Texas and OU Staying Put
Really?! After ALL of the rumors and all of the speculation and all of the yo gabba gabbing from the schools (all off the record, of course) realignment is going to be Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac 10?! While that's still a big deal, the hurricane turned out to be a strong storm.
(Could the Big Ten and Big 12 simply swap names?)
Of all the possible scenarios and all the possible things that could happen, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all staying put was never a part of the picture … and how could it?
Yeah, the Big 12 was able to somehow find the money and get creative to make sure the possible defectors in the South would make around $20 million a year and everyone else would be around $14 to $17 million in TV revenue. While this is a bonus for Texas and the other four who appeared to be as good as gone to the Pac 10 or the SEC, depending on what the latest rumor was, but this still doesn't address the long term viability of the Big 12.
Why wouldn't Missouri still lobby and lobby hard to be a part of the Big Ten? The same problems the school had before are now worse because the previous discrepancies are now solidified.
Why is Texas any better off now than it would be in the Pac 10, SEC or the Big Ten? If one of the goals of the program was to make the brand name even bigger and better on a national scale, this doesn't do that.
Why wouldn't Texas A&M take off for the SEC and make more money, be a bigger deal nationally, and create its own identity rather than simply be the inferior little brother in the South?
Now that Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Iowa State had their big scare, why wouldn't they openly shop themselves to any of the other BCS conferences that would listen to make sure this doesn't happen again?
Basically, this deal doesn't make sense from any standpoint unless all the posturing, all the lobbying, and all the butt-kissing was simply Texas trying to make itself more money with a more solidified deal. But the deal still stinks.
The Big 12 is only going to fall further back from the pack as far as TV rights, prestige, and respect now that Nebraska and Colorado are gone and with the Big Ten and Pac 10 certain to keep moving forward. Yeah, the money might be better now, but five years from now, which is where Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac 10 commissioner Larry Scott, are looking, this is going to be a raw deal. But it's possible that Texas and the rest of the crew are simply taking a deep breath for right now and will wait and see what comes next.
For the Big 12, who couldn't have looked more inept or more incompetent through the entire process, apparently commissioner Dan Beebe and the league head honchos had some pull after all. Now it's important to learn from this and be proactive. Big 12, go try and see what Big East teams might be interested. Maybe it's time for you to start thinking big and expand your profile for future TV deals.
Okay, so the Big 12 has weathered the storm. What's next for everyone else? The Big Ten might be happy with 12, but its plan all along was to move east so Rutgers and Maryland are on the radar more than ever.
For the Pac 10, it's face wiping time to get the egg off. Scott had an ambitious plan and shot for the moon, but adding Colorado, and possibly Utah, is going to feel a bit empty now.
The SEC wasn't really into the whole realignment game in the first place, and now it doesn't have to make any drastic moves it didn't really want to do anyway. Merry Christmas, ACC, Virginia Tech appears destined to stay put, but Maryland is going to be on a realignment watch until the Big Ten settles down.
Don't think this is the end of the realignment talk. The Big 12 might be fine for the moment, but that doesn't mean that more deals aren't going to be in the works for the future. For now, in what has turned into the most interesting offseason in college football history, Beebe and the Big 12 turned on the curve ball.
This is stunning to the –Nth degree, in light of the nature of the landscape just three days ago, but two things need to be kept in mind: 1) There's a very good reason why Texas (and its brethren in the Big 12 South) stayed put for now. 2) Don't begin to think that Division-I athletics will look like this in four years (perhaps only one).
More details will emerge in the coming days, but when Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott announced that Texas has declined an invitation to his conference, the college football community was able to take a breath. The massive realignment that seemed to be a near-certainty on Friday evening has been halted for the time being. The key point to realize, though, is that last phrase: "for the time being." College sports has indeed been stabilized, but only to a slight degree and likely for little more than the next 10 months (when the 2011 Final Four ends in Houston).
First under the microscope, let's consider why Texas stayed in the Big 12 and led Texas Tech, OU and Oklahoma State to do the same. (More on Texas A&M in a bit.) There are only four letters you need to know: E-S-P-N.
