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


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217 comments Add your comment

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
7:48 pm

IL Jacket – Well, I used to take what seemed to be the only road up that way from Vineland, through Hammonton, and nothing but sand and little pine trees until Lakehurst. It was so boring that we’d often drive southeast over past Mays Landing and take the Garden State Parkway north. Occasionally, even the NJ Turnpike north and cut across through Freehold. The destination was Red Bank for a few years, and then Highlands after that.

Pine Valley is on the western edge of the Pine Barrens, near Berlin. I worked in Cherry Hill, and one of my many alternate routes from work to home took me near there. I think it was the only really nice golf club of note when I lived in South Jersey.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
7:50 pm

IL Jacket – BTW, where in IL?

IL Jacket

May 19th, 2010
8:09 pm

North shore suburbs of Chicago. We’re still waiting for spring to arrive.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
8:20 pm

Ah, yes. My wife’s from there. We got married in Glenview. Lived in Waukegan during Navy service. We drove back from NJ over New Years many years ago, parked the old Chevy and the engine block froze at -15 degrees and blew out the freeze plugs. Stayed frozen solid for over 2 weeks.

IL Jacket

May 19th, 2010
8:41 pm

Sounds like you were more persuasive than I was. My wife is from here and thus we stayed. When I was younger the winter didn’t bother me so, but I think my blood must be
thinning aa I get older.
Don’t know if you have been back lately, but they closed the Glenview NAS and turned it into a big planned unit development. Actually, they did a very nice job with it.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
8:59 pm

No, I didn’t know that the NAS had closed. I was at Great Lakes training center. The Navy was very “persuasive” in my case. We got bounced around a lot, Boston, Maryland, western Mass., Charleston SC, California & Hawaii. Her parents were in North Jersey all that time, so we put down roots in South Jersey for a few years when I got out. When we moved back to Georgia, they followed us. She still has an aunt and several cousins in the Chicago area. I’d like to get up there for a visit. I used to live a couple of miles from US 41 in Waukegan (Green Bay Rd.), and now I live a couple of miles from US 41 down here.

IL Jacket

May 19th, 2010
9:11 pm

Sounds like they used a lot of persuasion on you. You should come back for a visit-some things would be familiar, others have changed quite a bit. I think September
and October are our best time of year, although the way we have started we could be in for a cool summer.


May 19th, 2010
11:13 pm

Beeg TIN goes to sweet sixteen.Name one other than Notre Dame that adds any Marquee value? I confess,I too have a couple of notebooks realigning conferences to better affect a playoff for the national championship.No,none have a Beeg Tin expansion other than Ourish.


May 20th, 2010
1:18 am

Hopefully greed does not run college football into the ground.


May 20th, 2010
2:28 am

the bcs made boise state famous.

boise state has the brand recognition now that it took texas and bama 100 years to create.

that’s hilarious. i literally roll on the floor laughing when i think about it.

the best laid plans of mice and men….

[...] Will conference expansion move the BCS closer to a playoff?  [...]


May 20th, 2010
6:46 am

Tony you don’t have a clue. Stay out of trying to shape our decisions. We all know we are going to play-offs.

It has to.


May 20th, 2010
7:38 pm

“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.”
That is all the dignity the opposition is given? What do you mean “that train has left the station”? It is a legitimate arguement and should tax funding should be pro-rated based on the revenue of the extra ciricular activities. If the Medical departments create revenue by clinical trials, or if the gymnastic team makes more than the football team that should affect tax funding significantly. Tax revenue should be based on gross worth of an institution instead of sending them on a spending spree to get their net worth down. If the head coach of a college football team is the highest paid government employee in the state, making more than the governer etc. then something is wrong.


May 20th, 2010
7:46 pm

My tax dollars shouldn’t be thown in the pot if they are rolling in the dough already. Why should my tax dollars go to make a sports coach or athletic director the highest paid government employee in the state? The train station needs to be examined. College costs are astonomical. Some projections say that a person making $35k a year without college and not haveing to pay off student loans thus having more to put away over a longer period can have a more comfortable retirement than someone who uses their college degree to make $50k per year. Quit lining the pockets of Media Markets university employees and investers with MY TAX DOLLARS.


May 20th, 2010
10:06 pm

It amazes me that some don’t want an 8 team playoff because “it adds too many games” or it “dilutes the regular season” or any other elitist nonsense.

An 8 team playoff if 7 games. The current Bowl Championship Series is 5. You are making an argument based on the addition of TWO games?

It doesn’t dilute the regular season to have conference champions play. Conferences are different quality in make up and this changes from season to season. An SEC team, who had arguably the toughest conference in 09 and who had finished with 1 loss was demonstratively better than the undefeated winner of the Big East. Reward the teams that win confernces with a shot to play the games to win a championship. You cannot get a truly honest feel for matchups with the lack of common opponents or head to head play for those top teams.

Other than that, keep the rules similar to what they are now. Take the highest ranked Non-AQ if they are in the top 8 or maybe top 10. Otherwise it is the top ranked teams that are not conference champs. It is easy and not as dramatic as some of you are making it out to be. Again, you eliminated 112 (93.4%) of the teams with the regular season. Let the champions fight it out at the end.


May 21st, 2010
12:47 am

There will be no college playoff unless the “bowl situation” is resolved. My take: since all but one
of the current bowls are basically fund-raisers for the host cities and exhibition games for teams with
6-6 or better seasons, why not move the fund-raisers/exhibition contests to the pre-season? Atlanta’s Chick-filet pre-season game has proven to be a great appetizer. Both teams are undefeated, the fans
are starved, recruits notice and the networks are looking for something other than MLB’s dog-days-of-August games. How about Alabama-USC, Georgia-Texas, Florida-Ohio State, Tennessee-
Michigan, Boise State-Oklahoma to get the season rolling? Then, CFB could get serious
about a true championship playoff. Sixteen teams with the higher seeds playing at home
until the championship game which could be rotated between the current BCS hosts. Worried
about the weather? Don’t. The best game I saw in 2009 was the semi-final contest between
Montana State and Appy State, played in a driving snowstorm before a packed house!


May 24th, 2010
10:31 am

Smoke and mirrors. I wouldn’t place much faith in any internet poster who claims to have “insider info” or friends in high places. If that was the case, said poster would be doing something more important with his/her time than message boards.

The company line from some of the Texas fanbase is the Pac 10 is the preferred landing spot. This is hogwash. The main factors killing any move to the pac are 1) control issues and 2) distance.

The Pac teams are not going to roll over and allow Texas to begin calling shots. Texas will not have the same stroke that they do in the Big 12. And at this point, the Pac doesn’t appear to have made any statements expressing interest in supporting a Longhorn sports network.

In addition to this, can you imagine the road trips? Keep in mind that it’s more than just football who travels. It’s baseball, women’s soccer. Volleyball, etc. A roadie from austin to washington state or oregon is not ideal in terms of cost, nor is it ideal for the study time of the student athletes who must make said trips.

Mr Slive from the SEC recently interviewed on ESPN radio in Dallas. He made several key statements. One of which was his support for each SEC institution to have their own tv “package” or network. Another was his great respect for the success of teams like UT, aTm, and TTech.

He seemed to be giving the green light for a Longhorn network supported by the SEC. He also made mention of the close proximity between the SEC and State of Texas…something neither the Pac or Big 10 has.

There is a lot more going on than meets the eye. I would not dismiss Texas/Texas A&M to the SEC just yet. Things just got even more interesting.