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B1G 2013 // Expansion, B1G Style: Frank The Tank Takes Your Questions

Prolific Frank Discusses B1G Expansion


Frank the Tank has made a name for himself on the interwebs by parsing all the details of B1G Expansion...and expansion in general. We welcome Frank onto OTE. You can find his excellent site here and follow him on Twitter here. If you have awesome questions, leave them in the comment thread and hopefully Frank can get to some of them. Commence Expansion Madness~

Going out 15 years (to get past the GOR issue and let the shared revenue differential take its toll) does Frank see it going to 4 majors? Does he see it going to just 3 majors? Does he see another conference becoming a major?

If Texas leaves the Big 12, then I can certainly see it going down to 4 major conferences. As long as Texas (and to a lesser extent, UNC) hasn't joined one of the other 4 power conferences, though, then there's always going to be a 5th top league (even if that 5th one is the weakest on paper). That makes it doubtful that it would consolidate down to 3 conferences as I don't see much desire for leagues to balloon up to 18 or more (16 is the realistic upper limit even if Jim Delany mentions 18 to scare the crap out of people from time to time). On the opposite end, I don't see any of the Gang of Five leagues ever becoming a power conference. Note that for all of conference realignment over the past couple of years, the net change from 1998 (the first year of the BCS system) has been that a grand total of 3 schools (Louisville, Utah and TCU) have moved up to power conferences and 1 school (Temple) was relegated (and Temple was kicked out of the Big East for a period of time, anyway, which had nothing to do with conference realignment). There might be 4 or 5 schools in the Gang of Five that could work as the "last one in" members of certain power conferences (i.e. UConn, Cincinnati, BYU, UNLV), but putting even the 12 most valuable programs in that non-power group into a single conference wouldn't make it into a power conference. The post-Miami/Virginia Tech/Boston College defection Big East had a hard enough time keeping its power conference status when it had historical brand names like West Virginia, Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers, so I don't see a new power conference arising. Further consolidation of the power ranks is much more likely than expansion.

Does he think the B1G will loosen (but not eliminate) it's academic standards for candidate programs?

I think that if an elite football brand wants to join, such as Oklahoma, Florida State or Miami, then the Big Ten will at least take a look at them because of the sheer potential financial impact. To be sure, though, the Big Ten takes the academic requirements extremely seriously, so it would have to be a proverbial grand slam in terms of football branding and financial impact for the conference to consider a non-AAU member (outside of Notre Dame, who would still be free to join as a full member whenever they wanted to despite Gordon Gee's recent comments).

Every Nebraska fan's dream: Oklahoma to the Big Ten. The Omaha World Herald made a mention of it in April. Any chance at all of this eventually happening?

As noted above, I think that there's a chance because Oklahoma (despite not meeting the AAU membership requirement) is such a massive football brand. The Sooners would also fit perfectly into the western flank for the Big Ten. A larger issue might be whether Oklahoma coming *alone* without Oklahoma State is truly possible since the Big Ten wouldn't be willing to add OSU in a package deal (similar to how the conference would only want Kansas without Kansas State). I've spoken with a lot of OU and KU fans that believe that they could drop their respective in-state brothers if necessary, but I'm not quite sure of that whenever state politicians and high profile boosters like T. Boone Pickens inevitably get involved when there's a viable threat to their special interests out there. Personally, I'd love to see Oklahoma in the Big Ten (as I believe that any further Big Ten expansion absolutely needs an elite football brand name involved), but the academic issue and whether Oklahoma State has to come along are large roadblocks.

I would like to see BIG add KU, MU, UVA, UNC. What level of probability do you see in that happening?

Short-term, it's probably very low since the ACC and Big 12 have new grant of rights arrangements that put a damper on movement. Long-term, I think Kansas is the strongest possibility on that list provided that it doesn't have to bring along Kansas State (which the Big Ten wouldn't accept). That's a school that I believe would accept a Big Ten invitation sight unseen and in turn, as a blue blood basketball brand, would be extremely attractive to the financially-driven Big Ten powers that be (even though Kansas doesn't necessarily have the largest population base). UVA would be next, although they're much more wedded to the ACC than KU is to the Big 12. Culture matters and Virginia still considers itself to be southern (albeit more in the form of the wine-and-cheese ACC than the more rough around the edges SEC). That has been shifting as the growth of the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC has been making the state's demographics look more "northern" and whenever the balance tips more toward the North than the South (which will almost inevitably happen within a generation), that's when the Big Ten can realistically grab UVA. Missouri is almost certainly off-the-table since the Big Ten has continuously shown that it doesn't want Mizzou (as they have passed them over on multiple occasions) and, on the other side, there's very little incentive for any school to leave the SEC for another league (just as any suggestion that anyone would defect from the Big Ten is asinine).

