I don’t know how much more I can take.
Before too long, I will require some form of sports therapy to sort out all these titanic changes, but even after that, I’m not sure if I will be an accepting believer.
I understand you can take what seems like three to four strides before they whistle you for traveling in any basketball game, from the corner park to the NBA.
I get why some PGA stars are leaving that historic tour for the Saudi-backed LIV traveling circus, but can these guys actually feel like they won a real golf tournament after only playing 54 holes? By the way, the LIV Tour’s name comes from the Roman numerals that stand for the number 54.
I just about had my brain wrapped around all that is the NCAA Transfer Portal, but then they piled on with Name, Image and Likeness royalties. Throw in booster collectives and their millions of dollars, and you have yourself a good old fashioned turf war that brought the big money donors out from the shadows. Just ask Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher.
I was naïve to think that Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC was the conference move to end all conference moves. All those minor shifts involving Nebraska, Penn State, Texas A&M, Utah and Rutgers over the past few years were just tiny ripples aimed at better geography and creating some border beefs.
I figured the Longhorns’ and Sooners’ decision was the iceberg that no one saw coming. How wrong could I be? It was only the tip of the iceberg.
An even bigger cold, hard slap to hit college football’s traditionalists (of which I am a proud member) happened when USC and UCLA blindsided their PAC 12 fraternity and announced they were abandoning them and taking their talents (and considerable Los Angeles TV market) to the Big 10.
“We just got Soonered and Horned” said an unnamed high-placed PAC 12 university official, who was referring to Texas and Oklahoma’s surprising decision last year to bolt from the Big 12 Conference.
Texas and Oklahoma shifting their compass a few degrees to the east is one thing, but I can’t deal with SoCal invading the Heartland and the midwest.
This is now the beginning of the end of college sports’ regionally-based leagues and traditional rivalries that date back over 100 years or longer.
Texas and Oklahoma were just a mere break in the dam. This move by USC and UCLA is a breach of seismic proportions.
Think of this as a old-fashioned, good old boy land battle. It’s a tussle for television markets and a power struggle between conference commissioners, athletic directors and university presidents residing in the SEC and Big 10. The ACC, because of Clemson, North Carolina and Miami, might try and tip-toe into this fracas, but pretty much everyone else is irrelevant.
In the center of this realignment war are the major television networks from Fox, ESPN/ABC and CBS/Viacom as well. The TV networks want to align themselves with the biggest college football conferences, who have the best teams with national brands. This results in more marquee matchups with the most national appeal that encompasses the largest TV viewing markets.
The larger the conference, be it 16, 18, 20 or dare I say 30 teams, will supply the networks with more games and TV content to program two or three days a week in hopes of attracting higher ratings to sell more advertising for increased revenues.
Currently, the SEC leads the Big 10 in the race for annual payouts to member schools from their TV deals. In 2021, the SEC sent over $54 million to each of its teams while the Big 10 paid its programs $46 million each. With USC and UCLA and the number two TV market in Los Angeles coming aboard in 2024 (and possibly Oregon and Washington to follow), the projections will have the Big 10 bull-rushing past the SEC in member payouts very soon.
And speaking of money gaps and equality or lack thereof: As of 2021, the SEC and Big 10’s revenue distribution to its current schools double (or more) what the other three Power 5 conferences pay out to their schools.
It’s no secret the Big Four TV networks (Fox, ESPN-ABC, CBS, NBC) are in a war of their own worth billions upon billions of advertising dollars to hold viewers and keep them off streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Paramount+, Apple TV, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, ESPN+ and the multitude of niche cable networks.
As they say in Hollywood, New York and in the networks’ boardrooms, “content is king,” and there is no more compelling and cheap content than live sports.
Which brings me to my belief that the honchos running college football and those mega Power 5 conferences want to be more like their richer, more powerful and influential big brother the NFL.
If things continue as they are with conference realignments and programs jumping across time zones, college football will adopt a more divisional structure within its remaining power leagues.
