How to evaluate a conference realignment rumor:
Good morning, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.
Earlier this week, I wrote a big newsletter about how readers can be better informed when they evaluate NIL stories.
Given the craziness over the last few days, I think it's worth quickly revisiting this principle when it comes to conference realignment updates. Here are some tips, from a guy that has broken conference realignment stories and has been in the weeds of this world for several years, on how you can evaluate a "report" or "sources say" over the next few weeks.
Remember who actually KNOWS what's happening in realignment
Based on my professional experience, the number of people who ACTUALLY know what a school is trying to do, realignment-wise, is pretty small...and the higher the stakes, the smaller the circle.
Coaches? They don't know. Assistant coaches REALLY don't know. They might lie and pretend they know if it might help them on the recruiting trail, or they'll talk out of their butt to a reporter if somebody asks them, but it is rare that they are meaningfully a part of these conversations until the very, very end of the process.
Athletic directors? They often know, but you might be surprised how often they might not know. If a conference is looking to expand, they might not share the target list or the vetting process with every single AD. To put it another way...did every Big Ten AD know that the league was seriously considering expanding into the LA market back in May? No.
Senior athletic department staff? They might know, but the number of people who do at a given school is often pretty small. Your SIDs, your ops people, your licensing department? They're not in the conversations, typically.
Conference commissioners and senior conference leaders? Yes, but certainly not every staffer.
Depending on the school, a tiny handful of BIG money donors might be in the loop. Phil Knight is going to be aware of what Oregon's plans are. Somebody who gives $25,000 a year to the general scholarship fund? No, even though they might think they know.
High level administrators at conference media partners, consultants, and a tiny number of industry personnel may know.
Honestly? That's about it!
So if you see an outlet that doesn't typically break news, or doesn't typically talk to the folks on that list, and you see them break a realignment story...you should be very, very, very skeptical.
Speaking of realignment, earlier this week, Bryan and I dropped a new Going For Two that dug into what we were hearing and thinking about the Pac-12, Big 12, and elsewhere in the world. Bryan also shared his major takeways from NACDA, a massive industry conference that all of the other D1.ticker folks went to that now feels like ancient history, even though it isn't.
Also, I know that many of you have asked for podcast transcripts. I can't provide a transcript for the ENTIRE show, since it's 45 minutes and emails have character limits, but I will include a transcript of selected parts of the podcast down below the ads.
Going For Two is the free podcast of Extra Points, which will publish every Wednesday in July. You can find it via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you get your podcasts. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a nice review, or perhaps letting your internet friends know about it.
What else have we been working on?
On Tuesday, I published that "how to read an NIL story" that has gotten a lot of positive feedback in the industry. Friends, be skeptical of those big NIL contract numbers you see, and always ask yourself why an industry source is being quoted in these stories.
On Wednesday, I took a look at a peer-reviewed research study that examined how college football and hockey players ACTUALLY felt about all the long-distance travel that comes from conference realignment, and what schools could do to minimize the drawbacks.
On Thursday, I published an interview with the AD at UIW to better understand why the school decided to stay in the Southland, instead of moving to the WAC, as well as my thoughts on where both conference go from here.
We're doing Summer Hours here in July, but that's still four newsletters a week this month, with original reporting and unique perspectives you can't find anywhere else on the internet. If you want to read every newsletter we do and support our mission, please consider a full subscription:
Podcast transcriptions below, but first, a message from our sponsors:
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~~~~~~~~transcription portion of the podcast~~~~~
Bryan Fischer: Absolutely. Well, you mentioned the booster part, in particular. I mean, when it comes to a lot of those boosters/donors, if they’re in really powerful positions, they’re on the board of regents or whatever university governing system will be in, so that might be when they really get roped into a lot of those conversations. Sometimes they are the ones driving it as we saw with Texas. Other times they’re not. And they’re kind of late to the process, depending on where they are in the board hierarchy, I would say late in the process too. The university’s general counsel gets pretty heavily involved in a lot of these things given the amount of dollars, given the amount of contracts they have to go over just to kind of change conferences. That’s obviously top of mind for some that we’ll have to pay an exit fee and go through some of the penalty structures that a lot of these leagues have to kind of get looped into.
But you’re right. I mean, there is a definite hierarchy of how these conversations happen. And I will say that there are a lot of people in this industry that do have law degrees or have been through this process enough times that they understand when they actually reach out to the other conference and who is reaching out and when that is happening. That is a lot contractually, and in terms of what you might end up paying. So they are always very aware of how that slow, delicate dance is going to happen. And I think that is key in a lot of respects when it comes to things like reaching out to the Big Ten.
Now, at the same time it’s like, oh, you mean, you reached out to the Big Ten one day and then you had a vote the next day and then you were in the conference the day after, like, how was that process? Yes, that is technically how it happens but there’s always those informal conversations which is how a lot of this stuff ends up leaking. But you’re right, the coaches are certainly the last to know, especially Olympics sport coaches. I can tell you they’re almost always going to find out through these same media reports even if there might be a staff meeting or whatnot scheduled.
Matt Brown: Oh, yeah.
Bryan Fischer: They are typically the very, very, very last ones to know, but you’re right. And the football coaches that might have an inkling of something, that’s generally because they are very close to a significant booster who is also on the board of regents or tied in with the school, or the AD or the president in particular.
Matt Brown: That’s what it is. And not every school ends up doing this. So, I say all of this to say be cautious about what you are reading. And be cautious because so-and-so is talking to so and so is never as straightforward as it is in real life during these conversations. Reaching out to the Big Ten might mean calling Kevin Warren. It might mean calling somebody at Fox. It might mean calling the biggest donor at Wisconsin to kind of launder something to somebody. It might mean laundering it through the media. It might mean going to Wasserman. I don’t know. It could mean a bunch of different stuff. And practically, the difference might be negligible but in practice, it could be very significant.
