Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Big East is lacking enticing qualities

This is not breaking news: The steaming pile of meh that used to be known as the Big East is a lot closer at this point (or at the point of realignment completion, anyway) to being Conference USA than it is to being the ACC. Here's the complete list of football-playing schools that'll supposedly be members as of 2014: Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, Boise State, Navy, San Diego State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulsa.

Gack. Every single one of those schools -- every single one -- has moved up from I-AA or a mid-major-ish conference within the last 20 years, most of them within the last five and about half of them within the last 37 seconds. Zero of them has ever played for a national championship or been part of the national championship discussion in any way other than Boise's mandated inclusion in ragingly stupid internet debates.

Spectacular illustration goes here:

That is not a major conference. That is not anything resembling a major conference and should not be treated as such, which is why I made a comment several months back about how this conglomeration of mediocrity (plus Boise!) should no longer get AQ status from the BCS; little did I know that the BCS would be mostly irrelevant by the time the above teams are actually playing each other, which makes automatic qualification something probably not worth worrying about.

To clarify, I don't know whether or how the BCS will exist as any sort of bowl-organization system beyond 2013. What I do know is that it will be, at best, a secondary feature to the playoff-type thing that's gonna be implemented and draw 98.7 percent of the attention (woo made-up stats!) during the late-December-to-early-January drunken fiesta during which people actually kinda pay attention to bowl games.

With that in mind, this news-like information should probably not be a surprise:
Boise State is scheduled to join the Big East Conference on July 1, 2013, but there are indications the Broncos are considering remaining in the Mountain West.

An industry source told CBSSports.com that Mountain West representatives met with Boise State officials earlier this week to persuade the Broncos to remain in the MWC. Adding to that possibility is that the Broncos still haven't formally notified the Mountain West they are withdrawing from the league.

CBSSports.com asked Boise State for a comment about the MWC meeting and why the school had not formally withdrawn from the Mountain West. "We are actively monitoring the changing landscape in college athletics and remain committed to making the best long-term decisions for Boise State," a spokesman said.
Joining the Big East never made any sense for Boise except in one admittedly important way: BCS autobids are delightful things to have access to and crappy things to not have access to. The difference between the MWC's uninspiring TV deal and the Big East's slightly-less-uninspiring TV deal (about $500K more per year as of right now) was also presumably a factor but would've been insignificant had autobids and their accompanying yearly cash buckets not been involved.

That's obviously much less of an issue given the inevitable implementation of a playoff. There are two possible scenarios for the BCS: (a) it goes away entirely and the bowls go back to arranging tie-ins or picking whoever the eff they want or (b) it stays in place in essentially the same format, which means anybody in the vicinity of the top 10 will be basically guaranteed a nominal BCS bid since there'll be 10 available spots for teams not picked for the playoff-type thing. And seeing as how the ultimate goal is to get in that playoff-type thing, Boise gains little (if anything other than a bump in TV money and a tiny share of the Big East's payout from a lesser BCS deal) from joining the Big East in either of those scenarios.

There's also the possibility of a not-insignificant drop in revenue if the Big East loses its autobid and accompanying BCS share, which is very possible and would make the move even more pointless from a competitive standpoint than it already appears (that's why there's a buyout clause in Boise's contract with the Big East specifically related to that possibility). Go back to that list of teams that are gonna be in the Big East as of 2014 and tell me there's a noticeable difference between that and the MWC if Boise flips; I don't think you can.

