July 6, 2022
Before we get to the story behind the headline above let's take a look at the wild Tuesday of rumors, guesses and how people spent billions on rights fees but throwing a few tweets against a wall- it was a fun day in guessing what might happen between the Big XII, Pac 12, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, NFC West and HBO's Westworld.
We had CBS' Dennis Dodd early story on the Big XII looking to expand and take a few teams from the Pac 12:
The Big 12 is involved in deep discussions to add multiple Pac-12 programs as a way to shore up its membership in the wake of the USC and UCLA defection to the Big Ten, sources tell CBS Sports. At least four teams are being considered with the potential for the Big 12 to add more as realignment continues to shake out.
Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah were mentioned specifically as the teams being targeted by the Big 12, sources tell CBS Sports. There is also consideration of adding Oregon and Washington to make the Big 12 an 18-team league, the largest in the FBS.
That led to a few hours of speculation that invitations could be going out to Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado and perhaps eventually to Oregon and Washington.
By the time some west coast media members who work in a couple of those northwest cities woke up they had to hit back. We then heard that the Pac 12, in their own statement, had announced they were open to begin negotiations on a new media deal, a year earlier than planned. This gives ESPN and FOX an exclusive window to come to the table with a new deal . Some viewed that as a sign of solidarity among the remaining ten schools and the conference was trying to strike its new deal before the Big XII went to market and it was a way to fend off any defections. Ok. But how do you answer the question from a TV executive of who is in your league and will be in your league? And reality is the Big XII could do the same exact thing.
Then we heard how ACC commissioner Jim Phillips might be pitching his schools the idea of giving some members a bigger slice of their media pie as a carrot to stick around and not seek a new conference. Perhaps a system that rewards teams based on performance leads to more money. Some say that would be needed to keep Clemson from wanting to move to the SEC. Let me just say if you are going to give Clemson more money because of their success the last decade, what is the amount you are going to back pay FSU for its dominance when they arrived in the ACC?
Then we heard whispers that the Big Ten is just waiting to hear from Notre Dame and not looking at anyone else right now.
A few hours later there was the story of Phil Knight having a dream of where he prefers Oregon to play and that list would include the SEC or the Big Ten. Sure, why not?
By afternoon, we then had one northwest media member talk about a "loose partnership" between the Pac 12 and the ACC that could include a title game between the two in Las Vegas. Uh oh, sounds like an alliance and we all know how the last "alliance" worked. But the story about joining forces to block the Big XII from becoming the number three conference behind the SEC and Big Ten and strength in numbers might convince the combined 24 teams(14 in the ACC and 10 in the Pac 12) to be happy and stick together. First off, no one knows how this would increase media money for everyone and from a scheduling standpoint I don't know how many people have been asking for Washington State at Virginia any time recently. But hey, who knows these days.
One scribe in the northwest went on to explain why the Pac 12/ACC idea might be the best option and compared TV markets of teams in the two conferences compared to the Big XII media markets. I love when we play the "let me find numbers/stats that fit my narrative" game. That story listed Louisville as one of the Big XII markets. A quick check and I realized that Louisville hasn't been a Big XII market in like....ever.
Which does get us back to the headline of this column and the value of the newest Big XII members in BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. I chuckled at a few of the stories, tweets and message board nuggets about how the Pac 12 schools would only think of merging if all four were dropped or if BYU and UCF were eliminated or if SMU replaced UCF or if Boise State replaced BYU and on and on and on.
I think many people are undervaluing the four new brands of the Big XII. If we want to play the media market game, let's dance. Houston is a top 10 media market. Orlando is soon to be 16th in market size and projected to be a top 15 market in the coming years. Cincinnati is a top 40 market and BYU is a national brand. All four of those teams have fans that stretch beyond their city borders. And if we want to play the game of finding stats that fit your narrative, I can find college football games last year where those four schools played games on TV that easily beat games involving Pac 12 teams where USC and UCLA were not involved. We can all find numbers to fit our story. But those TV markets have real value in media deals. No one team delivers an entire market. Do the Miami Hurricanes deliver the Orlando market? No. They have fans and viewers in Orlando that watch their games but they don't deliver a massive audience in the market. The Orlando media market has UCF, Florida, FSU, Miami and fans of many teams. But UCF does deliver a strong number in the Orlando market. And that market, which has about 1.8M TV households, is a large number that is about 40% the size of the entire population of Oregon. When the Big XII went looking for new members after Oklahoma and Texas left, performance was a factor, along with academics and the size of its fan base and media numbers. These four new schools actually deliver, in some cases, more of a potential audience than a good number of existing members in the Big XII and Pac 12.
As for the on-field performance, we can go there. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston have played in a New Year's Six game six times in the last 10 seasons and four in the last five years. There are many P5 schools that have watched a lot of major bowl games but never played in one.
I have long argued and laughed at schools that have benefitted for decades of being a member in a league where they offer no media value but live off the dollars of other brands that drive those billion dollar media deals. Some of those same people laugh when you talk about the value of brands like the new Big XII schools. I have said for years that if you gave some of the top G5 brands the same money and allowed them to increase recruiting budgets and upgrade facilities they would not just pass but blow by many P5 schools. It's more of fear of letting them in than challenging their value. There is no guarantee that any of the Big XII's newest members will win the league(or whatever league it is) but they will get a chance to compete with more resources than they have in recent decades. Just because you were around when the conference got together 80 years ago doesn't make you better than someone who was not at that meeting then.
Today promises to be another one filled with rumors, guesses, sources and misinformation. I have no idea how this will play out. My guess is the Big XII will continue to look at expansion options to the west. The Pac 12 will fight for its survival and try to convince TV executives and its members why a game at Duke could be important. The SEC and Big Ten will sit quietly and not need to do much. I said on the radio show Tuesday that it's not as easy as many suggest to go from 16 members to 24. Everyone looks better at 2am when the dance floor is kind of empty than they do at 10am on a Wednesday. People need to remember, if a school doesn't bring MORE value than the current slice of the pie, there is no real reason to expand. And I am not sure the SEC and Big Ten believe or have been advised by its media partners that 24 is better than 16.
Anyway, enjoy the day. It will be wild and wacky and it's just Wednesday...
Final note: Houston and Cincinnati were once conference rivals before the American and Conference USA. Both were once members of the Missouri Valley back in the late 50's together.