Conferences, Demographics, and Realignment

I want to look at the current demographics of the conferences and thus make some projection about their movement forward into the future, including realignments. Keep in mind that conferences are not the same as teams and on field performances, conferences are about (academic) institutions who seek to grow bigger, stronger, and more prosperous. Prosperity is key here so that yes, it is about money. Business of College Sport is an excellent source for more information on this topic. Ultimately institutions grow by having more members. They best do this by providing academic quality to attract students. But in any business, there has to be some marketing and broadcasted games are a good way of raising brand awareness in millions of home for several hours at a time. Sports however isn't just about raising brand awareness but also about maintaining brand awareness with graduates, linking them back to the four (or is it five now?) years spent on campus. This the circle is closed when you look at the goals of institutional growth, to attract applicants, to raise student enrollment, and to maintain alumni support. I understand that there is substantial mobility of people in the United States but for the most part, only a few institutions are truly national (or international) brands. Most institutions are regional at best and many are really just state wide brand in practical terms. By practical terms I mean most students are from instate (for the tuition discount) and most alumni remain in state. A good alumni base is important for their continued financial support, and nearby alumni are a valuable asset. Nearby alumni are more likely to attend the games, remain involved, and thus more likely to contribute to the institution financially. Only a few institutions have access to multimillion dollars donors so these should not be counted on for growth. For conferences, if their member institutions grow, so will the conference.

My hypothesis is that for regional (all non national or international institution) institutions, their potential for growth is higher when the institution is based in a growing state. Growth is driven best by economic, but population growth is a reasonable surrogate as people will move for better economic options. To compare one state's population against another, I will simply use the 2010 census and the resulting changes to the state's congressional seats. From the WSJ:
  • States Losing Seats
  1. New York: -2
  2. Ohio: -2
  3. Illinois: -1
  4. Iowa: -1
  5. Louisiana : -1
  6. Massachusetts: -1
  7. Michigan: -1
  8. Missouri: -1
  9. New Jersey: -1
  10. Pennsylvania: -1
  • States Gaining Seats
  1. Texas: 4
  2. Florida: 2
  3. Arizona: 1
  4. Georgia: 1
  5. Nevada: 1
  6. South Carolina: 1
  7. Utah: 1
  8. Washington:1
Now lets look at the individual conferences and their net change of congressional seats (CS). Since we are looking at population changes as a marker for potential growth, a state can impact more than one conferences. This is a qualitative measure rather than a quantitative measure though numbers are being used. Starting first with the Major Five then the Minor Five.
  • ACC: +1 (for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York)
  • B1G: -7 (for Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania)
  • Big XII: +4 (for Texas)
  • Pac12: +3 (for Arizona, Utah, and Washington)
  • SEC: +6 (for Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Missouri)
  • Big East: +2 (for Texas, Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania)
  • CUSA: +5 (for Texas, Florida and Louisiana)
  • MAC: -6 (for New York, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan)
  • MWC: +2 (for Nevada and Utah)
  • Sun Belt: +4 (for Texas, Georgia and Louisiana)
Since I am proposing to use population growth as a potentiator for growth, I would be remiss not to consider the current state of the conference. For this I propose to use stability; after all nothing potentiate growth more than current stability. For stability I will just look at whether a conference has lost any members in the last 5 years. While some might argue that grants of rights (GoR) enhances stability and I agree, it doesn't factually provide stability as it has not been tested legally.

The ACC.  The ACC is unstable for having lost Maryland recently to the B1G. The ACC is also a risk per Internet rumors (yes I know that is the worse kind) of possibly losing Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, Miami, Duke, NC State, UNC, UVA, and VTech. While I remain skeptical that any of these teams will leave, I guess it can happen still. And if the 4 North Carolina schools stay, I think UVA and VTech will as well and thus the conference will survive. However, losing the southern schools like FSU, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Miami will mean losing all four states with growing population, leaving ACC at a net loss of -3 CS. Interesting enough, at least by demographic shift, the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse does not help the ACC with the future growth regardless of the quality of the two programs added.  As is, at +1 CS the ACC is holding. But should the ACC lose both FSU and Miami, then the ACC should consider another Florida team such as USF. UConn and Cincinnati are unlikely to add much long term growth potential.

The B1G. The B1G is rock stable, having lost none and gained 3 (Maryland, Nebraska, and New Jersey). However, the future demographic shift for the B1G states are abysmal with a conference net of -7 (-6 without the recent addition of Rutger). The mainstay programs of the B1G are Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all states losing CS. I believe for the near future the B1G will remain stable because all members are AAU (except Nebraska) but in the long term demographic will trump academic. For the B1G to expand by geographic continuity, the situation will not change much as New York is a loser of CS, the North East and the MidAtlantic (Virginia and North Carolina) and Kansas are neutral in terms of CS growth. I guess this is why the B1G is looking at Georgia Tech.

