It’s difficult to compare how conferences do in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, just as it to compare them in bowl games due to the match-ups those respective teams face, but it’s an annual conversation point particularly on talk radio. And, there’s no question that for all its accolades, the ACC is getting hammered in this tournament. The ACC put the most teams in the field with 9. As the Sweet-16 begins they are left with just one, North Carolina. This is a year after they had 6 in the Sweet 16, 4 in the Elite 8, 2 in the Final Four and 1 in the Championship game.
Of the ACC’s 9 teams, Wake Forest went out in the First Four, Virginia Tech and Miami in the first round, and Virginia, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida State and Duke in the second round. In so doing, Miami looked disinterested in being there, Virginia offensively challenged team couldn’t ride point guard London Perantes any further and Florida State solidified its position as a classic under-achiever.
So we are left with a total of 9 teams from conferences that were supposedly having down years. The perception is that the SEC is all about football, but since 1994, Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky have all won national championships. There are also three from the PAC-12 which hasn’t had a team win a National Title since UCLA won its 11th in 1995. And, then there’s the Big-10, which has 14 schools and is about to have a whole lot more cash.
The Big-10 conference also has three teams in the Sweet-16. Purdue, Michigan and Wisconsin. If anyone thought Wisconsin and Michigan would be there, they’d likely be lying. Wisconsin is in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. Michigan played in the Champoinship game in 2013 and Purdue is in the Sweet 16 for the 3rd time in 9 seasons. Purdue hasn’t been to the Elite 8 since 2000, and last played in a Final 4 in 1980. The school is home of one of the legends of college basketball coaching in Gene Keady, but even he could never get a Boilermaker team into the Final 4.
Ultimate success in the NCAA Tournament has alluded the Big-10 for 17 years. The last Big-10 school to do so was Michigan State in 2000. That’s an eternity for a conference that is about to be the richest in college sports.
The Big-10 has often been a leader in college sports. Partnering with Fox, the Big-10 was the first conference to start its own conference network. With its headquarters in Chicago, the Big-10 Network gave an outlet to olympic sports like Volleyball and Wrestling and pulled in such revenue that the PAC-12 and SEC followed with their own networks and in 2019, the ACC adds its own network. I have to tell you that I’m not going to watch the Big-10 Network for anything other than football and basketball. Sorry, but a Friday night Volleyball match between Illinois and Indiana has about as much appeal as that dumb Skip Bayless show on FS-1, but someone somewhere does care and that’s what it is for.
The Conference also begins a brand new rich television contract on July 1st of this year with Fox, ESPN and CBS. Since 1966, ABC has been the primary home of Big-10 football. Can you remember a year when Ohio State-Michigan wasn’t a noon kickoff on ABC? Guess what, you can now answer 2017.
When the Big-10 put up its media rights for bid last year, they split the deal in three parts. One was a basketball only deal which the Big-10 resigned with CBS keeping select regular season games and the semi-finals and championship game of the Big-10 tournament on CBS for $10 million per season. CBS has been the only network to televise the Big-10 basketball tournanent semi-finals and finals since it was born in 1998.
The other two parts including both football and basketball, went up for bid. Due to the cost-cutting going on at ESPN, the network passed on the first part of the new Big-10 contract and, by all appearances, appeared to give Roone Arledge (the mastermind behind ABC Sports) something else to roll over in his grave about by getting out of the Big-10 business. Enter Fox, who is nothing if not aggressive when it comes to acquiring sports television broadcast rights. Since shocking the world by grabbing the NFL’s NFC package in 1994, Fox has also gobbled up NASCAR and it’s signature event the Daytona 500, and Major League Baseball, but their place in college sports was a little shakier with minor contracts with the PAC-12 and Big-12 conferences.
Then Fox grabbed the Big East basketball rights and we do mean all of the rights because when basketball season starts on the second Friday in November, every damn Big East game is on some Fox Network. Fox signed on with the Big-10 in a 6-year deal for $240 million per season. Because they were the first to sign a contract they get first choice on the games. Before each season, Fox will inform the conference which weeks it wants to the first choice of Big-10 games. ESPN which got back into the mix by buying the second half of the Big-10 rights for 6 years at $190 million will get the second pick, Fox the third and so on. That means that Fox’s first round draft pick this year and most likely every year will be the final week of the regular season and that means after decades on ABC, the Michigan-Ohio State football game is going to Fox for at least the next 6 years. It might also mean the end of its traditional noon kickoff. Stayed tuned for that.
Fox will also likely go “balls-out” on Big-10 basketball similar to what they’ve done with the Big East. ESPN will keep 25 football and 50 basketball games, the Big-10 network gets 35-40 football games (a lot of Maryland vs. Howard type stuff) and 60 – 65 basketball games, but moving forward if you are looking for the Big-10 you’ll likely have to find FS-1 for the games not on the Fox network.
The conference also makes money from it’s in-house Big-10 Network, and so when you add the contracts together, the Big-10s media rights will net the conference $444 million dollars annually, which equates to $31.7 million per school. That’s triple what ESPN and CBS were paying for the same programming.
That of course means new facilities will be constructed to use a recruiting tool. Kids of soccer moms like shiny new stuff because they are used to that. More money means that they can fund their full allotment of scholarships and the Big-10 schools should have little trouble meeting the cost of attendance model proposed by the NCAA for student-athlete scholarships.
Hey, college sports is about cash and that’s fine, but when it comes to making magic in March, the Big-10 hasn’t had its “shining moment” since 2000 despite putting teams in the Final 4 and even Championship game like Ohio State and Michigan, and so now it’s time to learn that to whom much is given, much is expected. You’ve got the cash, now show us you are worth the money.