I say all this to say here that as we’re on Tuesday afternoon, the one thing I will say is the best knowledge I have is that rumors that the Pac-12 is dead and the merger with the Big 12 is imminent in some capacity are overstated. Could that happen? Yeah. I mean, shit, almost anything can happen at this point. Like all of my baseline assumptions are being kind of revisited a little bit. Is it far enough advanced that I think it is accurate to say like this is a very done deal? I don’t think that that’s… I don’t believe that that’s true based on what we have been… what I have been hearing, you have been hearing. Other things, you talk to different people than I do, but I would say conferences are really hard to kill. And the conventional wisdom that one league as of right this very second is in an enormously stronger position than the other league are overstated. And how this ultimately ends is very much in the air. Would you agree?
Bryan Fischer: Yeah, I would agree completely. I know I think everybody is looking at the Big 12 and saying they’re negotiating from a position of strength and I would pump the brakes on that a little bit just in terms of the timing of things. The Pac-12 is going to market before the Big 12. That is certain. And it is in Fox and ESPN’s best interest for the Big 12 to be the one that ends up breaking up first and reverse merging into the Pac-12 or to a number of scenarios that you can kind of throw out there. They would be saving quite a few nine-figure checks where they wouldn’t have to cut it to the Big 12. From ESPN’s perspective, yes, they would get marquee properties like OU and Texas maybe a little bit earlier than 2025.
And in terms of the Big Ten’s, they’re not only taking a big chunk or Fox’s rights of the Big Ten not only taking a big chunk of that but they’re also kind of selling that out. So now they can understand a little bit in terms of the secondary and third packages that they would have to sell from that, figuring that out and figuring the timing of that when they would be able to talk with an NBC or a CBS to air some of those secondary and tertiary-type of games. That matters a lot to them. And so, I think, you’re juggling a lot of balls but at the end of the day a lot of this is just going to rest honestly down to the conversation that is going to happen in South Bend and whether Notre Dame, what they want to do, because that’s going to affect pretty much every other league out there. It’s going to affect the ACC certainly in terms of what they’re doing with their other sports. They’re contractually obligated in certain respects to join the ACC. That’s a little fuzzy that they could certainly end up leaving the league, going to the Big Ten.
Matt Brown: Yeah.
Bryan Fischer: So, really, it is all kind of coming down to what the Irish are going to do that’s going to impact the Pac-12 and whether maybe Oregon and Washington starts flirtations with other leagues. What ends up happening with the Arizona schools and Utah and Colorado, whether they’re Big 12, as much as we hear about them wanting to be aggressive, they certainly can try. But at the end of the day, you’re still at a bit of a disadvantage. And, you know, keep in mind too, like the Pac-12 has been around for a long time. And those ties, although they have been shaken by this news of USC and UCLA leaving, those ties go back a long way. The Arizona schools have been playing, Stanford and Cal and Washington State and Oregon and all these for a very, very, very long time. And so, I think there is certainly a closed-knit community out west. It is a bit different from kind of this hodgepodge that really always has been the Big 12.
Matt Brown: Very different. One was made for TV. One has been mostly going on in some capacity since the 1920s like if you go back to the Pacific Coast Conference before the modern Big 12. I think to kind of put a bow on this here, I think there are, as best as I know right now, there are three conversations, like major conversations happening. The big one which you just alluded to is... what does Notre Dame decide to do? As I understand it, the financial hit from extracting themselves from the ACC is maybe not as prohibitive as previously thought. But Note Dame’s leadership from Swarbrick above is not about maximizing their revenue. It is only about making sure they have championship access. If they feel they can still do that as an independent, they’re going to want to do that. I don’t know, and I don’t know if they’ve decided if the news recently has completely changed that paradigm. I don’t know exactly what the time table is for that decision. That is the fulcrum that decides what the Big Ten wants to do.
Your secondary conversation is the conversations in some capacity between the Pac-12 and the Big 12. And when I say that I mean their member institutions about whether you merge, whether you take some from each other. Does that make sense? What happens with your media rights? That is much less clear right now I think that maybe you might believe.
The third conversation, to kind of really get into the weeds here, related but not exclusive to that conversation is the Pac-12 potentially deciding to go after Gonzaga or to potentially go after other West Coast institutions for basketball or other purposes here. I would say this is a storyline to watch. I’m not saying that’s imminent. I’m not saying that everyone is ready to pull the trigger on that now. They’re watching the same stuff everybody else is. But if you’re looking for a development where it would make sense to the Pac-12 to definitely change the paradigm of how they have thought about expansion in membership versus the last 12 years. Brother, this is it. And that is something to kind of keep an eye out. I don’t know the timelines for these things yet. But those are the big questions.
And so, when someone asks, like, “Hey, what does this mean for the Southland? What does this mean for the WAC or the Missouri Valley or blah, blah, blah?” We got to get more clarity up top. Because this stuff rolls downhill, and we don’t know… I don’t think anybody would have predicted that Texas and Oklahoma leaving would have ultimately led to conference changes in the New England area. It did, at least at the FCS level. And depending on who moves around in the Power Five, you could see more of those changes there too. That’s the best intel I got as of this afternoon.
Bryan Fischer: Yeah, I mean, this is not a process that is going to be wrapped up by next week or by conference Media Days. Like, it takes a lot for a lot of these universities to move leagues.