As most of you all know by now, THE BIG 12 WON’T DIE. Let’s get right to it:
(1) Pac-12 grants a stay of execution to Big 12 – Last year, I wrote the following about the Big 12: “While the Big 12 isn’t safe in a warm and fuzzy family way, it looks like it’s safe in a maximum security prison way. No one’s getting out of there even if they want to very badly.”
Texas A&M looks like it’s pulled off an Andy Dufresne escape (although they’re not quite out of the sewer yet as a result of Ken Starr), but Oklahoma is still stuck in Shawshank. I’m not surprised that the Pac-12 ultimately didn’t agree to taking on the Longhorn Network with Texas, but for Oklahoma to not end up moving west is a shocker and an instructive note on how there’s still a fair bit of inertia in college sports (despite all of us here going through scenarios of how everything is supposed to blow up).
Back in January, I noted that the Longhorn Network was actually going to save the Big 12. That looked like that was going to be a very wrong prediction for the last month (and A&M is obviously out the door), but what we’ve seen is that Texas now has golden handcuffs to the Big 12 as a result of the LHN, thereby giving it prison-like stability. No other conference that could conceivably be attractive to Texas (Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten) was willing to budge on the LHN and equal revenue sharing issues, which meant that saving the Big 12 was always the end goal for the Longhorns.
One Oklahoma source claims that the school was simply using the Pac-12 to obtain more leverage in the Big 12. If that’s the case, it failed spectacularly. The latest developments have effectively provided Texas even more of a hammer than it did previously. The Oklahoma demand to fire Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe looks like it will be fulfilled, but that was probably going to happen no matter what considering the breakdown of the league over the past year. (All that I ask is that the @DanBeebe Twitter account continue to live on. It’s my favorite fake Twitter feed outside of the now-dormant @MayorEmanuel.) Other schools such as BYU, Louisville, West Virginia, Air Force and/or even TCU (which was the school that the Big 12 seemed to avoid as if it were though Patient Zero for the past 20 years) may be added to provide some more stability.
(2) My Partial Revenue Sharing Plan for the Big 12 – Now, let’s say that Texas actually decides that it wants to work in good faith to keep the rest of the Big 12 relatively happy (as it certainly has a large self-interest in keeping the league alive). Equal revenue sharing for the national first and second tier TV rights is certainly a nice start to get some goodwill in the league, but that’s obviously ignoring the real source of contention of the LHN. That being said, it has to acknowledged that the thought of Texas sharing all of its LHN revenue with the rest of the Big 12 is completely unrealistic.
So, what I’d propose is a local TV revenue sharing system based upon what Major League Baseball does today. In MLB, all teams pay 31% of their local revenue into a pot that is then split up equally among all franchises. As a result, the Yankees keep the lion’s share of their YES Network revenue (which is really where the team gets its financial power over the rest of baseball), but the Devil Rays get at least a little bit of benefit from the YES cash. Just as the Yankees will always have an advantage in TV revenue in MLB due to its location in the New York City market, Texas has the same advantage within the Big 12. No one can fault either the Yankees or Longhorns for maximizing that advantage, yet they also have to acknowledge that the fact that no one else can do the same (even successful programs like Oklahoma) is going to engender a ton of acrimony. That might be fine for a school like Texas to say, “So what?!” in a pure free market business setting, but in a sports league (whether pro or college), the wealthy teams still need the plebeians to be competitive or else such wealthy teams aren’t going to be able to offer a very compelling product (interesting games) in the long run, which ultimately hurts revenue down the line.
