In 2009, Texas drove 78 yards down the field to beat Ohio State 24-21 with 16 seconds left. Next time they play could be for the conference championship.
February 18, 2010. This can’t happen, right? And I’m not talking about The Ohio State University beating a top ranked opponent in a meaningful grid iron contest. I’m talking about Texas in the same conference with Ohio State, fighting it out for a conference title and a possible trip to the B¢$ title game. But how in the world do we get to sixteen teams (and more importantly, will the Big 10 be able to count correctly this time)? I call it the Walmart effect. If you can’t beat the competition directly, merge your resources with others and run the competition out of business, with the smaller programs in the Big 12 playing the role of the mom and pop stores in this NCAA analogy. Nice knowing you Baylor Bears.
Many think this idea of Texas joining the Big 10 is patently absurd. Hell, even UT Athletic Director Deloss Dodds said that Texas would not consider joining the Big 10, just before de lossed to the Crimson Tide in the B¢$ Championship Game. Case closed, right? The reality is that this decision will not be made at his level and most certainly will have nothing to do with the quality of the product on the field. So as I shed a tear for the tradition that is all things Big 10, I turn my attention to the inevitable rise of the Super Conference, and with it, a whole new ball game in the world of College football. Buckle your seatbelt sports fans, because Kansas is about to go bye-bye.
How ESPN Changed Everything
In the State that prides itself on being big in everything, the allure of a super conference of sixteen teams and the revenue that would follow may be too much for President William Powers Jr. of Texas to ignore. See Mr. Powers is more of a business man than a sports fan, the reason he has this position in the first place. And there are two separate distinct potential sources of revenue that will keep Powers up at night dreaming of ways to improve all things Texas, including his legacy.
First, is the revenue generated from the idiot box. The Evil Empire (a.k.a. ESPN), has forever changed the sports television industry. The old days of local TV stations televising sports products on free TV for either local or national markets went the way of the Notre Dame championship. ESPN has figured out how to create an additional source of revenue by striking a contract deal with all of the various TV outlets (by these I mean the local cable companies and the satellite companies). As Frank the Tank (http://frankthetank.wordpress.com/) points out in his blog, ESPN receives $3 from every consumer that carries TV programming that includes ESPN, whether the viewer ever tunes in to the lunatic ravings of its narcissistic analysts. Since ESPN currently has approximately 120 million subscribers included in these packages, they earn $360 million dollars before they sell one dime of advertising to their various customers.
And it’s the ESPN way of doing business that has altered the college football landscape. Call Jim Delany and the merry band of stodgy old farts at the Big 10 what you will, but they have been at the forefront in college football in the TV networking game. By creating the Big 10 Network, the first of the college sports networks, the Big 10 has created an advantage stemming from its rich tradition and a transitory national fan base that has grown tired of shoveling snow. To wit, the following are the revenues for each of the major conferences according to ESPN Outside the Lines for the 2009 college football season:
Big Ten: $242 million ($22 million per school)
SEC: $205 million ($17.08 per school)
Big 12: $78 million ($6.5 million per school)
ACC: $67 million (5.58 million per school)
Pac-10: $58 million (5.8 million per school)
Big East: $13 million for football/$20 million for basketball ($2.8 million per school)
Before commenting on these figures, it’s worth noting that Texas has an unbalanced deal with the Big 12, which earned them $12 million dollars in 2009 (and Missouri and other schools aren’t really happy with this arrangement, part of the dysfunction of the not so happy Big 12 family). What’s interesting in the Texas situation is that even when they shoot the moon (i.e. have a championship caliber type season in the Big 12), the university still only makes about half as much as Indiana University, a perennial cellar dweller in the Big 10 (Notre Dumb has the same problem, but they are blissfully unaware that the world is changing around them. Good luck beating Navy next year Domers). And the figures above include revenues from the Big 12 Conference championship game, an additional source of revenue that would be added to the Big 10 should they add another school and play such a game (last year’s SEC championship game generated $15 million dollars, so approximately another $1.5 million for each of the twelve schools if the Big 10 expanded to just one more team and played a CCG). This alone could make the deal worth it for the University of Texas. But there is more.
The Serious Money; Research and Development
The figures above are just a drop in the bucket compared to the second source of money available to UT should they join a Super Conference. Here I’m talking about Federal Grants for Research and Development (R&D). The R&D money that would be available to the University of Texas could increase exponentially if they were a member of a Super Conference of universities belonging to the prestigious Committee on Institutional Cooperation (the CIC includes all of the Big 10 schools plus the University of Chicago). These budgets run into the billions of dollars for those public universities sucking at the government teat. Except for Texas A&M and Colorado (I believe the former heads to the Big 10 & the latter to the Pac 10), the rest of the Big 12 schools simply are not big players in the R&D game. From an academic stand point, there is little bonding Texas to the Big 12, a conference they have resided in only since the early 1990s, and a conference which was their third choice behind the Pac 10 and the Big 10 when they shopped for a new home. Well, the Big 10 is ready to make amends for this mistake in a big way.
