Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not this crap again

OH HAI REALIGNMENT I FORGOT HOW MUCH I HATED YOU. This is from some guy at College Football Today:
According to two people with the strongest ties possible to Florida State's Athletic Department, FSU fully plans on exiting the Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State will begin its transition to the Big 12 Conference beginning this June. One source went as far as to say, "at this point the move is inevitable."
Ummm ... wow. That's a pretty big step considering that it was only eight days ago that school president Eric Barron was spelling out all the reasons not to leave the ACC, most notably the travel costs that would consume all (and more) of the $3 million gained via TV revenue.

The landscape obviously has shifted in the past eight days given the competitive/financial impact of the SEC-Big 12 bowl deal and, more specifically, who it leaves out of the games everybody's gonna care about. This is from my post the other day:
The ACC just got pwned. The issue isn't so much playoff access as it is general postseason interest and accompanying financial viability. Think about this: There hasn't been an ACC team in the season-ending top two in any season since Miami was The Best Team in the History of Ever back in 2002. In other words, in a George Lucas-directed scenario in which the bowls-as-host-sites plan were to be backdated to the beginning of the BCS era (or whenever), it'd have been a full decade since the ACC got to host a semifinal game and swim in a pool of corresponding TV revenue (I'm going on the assumption that the host sites and conferences will get a disproportionate amount of the annual distribution).

And the BCS consolation prizes won't be of much help since the two games most people will care about -- the Rose Bowl and the stupidly named Champions Bowl -- will have all their tie-ins locked up. All that's left for the ACC is a deal with the Big East (pfffft) in the Orange Bowl, which ... ummm ... gack.
If Florida State were still Florida State circa 1999 and destroying the ACC en route to a top-five finish every freakin' year, this would be less of an issue; the impending playoff will have to allow access to everybody at the risk of agreement-obliterating lawsuits. It's not 1999. Florida State is obviously still a very good and desirable program but can't just rely on its own on-field awesomeness to ensure financial viability and access to a postseason game anybody will be interested in watching or attending (not the Orange Bowl, to be more specific).

The loss of Florida State would not in and of itself be much more devastating to the ACC than what's already happened but would be compounded to the nth degree if DeLoss Dodds Orangebloods is right (unfortunately the link is paywalled) in its report that the Big 12 has also had preliminary discussions with Miami, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

All the stuff I wrote about the ACC getting pwned applies to those schools just as much as it applies to Florida State, and all have the competitive/regional attractiveness to make them relatively appealing to any conference wanting to expand. Insert complaint here about geographic awkwardness and my lack of interest in watching any of those schools play any of the schools that used to comprise the Big 12 North; geography obviously isn't much of a factor anymore (or at least is outweighed by all the other factors).

This is obviously very-early-stage stuff that might never happen despite the supposed "inevitability" of Florida State's move. I'm still pretty skeptical based on last year's ridiculousness. That said, in the hypothetical scenario in which the Orangeblood report actually becomes something more meaningful than "informal discussions," the ACC could not survive as anything other than a glorified mid-major; it'd be what the Big East was a couple years ago, essentially. The remaining schools in the ACC would be as follows: Boston College, Pitt, Syracuse, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia. That collection of football programs would not be of sufficient interest to retain the per-team payouts from its TV contract, which would just exacerbate the desire for any school with any appeal (the recent Big East defectors and Georgia Tech, mostly) to GTFO. It's not hard to envision the ACC either (a) completely falling apart, with its leftovers melding with the Big East somehow, or (b) being picked apart to the point that it's right about even with the Big East as a second-tier conference with an occasionally interesting team but little national relevance.

Exactly how much the Big 12 would end up benefiting is, IMO, a little less certain. Having 14 (mostly good) teams along with a pile-of-cash-generating conference championship game and probably an improved TV deal would be swell, obviously, but would also require actually getting the four teams listed above (or some similar combination). That's not a guarantee because of the SEC, which is sitting at 14 teams and allegedly has googly eyes for some of the ACC's Southern members. Long story short: If Clemson and Virginia Tech end up with offers from both the Big 12 and the SEC, the choice is easy for them and the situation becomes a little more ambiguous for Florida State and Miami, who presumably would be even more desperate to escape the imploding ACC but would be odd outliers in a conference centered entirely around Texas that might not see much of a TV revenue increase by adding two schools that don't have huge national followings. To be clear, I have no idea which schools (if any) the SEC would be most interested in adding and am just throwing out some cost/benefit scenarios that have been bouncing around in my big, useless head.

I'm not sure exactly what happens next and have little desire to mentally rearrange the various conferences based on nothing but my own speculation, but I will say this: The idea that there are gonna be four 16-team superconferences in the near future is faulty and probably wrong. I accepted it as a near-inevitability at one point but can't do so anymore. The reason: The quality teams simply don't exist to make it happen.

Tell me which school (other than Notre Dame, which lol no) the Big Ten could bring in that would (a) expand the footprint in a meaningful way and (b) add enough money to make it worth cutting one more slice out of its revenue pie. Syracuse? Rutgers? Virginia? Meh. I don't think there's any way any of those schools would get approved by the conference's current presidents, who'd basically be volunteering to give away a chunk of their own TV money (about $25 million this year) just to add a couple Northwestern-caliber football programs and let the conference change its slogan to "We have as many teams as the SEC!"

Same goes for the Pac-12. Find me a team west of the Mississippi that isn't part of the Big 12 or Big Ten and would generate anywhere near the necessary revenue for the conference to break even by expanding; I will laugh if your answer includes Fresno State and/or San Diego State. Boise and BYU might be plausible additions from a financial standpoint but would only be sufficient to create the Pac-14, and really, what's the point of going to 14? At least 12 has an obvious benefit (the conference title game) that directly produces more money for all 12 members; everything else just dilutes the money and the number of games between the best teams, which in turn dilutes national interest and network ratings and so on and so forth.

There's just no purpose in going to 16 unless it, like, betters the conference somehow, and the SEC is the only conference with the possibility of betterment because of the availability of the aforementioned ACC schools (which would presumably prefer the SEC for travel purposes and regional coherence). Everybody else is reaching peak financial value at either 12 or 14 teams and will have no real incentive to get larger unless, at some point in the relatively distant future, the playoff-type thing becomes a larger bracket that offers the potential for multiple guaranteed bids for each major conference; strength in numbers would at that point become a financial factor.

Anyway, I've kinda gone off on a tangent here and should circle back to the Florida State/ACC stuff before my train of thought has completely derailed. This could all be irrelevant if John Swofford has some secret stash of Cowgirl Jen-type females to sacrifice to the Florida State student body as an incentive to stick it out in the ACC. Losing two of the Virginia Tech/Miami/Clemson/Georgia Tech conglomerate wouldn't be devastating if the other "powers" (for lack of a better word) agreed to some sort of Big 12-type long-term commitment, especially since most of the ACC's current members have nowhere else to go anyway. That said, a commitment is pretty unlikely given the money that's (potentially) out there and the obvious desire to not be the one left out of whatever does end up happening.

The tl;dr version: Be prepared for the ACC to start bleeding out and thus become something far less relevant than the current ACC, be prepared for the Big 12 to get larger/better/more stable, and be prepared for pretty much all the nationally interesting/relevant teams to be consolidated into the four interesting/relevant conferences, almost none of which will have 16 teams (despite what everybody wants you to believe).

The only definitively good thing about all that: There will presumably be a point in the near future when something resembling stability will exist and I/we won't have to speculate about various head-shakingly nonsensical realignment-related rumors anymore. Yay in advance.


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