I recently sat down* with Greg Flugaur, my personal favorite Minnesota fan and the primary operator of the @FlugEmpire Twitter handle, one of the best sources of conference realignment info on the Internet, to discuss some of the recent CR news, and what the future might hold.
1) There are a lot of conference realignment “experts” on the Internet. What makes you different?
First of all, we are not experts and don’t claim to be, not at all. I say “we” because our Twitter has multiple Big Ten “Associates” contributing to its content. We almost strictly only pass along current Big Ten perceptions of what is occurring in College Sports and Finances and where it’s all heading. If Big Ten perceptions are correct on a particular issue we will be correct. Our “perch” is high, but of course limited. Since we’ve been on Twitter for 2 years we have broken multiple stories because Big Ten perception happened to be correct. And more often than not it is, and it’s not close. All the conferences try to get a sense of what is happening outside of their “yard.”
The Big Ten happens to be very good at figuring out future trend lines in the other P5 Conferences. Some of the stories we have broke on Twitter is Big 12 wrestling expansion, ACC/Maryland settlement, actual Coastal Carolina date they would announce move to Sun Belt. Most recent, on April 23rd, our Twitter account announced ASU Hockey would not be joining the Big Ten Hockey Conference. First public announcement of ASU not joining Big Ten Hockey was in the Minneapolis paper 2 days later on April 25th. So how are we different than other “experts?”
I will let our followers tell the story for us.
2) What’s going on in the Big 12 right now?
Either the Big 12 moves away quickly from their horse-‘n-buggy model or they will no longer exist as constructed 3-4-5 years down the road. Boren was spilling the TRUTH in the spring and summer of 2015. Big 12 needs to: Expand + Conference Championship Game + Conference Network. I often describe the Big 12 as equaling RC COLA in the Cola Wars of marketing & branding. RC COLA might taste as good as Pepsi & Coke but it’s doesn’t get the prime shelving space at your favorite stores, and it doesn’t have the budget to advertise its products. Big 12 needs to expand away from its original region and become more of a national brand. Big 12 needs to grow its media footprint and grow its future opportunities.
3) What other leagues do you see potentially expanding in the next 5-10 years? Why?
In next 5 years we don’t see any other conferences expanding with the possible exception of PAC getting into Texas (University of Houston). We are not prepared to go further than that at this time, but if you see PAC and Larry Scott selling off some of their equity in their PAC Conference Network, and depending on who they sell it to (EXAMPLE: AT&T) there might be another expansion story within the next 5 years.
In next 10 years? Some of that depends on what happens in next 3 months in the Big 12. I would consider this question unanswerable at this point.
4) This is a UConn blog, so give us the reasons UConn makes sense for the Big 12
Your readers first might want to read our Twitter comments from Jan 3rd….and again on Feb 15th.
But I will try to boil it down in a simple manner for this article. It’s been Big Ten perception since Feb 15th that the Big 12 will expand with UConn/Cincy. Reasons? It’s not because of football, just like when the Big Ten expanded with Rutgers and Maryland. It’s about expanding eastwardly into new markets, which have residents with disposable income, and in which its universities’ academics meet all Big 12 benchmarks, and in which ESPN and FOX give their “ok.”
There is support for BYU in Big 12, but BYU does not have FOX support. FOX wants Big 12 to go east with both additions.
There is support for UCF in Big 12, but UCF does not have ESPN support. ESPN is working on ACC Network for its 2 Florida “properties” of FSU & Miami, FL.
There is support for Memphis, and what a closer relationship with FEDEX can do for both the University of Memphis and the Big 12 Conference, However it’s academics do not meet all benchmarks.
UConn is a flagship university in a state that just committed themselves to $1.5 billion in research funding. UConn’s market is full of disposable income with a fan base big enough to support a fledgling Big 12 Conference Network.
If this expansion was about Football then UConn would have much greater difficulties in persuading Big 12 presidents about their candidacy to become a member of the Big 12 Conference. But it’s not about Football. The expansion has to do with Big 12 needing to shrug off its RC COLA existence. Big 12 wants New York/East Coast/Cincinnati/New England to talk Big 12 sports…to watch Big 12 sports…to invest in Big 12 sports.
5) In the interest of equal time, and to give Russ something to mock our fans with, why wouldn’t UConn get invited to the Big 12?
Let’s make something clear. If Big 12 expansion does not happen now, it’s a clear indication that Texas themselves have given up on the future of the Big 12. The model they have loved to govern is being shown in the sunlight of data that it doesn’t work in this landscape of college football. Which by the way was Boren’s plan from day 1.
It’s UConn/Cincy in the Big 12 or Texas has decided themselves that they need to move out of the Big 12 knowing their model has lost out in the internal politics of the conference.
6) With the size of these new TV contracts, are the SEC and Big Ten going to move out of shouting distance of everyone else?
SEC will always have an advantage due to its incredible fan base and recruiting grounds. Big Ten will have an advantage for decades because of its huge alumni bases and sports culture (love/history of college sports).
But I do think the Big 12, if they follow through with Boren’s reforms, and PAC if they find distribution (sell equity) for conference network can remain in “shouting distance”…but always somewhat behind in the money game.
7) If you could, would you go back to when conferences were smaller, more regional, and not as much of a factor in teams’ ability to compete?
No, I wouldn’t.
Because the future is pods within larger conferences. Pods (4-5 schools in division) will keep regional rivalries together. I know I’m in the vast minority on this issue but expansion of conferences among like-minded institutions does not scare me for what the future holds in college sports.
What does scare me, and others (David Boren), is a great institution like Oklahoma being trapped in a horse-‘n-buggy conference.
…..and that is why we are having this particular discussion today.
*I sent him an email with these questions. No actual sitting was involved. Maybe. I guess I was sitting when I wrote them. Whatever.