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Expanding Expansion

One thing about this Conference Expansion season: It is providing no shortage of hilarity.

The high comedy of which expansion scenario, each more far-fetched than the last, will turn out to be the correct one has become a laugh riot as everybody from the usual assortment of message board loons to the Web sites themselves to even newspapers that were once known as bastions of semi-responsible journalism weigh in on their notions of how things will end up. Nobody seems to have any idea except for Jim Delaney, commissioner of the Big We’ll Get Back to You on a Number. So far, he ain’t saying.

This latest round of whatever-will-happen was triggered by bitching from Penn State’s Joepa concerning how everybody forgot about the Big 11 as soon as Ohio State got through pounding Michigan. The complaint was that the conference disappeared from sight until the Buckeyes got RUTS applied by some SEC school in the MNC game.  If nothing else, Delaney has sure solved that problem. It can be expected that the announcement of the Chosen Schools will take place this December just before kickoff of the SEC football championship. Who will care about Florida and Alabama going at it hammer and tong if Delaney is on ESPN announcing who gets to join the Big ?’s money-making machine?

The stories and resulting comments have become quite laughable. Yep, all things considered, Directional Florida really is the best choice for the Big ?. It’s amazing that Delaney and his presidential masters haven’t seen it. Discussions as to whether the ECU Strawgraspers should jump on that invitation to the Li’l E that has been in the mail for the last twenty years or hold out for the bigger fish of the ACC or Grand Prize of the SEC will brighten up any rainy Monday morning. Tech and Carolina to the SEC? Yep, that will happen just as soon as Mike Slive recognizes the genius of it, which might take a while.

Whether a full-fledged conference realignment and reorganization is upon us or whether this turns out to just be another step in the direction started when the SEC went to 12 and continued through the formation of the Big XII and the ACC’s bumbling expansion 7 years ago still depends on Notre Dame. While I can count on one hand the number of times I have played poker in my life and the chances of being invited to a game involving Irish AD Jack Swarbrick seem negligible, remind me to never sit down at a table with the guy.

While I or most anybody else commenting on it have no idea what is being privately said during this mating dance between Delaney and Swarbrick, indications still seem to point to Notre Dame continuing to say ‘No’. While the Latin that is still a big deal in South Bend has no simple ‘No,’ Swarbrick still seems to get the message across, which is that ND has no desire to abnegate their football independence. Threats by Delaney, carefully-leaked to all Midwestern and Eastern media, to destroy the Li’l E around them look to have little impact. Next, do we read threats by Delaney to bring in the entire Biggie E for basketball?

If ND is indeed out, what does Delaney do, or, more specifically, recommend to his presidents, who will make the final call? Any expansion whatsoever is going to have the successful candidate[s] bring a nifty $22 extra-large in television revenue to the Big ? each and every year. Exactly who does that? Well, any one could, since that would allow for what would no doubt be a wildly-prosperous Big ? football championship. After that, the math gets a little fuzzier.

Expansion of any conference has to make economic sense. Delaney and his Chicago numbers-crunchers are no doubt taking a very hard look at the Northeast cable situation. The three Li’l E schools mostly being bandied about, RUTSgers, Syracuse and Pitt, would have to deliver subscribers in the millions that would result in cash payouts roughly double what the entire Li’l E/Biggie E conglomeration is bringing at the moment. Was Mikey an even bigger fool than he often appeared?

The whole idea is to create such a demand for the Big ? Network that the resulting clamor for it to be put not on an extra-cost sports tier but instead added to basic cable would be deafening. I’m guessing that Delaney, who seems to be taking a longer view with a wider scope than did the ACC’s Little Johnny, who 1] couldn’t see past his next football television contract and 2] was being led around by the nose by the Dwarf Dyke of Miami. Delaney is already aware that his best games, those in football and men’s basketball, are already under contract to ABC/ESPN. Are we supposed to assume that the afterthought Dorks football and basketball games will be welcomed by the same New York City cable systems that put up such a struggle when it came to adding the Yankees’ YES network?

The Internet wizards are telling us that if the Big ? blows the lid off college sports and expands to 16, the SEC would have ‘no choice’ but to follow suit. The question that immediately pops to mind is, Why? Unlike the Big ? Network, which is looking to raise cable bills of millions in the Northeast who care nothing about college sports, the SEC already has a commitment from ESPN and CBS that will televise most any conference game in most any sport to most any market in the country. The conference will be paid handsomely for the product, $17M per school per year for a very long time.

