So conference expansion/realignment is kind of my favourite thing to be nerdy about, and the recent rumor mill is impetus enough for me to write this. Yes, I follow recruiting, but sources on recruiting are a lot more concrete than conference expansion, partly because there's a lot of legal framework that prevents Power 5 schools from actively trying to lobby themselves into another conference. So a school like Maryland had to be very careful about it's move into the B1G and make sure they got it framed as the B1G invited, not Maryland asked to be invited. The B1G on the other hand has the opposite problem, they need to frame it as that Maryland initiated it.
As much as I would love to go on about all the conference realignment talks in the non-power 5 conference, most if it isn't relevant, or related to the B1G. So pointing out that Michigan's rival, Appalachian state, joined the Sun Belt two years ago probably has very few ramifications for the rest of the B1G, and would likely put most of the Testudo Times audience to sleep. So let's get to it!
Rules of the game for all conferences:
- In order for any conference to want to add a school, it must make the per school payout larger, or at least not shrink it
- In order for a school to change conference affiliation, it must get a bigger payout in the new conference.
- Because of the country's love of football, that basically means football is driving this bus, so if you're terrible at football, you better be in a great media market (Rutgers), or if you're in a terrible media market, you better be amazing at football with a great national following (Oklahoma)
- Continuous footprint, must have a current bordering state
- AAU affiliation*
- Generally the flagship institution in their state
- The B1G also has a demographics issue, with the exception of Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State. The other schools of the B1G are in regions with shrinking populations (read shrinking media markets) in the short run, this doesn't mean much, but if every forecast through 2050 has your population shrinking, it will eventually hurt your bargaining power with TV networks. But who knows what the media world of 2050 would look like. So expansion into growing TV markets is a plus (Think Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia)
- In the discussion below, it's often useful to have a tool to figure out how stable a conference is. The general rule is that the more expensive it is to leave a conference, the less stable the conference actually is.
- Example: The Big12, ACC, and B1G all have the supposedly formidable Grant of Rights Agreements in place. The B1G signed it after the last round of conference realignment as a precautionary move, but the B1G is likely solid without it. The ACC also voted to triple their exit fee (it's tied to the ACC's annual operating budget), and as will be demonstrated below, the ACC schools are the most likely targets for other conferences to pilfer. The Big12, the next likeliest target of other conferences, also has the formidable GOR. On Paper it's stronger than the ACC's GOR because it's not tied to the actualization of a conference network.
- A counter example, is that the SEC is the cornerstone of stability has zero penalties to leave. Literally Mizzou can join the B1G tomorrow if it wanted to, it may have to give notice of a few months to a year depending on when in the calendar, but there is no conference exit fee or GoR in place.
- The Pac12 is safe because there is no geographical competitor worth mentioning. (sorry Mountain West, you may have Boise State, but you don't matter)
- Summary: The more difficult it is to leave a conference on paper, the less actual stability the conference has.
Notre Dame & B1G Hockey
Notre Dame is everybody's favourite will they or won't they when it comes to joining a conference affiliation. They probably never will, but people like to project that they will eventually. The scenario's of Notre Dame's conference realignment are complicated. At first glance, per the agreement they signed with the ACC, if Notre Dame decides to join a conference, they are obligated to join the ACC in football, simple right? not so fast my friend. Notre Dame is only obligated to the ACC if the core schools remain intact, and that definitely includes Florida State, among others.
It used to be regarded as fact that Notre Dame and the B1G didn't get along at all. Well, that's no longer the case, as evidenced by Notre Dame joining the B1G Hockey league. A major win for B1G Hockey, as Notre Dame was in the all everything Hockey East conference. But this does leave the B1G needing another hockey school to balance out the Hockey numbers. The betting favourite is Arizona State to join the B1G in hockey. If not ASU, then likely one of the following: Colorado or Colorado State, and then University of Denver (which quietly has an elite Hockey, Soccer and Men's lax program). Given the B1G's addition of John Hopkins, it has shown that it is willing to add schools on the basis of one or two sport membership.
But until a conference can promise Notre Dame significantly more money than Notre Dame gets from NBC, Notre Dame is not joining a conference.
