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MWC reportedly folds on Boise's TV bonus. So now what?
Plus, a look at what NC A&T's move to the Big South means for the MEAC, the ASUN, and across FCS
Good morning! Thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
I know I had promised a mailbag this week, but with so much realignment-adjacent news dropping late on Friday, I figured I should address that first, and then, assuming I get a few spare moments on this business trip, will drop the mailbag later in the week. If you have questions, feel free to fire ‘em off to @MattBrownEP or MattBrownOhio@gmail.com.
Okay. Let’s talk about Boise State.
Report: Bosie will get that TV money after all
Quick TL;DR for those who are just following the story now. Boise State currently gets more TV money than the other Mountain West Conference schools, thanks to a clause they negotiated when they rejoined the conference. The other conference schools want this clause removed. Boise says their contract doesn’t allow them to do that unilaterally. The league apparently tried to do it anyway, and Boise threatened to sue.
Now, it appears the MWC folded. Via the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The Mountain West Board of Directors has quietly voted to rescind a decision that would end Boise State’s additional slice of revenue from the conference’s TV contract, several sources told the Union-Tribune.
In exchange, Boise State will drop a legal complaint filed last month against the conference and agree to terms of the new TV contract that begins this summer.
What doesn’t change, however, is the basic dispute. Boise State will continue to receive $1.8 million per year in addition to what everyone else in the conference gets through 2025-26. And the rest of the conference will continue to fight for equitable distribution after that.
On one hand, this seems like a positive for all sides. Boise agrees to the new TV contract, costly and potentially embarrassing litigation is dropped, and a fight that doesn’t really need to happen now anyway is postponed.
But the fault lines are all still there. If anything, this just reinforces that Boise continues to have leverage over the rest of the league, no matter what San Diego State or Fresno State fans think. Not only do they have the contract on their side, but they’re the biggest TV draw and most successful brand. They want to continue to utilize that leverage. Heck, Boise wanted even more extra TV money. I think that’s rational!
The rest of the league does not want Boise to utilize that leverage. I don’t really see how this is something everybody can really compromise over…either you get special treatment, or you don’t. And if anything, negotiating ought to be even harder, now that Boise essentially claimed the commissioner and the board of directors acted dishonestly. If there was private resentment between MWC school administrators and Boise before, wouldn’t it be worse now?
This would appear to be more of a cease-fire than any kind of lasting peace treaty. It is certainly possible that everybody hashes all of their differences out in private and Boise remains an MWC member through the duration of this TV contract and beyond, but if I had to bet right now, I don’t think they will.
North Carolina A&T heads to the Big South
The first of potentially several FCS realignment moves in the South became official late last week. North Carolina A&T announced they are leaving the MEAC for the Big South, effective 2021. I believe Greensboro.com had the news first (although yes, the SBJ did predict it a few months ago).
What does this mean for the Big South?
I think this is a major coup for Big South football. North Carolina A&T is really good! The Aggies finished in the FCS top 25 last season, have beaten multiple FBS teams in recent memory (Sagarin projected their 2019 squad as better than several FBS teams, like New Mexico State and South Alabama), and should give the league a third FCS playoff-caliber squad. Depending on how North Alabama matures as a program, that’s a solid grouping for an FCS league.
It also helps give the Big South critical flexibility in case the ASUN actually launches an FCS league of their own, one that would (probably) take North Alabama and Kennesaw State with them. With Presbyterian departing, NC A&T gives the Big South eight FCS football teams. A playoff-caliber program gives the league not just the raw numbers to ensure wiggle-room, but a brand they could potentially use to recruit other programs.
What does this mean for the ASUN?
North Carolina A&T says it considered eight different possible conference homes and both the FCS and FBS level. When Collegiate Consulting compiled a benchmarking study for NC A&T, they included data on the ASUN, as well as the Big South.
Given the ASUN’s ambitious expansion goals, I think it reasonable to assume there was at least some interest in A&T by the ASUN.
There just aren’t very many FCS schools that fit the ASUN’s stated ideal profile for an expansion candidate, and there really aren’t many FCS schools that fit that profile that also have been as good as A&T, at least recently.
Who knows how seriously either party was really interested in each other. But if you’re trying to pull off an ambitious game of conference musical chairs, when there aren’t many other chairs, missing out on a solid candidate isn’t a very good start.
What does this mean for the MEAC, and other HBCUs?
These are not great days for the MEAC.
The conference has lost four schools since 2010. Winston-Salem State wasn’t able to completely transition to D1, Savannah State decided to go back to DII, and Hampton left for the Big South in 2018.
The remaining schools include some of the least resourced in all of DI athletics. MEAC member Coppin State has the smallest listed revenues in the entire USA TODAY athletic department database. Bethune-Cookman is at risk of losing accreditation, and their stadium faces an uncertain future. I can’t think of any DII team that is financially stable enough that the league could try to promote. They are certainly in a tough spot.
There’s also the interesting question about what this decision means for HBCU athletics, generally.
There is certainly a school of thought among some HBCU fans that part of the appeal of those programs comes from their long associations with other HBCU schools. Leaving an HBCU conference may dilute those ties, not only hurting other HBCU schools, but potentially watering down their entire identity and purpose. I think this is part of the reason why Hampton’s departure from the MEAC got ugly and mean. Hampton’s AD said some Pirate alumni were not happy with the school’s departure from an all-HBCU league, even with the financial and exposure benefits that come from the change, and I think it’s reasonable to assume not every A&T fan is going to immediately love this either. At least, not right off the bat.
There’s another school of thought that says that it would be unfair to penalize successful or ambitious programs who are trying to act in their own interest. NC A&T has to do what’s best for that school, and if leaving an HBCU league provides them a bigger stage and more resources, why shouldn’t they do it? And it’s not like Hampton immediately replaced their band with a Mumford and Sons concert by joining the Big South.
If they wanted to, I imagine some of the larger MEAC brands, like Florida A&M and Howard, would be able to find D1 landing spots outside of the MEAC, but I’m not sure if some of the smaller programs could. It’s entirely possible that one more departure from a major program could mean the end of the MEAC as we know it.
What does this mean for North Carolina A&T?
For one, they’ll have a different postseason destination. The Aggies have dominated the Celebration Bowl, the postseason finale between the MEAC and SWAC champions, for the last five years. Now, if they have a comparable season, they should get a crack at the FCS playoffs. Will they win it? eh, probably not, but outside of North Dakota State and James Madison, does anybody?
Conference changes at this level don’t really bring in meaningful TV money changes, but it is possible that NC A&T could make more money from apparel contracts, or save money on travel. Hampton’s AD said his school benefited from a superior apparel deal, ESPN+ coverage, and less missed class time for students.
Will they sell as many tickets? Will fans come out to see Charleston Southern like they did against North Carolina Central or Florida A&M? I’m not sure. But it looks like the Aggies would like to keep playing some HBCUs either way.
I’m hopeful this works out for everybody. In a perfect world, every MEAC school that still wants to play D1 athletics is able to secure a financially sustainable home, North Carolina A&T is able to beef up their schedule and better serve their athletes, and fans of Big South programs get to see another solid opponent on their schedules.
I remain skeptical that we’re going to see some massive, P5 level realignment over the next few years. But I would not be surprised at all if this isn’t the last FCS realignment story I blog about here on Extra Points.
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