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Realignment Talk in the Big Twelve misses the point
The pervasive subject across the board is realignment. And the Big Twelve is center of attention. The Big Ten wants Missouri and Nebraska. The PAC Ten wants the entire Southern division of the Big Twelve, substituting Colorado for Baylor. The SEC covets Texas and will take A&M and T-Tech in order to get Texas. But will any of this happen? Not likely. And here are three reasons.
- Notre Dame is going to remain independent
The Big Ten wants Notre Dame, but Notre Dame's tradition as an independent is too much for the Big Ten to overcome with Notre Dame alums and supporters. Its NBC football contract is just too lucrative to give up and despite the down years recently, NBC's Saturday afternoon ratings have not suffered. The Big Ten has feelers out to Rutgers, UConn, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, because they would pick up the New Jersey/Pennsylvania recruiting ground and TV sets, but the Holy Grail is Notre Dame. Nebraska and Missouri do not bring any substantial recruits or TV's to the table (St. Louis is not a big enough prize.) Moreover, the interior schools of the Big Ten -- Indiana, Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State do not want the increased travel costs associated with Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, UConn, and Syracuse. The interior schools will find support for their position in Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois, so don't expect any additions from the East or West. The Westward Expansion would require the current Big Ten schools to give up TV dollars to make it attractive to the Huskers and Tigers. Notre Dame is the only school that makes sense.
With the addition of Notre Dame, the Big Ten would then have twelve schools and under the NCAA rules could hold a conference championship. Even if they do not get Notre Dame, expect the Big Ten to petition the NCAA for an exception to the "12 team for a conference championship" rule. That game could put an additional $40 million in their TV coffers.
- There is $750 million additional TV dollars available for playoff series.
The Big Ten opposes a playoff championship in football because right now they have the best of the possible. If one of their teams (think Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan) finish in the top ten, they get two big bowl teams -- one in the Bowl Championship series and the next best team goes to the Rose Bowl for 3 out of 4 years. In a playoff of 16, the SEC may place 4-5 teams, the Big 12 and PAC Ten would place at least 2-3 each, one from the Big East, ACC, Conference USA, Big West, and Mountain West. That would leave only 1-2 slots for the Big Ten. The Big Ten gets more teams in big bowls and minor bowls and more money under the current scheme.
Expect the SEC to propose engage in a two prong attack. First, the SEC will invite Florida State and Georgia Tech from the ACC. Second, the SEC will propose a +4 playoff with the top 4 SEC teams playing a December playoff on two weekends. The potential payout could be $80 million a year to the SEC teams. This mini-playoff would do four things: (1) add more money to the already rich SEC, (2) set the stage for a national playoff, (3) freeze out the Big Ten from more TV dollars, and (4) have a carrot to entice the Texas schools. This carrot is not enough to attract the Texans and the Texas legislature is not going to let the state schools do anything without protecting Baylor. (The one rule in the Texas Legislature that no one violates is "Don't hurt the Baptists.")
This +4 playoff in the SEC will be the beginning of the national playoff. The Big Twelve's participation in the $750 million payout will be substantial and no other alignment gives any of the schools more money. The Big Ten's expansion talk is to cut off playoff talk. Nebraska and Missouri joining the Big Ten does not provide them the opportunity for more bowls, playoffs or money. Both schools see opportunities to advance to the Big Twelve Conference Championship (and more money). So the money is there for a TV playoff of 16 and those 4 weekends in December could be really exciting.
- Texas is the Big Prize
DeLoss Dodds, the Texas AD, said, "We did not start this talk but we are going to finish it." More than Notre Dame, a combo of Nebraska and Missouri, or a combo of Rutgers/UConn/Syracuse/Pitt, Texas is the biggest prize because it will be a perennial contender. But Texas will not move without the other Texas schools. The practical travel problems to PAC Ten schools (Pullman to College Station?) and the TV times of a PAC Ten games rule out that option for the Southern group of the Big Twelve. Joining the SEC would not add more money to Texas coffers and would require re-association with hated Arkansas (Can anyone count how many times Texas has played Arkansas since the demise of the Southwest Conference?) Texas gets to be the top dog in the Big Twelve and gets the opportunity for bigger TV contracts in the Big Twelve than anywhere else.
Bottom line, Notre Dame does not move, So no one else moves either. The Big Ten will have to deal the +4 playoffs, which will start in the SEC and be quickly followed in the Big 12, PAC Ten and any other conference with twelve members. The Big 12 will stay put and negotiate a new TV contract with even more money for its members.
Take that Big Ten, which cannot count.