A Cynical Take on Why Expansion May be Dead for the Forseeable Future

Submitted by maizeonblueaction on May 21st, 2013 at 12:43 PM

As a true confession, the addition of Nebraska to the conference in 2010 was finally what got me really into college sports, and football in particular; before I was just a casual fan, but the machinations of expansion just got me hooked. Anyway, like many of you, I was fairly disappointed by the recent move to pick up Maryland and Rutgers, and don't really see it ending well. At any rate, after spending way too much time thinking about this, I think expansion has died off for the forseeable future, though not for the reasons I have seen elsewhere (ACC grant of rights, etc.)

It seems to me that every conference has a "utility" that it wants to maximixe, and will add schools accordingly. The SEC wants to maximize football success, so A&M was a good choice, even if they thought it was largely a move to pick up Texas recruiting at the time. The ACC wants to maximize basketball success, which is really the main reason to pick up Pitt and Syracuse. Our precious B1G wants to maximize money, and to a lesser extent power (if it wanted to maximize power purely, it would go the SEC route of picking up football schools, and focus less on academics). Nebraska was to get a historic football brand which was available, and Rutgers and Maryland were demographic cashgrabs, which were likely shortsighted.

So, given all that, why is expansion dead for now, at least for the B1G? Well, in the interest of being provocative, the best way to put my point is that there are actually too many schools left to choose from to make any of them practical. A rule I have seen with expansion so far is that schools central to the existence of a conference do not leave for other conferences (Nebraska was not the be all end all of the Big 12 like UT or OU are, Maryland was expendable to the ACC in a way that UNC and Duke are not, etc.) For the purposes of this comparison, the most comparable conference to the B1G in terms of its goals is probably the PAC-12. If you recall, when the PAC-12 tried to expand last time, it went with the Texas and Oklahoma schools at first, and was willing to take all of them to get UT and OU. That fell through, so it was left with the Rutgers and Maryland-like demographic grabs of Utah and Colorado, which have contributed nothing so far in terms of football, and, tellingly, its options seem to be gone, unless it wants to reach down for a Nevada school.

So, where does that leave us? Well, effectively, the B1G would have to pick up an even number of schools that fit its criteria to make expansion feasible. For the sake of argument, we can throw out any SEC (except maybe Mizzou) or PAC-12 school for obvious reasons. That leaves us with maybe Kansas, maybe Mizzou, a couple ACC schools that fit the criteria of not being central to the conference like Pitt, and the crown jewels of UNC, UVA, UT, OU etc. as pipe dreams. Now, assuming we are probably only looking to add two more schools (no major conference has gone to 16 yet, presumably for the reason that no one wants to be the first to try and fail at it), let's see what the options are.

So, let's talk about the smaller, more doable, options of Mizzou and Kansas. Neither have historic football, and don't add new demographics as the previous moves have. Same with Pitt. Syracuse doesn't either, and isn't in the AAU. The problem is that even if one of those schools seemed OK if the goal was to help get another school, the schools that really bring in the bucks and prestige are all in larger groups. UT and OU go nowhere without each other, and both of them have their own baggage of the other schools in their states that they are likely yoked to. Similar with the ACC schools. UNC and UVA are probably together, and both have schools in their state that are not appealing options for other conferences to pick up, and would be left homeless if the ACC broke up - not to mention the power they lose by going to conferences where they are one of many, not the stars. Similarly, now that the ACC has 15 schools, it becomes an issue of where all those schools go. The upper half (Clemson, FSU, Miami, Duke, etc.) is appealing enough to get picked up by other conferences like the SEC, but the problem is that the SEC only has two spots left as well, so some school is left out, and the Big 12 might be reluctant to spread its geography further. Basically, the stronger members have no incentive to leave, and the weaker members will do anything they can to keep the conference together.

So, if the B1G is looking to add schools that are contiguous, academically acceptable, and bring demographics or money or football, the problem is that some schools that are singly available really don't do it, and the ones that do do it are in groups such that the conference would have to be willing to go over 16 members (which is not impossible, but dangerous). Now, if some other conference is the first to move, and other options are on the table, then all bets are off, but as it stands, there is little incentive to be the first to move, and we may very well have reached a stalemate for the forseeable future.



