COLUMBIA — Just when rumors of the Big 12 Conference’s impending death were about to reach fever pitch, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced that his conference is not going to expand in the immediate future. It appears, at least for the moment, that the Big 12 has staved off its demise for the second time in a year. The big question becomes, both for the Big 12 and Missouri, what’s next? While the Missourian can’t peer into a crystal ball, we can at least provide some context of what happened and try to answer what lies ahead.
What does the Pac-12’s announcement actually mean?
The Pac-12 was the widely rumored destination for Oklahoma, Texas and their tag-alongs Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Had those schools heeded the “Go West, young man,” advice of 1800s America, the conference would have likely collapsed.
Wait, I thought this Pac-16 thing was a done deal? What went wrong?
We all know that the most important factor in conference realignment is money, and on the surface, it’s easy to get caught up in the theory that more schools automatically equal more money. That is not necessarily the case.
Think of the money a conference brings in as a pizza, and each school gets to chow down on a slice of that pizza. Right now, the Pac-12’s pizza has 12 equal sized slices large enough that no school is going hungry. While adding more schools definitely makes the pizza bigger, it also means more slices. The 12 being served now get to make the decision, through voting, on expansion. Scott has to abide by their decision. He can certainly try to convince them that the pizza is going to be big enough that everyone gets more food in the end, but ultimately, they hold the cards.
Don’t Texas and Oklahoma add enough to the pizza? Those are football powerhouses.
Not necessarily. There are a multitude of places where this deal could have gone wrong, but one strong possibility is that Texas refused to give up its side of delicious hot wings, aka the Longhorn Network, and balked at the idea of joining the Pac-12's equal revenue sharing model.
Without Texas in the fold, it’s possible that the current Pac-12 schools didn’t feel like the pizza was going to increase in size enough with just Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
What now, then?
The Big 12 finds itself in an interesting position. It's not dead, but it's not healthy either. The problems that pushed it to the brink of demise still exist.
What are those problems?
It all begins and ends with Texas. To save the Big 12 last year, Commissioner Dan Beebe made serious concessions to keep Texas in the league, giving the Longhorns some seriously unfair advantages. They are as follows:
- The league stayed with its unequal revenue sharing model, where the bigger schools (in this case Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) took home a larger slice of pizza than everyone else.
- It allowed Texas to create the Longhorn Network, a cable channel dedicated to Texas sports, which ESPN is paying the University of Texas $20 million per year for 15 years to operate.
- In addition to the extra profit, the Longhorn Network also planned to show high school football games and highlights, potentially giving Texas even more of a recruiting advantage than it already had. The NCAA batted down the high school part of the plan. The network will also televise two regular season Texas football games during the 2011 season, including a conference game.
So Beebe let Texas get a bigger slice of pizza than others, plus served it a side of delicious hot wings, then expected everyone else to sit and watch Texas eat?
Well that's not fair. How do we fix this?
It begins with getting Texas to come to the negotiating table, which it appears it is willing to do. Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds told USA Today on Wednesday that "We're Big 12 all the way."
For the Big 12 to stay together — not just for a year or two, but in the long term, Dodds is going to have to make concessions from the Texas-centric deal that "saved" the Big 12 last time around.
The concessions might start with Texas' beloved Longhorn Network.
Moving closer to equal revenue sharing of the conference's TV money is also in play, on some level. According to a report from The Associated Press out of Austin, Texas President Bill Powers said he was open to the idea of revenue sharing.
Dodds said that he would be open to the idea of sharing the non-Longhorn Network money fairly, but to give up a chunk of the revenue from Texas' own channel was "non-negotiable."
Another aspect that many think is vital to the stability of the Big 12 is the removal of Beebe, who is perceived to have given in to Texas way too much last time around.
What are the odds of Texas agreeing to this?
Las Vegas hasn't posted them yet, but it seems like, at least from its rhetoric, that Texas is committed to keeping the Big 12 together for the long run. The only way that's going to happen is if it makes some (or all) of these concessions, and it would be naive for Texas to think otherwise.
So if you can believe what Texas says, it seems like a strong possibility at this point.
Are there any other plausible landing spots for Texas and/or Oklahoma if Texas walks away from the table?
