Leftover Expansion Thoughts - And What Happens To the Basketball Schools?

Where have you gone, Mike Tranghese, a conference turns its lonely eyes to you... woo woo woo. via blog.nj.com

There were some things left out of our expansion scenarios that I wanted to go back and address, because there just wasn't time as I went through them.

I. There were some assumptions made in our scenarios:

1. Leagues would not stray far from their existing footprint when they added new teams unless they absolutely had to.

So, for instance, the Big 10 was not going to add Texas, and the SEC would not add Nebraska. But in the 16-team scenario, the PAC-10 would have to come pretty far east to save six of the Big XII teams because they really didn't have a choice.

2. Current BCS schools would be protected as much as humanly possible.

It didn't always work out that everyone could be saved, though. One case came up in one of the 14-team scenarios - there were too many eastern-based schools to fill the spots available in the eastern leagues. Since we weren't going to disregard geography, USF and UConn couldn't possibly fill open spots in the Big XII. Then there's the really dirty secret of the 16-team Godzilla conferences. If there are only four, that's 64 teams total, and there are currently 66 BCS teams. Someone's getting a Montreal Screwjob on that one.

Which brings me to my next thought - when it gets down to the last few teams, geography becomes a big factor. I'm convinced that one of the reasons USF was picked to join the BIG EAST over Memphis back in 2003 was because it was, well, east. This time, the geography could work against them in 14-team leagues, like I already said. In the 16-team scenario, in which the Big XII and BIG EAST disappear, geography works in USF's favor and screws some of the Plains teams like Iowa State or Baylor.

3. Leagues would not be interested in having part-time members. You would either be in or be out - no more Notre Dame/BIG EAST-type relationships. That meant only football schools were going to get into these new leagues.

With part-time members, the contracts have to be negotiated separately for football and basketball, because you'd have to make sure the basketball members don't get any football money. (This is what the BIG EAST currently does.) Probably more importantly, part-time members can throw a monkey wrench into league politics. The reason the BIG EAST's split has worked is because there are 8 football schools and 8 non-football schools, so one side can't run over the other. Basketball-only members could find their interests being squashed on a regular basis by football schools. Conferences could find themselves stalemated because of a stubborn voting bloc with an disproportionate amount of bargaining power, and no incentive to do what the football schools want them to do.

4. Football is the main athletic driver for expansion. Membership decisions for the new leagues would be primarily based on football accomplishments and potential.

We all know that on the whole, college football is much more financially lucrative than basketball. More tickets, more expensive tickets, more TV ratings, bigger TV contracts, and on and on. It's also easier for a group of conferences to take the football money and run because the NCAA doesn't sanction the postseason in the FBS. Not that basketball isn't important, but there's more money (and fewer hands in the pie) in football. So for expansion, we decided that basketball is a secondary consideration.

II. One of the commenters in the 16-team post asked why the ACC wouldn't just add Georgetown and Villanova and have a 14/16 split.

It's possible, but I think it's actually pretty complicated. I think it would be in those two teams' best interest to try and make the move. Still, there are things to consider:

 

1. Would Godzilla conferences want part-time members?

See above.

2. Would teams want to be part-time members in a Godzilla conference?

If they got in, how long would Georgetown and Villanova put up with being outvoted on issues that are important to them? Even with basketball-oriented schools like Duke and North Carolina and Wake Forest in the Godzilla ACC, they still might slip through the cracks.

3. Which teams would the BIG EAST add to their basketball-only league to convince teams to stay?

If all the football members left, it's widely believed that the BIG EAST would recruit from the Atlantic 10 and rebrand as a basketball-only league, like they were in the 1980s.

There would be 7 basketball teams left if all the football members and Notre Dame left - Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, and DePaul. There would be zero incentive to recruit bad programs just to hit a certain number because this league wouldn't play football. Say they recruit Xavier and Temple, and maybe Dayton. You would still have a fairly strong, mostly regional nine or 10-team league. It would definitely still be a major conference, capable of sending 3-4 teams to the NCAA Tournament every year. I don't think there would be an appreciable drop in TV coverage, and the tournament would stay at Madison Square Garden. Plus there would still be plenty of time for rivalries like Syracuse-Georgetown and that epic Rutgers-Seton Hall matchup to happen in non-conference play.

4. Obviously the TV contract would be worth less with no football - but the question is how much less?

In the BIG EAST's current TV contract, teams actually get paid more for basketball than they do for football. According to this story, basketball teams get $2 million per year from ESPN/CBS, and football schools get $1.125 million per year (the $9 million quoted in the article, divided by eight). Even with a smaller contract, a school could theoretically make the same money individually, or close enough that it wouldn't have a serious impact on their operations.

For each school in our revamped BIG EAST to receive that same $2 million per year, the total value of the contract would only need to be $18 million or $20 million per year - a reduction of either 37.5% or 43.75%. On the other hand, each ACC team gets $2.5 million per year from basketball, and even with a bad economy behind them, I doubt highly that would go anywhere but up in their next TV deal.

Now the tough question. How big would a revamped BIG EAST TV contract be? I honestly have no idea, but I can offer up some data. The BIG EAST goes way back with ESPN. Literally, all the way back to 1979. They would still pretty much have a lock on all the TVs in the Washington/Philly/NY corridor with the hypothetical new league, because Rutgers basketball does not move the needle and doesn't seem likely to in the near future. (Also if UConn was thrown off the football cliff and landed in the Conference USA reject pile, I'm sure they would give anything to play basketball in this league. Unlike the Godzilla conferences, I think that would be allowed.) They have the geography advantage - unlike a league like the PAC-10, their basketball games are played when America is still awake and watching them. And thanks to Sports Illustrated never deleting anything off its servers, we can go back to 2002 and see that the league's basketball TV contract then was worth about $11 million per year, divided up among 13 teams. (I believe this stayed in place until the 16-team league debuted in 2005-06. I just included it so you could see what a huge jump the last TV contract was - over a 100% increase per team.)

Could the revamped league get enough money out of the deal that the member teams could stay at least in the ballpark of what they make currently, while staying on a positive trend line? The BIG EAST would likely be the strongest non-Godzilla league, so there's at least a chance. Still, there's no way to know for sure. And don't forget that the ACC still has Raycom (yes, they still exist) as a secondary TV partner to add even more money to the pot. Staying in the BIG EAST could end up being a wash for a school like Georgetown. But I'm pretty sure it would be in their best interest to try and get into the ACC. Whether they would get in is a whole other question.

III. We write for a USF blog, therefore we are most concerned about what happens to USF.

I thought that was kind of clear. I also thought it was clear that the only scenario that improves USF's situation is also the most ridiculous one. But I guess it wasn't clear enough.

I mean shit, if we were going to be complete homers, we would have put USF in the SEC. Because that ain't never gonna happen.

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