Would mega-expansion get us closer to a playoff? I don’t think so

 I get asked a lot whether or not big-time conference expansion would bring us closer to some kind of playoff in Division I-A football. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if we end up with four, 16-team conferences, a playoff of some kind is more likely?

I don’t think so. And here’s why.

Amid the clutter of noise that surrounds the issue of expansion, we occasionally have a moment of clarity. That really didn’t come yesterday when Commissioner Jim Delany told reporters at the Big Ten Conference meetings that his league might look South for expansion. Understand that Delany’s comment was just another shot across the bow of the SEC, the Big Ten’s only rival when it comes to financial supremacy in college athletics. When you’re reading all of these expansion stories and projections remember that at the end of the day it is about only one thing: The SEC vs. The Big Ten. Everything else is just conversation.

The clarity about which I write this morning came last Friday when Delany did a brief Q&A with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Delany was asked: What should be the role of the NCAA in regulating some of the commercial issues in college sports?

I’m paraphrasing his answer but essentially Delany’s response was that the NCAA really doesn’t have a role in this regard. That’s because the schools and the conferences should control and benefit directly from the revenue they generate. The NCAA is not there to spread the wealth: “No one questions that Harvard or Texas have a (big) endowment and don’t share it with Hofstra and South Alabama.”

And then Delany said this. Read this very carefully:

“But intercollegiate athletics is sort of unique in that institutions that have certain advantages—based on demographics or history or tradition or fan base—somehow are seen as the sources of resources for others that do not. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, but there’s certainly a lot of gnashing of teeth, like why doesn’t the Rose Bowl spread its revenue around to Boise State?”

Read this even more carefully:

“Well, partially because we developed it. We built it, it’s our tradition and to the extent that it’s successful, it’s successful for our institutions. So that’s essentially a home-rule approach. I think it’s an honest approach. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with money, but life’s a lot easier when you have it than when you don’t.”

Delany is one of the most blunt and to the point men I’ve met in college athletics. He is nothing if not brutally honest. His point, I believe, is that while the media, and fans, and Congress want college football to throw all the money into a big pot, hold a playoff, sing Kumbaya, and share everything equally for their entertainment, that’s not the real world.

Here is what I believe Delany would say to those people if he could:

“Hey guys, let’s have a little reality check here. The Big Ten and the other power conferences like the SEC have built college football, and specifically post-season football, into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. ESPN is going to pay the BCS $125 million in each of the next four years. And they ain’t paying that kind of money to see Boise State play Utah for the national championship.

“The reality is that our institutional brands, which have been built over 100 years of hard work, are what bring the eyeballs to the television sets and create the value. Remember that the networks came to US in 1998 in order to build the BCS. They determined that the six equity conferences (ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10) gave them the best value. It has now become one of the most successful brands in the history of sport.

“Now does Ohio State or Alabama have an advantage over other schools because of size, tradition and fan base? They sure do and we’re not about to apologize for it or give it away. I work for the 11 presidents of the Big Ten and my job is to put our institutions in the best possible position, both competitively and financially.

“We’ve tried to be fair for the sake of keeping peace but all we get is grief from Congress, the media, and the fans who think every conference should be equal and we should just give away the equity our institutions have built. Here is another dose of reality: Before the BCS the five non-equity conferences (Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt) were making relatively little money from bowl games. In the past five years those conferences have collectively taken home about $80 million from the BCS. I would say we’ve been more than fair.”

Here my ultimate point on this exercise. The Supreme Court decision of 1984 determined that individual schools, not the NCAA, own the property rights to a school’s football games. And the benefits that are created by these institutional brands will accrue to the institutions. That’s the law. Delany’s point is that his institutions should not be forced to give away the equity they have built any more than Steve Jobs should be forced to share his I-Pad revenue with the folks who make the Kindle.

The counter argument, of course, is that educational institutions are, for the most part, tax funded and should not be conducting business like Apple or Kindle. But I’m afraid that train has already left the station.

