to get into one of the major conferences.


  5. heyberto

    I will be pissed if congress wastes any time dealing with this. They’ve got bigger fish to fry with low approval ratings. I don’t see CFB as a redemption for them, but it could be a tipping point for voters like me. That doesn’t mean I don’t expect them to stick their noses in it anyway. Should be a crazy ride.


  6. Irishdawg

    This whole conference realignment is possibly the biggest Charlie Foxtrot I’ve seen in sports. We’re going to have teams that are 3 days drive from the West Coast in the Pac 10? A lot of great historical rivalries are going to either be stopped completely or rendered meaningless by this abortion.


    • Connor

      That’s been happening for decades. Nebraska/OU, which was one of the greatest rivalries in the sport, died last year, after the B12 put it on life support 15 years ago. GT left rivals behind when they left the SEC. Tulane and LSU don’t play anymore…
      The beauty/horror of this whole thing is that fans are getting to see what’s really driving all of this. And not in an abstract way. In a “Hey, my team’s not playing it’s biggest rival anymore!” kind of way.
      It’s not about the passion. It’s not about the students. It’s not about the history or tradition.
      It’s all about the money.


  7. Skeptic Dawg

    I tip my hat to the ACC. They stepped up and added two very large basketball powers. They may become irrelevant in football, but they showed everyone where their heart is. Will Va. Tech and UVA head to the SEC? Not sure, but the ACC appears to be protecting their own right now. Good for them. Now I would like to see Slive step to the plate and add 3 teams to that make sense (we already have A&M, now get Va Tech, UVA and Clemson).


    • MinnesotaDawg

      I agree with your notion and approach–if we’re going to expand in this environment, let’s be proactive and go for changes that make sense. VT and Clemson would be good candidates and make nice conference additions. UVa would, too, but I don’t see that happening. I’ve got a degree from UVa and know the culture pretty well. They’re very entrenched in the ACC and making such a seismic change to a football conference would go against their conservative attitude/elitist self-identfication. Perhaps if UVa got split into a Northern division with all the newer members and away from old rivals, they’d have a wandering eye. I guess word is that state politics would prevent a VT/UVa conference split, but I don’t know–they’re were plenty of UVa fans that weren’t happy about VT’s entrance into the ACC, and VT went because it was a hell of a lot more stable and a better deal than the Big East that they left.


  8. Alabama Dirty?

    Congress will spend $28,000,000 to conduct four days of hearings, in which local Congressmen from areas like Waco get to whine on the record while Congressmen from areas like Austin, Raleigh, Atlanta, and LA get to nod sympathetically and approve a $400,000,000 blue-ribbon fact-finding commission conducted through a mutually agreeable consortium of think-tanks in Arlington and McLean.

    USA! USA! USA!


  9. Macallanlover

    As one who feels strongly about a playoff, and the alignment of those with similar interests (big boy schools), I should be dancing in the streets because the SuperConference proposal is the only way to get there. I should be, but like so many I fear the way this is coming down will not maximize the opportunity this change represents. Had it been done via proper planning and not a panicked, mad rush, a more logical alignment could have preserved the traditional rivalries, and given us geographical conferences that incorporated travel cost concerns for both the schools and the fans. Sadly, the powers that be are getting stampeded into making decisions that will leave hard feelings for decades to come.

    I think D1 Football should end up in a “CFA” type organization recognizing the uniqueness of that sport relative to all else. The most significant mistake the NCAA made that led to all this was treating football as if it were no different than women’s lacrosse, or men’s golf. Take football away, and they could have had a “one size fits all” approach, and it would have succeeded. That demand for equality is the root of so many of the issues that drove the train in this direction.

    I am sorry this lack of vision and wisdom has led to this chaotic approach, but when you lump the grown-ups in with the kindergarteners you will have some ugly scenes. D1 Football was treated differently than D1AA, D2, and D3, why couldn’t they see it was unlike the other sports at D1? The revenues and needs of the Top 30 football powers were essentially from a different planet in the solar system, so how could there not be a problem when they were governed by the same rules?