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Conference Realignment: I Reflect on Past Predictions (Post 3)

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Last September, when the Big 12 was in complete and total chaos, I decided to put some thoughts together regarding what I believed would happen to the Big 12 and other major conferences. For the most part, I was in the ballpark, and several of my predictions came true. But a few didn’t, and after re-reading that post, and applying what I’ve learned in the last eight months, I’ve decided to dissect it and determine why I was right in some cases and wrong in others.

The next post in this series, which will be my official prediction post, will build off of this exercise, so it’s important for me to go back through my old predictions and re-analyze them to see if my theories will apply in 2012 and beyond.

Prediction #1: Oklahoma will stay in the Big 12 and push for 12 teams and increased power.

Well, this one turned out to be correct. Whether it was a conscious decision by Oklahoma to stay, or if it was a decision by the Pac-12 presidents to keep them out, the Sooners remained a part of the Big 12 Conference.

Shortly after David Boren, the University President at OU, made the announcement that they would stay, Dan Beebe was removed as conference commissioner, equal revenue sharing was instituted, a six-year Grant of Rights was signed, and talk began about expanding the conference membership back to twelve teams.

This one was pretty simple to call. Oklahoma was tied to Oklahoma State, politically and seemingly by choice, which made them a much less attractive candidate for expansion. As I mentioned in my previous posts, politics are significant, and by tethering themselves to another school, they decreased their chances of moving (if that was what they really wanted to do). Their best move was to make their existing situation more desirable, and they did that.

Verdict: Correct

Prediction #2: Texas stays and works behind the scenes to give Oklahoma what they want.

This prediction was incredibly easy, regardless of what the national media and message board participants wanted to believe.

Texas has a number of factors against them in conference realignment:

· Texas is significantly tethered to other universities in Texas, politically

· Texas has a $300 million Tier 3 network that pays the university for athletic and academic endeavors

· Texas has no reason to envy anyone; they have no reason to move whatsoever

People predicting Texas to move in 2010, 2011, and in the future are missing one significant point; they have no reason to go anywhere. Whatever conference they exist in will be wildly profitable and competitive. They’re a planet that everyone else orbits due to the gravitational pull of the revenue they generate and the markets the command. They are, by far, the flagship university of the most football crazy nation on God’s green Earth.

With the LHN, Texas dug in and fortified their position in the Big 12. It was in their best interest for the Big 12 to remain a viable, competitive, and profitable conference. Because of that, it is and will continue to be.

Verdict: Correct

Prediction #3: Missouri will stay in the Big 12 because of long term revenue generation, less football competition, and maintaining bonds that have been in place for nearly one hundred years (more in some instances).

Well, this was an air ball. At the time of this writing, the Big 12 made $2 million less than the SEC in average payout, but the potential for Tier 1 renegotiation was on the table for the Big 12, which could (and ultimately did) make the payouts competitive with the SEC and other conferences. However, what the SEC offered, and the Big 12 didn’t, was a Tier 3 network that could supplement some of the income that they weren’t making on Tier 3 rights. Because the final contracts aren’t settled for either league, it’s hard to say if Missouri made the right move yet, financially.

However, what Missouri had was a groundswell of support from fans and donors. Missouri fans took to the web, and their fan-journalists wrote several pieces in the mainstream media to drum up support for the move. After several weeks of constant bombardment, the administration needed to act, regardless of what their actual preferences may or may not have been regarding the move, because the fan base was set to revolt.

What we learned in this process, specifically with Missouri, was that fans utilizing social media have a tremendous amount of power regarding conference realignment, and things that we initially felt were important (tradition, rivalry, geographic location, etc.) were really insignificant when it came to conference realignment. Once the fan base feels like moving is the best option, they do the moving for the administration.

If Twitter, Facebook, and grassroots movements formed on the Internet can cause uprisings in the Middle East, it can certainly move a school from one conference to another. Missouri was the clearest example of that.

Verdict: Incorrect

Prediction #4: The SEC will reach out to West Virginia for #14

I’m just going to repeat what I said about West Virginia being a perfect fit for the SEC and then comment after that:

So, if the gentleman's agreement stays in place, and the SEC looks to expand its footprint, you're looking at either Missouri or West Virginia. As I've outlined why I think Missouri stays in the Big 12, I think you're looking at WVU as #14. They are in an inferior conference, they don't have a ‘baggage school', and they are a perennial Top 25 football team that also has a very good basketball program that can help elevate the profile in both sports. While expanding into West Virginia may not seem like the most ideal position, it gets the SEC into markets as far north as Pittsburgh.

