Friday, May 18, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

That comment is widely attributed to Mark Twain but it could also act as a summary for the ACC's latest press release about what a fabulous idea expanding the conference to twelve teams was for all its members. The title should immediate raise skepticism.

"Member Payouts Remain Similar After Expansion"

That is kind of like your boss telling you they are keeping your salary "similar" to what it was before and slicing off a few thousand dollars. Would you buy that sophistry? Not if you had half a brain.

The average award for 2005-6 was $10.85 million while it was $10.88 million in 2003-4, which was the last season with nine members. So the average payout decreased since expansion by $30,000 per school. In the clown school that passes for the ACC league office I guess that is something to be proud about.

Woohoo, we didn't lose money!!!

It seems very odd that those in the league office would be so pleased with coming out with lower payments than members received over 3 years ago. More so when you remember that those proponents of expansion claimed that this would reap financial rewards in new television contracts, extra BCS births and, most dubious of all, increase the number of NCAA men's basketball tournament bids. It seems that none of those things have come true. The ACC hasn't come close to getting two BCS bids since it expanded and this is despite an extra BCS game being added recently. The league hasn't even had a serious contender for the national title and probably won't in the near future with the decline of Miami and Florida State.

Now for the NCAA bid fallacy. In the three years since expansion the ACC has received 16 total bids for the NCAA tournament. That places it behind both the Big East (20) and Big Ten (17) for that time frame and tied for third with the SEC. That includes this past NCAA tournament that saw the ACC land seven bids, more than a few which went to very mediocre teams. So much for being the preeminent basketball conference. It is even worse when you consider that in the three years prior to expansion, when some considered the league 'down' because it was so top heavy, the ACC landed 20 bids with only a nine team league. Is that John Swofford's idea of getting better?

In those three seasons a staggering 74% of the teams in the league got NCAA bids (20/27), since then that number dropped to 46%. This is progress?

So in effect the ACC increased the annual value of the television deal with ESPN/ABC from $23 million to $37 million per year and didn't increase the member payout at all. That isn't a winning business model. The league office may now be claiming victory at keeping the revenue the same per conference member but that isn't what they were saying when expansion was being planned. Back then they claimed to expect the annual TV contract to potentially double to almost $50 million a year. That is a far cry from what they actually received. According to USA Today ESPN originally offered only $28-30 million for the package but panicked when TBS expressed an interest in broadcasting ACC games and upped the package to $37 million.

The latest news is that the Big East is about to sign a new television deal with both ESPN and CBS that will likely pay over the annual $10 million per member the basketball only programs and $15 million the football participants get in their current TV deal. Sometimes the best deal is the one you didn't make and the Big East, contrary to the doomsday predictions after the ACC raided its members, is laughing all the way to the bank.

The Big Ten is also rumored to be poised to sign a new television deal this summer that will eclipse the $50 million per year level. That doesn't include whatever revenue the conference can generate from its "Big Ten Network" venture. Not to be outdone the SEC is also considering its own cable channel. The SEC's television contract will not expire till 2009 which already earns the conference $47 million per year. The Big XII has a distinct system for distributing its television revenue that is unlike that of other conferences.

The fact is that few of the benefits that the conference office promised as the result of expansion have come to fruition. Most of the claims by Swofford and his cronies were so patently silly that even they view keeping the member payouts constant as a victory. They were not saying that four years ago when they took a wrecking ball to fifty years of tradition. The confident predictions of the implosion of the remains of the scavenged corpse of the Big East by the sports pundits and resident Big East haters turned out to be totally invalid. The Big East has prospered and flourished in a way the ACC hasn't, but wasn't the fearful refrain of expansion proponents that the ACC would perish if it suffered the fate of the Big East? As in life when you make a decision based on fear it often turns out to be the wrong one.

This is the result when you have a group of amateur bureaucrats acting out of fear and trying to claim it is visionary foresight.