By Joe Glover
Getting to Fourteen
Not long after the move by Texas A&M became official, it became obvious that the South Eastern Conference would not stop at 13 members. So before any dust was able to settle on the expansion front, the SEC started looking for a 14th. In the middle of September, West Virginia University made a few public leaks to the media about their interest in moving on. Of course, that publicity stunt lasted all of about a week until both the SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference went public with their own “not interested, thanks” leaks. With the strengthening of the ACC, the SEC had to try and find a team that fit both geographically, and most importantly, marketably. A major reason why West Virginia never was considered? A quick look at the Nielsen rankings should tell you all you need to know. Charleston, West Virginia the capital, and largest city comes in ranking 63rd in the nation. If you’re the top conference in the nation, your eyes are on nothing more than televisions, and television dollars. With that in mind, the default choice came with the University of Missouri, and the 21st ranked St. Louis, and the 32nd ranked Kansas City media markets. With the addition of the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Houston (By way of Texas A&M) markets, the conference was able to renegotiate the three year old conference television deal with ESPN so that instead of $12 Million per school per year, this got raised to $25 Million. Just so we have that clear, by adding those two teams, the annual deal with ESPN jumped from $144 Million to $350 Million.
Despite being a charter member of the original Big 8 (remember post 1?) and a few public denials, the money, and the chance to distance themselves from the dreaded Longhorn Network was too tempting. On 11/06, the University of Missouri was officially introduced as the fourteenth and final (for now) member of the SEC.
Crap. Now What?
The Big XII had some decisions to make about its future. Between the defections and the gigantic looming presence of the
elephant in the room network, if it was to be saved, they needed to act quickly. The University of Oklahoma was first to strike, giving the “us or you” ultimatum to Conference Commissioner Dan Beebe, and mandating that the Longhorn Network/ESPN would be forbidden from doing any sort of recruiting for the University of Texas.
With those guarantees out of the way, the question became what teams to add to replace the departed? First would be to beg Texas Christian to back away from their commitment to play in the Big East next year, and to join them instead. TCU, apparently having forgotten about what had happened to them a decade or so before, decided to do so. Then the question became which second team? The names being floated were, the Air Force Academy, Brigham Young University, University of Houston and Southern Methodist. Houston said no, and with the others not being enticing enough, decided they’d make a play for the twice-spurned West Virginia Mountaineers. They accepted the invitation shortly before Halloween, and it was announced that the Big XII would hold steady at 10 member institutions.
What This Has All Taught Us
By now it should be painfully obvious that collegiate athletics is nothing more than a big business. Much in the way that professional sports tries to sell the facade of civic pride as a way to convince people to buy merchandise, college athletics do the same for tradition and school pride.
Who can blame them though? As long as companies are interested in throwing dollars at universities, you’ll see a lot more of this.
Really though, there’s a whole lot bigger problems than silly product hawking, or telling the world you’re “Heading to Disneyworld“. As we’ve seen over the last five posts, the real threat to college athletics is the political economy of media, and what can happen when a media conglomerate has demanded and been granted unprecedented access, by way of financial incentives. ESPN threw hundreds of millions of dollars at the University of Texas, and in the process found themselves controlling the fate of the entire college athletic landscape in the process. Unfortunately, the Chancellor of Louisiana State University Michael Martin was more right than we want to believe when he said, “I think we could end up with two enormous conferences, one called ESPN and the one called Fox.”
1. West Virginia “Leaks”
2. SEC/ACC Not interested
3. Neilsen Ratings
4. SEC Conference deal
5. Missouri Denials
6. Us or You (The firing of Dan Beebe)
7. LHN Twitter
8. Joe and friends at the Rosebowl (beer stains brought to you by Bud Light)
9. Chip Kelly hawking products
10. Phil Simms DisneyWorld promotion
11. LSU Chancellor Michael Martin