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Mailbag 7/28

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Surprise, surprise, we’re talking about college football realignment!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Oklahoma at TCU Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Why don’t we see conferences drop teams that don’t efficiently fit their new business criteria of only adding members that would command the maximum possible media rights money? If that’s the goal, what’s the value of Vandy in the SEC? Couldn’t they go get an additional megaschool if they dropped Vandy during these realignments? Vandy would never get added to the SEC today, so why does Vandy deserve to stay and share in their money? Can’t be geography, because there are several more popular teams in the SEC’s footprint. Can’t be history, because out of those more popular teams with more valuable media markets inside the SEC footprint, GT brings the better and more successful history in the two big money sports. Vandy baseball can’t be worth more than a better football or basketball property, can it? I have the same questions with Wake in the ACC. If the ACC has to scrap and fight for its TV rights while it moves to 16 teams, it seems trimming off a Wake Forest or BC to pick up more fan eyes and sale-able football games (ND, WVU, UCF?) So why do they only add instead of drop schools? - GT_Jason

Ben: I would have to look at the team contracts to be sure, but I imagine dropping a team from a conference would have to first be approved by the other members of that conference, and then they would have to receive a pretty hefty buyout. To use your example, sure Vandy isn’t good at football, but they do compete well in other sports. You are almost certainly right that being good at baseball wouldn’t bring in as much money as being good at football, but you bring in more money than you would probably have to pay to kick them out of the conference. It would probably also just be a very bad look for the conference as a whole.

Logan: I don’t have an answer for you.

Nishant: Historically? It probably has to do with strong regional ties and the like. Nowadays? There’s no financial benefit to dropping a school, with current media revenue rooted in cable subscriptions and future revenue likely being rooted in streaming subscriptions. Even if Vandy or Wake or similar schools have small fanbases, removing them just means removing a chunk of subscriber revenue with no monetary benefit, and market reach is far more important than competitive ability in terms of the value a team brings to its conference. There’s a correlation between the two, of course, but there’s also a reason that the Big Ten actively chose to add a Rutgers-shaped doormat a few years ago.

Jake: The amount of bad publicity that would cause would be astonishing. And that’s not even the important part. Critically, Vanderbilt does offer things to the conference - baseball, academics, Nashville - that might not seem all that important in 100,000 seat monoliths on 12 Saturdays a year, but the value isn’t nothing. And, quite frankly, I think we may be closer to that Vanderbilt zone than we as a fanbase would care to admit, particularly if viewed with an SEC context rather than that of the ACC Coastal. Not to sound negative, because, on the whole, I do think you’re right.

Akshay: It is harder to cut teams than add them — it is hard to make a cohesive argument that removing a specific school will affect your TV revenue payout, but it’s easy to make one for adding a school. In the SEC, you need 11 of the current 14 schools to agree on membership changes — it’s much easier to get 11+ schools to agree on making more money than it is to get into interstate politics and potentially make less money.

Chris: Going off of Nishant, I think this is an interesting shift that may be about to occur. Historically it’s just been “the teams near each other are in a conference because that makes sense”, but now it seems like we’re headed towards a system where conferences act more as tiers than geographic associations - it seems like we’re just recreating divisions. I definitely agree too that the publicity meltdown for just straight up dropping a team would be incredible (and entertaining) - I think the underlying sentiment in a lot of this is that the school should have the agency to be where it wants to be. And the trend is that once a school is in a conference it wants to be in, momentum will keep it there. Vandy gets the money/exposure, and the conference gets the Nashville market, an easy football win, and the prestige of the school. At least for now, both sides are profiting. If we do shift hard towards more of a tier system I think that could change - if the goal of the conference is athletic excellence with a bias towards football then maybe Vandy gets reevaluated in the future.

What does the ACC do, including but not limited to put up or shut up time for ND (Rudy was offsides!), some kind of joint media rights deal with the Pac-12, and/or possibly onboarding WVU? If you thought LOLville was academic slummin’ at #176 in US News, WVU is all the way down at #241. - jabsterjacket

Ben: I know there have been some calls for the ACC to add West Virginia, but I think that unless they can also wrangle in Notre Dame as a full member, the ACC will stand pat.

Logan: The ACC thanks their lucky stars that they aren’t the Big 12.