Oklahoma, Texas, and the B1G
So, here's where things get interesting. The following are the two worst kept secrets in sports:
- Oklahoma does not like the Longhorn Network, and the uneven payouts it gives to members of the Big12
- The Big12 would still like to get to 12 schools, a few months ago, this would have read HAS to get to 12 schools, but the NCAA relaxed the requirement that a conference have at least 12 schools before hosting a conference championship game
The ACC, ESPN and the non-existent ACC Network
Conspiracy theorists love, and I mean LOVE to argue that ESPN is driving conference expansion...that may have been true at one point, but it certainly isn't the case today. The sheer number of sports channels means that there is competition and the conferences aren't beholden to any particular network. Bill Simmons and Keith Olberman do a fantastic job describing the fall of ESPN here, go to the 54 minute mark or so, but the whole thing is worth a listen (full confession, I am a huge Simmons and Olberman fan).
As much as public records show, the vaunted SEC network run by ESPN, and the Longhorn network, also run by ESPN, have not been the cash cows and money makers that the B1G network is enjoying (Thanks Rupert Murdoch) or Notre Dame's deal with NBC produces. Some reports even have those ventures losing money, which I personally find difficult to believe, but ESPN as a whole is definitely losing money, and it's not exactly something that has a quick fix. All of this has made ESPN at least hesitant to launch the ACC Network, which was promised to be launched by now, but reports are that 2018 is the earliest it could launch.
Predictably, this has made the ACC Football powers, less than happy with the current payouts that the ACC gives members. Basically Florida State, which is a national brand that views itself as a powerhouse football school that should be raking in SEC type payouts would like to capitalize on its football prowess. This makes FSU a prime candidate to leave the ACC. If FSU leaves, then any school can leave, and trust me, the ACC without Florida State isn't much, yes Clemson was in the national title game, but Clemson isn't Florida State, heck they're not even Georgia Tech. Recall GTech is in media market darling Atlanta, one of those big media markets with growing populations. Any conference would rather have GTech over Clemson in the long run.
The ACC Grant of Rights deal theoretically keeps all these schools together right? Well, probably, but it's not as Iron Clad as previously thought. I'm not a legal expert, (I work in Economic, Political, and Demographic forecasting: Fun fact, expect Texas to go Blue at least once in the next three presidential elections) but there are many legal minds, that think it could be negotiated out or that there is at least a monetary amount that could be reached to get out of the GoR. Particularly if multiple schools leave at once. Given the money at stake, it's very easy to conceive a situation in which FSU's big money donors say, "hey, get us out of the ACC at all costs."
HOWEVER, the GOR is tied to the creation of the ACC Network, which hasn't materialized, after all, you need a network for the media rights. The language is a bit ambiguous but some would have you believe it was written into the ACC GoR that it is partially contingent on the ACC Network being launched.
There is some version of an ACC Network run by Raycom, but it's not what the ACC members wanted, they look at the B1G Network and want something like that. I am not enough of a legal expert to determine if the ad-hoc network qualifies for the GOR, but you can bet it'll come up in negotiations.
But the ACC has a lot going for it
The ACC has two (three if you count Northern Virginia) big states that the B1G (and the Big12) would love to capture, namely North Carolina, and Georgia/Atlanta. That is a solid core of media markets to build a conference around, throw in potentially Boston and the ACC should be more solid than it is. Given that the ACC has three coveted markets, it's a failure of epic proportions that ACC has not gotten bigger payouts for it's members and launched the ACC Network as originally envisioned. It's those assets that make ACC schools particularly attractive to the B1G and Big12
Most of the current rumors come from twitter.com/bluevodreal a general Michigan insider who seems like he's been better than average talking Michigan football recruits, and basketball staff hires. I've never had him (or her?) as a source on conference realignment before, but he is purporting the rumors that UVA, UNC, G-tech, FSU, Duke, and Notre Dame to the B1G is a done deal with a timeline of this summer. He's certainly not the first to make those rumors, just the latest. Everything I have ever read suggests that the B1G would happily take all of those schools except FSU and possibly Duke. The rumored payout number is supposedly triple the current payouts, that puts it firmly the range of 70-90 million per school. Which, I can't fathom as being true, but that's what it is.
Except FSU, all of the mentioned schools instantly meet the requirements to join the B1G. But here are the sticking points for me. How much sense does it make to take both UNC and Duke? Do they both add enough TV eyeballs to make adding both schools financially worth it? But if a bloc of ACC schools leave, the GoR and the exit fees become negligible as the conference is basically dissolved with its core leaving. Yes Duke Basketball is a big deal, but that doesn't matter as much as it should. The best way to illustrate this point: Kentucky football makes more money for the school than Kentucky Basketball.