If we have expansion Armageddon, the conference’s first and only goal will be to protect its members and to give its specific television partner (s) the best bang for its buck.  College football’s regular season, which is the best of any organized sport, will become even more important because so much money is invested in it. The Big Ten could decide that playing in the Rose Bowl is in its long term best interest because that way it controls the equity that it has created. The SEC could decide that its champion will play somebody in the Sugar Bowl and wait for the polls. In other words, the big conferences will become even more insular and detached from the other conferences in Division I-A because that is in the long-term best interests of their institutions.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope that in four years we can come up with a way to have a four-team playoff for the national championship.

But I also know that the big conferences are terrified that college football might go the way of college basketball, where the vast majority of the public outside of Durham and Chapel Hill doesn’t pay attention until the NCAA Tournament.  The commissioners are going to do everything in their power to protect the regular season. Will it ever come to the point of the biggest conferences pulling away from the NCAA to form their own organization? I don’t think so. I sure hope not.

That’s why I think if expansion comes in a big way it moves us further away from a playoff than ever.

 

MACINTYRE FUND UPDATE: Last week I wrote about former Vanderbilt coach George MacIntyre, who is bedridden with MS and was forced out of his home by the floods in Nashville. Former Vanderbilt players are raising funds to get permanent housing for Coach Mac and his wife, Betty. The papers have been filed now all donations are tax deductable. If you want to help, please send a donation to:

Betty & George MacIntyre Flood Relief Fund

Green Bank

4205 Hillsboro Road, Suite 101

Nashville, TN 37215

 

Please follow me on Twitter:

www.twitter.com/MrCFB

217 comments Add your comment

KJ

May 19th, 2010
11:14 am

“the Big 10 is the premier conference in the nation.”

aaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahah… Good one gnat. You SHOULD move to the Big 10, you’d fit right in with all of the delusional idiots in that conference.

Unforgiving

May 19th, 2010
11:14 am

Hey, I think it is a great idea to expand so the Big Ten and others can have another easy game in their conference. This will have more impact guaranteeing those one or two teams in getting a BCS bid. You guys are doing a lot to get this stuff done. However, it is the play on the field that matters. One day you may know this.

G8R GRAD

May 19th, 2010
11:18 am

Hold on, there, Boss:

Of the top 50 or so universities listed on US News & World Repeports’ 2010 Best National (read that public) Universities, 8 were Big 10 and SIX were SEC.
Not exactly an overwhelming margin.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
11:19 am

Even a 4 team playoff would ruin the regular season and create more crying about rankings than solving of problems.

G8R GRAD

May 19th, 2010
11:20 am

And that doesn’t include Vandy!

HugoStiglitz

May 19th, 2010
11:20 am

I actually appreciate Delanys honesty. He said what we all know already that College Football is a business. Its not a sport anymore. There is no reason for the rich guys who run these teams to give up the fat paycheck they are getting in the name of fairness and crowning a real champion for the first time.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:22 am

Notre Dame plays 3 away games this year, plus 2 neutral sites (Meadowlands and Yankee Stadium). Still doesn’t top Auburn’s 8 home games, though.

Dan

May 19th, 2010
11:24 am

I think you’re right, Otto. Just look at this past year. Who would have been in the four team playoff? Obviously Texas and Bama because they were both unbeaten major conference champions, but who after that? Before the bowls, everyone thought TCU was better than Boise. It just creates more issues.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:25 am

G8R GRAD – And it also doesn’t include Northwestern.

RxDawg

May 19th, 2010
11:26 am

It’s hard to argue with Delaney’s points.

Steve

May 19th, 2010
11:26 am

If one conference expands, they all will expand to remain competitive. Not on the field, that does not really matter to men like Delaney, but where it matters, in the checkbook. They are all competeing for the media $$$ and the conference with the biggest demograhic footprint will get the most media $$$. Bottom line!

