Monday, October 21, 2013

How The Big Ten Network Destroyed Big Ten Football

If you think money cures all, you haven’t watched Purdue play football this year.

On September 1, 2007, the Big Ten Network aired its first football game. It would prove to be the most important Big Ten football game to be played in the past 7 years.

That is not a good thing.

big ten network logo
On that fateful Saturday, Michigan took on the defending I-AA champions Appalachian State. In the greatest game ever aired on the Big Ten Network, Michigan lost in stunning fashion.

The game has marked a crossroads for the Big Ten, as its football fortunes have dropped off to become a laughingstock while its bank accounts have become the envy of every other conference.

Michigan entered that game as a Top 5 team. They have not been a top 5 team since.

The Big Ten entered that season as arguably the best in the country – 3 teams finished in the Top 10 in 2006 and Ohio State/Michigan played the biggest regular season game of the 2000s in terms of interest, quality and ratings.

The Big Ten felt emboldened by its success and made a move that is, by far, the biggest move in the history of college football.

No, that’s not hyperbole. The Big Ten starting its own network has literally changed the fabric of the sport.

The realignment craze that followed? Due to the Big Ten Network.

The Pac-12 Network? The impending SEC Network? Due to the Big Ten Network.

The dramatic increase in televised college football games? Due to the Big Ten Network.

In fact, you could make a logical argument that the financial success of the Big Ten Network – showcasing once and for all how undervalued college football TV contracts were – led to the four-team college football playoff that will start next year.

Of course, during the seven-year period of unmatched financial growth, the Big Ten’s actual football product has devolved into by far the worst of the “Major” five conferences, and neck and neck with the American at the moment.

For all the ridicule Louisville received for its soft schedule to open the year, it slightly obscured the fact that Ohio State’s schedule is just as bad. With the notable exception of Wisconsin and depending on Michigan’s fate, Ohio State is likely to play the softest schedule in the history of the program.

In 2007, Ohio State made the BCS title game – despite a home loss to a 3-loss Illinois team – thanks to one of the strangest seasons, if not the, in college football’s recent history. They were blown out in the title game by a 2-loss LSU team.

A year later, Penn State entered November undefeated and ranked #3 before losing to Iowa. That was five years ago. That was the last time the Big Ten had a national title contender in November.

The conference has won 1 Rose Bowl game since the 2000 season. The conference paid out more than $25 million to each school in the last fiscal year.

How is this possible? We’ve been led to believe that money equals success in college football. It is thought that more money means better salaries for coaches and better facilities to lure recruits.

When it comes to on-field success, money falls behind something far important – exposure. In essence, the Big Ten sold its exposure for money. It’s not working.

While the Big Ten trumpets the fact they have a “national” network, that is hardly the case. ESPN is a national network. So is ESPN2. So is Fox Sports 1. So are broadcast channels. They are available on basic cable on almost every cable system in the country.

The Big Ten Network is a regional network. It is on basic cable only in Big Ten country.

I live in Washington, D.C. I get the Big Ten Network. But I pay extra for it because I’m addicted to sports. It’s part of the “sports geek” package that includes ESPNU, CBS Sports Network and BEIN Sport.

If you’re a high school recruit, the lure of playing a national network – the quaint notion that kids call sell parents on being able to watch every game – is a fallacy. If you live where I live, you can’t watch your kid play every week in the Big Ten unless you pay extra. It’s a small but important difference.

It dramatically limits the exposure – why do you think the Big Ten Network does not release rating information? Because a fraction of the ESPN audience is watching their games.

