Teams That Will Get Screwed By College Football's New Superconferences
Earlier this week, we discussed the changing college football landscape, and it's tectonic shift towards a relatively few “superconferences” over the next few seasons.
We've already seen the first signs of this change as Texas A&M has served notice of its intent to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, and Oklahoma is expected to make a similar announcement to take their talents to the Pac-12.
But as the BCS Automatic Qualifying conferences merge and consolidate, it's inevitable that there will still be programs “left out” of the entire process.
So who is going to be screwed over by the new topography of college football?
This probably isn't a shock. After all, why do you think Baylor is threatening lawsuits to keep the Big 12 together?
It's because everyone at Baylor knows that the Big 12 is one of the best things to happen to the Bears' athletic program, and without the Big 12, Baylor will be relegated to a second-tier conference.
This really is a shame, too, from a football-centric point of view. Over the past couple of seasons, Baylor has really begun to make some strides in the quality of their football program. The Bears defeated the mighty Texas Longhorns last season, and Baylor began the 2011 season with a thrilling victory over a ranked Texas Christian squad.
Even so, there is no pending invitation to join the SEC, nor will there be. Similarly, the Pac-12 doesn't seem at all likely to pursue the Bears.
Unfortunately, that means Baylor's fate will lie with what remains of the Sun Belt-Conference USA-MWC-WAC mess when the dust settles.
It remains to be seen if BYU's move to conference independence in football will be a good thing for the Cougars or not.
Our guess is a two-sided yes and no.
First, the “yes” part. The Cougars now have the freedom to schedule 12 games against whomever they so choose. That could be Ole Miss, Notre Dame, USC, Michigan, Navy, Idaho, Hawai'i or Florida. It's completely up to BYU to pursue game contracts.
What that can do is vastly improve BYU's “strength of schedule” each season as the Cougars are no longer confined to the Mountain West, and it's relatively low level of competition.
Now, we move on to the “no” part of whether or not independence is good for BYU.
Whether we like it or not, there is just too much money wrapped up in the BCS to have the series simply vanish into the good and gentle night after the conference realignment falls into place.
While the BCS will necessarily have to adapt to the changes in college football, you can rest assured that it will adapt.
We're likely to see a system that incorporated the four superconference champions playing against the runners-up from those conferences in a new BCS, and the top two ranked winners will then meet in a BCS Championship Game. Call it a seeded mini playoff system. Not perfect, but any playoff system has to be better than what we have now, right?
Trouble for BYU is the new system will still be a BCS system, and contracts and computer rankings will still play a major part.
The only non-aligned program in the nation to have its own contract with the BCS is Notre Dame—and it's likely to stay that way.
While BYU isn't a “small” or “bad” program by any stretch of the imagination, it's also nowhere near the level of Notre Dame. It's hard to imagine the BCS giving BYU the same type of consideration it gives to Notre Dame.
Additionally, BYU will no longer be able to rely on conference contracts with bowl games. At least winning the Mountain West title guaranteed a bowl berth in a specific bowl. Now, BYU will need to shop their talents to bowl selection committees without the benefit of conference backing.
Again, it's too early to tell how much of an impact this will have on the Cougars, but it will have some impact.
Like BYU, Navy is an independent in football. Unlike BYU, Navy has been an independent for quite some time, and is well established as such.
Navy also has the benefit of being a well-respected overachiever, and even in the seasons where their grasp doesn't exceed their reach, the Midshipmen are often honored with a bowl berth, if for no other reason than it's the least the football community can do for a team comprised of young men who will soon be sacrificing their time, energy, and in some cases, lives to keep our nation safe.
But even if Navy were to somehow find its way to a 12-0 or 11-1 record in any given season, the Midshipmen would find it difficult to crack the BCS system. Once again, the lack of a conference contract with the BCS will force Navy to earn its way into the system completely on its own merits.
We don't want to take anything away from Navy, but their typical schedule leaves much to be desired. With the exception of annual games against Notre Dame and Air Force, Navy's schedule doesn't really stand up to those we see from SEC or Big Ten or Pac-12 schedules.
You can lump Army right in with Navy, with one glaring difference.
Over the past decade, as Navy has excelled on the field, Army has at times looked like a hapless FCS program lost in a jungle being prowled by hungry FBS predators.
As much as we respect West Point and the football tradition at that marvelous institution, the 2010 Black Knights posted a mediocre record of 7-6. Perhaps just as stark is the fact that 2010 was the best Army finish since 1996!
At no time since that magical 10-2 season 15 years ago has Army even reached a bowl game. The most wins of Army in one season during that span was five in 2009, and the Cadets averaged just 2.5 wins per season between 1997 and 2009.
Needless to say, there won't be any superconference invitations or BCS berths in Army's near future.
The program is improving, as the previous two seasons have shown. But the Black Knights are still a long way off from being considered a proper addition to the top tier of the FBS.
Believe it or not, there has to be some teams from the current collection of BCS AQ programs in the east that will go the way of Baylor.
The likeliest scenario is the culling of Syracuse from the roster of eastern BCS AQ programs.
Why Syracuse? Why not Rutgers? Or NC State? Or Virginia? Or Duke?
It's pretty simple, really. Every program in the ACC or Big East has an established fanbase in a large media market. It's not that Syracuse doesn't have an established fanbase, but that base overlaps into media markets that either are or can be dominated by other programs.
Additionally, Syracuse has been vastly under-performing over their recent history.
While the Orange did finish 8-5 in 2010, the teams that appeared on the Syracuse schedule didn't exactly comprise the best-of-the-best from college football.
In fact, of all the regular season non-conference games for Syracuse, the Orange lost to every BCS AQ program, and beat two FCS programs.
That 8-5 record now seems somehow less impressive.
