Sports Business Journal is reporting that the American Athletic Conference is considering a grant of rights (GOR) in order to secure more money in its upcoming television negotiations.
The AAC’s deal expires in 2020, as the upstart league seeks a pay raise in order to compete with the big spenders in college sports. Meanwhile, just about every member school is plotting its path out of the conference. A grant of rights means that any school would forfeit its television earnings through the end of the agreement for leaving before the grant of rights is up.
Currently, the TV deal with ESPN pays just under $2 million per school per year, but that deal was made when the conference was an unknown commodity. Now in it’s fifth season, the AAC has established itself as the top football conference outside the Power 5 and an okay men’s basketball conference.
SBJ says that the new contract could be worth three or four times more than the current one, but only if the conference’s top schools stay, which is why this discussion is on the table.
It would lead to more money for each school. But if the power conferences are looking to expand again, UConn and the other conference mates with a pulse, who all have greater aspirations, would not even have the chance to upgrade.
Most recently, the Big 12 flirted with expansion a couple of years ago before deciding to stay at 10 schools. However, the Big 12’s grant of rights expires in 2025 and there have long been rumblings of Texas and Oklahoma bolting for a different conference, which would likely create another round of musical chairs. A grant of rights would prevent any AAC school from capitalizing on that opportunity.
What does this mean for UConn?
This means locking up membership in the AAC and sitting out what is expected to be the next round of major college athletics realignment in the early-mid-2020s. Effectively, signing on to the GOR means punting on acceptance into the power five any time soon.
Because that realignment may not happen at all, a grant of rights is not a horrible idea, especially for the lower-tier schools in the AAC. Everyone could use the stability that it would provide, but the unifying theme of the AAC is that every school thinks it should be in a better conference.
Should UConn do this?
UConn’s leadership will be in a tough spot, deciding between a slightly larger paycheck in the short-run versus continuing to operate at a loss in hopes of a major payday down the road.
This is the dilemma that any top school in the conference is facing, but the difference is that UConn has the best possible alternative short-term option: joining the Big East and letting football fall wherever it may.
People have been calling for UConn to join the re-born Big East since the original one started crumbling, and those calls have only gotten louder after five years in the AAC. The idea of keeping that UConn football alive in the AAC at the expense of the men’s and women’s basketball programs, which have been severely impacted, becomes a tougher proposition with each passing god-awful year on the gridiron.
The only reason UConn in the American made any shred of sense was that it was believed to be the best option for the football program and thus the best path back into college sports’ country club. On-field reality has made that first point hard to prove, and a grant of rights would seem to close the door on the second, so no, UConn should not do this.
Time to join the Big East?
If it wasn’t already, it should definitely be on the table now that goddamn ECU wants to take a blood oath.
What happens to football? At this point, it might not really matter.
In early 2017, there were reports that UConn was in talks with the Big East about joining.
On Sunday, the Big East announced a deal that will keep the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden for another 10 years. Commissioner Val Ackerman also hinted they could expand to 11 teams and still keep a double round robin format in the regular season.
The Big East and UConn would make a good fit, even if it’s a group of mostly private, religiously-affiliated schools. This is about sports. The Big East TV deal pays out more money currently and would be worth more with UConn as part of the package. The Huskies would play more historic rivals, travel would be reduced, and the basketball competition would improve, especially for the women’s team. The Big East would get one of the highest-performing basketball programs of the past two decades and higher ticket prices for MSG.
What are the circumstances where UConn should sign the grant of rights?
Despite being awful for the past couple of seasons, the football program is necessary to maintain the school’s chance at joining a power conference. If football could reach even a medium level, UConn’s basketball programs, active fanbase, presence in major metro markets, department revenue and facilities would make it attractive choice for expansion.
If UConn’s leadership thinks it will have a good chance at securing one of these invites after the grant of rights, they should stick with the AAC and hope that a few extra million along with Randy Edsall’s efforts drives the program forward into a new era of winning leading up to an invite to the ACC/Big Ten.
It would also make sense to do this if the next contract pays each school something much closer to the roughly $40 million schools across the Power 5 are making.
It’s fun to dream.
Does UConn move to protect its basketball programs by leaving for the Big East? Or do they stay put in the AAC in hopes of getting a golden ticket? That’s the decision UConn will have to make as the end American’s TV deal gets closer.