Commentary: Expansion Fever Update: The Ground Rules
by Jonathan Hodges
With expansion rumors running rampant right now, it is key to focus on the
ground rules that will control how the dominoes fall (well, at least somewhat).
This is key because until an official announcement from any organization,
nothing can really be trusted, especially since the schools and conferences
involved can actually benefit from the dissemination of misinformation. So,
I'll try to run down the ground rules for the feeding frenzy that may be coming
any day now.
- The Big Ten will only add
schools that can bring in an incremental increase in the share of revenue for
each respective of the conference. New revenue sources may include additional
BTN revenue from an addition to the footprint, a renegotiated TV deal with
ABC/ESPN for more money, the addition of a conference championship game, and the
addition of new bowl tie-ins. This means that the Big Ten won't necessarily
jump to beyond 12 members just for the sake of doing so; financial incentives
must exist to add each new member.
- Criteria for expansion candidates
have been pretty clearly defined, and include: academics (Association of
American Universities member or Notre Dame, plus overall academic standing
comparative to current Big Ten), competitive athletics (already a BCS school and
solid at football), and geography. This narrows down the list
- The original timetable appeared to be December 2010 -
June 2011, but it appears as though that may be accelerated. But none of the
other criteria will be sacrificed in order to act quickly.
- The Big Ten
may add member(s) now and member(s) later. This means potentially leaving room
for Notre Dame after a first round of addition(s).
- ND's first priority is to remain independent in football and
to preserve their non-football Big East affiliation.
- The only way ND
will join a conference is if the Big East completely collapses and there is no
alternative for them to join as a non-football sports member. This assumes that
any remaining BCS conference will force ND to join as a full member (including
football). If, say, the ACC were to allow ND to join as a non-football sports
member, they would likely jump at that chance.
- 16-team conferences will
NOT necessarily force ND into a conference as long as: they have a home for
non-football sports, the current BCS contract remains intact, and their NBC
contract remains intact.
- They would be
forced to replace any football member(s) taken since they currently only have 8
members, essentially the minimum for a FBS conference.
- IF member(s) of
the Big East are taken from the conference, they have expressed interest in
other schools to fill the void (Kansas and Kansas State from the Big XII).
Also, Conference USA member Memphis recently hired a former Big East
commissioner as a consultant, so expect them (and maybe some other C-USA
members) to be on the table as potential additions.
- They do have 8
non-FBS football members (some play FCS football), so it is possible that they
could exist as a non-FBS football conference even if they lose members. This
would accommodate ND's need for a conference for its non-football
- Even if other BCS conferences move to
more than 12 teams, these conferences (currently at 12 members each) have not
expressed an interest in expanding. Like the note under the Big Ten, they would
need an increase in incremental revenue in order to add any members; just
expanding to 16 teams is not incentive enough. Both have solid TV deals
currently in place and aren't actively trying to change their current
- As long as nobody poaches other
current members, the schools not actively being "recruited" (i.e. everyone
except for Texas, Nebraska, and maybe Missouri) are content for the league to
stay as-is, even with their relatively poor TV contract and unequal revenue
- The first decision is likely to be made by Nebraska and,
maybe, Missouri. That will be if they would like to join the Big Ten.
IF Nebraska and/or Missouri leaves for the Big Ten, the conference essentially
has two options:
1. Add replacements, rumored to be BYU and/or Air Force, and
continue as the Big XII.
2. The Big XII South (with Colorado in place of
Baylor, maybe) will leave to join the Pac 10 to create a 16-team
- The Big XII's longevity seems to be completely dependent on
Texas. The conference doesn't appear as though it can survive without that
school since they command a huge portion of the league's revenue
- Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and (maybe) Baylor are tied to
Texas; if a conference wants Texas, it will likely have to take the other 2 or
3. Note that Baylor's status is debatable, although Texas politicians have
already started the ball rolling to keep them in the package with
- Kansas State is tied to Kansas.
- For better or worse,
expansion is about additional revenue and that almost exclusively comes from
football and television. That means that basketball-focused schools and schools
without a large following, like Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State, will
likely be left behind.
- The Pac 10 has a poor
TV deal with an unequal revenue sharing agreement. They would like to expand in
order to get a much better deal. It seems like the best option is to add Texas
(and any other schools required to bring them in). This points to the Big XII
South (with Colorado in place of Baylor, maybe) as the preferred
- A second choice for the Pac 10 would be to add two members to
get to 12 in order to add a conference championship (thus, revenue) and
additional markets. Rumored choices include Utah and Colorado.
kind of alignment with the Big XII (as currently constituted) is still on the
table in order to get a better TV deal for both parties. Movement on either
side would likely void this option.
- Boise State was a likely addition, although that has
been tabled to wait for the fallout of the current BCS conferences.
the Big XII dissolves, the Mountain West would likely be interested in any
unclaimed members. This would possibly allow them to achieve BCS conference
status, which is a huge goal for the
- All conferences have the
option not to do anything. That seems unlikely given the huge amount of chatter
on this issue, but it has always been a likely outcome.
will look out for themselves first, from a financial standpoint. They will not
add members unless current members get a bigger piece of financial pie.
Schools will look out for themselves first, from a financial standpoint. The
second biggest influence is politics which may require "packages" of state
schools (and maybe others, in the case of Baylor) to stay together.
Just because something makes sense logically doesn't mean it will happen. The
Big Ten has seemed like a logical place for Notre Dame for over 100 years, and
ND is still independent. Four 16-team conferences seems intriguing, bout would
require significantly more movement than is currently rumored (especially out
east). Even number member conferences make sense but may not happen due to
individual holdouts or a phased approach.
- Again, this is all
financially driven. Follow the money and you can get a good idea of how
decisions will be made.
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