Adding anybody to the SEC would require both CBS and Disney to agree to raise the package by $17 mil for each and every school added. Unless the two schools under discussion are phenomenally-profitable Texas and their politically-joined Texas A&M, it is not hard to imagine what the answer will be. The most popular SEC expansion scenarios have the world’s most dominant football conference raiding the ACC for Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech and Clemson. This benefits anybody involved how? The SEC achieved their ESPN largess in large part by the Disney boys transferring the football money from the ACC to the football big boys. After ripping off the ACC, the SEC is suddenly going to turn around and reduce their own payouts by adding teams from the conference they just screwed over? Maybe, but…..

Then the not-so-conventional Internet wisdom has the ACC surviving by adding what’s left of the Li’l E after Delaney and the Big ? are through. Aside from the fact that the ACC has been there, done that and it hasn’t quite worked out so far, Directional Florida to the ACC? Really? The Cousins? If all of the blue-bloods in Chapel Hill and Durham who reacted to all of the Tech fans showing up for football games like Mrs. Drysdale did when the Clampetts pulled in next door thought we were bad, wait until the Cousins show up. And you thought the 2003 Expansion War was a struggle, try getting Carolina and Duke, or, for that matter, the Hoos and Tech [we do have some experience with the denizens of the Hills which Dr. Steger will no doubt be happy to share with his ACC contemporaries], to vote to bring the Cousins aboard.

Little Johnny would likely be quite pleased to lose a team and end this money-losing football championship business, but the Big ? seems to have no interest in Fredo and, well, the Corleone compound has caused nothing but trouble [Adios, Gator Bowl] for the ACC and would seem to be a bit of a stretch for the SEC.

Even funnier than most everything else is the idea that North Carolina would bolt the conference they founded for the SEC, even if asked. While the SEC would likely add Carolina, or State, or even Appy before they got around to the Strawgraspers, some pretty strange freaking things would have to happen for the Heels to give up the really neat rivalries with Devils and Wolves. All of the mindless students protesting something or another up and down Franklin Street would be shoved aside by the level-headed alumni destroying everything in sight.

Finally, there is the message board -generated concept of Tech to the SEC. Yep, after trying for fifty years to get into the conference to which they quickly proved they belonged all along, and all of the trouble it entailed, it suddenly gets chucked and the Hokies run away. Just kidding, guys, but can we keep the ACC basketball tournament tickets? While it will no doubt increase my popularity among the message board set, I would point out that, for the second time in as many decades and conferences, a league in which Tech is a dominant football player is about to suffer a major reduction in its football television contract. As Little Johnny continues to travel around the cableverse attempting to convince Lifetime, HSN, or somebody, that the Canes are Back THIS TIME, by cracky, the SEC has likely noticed.

I freely admit that I have no idea as to the end game of this year’s Conference Expansion season. That seems to put me in a minority among the Internet keyboard set. I still think that the future involves 4 conferences of 16-teams each. They will comprise a super division, either in the NCAA or not. The BCS has their eye on the basketball cash and will eventually put an end to sharing it with people named Butler and George Mason. Whether that time is now upon us seems to depend mostly on Notre Dame joining the Big ?. If they remain independent, then perhaps the athletic cataclysm is not yet upon us. In the end, all of these various expansion scenarios have to make economic sense. At the moment, few do.


  1. Jack Lester — May 3, 2010 #

    Good article Jim.  Says just what I think too. And BTW, I really wasn’t the one calling you over our basketball coach. That was just a joke on my part : )


  2. Steve Wade — May 3, 2010 #

    I agree, I think 4 superconferences of 16 is what we’ll wind up with. And either a 4 or 8 team playoff. might take 5-10 yrs for it to come together though.


  3. Atlee — May 3, 2010 #

    I keep telling the good folks on the TSL boards that the next contract is going to be bloody bad.  But there does seem to be quite a few who believe we’re going to have something akin to the SEC’s ESPN contract.

    Common sense says it will not happen.  Very few open TV slots, plus the ACC didn’t exactly hit a  home run during the last contract.


  4. Greg — May 4, 2010 #

    You are exactly correct Atlee.  Did you notice VT has only 1 Thursday night game this year.  For the longest time we played a home and away on Thursday nights.  Just a harbinger of things to come


  5. Robert D — May 6, 2010 #

    Things do look dire TV-wise for the ACC.  The investment that ESPN has made in the SEC is palpable.  Unless Notre Dame decides they want to join up, there are no impact schools the ACC is in a position to add.  The only expansion I can think of that might help is schedule expansion, i.e. going to nine conference games to increase inventory, and I don’t know how appetizing that would be to presidents and athletic personnel.  But when the TV dollars are thin, it may not be wise to leave matchups like Virginia Tech-Florida State off the table.


  6. bill lipscomb — May 6, 2010 #

    Jim, enjoy your writing but really wish you would drop some of the off color references to our fellow ACC schools and especially their presidents. Anyway who cares what the Big Ten and SEC do—we have never had more than half our games on TV in the past.


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