It is certainly an interesting Conference Expansion Season. With the annual BCS meetings preparing to start, exactly who will be in that august grouping under which conference label is a hot topic. There hasn’t been this much conference expansion action since the last time, seven years ago.
What seems assured is that the Big 11 plans on doing something. What that ‘something’ will be remains a bit up in the air, at least as of this writing. Does the league that still calls itself the Big Ten become the Big Teen with a massive expansion that transfers New York cable households to the Midwest and effectively destroys the Li’l E as a football-playing quasi-Big Boy? Or, do they pluck the most cable-friendly Li’l E schools and simultaneously shave off some Big XII viewership? Or, is all of the posturing merely a feint to snatch who they really want, Notre Dame? Who knows? Well, Jim Delaney does, but I don’t seem to be listed among his confidants.
There some constants from which to start. The biggest is $22 million, the amount per year that is distributed to each and every school in the Big 11, even Northwestern. Any expansion is going to have to increase that share; they aren’t going to shake up the landscape just to watch the boulders roll around.
Another is that Notre Dame remains the biggest player in the deal. That is really the only school the Big 11/14/16 wants, much as the entire ACC expansion fiasco was dictated by that league’s dedication to Canes Backness. If the Irish would simply say ‘Yes’ to joining their regional conference, expansion would be a neat and tidy affair, leaving the Li’l E to stumble along for another few years.
But, getting ND to say ‘Yes’ has proven a bit tricky for the Big 11 over the years. Even now, new Irish AD Jack Swarbrick says Notre Dame is ‘devoted’ to football independence unless they are not. A payout of $22 extra-large per year can cover a lot of devotionals. That is more than ND currently rakes in from its various deals with NBC, the BCS and the Biggie E. But, what does the future hold for those sources of income? NBC is about to be submerged into the Comcast empire and who knows how the cash paid the Irish figures into all of the viewing platforms being accumulated by the cable giant? A Notre Dame suddenly finding itself sharing space with the NBA and NHL teams that mostly make up programming for the various Comcast Sport Networks is a Notre Dame that will find the Big Ten Network very appealing.
And what about the gorilla in the room, the BTN? Are there really enough cable households in New York and New Jersey to justify cutting in the Li’l E schools left behind following the last raid on that conference? If so, why are the football television payouts to the Li’l E the lowest in the BCS? If the Dorks are indeed the most valuable sports property in the collegiate universe, wouldn’t somebody have noticed before now?
What will the Big Ten turning into the Big Teen do to other conferences? Well, other than the elimination of everybody’s favorite expansion starting point, the woebegone Li’l E. Does the Big Teen trigger a mad scramble to determine who will be left standing after the eventual creation of four conferences totaling sixty-four teams causes them to put an end to this Butler nonsense and demand the basketball tournament revenues, too? While finally dismembering the Li’l E once and for all, do the powers-that-are go ahead and rip apart the league with the next-lowest payouts, the Big XII? Texas, A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would look fairly tempting to the SEC. But, that league has just changed the name of ESPN to SEC$PN. In these recessionary times, can the Total Southeastern Sports Leader pony up even more cash, enough to justify equal shares to the Big XII South?
And what of the ACC? Needless to say, expansion didn’t exactly succeed as planned the last time around. Scooping up the last of the dregs left behind after the Big Teen is through hardly seems the way to enhance a football contract that Little Johnny can’t sell now. The ACC still has a powerful basketball franchise and cutting those shares by another third does not seem prudent management.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the impact the rumored Big Teen will have on college sports. We shouldn’t have to wait much longer for the answers.