If Maryland wants a peek into its football future, all they need to do is look at their neighbors at West Virginia, a program which has limped to a 5-5 record in its first 10 games as a member of the Big XII. If Randy Edsall wants a preview of what’s to come when his school joins the Big Ten, all he needs to do is call Gary Pinkel at Missouri, one of the most successful coaches in school history, that fans are ready to run out of town after 11 games as an SEC coach.
And above all, with Monday’s announcement that Maryland is leaving the ACC to join the Big Ten (with Rutgers set to follow suit), it is that sentiment which I couldn’t help but think about all day Monday: Maryland fans, welcome to a lifetime of college football irrelevance.
Now, like every other decision that has been made during all the college realignment of the last few years, Maryland joining the Big Ten isn’t about football, or sports at all actually. It’s about dollars and cents. The Big Ten offers already offers significantly more money than the ACC does, and that number will only increase when the conference negotiates a new television contract in 2017.
And really, those dollars and cents are the only place to start, along with the pre-packaged, standard disclaimer we give any time anyone writes about college football conference realignment. That disclaimer is as follows:
While we might not like the idea of X school leaving X conference, we do understand why they’ve elected to do it.
The schools and conferences may change depending on the day of the article, but the premise does not. This is all about dollars and cents, and when someone throws you a cash-filled life raft, you take it. That’s why Maryland and Rutgers are set to join the Big Ten, and why someone will gladly replace them in the ACC and Big East respectively. At the end of the day, it’s all about the Benjamins.
And when you hear about the Benjamins in this case, well, the numbers are simply staggering.
The Big Ten already pays out its schools the most money of any conference (to the tune of $24 million per school) and according to a Sports Illustrated article published this weekend
, the addition of Maryland and Rutgers (along with the Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington television sets that come with them), could result in nearly $200 million of additional revenue for the conference’s schools. That is under the assumption that everyone in those markets (some 15 million cable subscribers) were to pay a subscription fee of about $1.25 to get the Big Ten Network in their homes. If that happens, Delany told Maryland on Monday
that they could be looking at a bump to over $40 million a year. Just in TV revenue.
Of course while that number sounds well and good, in reality, it’s almost certainly much more “pie in the sky” than “guaranteed dollars in the wallet.” That’s because if you’ve been paying close enough attention to the shifting landscape of television programming the last year or so, you’ll realize that college football isn’t quite the cash cow it was, even say 12 months ago. What was once quite possibly the most undervalued programming on television now seems to be a tiny bit overvalued.
Don’t believe me? Well let’s look at the conference Maryland just left, the ACC, and review the television deal they just signed this past spring. It was set to be a landmark deal, the one which gave conference members riches beyond their wildest dreams…until it wasn’t.
In the end, the deal was for just over $17.1 million per year, which sounded great on paper, since it paid member schools over $4 million a year more than they’re currently getting. Of course if you read the fine print, the deal wasn’t nearly as sweet. That’s because according to this Yahoo report
, the new contract actually only paid out about $1 million more per year to start than the old one did, with the real increase in value coming until all the way in the 2021 season. And in large part, that’s why Maryland left for the Big Ten in the first place on Monday. In essence, they’re broke now and couldn’t wait until 2021 to start making big money. Thankfully, Jim Delany threw them that cash-filled life raft Monday, and dollars and cents aren’t an issue for the time being.
While we’re on the subject, how about that massive TV deal the Pac-12 struck a few years ago? To the credit of Larry Scott, he’s gotten more of his conference’s games on Fox and ESPN than ever before, but at the same time, the Pac-12 Network hasn’t been the same grand slam everyone expected either. Just take my word on this. I live in Los Angeles, and even I don’t get the Pac-12 Network, meaning that there have been at least half a dozen USC and UCLA games I’ve been unable to watch, despite the fact that I live within a half an hour of each of those two teams’ home venues.
But you know what? At the end of the day, I still haven’t heard very many people (or anyone for that matter) actually complain that they don’t get the Pac-12 Network. For what amounts to one or two games a year, they just pack up and go to the bar, or choose instead to watch one of the other 200 games which are on TV that random afternoon. And while it’s just a hunch, I’m guessing that if there hasn’t been a clamor by fans to get the Pac-12 Network on their cable systems in the HEART of Pac-12 country, well people in the Northeast, Southwest or anywhere in between probably aren’t getting too worked up either.
