College Football: Musical Chairs at a Pie Eating Contest
College football is much like a junior high gym class. The big kids with premature mustaches — Alabama, Ohio State, and the like — strut around trying to outdo each other in pull-ups, 100-yard dash times, and unabashed nakedness around shower time. They have their two big cliques: the Big Ten and the SEC. Most the rest of the class is just trying to stay somewhere in the vicinity of the middle of the bell curve, play an occasional bowl game, and get their towel back around their waist as quickly as possible after rinsing off. And sadly, flitting around the dark corners of the locker room are a poor puny few, puffing their inhalers, and showering with their underwear on. They get excluded, picked on, and bullied for fun: Northern Iowa, New Mexico State, Old Dominion. A few of them, like Wake Forest, are protected only because they have older brothers among the big kids. But even those little brothers are worried that when their older brother goes on to high school and they are left alone in eighth grade, things are going to get worse if they don’t get big soon.
But there’s always hope because things change in junior high. Unlike later in high school, where social stations are largely fixed, in middle school a kid can — all of a sudden — get big. A kid who has long been waiting to shower last in a far corner of the locker room, trading Magic the Gathering cards with his Academic Decathlon buddies, and laying low on the “everyone plays” club lacrosse team can hit puberty, get strong, blow through tryouts and start hanging with the big kids.
USC and UCLA are two of those kids. They just got up in front of the gym class and pantsed the flaccid and underwear-less leader of their nerd clique — the Pac-12 — and walked in to the circle of their new whiskery, high-fiving, naked -strutting buddies in the Big Ten.
Since the University of Spoiled Children and the University of Children with Lots of Adderall joined the Big Ten, much is being written on “the boards” about, not my incredibly strained junior high gym analogy above, but about, well — apropos of nothing — pies. Specifically, everyone is talking about “growing the pie” when it comes to future college football conference realignment and expansion.
The pie is the amount of money ESPN and/or Fox pours down the gullets of the SEC and Big Ten. [Should I start a foie gras analogy? Nah. — ed.] Any team those conferences add should, in theory, bring enough… pie ingredients — ratings and/or TV markets — to grow the pie, otherwise everyone at the table gets a smaller piece.
Trouble is there just aren’t many teams left that the Big Ten or SEC can add who bring enough to the table to grow the pie besides Notre Dame. And that’s why everyone is waiting on the black smoke from the Golden Dome[‘s chimney’s, if any].
But there’s another, simple way to grow the pie: Have fewer people at the table. This isn’t being written about as much, but it certainly occurred to me. Wake Forest and Clemson get the same share of the money that the ACC gets from ESPN. Rutgers and Ohio State get the same amount each year from the Big Ten via Fox. Ditto for Alabama and… Vanderbilt? Yep.
Will there ever come a time that these conferences, in their lust for expansion of ratings, markets, and money look at their rosters and wonder who might be more suited to play with the Kansas States of the world? What’s stopping them? Loyalty? We’ve seen how far that goes. More likely, the main thing stopping the conferences from kicking their weaker little brothers off to the kids’ table is the simple question: What other little pie snorter could bring more to the table?
What other little pie snorter could bring more to the table?
What does that mean? Well, whatever any conference’s current per-team payout is, any new addition that will not add at least that much to a media rights deal would be a net negative, financially, from those conferences’ members’ perspective. For simple math’s sake, let’s say a conference’s payout is $100 million a year, as the Big Ten’s upcoming new deal was expected to dole out to each member of that league before USC and UCLA came on board. (The exact numbers don’t matter, its the relative ones that do.) If adding the University of Washington will only add $75 million (to pull a number from a hat) to the amount Fox Sports is willing to pay for the league’s rights as a whole, then there is a $25 million net negative to the conference’s members. Divide that by seventeen schools if UW were added, and each school would get ~$1.47 million less each year. To go further, add if the league were to add two schools that might only bring in an additional $50 million each, you would get a ~$5.55 million reduction in per-team payouts versus not adding those teams. That’s not chump change — that’s a whole recruiting budget or a lacrosse team or women’s golf team right there.
That is what will put the brakes on conference expansion. In theory, if money is the only consideration, the Big Ten and SEC should not stop adding teams until there are none left that grow the pie. But, they can make the pie sweeter, and grow it, by simply: Kicking. Bad. Poor. Programs. Out.