Imagine the SEC and Big 10 with 32 teams each, broken into four 8-school divisions. A total of 64 teams, which will compete in a 16-team national playoff system.
Something like this could happen by 2026 if we keep going as we are. Contracts and deals can be broken with enough pressure applied in the right places.
I know it sounds crazy that college football might lose all the history and tradition of the PAC 12, Big 12 and ACC, but how is that so different from losing the old Southwest Conference, Big 8 or Big East?
For the record I don’t like this at all.
College football will lose it’s soul without the traditional rivalries and passion-filled border wars. The history, pageantry and rituals of college football Saturdays is what differentiates it from the football played in the NFL on Sundays. It was our national sports compass of sorts.
What are we to do without that distinct line cut across those two 100-yard patches of turf that rule our lives every Fall?
Apparently, the battle for power and the billions of dollars at stake in TV contracts supercedes all that.
Taking center stage in this land grab are SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, a former Southland Conference commissioner, and Big 10 Commissioner Kevin Warren, an attorney by trade who has extensive experience in the NFL, and who also spent time working with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
You can’t blame them for acting like hogs at the feeding trough when they are charged with making as much money as they can for their member schools. The TV suits are now the farmers who are willing to pour out billions of dollars for them to fight over.
I am convinced that college commissioners like Sankey and Warren want to follow the NFL’s lead in structuring a more national brand of football, complete with broadcasting on multiple days of the week and lining up games that will generate TV viewing and interest from coast to coast, and across challenging time zones.
The collegiate executives see how Goodell pits one network against another in TV negotiations and how the NFL is now including its massive product on streaming networks like Amazon Prime (Thursday night NFL games starting this fall), Peacock and Paramount +.
Hold on to your pom-poms if Apple TV gets in the chase for live sports, which it currently doesn’t have. The largest company in the world is interested in the NFL’s Sunday Ticket, which is now owned by DirecTV. That deal ends in 2022, and Apple is believed to be the front-runner to take over.
What does all that have to do with the current state of college football?
Well, don’t be surprised if Sankey and Warren try to nudge their noses into that end of the money trough that could include Apple TV or Apple +. A streaming service and digital platform like Apple would be a perfect partner for the younger demographic that college football can deliver.
And what about the last two major football powers waiting in the wings … Notre Dame and Clemson? The Irish, with their illustrious history and massive brand strength, seemed destined to go to the Big 10. They fit the Big 10 on the basis of geography, academics and culture.
For Clemson, with its recent national championships and rising name recognition, I can’t see any other place than the SEC, if the ACC doesn’t survive. That would be a lot of Tigers in the SEC (and another Death Valley) but again, they are a perfect fit with geography, academics, culture and, of course, mascots.
The strong only get stronger with more leverage and more money.
So, where do all of these maneuvers leave the likes of little old McNeese and the Southland Conference?
Well, you can probably forget about those $500,000 guarantee games sooner rather than later. Those kinds of matchups don’t sell well nationally, and the TV outfits lose money when McNeese vs. LSU is only seen on ESPN+.
Once the SEC, Big 10 (and maybe the ACC) separates themselves from the rest of college football, the remaining group of 5 leagues form a pretty solid second tier.
The problem for FCS schools like McNeese will be finding sources of media revenues and appealing non conference games.
Not much money will be left in that TV trough once the Power 5 slims down to the Power 2 (SEC and Big 10) and the biggest of the mid-majors combine at the second level.
McNeese should not be left behind stuck in the third or fourth tier. It needs to begin planning and laying whatever ground work is necessary to get into an FBS league by 2024 or 2025, preferably Conference USA or the Sun Belt.
There are still so many unknowns in this chess match and ever changing landscape of college football. The one certain is more change, be it good or bad for the college sports.
That money trough I keep mentioning will eventually run empty once the big hogs are done with it.
Catch Rick Sarro’s commentary and latest opinions on Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tueday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm and again Saturday at 11 pm and Sunday at 10 pm.
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