Monday, November 19, 2012

Big Money Got No Soul

In the process of reading about Danny Hope's career-best-tying two-game winning streak in conference play, you may have stumbled across this or this or this. Yes, just when you thought it was safe to buy a copy of NCAA Football, the next step in Jim Delany's master plan has nearly come to fruition ... and to be honest, he deserves credit at least for keeping this under wraps. The first I heard of it was on Saturday from a friend asking me about a comment another friend had posted on Facebook about how this might affect women's basketball in the Big Ten. (Short answer: Maryland looks good, Rutgers doesn't. Remember that for a minute.)

For those of you who've avoided the news, apparently Rutgers and Maryland are thisclose to joining the Big Ten. To be precise, Maryland is voting on Monday whether or not to join, and if they do, Rutgers will be sprinting to get in the door before it closes behind the Terrapins. I've not seen when this would take effect, but I would guess sooner rather than later, given the timing of recent moves. While the ACC did raise its exit fee to $50 million, apparently those documents haven't been signed yet (I'd ask how that happens, but a look at the ACC should answer that question), so Maryland might be able to get out relatively cheaply (especially with Connecticut lined up to get in, and don't think the ACC wouldn't like to swap out Maryland for Connecticut in basketball), and of course the Big East really can't stop anything from happening these days.

Why is this happening? Two reasons: money and money. First, because of subscriber fees, which are substantially higher within the "footprint" of the conference (states containing member schools) than outside it. Adding New Jersey and Maryland to the footprint would allow BTN to reap additional rewards from subscribers in those markets, and of course with New York City right next door, there could be additional interest in BTN in a much larger market just outside the footprint. (People seem to want to connect that to Rutgers, who obviously doesn't have much of a following anywhere right now, much less in NYC; I'd say it's more likely that Big Ten alums in New York would want BTN.) Some people estimate a potential gain of $200M, while others project something closer to $100M ... and that could mean an increase in annual payout to something like $30-$35M per school, although I haven't seen if that applies to 11, 12, or 14 schools. (Remember, Nebraska isn't getting a full share yet.) That would make a big difference for schools like Purdue: maybe we could get a real offensive coordinator next season. (Zing!)

Second, the agreement for Big Ten first-tier rights expires in 2017. Side note: first-tier rights are for national broadcasts of football and basketball. (ESPN/ABC in football, for example.) Second-tier rights are for football and basketball broadcasts by someone other than the network(s) holding first-tier rights. Third-tier rights cover everything else (remaining football and basketball games plus all non-revenue sports). See this EsPN post for details: it also shows the current rights agreement for the Big Ten. Anyway, when that comes around again, Delany would like to have more games and teams to offer, and when you consider that the Pac-12's current deals add up to just slightly more than the Big Ten's deals after the former added Utah (meh) and Colorado (whoops), you can maybe understand Delany steepling his fingers and cackling evilly as he counts the billions that some poor network will offer for those first-tier rights. (Hint: they are based in Bristol. There is no way EsPN will let those games go.) ESPN's paying $100M a year through the length of that contract. They just signed a deal with the ACC for $240M per year for rights at all tiers ... paying $125M or more for a conference that frankly whups that one across the board isn't unreasonable, and that would mean yet another boost in per-school revenue.

So you get what we have here today, which is the way Delany wants it. So, he gets it. Even if we don't like it ... at all.

That's right. I supported the expansion to 12 teams even though it stretched the Big Ten farther than perhaps it ought to have gone: we got a conference championship game out of it (and there are a lot of people really happy that it isn't going to be Northwestern-Indiana this year), we added a solid sports program (not so good for Purdue's volleyball team), and their academics are reasonable.

But this ... well, back when I was going over Directors' Cup standings (up to 10 men's and 10 women's sports count, points awarded based on national finish), Nebraska looked like a solid fit, and they pretty much came through in 2011-12: although they dropped to 40th, they were still a bottom-tier Big Ten program, and we still placed two schools in the top ten (Michigan and Ohio State). Doing the same exercise for Maryland and Rutgers, we get two surprising results, and not what you might be thinking.

Maryland's average finish from 2004-05 through 2011-12 was 32.1, solidly middle-of-the-Big-Ten pack (eighth, just behind Illinois at 31.4), and they've been better in recent years, with a 24.0 average over the last three, good enough for fifth in the 14-team superconference-to-be.

Rutgers, on the other hand, is not as good. At all. In 2007, they were 54th, ahead of Iowa in 68th. In no other season did they finish ahead of any Big Ten team, current or proposed. In most seasons, they didn't come within 40 places of a Big Ten school; in 2010-11, they were 158th. Schools finishing ahead of them include but are not limited to Maryland-Eastern Shore, Bethune-Cookman, Hofstra, and Oral Roberts.

