You ready for the next round of conference realignment rumors? Ready or not, they’re coming.
The American is the first conference to the table to re-up the television deals that blew up the college sports landscape at the early part of this decade, and AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is trying to stave off a raid on his conference roster before it can even start.
According to the Sports Business Journal, the conference is asking its member schools to sign a Grant of Rights agreement before signing its new TV deal(s). For those who did not take a crash course in media law during the Realignment Apocalypse of the 2010s, a Grant of Rights locks in a school’s media rights to that conference, essentially — just for the purse sake of argument — making UCF worthless to the Big 12, since the Knights’ media rights would remain property of the American for the length of the contract.
Such a deal would make the American’s TV much more valuable, since networks bidding on the league would know for a fact they’re getting UCF, Cincinnati and Houston and not — for the pure sake of argument — Florida Atlantic, Bowling Green and UTSA.
It’s no secret that UCF, Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston are the conference’s most valued members, and thus would have the least incentive to commit their media rights to the AAC. So, why then would they do it? The SBJ addresses this:
Part of the negotiations have explored the possibility of top AAC schools making more revenue than others, which is drastically different than the conference’s current deal in terms of revenue distribution. Currently, the conference splits revenue evenly among its members. It’s unclear how a new distribution system that pays more to certain schools would be received by the rest of the conference, but the presence of UCF is expected to lead to a bigger media rights deal for the conference.
So, Aresco will try to convince UCF and the like that the bird in the hand is worth more than a non-existent offer from the Big 12, while telling Tulsa, Temple and the rest that a tilted media deal is still better than what they’d get in a deal without UCF and company. It’s the same strategy Dan Beebe used to keep the Big 12 from complete implosion in the summer of 2010.
The AAC’s current deal is worth an average of $18 million per year — for the entire conference, which is less than half the Big Ten pays each school.
Obviously, the AAC’s new deal won’t approach the Big Ten’s current payouts, but the American’s current contract was put together as the conference was trying to piece together its survival, so the next deal is expected to shoot up significantly. How significant depends on if the conference’s more popular members are willing to commit to the league in the long term.