Not to spend too much time responding to a Mike Bianchi column -- because at this point he's just a well-paid troll -- but the most prominent UCF homer (there aren't many competitors) has decided to once again make his pitch that the Knights have more Power 5 "potential" than Ole Miss and Mississippi State. In the middle of a season in which UCF has lost to Furman.
But things go viral on the Interwebs, and there are some common misconceptions about conference realignment and TV deals and how those things work, so let's break Bianchi's column down. Or what little of it is actually devoted to reasons for his statement, which are few.
The first few sentences are devoted to bashing the state of Mississippi, which would be clever if Bianchi: (a) used any new material or (b) wasn't trafficking in horrible stereotypes about one of the nation's poorest states. We'll give that the consideration it deserves by moving on.
OK, I totally get it; I get that UCF is having a terrible season with losses to vastly inferior programs such as FIU and Furman. Sort of like the season Ole Miss had just four years ago when the Rebs were 2-10 and got blown out by Louisiana Tech. Or Florida two years ago when the Gators were 4-8 and lost to Georgia Southern. Bad seasons happen — even in the big, bad SEC.
For UCF to get to four wins this season would require a minor (or perhaps a major) miracle. Even two wins is sketchy. The Knights have lost their two Power 5 games by a combined score of 62-21. And one of their opponents was South Carolina. UCF is an underdog for this weekend's game at Tulane. They have yet to play Temple, or Houston, or East Carolina. Yes, bad seasons happen, but UCF is headed into a dark abyss of misery this year.
BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS. Because you simpletons can't see the forest for the "failing to score against South Carolina's defense in the second half" trees.
I've never said UCF has a better program than Ole Miss and Mississippi State right now; my contention has always been that UCF simply has more future potential than lower-tier Power 5 schools such as Ole Miss and Mississippi State (SEC), Wake Forest (ACC), Purdue (Big Ten) and Iowa State (Big 12).
This is a nice little trick that Bianchi is using, because he can never be proven wrong. If the UCF football program goes 0-144 over the next 12 years, Bianchi can still argue that UCF has more future potential, because it's in the future. I can always say that any program has more potential in the future, and come up with reasons to believe that, because I am free to speculate about a world in which Bear Bryant's brain can be implanted into a living host and UCF is a beneficiary of a gigantic, anonymous gift and can build a palace as a residential dorm and voila -- potential.
I'll admit some of what I've written about the Rebels and Bulldogs is tainted by my memories of the two Mississippi schools as a college football fan growing up in Florida. Honestly, we always looked at Ole Miss and Mississippi State as Vanderbilt — but without the academic prestige.
Ole Miss' last national championship came either shortly before or shortly after Mike Bianchi was born, depending on which dubious Internet source you want to use. Yes, Ole Miss had some tough years in the 1970s, but it's not like during Bianchi's formative years that no one he knew could remember Ole Miss being good. Mississippi State was not very good in the 1970s and 1980s, so let's grant his point about the past.
But there it is -- this is all about the past. Is Bianchi's column about the future potential, or about the past? Because he really can't seem to make up his mind.
Bianchi then goes on to argue that the recent relevance of Ole Miss and Mississippi State has more to do with SEC money than anything else.
If I've written it once I've written it a million times, the only reason Ole Miss and Mississippi State are part of SEC today is that they happened to be at the right place at the right time 100 years ago when the conference was formed while UCF and USF weren't.
If the Power 5 leagues were starting from scratch today and holding a draft; UCF and USF would be in and Ole Miss and Mississippi State would be out.
If by not being "at the right place at the right time," Bianchi means that UCF and USF football didn't exist at all when the SEC was formed, he's correct. Apparently, because time flies, Ole Miss and Mississippi State should be thrown out because an 0-4 team that can't beat Furman could be a monster if it just had that SEC money. Oh, and the SEC wasn't formed 100 years ago, it was formed 83 years ago, which is not exactly a rounding error. And is easily accessible by looking it up on the Internet before you write your column.
As for the second part of this: What, precisely, would prompt any Power 5 conference in its right mind to draft UCF and USF right now? UCF's athletics association is using legal loopholes to get away from paying all of a $10 million verdict in a wrongful-death lawsuit, and the program's head coach allegedly told coaches to check the color of the gums of African-American players. USF has had a football program for less than 20 years, and is in a market not exactly known for packing them in at sporting events.
Then, Bianchi gets into what passes for a point in his rambling rant: The Orlando and Tampa TV markets make UCF and USF more attractive than the Mississippi schools. In the process, Bianchi proves to anyone who's paying attention that he has no idea what he's talking about.
Here's all you need to know: More than 60 million people per year visit Orlando whereas the only people who visit Mississippi are Buford and Betty Joe Cooter's cousins from Muscle Shoals. There are nearly as many people in the Orlando metropolitan area alone as there are in the entire state of Mississippi.
Combined, the Tampa and Orlando TV markets are the fourth-largest in the country whereas the TV markets of Oxford and Starkville aren't even in the top 100. In fact, Mississippi's largest city – Jackson – is the nation's 94th-largest market and dropping drastically.
Not to nitpick, but 22 million people visited Mississippi last year, and if Walt Disney had built his world in Jackson instead of Orlando 5 billion years ago, or whenever he built it, then things would be completely different. All that's keeping Orlando ahead of Mississippi is Disney money!!1!!!!11!!
"Combined, the Tampa and Orlando TV markets are the fourth-largest in the country." Tampa and Orlando are also 84 miles apart. And much of the Tampa television market is on the other side of the bay. So there's really no reason to combine them, unless you just like combining random cities. "Combined, the New York City and Los Angeles TV markets have eleventy billion people."
Even so, all of that misses the point and proves that a little bit of information is a dangerous thing. Yes, conference expansion was driven to some extent by TV markets, but not in the way that Bianchi thinks. The SEC at this point has no need for UCF or USF, because it already has the Tampa and Orlando TV markets. There are hundreds of thousands of Florida fans in those two markets that will watch the games. And because of those fans, cable providers in Tampa and Orlando have little choice but to include the SEC Network on packages in those areas, giving the SEC millions of dollars in revenue.
Swapping out Ole Miss and Mississippi State for UCF and USF would undermine the financial state of the SEC by getting rid of the Mississippi market and getting no additional revenue from the state of Florida, while also trading down when it comes to brand names. From a strategic and business standpoint, adding UCF and USF makes literally no sense for the SEC. Or the ACC, which has Miami and Florida State. It might make sense for the Big Texaselve, and if UCF wants to go down that road, have at it. (I am skeptical that it would make financial sense there, either, but who knows what the power-brokers in that league are thinking at any given time?)
What's really telling is that Bianchi has to build his case on dubious comparisons instead of by talking about the merits of UCF and USF. He decides instead to trade on tired stereotypes about the South and a complete misunderstanding of the financial realities of college football. Aside from all that, I guess he has a point.