The Big East Is Dead, and the ACC Isn't Far Behind

Will Big Jim make the next move to kill the ACC? - The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

Hey, we've got ten days until the B1G starts playing their bowl games, so let's talk expansion, woooooo!

There were a couple of interesting yet competing stories that are out on the blogosphere this week, and they seem kind of confusing. The first one is from SI's Pete Thamel that recounts the ‘divorce' between the non-football playing basketball schools of the Big East, and the rest of the conference. The other one is from Dennis Dodd, who might or might not be a meth dealer.

Both columns focus on Notre Dame's status, but you should read the sad, tragic tale of Dodd that Chad recounted to us earlier this year about Dodd's alleged meth issues. It is the cautionary tales of all cautionary tales, is it not?

Anyway, Thamel seems to indicate that Notre Dame is in a bit of a pickle, while Dodd asserts the exact opposite. Thamel's premise is that Notre Dame's preferred landing spot, the ACC, is tenuous, while Dodd says that the ACC is on solid ground.

Hmmm.

Now, although this post IS NOT ABOUT about Notre Dame, it is about the viability of the Big East, the ACC, and the money at stake.

First, let's state what seems to be the obvious: The end is nigh with the Big East. With the ‘Catholic 7' splitting off to form their own basketball only league, the TV money for the Big East from basketball next year might be zero, as their might not even be a TV deal for the remaining conference schools. As for football, another Dodd column from December 6th posits that when all the dust settles and Navy and Boise State join in 2015 (HAHAHA), the average payout per school from the Big East TV contract will be around $3 million.

Currently, according to Dodd, the money payouts are fairly even:

One source said all the major conferences are within $500,000 of each other, hovering around the $20 million mark per year in annual per-school payout. However, estimates for a future Big Ten have gone as high as $40 million per school when its primary TV rights are renegotiated by 2016.

The Big East is going to die, it's just as matter of how they choose their death-quick and painless, or slow and tortuous. Does anyone expect San Diego State, Navy, and Boise State to join in 2015? The Big East is going to become a secondary conference, so BSU (and San Diego State, who is also supposed to join the Big East) might as well return to the Mountain West, where they will be welcome back with open arms. If they don't join, I don't see how the Big East sees even $60 million in a TV deal, because the Big East football teams will be:

Cincinnati

UConn

South Florida

Temple

Central Florida

Houston

Memphis

SMU

Tulane

Navy

East Carolina.

Can anyone look me in the eye and tell me that's a better lineup than the Mountain West, if Boise and SDSU return? Let's compare:

Air Force

Boise State

Colorado State

Fresno State

Nevada

UNLV

New Mexico

SDSU

Wyoming

Hawaii

San Jose State

Utah State

Right now the Mountain West teams get a little over $1 million per school per year. With perennial BCS buster Boise State, and yearly bowl teams in Air Force, Nevada, SDSU, and Fresno State, I would argue that they could get at least as much as the Big East will get when they come up for a new contract, or close to it. Add to that the reduced travel costs for BSU and SDSU by remaining in the MWC, and the Big East is dead.

So, on to the second half of this: the ACC. According to Dodd, in the quote above, the major conferences are all within $500,000 of each other right now, but the B1G is going to jump way out in front of everyone 2016 when they re-negotiate their new deal.

But here's where his column gets confusing to me, so let me try and figure it out, paragraph by paragraph. First off, he says, quoting Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick:

What you have now is the Big Ten has put itself in a different category financially," Swarbrick said. "A lot of it has to do with their assets. A lot of it has to do with Jim's leadership. A big part of it is they caught lightning in a bottle [with the Big Ten Network] and no one else can get there, at least in the foreseeable future.

Hmmm, okay. So everyone makes about the same now, but the Big Ten is going to really have a significant financial advantage pretty soon, and it will take awhile for everyone to catch up, if that's even possible for every conference.

Because the next part talks about the ACC's future deal:

One source said the ACC is in the process of monetizing its soon-to-be lucrative digital network located in Charlotte, N.C. Industry sources are split on whether the ACC can do a full-on network similar to the Big Ten that would be able to throw off profit in a relatively short period of time.

So, the ACC is going to really fall behind the Big Ten money wise in the near future. It's murky, at best, whether or not their planned network can come close to matching what the Big Ten Network can do financially. The SEC has a billion dollar contract with ESPN and will be closer to the Big Ten than anyone else, save maybe the PAC-12.

So far, I'm with Dodd. But this is where he starts to lose me:

Meanwhile, the Big Ten is busy integrating Maryland and Rutgers into everything from future scheduling to local cable carriers. That has proven to be difficult enough without another planned raid.

