21 May 2012
It's funny how things one's perception of college sports can change in such a short matter of time.
Not all that long ago, I was looking forward to Pitt playing in the ACC. There would be road trips to beautiful campuses like UVA down in Charlottesville and rekindling an old rivalry against former conference-mate Virginia Tech. The thoughts of Duke and North Carolina each coming to play at the Pete two out of every three years made me giddy like a school girl. The thought of Clemson and Florida State leaving the ACC for the Big XII was nothing more than a figment of some dude's imagination, throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.
Since, ESPN and the ACC signed a new TV contract, the Big XII and the SEC created a new bowl game, yada yada yada, my thinking has made a complete 180°.
But Bryan, you yada yada'd over the best part.
Alright, let's fill in some of those details. To do so, we need to travel back in time two weeks to take a look at where it all began.
Warning, this post approaches 2,700 words. Block out your time accordingly.
The first step in this journey took place on Wednesday May 9th, 2012 shortly after lunch. ESPN issues a press release announcing a 15 year, $3.6b television deal with the ACC. Quick math will tell you that $3.6b divided over 15 years to 14 teams is averaging $17m a team per year. To Pitt and Syracuse, this is nearly twice as much as the schools were making a year in the BIG EAST. To the other schools, it is nearly a $6m an upgrade from the previous contract the ACC had negotiated with ESPN only a year ago. A select few though, were quick to point out that this average annual payout would put the conference members in a solid 5th place for many years to come.
Queue the mass hysteria from fans of football schools via social media.
"ZOMG, the contract does not give schools their Tier 3 TV rights! Our school could make a fortune with our own network!"
Misinformation like that statement, especially when it comes from a Florida State trustee himself (OK, I paraphrased that one), is why everything has gotten so out of hand. ESPN even had to release a statement trying to clarify the issues, or non-issues.
My stand throughout this entire debacle has been this: show me the financials that will make the move to the Big XII worthwhile for schools like Clemson and Florida State and then I will believe the hype. My points were as follows:
- The ACC will bring in roughly $17m per team, the Big XII is estimated to bring in $20m per team. Both contracts are an average, gradually increasing over their lives of roughly 15 years. For that reason, we will work with the averages. That's an advantage for the Big XII of $3m a year.
- ACC schools have roughly a $17-20m buyout. That, of course, will not be the final figure should schools decide to leave, merely a starting point for negotiations. Still, for a school like Florida State who is facing a $2m budget deficit for the upcoming season, spending more cash could hurt.
- As pointed out by our friends over at the Smoking Musket, new schools in the Big XII do not receive a full share of television revenue their first three years in the league.
What does this mean, exactly, for WVU? Well, if you remember, WVU is entering the Big 12 revenue streams incrementally over the next four years. Here's the math:
- 50% share 2012 = $10 million
- 67% share 2013 = $13.4 million
- 84% share 2014 = $16.8 million
- 100% share 2015 = $20 million
- Tier 3 rights, something not many people understand, were well explained by Chadd Scott.
According to the Orlando Sentinel and Tallahassee Democrat, FSU presently makes roughly $6.5 million per year from this inventory and there’s no reason to believe that would change in the Big 12.
If Florida State were to have a football game to sell to a Tier 3 provider, it would be the worst one on the schedule. Anyone want to watch Savannah State? No? OK then.
So where was this supposed money going to come from? No one could answer that. Some proponents for the move simply kept saying "The ACC is a basketball conference, they don't care about football", "It's a done done", and "If you can't understand simple math, I don't know what to tell you." FYI, saying the same thing over and over doesn't make it happen, it just makes you sound foolish if you do not provide any points to your argument other than saying "more money".
- The traveling aspect. Florida State already has a decent sized travel budget due to the fact that they are at one extreme of the ACC footprint. However, unlike the Big XII, Florida State was within driving distance of several schools. For this argument, let's use the same number Nebraska used when doing their due diligence for joining the Big Ten, $2m.
