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Emile and the Silly Season 06/08/09

In June of 1870 French Prime Minister Emile Ollivier gazed across the European landscape and declared, “at no period has the maintenance of peace seemed better assured.”

Seconds later the Prussian army came crashing across the Rhine. Not long after that, what was by then the German Army was marching triumphantly down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris, first-german-cav-paris-1940Bismarck’s dream of the unification of the various Germanic states had been achieved, all incorporated into a greater Germany that would cause no small amount of trouble over the next 75 years and who was quickly known as former French Emperor Napoleon III was continuing the family tradition of heading into exile following crushing military defeat.

As for Ollivier, he was goldsmithed immediately after the initial French military diasaster, AKA the first battle and spent the rest of the Franco-Prussian War observing the RUTS from Italy, not unlike George watching the last decade’s worth of Tech-Hoo football games.  He didn’t quite live long enough to see those zany Germans, mostly out of habit, invade France again in 1914 and was long dead when the Wehrmacht followed what by then were familiar and well-worn paths in 1939. Emile was a little wrong with his assurances pf peace.

As noted, this latest, although not last, German crushing of France, a total domination of one by the other not to be seen again until the hoos hired algroh and the Tech game became their annual Waterloo, achieved German unification. The various Germanic states had operated as a loose confederation, mainly for wars on France. This was not unlike the Eastern football independents [save for the big one] coming together in the early 90’s to form the Big East Football Conference. Unlike the BEFC, however, the Big Germany immediately expanded, snatching up the Alsace- Lorraine region that had belonged to France.

How’s that for a segue?

With three months of Dead Zone until the first Saturday in September, that means the annual Conference Expansion season has kicked in. While the mass mailings of flower baskets to Li’l E AD’s by the East Carolina Strawgraspers doesn’t seem to have produced immediate dividends [well, nothing else tried in the last 20 years has worked, either], the intensity of this year’s season has been racheted up by comments from Penn State’s Joe Paterno.

brainsJoePa is again agitating for a 12th Big 11 team. Technically, it would be the 13th, as Chicago is a conference member for everything but athletics. JoePa points out, correctly, that during the six weeks between the Ohio State- Michigan game and early January when the Buckeyes get pounded in the MNC game by an SEC powerhouse, the Big 11 is out of the headlines. While that doesn’t take into consideration the various pools that spring up whose objective is to correctly predict the amount of RUTS that will be heaped upon tOSU this time, JoePa is mostly correct.

The Big 11 is talking expansion again. Proof is offered by conference commissioner Jim Delaney claiming that it was not being talked about. League bosses have a habit of not telling the truth about these matters. Who can forget Little Johnny adamantly declaring that the ACC had no intention of expanding a few days before he announced the conference would expand, or at least try to for the next month.

Delaney pointed out that while a 12th Big 11 member would allow that league to stage a football championship game, they are not always what they are cracked up to be. He pointed to the ACC’s failed championship game as a pretty darn good reason not to hold one. He had a point, although he did gloss over the highly-successful ones staged each year by the SEC and Big XII. Two out of three ain’t bad. A Big 11 football championship held in Chicago every year would make it three out of four.

The Big 11 continues to try and wait out the Great Prize, Notre Dame. For their part, the Irish continue to leverage their brand name into that large NBC contract. The Irish status of college football’s single biggest attraction also enables the Li’l E to attach themselves to at least a couple of decent bowls, who agree to string Mikey’s Folly along in the hopes that Notre Dame might be available on those rare occasions Charlie actually lucks into qualifies for one [although it would seem ND has dumbed down its schedule enough this year to become guatemalaGator eligible].If not for the ‘Irish Option,’ the Li’l E would not only have to resort to playing bowls in Canada, but likely Guatamala and Albania as well. The Gator’s pining for Notre Dame does enable the Cousins, every few years, to gaze at the St. John’s river and exclaim, “Look at the size of that toilet!”

Notre Dame continues, publicly, at least, to spurn Delaney’s overtures, as evidenced by the schedule dumbing-down including multiple games announced against Li’l E teams, all on terms that favor Notre Dame [Did UConn bend over or what?]. The Irish look a lot like a school that will continue to trade on the trmemdous brand equity they spent decades establishing, a market force that even Charlie probably can’t destroy.

For my part, I have always felt that Notre Dame would not join the conference until it became advantageous from a financial standpoint for them to do so. That time might be arriving.

There are a couple of gorillas lurking around college athletics. One is in the 800 pound category, the other quite a bit thinner at the moment, but possessing a frame that could be Gentryfied into something impressive.

The first is that huge football television contract the SEC has signed with CBS and ESPN. The Disney portion is going to transfer a good chunk of the ACC’s television dates to the SEC and in a couple of years the cash as well [when the smoke clears, the ACC is going to return to heavy dependence on its basketball contract, now split 12 ways. That means Coach K had best quit dicking around and find a legitimate big man and point guard]. It is going to produce gobs of money for Mike Slive’s bunch that will be divvied up among conference members. Vanderbilt, of all people, will soon be getting annual revenue checks cut from brimming SEC coffers close to twice to what Notre Dame is knocking down from NBC and its share of Biggie E basketball television monies. You can bet that is giving pause to the folks charged with balancing the books in South Bend.

money_talksIn college athletics, as in most everything else, money talks. The huge amounts of money coming in will only add to the not inconsiderable competitive balance already enjoyed by the SEC. Any competing conference that can is going to have to respond; realistically, there is only one that can.