Does the B1G really stomach FSU's non-AAU status, relatively sub-par academics, and being the second tier school in their own state? If FSU doesn't get into the B1G, it's because the B1G didn't invite them, not that they turned down the B1G. Recall FSU was the only other school besides Maryland to vote against raising the exist fee to triple the conferences operating budget. FSU wants out of the ACC in a bad way.
I'm not saying the FSU and Duke will never get into the B1G, but the above reasons give me pause when I hear those rumors.
20 schools in the B1G?
The other side of this coin is that does 20 schools in the B1G make sense? remember, these conference derive their value on the inventory of games they can offer networks. So, while 20 schools theoretically makes of a great payday, is a network really going to pay a ton of money if the marquee match ups are so dilute that they only get them once every few years? with 20 members, how often is FSU really going to play Ohio State?
You'll hear that anything above 16 schools becomes unwieldy, so conferences will never go above 16, that's just false, yes it does make managing a large conference difficult, but the simple solution is often referred to as the pod system, basically 4-5 schools in 4 pods. Which isn't hammered out anywhere, but the gist is that in any given year, a pod plays their own pod plus one of the other pods, with each pair sending the winner to the conference championship game.
Other Rumors that are worth Noting
- V-Tech and NCState will always be rumored to the SEC. They're football schools that add markets, so when you hear that rumors of their departure to the SEC, that's a believable rumor. major media markets, but new geographic footprint, checks all the boxes for the SEC.
- The Big12 Rumor 1: The push to get back to 12 schools likely means adding some combination of BYU, Cincinnati and Memphis in the short run, but ambitiously the Big12 will also target Clemson, FSU and a travel partner, likely Miami. I could probably write an entire BYU section, their experience of football independence is going well enough that I don't think there is enough incentive to join the Big12 just yet.
- Big12 Rumor 2: The Big12 falls apart when some combination of Texas, Oklahoma, OKState, Kansas, and K-State leave for the some combination of B1G or Pac12. and the remaining schools fall into "UConn-Status" coalesce and join the AAC or maybe the remnants of the ACC.
- I am not confident enough to know which B1G rumor happens first, but I am confident one of them does. Either the Big12 eats up the ACC or the B1G does. If we're not already at a Power 4, we will be.
- The SEC Gentleman's that Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky all vote as a bloc together to keep other instate schools out of the SEC is the most confirmed rumor I've ever heard. Still a rumor, but I'm inclined to believe it as almost fact.
- In-state partners, so there's often a rumor that certain public schools are bound by the state board of education to not leave another school in the dust, this is how V-Tech got into the ACC. The rumor is often extended to say that both schools must be in the same conference, that's not exactly true. It should say that both schools must have a power 5 conference to participate in. In this example UVA and V-tech are not bound as a package deal, if the ACC dissolves, UVA can go to the B1G if V-tech can get into the SEC. Same can be said for other rumored package deals in the states Oklahoma, Kansas, North Carolina, etc...
- The best news for B1G fans is that our conference is led by Jim Delaney, a man who is proven to be a swift and capable conference commissioner. A lot of Maryland Fans often say "In Durkin we trust." Well, in the realm of conference realignment, we have a great captain. "In Jim Delaney we trust."
Not B1G related, but worth mentioning:
The huskies experience of conference realignment has been an exercise in watching a school be slowly quartered and drawn. They were in the Big East when it was a power conference, but the ACC saw to it that the Big East wouldn't be relevant in football. There are rumors that UConn is being punished by schools in the power 5 because they dislike UConn's dominance in Basketball. Let's put that rumor to rest, it's completely UNTRUE. The fact is that UConn isn't in a large media market and despite its proximity to New York, it just doesn't register there, making the addition of UConn unlikely to boost the per school payout of a power 5 conference
University of Cincinnati
Similar to UConn, the people at UC constantly campaign for a power 5 invite, they have a chance of getting invited to the Big12, selling themselves as a travel partner for West Virginia, and constant promises to invest in their athletic facilities. They'll never be a B1G school, they're in Ohio, and Ohio State is the only school you want from Ohio. Outside shot at the SEC, but I'll never give that rumor any credence until I see the NCState and V-Tech in the SEC first.
Hopefully this was in some way useful or helpful navigating the conference realignment rumor mill.