In summary, using the prorated scale from the Smoking Musket, it would take 7 years for Florida State to average more than $17m a year. Assuming that the school would receive some additional cash from Tier 3 rights, let's call it a whitewash with the additional travel expenses. All that is left is the negotiated exit fee, which leaves Florida State in the red. So for a team that has only won the ACC once since it expanded in 2004, why do you spend money to move to a historically tougher conference when facing an immediate budget deficit and no apparent abundance of riches in sight?
And then this happened this past Friday...
The Big 12 and the Southeastern conferences have announced a deal that will pit their football regular-season champions against each other in a New Year's Day bowl game for five years beginning in 2014, positioning themselves for the expected switch to a four-team playoff.
If one or both of the league champions are selected to play in the playoff, another team would be selected for the Big 12-SEC bowl showdown on Jan. 1.
The fact is, for the past decade, either one or both were in the top four teams in the nation and would not have played in this game had it existed. So why all the fuss?
Money. A whole lotta money. The SEC and Big XII decided to turn their back on the bowl system and the $20+m that comes with a BCS game (divided amongst all of the conference members). They dictate the terms of this game now. They auction off the game to the highest bidder. They split the profits without having the man in the middle.
More importantly, the two conferences have declared they they are without a doubt part of the Big Four conferences with the Pac-12 and Big Ten. The ACC, BIG EAST, and all of the other conferences, not so much. Florida State and Clemson do not want to be on the outside looking in. This additional revenue will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and I believe that this move is now inevitable...thanks to enough money and a seat at the grownups table.
So where does that leave the ACC? It will be a 12-team conference, led by one football power who will not want to be there (Virginia Tech), believes football is a priority, and will disagree with how the conference leadership down on Tobacco Road will make decisions going forward. Sound familiar? Simply replace Virginia Tech with West Virginia, Tobacco Road with Providence, and you have yourself the BIG EAST. A bunch of basketball powers who happen to field football teams and are happy to collect the ESPN checks accordingly. At this point, if I were Virginia Tech, I would be sending an Edible Arrangement to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, maybe even add a buddy's name to the card (Maryland or NC State). The SEC has a gentlemen's agreement amongst its members, they will not add teams from a state where the conference already had a member...hence looking into Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland over Florida and South Carolina.
So what should Pitt do? Just sit back and be happy to be collecting twice as much money as they were previously? Also, without Florida State and Clemson, what will the draw to Heinz Field be? The ACC football conference would still be an upgrade over the BIG EAST, but not by much. Based on the statement from ACC Commissioner John Swofford that 70-80% of the ACC's new television deal is based on football revenues. If the conference loses two of its top football schools, does that shiny new $17m a year drop? Most likely. Can Pitt do better elsewhere? Yes. Should it? Yes.
Pitt should pull a TCU and join the Big XII after committing to the ACC before ever playing a game in it. Here's why:
Pitt's Athletic Department doesn't consider itself a basketball school.
This point was made clear on December 7th, 2010 with the firing of Dave Wannstedt. While failing miserably over his first three seasons, Wanny finished his final three seasons with 26 wins, including Pitt's first 10-win season since Dan Marino called Oakland home. (He probably still calls Oakland home since he grew up there, but you get my point.) When looking for Wanny's successor, they eventually opened their pocket book to the tune of over $2m a year. Pitt also is a member of a privileged club...they won a National Championship. Since the NCAA officially began declaring a champion in 1950, only 30 difference schools have claimed a share of a National Championship in 62 years (80 shares actually, due to multiple champions a year on several occasions). 21 of those schools are currently in a Big Four conference, 2 are currently independent (BYU and Notre Dame), and the other 7 will call the ACC home (Pitt, Syracuse, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Maryland, and Georgia Tech). None of those schools should left out simply because of their geographic location. With tradition being lost every day due to the almighty dollar, Pitt should fight to keep this tradition alive.
The additional travel will not be an issue for Pitt fans.
Pitt fans travel well to one location, South Bend. Other than that, Pitt rarely sells out its ticket allotment for other road and bowl games, and this includes the Backyard Brawl. Hell, Pitt fans have trouble traveling to the North Shore for games.
