COLUMN: Big 12 shakeup was all about the money

Friday, June 25, 2010 | 3:07 p.m. CDT; updated 3:19 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 25, 2010

Two weeks ago, I woke up once every hour to check my phone because I was afraid that conference realignment news would happen at 4 a.m. That's absurdity, but the recent conference realignment whirlwind was equally absurd.

The situation was so daffy that it was impossible to keep up with the latest rumors and speculation, unless you were constantly engaged with the topic. At a certain point, it just wasn't worth the energy.

Now that the situation seems to be in check, we can finally look at the big picture of what happened and what it meant. 

I joke that the best way to run a mid-Missouri newspaper is to print only stories about college football and the weather. The conference realignment saga makes me believe my joke might truly apply to not only Columbia, but the rest of the country as well.

June is usually the quiet season for college football — nothing much happens during the dog days of summer. But armed with a base statement from December — that the Big Ten Conference  would be looking at expanding its 11-team league — we, the news media, went to town. We needed some stories to go along with the weather.

The the facts we started with were:

1. The NCAA mandates that a conference must have 12 teams to hold a conference championship game, which can bring in $10 million annually.

2. The Big Ten was looking into expanding.

3. Missouri Athletics Director Mike Alden had expressed his displeasure with the Big 12 Conference on more than one occasion. Before the Big Ten's announcement, Alden had said that he wanted equal revenue sharing in the Big 12. Then and now, Missouri receives less money from the Big 12 than Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Kansas. 

Cue the anonymous sources.

It was a fluid story. Three years ago, the thought of the Big Ten expanding was comedy. In 2007, the Big Ten started the Big Ten Network, becoming the first major conference to own its own regional cable channel. It was a gamble — the Big Ten Network wallowed in the red before it was picked up by major cable outlets. Now, the network is the driving force behind the highest conference payouts in the nation: $22 million per school. 

That's a lot of money, and money talks. Every school wants a piece of it, and every fan imagines what their team could do with it. For the Tigers, who received less than $10 million in conference payouts in 2007, $22 million guaranteed, every year, is enough to pack your bags, sit by the phone and wait for Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany to call and invite you over.

Mike Alden and Brady Deaton sat by the phone from December to June. They won't say, and probably never will say, if they expected the invitation to come. The fact is, it would have been illogical for Missouri to pass on the Big Ten. I am sure that they had some extremely sweaty palms when that call had not yet come, all while the Big 12 conference was seemingly crumbling around them.

Meanwhile the Pac-10 made moves of its own. On the West Coast, the administrators of the Pac-10's member schools gave Commissioner Larry Scott full power to invite any school he wanted into the conference. That move became fact No. 4: the game changer. 

Colorado received an invitation from Pac-10 and wasted no time in packing up the wagons and heading west. The next day, Nebraska went to the Big Ten, and suddenly the Big 12 was down to 10 with the possibility of more defections. Over that weekend, Scott flew to Texas and Oklahoma, inviting Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to his conference. It was recently revealed that Texas A&M and Oklahoma also had offers from the SEC. 

And we thought Missouri was the school with the offer to join another conference. While Alden and company sat by the phone, the other schools kicked into gear, setting themselves up no matter what domino fell next.

Texas, the powerhouse of the Big 12, was the linchpin of all conference realignment talk. The Longhorns athletics department is arguably the best in the nation, and its influence over the Big 12 has grown exponentially every year.

The Longhorns had the power to do just about anything they wanted when it came to conference realignment. While most schools wanted conferences to court them, the conferences wanted Texas. 

That's a powerful hand to have in a game of hold 'em, and Texas played its hand just right. The Longhorns wanted their own TV network and more than $20 million a year in conference revenue. The Pac-10 couldn't offer that.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 was on the verge of being the Abandoned Five, and Missouri, the school that in December seemed destined for the promised land of the Big Ten, was still waiting by the phone.

Missouri went from an enviable situation to being the last pick in gym class. Had the Big 12 crumbled, Missouri wouldn't be complaining about conference money being unevenly spread, it would be looking for anyone to take it in. If you are looking for newsworthiness in all of this, Missouri being left without a conference would have been a big story. 

The Big 12 is now held together by a verbal agreement — the "binding" word of the 10 school administrators that they will not leave the conference — and Deaton has been named the new chairman of the conference's board of directors. This incarnation of the Big 12 could last for years; it could end tomorrow. All it takes is for the projected Big 12 television money to be less than advertised, and Texas will leave, taking the Pac-10 invitees with them.  

It's all fickle, but such is the new landscape of college sports.

Dieter Kurtenbach is a sports reporter at the Columbia Missourian and a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Ellis Smith June 26, 2010 | 9:17 a.m.

Of course it's about money! Some of us have been saying that for years. NCAA DIVISION I football and men's basketball are nothing but money. More than one university president or faculty member has suggested that the "tail" of athletics is in fact today wagging the "dog" of teaching and research.

It's amazing what alumni and other "interested parties" are willing to spend to build a new sports palace while at the same time it's difficult to get money for academic constructs.

The football Tigers went to a bowl game last winter. Wonderful.

But in 2010 faculty salaries - AT ALL FOUR CAMPUSES of this university - are lowest in the AAU. Not so wonderful.

Is your academic/research campus little more than a life support system for your athletic programs? Since three of the four campuses of University of Missouri System are in NCAA Division II*, their answer would definitely be no.

*-UMKC men's basketball is NCAA Division I; all other programs are Division II.

(Report Comment)
Jaime Hibbard June 26, 2010 | 12:52 p.m.

This article was very interesting and well written. It's nice to have all the different aspects of the conference realignment fiasco put together; I was trying to stay updated, but there was too much to keep up with.

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