May 21st, 2013 at 12:56 PM ^

North Carolina and ___VIRGINIA___ are the crown jewels of the ACC? In what world? Am I supposed to be smelling toast? Am I having a stroke and just don't know it yet?

Red is Blue

May 21st, 2013 at 4:38 PM ^

There is another criteria, the interest in college football has to revolve around the program you're trying to attract.  GT is in Atlanta (lots of people), I think people in Atlanta like college football, but they like UGA.


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:23 PM ^

But Atlanta is also like Chicago in that it has people from all over the country there.  Granted, the majority of people there are surely SEC fans, but I imagine there is a decent number of Big Ten grads down there, too.  That's part of the benefit of adding teams close to NYC and DC - it brings the league to all the grads who have moved there.



May 21st, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

When the "big boys" want to expand more, they will.  I still think four or maybe five 16-team conferences and a breakaway division is going to happen.  In this era, agreements and contracts are made to be broken.  When the money is right for everyone, it will happen. 

Red is Blue

May 21st, 2013 at 4:55 PM ^

It might be interesting to look at this from the other direction.  If you were outside of the B1G, which team(s) would you try to pick off?  Who might go?

Wouldn't OSU fit "The SEC wants to maximize football success" paradigm -- strong program in a football talent hotbed state.

Similarly, wouldn't Indiana fit "The ACC wants to maximize basketball success" paradigm?





May 21st, 2013 at 5:17 PM ^

I'm afraid a lot of this just isn't true:

A rule I have seen with expansion so far is that schools central to the existence of a conference do not leave for other conferences.

The Southwest Conference blew up because the schools central to its existence left. So did the Big East (not the newly-formed all-Catholic version, but the other one). There are plenty of other examples among lesser lights, such as the WAC, and if you go way back, the Southern Conference.

What IS true, is that schools like North Carolina and Texas are willing to make a bit less money, in exchange for being in a league where they're top dog. But if the money differential is big enough, eventually they jump ship. This has happened often enough in history, to convince you that it'll probably happen again. The only question is exactly when.

The only real question is how big the income disparity will be, the next time these leagues' grants-of-rights are up for renewal. If it's just a few million a year, North Carolina will choose to make less money, so that it can be in a league it largely controls. But if it's tens of millions per year, North Carolina will jump ship.

However, you are correct that major expansion is over for now, simply because all of the desirable schools are locked up in grants of rights, except in the SEC, and no one is going to leave the SEC.

Ultimately, expansion is about money, and the only schools available (i.e., not locked up) are financially dilutive to the major conferences.

Mr Miggle

May 21st, 2013 at 6:06 PM ^

1. PAC-12 picked up Utah and Colorado before negotiating with UT, OU et al.                            2. The Big 12 needs to add schools just to have a championship game. I'd be shocked if they turned down someone like FSU because they are too far away.                                                   3. UVA as a "crown jewel" seems like a reach, as does their relationship with UNC and the idea that they are tied to VT.                                                                                                                4. GT was supposedly very interested in joining the Big Ten. They would be a viable candidate if the finances of leaving the ACC can be worked out.                                                5. I don't understand why the ACC would collapse if they lost a couple of schools to the Big Ten. Losing UNC would be tough, but what about losing UVA and GT? UConn would love to join and, as you pointed out, they already have 15 teams.                                                          6. Other conferences haven't exactly been following the Big Ten's lead in expansion. The SEC went to 14 before us. The PAC-12 was negotiating to go to 16 while we were at 12 and the Big 12 is sitting at 10. The Big Ten going to 16 may mean nothing to them, or they may decide to expand first.                                                                                                                                  7.  Oklahoma and OK St. reportedly approached the Big Ten about membership. I don't think OU is necessarily all that tied to UT. In fact, if the SEC were to expand I think they would take a run at OU first.                                                                                                                                 8. Expansion may well be dead for now for the Big Ten, but it would be because all of the attractive candidates (other than ND) are in the ACC and signed that rights deal.                      9. The SEC wanting Duke was a joke, right? 


May 22nd, 2013 at 11:24 AM ^

 Personally, IMO the present stalemate has TWO huge obstacles to overcome before expansion can continue. The ACC grant of rights, AND a forced stability right now in PAC12. They really have no where to expand that isn’t a step down (short of Texas and Okla of course.) Unless the PAC12 gets into the picture you have one less large factor influencing the move towards further  expansion.


