College Football Conference Expansions, the Big Picture

Though it did not come to pass, there was a substantial amount of buzz regarding super-conferences his past months. I assume that super-conferences will be 16 teams in size. I do not assume there will be just 4 super conferences because of the BCS bowls. There are currently 4 BCS bowls, the Fiesta, the Orange, the Rose, and the Sugar. These four bowls then rotate hosting a fifth bowl for the championship game. Currently the Cotton bowl is negotiating for inclusion as a BCS bowl. There is substantial money associated with the BCS bowls and they will not be going away any time soon. This means there will be 5-6 BCS games each year, and 10-12 teams. To prevent anti-trust, there must me 1-2 open slots for non-automatic qualifying conferences. This leaves 8-10 automatic invites to be divided, likely among 5-6 super conferences. It seems more likely that the six automatic qualifying conferences will become super conferences then one or more of the non-automatic qualifying conferences gaining super conference status and gain automatic qualifying status. In addition, the automatic qualifying conferences have better teams, at least in football, on average than the non-automatic qualifying conferences. For most schools though, football brings in the majority of the income.
Given these consideration, the only driver for conference expansion is to gain television market share without damaging the character of the conference as is. Each conference's character is a varying combination of athletic competitiveness, academic standing, and regionality. Another assumption is that not all conferences are equal and the stronger conferences will have more influence to expand over weaker ones.

The top conference is the Big 10. All of the Big 10 members are institution of significant academic standing and members of the Association of American Universities (AAU). The Big 10 is also based around the Midwest of the US, thus any future members must also be geographically connected to the Midwest yet at the same time increase its market share. If you look at the list of AAU universities not already in the Big 10 but within geographic fit, there are only 4: Iowa State, Rutgers, University of Buffalo, University of Missouri, and the University of Pittsburgh. Of these I believe Pittsburgh and Missouri would be the best fit as Pittsburgh has 2,050 millions followed by Mizzou has 974 millions in endowment, compared to 640 millions for Rutgers, 566 millions for Buffalo, and 508 millions for Iowa State, the Big 10 on average for endowment is 2.264 million dollars. Both Pittsburgh and Missouri would bring major media markets (Pittsburgh, St Louis and Kansas City) and are very much Midwestern. While Rutgers is located in a major media market, neither it nor Iowa State has a very large fan base to carry the market. By this analysis in the NYT, Missouri has a nearly 1.1 million fan base and Pittsburgh as nearly 0.9 million fans. Rutgers has over 0.9 million fans compared to 0.5 millions for Iowa State and 0.2 for Buffalo. Buffalo, with a relatively low endowment fund, small fan base, and not currently in not in a BCS automatic conference (Buffalo is in the Mid-American Conference) will be the weakest candidate for the Big 10. The strongest are Pittsburgh and Missouri. Pittsburgh has recently shifted from the Big East to the ACC and Missouri is currently in the Big 12. Interesting enough the remaining two schools are also in the Big 12 (Iowa State) and the Big East (Rutgers). The big 10, sitting on top with 12 teams should have no urgency to expand.

Next up is the SEC. The SEC recently accepted Texas A&M as its 13th member, and is likely looking for at least a 14th if not 15th and 16th. Given that the conference is currently divided East West, the 13th team will likely be an eastern team. The most attractive candidates are Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech (all from the ACC), South Florida (Big East), and Central Florida (C-USA). Both South Florida and Central Florida are geographically too close to University of Florida and will not add much in terms of television markets and are both unlikely candidate. That leaves the ACC schools and with the new 20 million exit fees, it will be a difficult poach but it will be possible. Of these ACC schools, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, and North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech is least wedded to the ACC being among its newest members. Miami also has a huge fan base (1.3 millions compared to 1.7 for Clemson and 1.6 for Georgia Tech) and adds the populous south Florida market for the SEC. Miami however has a certain reputation as manifested by their current troubles with the NCAA. Virginia Tech also has a large fan base, same as Miami at 1.3 millions and gives the SEC a place in Virginia. However, Virginia Tech may want to bring Virginia with them. West Virginia (oft mentioned as a potential candidate) is neither a good geographical fit nor does it add much to the TV market. Virginia Tech also has a large fan base, same as Miami at 1.3 millions and gives the SEC a place in Virginia. However, Virginia Tech may want to bring Virginia with them. Missouri, another currently cited potential candidate, would force reformation of the East-West divisions, is not a better candidate than Virginia Tech or Miami. For 15th and 16th, Missouri will be considered, but so will TCU and SMU to further expand the Texas reach for the SEC. If TCU is still available it will be preferable to SMU In the East it will likely be a program in North Carolina to extend the geography of the conference. By 15th and 16th, the conference may be able to focus more on geographic expansion and be less rigorous on athletic competitiveness so the likes of SMU and perhaps even Eastern Carolina University (both from the C-USA) might be considered. But the SEC will be under no pressure to expand to 15 or 16.

