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

TommyJack

May 19th, 2010
8:47 am

I always value TB’s take.

Grantland Rice

May 19th, 2010
8:59 am

Delany sounds desperate, like a 8 year old clamoring for attention. Seems he can’t stand the fact that the Big 10 has lost it’s luster and has taken a backseat to the SEC.

Ron Mexico

May 19th, 2010
9:00 am

There’s a little hubris going on here thinking that Delany is materially concerned about the SEC. It’s the Big 10 vs. the rest of the college football world.

But you’re right, 4 16-team conferences doesn’t lead to a four team playoff, because of the need to include the little guy. It doesn’t even set up nicely for an 8 team playoff. That said, I don’t think a 16 team conference leads logically to the Big 10 breaking away from the BCS and going back to a limited deal with the Rose Bowl – there’s too much money on the table from the BCS to walk away from.

14TH--ON THE WAY

May 19th, 2010
9:02 am

Very interesting, Tony. Now, when are you going to paraphrase what Mike Slive is thinking?

Not happening but...

May 19th, 2010
9:08 am

I really don’t see 16-team conferences becoming a reality, but if they do, I have to believe we would get closer to a playoff. Having say 4 mega conferences would pretty much destroy the Big East and all the non-AQ conferences so there wouldn’t be anyone left to share the wealth with. Any of the teams currently in these conferences who are not picked up by someone would more than likely just fall into the Division 1-AA level…most of which deserve to be there anyway. Frankly, I’d like to see the Big Ten expand to 14 teams with 1 Big East team and 2 Big 12 teams, have the Pac-10 expand to 12 teams, the SEC stay at 12 and Notre Dame being left with no one left to play but the service academies and the MAC. In twenty years, the city of South Bend can convert the building once used for the College Football Hall of Fame into a “Remember When Notre Dame Had Football” museum.

Dan

May 19th, 2010
9:14 am

If Notre Dame would just go ahead and join the Big 10 everything would be fine. If not, I think the major changes that could come from stronger conferences raiding weaker conferences will be bad for the game. The game that mind you has the best regular season by far and is the best overall sport in the country.

travy

May 19th, 2010
9:17 am

good piece, but i think a ‘nat’l championship’ will always outweigh a ‘conference championship’ to everyone from fans to tv networks to the colleges. take that golden ring out of the equation and the excitement level goes way down.

college football wouldn’t be the the first organization to dine on the golden goose.

Alphare

May 19th, 2010
9:18 am

One question I have for Delany is: why do you call you conference Big Ten if you have 11 teams?

Is that 11th team a red-headed stepchild?

Can you change it to Big Eleven? Man, Big Ten people are not very smart. I think all our SEC fans can agree on that one.

RamblinRed

May 19th, 2010
9:19 am

Reading more of the quotes from the Big 10 meetings shed light on alot of the expansion topics.
First, it isn’t happening this year. They are not even going to vote on it. So next year is going to be the big year when everything breaks loose.
Second, the drivers for the Big 10 are very different than say the drivers for the SEC or ACC were – which was creating a championship game. They all but said they don’t care about the championship game and the relatively small money they believe it creates for the conference.

Third, the driving factors for the Big 10 are demographics, TV markets, and academics. They see more of the population heading to the SunBelt region and they want to be able to tap into those students. Second, they want to expand the cable nextworks that carry the Big 10 Network so they can both increase their carriage fees as well as they ad rates. Third, all the Big 10 schools are members of the AAU and with the exception of Notre Dame – any school they consider will likely be a member of that organization.

Delaney’s comments are actually a nice positive for GT. While I don’t think the SEC necessarily would have GT high on its expansion candidates list – it likely moves up if they think they can grab GT as a defensive measure to keep the Big 10 out of the Atlanta market. I don’t think it is a coincidence that GT became the first new member of the AAU in 9 years. I don’t think GT will join the Big 10, but I do think they will use the Big 10 as leverage to get into the SEC if a big conference re-alignment happens.

It is going to be an interesting 12 months.

Mike

May 19th, 2010
9:27 am

I miss the way New Year’s Day used to be. Let’s go back to the old system where almost every bowl on NYD meant something and had something to do with the national title race. Here’s hoping the conferences will do just what Tony says here. Abandon the BCS and go back to the old bowl system.

P-Man

May 19th, 2010
9:29 am

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I long for the days when there wasn’t this pressure to win a national championship or be considered a failure (pre-BCS). On the other, if we are going to have a “champion”, it needs to be decided on the field, not by polls/computers. If we’re going to have this pressure to win at all costs, then these coaches and players need to have the opportunity to determine their own destiny, and not have it be left up to the whims of others.

Not happening but...