To illustrate the point, Texas ranks #32 in R&D expenditures (and expenditures are a logical consequences of the grants awarded to the universities), one slot ahead of Northwestern and just one spot behind Yale. This ranking is in line with all of the members of the CIC. In contrast, Oklahoma, even with a medical school, ranks #97 in R&D expenditures. In other words, OU is but a bit player, as are most of the rest of the Big 12 schools. And while some of the schools on the coasts have bigger R&D contracts than the Big 10 schools, as a conference collectively, the Big Ten is as formidable as any region in the country. This would be a perfect fit for a Texas university that would most certainly want to improve their academic standing internationally.
For Texas, they could reasonably expect to add to their revenues through the Walmartization effect described above. Membership in the CIC will enable the schools in the Big 16 to garner more of the lucrative R&D contracts, since the schools in the CIC share information and resources, a love thy neighbor approach that just doesn’t exist in the Big 12. The sixteen team conference (plus the University of Chicago) could expect a R&D budget in the neighborhood of $8 billion dollars, truly relegating the earnings from TV contracts to the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae status. This gives Texas $666 million reasons to consider such a move. And for the new Big 16, it won’t hurt to add two more senators from the great state of Texas to the sixteen senators already representing the Big 10 schools. Expanding from an eight state membership to a twelve state conference suggested below means that almost a quarter of the dudes that decide who gets these contracts will be from the new Big 16 conference, power consolidated indeed. With $8 billion dollars in the equation, my guess is that University Presidents and AD’s will not spend too much time worrying about how much it will cost to fly the ladies volleyball team to Indiana to smack the ball around in the sand for a few hours.
So What Would this Sixteen-Headed Monster Look Like?
I will not spend too much time arguing with the sports fan who thinks that Texas will never consider this because of their rivalry with Oklahoma (they have only been in the same conference now for about 18 years and they can still play games out of conference with them anyway), because of travel expenses (teams use charter planes, so the cost is fairly fixed, and I will address this point further below), or because of the disdain that Texas supposedly has for all things north (there actually is a fair amount of animosity between Texas and the rest of the Big 12 because of the disproportional revenue deal). William Powers Jr. will do what’s in the best interest of the University of Texas financially in the long run. And because it appears that Big 10 expansion is a foregone conclusion, why would Texas sit back and watch a program like Missouri join the Big 10 and take advantage of all the additional revenue streams while the Big 12 crumbles at their feet? Trust me, they won’t.
After reviewing several possible models, one that I found at a Texas Blog called Barking Carnival makes the most sense to me. I do believe that Texas A&M will follow its big brother and move to the Big 10. I think this for three reasons: 1) the Texas legislature will politically intervene and attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the works if the Longhorns departure causes the other universities to suffer. My understanding is that some important people in Texas right now are A&M alums, and including them will grease the political skids if you will; 2) Texas A&M ranks #22 in R&D expenditures, meaning that the Big 10 would probably be inclined to invite them even if their football program adds little to the competitive balance in the conference; 3) Having A&M in the Big 16 would help further capture the Texas TV market and insure that the rivalry with UT is protected. I believe this reason is far less important than the first two, but it won’t hurt to build in a natural conference rival for the Longhorns for marketing purposes.
The 91st Rose Bowl was an instant classic. Under this plan, Michigan and Texas would play every 4 years.
However, expansion in the Big 10 might not be appealing to Texas if it feels like the new Big Ten is really a 12 + 2 conference with the Texas teams on the outside (another team will be added to make this twelve; more on this below). And, as I discussed above, I believe there is more opportunity for financial clout by expanding to 16 total teams anyway. In my mind, the fourteenth university will be Missouri, as they fit the academic criteria, fit well geographically, and allow the Big 10 to expand into the St. Louis and Kansas City markets. Once this happens, the Big 12 will be no more. This will send schools scrambling, a perfect opportunity for the Big 10 to add Kansas and Nebraska to round out the conference at 16 total teams (as discussed above, Oklahoma is not a good fit for academic reasons, and thus I believe they likely would join the SEC. And lest you think I am just taking a shot at my friends down south, the University of Alabama ranks #190 in R&D expenditures).
Notice what this allows from an geographical alignment and from a scheduling perspective. The two conferences would look like this:
(WEST) Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Northwestern
(EAST) Michigan, The Ohio State University, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Penn State.
The result would be that all eight teams in the West would be in the Central time zone, meaning that the bulk of the Texas schedule wouldn’t really require that many long trips or mess with the prime time television schedule for the Network. Texas would play seven intra-division games (everyone in the West), two inter-division games, and three non-conference games. The two inter-division games would be rotated among the eight Big 10 East schools such that the Longhorns would play every team once every four years (and an away game against each team every eight). That means one trip to Happy Valley, the Horseshoe and the Big House every eight years, hardly an onerous impact on the travel budget (and just imagine the TV revenue this would generate for the Big 10 Network). And this schedule would still allow Texas to form geographical rivalries with fairly contiguous states, albeit some new ones. One proposed schedule I saw on the internet had Texas playing Rice, Baylor, Oklahoma (in Dallas) in their out of conference schedule, meaning that the Longhorns could actually schedule 8 games in the state of Texas. Now exactly why is this not feasible?
Will this happen? Who knows. What I do know is that it makes sense if you think like a shrewd businessman and not a sports fan. Should this happen, it will eliminate some conferences (thus consolidating B¢$ game appearances), destroy traditions, and completely restructure the game that we love so much. The Super Conference idea would have made Sam Walton proud. John Sherman, on the other hand, would be turning over in his grave.
Categories: College Football