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Revisiting Relegation

In the age of COVID, this oft bantered about idea could come to fruition

“Let’s get rid of the worse teams in each conference!” It’s a common refrain during the dog days of the Summer when outlets are looking for hashtag content. It’s usually followed by “yeah, like the European soccer leagues do.” Then the argument lists perennial bottom dwellers in each conference like Wake Forest in the ACC, Northwestern or Rutgers in the BigTen, Kansas in the Big12, UCB or Washington State in the Pac12, and Vanderbilt in the SEC.

I wrote about why relegation is impossible in a three part series that included the historic background to conference development. It amounted to this, conferences developed around travel and media to create the most amount of money for their member institutions.

In the current marketplace, there is no new revenue to be gained, especially with digital streaming rights owned by media outlets. The grant of rights for each school to the conference and the conference to their media partners locks these members into their contracts for up to twenty years. Nothing is going to break these iron clad agreements.

Except COVID happened. And these contracts have already been added or supplemented, a la Notre Dame/NBC agreeing to a one year contract on full ACC membership.

Today, Pat Forde reported and went onto Dan Patrick Show that the BigTen was canceling Fall sports, including football. It was then reported by Joel Klatt, who also went onto the DP Show, that the SEC is seeking schools from other conferences to play games with, primarily if the state in which the SEC school is open for business, and the other schools’ states are not.

Why would the Power 5 conferences release schedules last weekend and then cancel the season this week? Maybe to counter player demands, which were made very clear by the Pac12 players, and then galvanized by Trevor Lawrence? It’s completely possible that presidents of universities, universities that are hosting students on campus, want to negate the bargaining power of athletes by taking away their exposure and opportunity. And frankly, the Big10 has the money to do it.

Or maybe, just maybe, the presidents are playing a game of chicken with member institutions to see who really wants in on big time college football.

The SEC and ACC want to play. The PAC12 is out, and the Bigs have members who want to play and those who don’t.

Essentially by canceling their seasons and then renegotiating rights with media partners, both the schools and networks have skin in the game. It can lower the number of the members, and probably the rights fees, while raising the total payout per school.

Klatt reported that presidents don’t want the liability, particularly the long term liability for health problems. It is also an absolute reality that students on campus have a better chance of getting sick and worse medical care than the football players due to stricter guidelines for the players.

Legally, that liability could exist, but if anyone on here has children going to back to school, like I do, you sign a waiver. It’s mandatory. It’s hard to believe that a school would be held liable for long term health issues if players knowingly opt in, or they are given an opt out clause that works like a medical red shirt.

Something smells fishy, and that fish is money.

It’s money from media partners who know schools absolutely have to have the money from football because their athletic departments are leveraged to the gills. It’s money that presidents know they need, and they are finding ways to make it happen.

The Pac12 cancels, and that is fine, on a national stage. What have they done lately? The BigTen thinks themselves generally more important than they are, and so they cancel, knowing the SEC, ACC, and probably some of the former Big8 original members would want in and take blame of pushing the Fall season forward.

You have autoselection for a new autonomous conference. Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Rutgers can drop football (or be dropped) from the new rights deal. Others like Kansas, Iowa State, Wake, BC, Duke, or Vandy could be on the chopping block.

Sure this is all speculation. It’s speculation rooted in very real facts that schedules were released, then seasons canceled, conferences are at odds with who is playing and who isn’t, and Notre Dame joined a conference.

If you don’t think presidents aren’t trying to figure out the best way to stop hemorrhaging money, save their schools budgets, and set themselves up better than before, then I’ve got a mythical national championship to sell you.

The precedent is there. The members, money, and media partners are, too. And you know who isn’t? The NCAA. Precisely.

Who needs them anyway?