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Clarifying what conference realignment means to the Big 12 and Missouri athletics

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 | 9:54 p.m. CDT; updated 6:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — Some part of the conference realignment issue confusing you? None of it make sense? Need a refresher course? Want to know what this is all about, and what it means to MU? Let the Missourian guide you through all the details:    

When did this all begin?

Truthfully, conference realignment has been around since conferences have been around. The Big 12 was once the Big Six, then it became the Big Eight and eventually the Big 12.

This particular round of conference realignment began last summer, when the Big Ten decided to add another team. Missouri wanted to be that team, but the Big Ten decided they wanted Nebraska instead. Then Colorado bolted for the Pac-10 (which has become the Pac-12) and the Big 12 was left with 10 teams.

If there are only 10 teams, why is it still called the Big 12?

Believe it or not, the Big 12 wasn’t the first conference to commit a crime against mathematics. The Big Ten has had 11 teams since Penn State joined in 1991. Now that it added Nebraska, the Big Ten has 12 teams.

Wait, so the Big Ten has 12 teams, and the Big 12 has 10 teams? That makes no sense.

The leagues claim that their brands are too strong with their current names and logos to just switch names. Truthfully for most fans, a swap would be extremely confusing. The conferences decided to sacrifice mathematics in favor of tradition. Plus, changing names would be a logistical nightmare. What would Ohio State do with all of its Big Ten championship banners if the conference changed names?

The lesson here is that if new conferences are created, we shouldn’t name them numerically. Or as you’ll see later, geographically for that matter.

So Nebraska and Colorado left. That was a while ago, why are we still talking about this?

On Aug. 31, Texas A&M, one of the 10 remaining Big 12 schools, announced that it would be leaving the conference, most likely to join the Southeastern Conference, which includes schools such as Florida, Alabama and Arkansas.

Why does a school from Texas want to play in a conference where they would be a six-hour drive from their nearest opponent?

The first reason is the most obvious: money. The SEC just signed a 15-year, $3 billion television contract with ESPN. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

The second reason is that the Aggies are tired of getting pushed around by the Big 12’s resident kingpin, Texas. For a long time, Texas A&M has felt like a little brother in that relationship, and the current setup of the Big 12’s revenue distribution, and Texas’ latest move to start its own TV network, have done nothing to quell the unease.

Whoa, slow down. Revenue distribution?

In college football, there are two different types of revenue. The first is money that goes directly to the school. Under this umbrella is revenue generated from ticket sales and merchandise sales.

Most of the money in college football, however, is generated from TV contracts and bowl payouts. That money goes to the conference, which distributes it to the schools. In other conferences, the money is distributed evenly between the member schools.

So, if the SEC makes $120 million from TV and bowls (just an example, the actual figure is likely astronomically higher), each of its 12 schools gets $10 million, regardless of whether Florida wins the national championship and Vanderbilt doesn’t win a game.

In the Big 12, the revenue is distributed unevenly. The percentage of the pot a school gets depends on how many times it is on TV. So a team like Texas, which gets picked to be on TV often because it has lots of passionate fans, ends up with more money than a school like Baylor, which doesn’t.

Not only that, but Texas recently started the Longhorn Network, which ESPN is paying $15 million per year for 20 years to carry.

Isn’t that capitalism? This is America, right?

Yes, but when every other league does it a different way, schools get upset.

Also, college sports are built on a pedestal of amateurism and fairness. That’s what is supposed to make them unique. This type of distribution model, where the rich get richer, clearly goes against that.

Where does Missouri fall in this model?

In the middle. Because lately, the Tigers have been a winning team, Missouri is on national TV reasonably often. However, regardless of how good a team is, schools like Texas and Oklahoma inevitably get picked more often because of giant, rabid fan bases.

So Texas A&M is gone. Why do I keep hearing that the Big 12 is going to die any day now?

Once Texas A&M jumped ship, the Big 12 was left with nine schools. Nine is not a viable number for a major football conference, so the league, if it is to survive, will be forced to add another school.

Unfortunately, with its recent instability and uneven revenue distribution, the Big 12 is not exactly an attractive option for the schools it’s trying to attract. After all, why would anyone want to jump on a sinking ship?

How far away are we from the Big 12’s demise?

It could happen at any moment. Right now, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are in discussions with the Pac 12. If they join, the Pac 12 would grow to 14 teams and would likely expand to 16. Texas and Texas Tech could follow.

The bottom line is that if the Big 12 has Texas and Oklahoma, it can survive. If it doesn’t, then it will die.