So ... the inevitability of the playoff by itself probably should've been sufficient to warrant a cost-benefit recalculation in the Boise athletic department. Maybe it was; it's hard to say for sure since there is now a second issue to be considered:
Boise State also could be reconsidering its move to the Big East because of the uncertain future of the WAC, where Boise State is scheduled to place its non-football sports. The WAC has lost several members and, down to a handful of non-football members, is fighting for survival.
Yeaaaahhhh ... the WAC's done. That's kind of an issue since sending the women's checkers team (and all the others) to Tampa and Orlando and Piscataway on a regular basis is something other than practical. The Mountain West would seem to be the logical alternative ...
MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said last Friday Boise State could not keep its non-football sports in the Mountain West and move its football program to the Big East but could remain in the MWC as a full member. 
.... if not for BOOM CRAIG THOMPSON HARDBALL'D. There's a conclusion to be drawn there about the Big East (which had zero negotiating power and thus let Boise do whatever it wanted with its hot body) and the appearance of desperation and all that. Translation: Craig Thompson > John Marinatto.

Anyway, Boise has a decision to make that basically boils down to the following: stick it out in the Mountain West or move everything to the Big East and negate just about every dollar of financial gain with travel costs while playing in the equivalent of Conference USA circa 2006. The former option probably seemed unacceptable a year ago but now seems ... I dunno ... acceptable? Given the aforementioned playoff-related stuff, it seems that the only real benefit is a financial one of an undetermined-but-probably-not-large amount.

It's worth noting that San Diego State is in basically the same boat but -- depending whom you believe -- is gonna go through with the Big East move purely for the (hypothetical) TV revenue:
SDSU expects to increase its TV revenue from about $1.5 million annually in the Mountain West to at least $6.4 million in the Big East. There is some risk involved because SDSU is basing that Big East TV revenue on an estimate. Big East will begin negotiating a new TV contract in September, and the exact figure won’t be known until a new agreement is reached. 
Bolded for emphasis. An extra $5 million a year is obviously not something that can be ignored if it's real; whether it'd be enough to offset the added travel costs and the risks of diving into a patched-together-with-tape conference is less obvious. I assume there's somebody getting paid a lot of money to plow through those numbers and come up with a legitimate recommendation since Boise has to officially withdraw from the Mountain West by June 30 in order to do anything other than stay in the Mountain West. I'd have to strongly consider letting that deadline pass given the aforementioned issues (the presumptive meaninglessness of conference autobids in a playoff-centric world, the possibility that the Big East won't even have an autobid, the unknowns in terms of TV revenue, the realignment costs incurred via non-revenue sports, etc.) but have no idea whether Boise will do the same.

Also with no idea whether Boise will do the same: Boise. I think there's some legitimate uncertainty among the administration there (hence the lack of an official withdrawal) and wouldn't be surprised if there are some backdoor discussions going on with San Diego State to add a little more data to the formula. There are a lot of hard-to-quantify variables right now.

The Big East will survive either way but is stuck in sort of a purgatory in between national respectability and the dregs I basically told to stop playing D-I football the other day. The TV contract will determine the financial success of the entity as a whole but won't be able to do much (at least not in the foreseeable future) about the complete lack of relevant teams. It's gonna take a lot more than an extra $5 million bucks a year to make USF/Cincinnati competitive in recruiting with Florida/Florida State/Ohio State. Again: This is Conference USA circa 2006. Expectations should be calibrated accordingly.

I was gonna expand a bit on the playoff/revenue/realignment thing in relation to whatever insanity is going on at Florida State but will save that for a separate post Tuesday; I'm rapidly losing my ability to form coherent thoughts and NO BEER AND NO TV MAKE HOMER SOMETHING SOMETHING.

That is all (for now).


John said...

This article is a BIG joke all he is looking at is the past 20 years. Most of the football schools in the Big East are growing fast and can play on field with any team. This is why I said we should go to a playoff similar to the NFL and all this junk about who is better and not would stop ASAP. Money drives the bus don't not let anyone fool you!!!!

Shorts said...

"Most of the football schools in the Big East can play on field with any team."

Without Boise, the rest of the future Big East has a cumulative one BCS win in their histories. Those schools cannot play on the field with any team or they would have shown it.

Also, "money drives the bus" is exactly right. None of those schools is marketable nationally -- that's why it's no longer a major conference.

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