Just when we thought the conference realignment talk had finally started to calm down, Oklahoma President David Boren had to go and stir the pot this week. Since then the internet has gone wild with speculation that the Big 12 is on its death-bed once again. ESPN is even floating rumors that Oklahoma is flirting with the SEC, and Texas could be talking to the Pac-12 once again. The death of the Big 12 is inevitable, and it’s impending.
Expand or die, that seems to be the conference’s only two options. There’s just one question though. Why? I don’t get it. Have I lost my mind? How is the Big 12 in such dire straits all of a sudden? I think we all forget what a perfect storm last season was to keep the Big 12 out of the playoff.
The Big 12 Doesn’t NEED A Championship Game
At least not yet. In an interview with Omaha.com, Tom Osborne, a member of the Playoff Committee, came out and said the 13th game matters. The perception is that without expansion the Big 12 is going to have a hard time making the College Football Playoff. However, let’s look at what he actually said.
“The message was sent by (committee chairman) Jeff Long. If a team played 12 games and another team played 13 games, then, of course, that 13th game — against a good competitor — weighs in to strength of schedule. And conference championship was listed by the committee as a factor. So if you don’t have a conference champion and you have one less game, that makes a difference.”
Ignoring that the NCAA is about to make the lack of a conference championship game a moot point for the Big 12, of course the 13th game is a factor. Every game played should count towards strength of schedule. However, having the 13th game ‘weigh into strength of schedule’ doesn’t automatically mean a team has a stronger schedule with it than everyone else. According to TeamRankings.com Florida State had only the 33rd strongest schedule following the ACC Championship game. All ten Big 12 teams had a higher ranked SOS. Every. Single. One.
The Noles had to go undefeated to get in, and they did. Hats off to them, but to think that’s going to happen every year is a bit of an overreaction. You simply don’t need a conference championship game to have a stronger SOS. In fact, the Big 12’s round robin format is a much bigger factor, because you’re guaranteed to play number one, two, three and so on in the conference. Couple that with a strong non-conference slate and the Big 12 will never be left out due to strength of schedule.
Let’s also keep in mind that a conference championship game can just as easily keep someone out of the playoff.
Perceived Strength Isn’t An Issue
I asked Seth C. from Staking The Plains for his thoughts on conference expansion. While he agrees there isn’t much reason for it, he brought up a couple of concerns.
“I’ll key on the word “HAVE”. I don’t think the Big 12 has to expand, but I’m certainly in favor of it. I don’t think the Big 12 has to expand to stay alive or anything like that. The likely scenario is that the Big 12 will stick around in its current form, but I think that Boren is correct in that there is an inadequacy to what the Big 12 is doing. That’s the perfect word. I often think that the Big 12 isn’t as good as the SEC or Big Ten because of the lack of inventory that those two conferences have. And just like everyone else, I don’t know that the addition of teams will make the Big 12 that much better, but I certainly don’t feel like it will make it worse.
I have to disagree with my friend. ‘Inadequacy’ is not the perfect word. ‘Unique’ is. No other power five conference is positioned like the Big 12. Not only did the round-robin schedule put every Big 12 school in the top 30 in strength of schedule last season, but the conference has, or will have, the ability to add members and/or a championship game should they need to. By implementing a tie break, they currently enjoy the best of all worlds. We just need to give it time to play out.
Seth is right though, unless you’re adding Notre Dame, Nebraska, or Arkansas, the conference isn’t going to get any better with expansion.
Does the Big 12 really need to get better though? Again, no. (Okay, Kansas and Iowa State could work on at least becoming competitive.) Since 2011 five schools have won at least a share of the Big 12 Title. That’s parity, and an indication of strength, not weakness. Some believe OU and Texas need to get back to the top for the Big 12 to be viewed as elite, but when they were, those same people were complaining that OU and Texas couldn’t carry the conference. Others needed to step up. No matter what, there will always be people who see the glass half empty, but last season ESPN ranked the conference second in their power rankings going into the postseason. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Super Conferences Aren’t Happening
I’m going to let David Ubben with Fox Sports take this one. He summed it up perfectly in Wednesday’s mailbag.