Nishant: Academics was just a convenient excuse for ACC higher-ups to hide behind during the last round of expansion. It never actually mattered to them. That expansion cycle happened because all of the power conferences were trying to expand their TV footprints just before they rolled out their shiny new TV networks, so any school with a presence in a reasonably large TV market was a prize catch. The only major city that WVU is close to is Pittsburgh, and the ACC had already roped in Pitt. Meanwhile, Louisville was located in a good-sized city outside the conference’s existing footprint. They were the more valuable commodity to the ACC at the time for that reason alone. A decade later, with a large streaming user base gradually becoming a bigger priority than a large cable subscriber base, schools with large and rabid fan bases are back in vogue even if they aren’t in ideal locations. WVU fits the bill and thus would be a much more valuable addition to the ACC this time around. Personally I wanted them in the last realignment carousel and hope we do finally bring them home, because the academics argument has always been [Black Sabbath] and renewing their rivalries with Pitt and Virginia Tech would be awesome.

Jake: Lucky for you, Akshay and I added a bonus episode of the podcast to talk about exactly this topic. Here you go. And find the whole stream here. My gist is: WVU is the only school in the East that truly makes sense. I think their addition provides an inherent boost to the existing properties (Pitt chief among them, but also notably Louisville, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech) we have, and I’m not about to dunk on the academics of WVU or Lousiville, given the familial connections to the latter’s engineering program. I’d also add that it seems like that Louisville number has improved from when we were last debating this. Notre Dame is the obvious best choice, but what would it take for them to give up independence? I don’t know the answer there. But, truly, listen to the podcast for 40 more minutes on that. For more Podcast content, check out Matt Brown and Going for 2 on this, too.

Akshay: P O D C A S T

Chris: At this point I’d love for the conferences to drop the pretense of caring about academic prestige. Conferences were made for athletics - let that be the sole basis of membership. I’m cool with WVU. I think I’m cool with ND, but I do worry a bit that they would be have too much power and control everything. I’m cool with Cincinnati too.

What does the Big XII (Big VIII?) do? Do they merge or poach teams from C-USA, the American, or the Sun Belt? - jabsterjacket

Ben: I think we will certainly find out in the next few weeks. I’m sure the Big 12 will try to poach schools (maybe like a Memphis or a UCF), but the second another team leaves, I think the Big 12 will dissolve. The schools to watch for are probably Iowa State, Kansas, and maybe Oklahoma State.

Logan: The Big 12 comes to an end.

Nishant: It’s bizarre to even think this, but I feel like Kansas is the barometer. Of the teams that remain, they’re the only one that’s a heavyweight in either football or men’s basketball (even if they’re a paperweight in the other). If they stay, the Big 12 stops the bleeding by scooping up a few AAC teams. If they leave, it all comes apart.

Jake: I think it’s toast. The Pac 12 has room for a few, the Big Ten could add two, and I’d like to see WVU in the ACC. That’s room for like 7 or so of the 8 that remain. Suffice it to say, I think it’s toast. But what do I know? I’m just a dude who blogs about non-revenue sports.

Akshay: Some of the eight remaining schools have posted resumes on LinkedIn Twitter already. The Big 12 is toast. P O D C A S T

Chris: It might take a few years, but it’d be hard for them to stick around without adding a big name. Without Oklahoma their chances of making the Playoff are basically zero every year. Without Texas they lose a boat load of money. Maybe we live in a world with a P4 and G6 for a while, who knows.

Does the SEC become a separate division? - Danny Grady

Ben:

For real, though, I think another split in college football is on the horizon. It will be several years or decades before we see it, though.

Logan: yes.

Nishant: At 16 teams, I don’t think they split off quite yet. If and when they expand beyond that, yes.

Akshay: Give it ten years. When the ACC and B1G Grant of Rights (GoR) deals expire in the 2030s, I think we’re virtually guaranteed to see a CFB Super League. Thank you John Swofford for staving off this reality for a decade. P O D C A S T

Jake: At some point, yes. I don’t even know what I want/see happening in the “ideal” scenario in my head anymore, from a feelings point of view. If that only “breaks” football, I don’t think I’d be heartbroken. But if it means the end of March Madness or the CWS/WCWS? I think that would be a big loss.

Chris: I mentioned this in the first question, but it does seem like we’re trending towards recreating divisions by having conferences act as tiers. My question is: how long do we keep the pretense of geography? At this point I’m not sure its the SEC per se that breaks off, but I can absolutely see a world where the top 20 or so teams across the country break off. The SEC might have started us on the path, but I’m not sure they’ll be the final product, at least in their current form.

