Big 12 expansion could lead to consolidation of power in top four conferences

Jim Delany, among others, may get his way.

That’s the first thought that came to mind when a blabby Florida State trustee made noise about the Seminoles joining the Big 12. 

It has something to do with third-tier basketball rights but the reason doesn’t really matter. If Florida State called interim commissioner Chuck Neinas about joining his league, the 80-year old patriarch would have a decision to make. Do the Big 12 league presidents want to stay put with newly agreed upon $2.6 billion deal or be an aggressor in conference realignment – something the Big 12 has never been?

Sure, the Large Dozen added West Virginia and TCU from the Big East, but that was easy. The Big Least was a BCS conference that shouldn’t have been (and won’t be). By taking Florida State, the Big 12 would be “raiding” the ACC.

Think of the implications.

First a disclaimer: There is no evidence at all at this point that Big 12 is interested in expanding. The league’s new deal will guarantee its schools $20 million per year, on a par with the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC.  FSU’s president released a statement late Saturday saying “misinformation” had been spread about the ACC contract.

Second disclaimer: All these deals are backloaded so any per-year figures you read are averages only.  

But if the Big 12 is interested in FSU at any point, the league will need a dance partner. Think Virginia Tech first, not Clemson or Louisville. As stated in this space before, in terms of conference realignment you’re either a brand or a market or both. Florida State is a brand, a damaged one admittedly. It obviously had little leverage in the TV negotiations if it wants to leave over a minor point in a contract it couldn’t massage.

Also, it’s more than ironic that if FSU leaves it will be an indirect result of the ACC’s original expansion in 2003-04 “failing.” The point of those moves was to unite Florida State and Miami attempting to create somewhat of a powerhouse league. Upon arriving, the Florida schools almost simultaneously went into a slump . The ACC already was well on its way to becoming a non-factor in the national championship race.

The circle would be complete: The ACC would have actually "damaged" itself by taking schools that have won a combined seven national championships. That’s where Delany comes in. If FSU leaves, obviously the Big 12 is going to need another school. As I said, the Big 12 could be the aggressor. If it’s about market and brand, then I’d go after Virginia Tech.

The Hokies would bring football excellence and, to some extent, the Washington, D.C. market. Virginia Tech has become the flagship ACC football franchise with four titles in the last eight years.

At the same time, the Big 12 would be consolidating football power among the top four conferences. Taking those schools would diminish the ACC at a particularly sensitive time. The commissioners are in the process of deciding the 2014 playoff model.

Delany wants conference champs only for the four-team playoff. That becomes a lot easier to digest if there are only four major conferences that matter – Pac-12, Big 12, SEC and Big Ten. You don't need to be told those schools have won the last 10 national championships. In fact, they've combined to win the most of the national championships. Ever.

None of this should be particularly surprising. Division I-AA was formed in 1978 the game's top division became too unwieldy. The BCS put labels on the haves and have nots. With the end of automatic qualifiers in 2014, we already know that the Big East is wounded. If the Big 12 takes FSU and Tech, the ACC would have lost the teams that won seven of its last 10 titles.

The BCS automatic qualifier status that once included six conferences would now be down to four. At least in terms of those markets, brands -- and perception.

That translates to those four leagues dominating revenue-earning power. And revenue equals power when it comes time for rightsholders to decide where to spend their money. More for the Big Four, less for everyone else. 

We’re getting ahead ourselves. For now, ESPN would almost certainly discourage Florida State from leaving. FSU to the Big 12 would devalue that just-signed ESPN extension. Meanwhile, with expansion, the Big 12 would be soon asking for more money.

Sure, the money might cancel out but wouldn’t ESPN be sick and tired of reopened multi-billion dollar deals? Don’t forget the network is currently in negotiations with the SEC trying to figure out what the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri are worth.

What’s going to happen? Remember the immortal words of Boston College AD Gene DiFilippo last year when Syracuse and Pittsburgh came to the ACC: “ESPN is the one who told us what to do.”

A&M was guided into the SEC by a board of trustees that included a convenience store mogul and trucking firm owner. At least FSU trustee Andy Haggard is a lawyer whose firm might actually profit from working on an FSU move to the Big 12. That wouldn’t be the motivation behind his comments would it? Naaaah.

As stated, the reason really doesn’t matter if FSU bolts. Texas A&M was pissed at Texas. Missouri wanted stability. Haggard says its about third-tier basketball rights.

“You don’t get extra money for basketball,” DiFilippo said after the Syracuse-Pittsburgh expansion. “It’s 85 percent football money. This was football. It had nothing to do with basketball.”

While the Big 12 might have a decision to make, ACC football might be on the brink of (a further loss) of relevance.



CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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