If we’ve learned anything during this latest round of conference realignment, it’s that anything is possible. It should be kept in mind that Scott’s declaration doesn’t change the prevailing rhetoric that 16-team super conferences are inevitable.
The Atlantic Coast Conference added Syracuse and Pittsburgh this past weekend, bringing its total to 14, and proving that its commissioner, John Swofford, is not afraid to make waves. It's not unlikely for Swofford to at least make an attempt to woo some combination of the four Big 12 schools, though it should be stressed that there have been no reports to that effect at this time.
The Southeastern Conference and Commissioner Mike Slive don’t have any bones about shaking things up either (See: Texas A&M).
The Big Ten has been silent throughout the process, apparently content with its pizza. That said, if the Big East crumbles, there is a possibility that Notre Dame could be open to listening to what Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has to say. Remember, while the Fighting Irish play football independently, the rest of their sports compete in the Big East.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: Notre Dame makes anyone’s pizza a lot bigger. Perhaps then, Delany calls Texas and says, “Forget the Longhorn Network. Let’s break the Guiness World Record for the biggest pizza." (122 feet in diameter, in case you were wondering). Whether Texas would listen is anyone’s guess.
Could Oklahoma have been bluffing?
The question of the hour is whether the Sooners were ever really serious about bolting for the Pac-12 or whether they were just using the Pac-12 threat to gain the reform they wanted in the Big 12.
No one really knows except for the Oklahoma brass. If that was the plan — and it works — it's hard not to give the Sooners major props for a risky move that put a perceived bully back in its place and potentially saved the Big 12 more than just temporarily.
Can Missouri still go to the SEC?
The offer — which was never confirmed by the way — was reportedly contingent upon the collapse of the Big 12. Since that hasn't happened yet, the hypothetical offer is hypothetically moot.
Plus, Missouri’s stance since the beginning of the Texas A&M saga was that it was going to do everything it could to keep the Big 12 together. It would be surprising, especially with Chancellor Brady Deaton currently serving as the president of the Big 12 Board of Directors, to see Missouri pull a 180 now.
Does this mean Texas A&M is going to stay?
No. Texas A&M has repeatedly stated that it is done with the Big 12.
In a tweet directed toward Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, Chief Communications Officer for the Texas A&M System Jason Cook said the following:
“Texas A&M has made our intentions perfectly clear. We do not intend to be a member of the Big 12 past this season.”
Furthermore, it stands to reason that the schools holding up Texas A&M’s departure by refusing to waive its legal rights are far more likely to reverse that position with a stable Big 12 in place. Remember, they aren’t likely to win that lawsuit anyway.
So the Big 12 is now the Big Nine. Is it going to stay that way?
Almost certainly not. The Big 12 has stated repeatedly since Texas A&M first said it was leaving that it is “poised to move aggressively” to add more teams. It has not said, however, how many it will seek.
Who are the contenders for Big 12 membership?
Reports on Tuesday night indicated that Brigham Young was a very strong possibility. While the Cougars might have hesitated to jump on to what was perceived to be a sinking ship a few weeks ago, this new stability with Texas and Oklahoma changes the picture significantly.
If the Big 12 were to decide to go to — gasp — 12 teams, the candidates would come from two sets of schools.
One is the Big East schools. Big East commissioner John Marinatto said Tuesday night that those schools have made a commitment to stick together, but we’ve heard that line before (yes, we’re looking at you, Texas A&M). Potential Big East schools, should the Big 12 go that route, would include West Virginia, Louisville, Texas Christian University and Cincinnati.
If, however, the Big East schools honor their commitment to each other, the Big 12 could look to teams previously discussed, such as Houston, Southern Methodist and Air Force.
Is there a timetable for Big 12 expansion?
Not at this time.
So, is this over?
Probably not. There are far too many moving parts to declare the case closed, but Scott’s announcement douses a lot of water on what was going to be a major fire. The next step is to see how willing Texas is to come to the negotiating table and how willing it is to make the concessions that Oklahoma — and ostensibly the other seven remaining schools — are demanding.
In addition, Missouri could still do some back-room negotiating with other conferences. Just because the Big 12 lives for the moment doesn't mean it's going to live long and prosper.
Missouri would be wise to explore it's other options, but for now, the Big 12 remains its home.