OU PRESIDENT DAVID BOREN IS STILL NOT HAPPY, SO IS COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BY THE POWER FIVE THE NEXT BIG MOVE IN REALIGNMENT?

After Wednesday’s vote by the NCAA Division I board of directors, the Big 12 now has the option of having a league title game with only 10 members and without having to expand to 12. So that means Oklahoma president David Boren is still unhappy. And even though the majority of Big 12 presidents are happy, as long as Boren's unhappy, there's a chance for more cataclysmic realignment in the future.

Boren and West Virginia president Gordon Gee want the conference to grow by two. 

Boren, a former U.S. senator, has been politicking for the Big 12 to go back to being 12 ever since Nebraska and Colorado left in 2010 and again when Texas A&M and Missouri left in 2011. He made it clear in a statement to the OU Daily after Wednesday's vote nothing has changed in his mind. 

“The Big 12 is disadvantaged when compared to the other conferences in three ways: 

“We do not have at least 12 members. We do not have a conference network, and we do not have a championship game. 

“I think that all three of these disadvantages need to be addressed at the same time. 

“Addressing only one without addressing all three will not be adequate to improve the strength of the conference.”

Again, most of the Big 12 presidents are happy with strong TV revenue and now the option to add a championship game (probably 2017 at the earliest) that would add roughly $20 million to $30 million to league TV dollars.

Gee is supporting expansion so West Virginia is not the league's only regional outlier. Sources tell HD Gee and Boren would both support Cincinnati as an addition to the conference, because it’s a regional partner for WVU and adds a new TV market in fertile recruiting territory.

Other Big 12 leaders say if there were universally strong expansion candidates, they would have been added already.

After Cincinnati, there might not even be consensus among Boren and Gee on a second school to be added. BYU is high maintenance and does West Virginia no favors in terms of proximity. 

UConn, Memphis, Colorado State, Temple, Houston, SMU and either Central Florida or South Florida don’t create unanimity, either, sources said.  

Boren, Gee and Baylor president Ken Starr are part of a three-member committee looking into possible expansion on behalf of the Big 12. I’m told if Boren isn’t happy with where things are a year from now, he’ll consider playing whatever cards he has at that moment to get out of the Big 12.

And if that happens, it could just lead to the largest revenue-producing scenario (I laid out in July 2015) - the Power 5 coming together and collectively bargaining their TV rights some time in the next 10 years.

After discussions with several people connected to P5 schools, this scenario could become more plausible as we get closer to 2024.

That’s when the major TV contracts in the SEC and Pac-12 expire, and it’s a year before the TV deals of the Big 12, Notre Dame and the College Football Playoff expire. And three years before the ACC’s TV deal with ESPN expires.

Only the Big Ten, which has TV rights through 2016-17 that are about to be renegotiated, is on a vastly different timeline. But the Big Ten would be wise to include a “look-in window” giving the league an “out” option around 2024.

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Why would the Power Five give up the vanity of each league having its own TV deal and commissioner to go back to a world eerily reminiscent of the College Football Association before the landmark court ruling in 1984 that allowed schools and conferences to break away from the NCAA’s hold on TV rights?

Why?

Two huge reasons:

1) Because that’s where the most money can be made to combat the rising costs of college athletics (everything from potentially costly lawsuits over head injuries to rising health insurance costs for student-athletes as well as the ongoing battle to reimburse student-athletes for use of their image and likeness).

2) Because you could put some geographic sense back into college athletics (more on that in a second).

You think the NFL, which has 32 teams, has it good with $27 billion worth of TV deals through 2022?

Watch the dollar figures soar when the Power Five - the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC plus Notre Dame – all go to the bargaining table together and throw open the bidding for their collective TV rights.

“If you wanted to draw up a really inefficient system in terms of leveraging TV dollars, you’d draw up what we currently have,” said one official tied to a Power Five conference.

The naysayers will vow the Power Five will never collectively bargain because you'd have too many egos to navigate, because of antitrust concerns, because Congress would object and because TV contracts in each conference don't currently end at the same time.

But where there’s a will (to get to billions of new dollars), there’s a way.

The P5 is already working together to write new rules with the autonomy granted by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. Now, just carry those conversations that brought about full cost of attendance scholarship increases to television revenue.

If members of Congress cry foul and question the status of athletic departments as tax exempt, the P5 can have them call former Texas athletic director Steve Patterson.

Patterson, the king of doom and gloom forecasts about the rising costs of college athletics, can tell Congress how every school is about to be coated in red ink.

Patterson reported a $2.8 million shortfall in Texas athletics for the 2013-14 school year. If Texas, which earns more TV revenue than any other school, is getting pinched, other P5 school presidents will probably soon be jumping for the chance to make NFL type TV money.

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The real fun comes in trying to align a collective Power Five into divisions. Do you split into four divisions? Six? Eight? 16?

By the time we get to this point, everyone will realize the most money is in a 16-team playoff (just like FCS), and it would require cutting the regular-season back to 11 games and getting rid of conference championship tilts.

For efficiency and geographic proximity, the best model may be six divisions with 11 teams, which means one lucky school would be saying goodbye to the Group of 5 and hello to the power and money tied to becoming the 66th and final school in the Power Five.

Six, 11-team divisions would allow schools to play all the other 10 teams in your division with one non-conference game.

Talk about games week-in and week-out that appeal to television.

