Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE
Expanding without expansion is the new expansion.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the conference is looking at the possibility of forming an alliance with the ACC and two other unspecified leagues, according to Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman. This alliance would be created for the purposes of scheduling, marketing and possibly TV. Sounds like an arrangement very similar to the failed Pac-12-Big Ten scheduling deal that allowed both conferences to "expand without expanding."
"We've had conversations with three other leagues," Bowlsby told the American-Statesman on Friday afternoon. "The ACC is one of them. It's a process of discovery that would provide some of the benefits of larger membership without actually adding members."
Bowlsby declined to name the other two leagues, but the Pac-12 Conference is presumed to be one of them because that 12-team league faces significant geographical obstacles to expansion. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had announced the framework for a similar alliance more than a year ago, but the arrangement didn't come to fruition.
While nothing is imminent, the possibility will be discussed during next week's Big 12 meetings in Grapevine, Texas. The alliance between conferences would include football and basketball, but could expand to other sports.
Just spitballin' here, but here are some thoughts on what a possible Big 12-ACC alliance could include:
September football in the Big 12 has been barely unwatchable the past few seasons. Big 12 programs rarely leave home and line up a steady diet of FCS and mid-major programs over the first few weeks of the season. Out of 24 games over the first three weeks of the season, only four were against BCS AQ programs -- Iowa State-Iowa, Kansas State-Miami, Oklahoma State-Arizona and Texas-Ole Miss. The rest of the non-conference schedule over those first few weeks? Florida A&M, Grambling, James Madison, Louisiana-Lafayette, Marshall, Missouri State, New Mexico (x2), North Texas, Northwestern State, Rice, Sam Houston State, Savannah State, SMU, South Dakota State, Texas State, Tulsa, UTEP, Western Illinois and Wyoming.
I don't even think your average Big 12 fan would refute the assertion that the conference's non-conference schedules have been lacking in quality.
An obvious benefit to an alliance between the two leagues is scheduling matchups between ACC and Big 12 programs. The 2014 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State season opening game at Cowboys Stadium is a great example of this, but these ACC-Big 12 matchups don't have to be confined to the first three weeks of September, either. As the league schedule wears on and we're left with weekends where the conference slate of games is lacking, mid- and late-season inter-conference matchups can help plug the holes for both leagues TV partners. This sort of arrangement eases scheduling constraints and helps both conferences improve overall SOS, likely a component of the college football playoff selection critera.
For basketball, this arrangement could go as far as an ACC/Big Ten Challenge-type scheduling deal, or it could be as simple as a two-game ACC-Big 12 doubleheader at a neutral site. The two leagues could also explore hosting their own tournaments. Much like the conference's taking back control of the bowl games, there is plenty of opportunities here for the conference's to tap into more and more revenue streams.
Bowl Partnerships and Revenue Sharing
While the Big 12 is locked into the Sugar Bowl with the SEC, there are plenty more opportunities for conferences to take greater ownership of the sport's postseason format. While I don't think this sort of partnership will extend to all bowl games, the Big 12 and ACC can work together to expand postseason opportunities for the two leagues. Beyond the playoffs and the rumored semifinal rotation sites, the ACC and Big 12 could work on providing more flexible and diversified bowl matchups and destinations. No reason leagues should be locked into games in Shreveport, Washington DC or Birmingham between the Big 12 #8 and the ACC #6. More flexibility will allow for better matchups and expand revenue opportunities for both conferences.
Coordinated Scheduling For TV
Dennis Dodd wrote an interesting article this week asking whether college football has peaked, observing recent declines in both attendance and ratings. It's an interesting article and definitely worth a read, but I disagree with Dodd's assessment.
Most of college football's wounds are entirely self-inflicted and a result of a lack of centralized coordination. Take a look at those early season Big 12 non-conference matchups above and then ask yourself why attendance is on the decline. Same can be said for TV viewership. Without any sort of centralized coordination of the TV schedule, leagues cannibalize one another for viewerships. On championship weekend, the 8 PM time slot was split three-ways among the ACC Championship Game (ESPN), the Big Ten Title Game (FOX) and Texas-Kansas State (ABC). With a inter-conference partnership, the leagues can figure out an optimal TV schedule which better maximizes ratings and revenues.
Television and Media Rights
More coordinated TV scheduling can help both leagues go to its television partners and negotiate higher rights fees for primetime games. If the NFL is going to stick with Thursday night games, offer a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night game. Fill those slots with a mix of both inter- and intra-conference matchups. Don't just lock specific schools into those time slots -- BC and Syracuse. Cast a (much) wider net. Coordinate the scheduling among the leagues, creating a stronger product that you can take to the league's media partners.
The ACC is talking about creating their own cable network, which seems like it'll be a tough sell. But if you package ACC TV rights with the Big 12 and another AQ conference, you have a much more viable network that could go toe to toe with the BTN and drum up demand in a massive geographic footprint. Any leftover TV inventory could be distributed via online channels such as ESPN3 or YouTube.
Beyond Football and Basketball
The ACC is doing quite well for itself in the Olympic Sports department and there's actually very little overlap between the two leagues. The Big 12 doesn't sponsor men's soccer, field hockey, men's or women's lacrosse. Still, both conferences are strong in baseball and could benefit from many of the same benefits that football and basketball would enjoy from such a partnership -- scheduling, joint TV inventory, etc.
College athletics -- and college football in particular -- would benefit greatly from these type of inter-conference alliances. When the major conferences realize there's more value to be created from cooperation rather than cannibalization, Division I college athletics will be so much better off. Or we could all just end up in a 64-team Big Ten. Either way.