So in return for all that money, we're not getting a Northwestern-equivalent program. (I should be careful saying that: they do better than Purdue, and I'll write more on that later.) Not an Iowa program. Not an Iowa State program. More like a top-tier MAC program ... and not an actual MAC program that would either have been within the footprint or close by, but a MAC program about as far from the other schools as you can get. (Good news for J, though: if he can't come to the Big Ten, the Big Ten can come to him.)

Sure, Rutgers and Maryland are AAU members. Sure, it's nice to get more money. But it would have been nice to make a decision that at least pretended there were other factors involved ... it's hard to see any reason for doing this except money. (It also makes you wonder if maybe they shouldn't have talked about expanding to 14 right away.) Well, OK, there is one more reason: this should get Wisconsin out of a division where it didn't belong in the first place. You can't tell me that they're going to put Rutgers or Maryland in the West. (No, don't tell me. They have to realign.)

The only other reason I can think for doing this is that Delany believes that pending litigation against the NCAA is going to succeed in the next few years, leading to some kind of requirement to pay players in revenue sports, and so this is a proactive plan to build extra revenue to account for that. (It also assumes that the market for televised college sports will be expanding, not contracting. I find that hard to believe when you see the current direction of non-live TV – I think a better direction would have been to enable broadcasts for non-cable subscribers – but then I could be completely wrong.)

But what's almost done is what's almost done. Prepare yourself for longer breaks between certain conference opponents in football, more one-game-only opponents in basketball, and some really confusing road trips in the other sports. And who knows? Maybe we'll get a new logo. (Or maybe not. Did you ever notice how much a G looks like a 6?)

Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul


BoilerPaulie said...

I'm still not sure how I feel about this. At first, I was like, ohhhh no. No way. But now I'm like, I don't even know what's going on. I'd just kind of like to see all this conference realignment go to bed once and for all. It's been absolutely ridiculous ever since the Big Ten started it with Nebraska - which I did like, but it started something awful.

COD said...

On a purely selfish basis, the prospect of an occasional Purdue game at Maryland (90 minutes from home) is kind of exciting.

zlionsfan said...

There's nothing wrong with that perspective - in fact, because we really have no control over these decisions, why not make the best of them? If Purdue faithful near DC and NYC get to see their favorite team in person once every six years at worst, every other year at best, that's a good thing.

And it isn't going to be hard to get those tickets. Both Rutgers and Maryland average below 50,000 per game; Rutgers plays in a stadium close to Ross-Ade capacity, while Maryland's Byrd Stadium is a bit smaller.

Of course that implies that both programs, like ours, struggle to get revenue to feed their other sports, which could be why Maryland reportedly dropped some recently ... and why both schools would be interested in joining a conference that is basically printing money.

J Money said...

I've gone to many games at Rutgers -- their stadium is actually very nice and has lots of potential. Kind of like how we'd hope Ross-Ade would be.

Bdowd -- What's this "West" division you speak of?

And finally, I assumed the title of this post was about me.

That's all I got. Try the veal.

zlionsfan said...

The West, you know, what anyone other than marketers would have called a division that includes most of the western teams in the conference. Strange division names are for Conference USA and the like.

None of us grew up with the NL Bats and the NL Gloves or anything like that. (Of course if Selig were commissioner then, we probably would have seen names like that.) Even the NHL, back when it existed, gave up on naming divisions after people when they realized even those who knew who the people were had trouble remembering who went where.

It is about you, though. (Not the big or soulless parts. I'm the new guy. Bdowd has to make those jokes.) This is for Big Ten fans on the East Coast more than Maryland or Rutgers fans. (Well, Maryland fans, anyway. I've heard they're not exactly eager to leave the ACC.)

J Money said...

Of course, I just assumed B-dowd wrote this post when I made my comment... but I should have known better since it was so well-written.


Plang said...

I do wonder just a little if this has anything to do with the deal between the Pac12 and B1G falling aparter earlier this fall in which the teams from the two conferences would play each other each year (much like the B1G/ACC roundabout in basketball each year).
I realize that this would generate much more money for the conference than that deal with the PAC12 would have, and I'm sure Delany has been working on it for two years, but the timing seems slightly odd to me.

I expect to hear a news report in a few weeks that the Pac12 is trying to get 2 schools from Texas to sign on.

L2F said...

