I posed this question on Twitter Friday...
With the possibility of the 96 team tournament coming to fruition next year, a pair of conferences are in the process of negotiating their media rights for the upcoming season, the ACC and Conference-USA. While the ACC and Conference-USA rights will continue to have a massive gap between the two, could the value of the basketball components change.
There's a general belief that the regular season for a power conference will mean even less and the conference tournament will become a glorified exhibition. In the case of the ACC, they generally have 5-7 NCAA tournament teams and another three in the NIT, so anywhere from 8-10 tournament teams in a 96 team tournament. So if 75% of a conference makes the tournament and are really only playing the regular season for seeding at the end, should a company like Raycom, who owns those rights, offer any increase when the regular season now matters for the teams at the bottom? And in the case of a company like Raycom who then sublicenses games to various entities, can they get a substantial amount of money back?
On the flipside is Conference USA. C-USA has only sent two total teams to the past four NITs. Now that could be due to the auto-bid requirements on the NIT for regular season conference champions, as they sent two teams each to the CBI and CIT tournaments over the past three seasons. Let's say they become a regular 2-3 bid league. Their regular season and conference tournament should have value as the conference doesn't send the majority to the NCAAs. They'll have bubble teams in the upper half of the conference standings. Like this year where Memphis and UAB both lost in the 1st round of the conference tournament, playing well in the conference tournament will matter still for C-USA.
Now lets be clear, football will drive television revenues for both conferences and just because we go to 96 teams doesn't mean that either conference will get a substantial increase in the number of basketball games on national television. C-USA has not yet finished bowl season with a team in either the USA Today or AP polls. The ACC hasn't quite lived up to the expectations that they and the media set for the conference when it expanded. And both conferences have different agendas and the television partners they are negotiating with.
But men's basketball is definitely a driver for these conferences, more so with the ACC and whatever gains it could have in NCAA units from an expanded tournament could offset the possible lack of revenue increases. And as this continues to loom over the NCAA and its member conferences, those conferences with upcoming negotiations will have those same discussions with their rightsholders.