Well, I was right in the sense that the two most attractive options out there were Missouri and West Virginia for the reasons listed. I just figured Missouri would stay and West Virginia would get the invite. In this instance, Missouri did what I didn’t expect them to do, and that left WVU, easily the most attractive and available "free agent" on the market, open for the taking. It only made sense that the Big 12 selected them for the reasons listed above. They were the obvious choice to fill in the next open gap for either the Big 12 or SEC.

Verdict: Semi-Correct. You have to at least give me credit for the fact that I had it down to these two guys in an either-or scenario.

Prediction #5: The Big 12 will immediately expand back to 12 teams and start with Louisville and Pitt

Well, a few things here. First, I thought the Big 12 would try to get back to twelve teams immediately in an effort to create stability. The grant of rights ultimately performed the same function, which was a good thing because it allowed the Big 12 to spend some time allowing the landscape to settle and find some better schools worth poaching down the line. But at the time, I felt like stability was of paramount importance, and those were the two schools most desirable and available (as they were in a quickly dissolving conference).

Second, I had absolutely no idea that the ACC was looking to expand to fourteen teams. None. Why? Because it made no sense. Their football product wasn’t strong enough to warrant expansion, aside from Florida State, Clemson, Miami, and Georgia Tech, their markets generally don’t care about college football, and they had been so quiet throughout the realignment process that their raid of the Big East was equivalent to guerrilla warfare. They obviously saw what I did in Pitt at the time, and they made that move.

Lastly, Pitt obviously wanted to move, so I had that right, and Louisville wants to move, but they can’t find a home. So, in a sense, I was going in the right direction, but I just didn’t see the ACC coming, and I most certainly didn’t see the Big 12 as being stable enough to stand at ten teams and ultimately come out better because of it.

Verdict: Incorrect. For the most part.

Prediction #6: The Big 12 will round out by taking TCU

Back when I wrote this, BYU was the rage in Big 12 expansion discussions, but I said, at that time:

There are two members in this scenario that really make sense: TCU and BYU. TCU, which would now seriously question a move to the Big East, could be on the table. However, the Big 12 has already stated that they don't want to duplicate the footprint. The problem, though, is that BYU seems to really want to stay independent, and they don't necessarily want to break their non-football ties to the WCC. BYU is the slam dunk choice to join, but at this point, their desire for independence seems stronger than their desire to be in a BCS AQ conference. That means TCU most likely becomes the strongest candidate on the board due to their proximity to the conference, ease of addition, and recent national prominence. Therefore, I would say TCU gets the nod.

BYU wanted to be a part of the Big 12, but we could never make it work. As I said in my post regarding what matters in realignment, ease of addition does play a big factor. TCU was an extremely easy addition who helped shore up the state of Texas for the Big 12. While they weren’t a sexy pick for realignment, they made sense on a lot of different levels, and they obviously bring a tremendously strong program into the conference. They weren’t a home run, but they were a solid double to the gap, and that was something this conference desperately needed.

Verdict: Correct

Prediction #7: The Big East will expand by taking Conference USA teams in large markets

I’ll just quote what I put down and let it speak for itself:

The Big East will need to react and do so quickly before their media negotiations come up in 2015. The most likely candidates will all come from Conference USA, and frankly, they will need to take the best programs available to help maintain AQ status. To minimize travel issues, they'll need to take as many schools in large cities as possible. Therefore, I think this is who they'd take:

· Houston

· East Carolina

· Memphis

· UCF (Orlando)

· SMU (Dallas)

That would replace the four schools that were missing. East Carolina doesn't fit that large city mold, but they have the highest attendance of any team on this list, and they bring a successful mid-major program into the mix.

Would this be enough to maintain AQ status? It's hard to say. But there is a good chance they'll be able to stay afloat and get a decent media contract by adding all of those schools in large media markets.

Well, I was wrong about East Carolina, but that’s mainly because I figured the Big East would avoid adding a bunch of football only members, and on top of that, I didn’t think they were crazy enough to add Boise State and San Diego State. Of course, I had no idea that the Big East was going to attempt to stay alive by trying to piece together and reanimate a dead corpse, but sometimes, common sense and logic don’t prevail.

I originally believed that the Big East was going to try and create a ten member football conference to go along with their eight member basketball conference. I was right in the sense that they would go after cities in large media markets to attempt to get a better contract, and I did nail four of the five all-sports additions, so I’m going to give myself some credit for that. I did learn through this process that when a conference is really desperate, they’ll try anything, so instead of adding a solid school in East Carolina, they went after Temple. I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t figure they’d re-invite a team they kicked out a few years before that.

So, overall, I’m giving it an 80% correct.

Verdict: 80% correct

With that, I’m batting a pretty solid average considering that the only thing that had happened at that time was A&M withdrawing from the Big 12 and David Boren setting off a powder keg. Hopefully, knowing what I know now, my predictions going forward will be better, and I’ll be a lot closer than I was this time.