Big Ten Looks To Create Another Made-for-Television Conference
If the Big Ten decides to extend an invitation to Notre Dame, Pitt, Rutgers, Missouri, or anyone else in the coming years, it would be the latest example of television money fueling conference realignment in college football.
Believe or not, there was a time when television did not dominate the sport.
From the 1950's through the early '80s, every NCAA institution was a part of the same television package. To protect attendance figures and to get as many teams exposure as possible, the NCAA actually limited the amount of games a team could appear on television.
For powerhouses such as Oklahoma and Georgia, the NCAA's control of the television contract was unacceptable. Both schools sued the NCAA in 1981, hoping to get a bigger cut of television dollars.
On June 27, 1984, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the schools, citing that the NCAA's television plan violated antitrust laws.
NCAA v.Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma would turnout to be a landmark case which created the college athletic landscape we know today.
Though the majority of schools would negotiate their contracts jointly through the College Football Association, or CFA, there was know no limit to how many times schools could appear on television. Thanks to new cable stations such as ESPN, the amount of games that aired on television each Saturday skyrocketed.
Influenced by television money, the college game began to slowly turn its back on tradition. Corporate sponsors flocked to bowl games. Television began to dictate who played each and what time (and even what day) teams played on.
Then, in 1990, Notre Dame stepped away from the CFA television package to sign their own deal with NBC.
The remaining major college teams scrambled to find a conference home that would provide the best television deal for them. By 1995, Division I-A football looked drastically different.
Former independent Florida State joined the ACC.
The football version of the Big East was created by a group of previously independent East Coast schools such as Miami and West Virginia.
Penn State joined the Big 10.
The SEC welcomed new members Arkansas and South Carolina, then creating the first super conference that could host its own championship game.
The schools of the Big 8 and Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas, and Texas A&M joined forces, effectively killing off the tradition-rich Southwest Conference while providing the retooled Big 12 with enough members for their own championship game.
More powerful than ever, teams from the major six conferences eventually joined forces to push for the creation of the lucrative Bowl Championship Series, which would not have been possible without the monetary support of ABC.
But even participation in the BCS system did not satisfy everyone.
No doubt driven by the success of the Big 12 and SEC, the ACC decided to add Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College in 2004 and 2005 so it could have its own championship football game.
The ripple effect from the ACC's realignment would again radically change college sports. The Big East took teams from Conference USA. Conference USA also lost teams to the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. C-USA raided the WAC and the MAC, leaving the WAC to raid the Sun Belt and the Big West and the MAC to take Big East also-ran Temple.
Today, the economic stakes are even higher.
The SEC recently signed a $2 billion deal with ESPN and $825 million deal with CBS driven largely by football. The ACC is in negotiations with Fox for a lucrative deal that would greatly increase the exposure of its football and basketball programs.
The Big Ten recently started its own network, but obviously feels it needs to do more to compete with other major conferences.
And who could blame them. Chasing television money has become the ultimate goal in college football.
And if the Big Ten does decide to morph into the Big Dozen, don't expect it to be the last time a major conference expands to improve its economic situation.
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