See, if you add a $75 million program and kick out a $50 million program, then instead of each team losing $1.47 million, they each gain $1.562 million. That’s almost a $3 million spread. Do that twice and you’re talking about a $6 million net gain per team when compared to just adding the two $75 million teams outright. Because you’re not only gaining $25 or $50 million, you’re splitting it, say, 16 ways instead of 17 or 18.
The Big Ten and SEC can make their pies sweeter, and grow them, by simply: Kicking. Bad. Poor. Programs. Out.
I doubt this will happen at all. And certainly not in the near term. There are still several programs to be poached who can grow the pie by bringing their own sugar and rhubarb. But they might soon be all gone. Then how to grow the pie? As has been said, look around the table. If you can’t spot the mark in five seconds, you’re the mark.
So, if the knives come out some day, what programs might get kicked off the lifeboat?
Who Brought Their Own Dough?
The value of any conference addition is determined by Fox Sports or ESPN, effectively, and is based on three main factors. First, the number of people that watch each prospective new team’s games, considering that that number might grow, e.g., by Washington playing Ohio State instead of Oregon State; this directly impacts the profit Fox can make by selling advertising during the game, one major source of revenue for them. Second, how many people might pay to stream that team’s games when they are not on cable or network, but instead on the Big Ten app or Apple+ or whatever, which is cash on the barrelhead; this is largely an estimate based on the size and rabidity of said team’s fanbase. Related to these first two is the gauzy concept of “brand,” meaning do non fans think of football when they hear the name of the school, essentially. That means something still. Ask Nebraska. But outside of Army, football brands these days usually have the numbers to back them up. Ask Nebraska. Lastly, but very important, is whether and to what extent that team might open up a large, previously untapped media market to carry that conference’s own network on various cable tiers. This results in increased revenue to the conference and its TV partner(s) in carriage fees, i.e., the money you pay in your cable bill that is split among all the channels on whatever tier of cable you buy. To understand this better, think of trying getting the ACC network on basic cable if you live in Sacramento. Good luck. You’d have to get Double Platinum+ with Sports Xtra to even have a chance. But if you are in Charlotte or Richmond, the ACC network is probably in your basic cable package. And where the Big Ten Network is on basic cable, it gets about $1.86 per subscriber, regardless whether that subscriber watches the network at all or not. Multiply that by a few million then sell ads on top of it… Obviously on this point, the bigger the market the better. And markets have more value than eyeballs alone because the biggest markets are way bigger than the smaller ones, not to mention fixed and rare — there isn’t another metro Atlanta coming along next year.
To be worth it, then, for the Big Ten or SEC to add a school, it needs to fulfill one or more of those revenue-increasing boxes to whatever degree that conference deems acceptable. So if your team doesn’t have a big, rabid fan base, you better be in a big cable market. Ideally, your school meets both criteria.
Notre Dame is sui generis in this regard, because it is wealthy, elite, has a huge, football-crazy alumni base spread out all over the country including many major media markets, and a nationwide legacy fan base of couch Catholics on Saturdays (think Rudy’s dad in Rudy).
Among the other remaining schools, the ACC is probably out of the expansion lottery for now because it is tied up with a grant-of-rights for another ~12 years. The Big 12 has already been passed over as have its coming additions. Thus, we are mainly considering the remaining Pac-12 schools for now, with Notre Dame being a given.
Oregon State and Washington State are non-starters. They have small, not-very-passionate fan bases and are in infinitesimal media markets. That leaves Cal, Stanford, Oregon, UW, Arizona, and ASU as potential adds.
I have not much to add on that discussion. Anyone reading this knows the ins and outs of it already. Essentially, UW and Oregon are the biggest gets because they bring a combination of eyeballs and media markets (Seattle and Eugene/Portland, respectively). Cal and Stanford don’t draw many viewers, especially Cal, so they add value only insofar as they open up the large San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose megalopolis for carriage fees to be paid by unsuspecting people who still, for some reason, have cable. Arizona and Arizona State are also in a big market, but Arizona is technically in Tucson, not Phoenix metro, and they both are pretty lame football-wise these days with not-outstanding numbers. Still, they are not out of the discussion. Utah and Colorado should not be ruled out either as SLC and Denver are large-middle markets, but we will delve into the details later. Plus Colorado sucks.