May 22nd, 2013 at 2:39 PM ^

they would not have likely done it if they had landed the Texas and Oklahoma schools.

2. And WV is the counterexample to proximity as it is. I just figured all things being equal, they might be skeptical of picking up several schools from not contiguous states, as most conferences who do that don't last.

3. They are desirable to the B1G, and if they become an avenue to further ACC raiding, they do become strategically important (there is also academics, though that might be moot)

4. Though GT is in a large football region, no one is that interested in them except maybe some alumni/they don't recruit well and aren't contiguous as it stands, which not absolutely mandatory, really hurts them as they aren't a slam dunk financially like FSU would be.

5. The issue is more that once some schools get out, there would be a mass exodus of every school that ever thought about leaving while they still could, hence eventual destruction.

6. My understanding is that we did however set off the whole expansion thing by mentioning it as something we were looking into, which pushed everyone to act in reaction. Now, everyone is on alert, and is making a decision for their best interests, but everything is fairly stable right now, so someone would have to disturb the order to change things.

7. But, we wouldn't take Okie State without OU, and neither is right academically, so the point is moot.

8. Yeah, that is largely correct.

9. They are a great basketball school in a new market, and would probably help much more than NC State, and in that scenario, UNC would go to the B1G, so they would be the only NC school on the table.


May 21st, 2013 at 7:49 PM ^

The theme of conference expansion universally has been footprint. The ideal matches for the SEC probably would've been Clemson and Florida State, but they wanted to expand into new territory so they went after Texas and Missouri. 


May 22nd, 2013 at 11:33 AM ^

 Everything I heard while in the south was focus for SEC was primarily in VaTech and one (or two at the time, pre-MO) of the North Carolina schools. (Maybe selling NCState to pull a TexasAM and become a bigger in-state player to UNC). They are very against expansion in states they already reside and have shown that throughout the years rebuffing discussions on GaTech returning. So South Carolina and Flodida expansion should be out for them also.


May 22nd, 2013 at 9:16 AM ^

Yes, this is all about demographics.  Delaney has said consistently that the B1G wants to expand its footprint into growing demographic areas.  For the B1G, that menas it has to look east and south.  

Hence Rutgers and MD instead of schools that would have been more of a natural fit for the B1G like Kansas and Mizz.

So who's left that can actually make it worthwhile?

Pipe dream schools:

- UT, OK, UNC.  They aren't coming, and OK is not even close to fitting the academic profile.

More realistic schools (that the B1G would actually want):

- UVA, GT, BC.  They're not home runs, but they fit the demographic profile of what the B1G would be looking for.  

The Grant of Rights really does throw a monkey wrench into things, since the realistic schools are all ACC teams.  What is interesting is that these schools, which were all in some level of discussion of interest with the B1G, chose to still sign the Grant of Rights.  They ccould have used it as a reason to accelerate membership into the B1G.  If these schools and the B1G really wanted it to happen, the deal would have been done, ala Maryland.  

But both the  B1G and  and these candidate ACC schools let the Grant of Rights happen.  That leads me to believe that the interest was lukewarm on both sides.

So, I think we are done at 14 for the foreseeable future.  Not because of the Grant of Rights per se, but because of the lukewarm interest its represents for UVA, GT, BC.







May 22nd, 2013 at 10:53 AM ^

Expansion is dead because schools signed crazy buy outs. Which if I read correctly is about 50 million. You were a casual fan before expansion but because expansion you got into it more. Well expansion killed my passion and now this new division alignment on the big ten what a bunch of crap. Big ten is do afraid of a mich/Ohio rematch it has not happened but if it did I be willing to bet the stadium would be packed. Not like wiscy and Nebraska. Going to nine conference games almost assures a rematch happening in the big ten championship. Either neb or wiscy will be a main stay in the big 10 championship sprinkle in Iowa or northwestern. I hope Michigan and Ohio play this year in the big ten championship to prove my point and I have to be honest might be a while before we get a chance to play for the big ten championship. Ohio is at the sec level when it comes to winning, they will do whatever necessary to win. They want NC the rest of the big ten wants rose bowl better wake up that is not going to be on the table every year now.


May 24th, 2013 at 1:48 PM ^

in Georgia Tech.  Atlanta market, good academics, not central to ACC and already not in same conference as in-state rival.