If you are an alum or a fan of schools like the University of Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn or BYU, this was the week you had circled on your calendar to keep at least one eye on Irving, Texas, as the power brokers of the Big XII — school presidents and athletics directors — were slated to meet, presumably to hash out issues that will shape the future of the conference, a topic we've been all over since our feature on the conference last September.
In last week's column, we previewed these meetings, outlining crucial questions that needed to be answered and critical issues that profoundly affect the coffers at the ten Big XII schools and the half-dozen or so schools hoping for an invitation to the Big XII.
In no particular order, the key items up for discussion appeared to be:
1. Conference expansion
2. Development of a conference television network
3. Reprising the conference title game
In the end, according to multiple reports, it appears that the 2016 Big XII conference meetings will come and go with the first two items tabled until at least next year. As of Wednesday evening, it remained to be seen if the league would conduct a title game during the first weekend in December. In other words, the meetings will have been one big popcorn fart.
While a league title game would be a nice windfall for the ten schools in the league (approximately $2 million to $3 million per school) and a fun event for fans and TV viewers, the first two items on the league's agenda were of far more interest to college football fans, and were of vital interest to the aforementioned potential expansion target schools.
In plain English, as first reported by Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com, the league has no reason to expand from ten to 12 (or more) teams right now. The reasons to expand would be financially driven, and there are no scenarios in which growing the conference right now adds to the bottom line for the current ten members.
There were, at one time, possible scenarios that may have triggered the next wave of realignment. For example, up until this year, the bylaws of college football required a league to have 12 teams to stage that lucrative conference title game. However, the Big XII received a waiver on that rule, and can now stage its Big XII Title game with just the ten members it already has. It goes without saying that waiver was a major blow to the hopes of those schools, like the University of Houston, who were trying to get into the Big XII.
Additionally, it would make sense to discuss expansion to 12 or more schools if any of the schools would expand the league's overall television revenue pie by enough to increase the per-school take-home amount. However, the league's television partners are not inclined right now to renegotiate TV rights deals, in part because cord-cutting by subscribers of cable TV has sliced into the revenues of the networks at an alarming rate. Additionally, the formation of a new Big XII conference network — a concept that has proven lucrative in the SEC and Big Ten and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12 — is a non-starter as long as Texas will not relinquish the Longhorn Network, which according to ESPN.com the Longhorns have no intention of doing:
Perrin, however, said it would take much more than that for Texas to consider putting the Longhorn Network on the table.So the Big XII, which was already the shakiest of the Power Five conferences, will leave these meetings at the same crossroads they were at when they arrived. They are a fractured bunch, with a small handful of schools — most notably Oklahoma and West Virginia — favoring expansion, and the rest — Texas chief among them — favoring the status quo.
"They have been great partners. You have to look beyond athletic events. You have to look at branding. ... the academic side of it, the Olympic sports, recruiting. There are a lot factors that go with the Longhorn Network far beyond the money. It's a very valuable asset we have," Perrin said. "I'm not ever going to say something's never going to come about. But it would take a lot. ... it's my thought if there was any move, it would have to keep us whole. And that includes a lot of intangible value on the academic side and branding.
"My position is that we shouldn't disturb it."
It's a stand-off in which something eventually has to give, and as vocal as Oklahoma president David Boren has been about the Big XII's need to expand and redo its TV topography, it makes you wonder if the Sooners might soon say "Screw this" and begin to explore their options outside the Big XII, if they're not quietly doing so already. One thing to keep in mind is that if Oklahoma were to leave the conference, it would likely need to bring Oklahoma State with it as a travel partner, for political reasons in that state.
When you add the seemingly unending angst among these ten schools toward the current situation at Baylor, it makes for an even dicier future for this league. Baylor had quickly become one of the league's marquee brands and best football programs, and now is working with an interim head coach and the strong possibility that the NCAA could hit the school with Penn State-type sanctions for its mishandling of numerous sexual assaults by football players. A major blow to Baylor football is a blow to the league.
For a league hoping to resolve a number of its issues this week, the Big XII enters the 2016 season in a few months traversing murkier waters than ever before.
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