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What They’re Saying About The ACC’s Grant Of Rights Deal

gfx - they said itJust a taste of some of the reaction from around the ACC regarding yesterday’s surprise announcement of a grant of rights agreement that most expect to halt runaway realignment among the major conferences:

 

“This announcement further highlights the continued solidarity and commitment by our member institutions.  The Council of Presidents has shown tremendous leadership in insuring the ACC is extremely well positioned with unlimited potential.

The Acc has long been a leader in intercollegiate athletics, both academically and athletically.  Collectively, we all agree the grant of rights further positions the ACC and its current and future members as one of the nation’s premier conferences.”

– ACC commissioner John Swofford

 

“I think very significant in the whole process is the nearly complete negotiations with ESPN which involve a proposed significant increase in our TV revenues and also a path forward with an ACC Network.  I think the revenues are extremely important to us, and one of the key elements of that negotiation is the desire from ESPN as well as the ACC presidents that we increase the stability of the power conferences in the country.  So all of these things go hand in hand…

All of the discussions about who is going where, most of it just made up, has gotten the attention of every single president out there because it gets to the point where it actually starts to harm the ability to attract resources.  I think this is a case in point there.  The stability is generating a lot more resources and a lot more opportunity.”

– Florida State president Eric Barron

 

“I am thrilled with today’s announcement by the Atlantic Coast Conference.  It is one of the great days in the history of our conference as it shows the highest level of commitment — not by words, but by actions.  With all the uncertainty regarding conference affiliations the past several years in college athletics, this announcement, coupled with our media rights deal with the world’s best sports broadcasting network secures the ACC’s future, and thus Duke’s, for years to come.”

– Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski

 

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Realignment-Followers Hold Their Breath As Blowback Increases Against Maryland’s Move

exploding-cigarWhen suddenly, almost out of nowhere Maryland announced last fall that it would be leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, college sports fans gasped.  Plenty of big name schools have changed affiliations over the past three or four years, yes, but none had done so quite as unexpectedly as Maryland.

The Terrapins — members of the seemingly stable ACC since 1953 — were striking out on their own to join what had always been perceived as a Midwestern conference.  And it happened just when expansion and realignment stories appeared to be slowing down, giving way to talk of a new college football playoff.

Since Maryland’s announcement, rumors have since swirled of further ACC defections.  To the Big Ten.  To the Big XII.  And to the SEC.

Yet Maryland’s move is being held up in court by the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Last month the league’s lawsuit demanding a $52 million exit fee was upheld by a North Carolina judge.  As things continue to play out in the courtroom, the court of public opinion is weighing in on the situation, too.  Maryland hasn’t been winning in that court either.

At issue is the school’s rushed decision to jump conferences.  School president Wallace Loh has said the move needed to be fast and quiet due to to a non-disclosure agreement Maryland entered into with the Big Ten.  Critics like former Terp athlete and Maryland congressman Thomas McMillen have said it was all too fast and too quiet.  McMillen wrote in November:

 

“(A) change of this magnitude should not be made over a weekend, with minimal documentation, little transparency and no input from anyone who might be opposed to it… Public universities receiving taxpayer money are supposed to operate under shared governance, but what happened at Maryland was governance by secrecy and exclusion.”

 

How much secrecy?  The Washington Post recently asked the school for a copy of its contract with the Big Ten.  The school said it didn’t keep one.  Asked then for a copy of the information the school provided board members as they made their Big Ten decision, the school again balked.  According to McMillen it was a “single piece of paper outlining the proposal, and it was taken away” at the end of the group’s meeting last November.

Now Maryland faces a lawsuit that was not thrown out by the first judge to hear it as well as internal friction over how quickly the move was planned and announced.  Could it be that Maryland’s exit from the ACC will finally be the one that slows the current expansion/realignment boom?  After all, in other recent high-profile moves the threat of lawsuit has usually given way rather quickly to a renegotiated exit fee.  And most schools have managed to put forth a “we’re all on the same page” spin even when there have been snubbed toes and hurt feelings behind university walls.  At Maryland, there seems to be a bigger internal rift than we’ve seen in past realignment cases.