The media goliath lost out on the recent bidding war for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, so the boys in Bristol had extra cash to spend. Moreover, ESPN – despite making a big push to pour out billions for an Olympic Games contract (shoving aside NBC) – is poised to make money from a content-delivery arrangement with Xbox Live, as noted by Sporting News blogger Andy Hutchins Monday morning via Twitter. ESPN, despite its many expenditures, was clearly willing to overpay for a huge Big 12 football deal.
Why? Fox and Fox Sports Net were on the verge of partnering with the (would-be) Pac-16 Conference in a wide-ranging TV deal that would have included a Pac-16 Network akin to what the Big Ten Network has created. ESPN wanted to fend off a resurgent Fox at any cost. More specifically, ESPN wanted to deny Fox the market penetration it would have achieved with a Pac-16 contract. Fox and FSN could have gained broadcast rights to the Pacific, Mountain and Central time zones in a Pac-16 setup. The Fox umbrella of networks would have gained the Denver market (Colorado) as well as the Texas-Oklahoma infusion and the old West Coast stand-bys, with the Los Angeles market serving as the major prize. The thought of USC-Texas or USC-Oklahoma championship games in four or five years had to whet Larry Scott's appetite and give Fox the market foothold it's been looking for in the college football world.
Long story short, ESPN saw a lot of forces that were unhealthy for its bottom line. ESPN – having the resources and backchannel leverage it owns – felt that greatly overspending for the Big 12 (at least in the short term) was worth it.
Now, on to the second big point to remember in all this: The setup we now have – with the Big 12 becoming a 10-team league bereft of a championship game, and the Pac-10 becoming the Pac-12 with the very likely addition of Utah – is not likely to endure for a very long time. Let's count the reasons.
For starters, Nebraska, Boise State, Colorado, and (likely) Utah will be playing different conference schedules in 2011. This reality in itself means that schedules – like the TV contracts that ESPN is amending with the Big 12 – can be torn up and altered. While this extraordinary period of college sports chess resulted in far fewer movements than most of us ultimately expected, the process has certainly wounded a lot of schools and caused a lot of hard feelings among various institutions (conferences, TV partners, bowl games, special events like the Big 12 Championship Game, and many more). Even though the music has stopped and everyone has found a chair to sit in, expect the nation's Division I programs (football and basketball) to give a fresh look at finances, TV arrangements, long-term projections, and favorable alignments. A re-examination of everything under the sun in college sports will cause schools to reconsider their place in the world as the 2010 football season and the 2011 basketball season play out.
The prime example of how schools will re-consider their standing in collegiate athletics is Texas A&M. The Aggies chose not to go to the Pac-10, were courted heavily by the SEC, and then chose to stay in the Big 12 with their rivals from Austin. You can say – and rightly so – that Texas remained in the Big 12 because the Pac-16 Network would not have allowed the Longhorns to create their own university-specific cable network. You can also say – accurately enough – that Texas remained in the Big 12 because of increased money from (league commissioner) Dan Beebe combined with decreased competition. However, it's not entirely accurate to say that Texas determined anything and everything about "the realignment shuffle that wasn't." The Longhorns held many cards, but definitely not all of them. This is where A&M enters the picture.
You can say that former A&M coach Gene Stallings (he defeated his old mentor, Bear Bryant, in the 1968 Cotton Bowl) has been dishonest or naïve about wanting his school to join the SEC. However, it should be apparent that if A&M hadn't flirted with Mike Slive's conference – thereby giving the SEC a foot in the state of Texas – the Longhorns might very well have moved on to the Pac-16.
Texas had to have been worried about losing recruiting wars to SEC powers in the event of an A&M exodus. A&M's dance with the SEC might not have reflected the Aggies' true intentions throughout this process (maybe it did, but it's hardly a certainty); one can confidently claim, however, that the move bought A&M a considerable amount of leverage. The Aggies' talks with SEC Commissioner Slive had something to do with Texas turning down Pac-16 Commissioner Scott. When Stallings said Monday morning that he wanted the Big 12 to survive, a possible interpretation of that statement was simply that Stallings was happy Texas didn't go to the Pac-16 and extend its recruiting base into Southern California.
