Where is Division 1-A Football Headed?
by Wayne Crump
TSL Extra, Issue #18
My interest in this subject started last summer, when I joined the TSL Extra and read Will and Jim Aldersonís articles "The Money-Makers" and "The Big East/ACC Merger." Following those articles, several news announcements awakened me to some trends involving the NCAA's Division 1-A. These trends bring up more questions than answers but are worthy of putting into some sort of thought pattern.
Chronologically let us start at the beginning.
In "The Money-Makers" series of articles in TSL Extra issues 6-8, 1998-1999 figures were given that listed profits and loss margins for the major colleges. These numbers show many college athletic departments, especially in the Big East, virtually awash in red ink. This generally concerns me not one iota. Being involved in non-profits, I can easily state that the last thing non-profits do is save money. It is frequently assumed that it is better to over spend, thus challenging your benefactors. If the red ink listed in the 1998-1999 year were ongoing, then many of our brethren would have already given up the ghost to bankruptcy.
Jim Aldersonís column "The Big East/ACC Merger" in TSL Extra issue #6 had a more foreboding ring to it. It revealed that both Wake and Duke were on life support, at a level I had never dreamed of, life support approximating that of Temple. Wakeís ongoing efforts to drop ACC football were stunning news, and something I have been able to unofficially substantiate from a second source.
This was followed by a rumor that the D1A requirements had been modified.
Published statements appeared from both the Big 12 and the SEC that the BCS allotment wasnít fair. They began to insist that they have 12 schools and get one slot, while the ACC has 9 and the BE has 8. There was even a proposal in the press that the Big East and the ACC playoff for one BCS slot. I did not write this off as standard political posturing.
Notre Dame then turned down membership to the Big 10. Public opinion was that they wanted to keep their TV package. A close friend of mine, active in ND athletics, told me a different story. He said that ND had surveyed the Big 10, viewing 50,000 student campuses and 110,000 seat stadiums, and backed off. What did surprise me, (and appeared to be missed by virtually anyone else), was NDís public written press release. In it was the statement "The only current D1A conference that ND has a lot in common with is the ACC". Since this was in the written document, one MUST assume that the statement is intentional. Was ND trolling for a new conference alignment? As far as the Big 10 was concerned, why add ND now? Then I got to thinking, 11 + ND equals that magical number of 12.
Rumors surfaced that the PAC 10 was talking to BYU and a Colorado school (probably Colorado). 10 + BYU + UC = 12 schools. This rumor has been confirmed as of this month.
Thinking that recently the ACC had almost gone to 12 schools, but decided to only expand by 1 (Miami, which declined), it became apparent that every major conference in the country seemed to be targeting 12 schools.
Rumors continued about new D1A qualifications, yet I could not pin them down. Rumors that reduced D1A from around 120 schools to 87, or 89 or 91. Then came the half time show on an early Oklahoma broadcast. The Big 12 Commissioner openly stated that the goal was "84 teams". The announcer replied with "84?" The commissioner then confirmed "84" as the magic number. I began to think, "What makes 84 magical?" 84 is an interesting number. It is only divisible by itself, 1, 42, 21, (obviously none are useful), 7 and 12. Now 12 conferences of 7 schools would make little sense, but 7 conferences of 12 do -- 8 BCS slots going to 7 conference champions and the top-ranked runner up. There was the magical number of 12 again.
Within the same week I was watching a Wyoming game, and at half time the Commissioner of the WAC publicly stated that at that point in time that half the WAC could not qualify to meet the new regulations for D1A! As for myself, Iím still asking "What regulations?"
Wake Forestís already troubled program then lost $3.1 million a year coming in from RJ Reynolds Tobacco (16% of the departmentís gross income).
Duke (in a newspaper release), asked the ACC to be omitted from their Out of Conference scheduling procedure, in order for them to schedule 3 or 4 D1AA schools. While I have no idea how much speculation was involved in the newspaper report, this does not sound like a school who thinks that they have a future in D1A.