After listening to Tom Hanks’ narration of the Cleveland (traffic) Guardians reveal, who do you want to narrate the story of your life? - DressHerInWhiteAndGold

Ben: This has nothing to do with the question, but I really loved the Guardians reveal. The typeface and logo, in my opinion, are superb. Now, to answer your question, I think Mark Hamill would do a great job. He’s got an extensive history as a voice actor (he’s voiced the Joker in several Batman projects, Fire Lord Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Skeletor from the new Masters of the Universe series) and is really just one of my favorite actors.

Logan: Morgan Freeman

Nishant: Kyle Hebert for narrating my life events and Laura Bailey (warning: amazing but very NSFW audio) for narrating my inner thoughts along the way.

Jake: Give me a good radio sports guy, or maybe a television guy. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo, Pat Foley, Rowdy Gaines, Andy Demetra, Doc Emrick, Vin Scully, Wes Durham. Probably in that order, to be completely honest. Hearing Foley crack his voice when I do mundane things would be great.

First off, I love conference realignment. It’s like real-life Risk with all the shifting territories, except instead of losing your friend in the end (we had a truce, you [Styx]!), you just end up losing the farcical facade of amateurism in “student athletics”.

With that sad, here are some random ACC scenarios I’ve heard that y’all can chew on:

- Bring in WVU (this seems like the closest thing to certainty) plus some non-power-conference school (my money’s on Cincy)

- Bring in WVU plus a P5 school (Maybe lean into being a basketball conference and grab Kansas?)

- Bring in ND (the only way I see them agreeing to this is if we bring them in alongside Ohio State and Michigan… so basically this wont happen)

- Merge the ACC with the Big 10 (See, Jay Bilas? I can say crazy things too)

Thoughts? - HelluvaBuzz

Ben: I kind of like the idea of beating the SEC to the punch and forming a super conference before they can. Realistically, I think the ACC will ultimately stand pat unless they can get Notre Dame as a full member.

Logan: I think I’m gonna have a taco for lunch tomorrow.

Nishant: Add Texas Tech and Louisiana Tech and break it into pods with one of the four pods being the four Tech teams.

Jake: Already tallked WVU above. Kansas is too far, way out of the footprint. Never going to happen. Notre Dame is already forced to join if they join a conference before 2036, so probably the most “likely,” technically. I didn’t hate Bilas’ idea, though. That’s just the SoCon, part two.

Akshay: P O D C A S T

Is there any realistic scenario where an ACC school leaves? - HelluvaBuzz

Ben: I doubt it. Unless the SEC commits to building a super conference and poaching Clemson and a few other schools (which would cost them approximately one Jeff Bezos), I think the ACC will look the same as it did pre-Covid (since Notre Dame wouldn’t be a full member).

Logan: yes

Akshay: No — the GoR exit fee (assuming the ACC has it set up the same way as the Big 12) is too high.

Jake: Yeah, if they’re super loaded. Good thing Clemson is poor, though. They can’t even afford men’s track and field. *ducks* also *knocks on wood*

Chris: FSU and Clemson are the risks in my mind - if the SEC does want to start gobbling up prestigious programs, they’re prime candidates on the list that check all the boxes.

Over/Under on BYU again being left out, and starting a shooting war this time? - DressHerInWhiteAndGold

Ben: If the Big 12 can get BYU on board before it dissolves, I think that would be a good move. The question remains, however, if BYU gets the call.

Logan: What? I feel like I’m missing context.

Nishant: Guaranteed. All big conference realignment decisions are made on Sundays. I don’t make the rules.

Jake: Depends on if the Big 12 implodes or not, methinks.

Similar in thought to GT_Jason’s post, what if you had a relegation structure like soccer has? This would provide more mobility for non-power 5 teams to take steps forward aside from just attempting to make the CFP. It would also incentive schools to not just leach off their conferences but suck in so many sports. - Neal Royal

Ben: While I think this is a really cool theory in practice, I don’t think it could ever work practically. The simulation you’re referring to only looked at football, and all colleges offer a whole lot more than football. There are also several contracts that would have to be completely obliterated for it to work.

Logan: yeah, that would be interesting.

Nishant: It’s an interesting idea that, before too long, would absolutely devastate any middling Power 5 programs that already struggle to generate revenue... like, for example, Georgia Tech.

