The realignment merry-go-round has fired up again thanks to the Big Ten (again), and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's future home is right slap dab in the middle of it all. As the football season moves into the waiting period before the major bowl games, we thought we'd take the time to clue you in with a FAQ.
Why is this happening now?
The Big Ten has its own network, and has made the decision that it needs more content for that network. It took Rutgers from the Big East, and Maryland from the ACC. Both schools fit academically into the Big Ten and theoretically add the New York City/Northern New Jersey and Baltimore/D.C. television markets into the Big Ten's cable network subscriber base.
But, both those schools have no fans, don't they?
Yes, you are right. Maryland has spent the last 25 years battling crippling debt in their athletic department which has mostly been caused by having a ton of non-revenue sports that aren't supported by their alumni or students very much. They've built a new basketball stadium and renovated their football stadium, believing that would spur attendance. None of it worked, and just buried the school deeper in debt.
Rutgers is similarly millions of dollars in debt. There's tons of great high school football talent in the state, but Rutgers has never managed to be able to keep any of it.
This doesn't make sense, why add schools with apathetic fan bases?
Because the Big Ten figures they don't have to actually convince people to care, they just have to convince cable companies in those states to carry their network. The cable companies figure enough people in the state will care to make it worth it, and pass the cost along to everyone else in the state who wants a sports cable package. The Big Ten has been doing this in every state they currently are in, and have made/will continue to make their money, at least in the short term..
That still sounds fishy.
Oh it is. Even if you aren't a sports fan, close to half your cable bill is taken up by sports programming. Almost everyone in the cable television business says the escalating fees for sports are unsustainable. Networks are paying extraordinary amounts of money on live sports with the idea that the advertising is more valuable than scripted programming because its DVR proof. However, ratings for sports keep going down except for major big ticket events or for blue blood sports entities (New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Notre Dame, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, that kind of thing).
So many people who are not sports fans are choosing not to pay for cable at all, and instead just getting a Netflix account or a Hulu Plus account. That's money coming directly out of the cable companies' pockets. They don't make hardly any of the sports money either. In the next ten to fifteen years, you will see a la carte cable channel offerings, where you go through and pay for only what you want to see on a regular basis.
How will that affect the Big Ten Network?
If it continues expanding in the way it is – picking schools with fine academic reputations but with marginal sports support – it will be devastating to the BTN. Any way this slices, they're going to lose a large amount of the money they generate when they actually have to convince individual people around the country to pay for third tier football games, non-marquee basketball games and the right to watch various non-revenue generating sports.
Only the hardcore of the hardcore would choose to pay for the Big Ten Network if they weren't forced to do so by their cable plan.
Okay, enough about the Big Ten, what's going on with the ACC?
For the first time in the realignment cycle, the ACC suffered a loss when the Big Ten poached Maryland. Any time a conference loses a school, the collective media will start to smell blood and start pouncing. That seems premature at this point.
The ACC is built on a bedrock of six schools (Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Wake Forest) that have shared a conference with each other for over one hundred years at this point. They were all original members of the Southern Conference together, as was Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech joined the ACC in the 80's, and came on board Florida State in 1991. These schools have a great deal in common and have long lasting bonds that aren't so easily broken.
Well why did Maryland leave?
Don't believe any of the nonsense you hear some people saying that Maryland left "because they didn't recognize the conference any more." That's a load of clap trap that dumb radio guys are spewing because its the same argument people made for the Big East's break up and they're just lazy. Maryland left for one reason: They're broke.
They already tried the typical ways to raise money and they failed due to apathy by their fan base. The Big Ten offered them a life line out of their financial darkness and they took it. It doesn't say much about the commitment of the rest of the ACC.
What about the NC State-Virginia Tech to SEC and UNC-Duke/UNC-UVA to Big Ten rumors?
They only make sense if you're someone from Nashville or Dallas or Tulsa and you don't get the relationships at work here. NC State University and North Carolina are not really autonimous universities. At the end of the day, the chancellors at both schools answer to the UNC-System wide board. There's really very little chance you see the power people involved in the UNC System allow them to be split up from one another.
Further, UNC has been playing UVA longer than any two schools have been playing each other about as long as anyone has been playing anyone. Their rivalry is nicknamed "The Oldest Rivalry in the South." It is highly unlikely they'd split up from each other and risk that ending.
Finally, in case you think Duke could just get left behind, here's this: the Duke/UNC basketball rivalry is one of the few cash cows left in regular season NCAA basketball. It's one of the few guaranteed big television ratings outside of March. There is no way those two schools let that rivalry go down.
Furthermore, the two institutions share faculty and are employees at their hospitals. Many people at Duke and UNC also take classes at the other school via joint programs. Like NCSU-UNC, the two universities are too tied up with each other to be split apart.
Again, the rumors about some combination of UNC/UVA/NCSU/Duke splitting up and going somewhere else only make sense if you have no idea about the cultures at any of the above schools. It might have been possible for the Big Ten to take these schools before they snapped up Rutgers and Maryland, but instead of waiting to take the more valuable schools in the ACC, they shot their wad with one of the least valuable and with one of the least valuable athletic departments in the country. Good going, Delany.
That does for part one of our FAQ. We'll be back with part two.
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