May 19th, 2010
9:31 am

Mike, I agree with going back to when New Year’s Day meant something, but disagree on completely going back to the way it was. If we could cut the number of bowl games in half and not have any automatic conference tie-ins (thus allowing a 1 vs 2 every year and avoiding another Georgia vs Hawaii game), then I say let’s do it.

Reptiles Rule

May 19th, 2010
9:39 am

College football is a winning formula. Every Saturday in the fall is monumental. Every game counts. Every Saturday in the fall we all wake up like little kids on Christmas Day. So why do we always want to screw with success?? Why do we want to become like the NFL or the NBA or HNL Hockey? I want to keep waking up on those fall Saturday mornings with that same excitement and not knowing what dramatic upsets will unfold that day. Now pretty soon someone’s gonna want to tell me there’s no Santa Claus.

SimpleDawg

May 19th, 2010
9:40 am

Delany talks like “Bill the Butcher” from GANGS OF NEW YORK. He believes that his Rust Belt cronies rule the roost…..but I detect a bit of envy in his stated desire to expand south. His brand is a faded brand….bleached out by defeats when his upper crust teams play SEC upper crust teams. The Rose Bowl for all of it’s “Grand Daddy of Bowls” hype has held very few meaningful games over the past 8-10 years.

Delany likes to “throw around the weight of the mighty Big Ten ( +1 )”………

Will Rogers once said, “Be careful when you feel like throwing your weight around….someone else may want to also.”

Forrest Gump is the most famous Bama grad

May 19th, 2010
9:51 am

Well, if there was a playoff system in college football, teams like Bama, Ohio State etc would lose to teams like TCU, Boise State and Utah. We can’t have that, can we……..

dawgfan

May 19th, 2010
9:52 am

Something tells me this whole Big 10 expansion thing is a lot of hot air and a ploy for attention. The Big 10 is looking up to the SEC and they don’t like it. It just sounds like a bunch of talk with no action. We’ll see.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
9:53 am

Agreed with Delany. I may dislike Big10 teams but thank them for keeping playoffs out of CFB.

Keep the season as it is and up the scholarships back up to 95. The higher scholarships will weed out many of the nonBCS teams that are suddenly undeserving Cinderellas playing easy schedules. The CFB season has been a weekly playoff making it more fun than any other American sport becuse every game counts. The BCS system has worked more times than not giving a true National Champ.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
9:56 am

The Big 10 network is available in Atlanta on Comcast. If they look south, I hope they consider fellow AAU member Georgia Tech. Playing Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and the like would be better than the current scheme of Virginia, Maryland, NC State, etc.

Don

May 19th, 2010
10:00 am

Hey Tony, how’s your 401k/IRA’s doing? Soon you won’t even care about college football, mr college football when your savings have evaporated.

Kiffinisatosser

May 19th, 2010
10:02 am

Did Delaney actually say that the Big 10 was looking to expand southwards? I have not been able to find that quote. ESPN claims that one should not confuse studies about southward demographic shifts and inviting southern schools into the Big 10. Tony, did you misinterpret?

Dan

May 19th, 2010
10:04 am

Dalaney is dead on.

No GT

May 19th, 2010
10:06 am

Georgia Tech can barely hold their own in the ACC…they wouldn’t be successful in the Big Ten. They would just be another another tiny stadium school that can’t sell out their games like Northwestern and Indiana. They can replace Pitt in the Big East when the Big Ten snatches them away next year.

Charles from Reeltown

May 19th, 2010
10:08 am

Playoffs would ruin the only pure sport left other than fishing…oh wait, I forgo about the pro bass circuit. Scratch that.

Another second of these idiotic NBA and NHL playoffs and I may become a mass murderer…thank goodness there are no masses in Reeltown.

McDawg

May 19th, 2010
10:08 am

the only thing i see coming out of this expansion business is mediocrity not to be confused with parity

Tech Fan Since 1950

May 19th, 2010
10:13 am

At the end of a given football season, if Boise State ranked #1 and Utah ranked #2 and they were going to play each other for the national championship they would have an audience Tony. Maybe not initially as big as some “traditional” football factories, but a profitable audience none the less. Yes, I know dollars seem to rule over integrity when dealing with the BCS. The whole point about this issue is to give everyone a fair shot. If Alabama or Ohio State or Southern Cal are going to play Utah during the regular season and get credit for beating them, then Utah should get credit for playing these teams and for beating them too (on the way to a national championship opportunity). It truly is not a national championship now, and will never be a national championship, until all teams in Division I-A football have the opportunity to fight to be a national champion. That’s the beauty of the NCAA playoffs in other football divisions and other sports. Yes, I know, it’s just about dollars to the TV boys, conference athletic officials, and sports journalists.