So why not Rutgers? It's pretty simple, really. Rutgers is the only FBS program immediately surrounding the New York City media market. Any new potential superconference will want that television market, and Rutgers is the gatekeeper. After all, that's why Rutgers was widely rumored to be a candidate for Big Ten expansion.
It wasn't because Rutgers fit into the Big Ten's football culture, or that Rutgers offered a ton of talent to the Big Ten. What Rutgers did offer was the largest media market in the nation. Offering the Big Ten Network on metro New York cable provider systems would have netted tens of millions every year for the conference—just like it will for a future superconference.
The rest of the ACC-Big East markets are already filled by other programs, like Duke, Virginia or NC State. The new Super East superconference will try to avoid any gaping holes in their new media empire.
In the end, the easiest program to simply “lift out” is, unfortunately, Syracuse.
Conference USA, as a Whole
The 12 Conference USA programs have been languishing for years as a conference that views itself as a top-flight conference, but the rest of the nation views as an also-ran.
To hear fans of Southern Mississippi or Houston or Tulsa put it, the conference is absolutely stacked with talent and promising programs.
To look at the conference's record against the true top of the FBS, a different story emerges.
The conference, by and large, has a pretty abysmal record against the AQ conferences. While there certainly are occasion wins against teams like UCLA and Kansas, it's important to remember that these teams were 4-8 and 3-9, respectively, in 2010. Not exactly galloping successes.
Conference USA is home to some programs that were once members of prestigious conferences, most notable the Southwest Conference.
After the breakup of the SWC, some programs found their way to the SEC or Big 12. But others, like Rice, Houston, SMU and TCU found their way into non-power conferences, like C-USA.
Now stuck in the quagmire of non-AQ status, these programs stand to gain the most from conference restructuring. Unfortunately, they're also the least likely to benefit from any changes.
Houston may be viewed as a select few as a great potential up-and-comer, but that won't do much to earn them an invite to the SEC or Pac-12.
Southern Mississippi is right smack dab in the middle of SEC country—but hasn't shown any reason for the SEC to come calling.
SMU is trying desperately to emerge from two decades of futility after their epic collapse surrounding the NCAA's death penalty in the 1980's.
You can continue right on down the list of Conference USA programs. It's just not comprised of programs that elicit excitement from the typical college football fan.
Unless something magical happens in the next two years, it's likely that the entirety of the conference will wind up sticking together, or possibly part of a new non-AQ superconference in conjunction with the equally unexciting Sun Belt, WAC and bottom-tier MWC programs.
The MAC, Sun Belt, WAC, and Part of the Mountain West... Sort Of...
It's really hard to consider all of these programs as those who will be “screwed” by the new system. After all, fans of these programs consider themselves screwed by the current system.
In reality, these programs are left out because there's not an abundance of reality opportunity for them to reach the BCS anyway.
Honestly, can you envision Western Michigan or Buffalo or North Texas or Arkansas State or Idaho or UNLV in a BCS bowl?
Neither can we.
These programs are bound to be left out, and it's probably not going to ruffle too many feathers—except those irrational enough to believe that the Eastern Michigans of the world deserve the same BCS access as the Alabamas of the world.
The Texas Longhorns is the final program on our list of programs looking at getting screwed over by the new move towards superconferences.
How on Earth could the Longhorns get screwed?
In actually very simple—and also preventable.
One of the death-knells of the Big 12 was the creation of The Longhorn Network.
ESPN and UT really screwed the pooch with this one. When TLN was created, it was a direct response to the creation of several conference- and team-based networks popping up around the nation.
In reality, there were very few team-based networks, and those that did exist has only partial athletic-based programming (BYU TV coming to mind).
There are relatively few programs in the nation that could support an entire sports network that focused solely on one college team. Texas is one of those few programs.
So why create TLN? Because the Big 12 hadn't created the Big 12 Network yet.
After the Big Ten created their own network—and did so completely independently of ESPN/ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox—it signaled the beginning of a new source of athletics funding.
With advertising revenue and per-subscriber fees, all of the sudden you have tens upon tens of millions of dollars flowing into the Big Ten conference that wasn't there just a few years ago.
Obviously, Texas wanted some of that delicious television revenue pie.
As the Longhorns waited and waited for the Big 12 to finally man up and create a network, anxiety grew. Texas felt it could wait no longer, and jumped into a ridiculous 20-year contract with ESPN to create The Longhorn Network.
Almost immediately the other Big 12 schools began to express concerns.
The NCAA finally got involved and banned any high school programing—a major part of the proposed offerings on TLN—from any conference or team network.
Now, Texas has a giant burnt orange albatross around its neck, and the other top Big 12 programs are bolting the conference for one that has or soon will have a television network.
So how does this all add up to a screwed Longhorn?
Texas's 20-year contract with ESPN means that the Longhorns will be left out of any network of a potential new conference home. Whether that's the SEC or the Pac-12, those conferences aren't likely to accept a Texas-less television reality. Imagine the Big Ten Network without Ohio State or Michigan. It just wouldn't work, and would subtract a massive potential audience.
So the SEC and Pac-12 aren't likely to invite Texas that can't or won't have any UT games televised on the conference's network.
But we did mention this is all avoidable. Here's how.
As details of the Texas-ESPN contract slowly trickled out, we discovered an escape clause for both Texas and ESPN. Should Texas leave the Big 12 (which seems almost inevitable since the conference is on the verge of collapse), either party may opt to renegotiate the contract.
This is absolutely imperative for Texas.
Once the Big 12 is no more, if Texas has any hope of finding a new home in a superconference, the Longhorns must make themselves available to that conference's television network. That would mean a quick death to TLN.
If those in Austin stubbornly cling to TLN, however, the result will be Bevo stuck holding a very large, very empty bag.