Conference football realignment began in earnest on June 2nd, 1984. On that date, the US Supreme Court rendered its decision in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. Prior to that ruling, the NCAA solely negotiated college football broadcast rights--from every NCAA member institution--and distributed the revenue, after taking its cut off the top, to every NCAA member institution. This, the Supreme Court ruled, violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and the ethos underpinning the Ayn Rand School for Tots.
As a result of the June 2nd decision, institutions were able to negotiate directly with the broadcast television entities. The College Football Association (CFA), a 64-member subset of the NCAA, negotiated its own deal with ABC that year, and kept the revenue in-house. But by 1990, with TV money exploding, some members (probably Texas) decided that splitting 64 ways was still too much sharing. So conferences began negotiating media rights deals on their own, and the CFA was kaput. The Big Ten and Pac-10 landed individual deals with ABC. Notre Dame reached an agreement with NBC. And CBS struck a bargain with the SEC.
Conferences, in most instances being a group of like entities, brought more to the negotiating table than independent institutions, and consequently garnered better television deals. This signaled the end of the road for most independents, including Penn State, Miami, Florida State, and, well, pretty much every one, with the exception of Notre Dame.
With that as a brief historical context, why are universities so eager to realign today? As best I can tell, there are five top reasons, as follows:
- Money, to fill gaps caused by bankrupt state budget cuts.
- Money, to fuel the fleet of university jets that universities can't afford not to have.
- Money, as future media rights payouts go through the roof. And,
- "Stability", defined as membership in a conference that will maintain its place at the (money) feeding trough.
- Add a 12th team, and hold a conference championship game. Twelve is the number thou shall count, and the number of thou counting shall be twelve. Thou shall count 11, only if it then be followed by twelve. Thirteen shall thou not count. Sixteen is right out! (for this play, anyway). When the Big Ten added Nebraska, FOX forked over an estimated $145 million for the first six championship games - a little over $24M per game. That's some sweet action.
- Add more members (aka, the total gross eyeball play). These TV agreements may span a decade or more when executed, but contain clauses allowing for adjustments - both up and down - based on changes in membership. If your conference adds a national brand or two, you can expect a bump. If it adds Pitt and Syracuse, you shouldn't hold your breath. Pitt and Syracuse increase your gross eyeball count, but there can be more to it than that (explained further below).
- Develop marketable properties, and sell them. Those properties may be an inter-conference battle royale (Big Ten vs. Pac-12). Or, it might be just a single 'Champions' Bowl' that very closely mimics what the Big Ten and Pac-12 have in the Rose Bowl.
- Develop marketable properties, like an ice hockey league, and sell said properties to yourself - because you created your own cable network. Then, charge every cable subscriber in nine states 60 cents per month for the network, on top of the ad revenue the network brings in. Sure, other conferences will laugh at you when you announce the idea, but you're five years smarter than everyone else. So don't sweat it.
- Big Ten - 12 members - 17,527,996
- SEC - 14 members - 16,670,957
- ACC - 14 members - 12,752,137
- Big 12 - 10 members - 8,353,867
- Pac-12 - 12 members - 7,440,752
- Big East - 12 members - 4,608.878
- Notre Dame - 1 Touchdown Jesus - 2,261,738
- All other conferences - who cares.
- The big six power conferences could - could- become four power conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12). Who will be the ACC's dance partner, to stay at six? The decaying corpse formerly known as Big East football? A twice beaten MAC champ?
- Outside of the Rose Bowl and the new Rose Bowl-like-substance, where intentions are fully declared, does the Orange (or Fiesta, or Sugar/Cotton survivor) really want to maintain an ACC/Big East tie-in in a non-BCS world? The ACC is 2-13 in BCS bowl games, and can't fill the stadium, not to mention the flaccid TV ratings. Contrast that picture with the fact that the Big Ten has received two BCS bids every year, no matter how bad those two teams were (hello, 9 - 3 Zookers). Why? Those bowls--and their cash--want the most marketable properties to make the most bucks. Would the Orange Bowl rather stage a Wake Forest vs. Rutgers showdown, or a 3rd place Nebraska vs. a 2nd place Georgia? Puh-lease. Delany knows where this is going because he's guiding it there, Corleone-style. That's why he's suddenly ready to re-evaluate the Big Ten's bowl tie-ins, which are among the best already.
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