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Why the end of the AQ may not save the MWC & C-USA from the Big East

Bumped to the front page.

This post grew out of a response to a comment on this thread. It's my view of why the ending of the Automatic Qualifier status of some BCS conferences may not save the Mountain West and Conference USA from a Big East raid.

In short, money is everything. But there's more than just BCS money involved.

There are two major payouts that are of concern to the schools - the BCS payout and the conference's TV contract payout.

If the BCS continues to exist but the AQ status is eliminated, joining the Big East doesn't necessarily help Boise State (or Houston/SMU/UCF/AF/SDSU) regarding qualifying for a BCS bowl. BSU would presumably have a better chance of a BCS bid by staying in the Mountain West, scheduling tough out-of-conference games (and winning them), winning the MWC championship, and getting a Top 10 ranking. The Big East will be a tougher conference top-to-bottom (compared to the MWC) if they are able to get Houston, SMU, UCF, BYU, etc.

However, that potential 12-team Big East would proably have a substantially better TV contract than the Mountain West's existing TV contract, and that might make it worth it for BSU (and Air Force and/or SDSU) to jump ship, even if the AQ status disappears.

The Mountain West is in an awful position because of its TV contract. The ten year contract averages $12 million per year for the entire conference. For comparison, the ACC's comprehensive TV contract with ESPN averages $12.9 million per year for each team.

 

The Big East's two TV contracts expire at the end of this season and the end of next season. If the Big East is able to get the football teams that they want, they will be in a good position for TV contract negotiations. If they're able to get just a third of the ACC's total contract revenue ($4 million per year for each school) from a new TV football contract, it would be substantially more than the Mountain West teams are receiving in TV money.

That is why I'd support a partial Mountain West / Conference USA alliance (for TV negotiations, out-of-conference scheduling and exposure for the teams & schools), even if the BCS gets replaced with a playoff. If the BCS dies, I'd certainly not support the "football merger" with a single championship game (and I'm not convinced the football merger would earn AQ status anyway), but the alliance would be good for the reasons mentioned above.

But if the Big East successfully raids both the MWC and C-USA, both conferences will be in really tough positions. The WAC & Sun Belt are "available" for restocking, but there really aren't any strong football teams left - the MWC has already taken the best of 'em.

At that point, it might actually better to at least consider an all-out Mountain West / Conference USA merger with an eastern and western division. Each team could play a few non-division conference games but most of the conference play would stay inside the divisions. They could also still attempt an alliance, and it could help some, but it wouldn't be nearly as helpful as it would be if both conferences kept Houston, SMU, UCF and Boise State in the mix.

The Big East's best asset right now is its AQ status, but it also has the potential of a much better TV contract for the conference compared to either the existing Mountain West contract or the existing Conference USA contract. According to this article, the Conference USA TV contract is worth roughly $14 million per year for the whole conference, which isn't really any better than the Mountain West contract. That's where the alliance comes in - a dual-conference TV network and a dual-conference TV deal would probably be better for both the MWC and C-USA.

I am not a fan of this potential 12-team Big East conference, but because of the (potential) money involved, I see why it makes sense to some of the teams considering the jump. I also understand why the Big East is doing it, despite the geographic absurdity. I think it's sad that there are actual logical reasons for this potential expanded Big East ... but there they are.

When I hear the BCS director stating that the BCS is unhappy that it is causing conference realignment, I translate that to mean that "the BCS is unhappy because the instability creates additional reasons for people to fight against the BCS." If the conferences finally get rid of the BCS, everyone (except the bowls themselves) will be better off.

As a side note ... if the Big 12 had decided to take Louisville & Cincinnati at the same time that they took West Virginia, Big East football would be dead. But even then, I'd still suggest that the Mountain West & Conference USA should form an alliance.

Imagine a dual-conference network with four games each Saturday:

  • Conference USA afternoon game at 12:00 noon ET (9:00 am PT)
  • Mountain West afternoon game at 12:30 pm PT (3:30 pm ET)
  • Conference USA evening game at 7:30 pm ET (4:30 pm PT)
  • Mountain West evening game at 8:00 pm PT (11:00 pm ET)

The best chance the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have to preserve their current lineups is to convince the teams on the verge of leaving that the AQ status will vanish, and that the two conferences together can come up with a substantially better TV contract in the future.

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