News over the weekend suggests the Big East is even in worse shape than the Big 12. The Big East, with 8 football schools lost Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC to become their 13th and 14th schools.
Today came an analysis by the NYT's Nate Silver looking at the value of each school with respect to their estimate fan size, and their respective conference. But before I get into Nate's analysis, I want to set forth some premises.
Premise 1. Conference realignment will continue, with conferences seeking to grow larger.
Premise 2. The minimum size for a conference is 12 and the maximum is 16.
Smaller conferences has less leverage for tv contracts, as well as leave member teams open for poaching by larger conferences (both the current Big 12 and Big East are less than 12 teams). Twelve teams will allow the conference to hold a championship game. A championship game brings both visibility and money to the conference. However, 12 teams leave no cushions for changes, as the Big 12 saw last year with the lost of Nebraska and Colorado. Not only did the Big 12 lose its championship game, it also became vulnerable to greater instability as witnessed by Texas A&M, OU, and UT drama this year, which is still unfolding. I am certain that all the conferences realize this and though both the SEC and the ACC had 12 members, both sought cushion against future instability by expanding beyond 12. Had the Big 12 and the Big East possessed any fore vision, they would have expanded to at least 12 last year and now it may be too late. So if the conferences want to expand beyond 12, what would be a good number?
With 13 teams, each team could play 2/3 of the conference each year on a rotational schedule, with a conference schedule of 8 games. Very dooable. Conference championship could be between the top two conference teams rather than by division.
With 14 teams, each team has 13 conference opponents, which is an odd number. One solution is to set up an annual rivalry game, and then play 1/2 or 2/3 of the remaining conference teams for a conference schedule of 7-9 games. 14 teams also allows 2 divisions, with 6 games from your own division each year, 1 annual rival from the other division, and 1/2 the other division on a every other year rotation. Again division championship could be based division champions.
With 15 teams the schedule becomes much more difficult. Each team could play two annual rivalry games then half the remaining conference teams for a total of 8 conference games. The conference could also be split into pods of 5 but this means three pods; 4 games against pods mates, 2 annual rival games (one from each of the other pods) and 2 of the 4 teams from each pods every other year for a total of 10 conference games. !0 conference games is likely too much as it only leave one non conference game within the standard school season. Non conference games bring exposure to a non-conference market, which ultimately enhances the program. 15 teams is dooable but barely so and I am skeptical any conference wants to stay at 15.
With 16 teams, the most popular arrangement is four pods of 4. Each team would play 3 games against pod mates, and 2 of 4 of each other pods for a total of 9 conference games. Pods also allows for regionalization to save travel costs. Divisions would result in an 11 conference games schedule and this is prohibitive. Conference championship could be the two pod champions with the best records.
With 17 teams, the odd number would rule out pods organization and division separations. 17 teams i do not believe is workable.
Thus conferences will likely be configured at 13, 14, or 16. 14 seems most practical to me to allow regionalizations with divisions and designations of division champions that actually means something (rather than pod champion). The WAC tried 16 with pods before and did not work then in actuality despite a workable concept.
Premise 3. The BCS Bowl series will remain intact.
The BCS bowl is about money, and money speaks. Many has suggested replacing the BCS bowls with a playoff but that will only happen within a bowl format anyway. Currently there are 5 BCS bowl games: the championship game, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl. Conference champions would play each other, but sometimes a second team from one conference would rank higher than the champion from another conference, thus open spots are necessary. With 5 BCS bowls there would be 10 teams, easily permissive of 6 champions, 3 second conference teams, and an at large spot. This is practically the current arrangement for the champions of the ACC, Big 1G, Big 12, Big East, PAC 12, and the SEC. There has been talk of 4 super conferences and I just don't see this applicable with the current BCS Bowls. Lets also keep in mind that there is movement to add a 6th BCS Bowl with the Cotton Bowl. 6 BCS Bowls means there will certainly room for more than 4 super conferences.
Premise 4. Conference wealth is based on fans, for TV as well as merchandise.
According to Nate's analysis of team's fan base, the conferences rate as follows:
Big 1G: 15.5 million fans with an average of 1.46 per team.
SEC: 13.5 million fans with an average of 1.13 per team; with Texas A&M 15.5 million fans and 1.19 per team.
ACC: 11.1 million fans with an average of 0.93 per team; with Pittsburgh and Syracuse 12,7 million fans and 0.91 per team.
PAC 12: 7.4 million fans with an average of .62 per team.
Big 12 without Texas A&M: 8.1 million fans with an average of 0.9 per team.
Big East without Pittsburgh and Syracuse: 3.7 million fans and an average of 0.52 per team; with TCU 4 million fans and 0.5 per team.
C-USA: 2.6 million fans with an average of 0.22 per team.
MWC without TCU, with Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada: 2.5 million fans and an average of 0.25 per team.
Sun Belt: 1.8 million fans with an average of 0.20 per team.
Mid American: 1.6 million fans with an average of 0.13 per team.
WAC without Hawaii, Fresno State or Nevada: 0.5 million fans with an average of 0.11 per team.
Notre Dame with 2.2 million fans (and UT also with 2.2 million fans) appear viable as independents.
As above, despite talk of the Big 12 being weak, it actually has greater potential than the Pac 12.
Premise 5. Teams from strong conferences (BIG 1G, SEC, ACC, PAC 12) will not leave their conference.
Thus realignment will center on the Big 12 and Big East. The Big 12 as is can survive as a fifth super conference, on par with the Pac 12.
For completeness lets look at what looms on the horizon currently with realignment.
PAC 16 with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech: 12.5 million fans with an average of 0.78 per team. Just 4 teams will nearly double the fan base for the PAC 12. Given the rich football recruitment and growing population of Texas over that of California, it could have been these 4 schools expanding to take the PAC 12 rather than the PAC 12 taking in these 4 schools. What the PAC 12 has is organization and leadership that these 4 schools lack, as each essentially is its own master and independent of each other. If these four teams were smart, they would do better by staying and expanding rather than joining the PAC 12.
SEC with Missouri and Texas A&M: 18.7 million fans with an average of 1.33 per team.
Big 12 + Big East remnants: 5.6 million fans with an average of 0.56 per team.
Big 12 remnant + MW +BYU: 5.1 million fans with an average of 0.22 per team.
Big East remnants + C-USA: 6.2 million fans with an average of 0.35 per team.
Given the last 3 combination, the Big East is better joining with the C-USA while the Big 12 would do fine with BYU and the MW. Approximately of course.
1. Conferences will expand to 14-16.
2. There will be room for 5-6 super conferences, and the Big 12 could remain a player if it remains intact and expand.