First off, let me say that a bunch of power conference schools getting together to announce a plan that would increase the number of games they play against their peers is something to congratulate. Nah, make that celebrate. Unequivocably. From a fan’s perspective, the fewer regular season games we have to watch against Directional Cupcake A&M, the better. And for the two conferences involved, it’s brilliant marketing – “the benefits of conference expansion without adding members”, whatever the hell that means – that peeled some of the attention away from the SEC’s 2012 scheduling announcement.
But to read the immediate reaction of the punditerati, you’d think Larry Scott and Jim Delany had announced they’d found a cure for the common cold. You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t join the wankfest. Allow me to make a few points from my perspective.
- The devil’s in the details. This sucker doesn’t kick in until 2017. Skipping past the obvious point that nobody knows what the landscape of college football will look like in six seasons (hell, who knows what it’ll look like in six months?) such that it might render the deal irrelevant, you’ve got issues about which schools will play which schools and where the games will be played to work out. As Michael Elkon noted, the concept of drawing Wisconsin away from the friendly confines of Camp Randall to play a non-conference opponent with a pulse on the road is certainly novel (Mike Leach in the past has been just as guilty of this scheduling mindset, so a Wazzou-Wisky matchup might be poetic justice). And just ask the SEC how easy it is to arrange a schedule to accommodate new partners. Bottom line: they’ll need every bit of the six years to get ready.
- Say goodbye to the nine-game conference schedule. Let’s get real here. There’s always going to be a need for cupcakes in college football. In the context of a twelve-team conference, an eight-game conference schedule is a decent balance and a nine-game conference schedule is basically a luxury. Delany’s already indicated that the Big Ten won’t adopt a nine-game schedule. My bet is that the Pac-12 follows suit. Here’s a big tell: the conferences kept Notre Dame, which plays five games against member schools, apprised of the developments. In the end, this is really an admission that neither of these conferences has any immediate plans to expand beyond their current configurations. But if that changes, all bets are off.
- The 800-pound gorilla in the room. That talk about playing chess vs. playing checkers makes for some nice chest-thumping, but to some extent what’s going on here is in reaction to the SEC. Start of the season kickoff event at a neutral site? Sounds familiar. Even the basic concept of regular matchups with OOC schools from the same conference isn’t an alien one – just ask Florida, Georgia and South Carolina how each has ended their respective seasons for the last couple of decades. I don’t want to say there’s never nothing new under the sun, but these aren’t exactly virgin concepts either.
- At the end of the day, Jim Delany is still Jim Delany. Funny how the same people lionizing Delany for coming up with this were predicting two weeks ago his eventual capitulation on the playoff front because of his supposed isolation from the other conference commissioners’ evolving position on the plus-one. Hard to see how he and Scott are BFFs on this while rabid rivals on the other. The reality is that all of this is of one piece for Delany. It’s about maximizing the value of the most important asset the Big Ten owns, regular season football programming. And Delany has Scott marching in lockstep with him on that front. Any change to the postseason will be made in light of doing no harm to their golden goose.
- Tough shit, little guys. Speaking of Jim Delany still being Jim Delany, is there any doubt the man enjoys sticking it to the mid-majors when the opportunity presents itself? And make no mistake about it, this move hurts every mid-major and FCS program that offers itself up as a sacrificial lamb for a big check. Two conferences just reduced demand by a total of 24 games a year. Don’t think that won’t have an impact on what the small fry will be able to command.
- Your move, SEC. If this is a move primarily about creating more broadcast product – and it seems safe to assume that it is – I suspect that this will hasten the inevitable for Mike Slive and his cohorts to move to a nine-game conference schedule. (Greg McGarity is already making “you never say never” mouth noises about that.) That’s a decision which makes a great deal of sense for a fourteen-team conference simply on the merits of balancing the schedules more fairly (think Georgia would be getting off as easy if the SEC required schools to play nine conference games in 2012?); the added revenue from the networks makes it a virtual no-brainer. And with a 2017 timetable in play, that should alleviate problems (cancellation penalties, you cheap bastards) the ADs have with the move.