Another proud program that wears a blue and yellow winged helmet with national championships to its name may soon join Michigan. In his latest issue of Extra Points, Matt Brown reported that Delaware is open to moving to FBS after the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) added schools Delaware did not view as peer institutions.
Unfortunately, the FBS bubble may have burst as the NCAA is considering increasing the FCS-to-FBS reclassification fee from $5,000 to $5,000,000. However, schools with enrollments the size of Delaware (23,774) may still have the resources to jump to FBS despite the bloated costs.
Until the PAC-12's collapse, no conference faced more turmoil than Conference USA. At one point, they dropped from 14 members to five seemingly overnight. Fortunately, the rough seas seem to have subsided as Conference USA expanded to 10 members and recently signed a Grant of Rights with its members.
Still, Conference USA may seek new members to stabilize even more.
Conference realignment is more unpredictable than ever as conferences are more expansive than ever, stretching the bounds of geography more than Vasco De Gama.
With ten teams and a vast footprint, Conference USA could have schools still looking for other conferences after the Grant of Rights expires after the 2027-2028 academic year. Other conferences must pay a fee of $800,000/year for every school they take from Conference USA. Consequently, schools leaving Conference USA in the last couple of years of the agreement are a realistic concern.
Here is where Delaware comes in. Conference USA has become the Ellis Island of College Football. Schools come from the ocean of FCS football with big aspirations. Conference USA takes them in and gives them their version of College Football's American Dream.
If Delaware wants to move up to FBS, Conference USA may be their only hope, but is it worth it? Delaware's furthest CAA opponent is the College of Charleston, 628 miles from Newark. The average distance from Newark to the ten current Conference USA members is 1096 miles, with two schools over 2,000 miles away.
Delaware's CAA opponents in football and Olympic sports are 291 miles away on average. Liberty would be Delaware's only semblance of a regional rival. Yet, even they are 278 miles from Newark.
More Media Revenue & Exposure
A move to Conference USA increases exposure and revenue for Delaware. The CAA vaguely states their media deal is worth eight figures, likely on the low end of the $10-20 million range for four years. If you estimate the deal's worth at $10 million, then each school receives an estimated $179,000 yearly. Conference USA's media deal far exceeds this, giving $800,000 to each school per year.
The travel expenses increase in Conference USA, but the increased media revenue could cover it. Additionally, the Blue Hens get more exposure from Conference USA. Whether it is fair or not, Flosports receives tons of criticism from FCS football fans for various reasons ranging from broadcast quality to a lack of value as the subscription cost is $30/month.
Conference USA wisely has a streaming deal with ESPN+, where several other conferences stream sports, compared to Flosports, which only claims rights to the CAA. Conference USA gives Delaware football significant exposure through their weeknight October football games.
Better Postseason Football Revenue
Finally, the FBS' postseason seems more lucrative than the FCS'. Not only does a move to Conference USA promise bowl money, but also College Football Playoff money. After the 2022-2023 season, the Group of Five received $102,770,000 to split between the five leagues. If distributed evenly, Group of Five conferences receive roughly $20 million per conference.
For Conference USA, that means close to $2 million per school.
The financial benefits of the FCS Playoffs pale in comparison to this. Schools must bid to host playoff games. For example, the University of North Dakota bid $127,500 to host a first-round FCS game in 2022.
Additionally, the TV contract for the FCS Playoffs falls into the NCAA's contract for all sports championships. The current NCAA championship contract with ESPN is worth $34 million for 29 events, equaling around $1.17 million per sport. After dividing this total between the 24 schools participating in the FCS Playoffs, it is miniscule compared to bowl and CFP payouts.
More Men's Basketball Postseason Opportunities
The benefits in the other revenue sport, men's basketball, increase with a move to Conference USA. With traditional mid-major powers like New Mexico State and Western Kentucky competing with emerging programs like Liberty, Delaware can build a better resume for the postseason than in the CAA. While Conference USA is far from a consistent multi-bid league, Conference USA is more likely to send teams to the NIT than the CAA.
The perception of Conference USA is better than that of the CAA. Despite going 31-3 in the regular season, Charleston's strength of schedule was such a concern they could have missed the NCAA Tournament if they did not win the CAA Tournament. Even though Hofstra went to the NIT, they likely would not have made it if they had not earned an automatic bid to the tournament by winning the CAA regular season title. On the contrary, not only did former Conference members UAB and North Texas make the NIT in 2023, but future members Liberty and Sam Houston earned at-large bids.
The NIT is relatively lucrative for mid-majors like Conference USA. Schools earn $334,080 for participating, $5,220 for each round they advance, and double that for reaching the semifinals. In short, Conference USA puts Delaware on a better path to financial gains in men's basketball's postseason.
Delaware appears set on an FBS move, and the arguments above likely drive such a mindset. However, the conference fit is awkward. Ideally, the MAC is the best home for Delaware. The MAC is the beacon of stability in the FBS, with its tight geographic footprint, and may seem unlikely to expand further. The Blue Hens may need another school to jump to FBS to maintain the MAC's even membership. Few schools near the MAC's footprint have expressed interest in a move.
Consequently, Conference USA seems to be the Blue Hens' only hope. The geographic fit is not ideal, but the increase in revenue and exposure may be worth it in the long run. Conference USA is more volatile than the MAC, and multiple FCS schools want to move to Conference USA. The only remaining question is whether the Blue Hens will take the leap of faith.