UNC is one of the few schools that would turn down invites to both the Big Ten and SEC because they have Texas-like influence and power in the ACC that they would never have anywhere, which is a critical factor for them. Plus, the cultural issue comes into play here in an even more pronounced way than UVA. Despite the rapid movement of transplants from the Northeast and Midwest into Charlotte and the Research Triangle areas, North Carolina is still a decidedly southern state. Thus, moving to a Northern conference like the Big Ten is going to be unpalatable while going to what is perceived to be an academically inferior conference of the SEC would also be unacceptable. As a result, the ACC fits UNC perfectly by balancing both the cultural and academic needs of the school. UNC also isn't going to be driven by TV money in the same manner as most other schools, so I consider them to be almost as tough of a nut to crack as Notre Dame. I just don't see UNC ever proactively leaving the ACC (and the only reason why they would reactively leave the ACC is if it's completely falling apart, which is a Catch-22 since it would never completely fall apart unless UNC leaves).

In the next 5 years, will JHU join the B10 fully or will they choose to go back to independence?

I believe that Johns Hopkins will stay in the Big Ten permanently. While it makes sense for both the Big Ten and JHU to have a 5-year evaluation period on paper, the reality is that the intent of this move is for it to be permanent. 5 years from now, both sides will probably be too invested in the setup of having access to an NCAA Lacrosse Tournament auto-bid that JHU going back to independence would likely be untenable. The conditions that drove JHU to seek a conference in the first place will likely be exacerbated even further over the next few years.

Will JHU's women's team join the B10 in the next 5 years?

I'd wager on "Yes" simply because it seems so strange that the men's program that is financially and competitively viable as an independent would choose to join a conference while the women's program, where it's much harder to survive as an independent, wouldn't do the same. My understanding is that Johns Hopkins had been concerned about competing in women's lacrosse with schools with larger athletic budgets, but that doesn't seem to override the need to be in a league that has an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament since it's simply a sign of the times as more power schools add the sport (if only for Title IX purposes).

Should/will the CIC add JHU now or wait to see if JHU joins the B10 fully?

Johns Hopkins is such an extraordinary research institution that I believe that the CIC should and will add the school ASAP without regard to whether the school agrees to be a permanent member of the Big Ten. I've seen indications that those discussions will happen in the near future.

Should the CIC consider expansion separate from the B10? If JHU joins, that will make 1 current UAA member (Chicago) and 1 former member (JHU) in the CIC. The rest of the UAA are all AAU schools, mostly in large markets, all doing a lot of research and playing D-III sports so they wouldn't compete with the B10.

It's an interesting idea since the CIC would theoretically add powerhouse academic schools such as NYU and Washington University in St. Louis to mix and the UAA generally overlaps with the current Big Ten footprint. From a pure academic standpoint, it seems to make a ton of sense on paper. However, the Big Ten side of the equation is really what drives the decision-making process (as opposed to the other way around) and the university presidents may very well fear that the conference's strong association with the CIC becomes weaker or diluted if it begins to add non-Big Ten schools beyond former member University of Chicago and affiliate member Johns Hopkins. My feeling is that the Big Ten presidents want the CIC to be clearly seen as the academic extension of the conference and, as a result, don't want to diminish that by having the CIC expand separately.

Are major schools mostly stuck where they are until the various GORs reach their last couple of years?

Yes, I believe so. Even if a grant of rights agreement is "breakable" by lawyers in theory, there's a heavy incentive of the 4 power conferences that have GORs (Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC) to never challenge them. So, unless one believes that the SEC is going to be the one challenging those agreements, everyone is effectively stuck in place.

How much of a money gap is likely needed to drive a school to leave their current conference for the B10 or SEC? Are we likely to see that sort of a gap form in the next 10-15 years?