I don’t know what those schools’ respective numbers and markets translate into dollars-wise for each of those schools, but what we do know is the existing and expected payouts to the Big Ten and SEC on a per team basis, how many people watch their existing teams, and what media markets those teams are in. Thus, we can compare that to the available options in the remnant of the Pac-12 and make a pretty informed guess about where those potential adds would fit in to the existing conference in terms of their financial contribution.
For more detail on the eyeballs side of things, see this article, widely circulated on the aforementioned “boards”:
Which college football programs bring in the most TV viewers?
TV viewership isn’t always the best way to measure a college football program’s value. But here’s how each school ranks…
Let’s start with the eyeballs, i.e., average viewers per game. Based on the above-cited article, the Big Ten and SEC teams with the highest average rating are as follows listed by conference rank, followed by overall rank, then average number of viewers per game (in millions, except in thousands where denoted by ‘K’).
- Ohio State 1 — 5.22
- Michigan 2 — 4.74
- Penn State 4 — 3.81
- Mich. State 8 — 2.89
- Wisconsin 11 — 2.41
- Nebraska 12 — 2.29
- Iowa 20 — 1.64
- Purdue 21 — 1.63
- Minnesota 24 — 1.28
- Indiana 26 — 1.24
- Illinois 31 — 1.13
- Maryland 39 — 971K
- Northwestern 48 — 716K
- Rutgers 58 — 488K
That’s a total of 30.455 million viewers per game, though that’s not entirely accurate because the teams play each other a lot of the time. Nonetheless, it’s helpful in a relative sense.
The SEC looks like this:
- Alabama 3 — 4.64
- Georgia 5 — 3.61
- Auburn 7 — 3.22
- Florida 14 — 2.21
- Arkansas 15 — 2.03
- LSU 16— 1.90
- A&M 17 — 1.86
- Ole Miss 18 — 1.81
- Tennessee 23 — 1.51
- Kentucky 33 — 1.08
- Miss. State 43 — 858K
- So. Carolina 53 — 575K
- Missouri 60 — 462K
- Vanderbilt 106 — 37K
That’s a total of 28.392 million viewers per game, which, though not accurate, as stated above, is still a million and a half less than the Big Ten, FWIW.
Other notes: The Big Ten and SEC are at 14 teams each and may be aiming for a total of 40–50 combined. Right now, they have 22 of the top 40 teams in average viewership per game. Leaving 18 teams spread out among the remainder of the PAC-12, Big XII, ACC, and other “Power Five” conferences. Of those, the SEC is taking two: Oklahoma 6 — 3.46M and Texas, 13 — 2.26M; and the Big Ten is taking two: UCLA 29 — 1.18M and USC 32 — 1.11M.
After those adds, the SEC’s total number goes to 34.112M, and the Big Ten’s goes to 32.345M. So you can see why, like Waingro in Heat, the Big Ten “had to make a move.”
These coming additions/defections will leave 14 teams in the top-40 for everyone else. Of those, the ACC has four: Clemson 19 — 1.74M; FSU 25 — 1.27M; Miami 35 — 1.038M; North Carolina 36 — 1.032M. The Big XII has five Oklahoma State 22 — 1.58M; Iowa State 27 — 1.219M; Cincinnati 28 — 1.216M; Baylor 30 — 1.16M; West Virginia 40 — 948K. The Pac-12 has three: Oregon 10 — 2.57M; Utah 37 — 994K; and Washington 38 —985K. The two remainders are Navy 34 — 1.039M (I think this big number is more a function of them playing Notre Dame and in the Army-Navy game, which drives up their numbers. Are you watching Navy vs. Marshall? Plus Navy doesn’t want to get America’s finest Midshipmen beaten into a pulp every week playing in the Big Ten.); and… of course… Notre Dame 9 — 2.84M.
