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Oh look, the NCAA made another big, dumb empty threat

Good morning! It’s great to see so many new subscribers and readers. Thanks, UConn, for blowing up a slow offseason.

The NCAA wants you to think it might ban California schools from championships?

Tired of waiting for the latest NCAA sub-committee to dilly-dally over considering to maybe, maybe, implement some needed reforms, some politicians have decided to force the issue. Perhaps the most notable state-level action is in California, where lawmakers in the state Senate have passed a bill that would allow student-athletes to be compensated for their likeness, starting in 2023.

The NCAA, as you might imagine, hates this idea. So they sent a letter to the chairs of two State Assembly committees, insinuating with juuuust enough plausible deniability that their bill could prevent California student-athletes from participating in championship events.

Here’s NCAA President/Walking Twitter Ratio Mark Emmert, via USA TODAY:

We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that have been the subject of litigation and much national debate,” Emmert wrote in his letter to the committee chairs. “Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.

Lovely state here…it’d be a shame if everybody in it was….ineligible to compete in the NCAA Golf Championships.

Here’s the thing. Even if this thing is completely passed, signed, and implemented into law, the NCAA isn’t going to ban every Californian institution from postseason play. It may not technically get any money from the College Football Playoff, but they make nearly a billion from the NCAA Tournament. Guess who isn’t going to want to pay a billion, with a B, dollars to broadcast the Tournament if nobody from California is invited by rule? CBS, for one. And all those corporate partners, like Enterprise? Their lawyers are gonna have questions too. Turns out, a lot of people live in California!

I doubt Mark Emmert will still be in charge in 2023, but I feel pretty confident he’s already had enough of lawsuits, and wouldn’t want to bring on the slew of others that would happen should California athletes be turned away en masse.

I think folks are misreading the point of this legislation a bit. Given that it doesn’t go into effect until 2023, I think this is more about applying pressure and establishing a deadline to make the NCAA figure out a solution for likeness rights themselves, rather than specifically trying to carve California out as an exception. If this working group fails to advance the conversation, maybe other states will join California.

The paper-pushers in Indy can write all sorts of Serious Concerns on Fancy, Expensive Letterhead to state politicians, but if they want to stop this groundswell of public interest in NCAA policy, they’re going to be need to be proactive, remember it isn’t 1952 anymore, and come up with a better, more fair set of rules themselves. Otherwise, State Senator Bagman is going to do it for them. And the NCAA suits probably won’t like the results.

The latest in what folks are saying about UConn, the AAC and expansion:

It’s a formality at this point, but on Monday, the Big East presidents formally voted to admit UConn. The last step is for UConn’s trustees to vote, which they will on Wednesday, with a formal announcement expected at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, per CBS. So this thing is happening.

  • Barring something unexpected, UConn football is going to be an FBS independent. Multiple reports have indicated that the MAC and Conference USA have no interest in a football-only relationship with the Huskies. Stadium reported that some folks at UConn hoped they’d be able to maintain a football-only relationship with the AAC, perhaps in exchange for a basketball scheduling agreement. An AAC source, in that same article, called that thinking “delusional”.

  • The school has made it clear in every article written about the football team that they intend to remain in FBS. That they announced new uniforms and an updated locker room now certainly isn’t an accident.

  • But will they? One industry source quoted in the Stadium report was skeptical, and I have to admit, I am too….at least long term. The school can’t out and out say they’re dropping to FCS now, and with a few P5 home and homes on future schedules, they can probably wait this out. But when Randy Edsall retires and the contracts for the next few years honored, and with the team still likely languishing in obscurity, I suspect they may reach a different calculus about whether FBS football is worth it.

What about the AAC? What are they thinking?

  • Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told The Athletic “I don’t think we bring in anybody that doesn’t add value” and “That’ll be my vote. I don’t think we fill to fill. I have no interest in that. It means there’s one less distribution to make. It means we get a little more of the revenue sharing. Anyone that comes in has got to be a plus rather than a fiscal detriment.”

  • Reading between the lines, I’d say that means “no fixer-uppers”. Lots of schools that are being floated in public right now, including basically everybody in Conference USA, is more about potential than ready-to-compete product. If you just need a body, you can take a flier on a program like Georgia State, or Old Dominion, or UAB, and hope with time and a better TV deal, they might eventually become a median AAC program. But if you need a program to be additive right away, that’s not the approach. If I was a fan of a Conference USA or Sun Belt program hoping for a promotion, I’d read that as a real negative sign.