More importantly, the Big Ten moving to its own network opened another void. Suddenly, ESPN had more slots to fill than usual. The noon hour used to be the Big Ten showcase. For a decade, it seemed that ESPN and ESPN2 did nothing but show Big Ten games after College Gameday. It used to frustrate me as a fan, then living in Connecticut, to be cut off from almost every other conference – namely the SEC – to watch Northwestern/Minnesota games.

bcs 2013 ohio state
The void was filled, in spectacular fashion, by the SEC. The Noon game on ESPN – once a Big Ten stranglehold – has been commandeered by the SEC. Think of just this season alone. There has been Miami/Florida, Missouri/Georgia and South Carolina/Tennessee in those coveted timeslots, drawing millions more for an audience than the Big Ten.

The Big Ten left to collect a paycheck. The SEC stepped in and now collects five-star recruits. Is it any wonder that the SEC’s run of dominance coincided with the launch of the Big Ten Network? They have, and will always be, the two dominant conferences in college football. The Pac-12 controls the West but the time difference will always keep it third. And the ACC and Big 12 will forever and always be top-heavy conferences run by a select few on the football side.

The power balance, though, is thrown off because of the SEC’s collective dominance over the past decade. It’s not just Alabama and Florida – like the Big Ten is just Ohio State and Michigan. It’s South Carolina. It’s Auburn. It’s LSU. It’s Tennessee. It’s Arkansas. It’s different.

The Big Ten is now so money-driven that it’s about to submarine the football side even further in its never-ending chase for cash.

The SEC and Mike Slive would still be at 12 teams if it didn’t stumble into a gold mine known as Texas A&M. For the all the insults hurled at Texas A&M prior to joining the SEC, which included my own, the fact remained that it was a football school, through and through, that had success. They dominated the last vestiges of the Southwest Conference. They competed in the Big 12. Furthermore, they opened up Texas.

The Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010. They added a great football program, and the state of Nebraska.

The SEC added Texas A&M in 2012. They added a good football program, and the state of Texas.

You see the difference?

Even in power grabs for eyeballs, the SEC outmaneuvered the Big Ten – at least in football quality. Missouri has been a consistently good to great team under Gary Pinkel for nearly a decade, even reaching #1 in 2007. The 2012 season was an obvious outlier due to an abundance of injuries – just ask Mark Richt about that.

The Big Ten doesn’t care about on-field performance. They care about market size. That’s why they gobbled up Rutgers and Maryland, two of the most mediocre football programs you could possibly imagine that happen to be within a stone’s throw – okay, a 30-minute stone’s throw – of two of the largest media markets in the country.

For the Big Ten, in the words of Chief Wiggum, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Starting in 2014, all that will matter is the college football playoff. It is becoming increasingly apparent that strength of schedule is going to play a dominant role in selecting these teams, as it should.

The Big Ten, in its infinite wisdom, believes that its path to schedule strength is no FCS games and more conference games.

Have you seen the Big Ten teams? Playing more is not good.

The competitive imbalance may – should? – cripple Ohio State’s chances for a BCS title through no fault of its own. If you don’t play anyone good, how do we know if you’re any good?

The Big Ten is a terrible football conference. The Big Ten is a rich football conference.

Which is more important?

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21 comments:

  1. Good Read. You are obviously a SEC homer, but that is OK. I agree with a lot what you said. The B1G is not a terrible conference, not even close. It is a good, not great, conference. Once Penn State is back and Michigan start winning again, it will be back.

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    1. My point is that it will be extremely hard for Michigan/PSU/Nebraska to get back to that level without the exposure. Every recruit wants to play in the SEC. Only Ohio State (so far) has been able to recruit like that in the past few years.

      Put simply, high school kids dreaming of playing on CBS on Saturday afternoons. They don't dream of playing on the Big Ten Network.

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    2. @ Sean. If you Check the recruiting rankings the last few years you will see that Michigan and Nebraska have done just fine. According to scout Michigan was ranked #2 last year and #4 in 2012. And to say EVERY recruit wants to play in the SEC is just ridiculous. Yes, the SEC currently recruits better than any other conference, but if you look at the results it's a lot closer than you would lead your readers to believe.