You could have three divisions in the WEST:

@@@@@WEST@@@@@

1. USC

2. UCLA

3. Stanford

4. Cal

5. Oregon

6. Oregon State

7. Washington

8. Washington State

9. Arizona

10. Arizona State

11. Colorado

@@@@@SOUTHWEST@@@@@

1. Texas

2. Texas A&M

3. Oklahoma

4. Oklahoma State

5. Arkansas

6. TCU

7. Texas Tech

8. Baylor

9. Iowa State

10. Utah

11. BYU

@@@@@MIDWEST@@@@@

1. Ohio State

2. Michigan

3. Michigan State

4. Purdue

5. Iowa 

6. Indiana

7. Illinois

8. Northwestern

9. Nebraska

10. Wisconsin

11. Minnesota

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And three divisions in the EAST

@@@@@SOUTHEAST@@@@@

1. Alabama

2. Auburn

3. LSU

4. Ole Miss

5. Miss State

6. South Carolina

7. Tennessee

8. Missouri

9. Kansas

10. Kansas State

11. Clemson

@@@@@ATLANTIC COAST@@@@@

1. Florida

2. Florida State

3. Miami

4. Georgia

5. Georgia Tech

6. Virginia

7. Virginia Tech

8. North Carolina

9. North Carolina State

10. Duke

11. Wake Forest

@@@@@NORTHEAST@@@@@

1. Notre Dame

2. Penn State

3. Pitt

4. West Virginia

5. Boston College

6. Louisville

7. Kentucky

8. Vanderbilt

9. Maryland

10. Syracuse

11. Rutgers

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Two teams from each of the six divisions would qualify for the 16-team playoff as well as four wildcard teams. The wildcard teams would be the best four schools from the Group of 5, who would share in the playoff TV revenue (thus avoiding antitrust lawsuits from the GO5).

Everyone's bottom line increases. Fans would eat it up so much they won't mind absorbing the increased costs for say a College Football Red Zone channel in your division (maybe carried by the NFL Network).

Current conference networks could be turned into College Football Channels for each of the divisions. What about a DIRECTV type college football package or other games on pay-per-view?

“Hey, UFC this week? Or Texas vs Texas A&M?”

In this TV money-driven world of college athletics, we’ve learned only the strongest survive – and the strongest always find a way to the most money.

I seem to remember that discussion in my college economics class (when I went) back in the day.

And once the Power Five dissolve their current agreements - as quickly as you can say "look-in-window" – and head to the collective bargaining table, the money begins pouring in, possibly superseding the NFL, which has a goal of $25 billion per year in revenue by 2027.

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But back to OU president David Boren for a moment.

Boren continues to stand on his island and say the Big 12 is “disadvantaged” as a 10-member league. There’s not a consensus in the conference to make 12 happen.

Boren knows that.

So is Boren really telling us something else? Like - don't be surprised when I try to find a new home for the Sooners again. That’s not exactly clear yet.

My sources connected to the Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 say there aren’t any flags going up that would signal Boren is ready to make a mad dash to the SEC with an invitation extended back in 2011.

Back then, Boren made headlines when Texas A&M left for the SEC by announcing Oklahoma would be exploring all its conference options. OU and Oklahoma State looked west, but the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors weren’t interested in the Sooners and Cowboys without Texas.

So is Boren ready to become the first to test the legal strength of the grant of rights agreement the Sooners signed – turning their Tier 1 and Tier 2 TV rights over to the Big 12 through 2025?

We’ll see. Again, there’s no current indication that that’s about to happen.

Oklahoma also has more than five years remaining on a Tier 3 television agreement with Fox that pays OU roughly $5 million per year. If OU bolted for the SEC, which has no TV relationship with Fox, you’d have to figure the Sooners would be facing a hefty lawsuit from Fox for breach of contract.

The only way OU could dodge lawsuits over violating the grant of rights is if the Big 12 disappears.

So the ultimate question – if Boren was just crazy enough to take up a new address in the SEC (with Ok State in tow) – is what would Texas do?

Would the Horns then look west, where Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott probably lays awake at night conjuring up when he might be able to reel in his Moby Dick (Texas) after UT got away in 2010?

Or would Texas look at where the most money is and maybe drive a full-on merger of the Big 12 and SEC? Then, you’d have a 24-team, expanded SEC with the best college football teams in the south as part of one, giant, TV revenue-generating machine.

You could put some rivalries back together, such as Texas and Texas A&M, Texas v Arkansas, Missouri v KU, etc.

And the SEC, whose third-tier network is run by ESPN, is probably the only place where Texas, with the help of ESPN, could resolve the LHN contract (by making Texas whole for the $300 million and then dissolving LHN and folding UT into the SEC Network).

Or if OU bolted for the SEC, would Texas be licking its chops for the chance to finallyrub shoulders with academic powers Stanford and Cal in the Pac-12?

The word from industry executives is the Pac-12’s third-tier television deal is not performing well. Sources indicate the payout is roughly $1 million per school.

If Texas ended up in the Pac-12, it would not only rescue that league's TV deals, LHN would have to be morphed into one of the Pac-12’s regional networks (shared with one other school). How would ESPN view that? How would anyone view it? Right now, LHN is in more households nationally than the Pac-12 Network.

Here’s to Boren skipping the now cliché move of schools jumping from one P5 conference to another, especially when there appears to be greener (cash) pastures in the near future.

The ultimate destination for realignment is likely to be the Power Five conferences coming together and collectively bargaining their TV rights – closer to 2024.

But is Boren, who is still upset he couldn’t get Louisville and Pittsburgh into the B12 when TCU and West Virginia were added (in hindsight, Boren was right on those two), willing to wait that long?


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