Monday, November 26, 2012

Should UConn Say No To The ACC and Stay In The Big East?

By the time I finish writing this – and certainly by the time you read it – every word will likely be made irrelevant.

And that accurately sums up the state of college athletics in 2012.

If decisions were being made about conference membership based solely on 2012 – UConn (or Louisville, or Cincinnati, or USF) should jump for joy and click its heels if an ACC invite arrives. The stability of the ACC, even after losing Maryland, still trumps the revolving door that is the Big East.

empty seats acc
But college athletics is not based on a single year. It’s not even based on wins or losses. When the Big Ten made its big money grab for Washington, D.C. and New York City – with Rutgers and Maryland as the pawns in the scenario – the curtain was pulled from the Wizard. We all know that college sports are no longer about tradition, rivalries and championships. It’s an exaggerated game of Risk being played by old, rich men making millions of dollars for other old, rich men.

When Jim Delany explained the reasoning behind his version of the Louisiana Purchase, he cited demographics. The Midwest – the Big Ten’s former home – is the only section of the Union that has seen its population stagnate in the past decade. While much has been made of our nation’s migration south, which not so coincidentally coincides with the rise of the SEC, we as a nation are also migrating toward cities.

I know this because my girlfriend and I are part of that – we moved to Washington, D.C. from Connecticut last July. We are part of the growing number of 20- and 30-somethings that are forgoing the staid suburban life for city living.

The future of our country – and by proxy, college sports – can be found in the cities. Every prior realignment move, with the exception of established football programs at Nebraska and West Virginia, has been about acquiring major cities and markets so conferences can place them in their pockets for television negotiations. It’s about more. It’s about diversity. It’s about coverage.

I pose to you a simple question – look at this list of the top TV markets in 2012 and tell me what cities the ACC can claim ownership of, especially with Maryland (in theory) taking Washington, D.C. with them? Boston is #7 but Boston College suffers from a lack of fan support. Miami is #16 but Miami, the school, suffers from a lack of fan support.

The top market that the ACC absolutely and completely controls is Raleigh-Durham. It is #24. It has a grand total of 100,000 more homes than Hartford-New Haven, the market that UConn controls.

That is why the ACC is in trouble. While the Big Ten went after the #1 and #8 markets, while the SEC went after St. Louis (#21) and Houston (#10) and while the Pac-12 added Denver (#17) and Salt Lake City (#31), the ACC added Pittsburgh (#23) and Syracuse (#84)*.

*Syracuse is not New York City’s college football team. And neither is Rutgers. And neither is UConn. The city’s college football team is Notre Dame. You only have to read the New York Post once during the fall to realize this.

The Big East actually seemed to realize this fact, by adding schools in top 50 markets like Orlando, Memphis, Houston, Dallas and San Diego. The only school that didn’t meet that criteria is Boise State, who is like a mini-me version of West Virginia, with a brand that resonates nationally.

There is no denying that the Big East is not good at football – and kudos to me for that double negative that would make Troy Aikman proud. But choosing a conference is not about on-field results. Jim Delany, Larry Scott and Mike Slive have made that abundantly clear. It’s about money. More importantly, it’s about potential.

Rutgers in no way, shape or form controls the NYC market, likewise for Maryland and Washington, D.C.* But Jim Delany believes the potential is there. The Big Ten is already making more than any other conference. With Rutgers and Maryland, he has added the potential to add more. The Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 are set for the future because they are making a ton of money and there is potential for more.

*The most talked about college football team here is Virginia Tech and that's why the SEC targeted the Hokies before settling on Missouri last summer.

When you look at the ACC, you see the stunning lack of potential. That is why Florida State has openly flirted with the Big 12 and why Clemson boosters want their school to begin batting eyes at Texas. It’s why Georgia Tech would join the Big Ten tomorrow if it could. It’s why the Virginia and North Carolina rumors – either to the Big Ten or SEC – will not stop until it happens.

In the age of Twitter, smoke does not need to be accompanied by fire. Pitt and Syracuse left the Big East based on perceived instability – the instability that worried them did not exist in the real world, but their perception forced them to look elsewhere. Even if the other 13 ACC teams have had no contact with other conferences – they will. Realignment isn’t over yet.

So why should UConn (or Louisville or Cincinnati) say no to the ACC? It would be too easy to say because the ACC may get raided, as it slowly morphs into a Big East 2.0. That would be missing the forest for the trees.

UConn, if it can limit the defection number to just 1 in Rutgers, should seriously consider staying in the Big East because of what the college landscape will look like in 2022, not 2012. The price for college sports is going to go up (and up and up) and there will be no shortage of suitors in 10 years – will Fox Sports 1 or NBC Sports Network or the CBS Sports Network emerge as a real threat to ESPN? Will the cable industry be completely changed to the point we buy channels a la carte as opposed to everyone in the country paying $5 per month for ESPN?

Every other conference is expanding with no regard to geography. All those “Big East West” jokes might actually end up being the very thing that makes the Big East – if it remains intact – a far more valuable television property than the ACC in 10 years.

Think about the potential of the schools added – San Diego State, UCF and Houston are football programs in top 30 markets that could take a gigantic leap forward with an influx of cash into its programs. Boise State has been a national brand playing most of its games west of the Rockies – what happens when they start playing games within a short drive from New York City?

When (if) the current Big East signs its next television deal, it will clearly separate itself from the other mid-major conferences but will not match the ACC. That, however, should not be a reason to leave one conference for the other. The Big Ten will double Rutgers’ annual TV revenue – you make that move. The ACC would increase UConn’s annual TV revenue slightly.

Is $3 million per year (roughly) anything to sneeze at? Of course not. I have no doubt that when the ACC comes calling, UConn will say yes before John Swofford finishes the questions.

I also have no doubt that the ACC will lose more teams in the next five years. UConn could be leaving the Big East to join a conference that will look a lot like old Big East, while other conferences emulate what the new Big East is trying to do.

It’s time for college presidents to stop looking at the present and start looking at the future. In 2022, college conferences will look a whole lot more like the Big East will in 2013 than the ACC in 2013.

The Big East, even without Rutgers, is in a lot better position than most people realize. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late. And it’s going to be really frustrating when the Big 12 has teams coast to coast in five years and UConn is still stuck in a conference that gets raided.
 
Follow me on Twitter

4 comments:

  1. Georgia Tech = Atlanta? Isn't that a Top 10 DMA?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is but I was talking about cities that the ACC can claim they own or at least have the most influence. I think most people would consider Atlanta as SEC territory.

      Delete
  2. If the foundation of the argument for UConn staying in the Big East is that teams like Houston can someday deliver their media markets (in the eyes of the networks) then you are chasing a black cat in a dark room with the lights off.

    ReplyDelete
  3. LOL @ Virginia Tech being DC's team. Read the Post or listen to local sports talk radio. Virginia Tech has a slight edge over UVA from what I can tell, but Maryland still gets more coverage even though their program is in the dumpster. I remember reading a "local sports interest" study in the Post a couple of years ago that showed Maryland having more local (DC metro area) interest than the VA schools combined. This area seems to have transplants from everywhere, including my school (Michigan State), but it is clear to me that Maryland is the local alternative, to the extent that there is one.

    ReplyDelete