There was a time, five years ago, when all the conference realignment nonsense first started, that Chip Brown was our Realignment Whisperer. Sure, a lot of people suspected (probably correctly) that much of his information came from the athletics department at Texas, but Texas was more or less driving the train in the talks between the Big 12 and Pac-12, and a lot of his scoops or inside information seemed to be backed up by the reporting of others.
Since then, Brown's track record has been, um, mixed. On rare occasions, he's been right. There are times he's been wrong. And then there are the times when he's been really, really wrong.
But today, he threw out something direct from Crazytown. Touting "what is likely to be the next big move in realignment" -- which would seem to remove this from the realm of speculation to the realm of prediction -- Brown laid out this scenario.
The Power Five conferences -- all 65 teams (if you include Notre Dame) -- collectively bargaining one TV contract, instead of each negotiating a TV deal, sometime in the next 10 years.
After discussions with several people connected to P5 schools, this scenario could become more plausible as we get closer to 2024.
Let's lay out clearly what this means. The B1G, the Pac-12 and the SEC have gone to great lengths to set up their own conference networks. These networks allow them to all but print money, and will likely do so well into the future. The television time that their schools receive on these networks -- which is no small consideration -- doesn't have to be shared with anyone else.
Now, those schools are going to deep-six those networks to enter into a television deal with the two other Power 5 conferences (the ACC and the Big 12) that either haven't had the wisdom or the ability to set up their own networks yet? Right. But Brown has a reason for why they will all agree to one deal.
Two huge reasons: 1) Because that’s where the most money can be made to combat the rising costs of college athletics. 2) Because you could put some geographic sense back into college athletics (more on that in a second).
You think the NFL, which has 32 teams, has it good with $27 billion worth of TV deals through 2022?
Watch the dollar figures soar when the Power Five -- the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC plus Notre Dame -- throw open the bidding for one TV contract.
First of all, the only conference that doesn't have any "geographic sense" among the Power 5 is the Big 12. ("Yeah, we've got some Texas schools, some Oklahoma schools, some Kansas schools, an Iowa school -- and one from West Virginia.") This does not strike me as a problem that other college football conferences will find compelling, but as Brown says, more on that in a second.
Secondly, Brown says that the megacontract is "where the most money can be made." He provides in his article no supporting evidence of that idea. Well, other than "LOOK AT ALL THE MONEY THE NFL MAKES." Is it possible that there are other reasons the NFL is making all that money?
Here's one: It is the most popular sport in America, and is more popular (as mind-boggling as that might be to those of us who love the college game) than college football. Data point: Harris Interactive asks Americans every year what their favorite sport is, and the NFL won hands-down in late 2014 yet again. Pro football was tabbed as the favorite by 32 percent of the respondents, compared to 10 percent for college football, which came in third. The same share of the American public said college football was their favorite sport as said so in 1985.
Data point: The NFL is also more popular overall. Again, I don't understand this, but facts are facts. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Americans considered themselves a fan or somewhat a fan of pro football. The corresponding number for college football? 54 percent. That is up a good deal from a few years earlier, which explains the explosion in the value of television deals, but still shows that college football would struggle to get NFL-type money: It's a difference of more than 30 million people. (Back-of-the-envelope calculations from this.) Even on a per-team basis, college football will not bring in as much money as the NFL.
But even if it did: So what? The reasons that the conferences have scrambled in the last few years to secure new and larger TV deals and conferences and the like had nothing to do with making more money, per se; they were about making more money than the other guys. No one could confuse the SEC for a poor house after it signed TV deals worth a combined $205 million a year in 2008. But after further events, including a Pac-12 deal that generated $225 million a year, the seeds were sown for the SEC to look at expanding and re-opening its television contracts. Even if all conferences were to get more money under an omnibus contract -- no sure thing -- all schools would likely make roughly the same amount of money. How does that make sense for any of those schools that are ahead right now?
These are not the only problems with a deal. But the others are just piddling things, like the potential for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The naysayers will vow the Power Five will never collectively bargain because you'd have too many egos to navigate, because of antitrust concerns, because Congress would object and because TV contracts in each conference don't currently end at the same time. ...
[Texas Athletics Director Steve] Patterson, the king of doom and gloom forecasts about the rising costs of college athletics, can tell Congress how every school is about to be coated in red ink.
The government's anti-trust lawyers will probably not care very much about what Steve Patterson has to say about Texas' balance sheet. And if you let Congress write an anti-trust exemption for the sport on this, you're likely to end up playing the national championship game in a $500 million stadium built in Montana.
But don't worry about the organization of this new sport. Brown's got it all figured out for us. First of all, everyone drops back down to 11 games a year -- which means less inventory, which means less money from TV, which is supposedly the whole reason we're doing this in the first place.
In any case, some of his "divisions" seem to make rather a lot of sense: Southern Cal, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Utah, BYU and Colorado. Others are -- interesting. The five Texas schools are all put together (guess that Texas-Texas A&M bad blood is all gone!) with the two Oklahoma schools, Arkansas, Nebraska -- and Arizona and Arizona State. Geographic sense!
The closest division to the SEC also drops Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, while adding Clemson -- and Kansas and Kansas State. The annual Auburn-Georgia and South Carolina-Georgia games are gone, and Clemson-Georgia won't get played as regularly as it does. I doubt either Auburn, Georgia or South Carolina would be okay with this arrangement, but NFL MONEY (probably not).
Meanwhile, what in blue blazes are Florida and Georgia doing in a division filled with North Carolina and Virginia teams? And why are Kentucky and Vanderbilt in a division that has Boston College and Rutgers? This is geographic sense?
But even if this insane idea doesn't come to fruition (spoiler alert: it won't), Brown has another idea for what happens if Oklahoma decides to bolt for the SEC (spoiler alert: it won't). Brace yourself.
Or would Patterson look at where the most money is and maybe drive a full-on merger of the Big 12 and SEC? Then, you’d have a 24-team, expanded SEC with the best college football teams in the south as part of one, giant, TV revenue-generating machine. ...
And the SEC, whose third-tier network is run by ESPN, is probably the only place where Texas, with the help of ESPN, could resolve the LHN contract (by making Texas whole for the $300 million and then dissolving LHN and folding UT into the SEC Network).
Yes, ESPN is just going to pony up $300 million to Texas for the right to pay to carry Texas sports on the SEC Network. Which will now have 23 other mouths to feed. Because no matter who else is involved, Texas must always get what it wants.