Ron Wellman's Column: Conference Realignment

Aug. 4, 2010

Early this summer, the world of intercollegiate athletics was abuzz with rumors of massive conference changes. Some in college athletics envisioned massive changes, from the formation of "super-conferences" to leagues with 16 or perhaps as many as 20 members. When it was all said and done, the changes were small as compared to what some had predicted. Nebraska and Colorado are leaving the Big 12; Nebraska will join the Big 10 and Colorado will join the Pac 10 along with Utah. Boise State has departed the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West. The Pac 10 will change its name to the Pac 12 when Utah and Colorado join the league. During that tumultuous week in June, many people were predicting the demise of the Big 12 Conference. However, the league was able to keep its membership at 10 with some last minute negotiations with the remaining members of the conference that kept Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M as members. All members have made a 10-year commitment to remain in the Big 12.

One of the keys to the upheaval in the Big 12 is that league's revenue-sharing policy. In the Big 12, television revenue has not been distributed equally. After each school received an equal basic payment of TV money, the remainder of the funds were distributed based on the number of TV appearances and NCAA Tournament victories. A school like the University of Texas earned more money because of its higher number of appearances than did a school such as Iowa State.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, we are fortunate that all of our revenues are shared equitably. Each member receives basically the same amount of money from the league office. Teams that go to football bowl games and the NCAA Basketball Tournament do receive an additional amount to cover those expenses but overall the ACC distributes revenue more equitably than any other BCS conference.

Of course, one consideration of any conference realignment is the impact that the new conference configuration would have upon the TV rights and value of the realigned conference. The potential conference realignments were a reflection of the value that TV places on college football. The NCAA controls the rights to the NCAA Basketball Tournament and there is a funding formula that provides revenue for every conference. CBS / Turner Broadcasting System recently negotiated the basketball tournament contract with the NCAA which will provide more revenue to the conferences. But conference TV contracts are negotiated individually by each conference and the TV networks place more of a premium on football. The general approach of the networks is that football is close to two-thirds of the value associated with any TV deal with a conference.

What do conference realignments and TV deals mean for Wake Forest and the ACC?

In the ACC, we are fortunate that we have 12 very strong and very committed members. From Boston to Miami and throughout Tobacco Road, we feel that the ACC offers our institutions the best avenue to compete at the national level. Having 12 members is a very workable number. It allows for the even division of the conference to help determine the participants in the conference championship football game. While we all miss the round-robin football schedule and the double round-robin format in basketball, having 12 members allows us to field one of the nation's premier line-ups of institutions.

The ACC is in a stable position of strength with our current membership and we believe that any further conference realignment will not harm the ACC. As a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, we are pleased with the vision of the conference leadership while we continue to assess the current changes and potential future changes in the college athletics landscape. We are confident in Commissioner John Swofford's ability to put the ACC in the best possible position to deal with any future conference realignment issues.

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