The other gorilla around, the one in need of a high-protein diet, is the Big Ten Network. It hgas gotten off to a rocky start, experiencing much difficulty in carriage most anywhere outside the Midwest. It was created with the long view in mind, however, a vista that likely included Notre Dame eventually joining. A Big Ten Network that included at least some access to Irish football and even basketball would have enormous market muscle, enough to get it placed on any cable system in the country. It would also enable all conference schools to keep pace with the massive revenue checks coming soon to the SEC, much more than Notre Dame is currently knocking down.

While JoePa’s chatter set hearts aflutter from New Jersey to western Pennsylvania to upstate New York in the hope that their school might be the next to participate in the Great Escape, none of RUTSgers, Pitt or Syracuse brings to the conference party enough market value to justify being cut in on existing Big 11 action, much less raise league revenues to coming SEC levels. Notre Dame does. JoePa might have been amusing with his declaration of ‘Screw Notre Dame,’ but I doubt even his own AD sees it that way.

It still seems likely, to me, anyway, that eventually the crunching of Irish numbers will yield a result that says ‘Join the Big 11.’ That time might be inching closer. Jim Delaney might sound like Emile Ollivier with his claims of maintenance of the existing order, but one of these Conference Expansion seasons just might kick off with a loud boom. It won’t be from Prussian artillery, but Notre Dame finally moving.


  1. Greg — June 8, 2009 #

    Well Jim,

    Who in the Hokie Nation gives a flying poop about Notre Lame? However, what is very, very disturbing is the loss of $$$ to the ACC when this SEC thing kicks in big time. What is the financial carnage we can expect from the ESPN Kingdom suddenly hawking, showing and claiming only the SEC exists? How will the ACC counter? Can the ACC counter? What kind of strategy can the ACC employ to counter the probably huge financial hit it will take when ESPN abandons Little Johnny’s league?

    As much as I hate to admit it, FSU and UM need to be power houses again to make the ACC relevent. As much as we all love the Hokies, apparently ESPN tires of carrying the Hokie banner ad infinitum without reasonable challenges from the old standard bearers from the Sunshine State.



  2. Jim — June 8, 2009 #

    If the SEC and Big 10 with Notre Dame are knocking down $15-17 mil in television monies every year while Tech’s drops to less than half that, it will be a big deal. Remember, this happened once before with the huge contract CBS showered on the BE. The next contract was a lot lower.


  3. Atlee — June 8, 2009 #

    I believe the athletic directors are going to be shocked as the low bid for the next TV contract. Of course, maybe the AD’s have already been clued in, but I bet the carnage is still going to be greater than what the AD’s are thinking.

    And wait for the ACC fan reaction. They are going to be floored.

    What’s going to happen to the ACC with the 2nd contract is exactly what happened to the then BEFC with it’s second TV contract.

    When the BEFC was first formed, CBS stepped up an gave the BEFC a pretty decent contract, not as good as the SEC but pretty good. Turned out, BEFC football wasn’t that exciting for CBS. And as the contract got closer to the end, there were fewer and fewer BEFC contests on CBS, and even fewer of them were national broadcasts.

    CBS even refused to do a contract with BEFC. ABC/ESPN then swooped in for a bargain basement, relatively speaking, contract.

    Then the ACC expanded, by adding Miami and a couple of throwins. ABC/ESPN responded with a pretty decent contract. Unfortunately, both St Bobby and the Dwarft Dyke of Miami decided to take a powder and sit out the next several years of college football.

    So, between the bad football in the ACC and all the money and TV time slots ABC/ESPN is giving the SEC, we’ll be lucky to get enough to pay the various coaches salaries.


  4. Jim — June 9, 2009 #

    It’s pretty unbelievable that ABC made the exact same mistake with the ACC contract that CBS made with the BEFC in the 90’s. Perhaps this is why these guys have lost half their audience to cable channels.


  5. Robert D — June 10, 2009 #

    It will be interesting to see if the ACC tries to counter again by expansion with an eye on basketball. There is no one left that can add value in football. Syracuse and Connecticut might make the Bristol Boys pay attention if the ACC tries to become in basketball what the SEC is in football. Pie in the sky thinking I know, but what else can the conference do besides going with a basketball bonanza and let the football chips shake out where they may?


    Jim Reply:

    I would think another expansion, on the heels of one that hasn’t worked, would be a tough sell. Plus, there wouldn’t be much of an incentive for those two to move.


    Robert D Reply:

    I’ve no arguments against what you posted. I just can’t think of many countermoves that the ACC would have. The scenario I put forward had more to do with really killing the Big East and taking the scraps that it left behind. The last expansion hasn’t been the boon that was hoped for. I do think the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech made the ACC more cohesive in the territory it had already established, but if they really wanted to look northward, BC wasn’t strong enough on its own to do the trick. At least staying at eleven would have spared us the ACC championship game, which has looked closer to Conference USA’s version than the SEC’s.


    Jim Reply:

    The networks keep buying a Cane in a poke. It never seems to work out. Tech has certainly held up its end of the bargain but after over a decade and two conferences, it has pretty much been proved that Tech can’t carry a television contract. The real killer, however, has been Fredo. That has been a pure and utter disaster. If Tech had been playing FSU or Clemson the last two years for the football championship, the game would still be in Jax drawing big crowds, everybody would be making $$$ and Little Johnny wouldn’t be begging cities to host it.


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