Why It Will Take More Than Money To Lure Boston College Back To The Big East

One of the more interesting parts of Gene DeFilippo's Q&A in the 2011 Boston College Athletics Annual Report was the rationale behind the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. In GDF's answer lie some of the reasons why the Big East will need to do more than throw extra cash at BC if it ever wants to successfully lure back the Eagles.

Here are four non "You sued us ... wahhh!" reasons as to why it'll take more than a few million to successfully lure Boston College back to the Big East in our AD's own words.

 

Reason #1: Eastern football was changing with or without Boston College

"For example, moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference was definitely what was best for Boston College. After Penn State went to the Big Ten, and Virginia Tech and Miami left the Big East to move to the ACC, eastern football was never going to be the same, and in order to protect our football program, we felt it was very important to join the Atlantic Coast Conference."

This first point is one that if often overlooked by our frenemies left back in the Big East so I will bold here for emphasis: Big East football was changing with or without Boston College. The post-ACC raided Big East football conference included programs left behind in expansion (Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, Rutgers), a freshly hatched Division I-A program (UConn) and programs scooped up from Conference USA (Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida). The basketball side of the conference expanded even further to include DePaul and Marquette. With football teams in Louisville and Cincinnati and hoops teams in Chicago and Milwaukee, the notion of any sort of all-sports Eastern league had pretty much been thrown out the window by 2003.

Fast forward to present day, where TCU will join the fold in 2012 and there's talk of the Big East patiently waiting for the Big 12 to implode to scoop up Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, and it's clear that the conference is on thin ice and provides zero long-term stability. In order to protect the school's investment in big time college football, it was clear back then -- and still is clear -- that the Big East is first and foremost a conference run by a bunch of dudes from basketball-only schools who don't know the first thing about running a BCS college football conference. Why else would you run off the one school that kept you relevant on the national stage (Miami)?

So unless Marinatto plans on using Pac-12 like money to get the old gang back together (e.g. Penn State, Boston College) and boots the basketball-only members who provide little to no value #BootDePaul, the Big East will continue to be an unattractive amalgamation of schools that share little in the way of common values or geography.

Reason #2: Academics are better in the ACC. Way better.

"Other reasons we made that move is that we want to be in a conference with schools that have a similar academic mission. Six of the 12 institutions in the ACC are in the top 34 schools in the country, according to US News & World Report. They are Boston College, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, and you're known by the people you're aligned with."

The academics part of the equation are important in a way that you'll never be able to explain to a West Virginia or Central Florida grad. But here DeFilippo puts it in terms even a Mountaineer or Gator-Knight can understand: "you're known by the people you're aligned with." College football is about much more than simply wins and losses on the gridiron. College football is also one of a university's best vehicles to market itself in order to attract the best and the brightest students from around the country. There is and always will be loads more money in bettering your academic reputation, becoming more selective as an institution and producing higher quality graduates than there is from BCS bowl game payouts and the NCAA basketball tournament. 

As a result, GDF wants the school to be associated with high ranking academic schools. Specifically those top five schools that he names in the above quote -- Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. While there are some fine academic basketball-only schools in the Big East, all five of those schools, BC and Miami are all ranked higher than the top ranked football member of the Big East -- Syracuse. 

Even the lowest rated ACC school, North Carolina State University, is ranked higher than four of the Big East football members -- Cincinnati (156), Louisville (176), West Virginia (176), South Florida (183).

If you add the basketball-only schools into the mix, Notre Dame (19) and Georgetown (21) marginally improve things, but the other Big East members Marquette (75), TCU (99), DePaul (136), Seton Hall (136) and St. John's (143) bring down the conference's overall average. Two schools -- Villanova and Providence -- just miss USN&WR's National Universities rankings, placing 1st and 2nd in the north's Regional University rankings.

2011 USN&WR rankings for the ACC and Big East

Rank ACC Rank Big East
9 Duke University 19 University of Notre Dame
25 University of Virginia 21 Georgetown University
25 Wake Forest University 55 Syracuse University
30 University of North Carolina 64 University of Pittsburgh
31 Boston College 64 Rutgers University
35 Georgia Institute of Technology 69 University of Connecticut
47 University of Miami 75 Marquette University
56 University of Maryland 99 Texas Christian University
67 Clemson University 136 Depaul University
69 Virginia Polytechnic Institute 136 Seton Hall University
104 Florida State University 143 St. John's University
111 North Carolina State University 156 University of Cincinnati
    176 University of Louisville
    176 West Virginia University
    183 University of South Florida
    N/R Villanova University
    N/R Providence College

Think that it's folly to attach any importance to the college rankings of a new defunct magazine -- spoken like someone whose school likely didn't rank highly according to USN&WR. Both Forbes and ARWU paint a similar picture:

USN&WR average -- ACC 50.75, Big East 104.8 (VU and PC unranked)
Forbes averages -- ACC 178, Big East 301
ARWU averages -- ACC 67, Big East 79.8 (VU, PC, MU, TCU, DU, SHU, WVU, SJU and UL unranked)

Again, unless the Big East has expansion plans to bring Stanford, Northwestern and half the Ivy League into the fold, none of the Big East expansion candidates add anything to the conference academically.

