With football schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse packing their bags for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East school officials are packing it to New York with only one question in mind: Where do we go from here? Without a doubt, the topic of discussion will be the short-term viability of what seems to be a crumbling conference. Big East Commissioner John Marinatto most likely will not let two football schools leave until the 2013-2014 school year at the earliest, which will give the conference time to rebuild. Last night’s meeting was, without a doubt, a discussion of conference mergers, acquisitions and possibly even a heart-wrenching breakup. In short—strategic survival.
Where did the Big East go wrong?
Why are conferences like the Pac-12, the ACC and the SEC expanding while the Big 12 and Big East conferences are crumbling?
It’s simple. Some conferences are growing because they kept up with the seismic shift in collegiate athletics. Others are crumbling because they missed the money train.
While we all might like to think that conferences are assembled for the sake of competition, a wise observer knows otherwise. There is not parity in college athletics, and Oliver Stone will never direct “Any Given Saturday.”
Conferences are advantageous to schools because of their ability to collectively sell sponsorships and media rights. Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12, recognized this environment and capitalized on it.
Two years into the job, he negotiated with ESPN and Fox Sports Media Group to sign the largest media rights deal in the history of college athletics ($250 million per year for 12 years). Meanwhile, Marinatto signed TCU.
Since each Pac-12 school receives more from that TV deal than they would from being a Rose Bowl champion, it is no surprise that power conferences such as the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 are attracting schools away from the lagging Big East and Big 12. Universities are doing as they should be doing—following the money.
But what’s a Horned Frog to do?
Unfortunately, in this game of conference realignment TCU is not a player. We do not have a dominant TV market. Even in our non-conference games, we do not play big teams.
The TV companies paying these astronomical media rights’ fees want to broadcast football, basketball and baseball. TCU has, at best, two of those programs worthy of TV airtime.
Realistically, however, TCU only has one program consistently worth airtime, and that program plays no more than two exciting, competitive games per year. Sitting at a negotiating table with the likes of Texas and Oklahoma, TCU can’t hold a candle.
The Frogs are destined to ride the waves of change in college football for a while, and there is nothing Chris Del Conte or Chancellor Victor Boschini can do about that.
All this is not to say that TCU cannot benefit from the commercialization of collegiate athletics. TCU should use the current success of its programs to build its marketable assets (stadiums) and aggressively utilize those assets to generate returns for the school—build dorms, hire professors and double attendance. This will build more and more bargaining power for TCU as our fan base grows.
As far as which athletic conference to join, TCU should take the best deal it can get while avoiding long-term commitments. Shop around, and often.
If Frog fans want what is best for TCU, they will prepare for multiple conference changes in the future as we grow from a new talent into a financially viable athletics program.