In the end, the Terrapins will wind up in the Big Ten with Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  But that move could be so slow and so painful — in terms of exit fees and smeared reputation — that other schools might not be so quick to switch conferences moving forward.

Heck, some schools might even take a whole week to mull such decisions.

For now, all eyes remain on Maryland.  Until the Terps manage to free themselves from the Atlantic Coast Conference, don’t count on any other major dominoes to fall.

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Big Bang Theories: The Countdown To Super-Conferences (Part 3)

BIG BANG THEORIES MRSEC BESTChristmas 2012 came and went without Santa delivering any new schools to new conferences.  But with talk growing that Boise State might just stay put in the MWC rather than jump to the Big East as it had planned, the expansion/realignment conversation continues.

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at what we believe to be the final countdown to a Big Bang.  The kind of Big Bang that leaves us with just four or five power conferences playing in their own super-division at the top of the current Football Bowl Subdivision.  The schools making up those leagues and that super-division will be the ones best able to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships for their athletes (or at least for their football players).

How this will all work out is anyone’s guess, but we don’t foresee a nice, neat, orderly endgame.  Look at the college landscape today.  Do the conferences all have an equal number of schools?  Do all leagues have the same type of divisional breakdowns or scheduling plans?  The answer, of course, is no and we don’t see why separate business entities all trying to grab as much cash as possible will someday agree that there should be four leagues of 16 teams each just because that’s what many fans want.

There’s an idea that each league — in such a four-league, 16-team scenario — could put two or four teams into a playoff and then we’d all have a mini-NFL to watch each December and January.  But the NFL is one business.  The FBS conferences are separate businesses.  And if the four-team playoff that kicks off in 2014 does expand at some point, it’s quite likely each conference will be angling to get as many teams into the mix as possible, not just a limited number of two or four.

In Part 1 of our Big Bang series, we looked at which schools we believe would be willing to move if a better offer came along from a new conference (based on athletic revenue and current conference stability).  In our view, there are only about 25 schools that would have any hope of drawing the interest of one of the power leagues.

In Part 2 of our Big Bang series, we broke down those 25 schools according to what they would add to a conference’s stash of cable households as well as a league’s academic reputation (which still matters to some conferences).

In Part 3, we now look at the options available for each of the current five power conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, and SEC.  How can they survive?  How can they grow and make more money?  Which schools might interest them?

In putting this piece together, we reached out to administrators and athletic department personnel inside the SEC.  We spoke with people in the college sports industry who are familiar with media contracts all across the nation (as well as scuttlebutt regarding which leagues are talking to which schools).  We even chatted with a contact inside a major athletic equipment supplier who speaks with coaches and ADs on a regular basis, picking up plenty of gossip in the process.

The theories below are our own, but they’ve been shaped by the input of these people who were willing to talk off the record about what they’re hearing and what they believe to be happening.  We appreciate their help.

And without further ado, here’s what we see as each conference’s realistic options:

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Current Status:  Maryland is leaving for the Big Ten while Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville are scheduled to enter the ACC in all sports.  Notre Dame is currently scheduled to enter the league as a member in all sports but football.  The Irish will schedule five ACC schools per year on the gridiron, but those games will not count in the ACC standings.  The league will be a 15-school league — 14 teams in football — if things don’t change.  Big if.

Outlook/Goal:  The ACC’s outlook is shaky.  The Big Ten, Big XII and SEC are all rumored to have interest in multiple ACC members.  Example: An ACC source told The Sporting News last month that the SEC has been chasing Duke and North Carolina for “the last three years.”  John Swofford’s first goal has to be survival at this point.  The league’s schools aren’t believed to have much interest in signing a grant or rights agreement, so the best hope for avoiding the Big East’s fate is to shore up the football foundation of the league.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways for Swofford’s league to do that.  The ACC is the weakest of the five remaining power conferences.  Those schools willing to come aboard are most likely in smaller leagues now, meaning they likely won’t meet the demands of the ACC’s biggest football schools.

