Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Brave New World: Expanding the NBA into Europe

Basketball has become a truly international sport.  it's enjoyed around the world and is growing.  Professional leagues exist on other continents and are producing their own talent rather than simply being a showcase for American nationals who couldn't make it in the NBA.  The NBA has long flirted with the idea of a European expansion and I think it is something that could be feasibly done with enough capital to bankroll the endeavor as well as proper marketing.

I think, for all practical purposes, and in order to make the endeavor a success it makes since for the NBA to establish multiple teams across the pond.  I am going to suggest six and while I won't debate which six cities would be the best locations I think the rationale is simple--you are going to need multiple teams over there in order to create rivalries.  Creating a whole European division also will cut down on the amount of travel the rest of the league makes to Europe.

Here is how I would set things up:

Eastern Conference 
Europe: Pick 6 Cities
Northeast: Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto
Southeast: Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Memphis

Western Conference
Midwest: Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota
Southwest: Oklahoma City, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Denver, Utah
Pacific: Seattle/Sacramento, Portland, Golden St, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Phoenix

Each NBA team will play each of their division mates 4 times (for a total of 20 games), and each of the other 30 NBA teams twice (for a total of 60 games).  When you add that together you get 80 games, 2 shy of the current 82.  If 82 is truly a magic number I am sure the NBA can find a way to determine who plays whom an extra time to get to 82.

I would also establish a "tour" system for travel.  by "tour" I mean that the six teams of one division would travel as a whole and each team would play each of the six members in that other division.  This would probably mean a road trip 10 days long.  Mind you, the who season wouldn't all be a bunch of tours but when it comes to traveling to Europe it makes sense to go over there, play a bunch of games, and then come back.  Also, it would mean just one trip to Europe for each team in the league, thus reducing travel fatigue and problems associated with adjusting to a new timezone.  A "tour" might also be handy for East Coast teams (Northeast Division) traveling to the West Coast (Pacific Division) and vice versa.

The Playoff system would need some tweaking.  Perhaps you could have some sort of playoff within the divisions to minimize travel. Or maybe whenever there is a playoff match up between a European and a North American team the 7-game series would be formatted 2-3-2 to alleviate some of that travel.

The Latest NHL Realignment Proposal

It came to my attention that the NHL has a new realignment proposal that the Player's Union shot down last year in an attempt play hardball in the then upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.  It looks a lot like the last one; only 3 teams are in different Divisions:

West Division 1          West Division 2
Vancouver                    Colorado
Edmonton                     Dallas
Calgary                         Winnepeg
San Jose                        Minnesota
Los Angeles                  Chicago
Anaheim                        St Louis
Phoenix                         Nashville

East Division 1           East Division 2
Detroit                          Columbus
Toronto                        Pittsburgh
Ottawa                         Philadelphia
Montreal                      New York Rangers
Buffalo                         New York Islanders
Boston                         New Jersey
Tampa                         Washington
Florida                         Carolina

My thoughts are that the last proposal was better.  I liked the West's Division 2 better when it had a more Midwestern feel and contained Detroit and Columbus.  I also think that Denver is a better fit with the California and Western Canadian teams.

I also thought that the previous proposal was better suited to handle expansion and relocation.  The old model was designed to accommodate a western team like Phoenix moving east while in the new proposal a western team moving east would force either Columbus or Detroit to move to the Western Conference.

I am also not a fan of the playoff set up under this model.  I am not keen on 8 out of 14 western teams making the playoffs while in the east only 8 out of 16 get in.

I do see some good in this new model though.  I think it would very easily accommodate expansion in the West.  Seattle could be granted an expansion franchise and seamlessly become part of the West's Division 1.  I could also see where a city like Milwaukee would fit nicely into the West's Division 2 should the league ever have an interest in expanding there.

Mixing things up in the Missouri Valley

The Missouri Valley Conference is currently a hybrid league of 5 football schools (all public) and 5 non-football schools (4 of whom are private).  The league is also affiliated with but does not directly administer the Misssouri Valley Football Conference--which consists of the 5 FCS scholarship-granting MVC schools as well as Summit League members North Dakota St, South Dakota, St. South Dakota, and Western Illinois as well as the Horizon League's Youngstown St.  In basketball the league's two crown jewels are Creighton and Wichita St but the former is currently being thrown around as a potential future member of the new conference being started by the Big East's Catholic 7.  Should Creighton leave the balance of power in the MVC would be tipped in favor of the football schools.