IL Jacket

May 19th, 2010
11:28 am

I don’t know, Tony. I think there is another reading that could be given to Delaney’s comments. When viewed in the context of the resentment that the power conferences have with the way the NCAA runs the basketball tournament, I think what Delaney is suggesting could be that if there is a playoff, those institutions that created the interest in the first place (in this hypothetical-the 4 super conferences) are going to keep the money and we aren’t going to be splitting it with the NCAA or any small fry conferences either. Ergo, we will participate on a playoff system, but it will be one delivering all of the eyeballs for the game. Nothing personal Boise State, it’s just business.

The reiteration of the comments about geographic and demographic issues for expansion give credence to the possibility of Tech being considered. Is it a long-shot, sure. But once the ball starts rolling, there is no telling where it would come to rest.

Reptiles Rule

May 19th, 2010
11:31 am

kgator79…I understand your point regarding an 8 team playoff system. The problem is that eight becomes sixteen, then sixteen becomes twenty-four and twenty four becomes thirty two etc etc. Look no further than college basketball and the NCAA Tournament expansion. And soon enough THAT number will be in the 90’s (almost was this year) rendering an already watered down season into…well, let’s just let ‘em all in and forget about the regular season. It is no wonder that college basketball ratings are down from just a few years ago. And let’s not even talk about the NBA or NHL ratings. Why ruin something that is so wildly popular and is talked about year round as witnessed on these blogs…???

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:33 am

G8R GRAD – The ACC and Big 12 each have 8 in the USN&WR public top 50.

Scott

May 19th, 2010
11:36 am

You can drop any talk of Texas joining some SEC mega-conference. Not. Gonna. Happen.

G8R GRAD

May 19th, 2010
11:37 am

Thanks Delbert, I didn’t realize Northwestern was a private school.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
11:37 am

East Cobb Hokie

May 19th, 2010
11:39 am

4 Mega Conferences will (in my opiniobn) result in a 4 team playoff. 4 teams would have to win their conference championship game. This would avoid blocking a very deserving team, like Auburn a few years ago that was undefeated, including winning the SEC CG.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
11:42 am

Also on the list from Tony’s article, how many time where the 4 team model solves a problem with the 3rd team, does it create a problem with picking the 4th team.

Utah will still be wasting time in Congress wanting a bigger playoff and they’ll get it. Just as basketball started out with 8, football will grow killing the regular season and just as in basketball the playoff itself will decline in interest.

HugoStiglitz

May 19th, 2010
11:43 am

There is only one fair way to do a playoff. Every conference champion gets into the tournament. There are 12 FBS conferences therefore you can either have a 12 team playoff (4 first round byes) or a 16 team playoff with 4 at large bids. It would be the only fair way to do it. A 4 team playoff wouldnt solve anything. If they did it this way they could probably get the NCAA to recognize it also.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
11:45 am

I’ll take the fun of the regular season and current problems with Auburn being left out in ‘04 and UGA in ‘07 over the playoff (even 4 team) or mega conf.

Also this is from someone that is a life long UGA fan who grew up with season tickets and very strong Auburn ties in the family.

IL Jacket

May 19th, 2010
11:45 am

G8R Grad, let me help you with your arithmetic. In USN&WR’s top 50 National Universities there are 5 Universities from the Big Ten, 5 Universities from the ACC and 2 from the SEC-Vanderbilt and #47 Florida.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:47 am

Otto – More lipstick on a pig, as they say. Do the Big 16/PAC 16 alliance and the “SEC” 16 and “ACC” 16 alliance, and you have a 64 team playoff, assuming they want to.

By the way, adding Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas and Iowa St. to the SEC adds 4 AAU members.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
11:48 am

HugoStiglitz,

The basketball tournament started with Conf champs only but grew to include non champ when USC was left out while UCLA was on a roll.