AlphaDawg

May 19th, 2010
10:20 am

Just an idea…What about a 14 team MEGA conference? SEC adds Texas and the Tarheels. SEC adds two rabid fan bases, boosts SEC’s basketball identity(which I don’t think it needs) by having 4 of last ten NCAA tourney champs, not sure of final 4 appearances and 6 of last 10 BCS champs. UNC would gain Football cred which it is desperatly seeking, and slowly gaining with Butch, and 14 teams wouldn’t dilute the non-conference games that many SEC teams historically enjoy(FSU v UF, UGA v Tech etc). And I’m not even mentioning baseball. This is just an idea, but I imagin the money ramifications both in football, basketball, and even baseball would be huge for all schools involved.

Dan

May 19th, 2010
10:23 am

That’s not his point, 1950. He is saying that the reason people watch is because of the brand awareness that the football factories created a long time ago.

A Boise St. – Utah title game might get eyeballs but they’d do it only because of the groundwork laid by people before them. Basically they didn’t build anything but now that it is built, they want to profit from it too.

murfdawg

May 19th, 2010
10:24 am

Now I understand why the Buckeyes think they are THE only school to play football. They have their little Rose Bowl game and get a nice check, go back to Ohio and wait to play another Big 10(11) schedule. Delany has to make the Rose Bowl out to be the biggest game every year because it is the only big game the conference plays. Since The ohio state university has never beaten an SEC team, Delany has to protect his team and his conference. He will never vote to have a playoff because the Big 10(11) will eventually have to play an SEC team. And we know how that will end up.

Seems like I remember Vince Dooley taking on the NCAA long time ago about keeping tv money. I can’t remember all the details, but Dooley wanted to form a separate conference for big time football and leave the NCAA. Maybe it is time for the SEC, the Big 12, and eight other schools to form a Baby NFL. The NCAA can have the Big 10(11) and the PAC 2 and the precious Rose Bowl. Then Congress can have Boise State and Utah playing in a BCS bowl every year. The Baby NFL will be divided into divisions and have a playoff and a champion determined on the field. Then the players can step into the NFL, nobody has to worry about graduation rates and the schools will make more money than the Rose Bowl could ever imagine.

Tony, you could be the first Commissioner of the Baby NFL. Now it is up to you.

kgator79

May 19th, 2010
10:32 am

Reptiles Rule….while I certainly agree that every saturday right now is important and we dont want to mess with that too much. I do believe that having even an 8 team playoff still keeps every saturday important if say we base it off the top 8 ranked BCS teams. Because its not like getting into the top 8 is something all that easy. You can be ranked say #4 or #5 going into that last weekend against a big rivalry game. Lose it and you may fall out of that top 8. So the point is, the games would still be very important every week. A 16 team playoff would not be as much so though.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
10:35 am

I can see a split developing in the NCAA. There could be a Big 10 / PAC 10 alliance with 16 or more schools in each that truly separates itself from the rest of Div. 1A (BCS). The Rose Bowl would be the big prize, and no doubt they would scoop up some other bowls. The Big 10+ would control the TV Markets from the great plains to the the northeast. With the addition of Colorado and possibly BYU, the PAC 10+ controls everything west of the Rockies. If Maryland and/or Ga. Tech goes Big 10+ those Atlanta/N. Virginia/D.C./ Maryland TV markets would be big plums. And, the Big 10+ would retain its all-AAU status.

[...] Jim Delany tells Joe where he can stick his manhood (h/t Tony Barnhart). … But intercollegiate athletics is sort of unique in that institutions that have certain [...]

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
10:40 am

murfdawg – I like the idea of a “baby NFL,” but why have it associated with and funded by universities? It would be a good place to go for ex-high school players who cannot meet the minimum academic requirements that regular applicants have to meet.

Ramblin Wrecker

May 19th, 2010
10:43 am

No GT,

I guess tying for the Coastal Division in 2008 and winning the ACC in 2009 doesn’t qualify as “barely holding their own” in the ACC?!?!?!? Moron.

I think it is not a coincidence that GT has recently been added to the AAU. I think GT saw that as a leverage move to make themselves an attractive target for the Big 10 and thereby a more strategic target for the SEC to protect its home turf.

GT will be in the Big 10 or SEC if there is expansion.

Charles from Reeltown

May 19th, 2010
10:43 am

NFL Minor Leagues….a concept whose time has come.

Boss

May 19th, 2010
10:43 am

I agree with everything RamblinRed said except I think GT would take the Big 10 invite over the SEC invite.

As it stands today, the Big 10 pays out far more money than the SEC per school, has the most alumni, and has excellent academics. There is no doubt whatsoever, that as it stands today, the Big 10 is the premier conference in the nation.

If they expand to 16 via AAU schools like GT, Texas, Maryland, Rutgers, and throw in ND for good measure, they will become the 1 national superconference. Even if the SEC goes to 16, it will be via the ACC schools and will remain a regional conference.