I personally would like to see the Missouri Valley football schools mix things up.  I think the 5 football schools--Indiana St, Illinois St, Southern Illinois, Missouri St, and Northern Iowa, as well as basketball power Wichita St should consider voting as a block 6-3 to disband the league and walk away without exit fees and then form a new conference with the 4 Dakota schools, Western Illinois, and Nebraska-Omaha.  5 of those 6 are Summit League members.

This would give the new conference 12 all-sports members, 10 football schools, and a relatively simple travel arrangement as a product of going to divisional play for basketball and Olympic sports:

North Dakota
North Dakota St
South Dakota
South Dakota St
Nebraska-Omaha (no football)
Northern Iowa

Wichita St (no football)
Missouri St
Western Illinois
Illinois St
Southern Illinois
Indiana St

The result would be shedding the weaker private schools while bringing in some solid state schools into the fold and creating a league that runs its football conference in-house.  Youngstown St could be retained as a football affiliate if the league wanted to keep the Penguins around.

The Fall Out
As a product of this move 3 private schools who were part of the MVC would be set adrift--Drake, Bradley, and Evansville.  The Summit League's eastern flank--Oakland, IUPUI, and IPFW as well as Denver would also be left in a league that no longer met the NCAA's minimum membership requirements.  Rather than these two groups merging, I see the 9-member Horizon League whose membership is mostly public schools in the Great Lakes region likely picking out their 3 favorites from that pool and going to a 12 member league.  The remaining schools' best bet would be to join Chicago St and UMKC in a Midwestern wing of the Western Athletic Conference.

The Horizon could look like this:

East: Oakland*, Detroit Mercy, Youngstown St, Cleveland St, Wright St, Evansville*
West: Valparaiso, Loyola (Chicago), UIC, Bradley*, Milwaukee, Green Bay

and the WAC like this:

Midwest: IUPUI*, IPFW*, Chicago St, Drake*, UMKC, Texas-PanAmerican
West: Denver*, Utah Valley, New Mexico St, Grand Canyon, Cal St Bakersfield, Seattle

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Even Bigger Big Ten

The Big Ten wants to go to 9 or perhaps even 10 conference games and have announced that the conference is going to refrain from scheduling FCS opponents.  I seriously think that the Big Ten may be gearing up for a dramatic expansion.  I think the wheels are already starting to turn and we are going to get a 16 member conference and perhaps as many as 20 members.

As I stated in my last blog article, if the SEC chose to, they could make a huge power play and lock down the entire Southeastern United States.  The Big Ten needs to be prepared to preempt or at least give a strong rebuttal if they do so.  The Big Ten needs to go for the ACC's jugular.  Maryland is already in, so I think the next natural progression is to go after UNC and UVA.  They are excellent academic schools in states that are growing rapidly.  

The ultimate goal of hitting the ACC hard is to drive Notre Dame away from them and force them to finally accept Big Ten membership.  the loss of UNC and UVA would certainly spark a mass exodus from the ACC to the SEC or Big 12.  In order to accommodate the addition of Notre Dame (or perhaps ensure that the UVA/UNC grab can be facilitated) that Duke University is the logical choice.  

With the addition of these 4 schools the Big Ten would be a 18 member league.  I think the best set up for them to consider is a zipper model where each member would have 2 crossover rivals from the opposite division.  For example--Nebraska and Minnesota would both have Iowa and Wisconsin as crossover rivals.  Much like they did with Nebraska's addition, the goal would be to create competitively balanced divisions that could be tweaked down the road to A) adjust for competitive balance and B) allow schools who never get to play each other due to the league's enormous size  an opportunity to face each other.  I would say that every 4 years would be a good interval for which to mix things up.  I think the zipper model also accomplishes something else important--it ensures that games between members on opposite ends of the conference footprint occur.  Iowa-Nebraska is a great game but its appeal is somewhat regional.  Now Nebraska-Penn St is of interest to fanbases in multiple regions.  This also boosts the appeal and value of the Big Ten Network.

My 20 Member Model
If the 18-member zipper model is to complex and contains too many working parts I think the Big Ten could easily go to 20 members and simultaneously create a more harmonious pod set up and lock down the Northeastern US television markets.  This would be by adding Boston College and Syracuse in addition to Notre Dame, UNC, Duke, and UVA.  The result would be 5 pods of 4--

Pod 1--Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa
Pod 2--Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern
Pod 3--Notre Dame, Ohio St, Michigan, Michigan St
Pod 4--Penn St, Syracuse, Rutgers, Boston College
Pod 5--Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke

Each school would always play their pod mates (3 games), one member from 3 of the other 4 pods (3 games), and all 4 more members of the 5th pod (4 games) for a 10 game conference schedule.  The 2 teams that go to Indianapolis would be the 2 teams with the highest ranking.