Which brings us full-circle to the Big Ten and those proverbial 10’s of millions of TV sets which seem to have been promised to Maryland and Rutgers too. Get them all, and we’re talking an extra $200 million in conference television revenue. Get a decent percentage and we’re probably at $100 million plus. Whatever the case, the numbers aren’t too shabby.
Except why is everyone so quick to assume that the folks in New York, Baltimore, Washington and Philly are going to be in such a rush to subscribe to the Big Ten Network? These are pro sports towns with a lot of options, places where people aren’t quick to plunk down their hard-earned dollars on anything, let alone television stations they’re barely going to watch. Remember, people in New York are so stubborn that one of the biggest cable providers in the city (Cable Vision) didn’t even carry the NFL Network until this past August. And as a transplanted East Coaster from just north of New York, believe me when I say that people in New York City care a helluva lot more about the NFL than they do college football.
Yet, somehow I’m to believe that all of a sudden they’re going to splurge on a network featuring a team (Rutgers) that nobody cares about, for what will amounts to one or two games a year? As Chad Ochocinco once said, “Child Please!!” And for those who’ve mentioned the massive pre-existing alumni bases from Penn State, Michigan and other Big Ten schools already in New York, well wait, haven’t they been there all along? And haven’t they made due without the Big Ten Network to date? What exactly is going to change in 2017? It’s the same with Maryland football in D.C. and Baltimore. What’s the value in all those TV sets, if nobody is willing to pay for your network?
Still, while this decision is all about the dollars and cents and added TV money, I’ve got to go back to the beginning of this article and the actual football product on the field. And with that, I’ve got to ask: What is all that extra money worth if your fan-base is perpetually unhappy? What does it all mean when you’re going 4-8 every season and you’ve got to buy out your football coach every three years? Sure all this extra money sounds great on paper, except the fans don’t get any of that money and don’t care about anything other than winning games. Yes this is about TV money, but the dollars and cents of ticket sales and alumni donations count too. And I don’t know of many people who’ll be all that excited to give to a program which can’t stop losing. That seems to be something Maryland will do a lot of in the coming years.
As a matter of fact, if I can look into my crystal ball here for a second, Maryland’s football future looks a lot like the two schools I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Missouri and West Virginia. Looking at the way both left their conferences, it’s eerily similar to what Maryland experienced on Monday afternoon. As outsiders, we understood why they did it, and on the inside fans and the administration have never been more excited… at least until the games started this last September anyway.
Since then, well, it’s been a little rocky.
Like at West Virginia for example, where a year ago Dana Holgorsen was lauded as a genius for getting West Virginia to the Orange Bowl in his first year at the school, and now needs to win of his next two games just to get the team back bowl eligible. Safe to say no one is still calling him a “genius,” and if my Twitter feed is any indication, it’s safe to say West Virginia fans haven’t enjoyed the 5-5 start as members of the Big XII. Understand that this is a program which has prided itself on conference championships and the occasional run at a National Championship. In the current landscape, and with Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in their way, I’m not sure they’ll ever have the opportunity to play for a title again. But hey, at least they have all that money from the Big XII, right?
And it’s the same at Missouri where fan enthusiasm was never higher than it was entering this season… right up until the point that they got crushed by Georgia in Week 2. And South Carolina a few weeks after that. And Alabama a couple weeks later. Now a school which has made bowl games seven straight years needs to upset Texas A&M this weekend just to get to a bowl game in their own right, and people are starting to get upset with Gary Pinkel, a man who just so happens to be the second winningest coach in school history. For Missouri, the move to the SEC looked much better on paper, than it did in actual execution.
Again, I cannot emphasize this enough: Losing just…isn’t… fun.
So to Maryland, congratulations on your move to the Big Ten. Enjoy those trips to Columbus and Happy Valley and the return visits from Michigan and Wisconsin, when they have more fans in your own stands than you do. And also, enjoy all that money coming your way. It might not be as much as originally promised, but be sure and spend it wisely anyway. You know, since you’re likely going to be hiring two or three new football coaches every decade going forward.
As the old saying goes, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
It’s a sentiment a lot of college football programs are feeling right now.
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