[HOMER SIDE NOTE: Note that Nebraska, who has been outright terrible at football for almost ten years, and mediocre for 18 of the past 20 and only “good” for the other two, still is 12th in the nation for average viewership. This reminds me of the stupidest thing T. Boone Pickens ever said. I saw an interview with him in 2010, when rumors were circulating about Nebraska moving to the Big Ten. He said, on TV, apparently sober, “The Big Ten will never take Nebraska. There’s only 700,000 TV sets in the whole state.” Well, who’s in the Big Ten and who’s playing UCF in November, T? What a fool. RIP. #Big8forever]
As set out above, we’re really only talking about the remaining Pac-12 teams because any team in the current Big-12 would have already been snagged if anyone wanted them and the ACC is a legal quagmire unless ESPN and the SEC want to pick it apart (remember the penalties in a grant of rights run to the benefit of the party paying for those rights (ESPN), which can waive them if they want) and everyone else is a non-starter.
So, In terms of eyeballs, let’s look at the remainder of the PAC-12, not including Washington State and Oregon State, who are essentially non-entities financially (sorry Beavers and Cougars).
Oregon 10–2.57M (#21 media market (Portland), #113 (Eugene); Utah 37–994K (#30 market); Washington 38 — 985K (#12 market); Stanford 46–778K (#6); Arizona State 47–739K (#11); Colorado 64–366K (#16); Arizona 67–337K (#64 unless you want to throw in Phoenix); and Cal 76–222K (#6).
Slot Oregon into the Big Ten and they would be the conference’s fifth highest-rated team (TV-wise) and a top-20 market. Drop in UW and they would be in the bottom four of the new conference and are barely in the top 40. But Seattle is the #12 TV market. But Oregon has been way better for longer. But UW has won a national title and at least has been in the BCS since HDTV has been a thing (2016). Overall, either Oregon or Washington would fit comfortably into the middle of the Big Ten pack in either eyeballs or numbers or brand.
Utah actually exceed’s U Dub’s numbers, but Salt Lake City is the #30 market. That’s a steep drop from Seattle or Portland. And despite somewhat consistent success dating to the Urban Meyer days, they only recently joined the Pac-12 from the Mountain West and have no real national “brand” or pedigree. Hard to see the Big Ten taking the Utes over a UW team with a national title, a recent BCS appearance and a much larger market. So Utah is probably out.
Below that, things get interesting for a minute. Stanford is outside the top 40 in ratings, but higher than I thought they would be and still more than triple Cal’s numbers. You might have to take Stanford to get ND, though, and at least you get some carriage fees in the NorCal market. In other words, Stanford only comes if ND insists. Cal would be less than half the ratings of the Big Ten’s lowest rated team, Rutgers. HALF OF RUTGERS! As mentioned below, markets don’t mean as much now as ten years ago. So unless ND insists, Stanford and Cal do not bring enough to the table. Despite the #6 market they simply can’t grow the pie, and given UCLA and USC’s alumni presence in the Bay Area you might get the carriage fees anyway. So they are not coming unless ND says so. But… they are elite of the elite in terms of academic research institutions that the Big Ten would love to have if they could do it and still grow the pie… hold that thought.
Arizona State is in the #11 market but its ratings are well outside the top 40 and would place it just above Northwestern in the bottom-three of the Big Ten. Plus, its academics were literally a Simpsons joke. There just is no tie-breaker here despite the allure of Phoenix’s TV sets.
After that, sorry Colorado, Denver is the #16 media market, but very few people in Colorado care about football, even their students. They also have a nasty reputation as fans, and have ratings numbers between Cal and Rutgers. Sorry, despite 1990–91 and decent academics, the Buffs are not coming to the Big Ten. No way.
Arizona isn’t even in the discussion.
So, despite all the prognostications and “what ifs,” the numbers make it obvious, even if you’re not in the TV business: If ND says no, Oregon and Washington will probably get in. If ND joins and insists on Stanford, they will probably be invited, and ND may have enough clout to get Cal too based on the strength of the Bay Area market.
But my gut says ND says no and the Ducks and Huskies join the Big Ten. No one else can grow the pie. And even those two teams might actually dilute the per team payout.
‘And if ND drags in Stanford and Cal, then the pie certainly shrinks. But Stanford is a big lure for ND, and to have both of those fancy-assed academic schools and their fabulously rich alumni in the conference would sure be nice. If only there were a way to add them and still grow the pie… Wait? What about the premise of this article?!