Now you decide:

A 16 team national-level superconference with all members in the AAU, or in the case of ND, very highly regarded academically. With the biggest payout in the land by far. With it’s own network. With a lock on college sports for decades to come. America’s conference.

vs.

A 16 team SEC. All southeast. All awful academic schools except for Vandy which is itself is a joke in football. Millions less per year.

It’s not even close, GT would take the Big 10 invite in a heartbeat. SEC Tradition was nice, but the future is here and it’s the Big 10 going national.

Otto

May 19th, 2010
10:45 am

Tech Fan since 1950, The viewership would decline as it has with basketball tournament. The regular season would become boring just as in Basketball.

Jim from Crestwood

May 19th, 2010
10:50 am

The colleges should cease their cosy relationships with the No Fun League. Why should the NFL be allowed to free-ride off the colleges as a minor league? How do you do it? Simple, force all football players to be proper students.

Tech Fan Since 1950

May 19th, 2010
10:55 am

Dan, please give us a break. Those “brands” you speak of were built on the backs of all the Division I-A schools that have been beaten up by the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Southern Cal, etc. If all the so-called “brands” just played each other eleven games out of a season, there would never be an undefeated team. Everybody would be so beat up they might not be able to field a team through December. The BCS is built on the backs of the Tulanes, Rice’s, New Mexico States, you pick a school with a poor win-loss record, etc. Hey, I remember when Alabama played Tampa and Georgia played Yale and it hasn’t been as long ago as you think.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
10:57 am

Hold on, there. The University of Florida is an AAU member (as is Vanderbilt). But the problem of academics is deeper than that. Ole Miss and Miss. St. are Tier 3 schools, and Kentucky, LSU and Arkansas are Dead last, tied for # 128 of Tier 2. Dump those schools, Merge with Texas and Texas A&M (AAU members) and possibly some other Big 12s. Then form an association with the ACC for a southern mega-division of the NCAA.

Hoopie

May 19th, 2010
10:58 am

I like Delaney’s candor. Let’s quit trying to inject socialism and income redistribution into CFB.

NCAA football has the only truly relevant regular season in sports. Anything more than a 4 team playoff will ruin that regular season. All pro league regular season are a joke and I quit watching those years ago.

All the way turnt up

May 19th, 2010
10:59 am

A Georgia Tech student, walking to his car in the Home Park neighborhood just north of campus, was robbed Tuesday night.

According to a crime alert sent out by Tech police, the student, whose name has not been released, parked his vehicle at 11th Street and Atlantic Drive in northwest Atlanta shortly before 10 p.m., and “began walking away when he realized that he forgot something in his vehicle.”

Hoopie

May 19th, 2010
11:00 am

There are/have been numerous pro football minor leagues ..Canada, Europe, Arena, etc.

m

May 19th, 2010
11:05 am

The BSbcs is the dumbest system ever develped by mankind.

We need a 16 team playoff…and we need it NOW.

We don’t need anyone’s opinion to make any difference…only ON THE FIELD PLAY should determine who advances.

Think of college basketball or baseball with the idiotic BSbcs…it would be LUDICROUS…but not any more LUDICROUS than it is right now in football.

Let the champion have to earn it on the field and not have it handed to them.

And THANK GOD AND GREYHOUND that gomer Gailey is gone forever.

Jim from Crestwood

May 19th, 2010
11:05 am

All these previous leagues failed because the colleges have been the actual minor league system. Banishing the non-students from college football (good-bye 3/4 of SEC rosters) would create the need for the No Fun League to develop its own minor league system and we would have just as much fun on Saturdays.

Dan

May 19th, 2010
11:06 am

Those schools were paid for those beatdowns. Plus, is anyone gonna pay for a Tulane game? Please.

Anonymous

May 19th, 2010
11:08 am

Read in today’s AJC:

“IRS goes after UGA”

Is Richt in charge of the financial records as well?

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:09 am

You can knock the PAC 10 all you want to, but they play each of the other members every year. Take USC (and Kiffin, please). Last year their OOC schedule was Boston College, Notre Dame, Ohio St. and San Jose St. This year it is Hawaii, Virginia, Minnesota and Notre Dame. Notice the lack of Div. 1AA patsies.

T3

May 19th, 2010
11:12 am

Ohio State has beaten both 2 SEC schools Vandy & Kentucky 3 times each.

Just sayin…

Butts Wagner

May 19th, 2010
11:12 am

Either Minor League Football or just stop giving taxes to colleges and let them pay players. Then we’ll get a sense of the true worth of college athletics vs college academics when it comes to alumni.

Delbert D.

May 19th, 2010
11:13 am

The City of Atlanta shouldn’t have closed all of those police precincts.