Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pitt to the Big 11?

The rumor mill is working overtime this weekend as news has leaked out of the proud home of Beano Cook that Pittsburgh will announce their move to the Big 11 on February 4. Everyone has an opinion, or half-baked theory, on what will happen next and why it will happen. Here’s my overview, trying to be as factual as possible.

Why does the Big 11 want to expand?

The answer is simple: money. It all comes back to cold, hard cash. Expanding, whether to 12, 14 or 16 teams would open up multiple revenue streams or improve current competitiveness.

Expand TV Markets

The Big Ten Network has been a boon to the conference, raking in a reported $9-10MM annually per school. As it stands, the BTN is a regional cable power. To ensure continued growth, the BTN needs to expand into other markets to get coveted standard tier cable inclusion and, as a result, more eyeballs. Forcing their way into virgin cable packages increases their revenue from both cable companies and advertisers.

Title Game

Adding a 12th member would allow the Big 11 to stage a conference title game in football. Not only is a title game a revenue generator, but it helps the Big 11 to keep pace with the other major conferences, the SEC, Big XII, and to a lesser extent, ACC. The SEC netted “only” $15MM last year from their wildly successful title game, so it’s safe to say the title game is a secondary concern to the TV markets.

Marketing & Mindshare

As it stands, the Big 11 football season ends the weekend before Thanksgiving. The other conferences have two more weeks of football after that to generate money and interest. The Big 11 is completely off the national radar during that timeframe, which has a negative effect on recruiting and further diminishes the Big 11’s brand.


This feeds out of a couple points above, but merits a separate mention. Expanding into new, key areas could open up heretofore, uncharted recruiting territory for the Big 11. NYC would be a huge get for basketball and adding Missouri would open a closer, though indirect, link to the talent rich football areas of Oklahoma and Texas. This is a particularly timely mention because many of the Rust Belt’s best football prospects are fleeing south this year. Is that the start of a trend?

On-Field Disadvantage?

Many have hypothesized that the Big 11 season’s early conclusion creates a disadvantage to its teams by lengthening the layoff before the bowl games. This is hard to prove and likely just a flimsy excuse for the conference’s recent struggles, particularly in BCS games.

Other Considerations

Much will be made of the academic implications that need to be considered. Those associated with the Big 11 have mentioned that any new member must also be a member of the Association of American Universities, which is a group of the top 62 research universities. Some select quotes from a New York Times story really paint the picture the Big 11 would like the public to believe.

“It’s significant that we have institutions that meet the academic standing and reputation of institutions now in the Big Ten,” Gee said. “I don’t want to coin a phrase here, but we are sort of the public equivalent of the Ivy League in our quality.”

Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse would probably give serious consideration to joining the Big Ten to enhance their academic reputations, said Kyle V. Sweitzer, a data resource analyst at Michigan State who wrote about university ambitions and conference affiliations in the most recent issue of New Directions for Higher Education.

Still, Rutgers and others would be “foolish not to explore” a move to the Big Ten, Sweitzer said. “No question the Big Ten has the academic reputation to go along with athletics,” he said. “I’m not sure the Big East does as a whole.”

Ah, nothing likes the typical Big 11 academic elitist tripe. Regardless of what the talking heads may say, this decision is not about academics. Anyone that the Big 11 would consider on an athletic and market basis is already on the list of 62 schools, rendering their posturing a moot point.

Why does Pitt want to leave?

Again, this is all about the money plus one nod to history and emotion.

TV Contract

Pitt would stand to gain their share of the $9-10MM annual BTN pie if they became a member. Splitting the goodies amongst another member may dilute the share per school, but it’s still a better haul than the Big East can offer.


The Big East is a football wasteland. The Big East is on thin ice with the BCS and may even lose their automatic bid. Meanwhile, the Big 11 consistently gets 2 teams into BCS bowls and is firmly entrenched in the college football subconscious. Additionally, Pitt plays in Heinz Field and struggles to regularly fill the place. Home games against the likes of Ohio St, Michigan and Penn State would guarantee sellouts when compared to Cincinnati, South Florida and UConn. Joining the Big 11 would also strengthen recruiting ties to the talent rich Ohio and Pennsylvania high schools.


The Big 11 may have its warts, but it is more stable than any conference, outside the Ivy League. Pitt will have no worries about their conference’s BCS viability or if other members are jumping ship for greener pastures. The Big 11’s money is also very stable with the BTN guaranteed for the next 20 years.

Rivalry Renewed

Joining the Big 11 would renew Pitt’s contentious rivalry with Penn State in all sports. It would also permanently fracture their underrated, but heated, rivalry with West Virginia.

