Among conferences, the Southeastern Conference has long been the big bad wolf of college football. Its teams have blown over the competition in regular season games, postseason bowls and player awards.
But since Alabama’s surprise loss to eventual national champ Ohio State in last January’s national semifinal, the conference may have lost its bite. The latest AP poll places four SEC teams in the AP Top 25, but that only ties it for third with the Big 12. The Pac 12 has five ranked teams, while the Big Ten leads all conferences with six. It’s much the same in both the USA Today poll and CFB playoff rankings, with the Big Ten leading and the SEC tied for second.
There is one area, though, where the SEC’s dominance is unquestioned, and that is finances. The league, with its lucrative television contracts, generated more than $455 million in total revenue in the most recent fiscal year and paid each of its 14 schools an astonishing $31.2 million.
Among the so-called Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and ACC), only the Big Ten can rival it, having generated almost $340 million in revenue that it shared with its 14 members (almost $25 million each) in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to ESPN. The Big 12 is the only other conference playing in the same pool. ESPN reported that it paid about $250 million. That’s far less than the other two conferences, but since the Big 12 has only 10 members, it amounts to about the same per-team payout as the Big Ten.
Despite all the money already rolling in, the high-dollar business that is today’s college sports is always looking for a way to make even more. So, how about an in-season, SEC vs. Big Ten Challenge? Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema proposed that idea during this past week’s SEC coaches teleconference. Bielema coached at Big Ten school Wisconsin eight years before taking the Arkansas job three seasons ago.
Similar to college basketball’s Big 12/SEC Challenge and others, Bielema’s concept would rank all 14 teams in each conference during the preseason and match them with their respective counterpart in the opposite conference. Then one week would be reserved for the matched teams to play each other.
The potential revenues to the schools and the cities, like Gainesville, in which they are located would be significant. Bielema also says the games could fill the one chink in the SEC’s image: the games its schools play against opponents from the NCAA Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). These are schools that play in the NCAA’s highest division for all sports, except football, where they play in the second-tier FCS. The four Florida FCS schools are Betheune-Cookman, Florida A&M, Jacksonville University and Stetson University.
FCS schools generate less football revenue than their rivals in the upper-tier Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). One of the ways FCS schools make up the revenue gap is to schedule road games against FBS powerhouses. While an FCS school occasionally will pull off a dramatic upset (the most notable being Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007), the arrangement generally works like this: the FCS school will travel to the FBS school, get beaten soundly and collect a huge paycheck because the FBS school fills an enormous stadium. An example this weekend (Nov. 21) would be Charleston Southern at Alabama.
The Big Ten already prohibits its schools from playing FCS opponents, and the SEC is under pressure to do the same. That’s why Bielema’s idea to replace those with FCS teams could work well in other Power Five conferences. It improves FBS schools’ strength of schedule while generating dollars at the same time. The only losers would be the FCS schools missing out on a lucrative payday.
Copa Comes to Orlando
The legendary Copa America soccer tournament is leaving South America next year for the first time and is coming to the Orlando Citrus Bowl – along with nine other U.S. venues. Orlando and Orange County officials worked in concert with Orlando City Soccer and the Central Florida Sports Commission to land the tournament.
Orlando will host three games in the tournament, which will be June 3-26. Officials expect it to pump $30 million into the local economy, but the prestige value may be even higher. The tournament is one of the most celebrated in the world and is organized by the 10-nation South American football (soccer) federation.
Because next year is the 100th anniversary of the tournament – hence the name Copa America Centenario – organizers decided to do something special. They worked in partnership with the soccer federation that represents North America and the Caribbean to bring the tournament to the U.S. Joining the 10 South American national teams will be teams from the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and two more nations to be determined later.
It is not known yet which nations will play in Orlando.
UCF’s New AD
It’s a good thing new UCF athletic director Danny White is no stranger to high-profile coaching searches.
The 36-year-old White has been AD at the University of Buffalo since May 2012. While there, he engineered the hiring of Bobby Hurley to coach men’s basketball. Hurley quickly built the Bulls into a contender, taking them to their first-ever NCAA Tournament last March before leaving for Arizona State. White also replaced football coach Jeff Quinn with Lance Leipold, a six-time national champion with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
At UCF, one of White’s top priorities is finding a replacement for retired football coach George O’Leary.
Rays to play in Cuba?
Last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred selected the Tampa Bay Rays from among teams wanting to play an exhibition game in Cuba during spring training.
If approved, it would be only the second time that any U.S. team has played in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s revolution. In March 1999, the Baltimore Orioles faced Cuba’s national team in Havana.
Race to the Finish Line in Homestead
The 2015 NASCAR season, which first took the green flag at Daytona in February, finally brakes to a stop at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sun., Nov. 22. It’s the 20th anniversary for the speedway facility, site for the NASCAR finale since 1999. Driver and manufacturer championships are up for grabs in all three NASCAR series, including a four-way dogfight for the Sprint Cup championship. The retiring Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion and NASCAR fixture since 1992, is one of the contenders.
The down-to-the-checkered-flag excitement has speedway officials dancing in the seats. Each one sold out in advance of Sunday’s marquee event for the second consecutive year.