Marc Daniels Column: Florida To The Big Ten?

Florida v LSU

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Take a deep breath. The Gators are not leaving the SEC to join the Big Ten. But the data backs it up.

On Tuesday, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren talked about and was asked about further expansion and Warren didn't deny that his conference remains active on the topic but had no timetable and that still sent the news cycle spinning with another round of rumors.

Action Network's Brett McMurphy posted a story citing sources that Warren and the league viewed Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Cal as schools that would add value and McMurphy added Florida State and Miami to the list as well. 

And off we went with more social media speculation. 

For now, Miami and FSU are bound to the ACC until 2036 because of the league's Grant of Rights. Some believe the document can be challenged, others believe it can't. With Big Ten schools projected to make north of $100M in the coming years, the Hurricanes and Seminoles would prefer to play Rutgers and Indiana any day of the week than make about 40% of that nine-figure sum and play Clemson. Yes, they would.

Everyone these days debates about what a conference is looking for when it comes to schools to add. Is it about television homes you add? Is it about success on the field? Is it about your brand? Is it about whether your mascot can beat up other mascots?

There is no exact criteria because the model is changing. The streaming aspect of all this is real and the number of media players has changed over the years where now it's not just about ESPN and FOX but it's also about CBS, NBC, Turner and Apple, Google, Amazon and................the FanDuel and DraftKings and the biggest name to remember, Fanatics, Fanatics has gone from a place to buy a jersey from your favorite team as a place to also engage in the world of NFTs, trading cards, sports gambling and likely live sports rights.

But let's get back to the world of conference expansion. The additions of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten was sitting there before our eyes for years and few saw it. But let's go back to when the league added Maryland and Rutgers. When the two schools joined in November of 2012, many laughed because of their performance on the football field. But then commissioner, Jim Delaney, knew what he was doing. He wasn't adding two football powers, he was adding homes to air the BIg Ten Network and he was doing it in markets where Big Ten alumni live.

If you think the SEC is a better football league than the Big Ten, you won't get an argument from me. But if you think the SEC is a bigger football league, I'm here to argue. The SEC has won a lot of national championships in the BCS/College Football Playoff era, a lot more than the Big Ten but the SEC is a regional conference. Even with the additions of Oklahoma and Texas, most of the league's fans and alums live in the southeastern part of the country. The Big Ten has alumni in all 50 states and the SEC is not even close in the national distribution of alums like the Big Ten. It's not that there are not alums of SEC schools living in Phoenix. It's just that there are a lot more alums of Big Ten schools living in New York, Los Angeles, Chicao, Phoenix, Denver and on and on. 

A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal and a labor market research firm broke down where alums of over 450 colleges live. It broke down the most popular locations for the alumni for each school in the country. Obviously, Chicago is a city where you will find plenty of alums who went to Illinois and Northwestern and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh has lots of Penn State grads. But a look at other major cities shows why some schools stand out when it comes to why they are in the league and in this case the Big Ten.

Do you know what city has at least 1%, and up to 5%, of the total alumni from every Big Ten school? Los Angeles. Every Big Ten school has at least 1% of all of its alums living in LA. It makes the decision to add USC and UCLA a smart one when you look at those numbers. Do you know what other west coast city has similar numbers? San Francisco. That is why Stanford and Cal might make sense if the league wanted to add more west coast schools.

Do you know what states have the largest group of alumni that are currently not represented in the Big Ten? This should be easy. It's Texas and Florida. That is why those rumors for years about Texas to the Big Ten may not have made sense to many, but did when you look at the numbers. But what about Florida?

Again, the Gators are not leaving the SEC to join the Big Ten, but the reality is they fit the model. A large state school with fans and alumni spread across the country. Do you know where some of the biggest areas outside the state are for Florida alumni? New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia. See the data here?

No disrespect to Miami or Florida State but the Gators have a larger fan base and stretch further across the country when it comes to its alumni and where they live. Florida would deliver the entire state when it comes to television homes. They have fans in most Big Ten states and major cities in those states. They would add eyeballs to the Big Ten Network and would add sponsor value to Big Ten programming.

The distribution of Big Ten alumni and fans across the country is why the conference's media deal will be higher than the SEC. No conference comes close to that data and it's the biggest advantage the league has. It's also why speculation about Stanford, Cal and anything in the state of Florida makes sense in a world where nothing seems to make sense in college football.

Final note: This year marks the 70th anniversary of Florida's first bowl game. In 1952, the Gators beat Tulsa 14-13 in the Gator Bowl.

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