Realignment Rumors: On Today’s Pac-10/Big 12 RumblingsPosted by jstevrtc on June 3rd, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.
That sound you just heard may have been the proverbial first domino creaking a little. Today, Orangebloods.com columnist Chip Brown reported that, in advance of the Pac-10 meetings which begin this weekend in San Francisco, the Pac-10 is set to invite six Big 12 schools to join in the creation of the first superconference of the new era of college sports. Brown reports that Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech will be the schools invited, leaving Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Nebraska behind. All this comes on the heels of the Big 12 meetings, wrapping up on Friday, which opened with a plea by commissioner Dan Beebe for a united front among member institutions and a commitment to the conference. Obviously, this rumor has huge ramifications for the Big 12 and the Pac-10, but the ripple effect of such a move would be felt across the college sports landscape. We’ll take a look here at the specifics of this rumor and how this rumor could affect other conferences around the country.
The Pac-16. Or Big 16. Or the Great New Superconference
According to the Brown article, which cites multiple unnamed sources, the new conference would be divided into two eight-team divisions with the six Big 12 schools joining Arizona and Arizona State in an Eastern or Inland Division and Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State forming the Western or Coastal Division. Then, with the aid of Fox Sports Net, already an operating partner with the Big Ten Network and television partner with both the Pac-10 and Big 12 conferences, the league would create its own cable network akin to the BTN. Perhaps coupled with new television contracts with ABC/ESPN, Fox, CBS, Turner or any other bidders, the projected revenues of the new conference (which would encompass seven of the top 20 television markets in the country) could rival those of the SEC or even the Big Ten.
But this is far from a done deal for a lot of reasons. One big rumor recently has been Texas’ interest in creating its own television network, a move that would allow Texas to keep all of the revenues to itself. And considering Texas’ long-standing disinclination towards sharing profits with other lesser draws (one of the main reasons there has been some Big 12 familial disquiet in the past), they would likely prefer to keep the Big 12 together as-is and move forward with their own plans. However, most people around the conference already see Missouri as good as gone, and Nebraska is at least still in the Big Ten’s sights, so the hopes of keeping the conference whole may be rapidly disappearing.
Texas A&M is also reportedly not entirely on board with the move west. A&M athletic director Bill Byrne was quoted in the Houston Chronicle on Thursday as saying that the SEC could be an option for the Aggies and Oklahoma could also be more inclined to head that way rather than west, both turns of events that could cause the new league to be either scaled down or reconfigured. It still remains to be seen, however, if the SEC is really interested in taking on more members. With member institutions already raking in about $17 million a year from their new deal with ESPN, that pie would either have to be divided into more and smaller pieces, or renegotiated upon the acceptance of new members. As much as A&M and OU may rather head east, they may not necessarily be invited. And then, there is also the question of how attractive the Oklahoma athletic department is at this point, given their current ongoing NCAA investigation into alleged payment to players, a very serious infraction for a school that was already on probation.
As we discussed in our original piece on conference realignment, the worst case scenario for the Big 12 is that it doesn’t exist anymore, and this news today goes a long way towards making that more of a reality. Why is the Big 12 the target for cherry-picking from all sides — the Pac-10 to the west, the Big Ten to the north and the SEC to the east? Well, certainly geography is part of it, and with the Big 12 being smack in the middle of the country and other conferences wishing to expand into relatively nearby geographical areas, member institutions throughout the Big 12 are just primed to be picked at by conferences on the edges. But, beyond that angle, there is the fact that television revenues in the Big 12 are not paid out evenly, with Texas earning over $3 million more per year than Baylor and Iowa State, and even $2 million more than schools like Missouri, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Colorado. Ostensibly, the new superconference would provide a much more equitable distribution of wealth. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said recently that a new conference network would need to be an “all-rights-in situation,” again per Orangebloods.com. Revenue sharing in the Big 12 has long been an issue (prompting a hilariously self-unaware quote by Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins: “Revenue sharing is an issue, but if you do some other things there are ways to offset that”), but again at this week’s conference meetings, the issue was not up for discussion. With Missouri in particular displeased with the unequal distribution of wealth, that could be just one more nudge toward the Big Ten door for that school.
Big 12 Leftovers
While there are big questions for both the Pac-10 schools and the Big 12 schools rumored to be invited, all of that pales in comparison to the questions left for those Big 12 schools rumored to be on the outside looking in. What happens to Kansas, one of the nation’s preeminent basketball schools? How about up-and-coming programs Kansas State and Baylor, the Big 12’s Elite Eight representatives last year? If Oklahoma or Texas A&M wind up getting invited to the SEC instead, perhaps Kansas and Kansas State could take their spots in the new Pac-16. Or, if the original 16 in the rumor wind up together, maybe KU and KSU get a lifeline from the SEC, although neither really fits in geographically or aesthetically with the SEC schools. Baylor would be a logical partner in the MWC with fellow former-SWC member TCU, but does Kansas make any sense in the MWC?