Akshay: This is an interesting idea (that I would not be opposed to see happening, really) — however, roster spend and points gained are highly positively correlated in Euro soccer, similar to how programs spend and wins are in CFB. Nothing changes other than that revenues fall dramatically when you mark a set of schools off as lower tier.

Chris: I’ve been toying with the idea. What makes the most sense in my head is to split each individual sport into flights, with a flight containing ~20-25 teams. I think that provides the most flexibility and means a particular sport at a school is always where it needs to be, and not somewhere just because others sports are there. You set up rules around how many games/matches you play each year and how many teams from your flight and flights below you are needed/allowed on your schedule. The National Championship is played for by the top flight (maybe top 2 in some sports?). The problem I can’t solve though is exactly what Nishant said: its really great for the top schools and really bad for the rest. The only thing I can think of is making flights huge (like 50 schools or something) to somewhat align them with the current P5/G5 divide, but I think its still not ideal. There’s a super great documentary series on Netflix called Sunderland Til I Die that explores what happens to teams that get relegated and the tldr is that its a bit of a death sentence - once you get knocked down the revenue tier its incredibly hard to climb back up. Maybe you can devise some sort of system where changing flights doesn’t happen every year but is based on 3 years of results or something to help smooth some of it out.

Hello Friends and Less Friendly Acquaintances,

Hope y’all are having a good time this week. With the olympics underway and college football starting up around the corner things are looking up. Movies getting hype, Green Knight Comes out this weekend, Dune coming up in October. New Rick and Morty season is pretty good and hasn’t led to fans attacking McDonalds workers yet. Yeah things are going pretty good.

Two questions this week. First question, if you had to make a pitch to the Olympic committee for adding American Football to the olympic games, what would it be? For purposes of this pitch, we’ll just assume the timeline works out magically where all the games can be played within a 2 week timespan.

Second Question, obviously Texas and Oklahoma jumping ship and screwing over the rest of the Big 12 is gonna lead to a lot of changes for college football in 2022. My question is what conference, aside from the SEC, benefits the most from the potential conference re-alignments. Obviously the financial benefits for the SEC will continue to get better from this deal (maybe not on a school by school basis in the immediate, but down the line it will likely lead to better TV deals); but with other schools being left over for conferences like the American, ACC, Big 10, and PAC 12 to feast on which conference will gain the most benefit from absorbing left over Big 12 schools. Obviously feel free to speculate on this one, since nothing is set in stone for the other schools just yet.

That’s all I got. Hope y’all have a fun remainder of your week.

Signed,

Jessica Rabbit (submitted via email)

Ben:

  1. Ehh...I don’t really care for American football to be added to the Olympics. If you want to have something like that, you should make it your own thing, like the World Cup or the World Baseball Classic (even though I don’t remember the last time that actually happened). I like keeping the Olympics limited to the traditional Olympic sports and other things that wouldn’t normally get the limelight. Having its own separate tournament also means you wouldn’t have to fit an entire tournament of football games into two weeks.
  2. I think the American Conference is the winner unless the Big 12 poaches UCF and potentially some other schools. If the Big 12 dissolves, the AAC becomes a P5 school. Even if the Big 12 doesn’t dissolve, I think the AAC would still become a P6 school.

Logan:

  1. My pitch to the Olympics would be “Do you like money and TV ratings?”.
  2. I think the American benefits the most.

Jake:

  1. Firstly, I would absolutely be about getting baseball and softball permanently back, first and foremost. Half the world plays the games (the Far East, all of the Americas, minor pockets in Europe), particularly baseball, and they absolutely have a more global relevance than dressage, race walking, and cheerleading. American football would be a bit of a farce, and even more lopsided than basketball theoretically should be, given the increased roster sizes and smaller exposure.
  2. I’d agree with Logan, the American would benefit the most.

Chris:

  1. Agreed with Ben - I’m not really interested in football being in the Olympics. There’s basically zero interest in it outside of the US. I think you’d see very few countries field teams, and those that did would be wildly outmatched against the US team. Its a US-specific sport, let’s keep it that way.
  2. I think the American benefits a ton for exactly what Ben said. I also think the Pac12 sneaky benefits because they’re now the definitive 4th power - their path to the Playoff is probably a bit easier since no Big12 team will make it and Oklahoma will now have a tougher schedule / make it harder for teams like Georgia and Florida to make it from the SEC.