Steve Pederson knows how to better an athletic department
[Insert joke here regarding hiring coaches.] Got that out of the way? Good. During his two tenures here at Pitt, Pederson has done an incredible job in managing new facilities. Say what you want about Pitt Stadium and not having stadium on campus...but honestly, that stadium was a dump. Todd Graham may not agree that sharing facilities with an NFL team is a good recruiting tool, but Todd Graham was an idiot. If you play college football, you've dreamt about playing in the NFL. Pitt offers a closer tie to that dream than any other school. Steve Pederson did that with everyone screaming in his face, including former players. Steve Pederson led the charge for the Petersen Event Center, the place where Top 10 teams go to die. Those facilities have been invaluable to the the basketball program and Pederson's fundraising efforts. He has brokered new deals with Nike, as well as local radio and television channels to air Pitt related-content. Pederson was even on the forefront of expansion last fall, leading the Panthers to the ACC from the severely struggling BIG EAST. Steve Pederson has done a lot for this university, always trying to better it's athletic program. He has succeeded in doing so, and there is no doubt he will continue to do this moving forward.
The Big XII showed interest in Pitt as recently as this past summer
Before Pitt's move to the ACC and the movement of a dozen other schools that followed, Pitt was rumored to be a potential replacement in the Big XII. Yeah, we all laughed at the idea of playing in a conference when our closest opponent would be Iowa State. Funny how things change over time. You know who I bet would provide a reference for Pitt? West Virginia AD Oliver Luck. You don't think he would like to have a local conference opponent? I do.
Academic matter, just not as much as larger more money
My argument before the announcement of the new SEC/Big XII bowl included academics. When, by my math, there was little potential financial benefit for Florida State to jump from the ACC to the Big XII, I argued that the academics of the conference should be the tipping point in the ACC's favor. Now, Jerry Jones, the Fiesta Bowl, or someone similar is going to throw a boatload of cash at the Big XII for their Janunary 1st matchup with the SEC, I backed off that argument. It has never been more clear that college football is no longer about tradition and academics, it's a business...and quite a large business. Conference's don't need a leader that is simply going to try and please universities with different goals, that is why the BIG EAST failed. That may be why the ACC fails in the future. Conference's need a Wall Street CEO who will make the members more money. Money = happiness...until someone else makes more...then will try and make them happy again with more money. Those are the pressures of the job. The Big XII and SEC we're forward thinking on this matter and on the matters of a playoff system. The ACC is just along for the ride because it does not have any chips to bargin with.
In the 1990's, the ACC was the crowned jewel of athletic conferences. From 1987-2000, Florida State was 152-19-1, never lost more than two games in a season, and claimed two National Championships (Florida State joined the ACC in 1991). Duke and North Carolina claimed 4 National Championships from 1991-2001. The ACC was on the forefront of expansion, scooping up Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech. The ACC was the place to be. Since then, on the stage that has mattered the most (the BCS), the ACC is a whopping 2-13. Florida State and Clemson each have the same record in BCS bowls as UConn (0-1). Time (and money) have passed the ACC by. They are the 5th best conference where it matters, on the football field. There may not be many creative ways to improve this. A bowl game against the BIG EAST Champion (Boise State every year)? No thanks. I would rather see the ACC Champion play the Pac-12/Big XII/Big Ten #2 or SEC #3. The only way to achieve national relevance is by winning BCS bowls and championships. That can be hard to from the outside looking in. Conferences are now dictating the terms of television money and bowls. This could create a trend where the the Big Four dictate how a champion is declared through a playoff. Is it unreasonable to believe that the Big Four conference championships would be the quarterfinals, the Rose Bowl and the new TBD Bowl are the semifinals, followed by a championship game? Not really. Will it happen? Who knows. Should the conferences decide to make it happen, who is going to stop them. Notre Dame? The BIG EAST and ACC? Nope. They can only stop themselves.
Don't get me wrong, the ACC is a great conference, much better than where Pitt came from. And who knows, maybe none of this conference fallout happens. Maybe ACC Commissioner John Swofford pull a leprechaun out of his hat. Maybe conferences decide against expanding past 12 or 14 teams, leading enough quality teams behind for a decent schedule to be made. There are a whole lot of maybes and what-ifs floating around out there. Is being left out of the Big Four a chance Pitt should take (while listening to the mockery from Penn State and West Virginia)? I would say no, unless someone can offer up facts to the contrary.
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