  • I’ve seen this a few other places, but the SBJ made it the most clear in their newsletter Monday night. ESPN gets the right to renegotiate that new, fancy AAC TV deal now that a team has left the conference. Anybody doing a TV deal with a non-power conference would be smart to get a similar clause. Given that the heft of the TV deal is football (the AAC is a decent basketball league, but mostly bereft of real college basketball brands), UConn skipping town shouldn’t mean much. They sucked at football anyway. John Ourand of the SBJ says that ESPN will wait and see how, or if, the AAC finds a replacement…but I think it’s fair to say that if they’re looking for a football program to bring in ~$7M in value, their target list is going to be small.

  • Stadium reported Army and BYU as the most likely candidates. Both have huge, well-reported question marks. With Army, it’s the question of what to do with the Army/Navy game, and if Army’s recent success is sustainable. With BYU, it’s a question of travel, and desire, since their next ESPN media deal will almost certainly give them more money and linear TV opportunities.

  • Cincinnati.com reported that according to their source, the AAC was unlikely to replace UConn at all, instead opting to ditch divisions and stick with 11 teams (FWIW, The Athletic reported the AAC wasn’t interested in this, but that was before UConn left).

  • There was an interesting nugget about BYU in the Stadium report:

As far as BYU, the Cougars were nearly AAC members several years ago but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement.

“We were very close with BYU years before the last television deal, but they had too many demands and wanted to be treated differently on TV rights than other members,” a source said.

In other words: BYU wanted more TV revenue than the other league members.

In my humble opinion, BYU would be perfectly justified asking for special treatment, be that in extra money, rebroadcast rights on BYUtv, or other concessions, especially now. They’ve proven that their individual market worth, as determined by ESPN, outstrips that of any other AAC school individually.

And the AAC could be justified in looking at those demands and telling BYU to kick rocks. Unequal revenue sharing is a great recipe for resentment and instability (sup, Big 12), and that’s when the obvious best team in the league (Texas, Boise State in the MWC) gets the extra money. If the AAC added BYU, they’d be giving special privileges to maybe the 4th best team in the league. I’m sure that’d go over just great in Orlando.

Interestingly, if the league does decide to stay at 11, expect to see a lot more BYU/AAC games in the future anyway. 11 teams means somebody is always on a bye week during league play, and that’s going to mean some AAC programs will be looking for out of conference opponents into October and November. The best program who has schedule room to accommodate those requests? BYU.

Not sure what the timeline is here, but it looks like sticking at 11 in all sports might be the safest bet for now, although I’m sure the AAC will at least call Army, BYU and Air Force.

Another league impacted by these changes? The A-10

Every report I’ve read indicates the Big East plans to stick to 11 teams. That lets you play 20 conference games, round-robin. That’s great news for Fox (who broadcasts Big East basketball), and good news for basketball fans.

It’s not great news if you’re a fan of a program hoping to also get a Big East invite. Like Dayton. They’ve apparently been bugging their administration about it.

Other power leagues expanding their conference game slates, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12, is bad news for the A-10, since that limits their ability to schedule big time out of conference games. I don’t blame anybody in the league for feeling a bit antsy, especially since there’s at least a chance the AAC could call say, VCU, as an affiliate member.

Said Dayton AD Neil Sullivan:

I guess I would say, without trying to be mechanical, is our framework hasn’t changed. We want to be in the best multi-bid basketball conference we can be in. Right now, that’s the Atlantic 10. It probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to publicly speculate on scenarios other than to say we’re just relentless and aggressive in our pursuit to position and fight for Dayton basketball, to fight for our students, to fight for our fans. We always do that. We do that now, and I think we’ll do that well into the future.

These stories always spiral out and touch a lot more than just the two leagues that are changing membership. Even with this relatively minor switch, it’s a huge offseason story for the MAC, Conference-USA, Mountain West, Independents, Atlantic 10, and maybe others.

I actually think that before all of the dust settles for good, a bunch of other smaller conferences could be facing realignment changes.

But that’s for another newsletter.

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