Once again, it’s unrealistic to think that Texas is going to submit to equal revenue sharing for the LHN and third tier TV rights in the Big 12. However, a partial revenue sharing plan for those third tier rights where all Big 12 members put in 31% (or some other agreed upon figure) of their local TV revenue which would then be split equally could go a long way in creating stability in the league and may actually make the league attractive to expansion candidates (outside of those that would take an AQ invite anywhere at anytime). Regardless, the Big 12 lives, whether it deserves to or not. BYU could logically be plugged in and the league could move along merrily, except…
(3) Remember the SEC: Realignment chaos isn’t over – Much of the media would have you believe that conference realignment has halted as result of the Pac-12 announcement, but there are the small matters of the SEC standing at an uneven 13 schools along with a possible collapse of the Big East that could put Notre Dame into play (which I’ll get to later on).
With respect to the SEC, Missouri was reportedly given an invite on Tuesday that was conditional upon the breakup of the Big 12. What’s unclear is whether the SEC will still try to get Missouri into the league now that the Big 12 has survived or if the Baylor lawsuit brigade has given Mike Slive a reason to keep it on the down-low for awhile. My impression over the past year is that the Missouri fan base had the most vitriolic collective anger toward the Big 12 besides Texas A&M, so if Mizzou effectively turned down an invite to the stable and wealthy SEC in favor of staying in the Big 12 prison (which I would personally characterize as the dumbest business decision in the history of college sports if that’s the case), I’d expect a whole lot of pitchforks in Columbia. Missouri alums may very well push the school over the coming months to approach the SEC again just like the Aggies just did and we’ll go through realignment chaos all over again.
As long as the SEC is at 13 schools, there’s inherent instability in the same manner that the Big Ten having 11 schools always had other conferences on edge. I thought the ACC was safe long before it added Syracuse and Pitt, but I’ve stated previously that Florida State is the one school from that league that I could see taking an SEC invite. (Forget about Virginia Tech and NC State for political reasons.) West Virginia from the Big East may also end up being a target again after being supposedly rejected by both the SEC and ACC (which happened before the Big 12 got its reprieve, meaning that Mizzou might not move). Speaking of the Big East…
(4) Service academies in the Big East? – A list of targets for the Big East to replace Syracuse and Pitt is reportedly topped by Navy and Air Force as football-only members with the hope that Army could be convinced to join, as well.
With football-only members being the primary targets, this means that the Big East football members (at least for now) want to maintain the hybrid format with non-football playing Catholic schools. The Big East would be looking for all-sports members if the schools really wanted to split. In turn, this makes Notre Dame extremely happy as it looks like the Big East will continue to be a viable home for its basketball and other non-football programs and allow the Irish to maintain football independence.
I’ve seen a number of comments on Twitter and elsewhere openly wondering whether the Big East ought to keep its BCS AQ status if it ends up adding some combo of Navy, Air Force and/or Army. What those commenters need to do is look at the big picture (AKA the entire BCS system). The Big East is going to have its AQ status through 2013 as long as it still exists. The published “AQ criteria” for ranking conferences does NOT apply to the 6 AQ leagues, who all have their status due to a combination of bowl and TV contracts. Thus, that criteria is SOLELY a mechanism to see if there could be a 7th AQ conference and NOT to kick out any current AQ league. This means the Big East can’t be yanked of its AQ status prior to 2013 unless it actually dissolves.
What’s important is what happens to that AQ status after 2013. Let’s assume that the Big East has added all 3 service academies as football-only members. Considering all of the constant political scrutiny with respect to the BCS, if you were a BCS commissioner, would you feel very comfortable going into a Congressional hearing and trying to explain why you just screwed over a league that has Navy, Air Force and Army? I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that position. See where I’m going here? Adding all of the service academies would provide a ton of political protection for the Big East when its AQ status is reviewed in 2013. That’s worth more than any other expansion candidates the Big East could possibly consider. The other BCS leagues are likely going to end up continuing granting the Big East an AQ auto-bid as the cost of doing business to keep massive political heat of them. It’s chump change compared to putting the entire tiered BCS system at risk.
So, don’t worry if you’re hooked on realignment crack. There’s still plenty to come over the next few weeks.
(Image from Alexander Palace)