On Monday evening the Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and board chairman David Boren sat in front of the press to confirm the news we already knew, the Big 12 is not going to expand and that expansion is no longer an agenda item for the conference.
So what does this mean? What happens now? Is the conference doomed? Well, let’s go over it.
First, this isn’t going to be a popular post. This isn’t going to get the clicks it would if we jumped on the bandwagon and fed the chaos by claiming the Big 12 is all but dead. This isn’t going to be that post. The media’s job isn’t to incite, it is to inform. And while we aren’t traditional media, we still take that seriously.
So I ask you, take a second, clear your head of any preconceived notion, and let’s go over what we know.
What Happened, Why Stay At 10?
The answer is simple. ESPN and Fox did not feel like any potential candidate would have added the value needed to make the pro rata clause in the Big 12 television contract worth it for them. They felt that if the Big 12 was to exercise the clause, it would simply be a money grab by the conference. At one time, ESPN and Fox even threatened to sue if the Big 12 went through with expansion, and yesterday, Fox president Eric Shanks spoke out against it.
“We don’t think expansion in the Big 12 is a good idea for the conference.” Shanks told the SportsBusiness Journal. “We think it will be dilutive to the product in the short term. In the long term, it’s probably harmful to the future of the conference. Who knows where expansion is going to go. Reading the smoke signals, [expansion talk has] cooled off. I don’t know why. We’re still in discussions with them. We still have a long way to go in the deal. We’ll work through it the best way that we can.”
The last thing the Big 12, or any conference for that matter, wants to do is to go against the wishes of their television partners. It creates mistrust, and that surely would be the death of the Big 12.
So, it’s not that the Big 12 didn’t want to expand or that none of the candidates were worthy, because a few were. They didn’t even get into discussing potential candidates, because the decision to stay at 10 was made for them and after that, there wasn’t much to talk about anymore.
So What Now? Is The Big 12 Doomed?
Far from it. Put the fear mongering aside. The Big 12 isn’t going anywhere. It literally can’t go anywhere for at least another eight years due to the conference’s grant of rights, and that isn’t going to change.
So, if someone tells you the Big 12 is dead, with all due respect, they are an idiot, or just feeding the propaganda.
Boren spoke fairly candidly yesterday that the conference’s current members are more committed to the Big 12 than he’s ever seen before.
“We had a very thoughtful and candid meeting which showed a great deal of strength in the Conference,” Boren said. “We have a strong commitment from every single member of the board to the cohesiveness and stability of the Conference.”
I believe him, because they have to be.
The grant of rights locks the current members to the conference. There is no getting around it. Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, they aren’t going anywhere. Not for at least eight years.
A New TV Deal Brings Stability
You know what is pretty good sign that you’re in a position of strength? When you get more money for doing absolutely nothing, and that is exactly what ESPN and Fox are prepared to do for the Big 12.
Sources close to the situation have told us, and as Sports Illustrated has already reported, the conference and its television partners are currently working on a new contract that will give the conference more money to do away with the pro rata clause in the current contract. Bowlsby was asked about that report, to which he acknowledged that the conference was in talks with its television partners, but could not talk about the details.
Last year the Big 12 paid out $304 million to its members. Considerably less than that of the SEC. However, if you look at was the conferences doled out per member, it’s not nearly as lopsided. The Big 12 averaged $30.4 million a member. That’s right on par with both the SEC and the Big Ten who paid out $32.6 million and $32.4 million per school respectively, and well above what the Pac-12 and ACC paid out. The Big 12 isn’t financially disadvantaged like some would have you believe.
Furthermore, A new deal, with even more money, will only solidify the Big 12 even more. Make no mistake, the Big 12 is financially viable, and it will be for some time.
Tier 3 Rights Will Be A Game Changer
The Longhorn Network is thought of as the bane of the Big 12’s existence, but what if I told you it might just be the best thing to ever happen to the conference? The LHN has made getting a conference network nearly impossible for the Big 12, and there is a good chance that could prove to be a good thing.
The Big 12 is the only Power Five conference where conference member retain their third tier rights. Every other Power Five conference’s third tier rights are locked up into their conference network.
Things are changing in television. On demand streaming is disrupting everything. More and more people are cutting the cord, while conference networks like the Pac-12’s are suffering, and ESPN and FOX continue to lose television subscribers. ESPN is trying to react to the new market, while the NFL is now streaming games on Twitter.
No one knows exactly what the TV landscape will look like in five years, but you can bet that each school being able to negotiate their own streaming rights, will be a major advantage for the Big 12.
What About Being “Psychologically Disadvantaged”?
When David Boren called the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged” it reverberated throughout college football, and those calling for the demise of the conference have used it as a staple to their argument ever since.
There is no denying that it was damning for the conference, and it was the first sign that the conference would entertain expansion. Boren was asked about that comment yesterday, and why the change of heart now, what’s changed?
Two things have changed. One, the decision for a conference network was made for them. The Big 12 missed the window as networks are struggling to make money. As mentioned above, though, that could ultimately be a good thing. Especially since ESPN and Fox are willing to pay more for what they already own.
The second thing that has changed is the lack of a 13th data point. The College Football Playoff Committee made it clear that the 13th data point matters. Apparently, regardless of strength of schedule since every Big 12 member, even Baylor with their cupcake non-conference, has had no problem finishing in the top third in strength of schedule. The round-robin schedule guarantees that, because no matter what you play the best of the conference.
However, the committee wants it, so the Big 12 has agreed to oblige, and will once again host a conference championship game starting in 2017. It’s a little ridiculous considering the round-robin schedule guarantees it will be a rematch, but hey, that’s what everyone wanted, right?
The Big 12 continues to be one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. Even in a down year, when there doesn’t appear to be any elite team in the conference, the Big 12 still has a pretty good shot at making the playoff. Furthermore, 80% of the conference is capable of being in the top 25 in any given year.
Does The Big 12 Owe Everyone An Apology?
Let’s not forget that Houston’s candidacy began with Houston’s Board of Regents chairman, Tilman Fertitta, petitioning the Texas state legislature to force the conference into taking Houston.
“Put pressure on the presidents; say, ‘If you don’t do this, we’re not going to fund you for this,’” Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board.“It’s just the way it is. That’s the way to do it.”
So no, the Big 12 doesn’t owe anyone an apology, and they certainly don’t owe Houston one. No one was ever promised anything, and expansion was always a long shot. If anyone owes an apology, it’s the television networks. The Big 12 was backed into a corner, just to have ESPN and Fox shut it down. If BYU, Houston and Cincinnati are the programs they say they are, they understand how the business of college football works.
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