The Big 12 And Pac-10 — An Alliance?Posted by jstevrtc on May 12th, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.
Much has been made of the Big Ten’s interest in expanding beyond their current 11 teams and all the consequences that such expansion could have on other conferences throughout the country. But, given that the other BCS conferences are multi-million dollar organizations and that the continued competitiveness and even existence of these organizations may depend on their actions both before and after the Big Ten comes to its decision, it should come as no surprise that conference commissioners and athletic directors of their respective member institutions are considering their options in a game of moves and countermoves. It is probably no coincidence that the first speculative report to surface indicating that the Big Ten has made its choices and offered up its first invitations came on the heels of reports at the end of last week that the Big 12 and Pac-10 had met to discuss a possible alliance, a big innovation that makes a lot of sense for both conferences.
Representatives from the two conferences met in Phoenix last Wednesday in what Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe described as “an informal meeting” to discuss a possible alliance. The two main planks of this possible alliance are rumored to be scheduling preferences in the future and, most importantly, joint television negotiations and ventures. As rumors have swirled of the Big Ten and possibly SEC poaching some Big 12 teams, and with the Pac-10 exploring its own expansion options, a “strategic alliance,” between the two conferences, as Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott put it, could be a boon to both.
Aside from the potential benefits that an alliance between the conferences could bring, there is a lot of common ground between the two, as they are the only two BCS conferences made up entirely of member schools located west of the Mississippi and Pac-10 deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg was Beebe’s predecessor at the Big 12. Weiberg was also instrumental in helping launch the Big Ten Network, a bit of experience that may come in handy as these two conferences discuss possibly launching a network of their own, a joint venture between the two that would allow them to show more (or potentially all) of their football and basketball games that don’t get picked up by national or regional networks.
With both conferences facing expiring television contracts at the end of 2012, each conference is looking to find its way into new television contracts with revenues that are competitive with what the Big Ten and SEC have going for them. Current Big Ten member schools receive around $20 million in television revenue each year, with the SEC having just signed a contract with ESPN that would pay member schools approximately $17 million a year. The expiring Big 12 and Pac-10 contracts pay member schools between $7 million and $12 million each. An alliance between the two conferences, however, would offer potential bidders roughly one-third of the nation’s TV market and six of the nation’s top 14 media markets (Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Houston, Seattle-Tacoma and Phoenix). That would certainly be an attractive option for ESPN/ABC, Fox, or other networks. Likewise, a Big 12/Pac-10 television network would be an intriguing addition to cable and satellite television providers, showcasing not only the highly competitive football and basketball played in each conference, but also baseball and other non-revenue/Olympic sports in which the conferences excel.
In addition to the benefits involving TV negotiations, there is the possibility of preferred scheduling between the two conferences. While the two conferences already have the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series which creates non-conference basketball matchups between the schools in each conference, additional scheduling preferences in football would be a huge incentive for bidders. Potential early-season football matchups like Texas/USC or California/Oklahoma would be very interesting to not only fans, but advertisers as well. There is even the potential for rotating home-and-home football games between all member institutions of the two conferences. Picture USC playing home and away against Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Missouri over the course of a decade. Additional basketball games between the two conferences could also be in the works.
For the time being, an alliance is as far as anyone is willing to go; there will not be a merger of the two conferences at this stage, although events outside of these two conferences could cause that possibility to be considered in the future. However, for now, as Beebe put it, “We feel like 12 is the maximum number that operates well in football,” a line that can be seen either as a pointed dig at the Big Ten or evidence of Beebe’s state of denial about the Big Ten’s plans. Beebe is not the only figure in the Big 12 who appears to be in denial, as Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw has said “I’ll be surprised if the Big Ten expands beyond 12 schools. There are a lot of reasons they won’t go past 12.” That type of underestimating of the Big Ten’s intentions and the possible fallout afterwards is something that could get the Big 12 relegated to history books, but an alliance with the Pac-10 could give the Big 12 a lifeline and make the conference a better option for schools like Nebraska and Missouri.
Elsewhere in expansion/conference realignment news:
As mentioned above, Sports Radio WHB 810 AM in Kansas City reported on Monday that the Big Ten has issued invitations to Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska and Rutgers, with the idea being that if all four decide to join, they will invite a fifth team to fill out a full 16 slots, but that if just three of the four join, 14 will suffice. Never mind that the Big Ten likely would never have issued the invitations if they didn’t already know the answers, and the fact that no one else is reporting it as true; the story has received a lot of attention, if only for the numerous denials the story triggered. If this story is even remotely true, we’ll know quite a bit more about it soon, as the Big Ten coaches and athletic directors will meet May 17-19, and presidents and chancellors will meet the first week in June, both in Chicago.
ACC commissioner John Swofford said that the ACC will not be proactive in expansion, but will be ready to respond to any situations that may arise.
Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer acknowledges that the extent of Big Ten expansion could cause the SEC to initiate expansion of their own. Moreover, current SEC commissioner Mike Slive said that while he is very comfortable with where the SEC is at right now, if there’s going to be a significant shift in the conference paradigm, the SEC will be strategic and thoughtful in order to maintain its position as one of the nation’s premier conferences.”