As the argument between the D-1 Haves and Have-lesses continues, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney has issued a fairly significant threat to the smaller schools and conferences: give the big schools what we want or you might lose the NCAA tournament.
There's no question that if they chose to, the power conferences could shut down the tournament as it exists today. They could take their ball and go home, as it were.
But here's the thing: if the tournament can't work without the big conferences, it can't work without the rest either.
Imagine how boring it would get after a few years to see Auburn, Penn State and Nebraska in whatever tournament succeeds the NCAA.
People would tune in to watch Duke and Kentucky and the rest, to be sure, but a lot of people would just lose interest. There's a certain democracy at work when schools like Valpo and Princeton get a shot at the big boys.
Worth noting: there are 169,500 D-1 athletes. We don't know what would happen exactly, but one thing we're pretty sure of is that lawsuits would fly.
Of course this isn't the first threat Delaney has made: not too long ago, he said that if the NCAA lost the Ed O'Bannon case that the Big Ten might de-emphasize athletics and move to D-III. If the suit is lost before this situation comes to a head, maybe he can just kill two birds with one stone.
On a sort-of related note, over the summer we started paying much closer attention to the Pay-TV industry, as it's largely paying the freight for college football and basketball.
So what to make of this? Remember the recent Time-Warner CBS dustup? Turns out Time-Warner lost and lost badly: during the dispute, 306,000 people who were denied CBS networks canceled the service. That's a significant portion of the company's total 11.7 million subscribers.
So here's another potential dilemma for Delaney to consider. CBS just demonstrated that networks have a lot of power over cable companies and also that people have very real limits. How long can the cable companies continue to pass the costs on to subscribers? And as people continue to bail, how long will the power conferences keep getting their fat checks?