Conference Expansion Fever: The Ground Rules

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Conference Expansion Fever: The Ground Rules
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With expansion rumors running rampant right now, it is key to focus on the ground rules that will control how the dominoes fall (well, at least somewhat). This is key because until an official announcement from any organization, nothing can really be trusted, especially since the schools and conferences involved can actually benefit from the dissemination of misinformation. So I'll try to run down the ground rules for the feeding frenzy that may be coming any day now.


Big Ten

- The Big Ten will only add schools that can bring in an incremental increase in the share of revenue for each respective of the conference. New revenue sources may include additional Big Ten Network revenue from an addition to the footprint, a renegotiated TV deal with ABC/ESPN for more money, the addition of a conference championship game, and the addition of new bowl tie-ins. This means that the Big Ten won't necessarily jump to beyond 12 members just for the sake of doing so; financial incentives must exist to add each new member.

- Criteria for expansion candidates have been pretty clearly defined and include: academics (Association of American Universities member or Notre Dame, plus overall academic standing comparative to current Big Ten), competitive athletics (all ready a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) school and solid at football), and geography. This narrows down the list significantly.

- The original timetable appeared to be December 2010 - June 2011, but it appears as though that may be accelerated. But none of the other criteria will be sacrificed in order to act quickly.

- The Big Ten may add member(s) now and member(s) later. This means potentially leaving room for Notre Dame after a first round of addition(s).


Notre Dame (ND)

- ND's first priority is to remain independent in football and to preserve their non-football Big East affiliation.

- The only way ND will join a conference is if the Big East completely collapses and there is no alternative for them to join as a non-football sports member. This assumes that any remaining BCS conference will force ND to join as a full member (including football). If, say the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) were to allow ND to join as a non-football sports member, they would likely jump at that chance.

- Sixteen-team conferences will NOT necessarily force ND into a conference as long as: they have a home for non-football sports, the current BCS contract remains intact, and their NBC contract remains intact.


Big East

- They would be forced to replace any football member(s) taken since they currently only have eight members, essentially the minimum for a FBS conference.

- IF member(s) of the Big East are taken from the conference, they have expressed interest in other schools to fill the void (Kansas and Kansas State from the Big XII).  Also, Conference USA member Memphis recently hired a former Big East commissioner as a consultant, so expect them (and maybe some other C-USA members) to be on the table as potential additions.

- They do have eight non-FBS football members (some play FCS football), so it is possible that they could exist as a non-FBS football conference even if they lose members. This would accommodate ND's need for a conference for its non-football sports.


ACC/SEC

- Even if other BCS conferences move to more than 12 teams, these conferences (currently at 12 members each) have not expressed an interest in expanding. Like the note under the Big Ten, they would need an increase in incremental revenue in order to add any members; just expanding to 16 teams is not incentive enough. Both have solid TV deals currently in place and aren't actively trying to change their current status.


Big XII

- As long as nobody poaches other current members, the schools not actively being "recruited" (i.e. everyone except for Texas, Nebraska, and maybe Missouri) are content for the league to stay as-is, even with their relatively poor TV contract and unequal revenue sharing.

- The first decision is likely to be made by Nebraska and maybe Missouri. That will be if they would like to join the Big Ten.

- IF Nebraska and/or Missouri leaves for the Big Ten, the conference essentially has two options:
1. Add replacements, rumored to be BYU and/or Air Force, and continue as the Big XII.
2. The Big XII South (with Colorado in place of Baylor, maybe) will leave to join the Pac- 10 to create a 16-team conference.

- The Big XII's longevity seems to be completely dependent on Texas. The conference doesn't appear as though it can survive without that school since they command a huge portion of the league's revenue stream.

- Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and (maybe) Baylor are tied to Texas; if a conference wants Texas, it will likely have to take the other two or three. Note that Baylor's status is debatable although Texas politicians have all ready started the ball rolling to keep them in the package with Texas.

- Kansas State is tied to Kansas.

- For better or worse, expansion is about additional revenue and that almost exclusively comes from football and television. That means that basketball-focused schools and schools without a large following like Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State, will likely be left behind.


Pac-10

- The Pac-10 has a poor TV deal with an unequal revenue sharing agreement. They would like to expand in order to get a much better deal. It seems like the best option is to add Texas (and any other schools required to bring them in). This points to the Big XII South (with Colorado in place of Baylor, maybe) as the preferred option.

- A second choice for the Pac-10 would be to add two members to get to 12 in order to add a conference championship (thus, revenue) and additional markets. Rumored choices include Utah and Colorado.

- Some kind of alignment with the Big XII (as currently constituted) is still on the table in order to get a better TV deal for both parties. Movement on either side would likely void this option.


Mountain West Conference

- Boise State was a likely addition, although that has been tabled to wait for the fallout of the current BCS conferences.

- If the Big XII dissolves, the Mountain West would likely be interested in any unclaimed members. This would possibly allow them to achieve BCS conference status, which is a huge goal for the conference.


Conclusions

- All conferences have the option not to do anything. That seems unlikely given the huge amount of chatter on this issue, but it has always been a likely outcome.

- Conferences will look out for themselves first from a financial standpoint. They will not add members unless current members get a bigger piece of financial pie.

- Schools will look out for themselves first, from a financial standpoint. The second biggest influence is politics which may require "packages" of state schools (and maybe others, in the case of Baylor) to stay together.

- Just because something makes sense logically doesn't mean it will happen. The Big Ten has seemed like a logical place for Notre Dame for over 100 years, and ND is still independent. Four 16-team conferences seems intriguing, but would require significantly more movement than is currently rumored (especially out east). Even number member conferences make sense but may not happen due to individual holdouts or a phased approach.

- Again, this is all financially driven. Follow the money and you can get a good idea of how decisions will be made.

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