Certainties Few And Far Between

There's not much concerning the possible expansion and reshuffling of college athletic conferences that is set in stone, but these items are among the few that you can bank on.

There have been more realignment scenarios proposed for conference realignment than there are paparazzi following Lady Gaga. While those cane be an entertaining diversion, there simply aren't any that can be proved, because the invitations to the schools, much less invitations, are still a good ways off. However, there are a few items on the conference change scene that are sure to play out, given that some sort of realignment does happen.

So, as you devise your own scenarios, be sure that they include, or don't violate, these truisms, because they are sure to be involved no matter how the whole deal plays out.

1) Rutgers will be the first team invited from the Big East

It doesn't matter that the Scarlet Knights' football success record was roughly equivalent to that of North Texas State for much of its 140-year history. It doesn't matter that the New York area is dominated by professional sports. All that matters is that with Rutgers, the Big Ten network will get a huge cash infusion with a conference school that's within the local market. Even ratings don't matter as much as they used to, what with up front subscription fees for carrying the network on cable and satellite companies within the school's footprint.

Rutgers could end up being the only Big East school to depart, but Syracuse, Connecticut and Pitt are certainly viable candidates, in an uncertain order, should the Big Ten take more schools. But there is no doubt that Rutgers is first. No other considerations can make up for the television revenue issue.

2) Texas can't go anywhere without Texas A&M

The political realities of the major Texas schools are complex, to say the least. Political winds can change at the drop of a hat (or, should we say, at the ringing of the campaign contribution cash register). But it's safe to say that Texas politicians won't let the Longhorns make a move with Texas A&M. There are simply too many legislators and other high-ranking state officials with ties to the schools that aren't going to let one make a big move without the other.

Of course, this wouldn't come in the form of a public edict. All it would take, however, is a planted notion that future funding for a school might face some, ahem, "difficulties" if a school were to strike out on its own, and suddenly the landscape might change. Could this also apply to other states with more than one major university? Certainly. Oklahoma comes to mind. But of all the possibilities, Texas is the state with the history of such power plays, It happened before in the implosion of the Southwest Conference and the creation of the Big XII, and it would certainly play out again if the Longhorns were the only school courted by, say the Big Ten or the SEC.

3) It's all about the money

OK, maybe not all. But at least 95%. Certainly, statements have been made by commissioners and university presidents about "fulfilling the academic mission" and partnering with like-minded institutions". The Big Ten has let it be known that membership in the Association of American Universities is a factor. But just how valid are those sorts of statements? How much weight will they carry?

In the end, the answers are "Not very" and "Not much". Do you think that Notre Dame won't get an invite to the Big Ten just because it's not an AAU member? Of course not. It's how much money each team brings to the table in terms of the aforementioned television footprint.

Are academics of the potential candidates a factor? Maybe about 1%. It makes for a nice talking point by conference commissioners. But we're talking about athletics here, not the engineering grad school or the research labs in the chemistry department. If that were the case, the Big Ten would be asking the University of Chicago to restart its football program and rejoin the league.

4) Leagues aren't going to expand just to expand

The call to "be proactive" is one that's heard from many quarters. But it's also an unrealistic one. No conference, including the Big Ten, is going to expand just for the sake of doing so – especially if it doesn't add money to the league's coffers. Thoughts that the SEC or ACC will go to 16 teams just because another league does so are way off base. Why? Again, follow the money.

Take the SEC, which has the second biggest payout per team behind the Big Ten. If the Big Ten adds, say, three teams, the SEC isn't going to add two or four just to "keep pace". It's only going to do so if it means a potential revenue game, or is, at worst, revenue-neutral while strengthening the league in other respects. If the SEC could get a bigger television contract by adding schools, then it will seriously look at doing so. But outside, that, there is simply no reason for the league to add schools. Remember when your mom asked you, ‘If all the other kids in school jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?' Same reasoning applies here.

Now, if a league could strengthen its stability by adding strong institutions from another league and not lose money overall, it would likely do that. But how many teams are going to leave one league for another without that financial incentive to move? And how many schools are in that position that would be serious candidates? There just aren't that many.

Making Sense Of It All

At this point, there's not much more analysis that can be done, at least until invitations are offered. At that point, we'll have a whole new set of topics to cover, including exit penalties, distribution of NCAA units, and a host of other items for discussion. But for now, these four rules should be incorporated in your thinking about any possible expansion scenario. If they aren't included, it probably isn't going to happen.

What are your rules of engagement? What other items do you view as lead pipe locks? Let us know on our message boards.

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