“The idea of four 16-team conference is closer to college football fan/media fiction than reality right now. For one, major conferences now have the autonomy they craved. Thus, much of the motivation for forming these “super conferences” is lost. Second, most of the administrators I talk to say the consensus for people who have spent most of their career in college athletics is that super conference scenario wouldn’t be good for college sports and isn’t something that’s widely desired. A possibility, sure, but far from anything resembling inevitability. “
And that’s not even mentioning that the rest of the college football world would have serious concerns with four-team playoff with four super conferences. It’s already unlikely that anyone outside of the power conferences can make the CFB Playoff as it is, but with super conferences it would be impossible. The playoff would have to expand. Which is ironic, because that would render any perceived Big 12 issues moot.
Yes, there might be some discord in the conference, but that’s life when you have a bunch of big egos in one room. I doubt that OU and Texas are truly looking for a way out. It seems unlikely that two traditional powers would want to join a conference that already has big time programs of their own. They would fight year in and year out just to maintain relevancy.
Let Georgia be a warning to all, something would have to give. Are the Sooners and Longhorns really ready to bet it won’t be them to succumb to mediocrity? Especially when both aren’t exactly who they were in the early 2000’s? I doubt it.
There’s also the financial side to all of this. Simply put, no one is going anywhere without a serious pay increase, especially considering today’s buyout amounts. Super conferences just aren’t happening.
Money Isn’t An Issue Either
It’s simple, the largest factor of conference realignment is money. Specifically TV money. And as far as that’s concerned, the Big 12 is doing just fine. For the ninth year in a row the conference posted record profits. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced in may that schools who received full shares made $27 million, while TCU and West Virginia received $24 and $23 million as they work their way up to full shares.
To put that into perspective, the SEC also announced all-time high numbers with each member receiving $31 million. About $4 million more than the full Big 12 payday. However, The Big 12’s third-tier rights are a game changer.
Big 12 numbers don't include third-tier rights. Texas gets $15M from Longhorn Network. OU believed to be next at about $6.5M for 3rd tier.
— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) May 29, 2015
For WVU, add about $6.6M to that total from Tier 3 relationship with IMG College. Slightly better payday than mine. https://t.co/VbdYtyGMSp
— Mike Casazza (@mikecasazza) May 29, 2015
That means the Mountaineers’ payday, which isn’t a full share, was nearly as much as what SEC members made. Oklahoma may not be entirely happy with the Longhorn Network giving Texas a giant payday (and seemingly blocking any option of a Big 12 network), but they don’t exactly have it rough.
The Big 12’s lucrative contracts aren’t going anywhere either. They’re set for the next ten years. When it is time to renegotiate though, the Big 12 has two major assets. Oklahoma City and Tulsa. For years the two cities have ranked near the top of college football TV markets, and even with the Thunder now in OKC, the two cities still rank in the top ten.
The Big 12 might be perceived as the bottom of the power five conferences right now, but a lot can happen in ten years. Just ask Baylor. And remember, they negotiated the deal they have now when the conference actually was on the brink of death. It’s unlikely things are worse than that next time around, and the Big 12 came out healthier than ever.
Everyone Relax, The Big 12 Is Just Fine
Boren’s comments may of lit a wildfire of speculation this week, but inside those comments was a little nugget of information that could prove beneficial in the future.
“The contract says that our main television contract … if we grow from 10 to 11 or 11 to 12, their payments to us grow proportionally,” Boren said. “So everybody’s share stays the same. If it’s ‘X’ dollars, it stays ‘X’ dollars.
“It’s not total because there’s some smaller—much smaller—amounts of money around the edges but if you can find the right people, it should be additive even though it’s split 12 ways instead of 10.”
We’ve known that the first and second-tier rights would grow in accordance should the Big 12 expand, but we were always led to believe each member would receive far less in third-tier rights. Specifically with conference bowl money since the conference would not receive any more bowl bids. According to Boren’s comments though, the difference might not be as much as we thought, and could easily be made up with the addition of a conference championship game.
That’s good news for the Big 12. When planning for the future it’s all about flexibility, and it’s nice to know there’s nothing standing in their way should the need to expand arise. For now though, the conference is positioned like no one else.