What’s next for the Big East?

Three baseline questions and one big whopper of a question.

#1 How many teams does the Big 11 expand to? 12? 14? 16?

There’s been plenty of talk from the Big 11 folk that they may reach for 14 or 16 members. If they settle for 12, the response could be fairly simple – add another member. If they expand to 14 or 16, it could spell the end of the Big East as Rutgers and/or Syracuse would be a likely target. That would drop football playing members to a total of 5 or 6, and, as you will see below, the pickings are slim for viable football schools.

#2 Who will be the newest Big East member?

There are a couple logical contenders, but any addition must bring enough football credibility to keep the BCS football berth.

Boston College – I don’t know how logical this is, but its the Big East’s best option. I don’t know why BC would leave the football money and stability of the ACC, but they are obviously not a natural fit there.

Memphis – the most likely addition. They add a ton in basketball, but don’t bring much football, geographic or cultural continuity

East Carolina – they open up the Carolinas market and are a decent football program. Unfortunately, the Pirates have a terrible basketball program and their football coach just left for USF, so continued success there is tenuous.

Central Florida – UCF opens up the Florida market a bit more, but brings nothing to the table in terms of prestige or reputation

Temple – Temple fits nicely into the geographic footprint and brings instant hoops credibility. Temple was a former football-only member but were kicked out of the league for noncompetitive play. The Owls have turned the football program around under Al Golden and look dramatically more appealing than they did just 12 months ago

#3 Will the Big East keep its automatic BCS football berth?

It’s way to early to tell, but this looming question will be the main factor in determining the Big East’s Pittsburgh replacement strategy. Get #2 right and #3 becomes a non-issue and all is right with the world. Get #2 wrong and the answer to #3 is "No" and we begin discussing #4…

#4 Will the Big East break up?

This is the doomsday scenario put forth by many Marquette fans. I’ll explore it more tomorrow.


Master Reid said...

You forgot to include the biggest pipe dream scenario for the BE: Notre Dame becoming a football member. You want credibility, stability and a revenue generator, that's the one you want. Say what you want about ND football, but there's no denying that they have all those components.

Of course there isn't a chance in Hades that the Irish would do that. But it is the BE wet dream at this point.

Rubie Q said...

If anybody's going to join the Big 11, I think Mizzou makes the most sense. I mean, the Big 11 already has a foothold in the Pennsylvania market, so adding Pitt doesn't help you there. Plus, Mizzou has the natural rivalry with Illinois, and, as D3 pointed out, adding Mizzou gives you a path to all the Jon Moxons and Lance Harbors in Oklahoma and Texas.

Softball's Tony Gwynn said...

yes...our first Varsity Blues reference. as I was flipping through the guide last night i noticed Varsity Blues was playing on TNT and almost texted everyone. i'm not gonna get to excited about all this big east breaking up just yet. I think we've positioned ourselves well and there still could be a pretty good basketball only conference that could result should the football and basketball schools break-up.

Devil's Threesome said...

More coming later tonight on what it all means for MU, but the options aren't great. Basketball might as well be women's volleyball compared to football in revenue generation.

Regarding ND, they are the Big 11's wet dream, but I just don't see it happening. They get a truckload of cash from NBC plus all the benefits of their Big East affiliation. They would also have to end their national FB schedule if they join the BE. Now, if the Big East crumbles, would they sacrifice their football cash cow and join the Big 11 to remain competitive in other sports?

I believe Mizzou is the best fit for the Big 11. It's entirely possible that this is the first volley from the Big 11 with the second volley being the addition of Cuse or Rutgers and Missouri to get to 14 teams. HOWEVA, will Mizzou join? They have 80+ years of Big 6/7/8/12 affiliation plus the rivalry with Kansas to consider. That rivarly is fucking intense - hell, it's rooted in the Civil War.

I'm not sold that the BE will break up, but if we lose our BCS designation for football, anything goes.

Rubie Q said...

I had no idea that the KU - MU rivalry was so heated. I looked up the football results, and Wiki says that it's either 55-54-9 in favor of MU or 55-54-9 in favor of KU, but there's a dispute over the 1960 game. That's fucking awesome: they hate each other so much they can't even agree who leads the all-time series.

EMoney said...