Possible Moves/Rumored Interests:

*  The best bet for the ACC would be for Notre Dame to join the league as an all-sports member including football.  Notre Dame is the brand in college football.  Love ‘em, hate ‘em, everyone watches ‘em.  The problem is Notre Dame’s football contract with NBC.  The Irish don’t want to give that away and the ACC is a revenue-sharing league.  If it meant adding a brand name like Notre Dame, would schools like Florida State and Clemson give a thumbs-up to allowing the Irish to forge their own unique deal with the league?  Doubtful.  As for Notre Dame’s desire to maintain its football independence, the breakup of the Big East could give the ACC a tiny bit of leverage.  “Sure, we’ll let you in early in all your other sports, but you have to sign on as a full-fledged football member, too.”  Sounds good, but a league like the Big XII might be able to offer up a “special” deal to Notre Dame and scuttle any ACC attempts to woo the Irish into a true marriage.  More on that in a minute.

*  Barring an every-sport deal with Notre Dame, the two schools most often rumored to be potential ACC targets are Cincinnati and Connecticut.  Cincinnati would provide a mid-America rival for new member Louisville.  UConn would give the ACC more pull in New England and in the New York City area, but current member Boston College has worked against the Huskies joining their league in the past.  Indeed, Louisville was given an invitation before Connecticut.  While Cincinnati and UConn have both been to BCS bowls in recent years, those schools are better known for their basketball than their football.  Would an FSU or Clemson be excited to add either school?  Probably not.  Would schools like Virginia or Georgia Tech be happy to further water down the league’s academic brand?  Probably not.  And if a school like Cincinnati got an offer from another conference, it’s likely the UC administration would choose to join the strongest league… which would not be the ACC.

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Big Bang Theories: The Countdown To Super-Conferences (Part 1)

As the power brokers of the college football world steered their sport toward a brave new world featuring a four-team playoff, it was widely believed that most conferences would slow down a bit on the expansion and realignment front.  Instead, the Big Ten craftily nabbed Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East last month, setting off yet another wave of changes, long before the new playoff format and revenue split had even been fully fleshed out.

After the Big Ten’s shocking move, it was only a matter of time before more dominoes began to fall.  And with seven Big East basketball schools deciding last week that they would break away from the Big Whatever, we believe the Big Bang is here.  We mean the big, Big Bang, too.  Super-conferences rising.  Small leagues folding or partnering with one another for survival.  A super-division of the richest four or five conferences separating itself along a haves and have-nots border.  Television executives dropping stone dead from exhaustion as they negotiate, renegotiate, and then renogotiate again major TV deals worth billions of dollars.

In other words, we’re on the brink of a full-on, A-1, top-drawer madhouse.

We’ve examined conference expansion at MrSEC.com dating back three-plus years now.  We’ve taken a by-the-numbers approach each time because that’s what all this mess has been about — numbers.  Last October we put together a 10-part series on the math of conference expansion/realignment and you can find the final summary to that series here (as well as links to all the other nine parts).

But this latest burst of expansion is an even simpler breakdown.  This time, you can just follow the money.  Schools are looking for new homes because they want to guarantee themselves larger revenue streams.  Many would like to find some stability, too, but the key factor is the cash.

A seat is nice.  A comfy throne is better.

Meanwhile, conferences are trying to cash in on television deals and playoff revenue.  With the Big East on the verge of being adios’ed, it’s already been snipped from the list of major football conferences.  Instead of six big conferences splitting the lion’s share of postseason cash, in the future just five leagues will dominate the playoff era.  And that’s only if the ACC survives.  If it gets picked apart a la the Big East — and money suggests it will be — then there will be but four big-time leagues to horde the majority of playoff cash.

Those four conferences will also dominate the television landscape.  For half a decade, folks have debated whether the SEC got things right by inking huge contracts with CBS and ESPN or whether the Big Ten made the shrewdest move in launching its own TV network.  Turns out, they were both smarter than the rest of the pack.  To make the haul of greenbacks as big as possible, a conference wants both huge, national television contracts and its own network.

So this round of moves comes down to much simpler math than anything we’ve seen before in the expansion/realignment game.  It’s about revenue and it’s about cable households.  Sure, some leagues won’t take schools if they don’t fit a certain academic profile, but now more than ever academics are taking a bigger backseat to cash and television ratings.

