COLUMBIA — Mizzou is going to the Big Ten. Mizzou is not going to the Big Ten.
As speculation mounts, MU and Big Ten officials have been reluctant to say anything at all. But both parties have one very good reason to be interested in Mizzou going to the Big Ten: money.
The Big Ten Conference announced in December that it was considering conference expansion. In spite of its name, the Big Ten has 11 schools. The addition of a 12th would allow for a more balanced conference schedule and a lucrative Big Ten Conference championship game. (An NCAA bylaw says a conference must have at least 12 teams to stage a championship game.) But recent speculation is that the Big Ten could expand by as many as five schools, making it a super conference.
"I guess the conventional wisdom is that when it all shakes out, there's probably going to be six conferences left," said Dallas Branch, associate professor in sports management at West Virginia University. "Six major conferences, and they're all going to have 16 teams or more."
Branch said any expansion would be driven by money — television money, to be precise. The Big Ten has an agreement with the Big Ten Network worth $2.8 billion over 25 years, and with ESPN for $1 billion over 10 years. The deals allow the conference to distribute between $18 million and $22 million annually to each of its teams.
Missouri got just under $8.4 million from the Big 12 in 2007, the most recent year for which tax documents are available. The Big 12 has one of the least lucrative television contracts of the BCS conferences — an eight-year, $480 million deal with ABC and ESPN, and a four-year, $78 million deal with Fox Sports Network.
Branch said the Big Ten is interested in expansion in order to increase its television revenue stream.
"They have got to find new revenue streams or larger revenue streams, and that's what this TV thing is all about — maximizing revenue," Branch said.
MU Athletic Director Mike Alden told the Columbia Daily Tribune in September that he was frustrated by the current Big 12 television contract. “Our hope would be that we could renegotiate our television package to provide us with more exposure, more revenue for the league and we could share all those revenues equally,” Alden said.
These days, the MU officials aren't saying much at all.
Asked Tuesday before a speaking engagement at the Daniel Boone Regional Library if he or anyone at the university had been in contact with the Big Ten Conference, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said, "No comment."
A Kansas City sports radio show, citing anonymous sources, claimed on Monday that MU had been extended an initial offer to join the Big Ten conference. Dave Reiter, an associate director of media relations in the MU athletic department, denied the report, saying it was all speculation. "We're not going to comment on speculation," he said. Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner, also denied the report Tuesday, according to Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith in an Associated Press report.
John Christie is the general manager of the SEC Digital Network — the flagship digital distributor of the Southeast Conference. Christie said television contracts are driving conference realignment, and he pointed to the SEC's recent agreement with CBS and ESPN worth more than $3.1 billion over 15 years as an example.
"(It's) bar none the most significant television contract in college sports," he said. "(The SEC) secured the copyright in those negotiations." That means the SEC retains the rights to broadcast and rebroadcast conference games, setting up a potentially lucrative licensing stream as highlight DVDs, classic game broadcast, and game footage to be sold for rebroadcast.
Christie thinks a big move by the Big Ten will start a domino effect that causes the other conferences to realign, and those realignments will change the dynamics of television licensing agreements.
"All those realignments will lead to new television negotiations and (to schools) trying to get bigger TV contracts," Christie said. "It will create more of a have and have-not situation in college athletics."
Branch said that, despite their big budgets, most Division I athletic departments aren't self-sustaining, and rely on student fees and general fund allocations to close the gap.
"If you look at Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and some of the bigger schools in the Big Ten, they have anywhere from $110 to $120 million (athletic department) budgets," Branch said. "The Big Ten Network has allowed the Big Ten schools to basically be totally self-sustaining. They don't receive any subsidies from students, their institution or the state."
Branch doesn't think it's the licensing agreements that make the Big Ten's television revenue so powerful. He thinks it's the teams themselves.
"What's bigger than a Michigan-Michigan State game or a Penn State-Ohio State game?" Branch said. "You're hard pressed to find another couple of teams that, when they get together, they command the kind of audience that they command. The network is basically quantified by the brand values of those institutions."
If Missouri is invited to join the Big Ten, that would mean the Mizzou brand is attractive to the conference. Branch said both Nebraska and Missouri could bring a big television audience. "(They have) value from the standpoint of eyeballs," he said. "They've got not just a state but a regional following ...."
Nothing has been confirmed. Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany has said only that the conference is considering expansion, and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton has said MU will not respond to speculation.
Missourian reporters Patrick Sweet and Dieter Kurtenbach contributed to this report.