The argument was USC being left out due to playing a tougher conf deserved to be in the Tournament.

A 4 round tournament would decrease ratings in the regular seaon and over time lower ratings in the tournament itself.

Jim from Crestwood

May 19th, 2010
11:49 am

Where is Bama in this academic ranking? I guarantee you we are in the Top 10 universities locted in Alabama…right?

Otto

May 19th, 2010
11:50 am

Kansas and Iowa St. to the SEC? please learn something about the demographic and politics of College Sports before posting comments and wasting bandwidth.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:51 am

“64 team playoff, assuming they want to.”

Clarifying that, 64-teams play round-robin to win their division, and then 8 team conference/alliance playoffs.

Tex

May 19th, 2010
11:52 am

Boys, you need to be disabused of the notion that any of the big schools in my state will allow their conference to be run by anyone who thinks that real BBQ comes from a pig. This is the real cultural divide and the SEC and teams from my state are on separate sides of it. However we can both join together and condemn any conference where BBQ is used as a verb rather than a noun (Big 10 are you listening?).

PMC

May 19th, 2010
11:54 am

I understand why they behave the way they do I simply beseech the Jim Delaneys of the world to give us the BEST bowl matchups.

Please. PLEASE give us good bowl matchups. I don’t care about the mythical national championship. That’s going to be speculative even with a small playoff. I don’t want a situation again where USC is playing an extremely average Illinois team in a bowl because of tradition when there is a better matchup available. Keep the money. I get it, you don’t want to share…. but give us great matchups at least in the bowls so we can enjoy the games at least.

Blow up the traditional bowl matchup deals. It’s bad for the economics of college football as a whole for all the conferences.

Forget the playoff… give us great matchups.

Dan

May 19th, 2010
11:55 am

Funny comment, Tex.

But I love me some pulled pork!

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:55 am

Otto – these mega-conferences make that secondary. It’s no more of an oddity of BC and Miami in the same conference. I’ve been following college sports since 3-channel, black and white days.

Charles from Reeltown

May 19th, 2010
11:56 am

PMC’s post = post of the day…if not the year.

PMC

May 19th, 2010
11:56 am

A month of talking and anticipating 2 weeks of great bowl matchups would be an epic end to the college football season.

Charles from Reeltown

May 19th, 2010
11:57 am

Tex’s post = truth

Charles from Reeltown

May 19th, 2010
11:57 am

Paul Finebaum = God made flesh and bone

T3

May 19th, 2010
11:59 am

Delaney understands “business.”
Any organization has “go to where the market is.”

In this case, its really about the demographic “market.”
Delaney clearly understands this.

As Gretzky use to say, “You dont skate to where the puck IS.
You skate to where the puck is GOING TO BE.”

State of Nebraska has approx 1.8 million TOTAL residents.
State of Georgia has approx 8.5 million TOTAL residents.

How many Big10 alums live in Nebraska?
How many Big10 alums live in Georgia?

Over a 10, 20, 30 year horizon, which “expansion candidate”
represents the bigger potential financial gain to the Big10 network,
University of Nebraska or GT. GT, by a “financial” mile.

IMHO, the purpose of Delaney making his pronouncement of “southward expansion” has nothing to do with “sending a shot across the SEC bow.”

The REAL purpose was to “subtully” put potential expansion candidates on notice that the Big10 is considering coming to call. Its a professional & graceful way of prompting possible expansion candidates to start doing your own due diligence on the idea of joining the Big10, so that if/when the Big10 calls, you’ll have carefully evaluated your own standards and requirements BEFORE-HAND.

The fact that SEC super-homer Barnhart, potrays this as nothing but a pissin match between the Big10 and the SEC tells you how
narrow-minded Barnhart is. Foks, the Big10 isnt coming to “raid” the SEC. The Big10 clearly sees that their “market” is changing significantly, and the Big10 has to change with it.

