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Southern College Football – Can the Big 12 Survive?

Posted: Feb 18, 2011

The world of college athletics was almost turned upside down last summer when possible conference realignment(s) seemed to be rumored on a daily basis. Would the Big 12 still exist in 2011? Texas and Oklahoma to the Pac-10? Texas or Missouri to the Big Ten? Texas A&M to the SEC? When the dust settled, the league did lose two schools – Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the newly named Pac-12 – but at least there were ten teams left to march forward.

Many of us thought the Big 12 would extend invitations to other schools (TCU made a ton of sense, Houston?) to get their total back up to twelve and to continue the lucrative league title game. Plus, adding two schools from Texas would give the conference more rivalries like the ones that have made the SEC so popular. Instead, the conference decided to stick with the ten schools for the foreseeable future and revisit any type of expansion at a later date. The Big 12 also chose to stick with their unequal revenue sharing (something that made Nebraska want to leave); another characteristic that differs from the lucrative SEC. Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma stand to bring in more money than the other seven schools with the new league deal, but those universities were okay with that fact since they still have a big time conference in which to compete.

The Big 12 drama grew even more this winter with the announcement of a University of Texas/ESPN contract where the two parties will form a 24-hour television network completely dedicated to Longhorns sports. The new deal will pay Texas $300 million over 20 years, which will further the gap between the Longhorns and the other conference schools. You have to be skeptical that this ‘have’/’have-not’ type of arrangement can work for the long term.

As expected, the reaction around the country to the Texas deal was less than positive. Would it damage the Big 12 irreparably? Would other schools with massive fan bases – USC, Ohio State, Alabama, etc – feel a necessity to launch a similar network and kill the conferences in the process? SEC schools cannot create a similar network under the rules of their current 15-year deals with ESPN and CBS, but other schools may not stay loyal to their league.

This piece from Nebraska suggests the Cornhuskers are glad they got out of the Big 12 when they did. It is also skeptical of the league’s uneven money sharing:

“Texas getting $15-17 million more per year than any other Big 12 school can't be good for competitive balance. The Big 12 becomes more like major league baseball and less like the all-for-one Big 10 or SEC.”

Another piece suggests that Texas could leave the league after 2015:

“Texas turned down offers to join the Pac-10 and the Big Ten because it wanted its own television network. Now that it has that, what's to say that the Longhorns even need the Big 12? Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?

The Big 12 has a deal with ABC until 2011 and Fox Sports until 2015, but after that, it's no guarantee that Texas could stick around.”

Another controversy with the new Texas-ESPN relationship is the possible airing of high school games on the network. Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne was quick to point out the obvious problem if prized recruits were a part of one school’s programming:

"I can't speak for the NCAA, but I would imagine the governing body will look into the use of a collegiate television network airing games of prospective student-athletes."

The same piece suggests that younger Aggies fans would like to be in the SEC, something that was discussed last summer. It would be a shame to see Texas and Texas A&M separated, but that could become a real possibility in the future with the Longhorns playing a huge game of ‘keep-away’ from the rest of the Big 12.
 

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