If I could circle back to the premise of this article, as I am sure you are dying to allow me to do, what if the Big Ten could add Cal and Stanford with Notre Dame and still grow the pie. Wouldn’t they want to do that? Wouldn’t the SEC? Couldn’t the same be said for UNC or Virginia? Of course. But how could they? Simple. Trim the fat.
Trimming the Fat
Cut to the chase: Who could or would or should the Big Ten and the SEC kick out to add some great programs who can’t necessarily grow the pie financially under the astronomical TV money payouts to come? Who is on the chopping block?
Who is on the chopping block?
Let’s get some basics out of the way. If you are already in the top-40 ratings-wise and have a major market in your back yard, you are safe. So on the existing Big Ten side, we won’t even start the discussion above the current top-10 in conference ratings.
[HOMER SIDE-NOTE: Another note about Nebraska. T. Boone was right, there are more people in Dallas County, Texas than the state of Nebraska. Omaha is the #52 market, Lincoln is #103. Even if you add them together and the rest of the state, you probably wouldn’t crack the top 30 in terms of market size. But what T. Boone in his misguided hubris (as if Oklahoma and Stillwater in particular are all that much bigger?) didn’t understand was that everyone who was born in Nebraska from about 1993 on remains a die hard fan. And they watch games. Somehow. For some reason. And most of them have moved all over the country. So, unbelievably considering the state of Nebraska football for the last 20 years besides 2009–10, Nebraska is still the twelfth most-watched football program in the country. And to those who say it’s because they’re playing the rest of the Big Ten and those teams are bringing the audience, I would point out that the next ranked team in rankings below Nebraska is Iowa and they are #20 to Nebraska’s #12, below that include much bigger schools such as Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, Maryland, etc. They all play the same schools. Their ratings are much, much lower. So Nebraska is not getting kicked out of the Big Ten, Husker fans.]
That leaves Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern, and Rutgers. As for the first two: both are in the top 40 in ratings. Maryland is in the #9 market of Washington, D.C. and were just added by the conference to get that market. Plus Maryland owes the Big Ten a ton of money and just started paying it back. As for the Illini, Champaign, Illinois is the #90 market and barely in the top-40 ratings wise. So in theory, they are vulnerable. But they are a giant school, with 56,000 students and a $3.82 billion endowment and are in the AAU. Oh, and they are a founding member of the conference. They are going nowhere.
Northwestern is outside the top-40 in ratings, but at 48, not by as much as I would have guessed. They only have about 8K in undergraduates but have another 13K+ in grad students and a $16 billion endowment and are in the #3 media market. They are also a founding member of the conference. So nope.
Finally, dreary Rutgers. Their ratings suck. Their football sucks. But they were only recently added to get the #1 market in the country in New York. They owe the Big Ten a lot of money still to be paid back. Oh, and it is the birthplace of football, was founded in 1766 A.D., and is in the AAU and has 68,000 students, including 49,000 undergrads. Not going anywhere.
When I started this concept I immediately thought of Purdue and Indiana, but Indianapolis is the #25 market, and the schools are huge. Thus, despite terrible football and being in a basketball state, they are still both well in the top-40 in ratings as well as being in the meat of the conference, ratings wise. They are also outstanding academic institutions and founding members of the conference.
So, in many ways, perhaps Nebraska is the most vulnerable. They were kicked out of the AAU, are not very large compared to most other schools, and are in a negligible media market. But again, week to week, they are drawing the sixth most number of viewers per week in the conference, and 600K+ more than the next team below them. Eyeballs sell ads. Ads pay for the football money. Nebraska is not getting kicked out. At least not any time soon.
Bottom line: Despite the previous 4,000 words, the Big Ten is stable.
What About the South?
But what about the SEC? They have no obvious path to take any west coast teams. Nor do they have any manifested desire to do so. Don’t get me wrong, though, if the Big Ten balks at Oregon and Washington and the SEC called, they would answer and say yes before the SEC said hello. But the SEC doesn’t need to go so far afield. After all, the ACC is right next door; if anyone would break up the ACC and use ESPN to do it (or the other way around) it would be the SEC.