Oklahoma President David L. Boren said Friday that this decision was “consuming his life” and that his university would make a decision in less than three weeks. Oklahoma’s move dictates what happens after that.

If the Big 12 dies, what happens to Missouri?

The short answer is that no one really knows, probably including MU Athletics Director Mike Alden and Chancellor Brady Deaton, who might not divulge anything if they did know.

Alden declined to comment on whether other conference have approached the Tigers. Because Deaton is currently the chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors, his rhetoric has been focused on saving the Big 12.

At some point, Deaton will be forced to take off his chairman's hat and put on his chancellor's one, and then it will be decision time for Missouri.

If the Pac-12 wants to increase membership to 16 teams, there are no guarantees that Texas and Texas Tech will follow the Oklahoma schools. Texas would have to give up its beloved Longhorn Network, so perhaps the Pac-12 reaches out to the Tigers next.

The SEC, if it takes Texas A&M, would have 13 teams. Because of scheduling issues, conferences do not like to have odd numbers, so the conference will be looking for at least one more team to make it 14. If the Pac-16 comes to fruition, the SEC may decide to go to 16 teams to remain competitive.

The latest rumor, reported by the New York Post, is that the Big East would invite Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State to join.

The Big Ten has repeatedly said that it is content with its current 12-team alignment but in a world where everyone else goes to 16 teams, the Big Ten might be forced to follow.

The prevailing view is that the end result of all of this is four 16-team super conferences. When the dust settles, Missouri will end up in one of the four.

How do you know that?

Missouri has a football program that has won 40 games in the past four seasons. St. Louis and Kansas City are the No. 21 and No. 31 media markets in the nation. While Missouri doesn't have as many fans as Texas, it still has enough to prevent the Tigers from being overlooked.

Wait, so Missouri could go to the Big East or the Pacific-16? When did geography lose importance?

Right around the time math became so unimportant. The Big East recently added Texas Christian, and with Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, the Tigers would have enough opponents within a reasonable distance to make the move make some sense.

As for the Pac-16, there is nothing to suggest that it would be a good idea to be crossing two time zones to play 10 of your 16 conference opponents. But once again, it’s all about the dollars, and the Pac-12 has engineered what experts call the best television contract in college sports.

What about sports other than football?

A conference change would include all sports. But football, and the massive revenue it brings, drives the bus. Remember, the money the school makes on football gets poured back into the athletics department to pay for all of the sports that don’t make money on their own, such as baseball or soccer.

That’s one of the reasons the Pac-16 might not be a viable option for Missouri. Paying for all of these teams to fly to the west coast for games would add up quickly. Whatever financial windfall Missouri gains from joining could get wiped out by the increase in expenses.

How does a new conference affect me as a Missouri fan?

The most obvious thing a new conference changes from a fan’s standpoint in scheduling. It’s conceivable that Missouri and Kansas could end up in different conferences, and while they could work out nonconference matchups, they would likely be less often.

Certainly there would only be one basketball Border Showdown each season if the teams went their separate ways. How would you like it if the Missouri-Kansas basketball game were only in Columbia once every two years?

Games against other traditional conference rivals like Kansas State, Texas and Iowa State would also fall by the wayside.

Why should I care about conference realignment if I’m not a sports fan?

Well, no one is telling you that you have to. But just remember that while the funds of the athletics department do not get mixed with those of the university, success on the field does help pay for things in the classroom. It’s no coincidence that MU has seen enrollment spike since Gary Pinkel has had the Tigers in the mix for conference and national titles over the past few years.

Whatever happens, if the Big 12 dies it will bring at least a year or two of instability for the MU athletic department. So while you might not care about sports, it will affect the people around you. Many MU students and Columbia residents care deeply about the Tigers and their success, and those people will likely be stressed.

If you’ve got more questions about realignment that aren’t answered here, send them to Missourian sports reporter Harry Plumer. You can find him on twitter at @HarryPlumer or email him at harry.plumer@gmail.com. You can also go to the Missourian’s twitter account or Facebook page.


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Comments

Ellis Smith September 7, 2011 | 7:20 a.m.

Actually, the Big Ten conference first went from 10 to 9 teams (University of Chicago withdrew, from both the conference and from big time athletics), then back to 10 teams (Michigan State joined the conference) and then to 11 teams Penn State joined the conference) and now to 12 teams (Nebraska joined the conference).

It's posssible to schedule conference games when the conference has an odd number of teams, but it isn't preferable.

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