WaB’s Thoughts on Conference Realignment

CAUSES

There has been lots of talk lately about possible conference realignment involving teams from almost every major conference in existence.  Unfortunately, I have been left without the benefit of the internet to help me with this post so you will truly be getting my completely uninformed speculation about what all is happening.  I have no inside information, but I like to think I’ve read enough articles to have some idea about what is going on.  There’s plenty of propaganda running around out there and tons of articles written with heavy bias so sifting through it all is not easy.  Plus, I’ve tried to set aside my own Missouri bias to see the facts; whether or not I’ve done a good job…well that’s for you to decide.

First, let’s go back to the very beginning.  I think this all started with the aforementioned Missouri Tigers in December of 2007.  That was the dream season for Tiger fans when they went 12-2 and ascended to #1 in the country after beating their hated rival, the Kansas Jayhawks, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.  They went on to lose to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big XII Championship game and then were passed over in favor of those same Jayhawks for the Orange Bowl.  Most Missouri fans, including myself, were more than a little angry at this decision and questioned Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe’s allegiance within the conference.  Shouldn’t he stick up for all his teams?  Some people even went as far as to suggest that Kansas AD may have had shady dealings with Beebe behind closed doors.  Either way the Tigers finished second in the Big XII and got the third rated bowl game.

The following year, Mizzou was passed over in favor of Nebraska in the bowl pecking order which obviously was not a popular decision with the Tigers, especially after they drubbed the Cornhuskers 52-17 in Lincoln earlier that year.  Just last year the Tigers were again passed over and were relegated to the Texas Bowl in favor of Iowa State.  (Admittedly with a loss to Baylor and the corresponding Texas Bowl performance, this case was weaker than the previous two.)

That last part notwithstanding, clearly the Tigers had their feathers ruffled and rightly so.  In my opinion, the conference should stick up for its members.  Dan Beebe should have stepped in during at least one of those years to say, “Hey, Missouri finished 5th in the Big XII, they should get the fifth bowl.”

The second thing that made the Tigers angry was the unequal TV revenue sharing.  In the Big XII’s current model, the team with the most TV appearances gets the most money.  This model does make sense enough; however, no other conference (that I’m aware of) adheres to this model.   To put this in perspective, the Texas Longhorns, who boast one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country without the Big XII revenue, gets the most money.  Oklahoma is next and so on and so forth.  The Tigers were somewhere around 7th or 8th in the money order and understandably, they don’t like that.  The Longhorns, on the other hand, are extremely happy with this model and will do everything they can do to keep it this way.  For the Big XII, Texas is clearly more important than Missouri therefore they have no intentions to change the way things are done.  To me, this is the critical error that falls in Dan Beebe’s lap.  Beebe is too worried about making Texas angry than he is about making anyone else happy.  Eventually this was bound to catch up to him, we just weren’t sure how.  He could work out an equal revenue sharing plan that would give each team and equal cut of the pie, but Texas doesn’t want that.  If I’m Texas, I don’t want that either.  That would be taking money out of my pocket which is never a good thing no matter how much money you make.  Texas really knows nothing about sacrificing for the good of the conference and really, why should they?  It’s Beebe’s job to make sure they play fair and he’s not doing that.  He’s just letting Texas do whatever they want and it’s finally catching up to him.  Missouri was the first to voice their displeasure and now Nebraska has joined them.

Nebraska has their own issues with Beebe and the Big XII, which I won’t claim to know as much about.  Rumor has it that the Huskers’ AD Tom Osborne is at odds with Beebe and the Big XII over the academic standards, the catering to the Texas schools and the revenue dispersal but that’s as much as I know about that.  Nebraska’s annoyance became Mizzou’s gain as the Huskers carry more weight within the conference than the Tigers.  There’s strength in numbers as far as they are concerned.

Right around the time that it became apparent that Mizzou and Nebraska were disgruntled with the Big XII, the Big 10 announced that they were looking to expand.  Now, I don’t know if this decision was spurred on because they knew Mizzou and Nebraska would be willing to listen to their offers or if they had been planning this all along, but their timing was impeccable.

The bigger reason for the Big 10’s expansion has to do with television sets.  They already have their much publicized Big 10 Network, which from a monetary standpoint has been extremely successful. The addition of Mizzou would add the Kansas City and St. Louis markets and Nebraska would bring their large, nationwide fan base into the equation.   They also want Rutgers for their New York presence and Notre Dame for their universal presence plus a team like Pittsburgh or even Maryland.  That would create a huge television footprint and increase their monetary lead over every other conference.  Last year alone, the Big 10 handed out around 22-23 million dollars to each one of its eleven members.  By comparison Missouri made around 9 million in the Big XII last year.  They would be silly not to go to the Big 10 just on that stat alone.

Also, the Big 10 may also be considering a power play in order to force a playoff between the four newly formed super-conferences (Big 10, Pac 10, SEC, and ACC/Big East hybrid).  I’ll discuss each of these conferences a little bit later.  For now, though, these super-conferences render the current BCS model useless.  Now the most legitimate possibility would be a four team playoff between the champions of each conference.  Fans would love it and finally the Champion could be crowned on the field of play rather than by some computers.

REPERCUSSIONS

Recently there have been reports that the Pac 10 has extended offers (or at least talked about extending offers) to six of the remaining 10 Big XII teams, assuming Missouri and Nebraska are in the Big 10.  Those teams are:  Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado.

Now the Pac 10 has several very good reasons for doing this.  First, assuming the Big 10 adds five teams to give them a total of 16, the Pac 10 needs to add six teams of their own in order to maintain their position as a premier conference.  They would take those six teams plus Arizona and Arizona State and make them the Pac 10 East while the remaining eight teams, Stanford, USC, Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State would become the Pac 10 West.  That’s a very, very solid list of teams.