What is left of the ACC will be considered next. Though standing at 14 teams now with their recent raids for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, they may still lose programs to other conferences (Pittsburgh to the Big 10 and Miami to the SEC). For quality programs they will have to continue to raid the Big East with occasional consideration for the C-USA. From the Big East already Rutgers and Connecticut have expressed interests (with 0.9 and 0.6 million fans respectively). These two teams will consolidate the North East reach for the ACC. Other teams to be considered will be South Florida (also Big East) or Central Florida (C-USA). The Florida programs (both with about 0.5 millions fan) will only be considered if the ACC loses either or both Pittsburgh and Miami.

Though the Big 12 might be a stronger football conference, the Pac 12 is currently more stable and will be considered next. The Pac-16 is the most stable conference west of the Mississippi and is highly unlikely to lose any members. This year it tried to raid the nearest automatic qualifying conference, the Big 12, but came up short, mostly because of the egos of the teams being considered (Texas primarily but also to a lesser extent Oklahoma). The Pac 12 will likely have problems finding quality programs for expansion, and will have to look at the Mountain West and the Western Athletic. The Pac 12 has already own nearly all the major media markets west of the Rockies and there are few media markets left to expand into. The candidates are BYU, Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, UNLV (all with the exception of BYU are Mountain West Conference). Note that like the Big 10 the Pac 12 does not have to expand.

The Big 12 survived a scare this month and would have ceased to exist as an automatic qualifying conference had Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech all left for the Pac 12. I have blogged about what the Big 12 needs to do to remain viable and competitive as a major conference. The Big 12 will need to expand to move forward, and given the continued risk of losing members (Missouri and Texas) the Big 12 should look to go to 14 rather than stop at 12. The three teams to round out the conference should be announced before the regular season ends; the additional two teams for 14 can wait till after the bowl games. The next three has to be viewed as competitive football teams to shore up the image of the conference viability. I believe two of these three should be BYU and TCU. Both teams have strong national awareness. BYU is an independent that really would prefer to be part of an automatic qualifying conference, would join the Big 12, and add the Utah market. TCU is in transition to the Big East and given how moribund the Big East appears currently, would also gladly prefer to play within its geographical foot print of Texas. The conference would also be better with 4 Texas teams to give it the options for a division split evenly through Texas (TTU & TCU west, UT & Baylor east). Of the currently available Texas teams, TCU is by far the best, better than SMU, Houston, Rice, or UTEP. The twelfth team in my opinion should be Boise State rather than Air Force or Louisville. Boise State is a competitive team that would provide a local competitor for BYU. Air Force has half the fan base of Boise State ( 0.2 millions compared to nearly 0.5) and less competitive. Air Force is also being courted by the Big East and there is no point in a bidding war for a second choice. Louisville has a good fan base (0.6 millions) and is geographically connected to the Big 12 via Missouri. I think Louisville could work but I view Boise State, being a western team, would be a better fit than a more Midwest Louisville. I am also certain the Big East would do what it can to keep Louisville. For team 13 and 14 the Big 12 can concentrate more for market share and worry less about team competitiveness (given a conference already has Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and adding BYU and TCU, possibly Boise State. Market consideration will consider national fan base, local and state appeal, entry into a competitor media market, as well as academic. Top of my list for 13th would be Louisville with Tulane an alternative. Tulane has a small fan base (0.1 millions) but sits in New Orleans and Louisiana, an adjacent market that sits within the SEC and LSU media market. Tulane is also an AAU school with a large endowment of 800 millions and would thus increase the academic profile for the conference. The 14th team needs to be a Colorado school to provide western balance for an eastern Tulane, regain the lost Colorado market and compete with new Pac 12 member University of Colorado. The choice then is between Colorado State and Air Force. Both have about the same fan base (0.2 millions) with Air Force having a better national reputation but the Colorado versus Colorado State annual game is a biggest draw in Denver. Colorado State also has the largest endowment in the Mountain West at an acceptable 400 millions, along with 300 millions in research money. Compared to the state of Colorado, neither New Mexico nor Wyoming compare in either game play or television markets.