With that in mind, this week, we’re going to provide you with some very simple data.  Today, we’ll look at the schools that might be interested in switching conferences.  It’s not hard to figure out which schools would listen to another league’s offer.  Just look at the revenue.

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ACC Seeks To Quell Rumors

With rumors swirling about conference realignment – including chatter of a 16-team Big Ten conference – the ACC Council of Presidents issued a statement today. The statement read:

“We, the undersigned presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference, wish to express our commitment to preserve and protect the future of our outstanding league. We want to be clear that the speculation about ACC schools in negotiations or considering alternatives to the ACC are totally false. The presidents of the ACC are united in our commitment to a strong and enduring conference. The ACC has long been a leader in intercollegiate athletics, both academically and athletically, and the constitution of our existing and future member schools will maintain the ACC’s position as one of the nation’s premier conferences.”

The statement was signed by the 15 current and future members of the ACC – including Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame, but not Maryland, which is headed to the Big Ten.

Rumors have linked Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina to the Big Ten, as well as possible Big 12 interest in Florida State, Louisville and Clemson.  The Sporting News Matt Hayes recently said an ACC source told him that the SEC has been chasing Duke and North Carolina for “the last three years.”  These rumors won’t be going away anytime soon.

 

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Virginia Tech AD Weaver Talks SEC; Twitter Melts

Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver has until yesterday consistently been a bucket of cold water for those who like to speculate about the Hokies partnering with the SEC.  He’s said that his school has always fought for ACC membership and would have no reason to leave.  He’s called reports of rumored VPI interest in the SEC “total poppycock” and “total hogwash.”  He’s stated that Tech likes it’s position “right smack in the middle of the footprint” of the ACC.  Last August he said staying in the ACC is “the right thing and the best thing for our university” and that he believed Tech would “politely decline” and SEC invite if one were to be extended.

Having previously said all that, it’s no wonder these comments from Weaver on WWBU-FM in Virginia last night went viral on Twitter:

 

“I really haven’t thought about (whether the SEC would contact Tech) because the discussion (thanks to Maryland’s move) has just come about three or four days ago.  I’d like to defer my comment for right now, but there may potentially be some interest.”

 

Insert the sound of a record scratching… here.

When Twitter done blowed up real good, Weaver clarified his initial statement (which suggested the SEC might “potentially” have some interest in Tech, not the other way around, by the way):

 

“We’re not in discussions with anyone.  We’ve always wanted to be in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  We’re there and we’re pleased to be there. 

There’s nothing happening in regard to Virginia Tech going anywhere.  I don’t know how to say it any clearer than that…

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UT Chancellor Says Expansion “Very Difficult”

As Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced new athletic director Dave Hart yesterday, the conversation briefly turned to SEC expansion.  No surprise there.  He was asked where expansion stands and how difficult the process will be.  His answers:

 

“I think we said it real clearly when the SEC presidents and chancellors met recently, we would prefer to stay at 12. If something happens, then we have to reconsider that and we don’t know what implications that would have for us. …

It is very difficult. It is so complex. It’s not just moving in that direction (to) conference realignment. It’s deciding on divisions. It’s deciding on rivalries. It gets extremely complex, having been through the process in the Atlantic Coast Conference going from nine teams to 12. If indeed this becomes a reality, certainly it will cause a ripple effect without a doubt across the country.”

 

A smokescreen to cover the fact that the SEC already has all it’s ducks in a row?  Or an honest admission that things aren’t quite as buttoned up with a Texas A&M entry plan as many believe?

You decide.

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Chick-Fil-A Bowl to scout UK-MSU

Kentucky
Content provided by Chip Cosby on UK football.

Scouts from the Chick-Fil-A Bowl will be on hand Saturday to take in the Kentucky-Mississippi State game.  UK (4-4) would likely have to win out to get serious consideration for the bowl, which features a fifth-selection SEC team vs. a second-selection Atlantic Coast Conference team. The Chick-Fil-A Bowl will be held in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Dec. 31 at 7:30 and will be televised by ESPN.

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