First, go read this amazing, data-driven piece at the New York Times on how different college football programs around the country play into each of the big media markets. Using Google Trends and other sources, the NYT's Nate Silver broke down college football's popularity by city, by conference, and by shares of certain markets.
It's not totally scientific, but based on what we know about the towns and schools profiled, it's really not far off (no, Georgia Tech isn't twice as popular as FSU, but Jackets alumni are apparently the best at taking online surveys). Some interesting takeaways to ponder during the great plague of college football conference realignment, which as is based on football TV markets as it is anything else:
- Atlanta comes just short of New York City in total college football fans, despite having 16 million fewer residents. This doesn't have much to do with conference expansion, except it kind of does. Mostly just bragging here. This also shows why the CAA was willing to pick up newbie Georgia State and why the SoCon appears to have interest in coming-soon Kennesaw State -- not just any first-year program could enter a conference only a step or two shy of the WAC, but even the I-AA power conferences want a piece of Atlanta.
- The SEC's total population base isn't much more impressive than the ACC's or Pac-12's, and is dwarfed by the Big Ten's. But take a look at Birmingham: 85 percent college football fans. If you've at least driven through Alabama, you believe it. For the SEC, adding big markets Houston and Dallas could blow the lid off the conference's value, since as it is only Atlanta provides major-market value. Or it could mean little, since the SEC is already a national conference.
- Are we sure the ACC surrounding New York City is such a worthwhile idea? Almost three million college football fans would be a pretty big deal, but look at the school loyalties breakdown. Even if the ACC picks up Rutgers and UConn in addition to Syracuse, the conference will only add about 900,000 New York TV sets according to these numbers. Is that worth going to 16 teams? (I have no idea. You answer, please.)
- The breakdown of Omaha, Nebraska is interesting. Only 410,000 Huskers fans? Though that's most of the city, it doesn't sound like much. But Nebraska football brings an entire state, not just a city. Can Rutgers claim to serve up all of New York, or just a portion of New York City? Plus, most of the other top schools in Omaha are Nebraska's new Big Ten opponents. Unless the ACC can add Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan, you can't say the same about Tobacco Road and New York.
- See how big a loss Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma would be to the Big 12, especially since it will mean the impending defection of Missouri to one of the three eastern power conferences? Also, see how hilarious it is that Baylor, one of the smallest presences in any BCS conference, was able to jam up the process for a week or more?
There's plenty more to ponder in there. Again, it's not 100 percent representative, but this data plus common sense helps make conference realignment a little bit clearer.