I'm sure Delaney has done his research but I don't see how adding Rutgers benefits the conference or the Big Ten Network. Based on proximity to NYC you would think there would be a lot of Rutgers fans in NYC but I would be willing to bet there are more OSU and Michigan fans in the area. For the most part people in NYC are much more interested in pro sports, so unless you add the Giants and Knicks, people in NYC are not going to be that interested in B10 football and basketball.

boilerdowd said...

J, you hurt me with your words.

zlionsfan said...

I've read that the timing is related to News Corp getting ready to buy two-thirds ownership in the YES Network. If that happens alongside Rutgers joining the conference, then News Corp can bundle BTN and YES in NYC. (Whether or not this would be successful remains to be seen: obviously cable and satellite providers are not interested in one-sided deals if they're not the ones in control, and they've been willing to fight networks, including BTN, in the past.)

zlionsfan said...

BTN says that Maryland is saying yes at 2:30. Maybe we can get them to replay the 2002 NCAA Championship to welcome the Terrapins.

ATL_Boilers said...

One of the early articles from Saturday I read about all of this is that UND being allowed to join sans football pissed off Maryland's AD. Hopefully BTN upgrades their capabilities as a result, especially considering I didn't even get Saturday's game down here, despite having 3 alternate channels... Not sure how they can cover conceivably 2 more games a week with the status quo facilities/equipment, etc.

boilerbugle said...

me too COD, maybe just maybe my upstate ny cable company will offer btn on another tier besides "ridiculously expensive sports package" that includes mexican soccer channels and the mlb network.

COD said...

ATL_Boilers: I had the same problem here in VA. Nebraska was on all three Big 10 channels and the HD channel. I even called Comcast and they didn't know either. They were broadcasting what BTN sent them.

Plang said...

Actually, the timing now makes more sense. On top of that, I'm sure Delany went into overdrive when Notre Dame decided to go in with another conference on everything except football, thus unofficially telling the B1G to go pound salt.

Besides, money never sleeps.

For some interesting reason, I get the BTN out here in BFU without having to pay extra for it. I guess Comcast doesn't have enough channels to fill up all their slots in the Intermountain West region.

zlionsfan said...

Rumor says Illinois to the West, with Rutgers and Maryland in the East. So Illinois and Northwestern get Rutgers and Maryland (in some order) as "rivals".

I guess that makes sense right now from a competition standpoint: if Ohio State gets into trouble again, then one of Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Rutgers, and Maryland goes to the Big Ten title game to be hammered by the West champion. They can always move things around when #15 and #16 are added. (Why wouldn't they be? We were told 12 was a good number, but obviously it wasn't the final number.)

zlionsfan said...

Plang, good call. From Adam Rittenberg's notes on Delany's press conference:

The Big Ten created a collaboration with the Pac-12 as an alternative to expansion, but when the Pac-12 decided this summer it couldn't go through with it, Delany and the Big Ten presidents put expansion back on the front burner.

The Accidental Expat said...

If Delany really wanted to get the NYC demographic, he should have made the big move to get Syracuse-- excellent academics (AAU member but voluntarily withdrew last year), historically solid football and a pillar of east coast basketball. No offense to Rutgers, but there are more SU grads and bandwagon fans in the Big Apple than anywhere else.

I know that this is all cash driven, but a little part of me wishes that for its next 2 members the B1G stayed within its footprint and picked Pitt and Iowa State. But if it's a dollars and TV eyeballs-only decision, this seems pretty sound.

I must say that DirecTV has been a pleasant surprise, and carries BTN and all of its secondary channels-- haven't missed a Purdue game yet this year, and I live in the Pacific Northwest.

zlionsfan said...

I don't think he thought he could get them initially ... and I'm not sure he can even get them now. I feel like it's the YES/BTN bundle that caught his eye, but even that's kind of chancy. (I would have preferred Syracuse over Rutgers myself.)

Also agree on Pitt and Iowa State. Pitt-Penn State was a classic game when we were growing up, and it'd be nice to have that rivalry restored. The 100+ years among nine schools and 60 years with another are pretty important; if we're going to lose some of those games, it would be nice to gain some important ones as well.

ATL_Boilers said...


According to the BTN website's "gamefinder" there's a caveat about the alternate channels and when extra games are available. The caveat being that after basketball starts their equipment/broadcast capabilities are somehow decreased and they can't carry all the games (though they did say through week 13 this shouldn't be a problem) so I don't know what the deal was - the gamefinder only had the 'Huskers game when I put in my zip code and provider.

I imagine down the road this is a relatively easy fix (hopefully). I would have been considerably more pissed if I paid more than $7/month for my sports package (which also includes Fox Soccer HD, MLB, NFL, redzone, and a bunch of Fox Sports regional channels).

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