Friday, February 8, 2013

An SEC Super Conference

Normally I don't advocate for making the SEC any stronger than it already is on this blog but today I am going to propose a plan that would insure that the SEC would be the biggest power broker of college sports.    I believe the way that the SEC achieves ultimate football superiority and maxes out profitability is actually breaking up the conference.

DON'T stop reading!  I didn't say what you think I just did.  The SEC is in a solid position not only competitively but geographically.  They have some of the nation's most elite and historic programs and the heart of the conference rests right in the middle of the southeastern United States.  Flanking the SEC to East and somewhat overlapping it is the ACC and to the West is the Big 12.  Both of these conferences have elite programs but from top to bottom they don't compare to the SEC's line up and both conferences are burdened with weaker members that don't add market value or do not have a history of sustained football success.  With both of those conferences experiencing defections in recent years there's been talk of those two conferences working in tandem to keep up with the arms race that is college sports--a likely theory is that the Big 12, with a Grant of Rights in place (an agreement that keeps the football revenue from its members in the conference even if one or members leaves the conference), will be cherry picking the Atlantic Coast Conference's best programs.

I think the SEC could make a fortune and tip the balance of power in college sports if they decided to think outside of the box and make a radical expansion move--expand to 24 members and then split into two conferences each with two 6-team divisions.

From the ACC add: Miami, Florida St, Georgia Tech, Clemson, NC State, and Virginia Tech
and From the Big 12 add: Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, and Texas Tech

This is how it would look:

I am going to refer to the Eastern wing of this football confederation the SEC and the Western wing the SWC.  I think the reasoning is self-explanatory.

The SEC will be divided as zipper.  The 6 new members of the conference who came from the ACC should be familiar with this set up; they will make up the PRIDE DIVISION.  The six members of the original SEC EAST will be the TRADITION DIVISION.  Within the new SEC each team will have a crossdivisional rival that they will play on an annual basis while they will rotate playing the other members of the opposing division.  The divisions and crossover pairs are as follows:

PRIDE              TRADITION
Virginia Tech       Kentucky
NC State             Tennessee
Clemson              South Carolina
Georgia Tech       Georgia
Florida St            Florida
Miami                 Vanderbilt

Meanwhile the SWC will consist of two geographical divisions, an East consisting of the original 6 members of the SEC West, and a West consisting of Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech.  The SWC will not have permanent crossover rivalries.  

WEST                 EAST
Missouri              Auburn
Oklahoma           Alabama
Oklahoma St      Ole Miss
Texas                 Mississippi St
Texas A&M       LSU
Texas Tech         Arkansas

Why do this?
For starters it kills off two rival conferences, the ACC and Big 12, by depriving them of their strongest, and most financially lucrative members.  It also concentrates the profit share that teams will earn by lessening the number of schools who can claim to be in an upper echelon conference.  It also geographically hems in the Pacific 12 Conference--the Pac-12's expansion options become incredibly bleak with Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC/SWC Confederation.  The other thing that it does is it forces the Big Ten to over expand.  The Big Ten is currently at 14 members.  It's expansion possibilities, aside from Notre Dame, are far less alluring than the programs that the SEC/SWC has picked up.  At a minimum, the Big Ten will have to expand to 16 with Notre Dame and a companion school but Commissioner Jim Delany will likely become over ambitious and go to 18 or even 20 by adding programs like Virginia, North Carolina, and possibly Duke, Syracuse, Boston College, Pittsburgh, or Kansas.  This expansion into new markets will no doubt dilute the Big Ten football product and unlike the SEC, with its abundance of strong programs and convenient lines by which they can divide geographically and still maintain meaningful historical rivalries, the Big Ten will have an impossible task of trying to create competively balanced, geographically harmonious divisions.  There simply aren't 10 programs that you can add to the Big Ten's 14 to do what the SEC/SWC did so that option is likely off the table.  There is no way that long time Big Ten members are going to agree to go into the sub-conference with the eastern newcomers and forsake decades of tradition.  