There’s another thing about the SEC, they don’t have many huge markets. And despite what you hear, their total ratings have never been bigger than the Big Ten if you don’t add in OU and Texas, and they’re still three years away from joining. In that light, adding A&M and the statewide Texas market they bring, especially Houston (#8) made total sense. Before A&M, you had Atlanta (#7). Besides that, you had to use Florida (in tiny Gainesville) and use that to try to rope in Tampa (#13). Tennessee and Vandy brought you Nashville, but that’s #29. New Orleans is only #50! So when the Big Ten used Maryland and Rutgers to get DC and NYC, already having so many other major markets (Chicago #3, Minneapolis #14, Detroit #15, Cleveland #19, Indianapolis #25, Pittsburgh #26, Baltimore #28, Columbus #33, Cincinnati #36, Milwaukee #37, etc.) the writing was on the wall.
Did you think the SEC wanted Missouri for its >500K #60 ratings? No, they wanted St. Louis #23, and KC #34 markets.
Once it was about money in 2010, the SEC started behind the 8-Ball. Make no mistake, they have been playing catch up. Yes, their markets are growing and they have whole states, not just cities, but media companies want big cities. And despite the Sun Belt growing and the upper Midwest and East shrinking, it would take another 100 years for that population to flip. So the SEC had to use its football dominance and talent advantage to get major markets while it could.
When markets were the driving force, they grabbed Mizzou and A&M when they could. OU is #6 in ratings, so they are a no brainer addition despite no big market. Texas brings you #13 ratings, plus the whole Lone Star state including Houston (#8), DFW (#5), Austin (#38), and San Antonio (#31).
But if the West coast is beyond reach, or at least unnecessary, then who would be next for them? Well, within your own borders you have Clemson #19 in rankings at 1.74M average per week, but that’s despite such massive success recently and they bring no real TV market. Greenville-Spartanburg is the largest market in South Carolina at #35, Columbia is #76, Charleston is #89… it ain’t 1840 any more. South Carolina is a nice place to visit, but it is not an urban place. Plus the SEC already has, well, South Carolina, for now. Florida State is #25 in ratings at 1.27M, but Tallahassee is #108 as a market and they are not going to bring you more in carriage fees than you already have with Florida. The brand is nice and the TV ratings are good, but they are a good example of a school that might only make sense if you can trim the fat, despite their brand. Then you have Miami at #35 in ratings at 1.038M. That’s barely in the top-40. It isn’t the ’90s any more either. Their national casual fanbase has dried up, Miami is the #18 market but is that big enough in the cord-cutting era to move the needle when you are barely in the top-40? Probably only if you trim the fat. Especially since you have, well, Florida, already. Then you have North Carolina at #36 in ratings with 1.032M. Barely in the top-40, but Raleigh-Durham is the #24 market and Charlotte is #22, Greensboro is even #47. Virginia is #52 in ratings, but gets you into the DC area and is academically great. Boston College is in Boston but…nah. You might think Va Tech would be a better fit, but they are #62 in ratings and bring no market, so they are out.
All that said, the bets additions for the SEC are Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia. Three of those teams are in states where the SEC already has cable carriages fees more or less maxed out. Clemson brings ratings but no market. Ditto for FSU. Given Miami is at #35 in the ratings game and is a small, private schoo, they are out. North Carolina can bring two biggish markets. Virginia can bring a legit big one but doesn’t move the needle ratings wise. UVA’s academics are a big gain for the SEC, and unless the Big Ten comes knocking, there’s no reason for the Cavaliers to say no.
No one else is worth talking to.
Clemson could grow the pie on its own and maybe UNC, but the other schools might only be worth adding if some weakest links were cut out of the chain.
Shun Them! Shun, I say!
So let’s revisit The SEC. Here again, we’ll assume any team in the top 40 in rating is safe and many of the best teams don’t have big markets to begin with, so every team from Kentucky above is safe. And even if Kentucky were borderline, their basketball teams saves them. They might not be added these days if they weren’t already in, but they are, so they will stay.
Below that, though, the SEC has some real fat to trim.
Less cowbell? Mississippi State falls well outside the top 40 in ratings. Has no market at all. The largest market in Mississippi is Jackson and that town in #97, plus, the SEC already has Ole Miss. They have no record of football relevance. They are a punching bag. Sorry… Bull?… Dogs?… (I’m not even sure of their mascot off the top of my head.) Academically, well I am sure it’s “fine,” but… It is obvious that all of the contenders from the ACC listed above would grow the pie if StarkVegas’s finest were relegated to the… whatever conference Southern Miss is in.