It's an interesting debate and nice breakdown D3 (I would expect nothing less). I have no clue who the Big11 will extract, but I would guess that Pitt is number 1 on the list after Notre Dame. If in the end it is Pitt, I still don't see this being the demise of the Big East. In spite of the fact that football generates oodles more than hoops, the Big East has never been overly concerned with the fact that their schools can't compete with the other BCS conferences. I think that they are comfortable knowing that they have the premiere conference for hoops in the NCAA, which isn't exactly peanuts in terms of revenue production. Therefore, I can see them replacing Pitt with Memphis or someone from the A-10 (Temple, Xavier, Dayton, etc.).

Even if the Big11 wants to increase to 14, what 3 schools are worthy from the Big East? You mentioned Cuse and Rutgers....neither of which are competitive in both football and basketball so is it really that beneficial to them to water the league down with 2 additional weak football schools (don't they have enough of those already?).

Devil's Threesome said...

It's really not about competition, it's about $$$. I doubt they would take both Cuse and Rutgers. It would be either or + Mizzou. The reason to add either is access to the NYC market. Cuse is more appealing because they have a strong tie to NYC, plus a good basketball program. Cuse's football is terrible, but they have a good tradition and would benefit greatly by joining the Big11 - it would re-open them to PA & OH recruits. Discussion of Cuse could create some internal drama. Their AD is a USC guy and former FB player, so football is huge to him but Boeheim has publicly spoken out against leaving the Big East. Could be a huge clash of egos.

Rutgers provides a more direct tie to the NYC market, but they are atrocious at basketball and middle of the pack in football. Their fan following is also weak.

Deedub said...

First of all Pitt ain't going anywhere.

Two - I think Mizzoui is a last resort for the B11. It adds really nothing to the B11. They're mediocre at Football and basketball and don't add anything regionally.

Flatout the Big Ten wants East Coast love. Pitt & Misery won't pull that off. They need a Rutgers, UConn or Boston College type of program.

EMoney said...

I really don't see the move for Cuse or Rutgers making any sense. Cuse is obviously a HUGE basketball school, and much of their success has been their ability to recruit the east coast (esp. NYC). Their success in recruiting these kids is mainly due to them watching Cuse play in the Big East growing up and the Big East Tourney at the Garden. While Rutgers is notoriously bad, they have been able to recruit the NYC and NJ kids pretty well....Rosario and Echenique were big time gets out of Jersey. I would imagine for both of these schools, leaving the Big East would negatively effect their recruiting.

Regarding Missouri, I can see making the move due to geography, but is it really a good move for them? As you stated, playing in the Big12 gives them access to recruiting the plains states and southwest states (Texas).....all of which produce immensely better talent than the Midwest states. In the midwest, really only the state of Ohio produces 3 and 4 star talent on a consistent basis, and recently even Ohio St. is having trouble keeping those kids at home. The states of Minn, Iowa, WI, Ill, Indiana, and Mich can't sniff the amount of talent that the south produces (WI didn't have 1 4 star recruit and only a couple of 3 stars for next year's class), so I can't see why this helps Mizzou either.

I see the need for the Big11 to want to add 1 more to give them an even 12 and Conf championship game, but anything more than that just seems like arrogance (see the comments that you posted.....Ivy League reference). I don't understand how they can publicly say that they are just going to swoop in and steal all these schools from multiple conferences. Shouldn't these other conference heads and coaches take some offense to this?

Devil's Threesome said...

I wouldn't say that yet, D. Pitt has to deny it at this point. The timeframe may just be stretched out a bit.

What leads me to believe it's just a rumor it that it's way out of character for the Big 11 to make quick decisions, much less add a whopping 3 teams.

As stated above, I think Pitt is a stepping stone to Rutgers or Cuse. Just adding Rutgers would look too much like a money grab b/c they have such poor teams.

I disagree on Missouri, regarless of my distaste for the Tigers, they are appealing to the Big 11. They have done well in football recently and their basketball program has been consistently good, but Final Four-less. It also entrenches them in two mid-range markets - KC & STL.

Wild-ass speculation is fun

Master Reid said...

The problem with those A10 schools is that none of them bring a football team. (Well, I guess Temple does have one, but they just made their first bowl game in like 800 years and have already been kicked out of the conference once for sucking ass.) Uconn, Syracuse, Cincy and Louisville may all be "basketball schools" in terms of their national image but each has made strides toward national legitimacy in football over the last 10 years or so (ok, maybe not Cuse). There's no way they're going to squander that in a 7 team, non-BCS conference. If Pitt goes, there really isn't a program even close to that level to take their spot. They just have to hope that the recent success of a team like Cincy (who just lost their coach to ND)can move them up the food chain to fill the gap.

Mr. Sparkle said...

Correct D3, Pitt still has to deny it,0,6130375.story

Big 10/11 only indicated that they are operating on a 12 to 18 month timetable.