The Pac 10 would also get Texas who is a substantial moneymaker, even if they don’t like to share it.  They would also expand their television market into the Central Time Zone, which is a crucial aspect to this deal.  As it stands, the Pac 10 plays most of its games in the Pacific Time Zone which is three hours behind the major East Coast media outlets.  How many people stay up late just to watch California play Washington?  Not many.  This way they’d be able to get some games started an hour behind the East Coast games.

Another major issue in all this involves the teams that are left out in the cold.  Those teams include Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor.  Those are some pretty big names that may find themselves without a conference.  I just have a hard time believing the Jayhawks wouldn’t catch on with one of the major conferences, but at this point, I’m not sure which one they would fit into.  They also have a few things working against them.  First, they have an unattractive little brother named Kansas State who doesn’t bring much to the table.  I don’t understand all the logistics of it, but something in the Kansas legislature ensures this. Thus the prevailing thought seems to be that where Kansas goes, K-State must also go.  The reality of it is that KU brings a powerhouse basketball program and a weak football program while the Wildcats bring a decent basketball program (as of late) and a weak football program that has been sinking rapidly in the last few years.  Unfortunately for both schools, football is the money program.  Basketball just doesn’t do it.  These schools won’t gain access to a premier conference on a basketball program alone.  The same goes for Baylor.  Iowa State…well, good luck.

Kansas also has the matter of the ongoing federal investigation regarding the ticket scandal.  I can’t imagine any conference would be willing to take that on until the Jayhawks have settled it and put it behind them.

Again, I have a hard time imagining that Lew Perkins will let Kansas fall into a lesser conference, but I don’t know where they fit in at the moment.  What I can see is the Mountain West jumping into the expansion by plucking Boise State from the WAC and then adding the four leftover Big XII schools and someone like Houston.  When compared to the super-conferences, the Mountain West would…well pretty much remain where it is now.  Boise State would dominate in football with occasional challenges from Utah and TCU and Kansas would dominate in basketball with occasional challenges from Utah and K-State.  Essentially, Kansas becomes what Memphis is now and Boise State remains what they are, neither of which is necessarily a bad thing, especially for the Mountain West.

Now, you can bet that if the Pac 10 and Big 10 expand to 16 teams, you can bet that the SEC would expand as well.  Teams like Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia Tech would seem like prime candidates to me.  With the first four teams I mentioned it would reunite old rivalries into the same conference.  I’m not sure if that would appeal to the SEC, but it sure appeals to me as a fan.  I would think Virginia Tech would also get a hard look based on their football prestige and their proximity to the University of Tennessee.  Any addition by the SEC would cripple the ACC and the Big East would be wounded by the departure of Rutgers and Pittsburgh to the Big 10.  I could see the remnants of these two conferences uniting to form the fourth of our super-conferences.  It would be noticeably weaker than the other three, but still good enough to merit inclusion as a super-conference over the Mountain West.  I guess it’s a possibility that Kansas could jump into this conference as well, but they would be awfully far west for that.

So now after all that, let’s take a look at the realigned super-conferences that I’ve just described:

Big 10 Pac SEC ACC/Big East
Ohio St USC Tennessee North Carolina
Michigan UCLA Florida Virginia Tech
Indiana Arizona Auburn Virginia
Purdue Arizona St Mississippi Duke
Northwestern Stanford Mississippi St West Virginia
Penn St Washington LSU Louisville
Wisconsin Washington St Alabama Connecticut
Minnesota Oregon Kentucky Maryland
Michigan St Oregon St Vanderbilt Boston College
Illinois California Georgia North Carolina St
Iowa Texas South Carolina Wake Forest
Missouri Texas A&M Arkansas Cincinnati
Nebraska Texas Tech Georgia Tech South Florida
Rutgers Oklahoma Miami Syracuse
Pittsburgh Oklahoma St Florida St
Notre Dame Colorado Clemson

The Mountain West Conference that I highlighted earlier would include:  Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Utah, BYU, Houston, TCU, Boise State, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming, San Diego State, and some other school like Nevada from the WAC.  Again, a decent conference but certainly not of the same caliber as the four I listed above.

To me, that’s the landscape of college athletics that we’ll see within a few months.  Obviously, things are going to change between now and then but if all this speculation ended today then I feel like this is what we’d see.  I firmly believe that Kansas still has a large part to play in this drama because I don’t think they’ll allow themselves to be left out.  The other big team that could throw a wrench in everything is Notre Dame if they choose to stay independent.  Then possibly the Big 10 could swoop farther down into the ACC/Big East and scoop up Louisville or Cincinnati.

Whatever happens, it’s certainly going to be an interesting couple of months.  There will be plenty of smoke blown around by all the schools and many, many things that the general public, such as myself, will never hear about.

Now you’ve heard what I think, let’s hear what you think.  Leave me a comment below.

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4 Responses

  1. I think the ACC/Big East conference to grab a team like Memphis just to ensure they were the most dominant basketball conference… and if that is indeed their mindset then that would increase the chances of grabbing Kansas…

  2. I’m too much of a traditionalist to be in favor of the so called Super Conferences. It may make a lot of money for some but the balance of the collegiate sports world suffer.

    I hope the university presidents will have cooler heads in the whole scheme of things.

    • I’m with you on this one. Playing Iowa every year just won’t be the same as playing ku (even though I’m sure we will, you get the idea).

  3. They were saying on ESPN last night that academics might be playing into this just as much as money… something about the Big Ten being apart of some association or something that makes the school look better from an academic standpoint.

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