I would argue that if the B1G were going to strike, it would be sooner rather than later. Why go through two separate, bruising rounds of TV negotiations with cable companies when you can do it all at once? Also, with Fox Sports (who owns 51% of the BTN) recently buying the Yankees YES Network means that TV negotiations in the Northeast might not be as bad as people are forecasting. It actually gives the BTN some additional leverage in negotiations.

And with cable companies like Comcast and Cox in multiple places like New York City, Baltimore, and...hypothetically speaking, Charlotte and the Florida panhandle, if the B1G were going to further extend its demographic audience potential on the East Coast/Mid-Atlantic states, it would be smarter to do it now and go for 16. If there are more teams with more viewers, there is more leverage for the B1G. More leverage for the conference means a deal gets done for the BTN sooner rather than later, and much closer to the terms the conference wants.

And with BTN 2 coming on line, the conference will have even greater leverage. I don't know about you, but I already have my DVR set to record "Ñooo que mi corazón!". I can learn Spanish, get real insight into the 10 year war, and drool at Sophia Vergara, all at the same time.

So far, I can't say I disagree too much with what Dodd has said. But it's the last two sentences that have me puzzled:

"The point is, the ACC is not hurting," the source said. "They [FSU] would have to take a pay cut if they went somewhere else."

"That's why I'm so bullish on the ACC," Swarbrick said. "The ACC story still works, and the rivalries are great. That's what you're going to have to have with that future."

Okay, let's see if I have this right. The ACC isn't hurting financially, which I agree with. They took a PR hit with a founding member leaving, but financially they're on par with everyone else...right now. But let's look at where things will be in a couple years. The BTN is already turning a profit, and once the cable deals are in place with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, many experts feel The B1G can potentially clear $40 million/school. Right now, today, with BTN money, they're clearing $27 million/yr, more than anyone else.

The SEC TV deal, which was a 15 year, $3 billion deal with ESPN and CBS, equals out to about $20 million a year...right now. But they have a provision in their contract to re-negotiate based on expansion, and they are planning to launch their own TV network in 2014. Within 5-7 years, many people feel that SEC schools will be making as much, if not more, than their B1G counterparts, as long as their network can be as successful as the BTN.

The Big XII landed a deal in September that nets them $20 million/school through 2024, but right now there really is no provision to re-negotiate based on potential expansion.

And potential Big XII expansion is different for them than the B1G. Geographically, they're not going to add to their audience, like the B1G did by adding Maryland and Rutgers. They don't have plans for a TV network, other than the abysmal failure of the Longhorn Network to this point, so expansion for expansion sake only dilutes the pool of money available to the 10 teams.

Unless they can reel in a couple of big fish, like say, Clemson and Florida State. Which brings me back to the statement that FSU would be ‘taking a pay cut' if they went elsewhere.

Now, back to the ACC. The ACC deal is at $17 million per school, once Pitt and Syracuse join.

This is where the last part of the ACC argument falls apart. Florida State, whether they would go to the B1G, Big 12, or SEC, would not, in fact, take a pay cut. They would get a pay bump, at a minimum $3 million assuming the Big XII could re-negotiate a new deal to keep the current payout the same, or even more with B1G or SEC membership.

So to say that the 'ACC story still works', depends on how you look at it. With the demise of the Big East seemingly imminent, or at a minimum neutered as a power conference, Cincinnati and UConn will be left looking for someplace to go. There are various opinions as to whether or not the ACC will further expand and grab those two schools, and even if they don't, it still doesn't solve the underlying conflicts within the conference.

Those conflicts are very similar to the Big XII dynamics that saw resentment towards a dominating school (Texas/North Carolina) that dictated how the conference should be run to the remaining schools (Nebraska/Florida State/Clemson) to the sole advantage of the dominating school.

Everyone's talking about money, which is important, but the pride and resentment angle is a big deal, too. It's not a stretch to see a 'Nebraska scenario' unfold in the ACC, and the money will just be a cover story to jump. Florida State and Clemson would be a good fit in the Big XII or the SEC, football politics aside, and the Big Ten is looking further expand in the mid-Atlantic States., making schools like Virginia and North Carolina attractive to them.

As to Notre Dame, either the Big XII or the Big Ten. I don't see Jim Delany asking them to join again after being rebuffed twice, but will accept them if Swarbrick asks. But ND membership would have to be contingent on no special deals, and Notre Dame could rightfully ask to keep their own TV contract money from NBC. Which is why I see them going to the Big XII when the ACC dies.

Because the ACC is going to die--it's just a matter of who will make the first move to kill it.

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