Reason #3: Moving beyond the Northeast

"Another key reason for the school was that BC has done a very good job in recruiting students from the northeast corridor, from the Midwest, from California and other areas of the country, and we want to do as well in recruiting students from the southeast region of the country. That region is the fastest-growing area of our country, so the move to the ACC should help in that regard."

The national reach / exposure that the program receives in the ACC is very important to a private Catholic school like Boston College. It's also the reason why Notre Dame cherishes its football independence, why BYU is embarking on its own journey in football independence and why TCU will be onto its fourth conference since 1996 when the Frogs join the Big East. Notice anything in common with those schools? Smallish, private, religiously affiliated schools. Sound familiar? 

The move to the ACC has allowed BC to open up recruiting pipelines in a growing part of the country as well as expand beyond our traditional New England / Northeast footprint. Playing in the Northeast (Syracuse, Rutgers, UConn) and the Rust Belt (Pitt, West Virginia) -- two portions of the country that are seeing big decreases to overall population over the last decade -- isn't exactly a boon to recruiting or admissions. In the ACC, BC can open up pipelines in the Southeast while maintaining ties to the Midwest (playing Notre Dame, Northwestern, MACrificial lambs) and the Northeast (playing Syracuse, Army and annual I-AA opponents such as New Hampshire, Maine, UMass). In short, the move has allowed a program like BC to move beyond being simply a Northeast private Catholic school and one that has reach up and down the eastern half of the country. 

Reason #4: TV, name recognition and more exposure (see above)

"And then, the job of the Athletics Department is to provide name recognition and exposure for the institution. The new television package with the ACC will average about $155 million per year and provide us with many more TV appearances, meaning we have an opportunity to expose Boston College to a larger audience."

The ACC has a new TV deal with ESPN that averages $155 million per year for the next 12 years (read CSOM_97's excellent take on the ACC's TV contract in the comments section here). That averages out to $11.9 million / program / year (split 13 ways, with one share going to the ACC), though the payments are smaller in the beginning years.

Compare that to the Big East's current TV deal, a contract that expires in 2013 and is worth about $3 million for schools that play both football and basketball. The Big East also has a magical $19-23 million / program valuation and thinks that ESPN, NBCUniversal and Fox are going to drive up the value of UConn vs. Louisville Tuesday night college football. I'll believe it when I see it.

Even if the Big East lands a TV media rights deal much larger than the ACC's -- and on par with the Pac-12 and Big Ten -- the ACC has the advantage of having a shorter contract which is can renegotiate in 12 years and reset the market. 

Regardless of whether the Big East gets its $20 million valuation with its next TV deal, it's already a moving target and as such an apples to oranges comparison. The ACC will have already cycled through two years of its 12 year deal with ESPN and will only have to wait another 10 before they can reset the market with the conference's next TV contract. It's unlikely that the Big East will sign a shorter deal than the ACC's 12 year (at that point, 10 year) deal. The ACC's contract also expires before the SEC's does allowing the conference to either reset the market or blaze new trails a la the Pac-12's plans for a digital network.

Besides, the Big East is talking like an extra $3 million / year alone will be enough to lure BC and Maryland away from the ACC to the Big East. Frankly, that's a rounding error / interest on the school's $1.48 billion dollar endowment, and does not factor in the instability that either Boston College or Maryland would be walking into in joining the Big East. That uncertainty -- the risk premium the Big East would need to pay -- would certainly have to be more than $3 million / year to make a move attractive for either program. Maryland, a founding member of the ACC, isn't going to trade in all of its existing rivalries to play in an unstable conference with plenty of basketball bloat and even worse football than the ACC. Similarly, BC isn't going to go crawling back hat in hand to the Big East for an extra $3 mil given all the reasons above. 

 

In sum, unless the Big East plans on getting back to its eastern football league roots, improving academics, alleviating the instability inherent in the football/basketball divide and/or compensating a BC or Maryland for the inherent risk involved in moving from a stable situation in the ACC to the chaos and instability in the Big East, I don't think the conference has a prayer of luring Maryland and BC back to the conference.

It's a pipe dream, a bluff. John Marinatto thinks that he's holding all the cards when I really believe he's holding very few. BC and Maryland to the Big East won't be achieved simply by throwing a few extra mil at the ACC's two northernmost programs. 

Queue more hate mail from Juno.com accounts in five, four, three, (motions the numbers two and one).

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