The college sports universe is in a tizzy today, with reports flying to and fro about conference expansion and dissolution. Grown men are demanding legislative hearings, and here in Dallas we've actually stopped worrying about who the backup left tackle for the Cowboys is going to be. Believe me, when that happens, the world is in crisis.
The Wine Curmudgeon has learned that the reasons given for all of the excitement are a smokescreen; in fact, conference realignment is not about getting more TV revenue for the schools. My source, Deep Vineyard, reports that this is a power grab by the Pacific-10 conference, based in California, to corner the U.S. wine market. More, after the jump:
As I have reported previously, California -- faced with increasing competition from South America and slumping sales because of the recession -- is desperate to maintain its spot as the preeminent wine region in the world. Deep Vineyard, who was privy to a meeting between top California wine officials and the Pac 10 leadership, told me the meeting was tense and uneasy. "They know they have to do something soon," he said, "before the wine magazines start lowering scores. Because once one score gets lowered, then it's a free fall to the mid-80s -- just as if California was southern France or Sicily -- or God, forbid, Australia."
Hence the plan for the Pac-10 to add three Texas colleges, which come from the fifth biggest wine producing state in the country.
"They see Texas as the perfect California satellite," said Deep Vineyard. "They already have Oregon and Washington to protect their flank with pinot noir and riesling, and they can then grow warm weather varietals in Texas, like viognier and sangiovese, that don't do well in California."
So why all the secrecy and false leaks? Deep Vineyard said that's because the Californians are convinced that the French and Italians are behind the Big Ten conference's expansion plans. The Big Ten will apparently add Nebraska (a feint, said Deep Vineyard, to make the media think this is about football TV money) and is considering adding Missouri and Syracuse in upstate New York.
"Missouri and New York would give the Europeans two of the top regional wine states in the U.S," said Deep Vineyard, "and would give them a foothold to push back against Californian expansion in the rest of the country. Besides, being Europeans, they think regional wine is important, even if it really isn't in the U.S."
It's also why the Big Ten was reportedly interested in adding Texas, he said, when expansion talk first came up. "But the Texans turned them down," said Deep Vineyard. "They knew that going with the Big Ten would never impress the wine magazines, and Texas desperately want to be known as the next Napa Valley."
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