Looking forward, though, the question lingers: What is preventing Texas A&M from bolting for the SEC in one or two years, after AD Bill Byrne has re-evaluated the situation? Mike Sherman doesn't seem like the coach who will get A&M over the hump in the SEC, so perhaps the Aggies will look for a five-star coach and sell him on competing in the SEC in time for the 2012 football season. The Big Ten has stated that it's still looking at expansion in the next 6 to 12 months, so if that league plucks an ACC or Big East school, the game of musical chairs will resume.
Is this a great day for college football? Depends on the school you love. Check back 10 to 12 months from now and see where we stand.
Phew! Not since Y2K has a tumultuous event been so exaggerated.
As a fan of the sport, you have to absolutely love the fact that the Big 12 is going to survive in an abridged state. Unless you had some financial stake in the deal, no one was pining for a Pac-16 that harbored members from Oklahoma to the Palouse in Washington. Bad for the fans. Bad for most of the athletes. And, in general, bad for the sports involved. College football dodged a bullet here, getting two healthy leagues instead of one behemoth and a handful of programs, like Missouri and Kansas, scrambling for a new home. If this discourages the Big Ten and others from supersizing me, even better.
In the end, Texas was somehow placated with a combination of dollars and sentiments to maintain a conference with a Southwest-centric feel. Future television deals will be more robust and the pie will be divvied up by 10 instead of 12 now that Nebraska and Colorado have given their two-week notices. Plus, the Longhorns' path to conference and national supremacy still comes down to that first October Saturday in Dallas. All in all, a fortuitous turn of events for the school, considering it didn't do more than wield its considerable station in life and buying power.
Okay, the body count. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe obviously gets to wear the savior label for now, especially when compared to Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, who'll need the ShamWow to get all of the egg off his face. It's also a rough turn of events for the Mountain West, which had its eyes fixed on the possible Big 12 leftovers, and could still be in danger of losing Utah, as the Pac-10 seeks a twelfth member. The biggest loser in this whole debacle, however, might be those in the media, who have stated with unequivocal certainty over the past week that the Big 12 had already been fitted for a toe-tag. Wasn't it just earlier today that Texas' move to the Pac-10 was "imminent"? Or that Beebe's last-ditch effort to save the league had failed? Unfortunately, the uninformed, which now constitute a frighteningly high percentage of the media, were most responsible for taking this story to unforeseen levels of hysteria. It was going to be a big story no matter what, but misinformation drove it to an unnecessary place.
Are we there yet? The last couple of weeks have made me severely realignment-weary and eager to leave the bunker. While potentially naïve, here's hoping the Pac-10 adds one, the Big Ten adds one, and we can start discussing the 2010 season before much longer.
Eliminate Nebraska: Check.
Eliminate Colorado: Check.
Eliminate Big 12 Championship Game, a game in which we came within an eyelash of losing last year: Check.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the University of Texas Conference.
When the Big 12 lost Colorado and Nebraska last week, the conference was on life support. Apparently that's right where Texas wanted it to be. UT manipulated this entire realignment situation to get more money while playing weaker competition.
The resurrection of the Big 12 is nothing more than a stay of execution for the embattled conference. Sure, the conference higher-ups will tell you that it's in the best interest of the league to continue on as a 10-team conference. They'd be wrong. The shift of power to the south -- which is what ultimately sent Colorado and Nebraska packing -- only becomes amplified with this 11th hour deal. In this new look Big 12, the winner of the Red River shootout between Texas and Oklahoma will essentially have a cake walk to the BCS Championship Game. Something tells me that's not going to go over well in the long run.
Texas' manipulation of the rest of the Big 12 is baffling, but the big picture is even more frustrating. College football took two steps toward the era of the super-conference last week. Sure, it wouldn't be a playoff, but it'd be a nice substitute. After all, we may not settle it on the field, but eventually, the major players would be on equal footing.
Monday evening, it took four steps back.
With this new Big 12 set-up, we are farther away from a college football playoff than we've been since the pre-Bowl Coalition days. Do you think that the other conferences are going to allow a playoff to exist when they're not playing on equal ground? I don't.
Texas gets TV money. Texas gets its TV network. Texas will probably get a lot of Big 12 championships too. But it made a lot of enemies in the process. Hope it was worth it.