Friday, May 14, 2010

Why We Would Be Certifiable to Leave the SEC

In between trying to ensure that our respective institutions actually give us the degrees we've been seeking and starting new jobs and sump-pumping our basement and setting off for a weekend in Vegas (my flight leaves in a few hours -- "Vegas, baby. Vegas."), your faithful bloggers have been trying to figure out if there's a good case for Vanderbilt in the Big Ten. As far as I can tell, the answer is an emphatic NO. Even with the conference having its own network, I still don’t see the benefits outweighing the costs.

For starters, SEC football is head-and-shoulders above any other conference in both quality and revenue (with 6 of the top 10 revenue-generating programs in what is undoubtedly THE revenue sport, dwarfing basketball by a factor of about four or five). The idea that being more academically aligned with Big Ten schools is a bonus I think clearly works in the other direction -- why would we want to leave a conference where we're the shining star academically, and why would any other SEC school want the one that brings up the academic numbers to leave? It makes no sense to me. Would we be more competitive in football (and only football)? Probably, but do we really think the move would vault us to BCS contention? Not likely when you're still a private school looking at playing the Ohio States, Michigans, Penn States, Iowas and Wisconsins of the world. I know someone is going to summon the ghosts of Northwestern's undefeated regular season / Rose Bowl run in 1996 or their solid run of five bowls in this decade as a counterpoint, so let me just preempt it with two words: Gary Barnett. That guy may have had some issues off the field, but he was a hell of a coach and basically put their program in position to get good recruits for years after his departure. Also, it's not like they've been killing it with their bowl berths: Motor City, Alamo, Sun Bowl...not blowing me away.

The thought that we would have an easier time recruiting against Big Ten schools is another argument that doesn’t seem to hold much water. We already do well on the trail in basketball, and as for football Vanderbilt offers something no other school can: the chance to play in the best football conference where you will be on TV a TON, and get a top-notch education, and be a star relative to your teammates & punch your ticket to the NFL instead of riding the pine for four years in hopes of getting your big break. We have as many NFL players as Northwestern, almost as many as Stanford and Wake Forest, more than twice as many as Duke...and we've been to one bowl in the past 30 years or whatever.

Not a single one of those advantages are bolstered by going to the Big Ten. Do we play in more bowl games in football? Probably. Do we have so little confidence in our ability to get to a bowl out of the SEC that we're willing to sacrifice all the advantages the SEC brings us -- including, by the way, all of the numerous basketball and baseball benefits I didn't even mention -- for a better shot at a couple extra football wins per season? To me the question answers itself.

The only argument I could maybe entertain is based on the Big Ten Network. That thing is a major cash cow and it means that more Big Ten football (98%) and basketball (84%) games are nationally televised than any other conference. That’s not something to shake a stick at, especially when you consider the fact that the Fox/Big Ten deal is supposedly worth $2.8 billion over 25 years. That being said, the SEC already has a killer deal of its own with the ABC/ESPN and CBS contracts, which are worth a combined $3.1 billion over 15 years. The little-talked-about added bonus here is the fact that SEC games on ESPN and its affiliates often reach more than twice the number of homes across the country than Big Ten games because they are part of more cable packages. Now I will admit, that is changing, and in fact Big Ten schools are starting to split more regular-season TV revenue than SEC schools and may continue to post-expansion -- which to me is what makes this an argument at all. But do we really think the SEC and the networks aren’t going to figure out a way to renegotiate and capitalize on a similar type of model as the Big Ten has done? Assuming we jump ship and then that happens, aren’t we going to feel stupid in a few years when the SEC has once again overtaken every conference in the revenue share (as it did when it signed the new deal just a year or so ago)? Plus, you run a serious risk of losing a ton of fan interest by replacing games against Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and all the West teams with Minnesota, Iowa, etc. Who’s getting fired up about those games? These are just a few of the reasons that come to mind when I think about how insane us leaving the SEC would be.

Much to my relief, DW says the school hasn't been contacted by the Big Ten, nor do he and the other higher-ups have any inclination to jump ship if contacted. Doesn’t surprise me that he hasn’t gotten a call because the Big Ten is looking to expand its TV market, and I’m not sure how much they gain by dipping into Tennessee which (a) doesn’t have as many people as, say, Missouri, and (b) is home of the Vols, who (though it pains me to say it) will forever be the key revenue driver of the state. I’m open to good arguments the other way, but the thought of us -- or ANY team in the SEC for that matter -- jumping ship on a guaranteed $17 million-a-year minimum plus infinite spillover financial benefits, with all the added bonuses of cache, rivalry, and history that come with the conference, just seems like a bridge too far.


CAR said...

I will just post briefly here, but the revenue issue is real. the Big 10 network is a phenomenal machine and the SEC does not have it, or likely, the chance to replicate it anytime soon. In addition, the Big 10 has a major network deal as well. They just make so much more money from TV--they have really done a tremendous job monetizing their content. The SEC wont have the same option because they dont have the same population in their cities. I love SEC football, but I would sure love the opportunity to go to a bowl game more than once every 50 years which is the trajectory we are on.

Anonymous said...

"I would sure love the opportunity to go to a bowl game more than once every 50 years which is the trajectory we are on."


It is if CBJ/Cain are still around after this year. They didn't take advantage of the momentum of the bowl win at all. Actually it all took a huge step backwards. CBJ's loyalty to his friends on the staff mean more to him than a 120 year old football program. If we go 1-11 or 2-10, I would give 50-50 odds on the school not even waiting the extra year until his contract ends to let him go.