On their official internet site, the Big Sky Conference states that if the new regulations do go into effect, they plan to cancel their plans to move the conference up into D1A.
Finally I found the regulations, and the reasons. Officially touted as a humanitarian effort, the requirements for D1A were supposedly being strengthened to keep all the good programs from migrating out of D1AA. I believed that for probably less than one second.
The New Division 1A Requirements
The new D1A requirements, as proposed by the NCAA Football Oversight Committee, published 8/3/2001, are a real eye opener.
Superficially this doesnít appear to mean very much. In actuality it does.
To no oneís surprise, these new requirements donít seem to be creating a lot of comment in places like Blacksburg, Morgantown, or Knoxville. These requirements will have no direct effect on those schools. However, should you visit places like the WAC, or Mid-American, the changes are on everyoneís mind. Some boards are having occasional meltdowns over it. The Big Sky seems especially miffed.
Then of course I asked another question. What is wrong with D1AA? Then I got an ominous answer, "Everything." D1AA is broke and no one wants to fix it. Actually college football is broke. Look at the per-game attendance figures below which compare the oldest and most recent years currently posted on the NCAA web site.
Essentially, not playing in College Division D1A is like placing your football team on life support. While the 15 to 1 difference between fans at Michigan vs. Kent looks gigantic (105,000 vs. 7,500) the difference between the top and bottom of D1AA are of biblical proportions. Southern U and South Florida both have around 27,000 at home games, and Yaleís attendance is 23,142. At the bottom you find such stellar performers as Stony Brook at 672, and St. Johnís at 812. Friends, there are NO commas in those numbers and they are not misprints.
The top schools in D1AA have an attendance per game that is 50 times higher than the bottom feeders of the division. For those who care, Georgetown averages 1,644 per game. Some of these numbers arenít even good high school numbers!
So What Does it Mean to Tech?
Well for starters, I think that we will see a requirement, very soon, that will force the BCS conferences into having 12 schools as a minimum. This should come in 2004.
Two avenues exist for regional D1A football. Either the upper tier of the BE will be absorbed into the ACC, or both conferences will expand to 12 schools. In the BE this will be over the bodies of the Seton Hallís of the world but that will not be important. Unfortunately, if both conferences are to keep their regional flavor and remain separate, pickings look pretty slim. There are Army, Marshall, East Carolina, Central Florida, and perhaps Louisville and Cincinnati.
Personally, I look for Wake and possibly Duke to leave the ACC in the near future, at least for football. I think Miami will be in, possibly Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Tech. The thing about this is that, for Virginia Tech, it could become a two-edged sword. When the ACC was voting to add 3 schools, the strongest supporters for Tech were Wake and Duke. Their goal was to minimize travel costs. If one or two schools leave the ACC, that leaves more openings for Tech, but if those schools are Tech's primary supporters, that may leave less.
The gutted Big East Football Conference would then be replaced with something else. The new conference will possibly have more of a nationwide flavor, centering around the current CUSA. It would have to contain such far-flung members as Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Tulane.
Each conference would have a championship game, and eventually it would lead to a playoff of sorts. I kind of see 7 conferences as follows:
Please donít read my opinions into this article. Personally, I think things are OK as is, and I see no advantage to this change.
I also donít think that they can cut it down to exactly 84 schools. Kent, for example, takes virtually nothing away from Tech and UCLA, and gives the Hokies and others someone to occasionally beat up on. They cost upper-level teams neither bowl slots nor media exposure.
On the downside, there are true financial problems for some institutions. 37 D1A schools lost an average of $1 million on football last year. The division between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow. Personally, I have great remorse in seeing another generation of smaller colleges head into the major league extinction that captured Washington and Lee, Georgetown, Chicago, and the Carlisle Indian School in times past.
I think Duke and Wake are positioning themselves for D1AA. I also think that the Big East kept Temple in until 2004 because they feel that after 2004, the NCAA will have removed Temple from the conference. I also feel that this explains several of Virginia Tech's schedule changes in the future.