GT, Maryland, and possibly Virginia all seem to
nicely fit the “market” the Big10 is after. All 3 are also AAU members.

And BTW, AAU membership is an INVITATION-ONLY organization.
GT didnt just suddenly “choose” to join.
They were INVITED to join. A big difference.

However, the “timing” of the invitation might prove interesting.

HugoStiglitz

May 19th, 2010
12:05 pm

Otto, so if im understanding correctly you would rather Fox and ESPN make more money then have College Football crown a real champion? If College Football is going to stay the way it is now then they should just get rid of the notion of a national champion. They can have their bowl games, and make lots of money and just not crown some random team champion. Conference championships would be what every team strives for which might be for the best. This would make even more sense if the mega conferences come along.

Marble Rye

May 19th, 2010
12:05 pm

If you’re like Delany, and come only from the money angle, there is justification based on that alone. Too capitalist IMO. However, some things in college football should transcend money, and the problem is so few things do. How many more (b)millions does the BigTen or SEC or any of the other Big Six need to thrive? Would sharing the championship opportunity with the MAC, C*USA or MWC really put the Big Six conferences at a highly disadvantageous position? Is the Big Six’s greed that out-of-control? One of this country’s founding principles (or myths, however you want to look at it) is equal opportunity, and it’s clear Delany thumbs his nose at is. How modern-American.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
12:06 pm

Delbert The SEC does not care nor will care if schools are AAU members. The Big10 may care. The SEC will be after championships and money.

T3

May 19th, 2010
12:09 pm

WTH does…”Too capitalist”…mean ??

Otto

May 19th, 2010
12:12 pm

Delany is what America was built on. Sharing with those that have not worked their way up is modern American.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
12:15 pm

Hugo, Money is a by product of having a sport that is fun and interesting to watch. Football championships are more fun to watch as it is harder to attain with more variables.

Why drop a National Championship? The system is working.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
12:15 pm

Otto – Yeah, that’s one of the hangups with the SEC in general. It’s not education, it’s just football. But the only possible championships right now are conference championships, so that part of the argument isn’t even in play.

Dan

May 19th, 2010
12:17 pm

Marble Rye, no one is telling the smaller schools that they can’t exist or can’t try to compete. That qualifies as equal opportunity. The fact is that there just isn’t a big market for their product because, quite simply, it isn’t that good. That’s American.

And too capitalist? Please move to Europe. Those words should not even be in your verbiage.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
12:18 pm

“WTH does…”Too capitalist”…mean ??” – T3, you need to write a letter to Nancy Pelosi on that one.

PMC

May 19th, 2010
12:24 pm

I can’t enjoy brisket and pulled pork?

Otto

May 19th, 2010
12:24 pm

Education? The kids get an education in Football and if they want the chance to go after whatever major they want. They are often given a chance at that education when they do not have the funds or requirements to otherwise get that degree. They also are given major networking opportunities while in school. How many athletes that do not make it in sports end up in their own business ventures or coaching after sports?

If we follow the Big10 model kids that did not have the funds or requirements out of High School should be denied a chance at a college degree or networking with the boosters of the athletic programs?

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
12:25 pm

I’m sticking with my Ford trucks. No “Government Motors” in the future for me.

HugoStiglitz

May 19th, 2010
12:27 pm

How is the system working Otto? Every year we all talk about how much of a joke college footballs postseason is. Congress even has introduced bills to force it to change. We never have any idea who the best team is at the end of the season. Some teams cant win the MNC regardless of how well they play, or who they play. Its just a big mess. The MNC is just another bowl game anyways, there is no real reason for why the teams there got there so why call it a National Championship?

Tex

May 19th, 2010
12:28 pm

PMC, all lovers of BBQ can and probably do love both the steer and the swine. The quesion really is what constitutes “proper” BBQ in your mind. In most US non yankeefied jurisdictions that is a binary choice between swine or steer.