The Big XII. The Big XII is unstable because it has lost four members (Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas A&M). The Big XII demographic potential for growth is focused on one state: Texas. True the Big XII also has no states losing population. The reliance on Texas, and indirectly UT, may potentiate instability rather than enhances it.  Should any of the Southern ACC teams become available for membership, the Big XII should jump at the chance. I would actually not suggest waiting but go out and actively recruit. I would also consider teams in the nearby Mountain states of Utah, Arizona and Nevada.

The Pac 12. The Pac 12 is a stable conference having lost no members and having gained two (Colorado and Utah). The Pac 12 also has 3 states gaining CS: Arizona, Utah and Washington and no states losing CS. The Pac 12 should be expected to continue for a while, but is limited only by limited expansion options. Only Texas and Nevada are nearby states with growing CS. No wonder it would have been a coup accompli had the Pac 12 been able to take OU, OSU, TTU and UT.

The SEC. The SEC is a stable conference having lost no members and having gained two (Missouri and Texas A&M). Texas A&M was a huge gain, allowing the SEC a regular presence in Texas (+4 CS). The SEC has four states gaining CS and two states losing CS. One of the states losing CS is Louisiana and this maybe an aberration as a result of depopulating New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The other is Missouri, which is likely an addition only to balance out Texas A&M. The SEC is  on solid footing having a major presence in both Texas and Florida, not just the top two growth states but also the top 2 of three states for college football recruits.

Of the five major conferences I would rank the top two as the SEC and the Pac12. The B1G looks good now but have limited long term growth potential. The weakest two conferences are the ACC and the Big XII. They both likely know this and thus discussion for an alliance. I am skeptical an alliance would be a durable solution. Perhaps a full merger might work but that will never happen. Since the ACC is not looking to poach any programs from the Big XII whereas the Big XII is clearly interested in taking from the ACC, the Big XII through action alone may have a better future than the ACC.

I believe demographic shifts will affect the major five more than the minor five because of the current disparity in finances. Institutions in the minor five will always jump to the major five if given the opportunity to do so. Whether the major five will consider demographic shift is less certain to me but perhaps their should. A substantial amount of conference income come from TV broadcast rights with contract running for 10+ years, moving past the next census date of 2020.  Thus the money gains today will certainly trump that of future growth potential from population gains. Another consideration is that stability may not mean the same as with the major five conferences. If a conference has no team of value to the major conferences, then it may appear stable but stability would not mean value or potential for growth.

The Big East. Clearly an unstable conference having lost five teams to the majors (Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutger, Syracuse, and West Virginia). The teams the Big East has sought to replenish and actually expand its membership include teams from Texas and Florida. In both states the Big East has position themselves with two programs each and this can only add synergy. If the Big East can hold as is I believe it has a reasonable future for growth. Current Big East teams at risk for jumping ship are USF, UConn and Cincinnati. Of these I would value USF the highest.

The CUSA. Another unstable conference having lost half its membership with six teams to the Big East (East Carolina, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, and Tulane). Clearly the CUSA value maintaining a presence in Florida (FAU and FIU) as well as Texas (North Texas and UT San Antonio). The FCS addition of Old Dominion (VA) and UNC Charlotte (North Carolina) are population growth neutral. Louisiana (Louisiana Tech) will likely gain a CS in the next census. Like the Big East if the CUSA can hold and maintain competitive play, it might be pretty good.

The MAC. The MAC is probably unstable. Temple was lost to the Big East before becoming full member but the rest of the conference may not be attractive to the other conferences. Like the B1G the MAC has horrible demographic with a net of -6 CS. The MAC has a grim future despite having busted the BCS this past year. Unlike the B1G that can compensate for demographic decline by recruiting out of state by academic and reputation, the MAC cannot.

The MWC. Of the minor conferences, only the MWC has lost no members despite having members coveted by other conferences (Boise State and San Diego State). And gains in membership will allow the MWC to stage a conference championship for the first time. The MWC also have very good demographic with no states losing CS and two states gaining (Nevada and Utah). If the MWC can hold long enough to maintain conference unity and stave off any expansion from the Pac 12 or the Big XII, the future could make it the best of the minor and if consistent, leverage itself as a future major conference.

The Sun Belt. Another unstable minor conference having lost four teams to the CUSA. These losses have place them outside Florida but still maintaining a presence in Texas. Taking Georgia State help some but Georgia State is currently an FCS program. The Sun Belt should look to another Florida team. Of note all four Sun Belt bowl teams have remained with the Sun Belt.

Of the Minor Five conferences the MWC has the clear lead, closely followed by the Big East and CUSA. Next I believe comes the Sun Belt. The MAC I would place at the bottom of all conferences for future growth.

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