The Big East might not survive, currently down to 6 members with the loss of Pittsburgh and Syracuse and at risk for losing Connecticut, Rutgers, as well as Louisville. West Virginia is unlikely to leave, not because it doesn't want to, but because like Oklahoma, it has little options. West Virginia is not attractive to the Big 10, and doesn't add enough to the SEC or even the ACC. To be seen as viable the Big East must expand to 12, possibly 14. However, going to 12 means adding 6 new teams, nearly doubling its remaining members. Though TCU is expected to come on board, I suspect they will instead move to the Big 12. For expansion Army, Navy, Air Force and Temple are all mentioned as potential candidates and I believe these will all be good addition for the Big East, with possibly the exception being Air Force for geographical consideration. Some other teams that should be considered are Buffalo (from the MAC), Central Florida, East Carolina, possibly Memphis (from the C-USA), and Florida International (Sun Belt). Buffalo is an AAU program with strong academic and is nearby to Syracuse, a departing Big East member, and thus continues the western New York presence for the conference. Central Florida has a large fan base (by remaining Big East standards) with 0.5 million fans, and would be a natural local competitor Big East's South Florida. Florida International, though doesn't have much of a football presence, like Buffalo is very strong in academic though not AAU itself. Florida is an excellent market and more exposure for the Big East in Florida is good for the conference. East Carolina wants in, has a decent fan base of over 0.3 millions, and will introduces a foothold in North Carolina, an ACC stronghold thus expand the geography of the Big East. Memphis comes with a smaller fan base (0.2 millions) but would extends and bridge the geography of the Big East. If TCU stays, then Air Force would make more sense, as well as other Texas schools such as SMU or Houston. Once the Big East is at 12 teams, it must then assimilate the new members before bringing in any more.

The remaining conferences, Conference USA (C-USA), Mountain West (MW), Mid American Conference (MAC), Sun Belt, and Western Atlantic Conference (WAC) will naturally have to readjust. For these conferences, geography may be a limiting factor given the cost of travel. Regionality maybe more important than new market gains. C-USA may lose ECU, Tulane, UCF, and possibly Memphis. Replacement for these 4 would most likely come from the Sun Belt (Florida International, Troy, Arkansas State) and Louisiana Tech (WAC). With these programs: Florida International (for Miami market), Troy (nearly 0.4 millions fan), Arkansas State (0.3 million fans) and Louisiana (replace the Louisiana market with the loss of Tulane) the C-USA will maintain its current east-west division and geography. If C-USA also loses Marshall, Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt) should be considered.
The MW, minus TCU, +/- Boise State, +/- Air Force, +/- Colorado State will be down to 4-5 teams but is already expecting 3 teams from the WAC (California State-Fresno, Hawaii-Manoa, and Nevada-Fresno). The MW should consider expanding to get to 12 by raiding or merging with a smaller WAC for 12-16 teams. Yes I know that was tried before but the conference realignment environment is different this time. The teams from the WAC to consider are Idaho, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State and future member Denver and Seattle. The remaining WAC teams, Texas State, UT-Arlington and UT-San Antonio should look to the Sun Belt. Louisiana Tech could also look to C-USA.
The MAC, if it loses Buffalo, should look to Marshall (C-USA) to go back to 12. Marshall is also a nice geographical fit with a rich football tradition.
The Sun Belt, without Arkansas State, Troy, Florida International, and possibly Florida Atlantic but with Texas State, UT-Arlington and UT-San Antonio would largely retain its size and gain a greater presence in Texas. Along with South Alabama, Texas State, UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio the Sun Belt would have the 4 youngest Division 1 football teams but all in good tv markets.

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