Wednesday, February 17, 2010

East, West, Mere Points on a Map

The Senator's post on conference expansion interested me this morning. I don't often disagree with him on college football issues, but I'm not buying the notion that this passage from the Orlando Sentinel is the "truth":

If the power conferences – and more importantly, the TV networks — saw value in any teams not currently in the BCS conference power structure, those teams would already be in it. The truth of the matter is that there are no teams outside the current BCS conferences who can add to the money pot. Any realignment scenarios that mention any non-BCS team as a likely candidate are grounded in wishful thinking but not much reality. Oh, perhaps a couple might get in simply to balance divisions or fill a particular regional gap in TV markets, depending on how the dominoes fall. That’s you, Utah and perhaps BYU. That’s you, TCU. That’s probably not you, Boise State. Only if you get lucky with the way things break, UCF. Everybody else? Better just focus on the mirror instead of that pie in the sky…
Not to get all Orrin Hatch for a moment, but the BCS Conferences do function as a cartel in certain respects. If a decision were made on pure economics, the Big XII would boot Baylor and add TCU. The Pac Ten would boot Washington State and add Utah or Boise State. The SEC would boot Vandy and add Florida State or Clemson. The Big Ten would boot Northwestern and add Louisville. Conference affiliations are not a simple matter of free market economics. There are political factors in play. Why is Baylor in the Big XII? Because it had powerful friends in state government at the time that the conference was formed. Why is Texas to the Big Ten so unlikely? Because the legislature and the governor would have a cow if the Horns tried to move by themselves. Why is Virginia Tech in the ACC? Because the Virginia legislature put pressure on UVA to make it happen. There are also academic issues, which would be the reason why the Big Ten wouldn't boot Northwestern to add Lousiville.

Finally, there are inertia factors in play. Vandy is in the SEC because they have seemingly always been in the league. The members of the SEC are not going to vote for expansion because new teams are going to have to bring a lot to the table to justify splitting the pie 14 ways instead of 12. To use a legal analogy, conferences that are doing well right now are not going to conduct a de novo review of expansion; they're going to apply the abuse of discretion standard and upset the status quo only if such a decision is patently obvious. (Or maybe the right analogy is the standard for an injunction?) The last round of realignment in the early 90s took place as conferences snapped up independents and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, er, I mean the Southwest Conference broke apart. There is an assumption that another wave of realignment will take place along the lines of the early 90s, where the SEC became the first conference to break into divisions, the Big XII and Big East were formed, the Southwest Conference disappeared, and the Big Ten insulted parents trying to teach their children how to count. However, the conditions are not quite as favorable this time. The factor that would drive realignment would be the SEC and Big Ten exercising their economic power as the two leagues that are richer than their brethren by a significant margin, but is that factor as powerful as a bunch of free agent schools looking to join conferences?

Coming back to the rumor that started the discussion on conference realignment, I don't see why the Big Ten would add Pitt. If we assume that conference expansion is about money and the major source of money for college conferences is TV revenue, then what does Pitt bring to the table? A market that Penn State already covers? A fan base that struggles to sell out home games? A brand that isn't national in any way? From a pure money perspective, adding Texas would be a coup. Assuming that that is unrealistic, then adding Missouri or Nebraska would be the second option, with the decision coming down to Missouri's demographic advantages, a.k.a. people live there, versus Nebraska's national brand. Any of those schools are preferable to Pitt. (Thinking out loud here, the ballsy move would be to add Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Nebraska to become a 16-team mega-conference, but there would be a host of political issues with that.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pitt alone doesn't make sense, but if Pitt were to leave the Big East, the rest of the conference would sprint for the exits, and the Big Ten could nab Pitt, Syracuse, and Rutgers. That would be valuable for 3 reasons:

1) The BTN would probably get leveraged onto basic or expanded basic in New York and NJ.

2) The Big Ten would become *the* dominant men's basketball conference. That would be the SEC of bball conferences, and maybe if the Big East died the Big Ten could get into the Mecca for the BTTournament.

3) All three of those schools fit the conference's academic profile perfectly.