      And finally, the games played on the BTN network are games that would only be on local networks anyway. All the major Big Ten games get picked up by ABC and ESPN because there is a demand for them. The Big Ten is still by far the most popular conference in America. Big Ten has more fans, more alumns, and more boosters than any other conference. Will that change because of football? Maybe in 30 years. Will it be for reason you listed in your article. Maybe. That is why I commented "Good Read" above.

      I think you are actually on to something but your Bias comes through to strongly in your words. Go Bucks!

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    3. ^^ This just my opinion, Thanks for the article.

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    4. There is little demand for 14-10 football. And if the recruiting is close to equal, then what you are saying it that the services are wrong (as coach Pinkle says) or the SEC develops players significantly better. Look at the NFL draft. My personal feeling is it is a style of play issue as much as anything.

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  2. Hmmmm. You sound a lot like Iowiq on the Scout Boards. : ^ )

    Written like a true SEC homer. Not too happy about the mighty SEC making $5 million less than the Big Ten in FY 2012/2013, are you. And Arkansas???? Really???? Arkansas vs Rutgers the last 2 years is 0-2. Just like I tell Iowiq. You need to do some serious fact checking.

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    1. Rutgers > Arkansas

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    2. Big Ten teams had to play up due to the absence of Ohio State and Penn State, but that doesn't change the fact that the conference is 28-47 in bowl games the last 10 seasons. In the major bowl games on New Year's Day or later the Big Ten has gone 17-28 in that span.

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  3. Why am I being called an SEC homer? I'm a UConn fan.

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    1. ESPN is the number 1 problem. The BIG wanted to profit off of its conference members. ESPN tells you that the SEC is so much better, but in reality they are not. Florida loss to a FCS school and it was on espn for a week. Michigan loss to a FCS team and its been on espn for 5 years. Small minds fall into the espn trap.

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  4. Is the Big Ten network affiliated with ESPN, or is it independent? I know the SEC network is affiliated with ESPN, so I would think that ESPN will make sure that the SEC network is filled with second tier games and would not hurt it's national TV ratings by putting prime games on the SEC network in regional fashion (unless maybe the SEC network deals with service providers guarantee national exposure). I don't know, I'm asking.

    Also, most top recruits want to play in the NFL. I think that recruits want to play where they think they will have the best chance of moving on to the NFL. TV exposure aside, the SEC's biggest draw in my opinion is the huge statistical advantage they have over other conferences of putting players in the NFL, particularly in the first and second rounds.

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  5. Great Article! A&M, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia, Mizzou, South Carolina, Tennessee >>>>> OSU, UM, MSU, PSU, Nebraska, Wisc... Hurry up SEC network!

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  6. no national championships in EITHER revenue sport (the only two which matter) in over a decade...this FACT gets largely ignored in the midwest, and so much of that is because of their fancy revenue-generating TV network...who isn't jacked to watch a rutgers/purdon't diving meet in stunning HD in the not-too-distant future??

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  7. ohio state has and will only play 2 games on the BTN this year

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  8. SEC dominance is due to over signing and superior coaches....the BTN has had nothing to do with that.

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  9. Maybe Ohio State might decide to go to SEC everything being the same money wise. Not!!!

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  10. In summary, the answer to the question, 'What is the best fantasy football site?' is this: the site that offers Draft Projections, Player Tracker Tools, Customized Line-Up Advice, Hot Waiver Wire Notifications and Unparalleled Injury Reports. Therefore, you can visit at fantasy football strenght of schedule

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  11. John A, let's not forget the only reason OSU made it into thst game is because of the dog eat dog nature of the SEC. Had LSU not mounted a comeback in the SEC Championship game; it would have been Tennessee vs Miami

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  12. Hmmm, so the destroyed B1G won the first ever college football playoff, with a third string QB to boot

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  13. This is hearsay but the recruiting tactics of some SEC schools is questionable. Nobody is totally clean but until there are more uniform rules for recruiting the SEC will be very strong.

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