Cockfighting is illegal anyway… until Samuel Alito has his way! South Carolina would be an obvious target to be shown the door to make room for almost any other team to result in a net financial gain the SEC. No football success ever. No market. ratings outside the top 50. Academics are the definition of meh. Yikes. Especially if you add Clemson, I don’t see any reason to keep the Gamecocks in if you are willing to consider kicking teams out. Plus, let’s not forget, the other USC was a founding member of… the ACC. They left in 1971 because their footall coach opposed an ACC rule to require a minimum 800 SAT score. Seriously. They were independent in football thereafter and didn’t join the SEC until 1991. If you are willing to do it, this is an easy decision. Maybe what was left of the ACC would take them back. They would be better off playing the Wake Forests and Dukes and North Carolina States of the world.
Catch a tiger by its tail, if it hollers make it bail! Mizzou is a recent addition. It’s ratings are surprisingly terrible despite a smattering of recent successful-ish seasons in football. Their academics are decent with some standout programs. Most importantly, they were only added in 2012 and bring two decent markets to the table in St. Louis and Kansas City. Combined, those two cities probably save them and it is difficult to see the SEC kicking out a team added so recently.
Nerds! Vanderbilt. If this weren’t by far the best academic institution in the SEC (and the whole region) it is difficult to see why and how the school would ever have been added to the SEC in the first place. But they’ve been in since 1933. Beyond brains, it is just embarrassing. It is a small school with an abysmal football record. Their ratings are just about the worst in the country with only 30,000 people watching their games on average. That is HARD TO DO when you actually play Alabama and Georgia and other heavy hitters every season. What are the ratings when Vanderbilt plays South Carolina? There must be more people in Nashville watching reruns of Small Wonder. Yes, they are in one of the biggest markets in the SEC, but that market is already sewn up by the SEC having Tennessee. I doubt the SEC would kick out Vandy, though, because it would make the conference more of an academic punchline that it already is.
When all is said and done South Carolina and Mississippi State would almost certainly be on the chopping block if the SEC decided it needed to add teams that would not otherwise grow the pie.
But why would the SEC want to add teams that wouldn’t grow their pie? Well, mostly to block the Big Ten, which simply has more room to grow than the SEC does.
You see, if the SEC breaks up the ACC to get Clemson and North Carolina, say, to go to 18 teams, then the Big Ten would be free to go after Florida State to get into the Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami cable markets, and, despite their football record, Georgia Tech, considering Atlanta is the #9 media market. (ND would like that addition too.) The problem for the SEC is it already has those markets in its cable footprint, so adding those teams would only bring revenue to the extent those teams bring eyeballs and eyeballs at that level might not grow the pie for the SEC. The SEC might have an advantage because FSU could play Florida in conference, but then the Big Ten could go harder after Virginia and Miami to add cable markets that way.
Basically, the Big Ten can add any of the big remaining ACC teams without cutting any current members and still grow its pie, but for the SEC to add them it would have to cut teams or risk cutting its per-team payout simply to stave off the Big Ten.
Virginia might be worth it for the SEC without cutting anyone else and its probably a coin flip in terms of which conference it would prefer, but otherwise, if the SEC & ESPN break up the ACC to get Clemson and UNC to go to 20 teams, then all bets are off. Because if the Big Ten heads south, it has more to gain than the SEC does, and the only way to fend off the Big Bruisers from marching south like Sherman might be for the SEC to cut South Carolina and Mississippi State to add FSU and Georgia Tech, if only to prevent them going to the Big Ten. If that worked, the Miami would not be worth it for the Big Ten and they’d settle for Virginia and would likely get Notre Dame too at that point.
In any of these scenarios, even if the SEC cuts its two least valuable teams, I think the Big Ten has a decided advantage in conference expansion going forward. And if it keeps going the Gamecocks and … Bell? … Cows??… would be at risk. But maybe they would prefer joining up with Va Tech, NC State, the Demon Deacons, Duke, and whoever else they could scoop together? You can’t replace the money, of course, but it might be fun to actually win some football games consistently too.
Do I think it will happen? Probably not, but if it does, you heard it here first.
TLDR? Yeah, me too.