So what about the remaining five Big 12 teams banding together to pick off some conglomeration of MWC and Conference USA teams, resulting in a new Big 12 that looks something like: Baylor, BYU, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rice, TCU, Tulsa and Utah? It makes some sense, but at this point it is likely that the MWC teams would have more clout than the remaining Big 12 teams. Certainly, with the MWC perhaps on the verge of adding Boise State, a quartet of Boise State, BYU, TCU and Utah is far more appealing than the remaining Big 12 schools football-wise, and while Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor would significantly upgrade the already strong MWC basketball slate, does Iowa State get left out in the cold? Does Nebraska get left out if the Big Ten decides to go to the bigger media markets to the East?
Another scenario, which would require several other things to transpire in front of it, is the Big 12 leftovers joining forces with the Big East football leftovers (assuming the Big Ten raids the Big East for some combination of Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse), for a mish-mashed geographic league: say Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisville, Nebraska, South Florida and West Virginia. Yuck.
The reality is, if the rumored six head off to the Pac-16, the remaining Big 12 schools will be in for some major league scrambling.
Effect on Big Ten Expansion
If this comes to fruition, what kind of effect does this have on Big Ten expansion? With many people already considering Missouri a done deal, it puts a lot of pressure on Nebraska to find a way to get invited for Big Ten membership, lest they, their legions of fans, and their historic football program be left scrambling for invitation somewhere else, whether that be the SEC (poor geographic match, although the heft of the Husker football program would fit in well with the SEC schools), MWC (better, but still not great geographically, and a significant step down for the football program), or some other new conglomeration of schools left out in other realignments. It is possible that the disintegration of the Big 12 may actually give the Big Ten more of a reason to go out and get Nebraska, perhaps even prompting them to go beyond 16, because Nebraska and their football program will wind up somewhere at some point and they are an attractive well-supported option. There is also the idea that the Pac-10 jumping to 16 may cement the notion that the Big Ten will at least go to 16, if for no other reason than to keep up with the Joneses.
Effect on SEC Expansion
More interesting may be the number of different scenarios that get tossed towards the SEC if the ball gets seriously rolling on the Pac-16. If Texas A&M and Oklahoma are seriously not interested in Pac-10 membership, the SEC may be able to snap them up and expand their reach further west, maybe even grabbing Nebraska along the way, making an already strong football conference even stronger, although perhaps further diluting their basketball strength. While this could happen if the Big 12 gets dissolved and suddenly these programs are out there for the taking, the key hurdle for any SEC expansion would be to figure out exactly what happens with their historic television contract with ESPN. It is unlikely that ESPN is just going to pony up another $17 million a year for each new member, so do the member schools all agree to just take a smaller piece of the pie? Quite unlikely, although maybe if Texas is part of the package, ESPN would be more apt to sweeten the pot. But Texas seems particularly unwilling to join the SEC due to their desire to maintain some pretense towards remaining in rarefied academic company. In the end, this really doesn’t change the first major decision that SEC commissioner Mike Slive and the presidents and athletic directors of the member institutions need to make: is expansion even realistic financially for the conference at this point? And if the answer there is yes, then the SEC can start comparing their numerous options from both the Big 12 (Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas A&M), ACC (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami) and even the Big East (Louisville, West Virginia).
Effect on Big East Expansion
The only major effect a Pac-16 would have on the Big East is if it provided further incentive for the Big Ten to raid a significant number of Big East football schools, a prospect that is perhaps already in the works. There is a scenario where this could be a good thing for the Big East, however. Say the Pac-16 happens, and the Big Ten decides to snatch up free agent Nebraska in addition to Missouri. If the Big Ten is really not interested in going any further than 16 teams, perhaps they can convince Notre Dame to come on board and grab just two of the remaining Big East teams. In that scenario, the Big East only has to find two football replacements to get back to the eight teams necessary to retain the possibility of automatic BCS qualifying status, maybe snatching up teams like Central Florida and Memphis to get back to eight while providing geographic partners for schools like South Florida and Louisville. In the end, the Big East is still in a precarious position, but there may be a little glimmer of hope in this news for them.
Big 12 Meetings Wrap-up
While there is still plenty going on behind the scenes that needs to get sorted out before we have any definitive answers, this newest rumor is a bombshell, to say the least. However, Beebe got it just exactly perfect on Tuesday at the start of the Big 12 meetings when he said: “I think it’s very serious. And I think it’s something that we better be very careful about. If we come to a day where there are four 16-member conferences, then it’s going to be a sad day, and it’s going to be very difficult to not have more legal issues and interventions. The pressures will be immense for certain programs to be successful, (and) there will be less chances to win conference championships and national championships.” He’s right about that, and yet just three days later, we may be on the verge of taking that next step towards that very scenario.