There is also the profitability of the television contracts that the SEC and SWC will garner to consider.  The 12 member and now the 14 member SEC was incredibly profitable and commanded a large inventory of meaningful games that people wanted to watch.  The big match ups between nationally ranked teams is what made the SEC so valuable.  Imagine its value when you add in every meaningful, high profile game that the Big 12 and ACC had into the pool? --the value of these new conferences increases exponentially.  If the two new conferences collaborate with one another when negotiating deals with ESPN/ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC the SEC and SWC will be able to name their price for their Tier 1 and Tier 2 rights.  I would imagine they would work with two or perhaps even three networks, offering each of them a combined bundle of Tier 1 and 2 games featuring a mix of games from both conferences in order to maximize profits by forcing Tier 2 games on the networks for inflated prices in order to secure the lucrative Tier 1 games.  The SEC and SWC would also be free to create a conference owned network or networks to showcase their Tier 3 rights and with the shear size of the league their should be plenty of inventory to air.  With the popularity of college football in the southern United States its no doubt that any network or networks created by these two conferences would be a must have in every Southern household and that they would be able to charge an even higher subscriber fee than the the Big Ten Network.  

The SEC and SWC should also be able to secure a large number of bids to the playoffs and the other high profile bowl games that are going to be associated with the new system.  And, as I said before, by leaving the ACC and Big 12 for dead the playoff and bowl money will be divided among fewer schools.  The remnants of the ACC and Big 12, whether they merge or rebuild by raiding the Big East or Mountain West will be relegated to the ranks of those 5 conferences vying to land their champion into the guaranteed slot for an access bowl.  The big checks will be split four ways--the SEC, the SWC, the Pac 12, and the Big Ten and the Big Ten schools will be dividing whatever checks they get 14, 16, or 18 ways while the checks the Pac 12, SEC, and SWC cash will only be split 12 ways.  

Possible Tweaks
This is simply my best approximation of how to maximize value for the SWC and SEC with the influx of new members.  There are a number of minor adjustments you could make:

If the combined SEC/SWC would rather have Louisville or West Virginia than Texas Tech (with the Longhorn and Aggies in the Red Raiders might not be necessary) Vanderbilt could easily move from the SEC TRADITION Division to the SWC EAST Division.

Kansas or Kansas St might make more sense to add to the SWC than Texas Tech too.  For one, it would give Missouri a more natural rival.

Missouri might decide they'd rather join the Big Ten if the Big Ten offered them a spot.  If they did I'd either swap them out for Kansas St (the more successful of the two Kansas schools), or move Vanderbilt to the SWC like I said above, and add Louisville or WVU to the SEC.

The SEC might rather have UNC over NC State but I think NC State is the right call for a couple of reasons.  UNC is not likely to move without Duke and by leaving UNC and Duke both available for the Big Ten it only offers Jim Delany further temptation to over-expand and add schools who are not traditional football powers.  I also think NC St fits better with the culture of the SEC whereas UNC is more snooty and academic.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Magnolia Conference

There has been recent conjecture that someday that mega-conferences of 16 to 18 members will become the new norm with the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12, and probably the best elements of the Big 12 and ACC emerging as the only major conferences.  This would likely mean that a number of smaller, private, academically minded universities could be left homeless.  With this said I think NCAA conference realignment bloggers and enthusiasts should consider the creation of a Magnolia League.

The Magnolia League is not a new idea, in fact its a very old one.  Several decades ago a group of schools put forth the idea that the South's prestigious private schools should band together to create an athletic conference with high academic standards paralleling the well known northeastern academic juggernaut the Ivy League.

Who would be part of the Magnolia League?

It really depends on who is left standing after all the dominoes fall. You could potentially have a membership that looks something like this:

Wake Forest (from ACC)
Duke (from ACC)
Tulane (from Big East)
Southern Methodist (from Big East)
Rice (from C-USA)
Tulsa (from C-USA)
Baylor (from Big 12)
Texas Christian (from Big 12)

Should Vanderbilt ever decide to leave the SEC (which is highly doubtful) they too would be a prime candidate for membership.

Another private school, albeit a non-southern school that could be left out of the realignment shuffle that might have interest in such a league would be Boston College.

Any state school left out of the power conferences who was a member of the Association of American Universities, a consortium of the nation's top research universities, would also be welcome to join.  This might include someone like Georgia Tech.

I think the Magnolia League could be a tremendous success.  It would stand as a bold defiance to the mindset that college conference membership should be driven by greed, television markets, and Darwinian/Machiavellian sabotage of rival conferences.  It would be a conference built upon shared values and beliefs about the role of college athletics.