There are different standards here depending upon the conference. Assuming that schools are completely free to leave without worrying about grant of rights arrangements, I'd say that there would not need to be much of a money gap at all to lure any school besides Texas from the Big 12 (albeit there could be political issues that could block movement with the possibility of, say, Kansas being tied down to Kansas State or Oklahoma having to be packaged with Oklahoma State). That conference is still together almost entirely on the basis of their current TV contract (along with Texas wanting a place to park the Longhorn Network), so the lure of more TV money elsewhere is going to particularly strong for those schools. Getting a school to leave the ACC, on the other hand, would likely take a very large money gap. There are numerous factors outside of money (academics, geography, demographics, culture) that the ACC members legitimately love about their conference that wouldn't easily be replicated elsewhere. It's one of the reasons why I had long argued on my blog that the ACC was stronger than what a lot of purely TV contract-focused observers gave them credit for while the Big 12 has been much more of a paper tiger that had no chance of raiding the ACC.

That being said, the massive money gap between the Big Ten/SEC and the other power conferences can certainly materialize in the next 10-15 years, if not within the next 2 years once the Big Ten takes its first tier/upper second tier TV rights contract to the open market and the SEC Network is up and running. The issue is then less about whether a random ACC or Big 12 school would be lured by the Big Ten or SEC, but rather whether the *right* school could be lured by that point (specifically, UNC or Texas).

Will the NCAA form a new division, will the power schools break away or will nothing change structurally?

In order of likelihood, I'd say (1) no changes structurally, (2) NCAA forming a new division and (3) power schools breaking away completely. The concept of the NCAA forming a new "Super FBS" division is intriguing since it allows for the separation of Division I further for football while maintaining the overall Division I structure for other sports like basketball. However, unless that Super FBS division solely consists of the 5 power conferences plus Notre Dame, it's hard to see the purpose of the power conferences pushing for it. If that Super FBS division also needs to include, say, the AAC and Mountain West Conference that could conceivably pay for the various athletic stipends that the new division would have, then the power conference are probably better suited to just keep the financial and TV exposure stratification under the current system than make any drastic changes. Having the power conferences break away completely from the NCAA is more of a nuclear option that Jim Delany and Mike Slive would rather keep in their back pocket as a threat than actually implementing.

If the power schools are in their own group (new division or outside of the NCAA), would the conferences as we know them be maintained or would pure geography be forced on them to maximize the money?

Whatever occurs, there is absolutely no scenario where I would see any overarching structure attempt to provide anything less than full autonomy to individual conference membership decisions. There's simply no way that the power conferences would agree to any structure that doesn't give them 100% of control over their membership. If anything, a new group or division would likely need to give the individual power conferences even more control to do whatever they want.

If and when a power conference hits 16+ members, will they stick with divisions or use pods?

Once again, this depends upon the conference. If the Pac-12 ever decides to add 4 schools to the east, for instance, then that's a conference that would likely split into two 8-team East/West divisions without pods since the geography and maintenance of historical rivalries would make sense in that scenario. A conference like the Big Ten, though, would probably need pods since its footprint is more easily split into several sub-regions than simply east and west.

Will the CCG rule get changed to allow the top 2 teams to play regardless of how a league is structured (divisions or no divisions)?

I'd like to think so, but the NCAA has been surprisingly stringent in keeping its conference championship requirements intact and has continuously shot down attempts to alter them. As a practical matter, I believe getting that rule changed is a necessity for conferences like the Big Ten and SEC to expand to 16 - they're not really keen on having 2 separate 8-team divisions (whether fixed or rotating pods around between them on a periodic basis).

Say the B10 looks into expansion again in 10-15 years. Will the top targets be the same or will the B10 have a change of heart about priorities (AAU requirement, contiguous states, etc)?

I believe the top targets will continue to be the same: AAU schools in contiguous states (which essentially points to Kansas and UVA initially) would be the top priority unless there's a massive game changer that's willing to move (i.e. Texas, Notre Dame or UNC). I'd still leave a little bit of a door open for legit football powers that don't necessarily meet the academic requirements such as Oklahoma, Florida State and Miami because the potential money on the table would be too large to dismiss them out of turn.

Which I-A schools, if any, will join the AAU in the next 20 years and which will drop out?

To be clear, I'm not an expert on the AAU criteria. From the rankings that were used to justify ousting Nebraska, it appeared that Miami was the closest Division I-A school to meeting the AAU metrics (with Wake Forest not too far behind). The AAU school at most risk seemed to be Oregon, although the controversy around how Nebraska was voted out seemed to sour members on taking similar culling actions in the near future.