Trying to figure out what makes a football conference an automatic qualifier for the Bowl Championship Series can be difficult. They’re currently six (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC) AQ conferences but that may soon change with conference realignment. One rule that’s known is each AQ conference must have at least eight schools. Right now, the Big East has six schools though they are looking to add six more.
The BCS is less concerned with the quality of programs in each conference than they are about what kind of TV revenues the schools and conferences can generate. There are those in the media that think the Big East and ACC should lose their AQ status because they aren’t competitive. What these people fail to recognize is that wins and losses don’t mean much.
To understand the larger picture, you need to remove the BCS standings from your conscience for a few minutes. A conference needs to have a robust collective media offering to be relevant as a major conference. The SEC has an insanely passionate fan base despite not having a single school in a top 25 market. The percentage of the population in SEC country who follow college football is so high that it’s very easy to market and sell ads for their TV network. Winning the past five national titles doesn’t hurt either. There’s no other conference that trumpets itself quite like the SEC. Their is nothing more valuable than passionate customers pushing the product.
The Big Ten has the entire Midwest locked down. That constitutes 1/5 of the top 25 markets. They always have and will be on solid footing. In fact, the creation the Big Ten Network could have been the spark that ignited conference realignment. The Big Ten is now comfortable enough that they can sit back and wait for the dust to settle.
With the addition of Colorado (Denver), the Pac-12 owns the West Coast residing in six of the top 25 markets. There’s no market overlap with Pac-12 schools. Their commissioner Larry Scott was able sign the most lucrative TV contract in college sports history. They have become so powerful that schools like Oklahoma and Texas were flirting with the idea of joining the conference. Their influence has nothing to do with the product on the field. All twelve schools have full faith in Larry Scott’s vision of the conference. They feel secure and viable.
The ACC covers six of the top 30 markets. They also have passionate fan bases in smaller markets that follow Clemson, Virginia Tech and Florida State. Adding Boston College and Miami earlier last decade delivered the conference two major markets. Beantown may not go bananas over BC, but there’s enough people in Boston to make a difference. Miami has a nationwide following and five national titles in 30 years and this gives them much credibility.
The Big 12 was supposed to collapse after Texas A&M bolted. Dan Beebe was fired and the school presidents hired former Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas. The new blood was able to convince Texas to allow TCU into the league. The Longhorn Network makes the Big 12 viable as long as Texas allows the other schools to stay in the mix. So, if Texas bolts, the league crumbles. For now, they are breathing and are much healthier than the Big East.
The Big East is in big trouble. When Pitt left they took the 23rd largest market with them. Syracuse is ranked 81, which is not overwhelming, but Syracuse does have the Newhouse School of Public Communication. There are plenty of Syracuse alumni that wield influence in sports broadcasting. You can connect the dots yourself.
As of right now, the Big East is left with Rutgers, UCONN, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida. So, six schools and 2.5 major markets. If the Big East adds Temple, Central Florida, Boise State and the Service Academies, the league will have twelve teams in four major markets. This being said, the Big East still can’t keep up with the Joneses. How can they convince TV executives to spend big conference money when the Big East won’t be able to deliver enough market share?
You can point to the lack of quality football as a reason for the Big East’s demise. You can claim that Boise State, with their elite football program, can save the Big East. Along with six news schools, you can pretend that Rutgers, UCONN, and West Virginia will be enough for the conference to keep their AQ status. You can also believe that dinosaurs and man roamed the earth at the same time.
Either way, you aren’t living in reality. The TV execs run college football and without Notre Dame, the Big East will be finished as a major football conference. It’s time to come to grips with the truth.