If summer releases are about blockbusters, then what everyone is calling potential “Big 12 realignment” when the league’s presidents meet in Dallas the first week in June is shaping up to be the biggest letdown of the summer.
Expansion is not happening and neither is a Big 12 network - not this year, multiple sources across the Big 12 as well as TV industry sources told HornsDigest.com.
The bottom line is there is no consensus on any non-Power Five candidates to add.
And the league’s primary TV partners - ESPN and Fox - aren’t exactly knocking down doors right now to start a conference network with the current 10 schools, the sources told HD.
Combine that with the varied third-tier media rights agreements across the league - most with years still left on them, and it's a lot of contracts that would have to be rewritten or broken. Again, for what?
As the Big 12 presidents meet in Dallas this week, the only scenario that could get serious debate/consideration this year is a football championship game, sources said.
But that’s no sure thing, either, considering a football title game in a 10-team league guarantees a rematch (whether it’s the top two finishers or a battle of division champions).
If a league title game is approved, possibly later this summer, providing the Big 12 with a much-discussed “13th data point” for the College Football Playoff Committee to consider, it would likely generate between $20 million and $30 million in new TV revenue - or $2 million to $3 million per school, sources said.
That's real money, and we know most everything in college athletics is driven by TV revenue.
Speculation about expansion in the Big 12 - a year-round sport better known to critics of the league as the Big 12's impending doom - started picking up some heat nearly a year ago.
That's when Oklahoma president David Boren, with Steve Patterson driving his own people in Austin nuts as athletic director at Texas, probably sensed it was a good time to grab the microphone and start putting the Longhorns on blast. It started with Boren saying the Big 12 was "psychologically disadvantaged" with only 10 members and grew to advocating a Big 12 Network at the expense of the Longhorn Network.
Even when Boren had been outspoken in 2011 that Oklahoma was looking at all of its conference options in a clear break from Texas, there was still a tight bond between then-Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and OU AD Joe Castiglione. That bond began when Dodds and then-Oklahoma AD Donnie Duncan spearheaded the formation of the Big 12 back in 1996.
With that OU relationship being ignored by Patterson as well as the Longhorns' continued under-performance in football, basketball and baseball, Boren last summer seemed to be sounding alarm bells that the Big 12 had better expand and form a network or else.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby last October at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame seemed to be sympathizing with Boren when Bowlsby called “the Longhorn Network a boulder in the road” of the Big 12’s future media rights agreements.
(That’s because the Big 12’s Tier 1 and 2 TV contracts with ESPN and Fox run through 2025, and UT’s agreement with ESPN for LHN runs through 2030).
West Virginia president Gordon Gee, desperate to find WVU a regional partner in the Big 12, echoed Boren.
In response, the Big 12 Board of Directors appointed Boren, Gee and former Baylor president Ken Starr to a newly formed "Composition Committee" charged with looking into possible expansion (candidates, etc). Recent reports have documented Gee flying around to places like Houston and Memphis like a recruiter for a big firm.
Meanwhile, there were crickets from Texas, in part, because new school president Greg Fenves decided he'd had enough of Patterson, removing him as AD last September and replacing him with Mike Perrin, a successful Houston attorney and former UT football player (under Darrell Royal).
The move didn't exactly send the strongest message to the rest of the conference. If Dodds was a Godfather type figure in college athletics. Perrin, no matter who smart as an attorney, was a kid going to the ballpark with his father as a first time athletic director.
In March, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told CBS Sports the Longhorn Network was a “failure” and its elimination was the key to Big 12 stability.
Quick aside: There's just a touch of irony, however, in the fact ESPN contracted to pay Texas an unprecedented $300 million for 20 years for the TV rights to UT's least desirable inventory of football and basketball games, in large part, to ensure the Big 12 survived.
By making the Longhorn Network deal that lucrative, ESPN all but guaranteed Texas would never walk away from it and, thus, would not be walking away from the Big 12 any time soon. So far, mission accomplished. Let's check back in 2024.
The thing that rarely gets mentioned when there's talk about LHN reportedly losing millions of dollars or holding up a Big 12 Network or how LHN has cut back its programming (including cutting its signature show - Texas All Access - for the 2016 football season ) is ESPN paid $300 million to protect valuable property as much as it paid for shoulder football programming and Olympic sports.
That valued property includes the Texas-OU rivalry and all of those Red River Shootouts broadcast by Keith Jackson. If Texas didn't have LHN anchoring it in the Big 12 beginning in January 2011, there's a very good chance the Longhorns would have been in the Big Ten that year, when Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the SEC.
If Texas somehow landed in the Big Ten, the Longhorns are primarily a Fox property (as operator of the Big Ten Network). And the value of all that history of those Texas-OU games on ABC for decades goes away. Not to mention ESPN's rights to the Big 12 would go away as schools landed in new leagues.
Contrary to popular belief, A&M was headed to the SEC in 2011 no matter what - and conveniently blamed the Longhorn Network.
Now that schools such as Oklahoma State, OU, TCU and now-embattled Baylor have been finishing ahead of Texas in the football standings, it’s easy to take shots at Texas and LHN.
But the Big 12 should be happy it has Greg Fenves as UT’s president, because he’s an engineer, a methodical thinker who takes in as much information as he can before making any kind of conclusion. That is a radical departure from the shoot-from-the-lip leadership style of former Texas president Bill Powers.
Powers would have given Boren a piece of his mind at every turn and boomed about how the Longhorn Network wasn't going anywhere.
Powers alienated many Big 12 presidents who told me Powers would talk down to them from the “Austin mountaintop.”
That’s not Fenves, who is willing to listen to all considerations before opening his mouth. Heck, we still haven't heard from Fenves publicly - one year into his presidency - on conference business.
Perhaps that’s why Boren recently dialed back his own statements about the need for expansion and the need for a Big 12 Network - even saying Texas would need to be made whole for its LHN deal before a league network could happen.
That, and the fact the timing is simply not right to pursue expansion and a league network.
"I think we kind of got out ahead of ourselves," Boren told reporters recently. "Somehow, the speculation got out ahead of what the reality on the ground is.”
On expansion, Boren added: "I personally do not have any candidates at this point."
The Big 12’s own research seems to reveal a bunch of positives about expansion and how expansion would help the formation of a Big 12 Network and how a football title game would add money.
But the research never talked about specific candidates. And the bottom line is - non-Power 5 candidates don’t move the meter. Period. The Big 12 already did a study - nearly five years ago - on candidates like Cincinnati, UConn, etc, and the TV partners said those candidates wouldn’t warrant redoing current TV contracts.
Big 12 expansion with schools such as Florida State and Clemson? Or Arizona and Arizona State? That would be a different story. But the Big 12 has never taken Jim Delany's approach to pillaging other Power 5 leagues to invite schools. Would the Big 12 become a hunter for Power 5 schools to add? Even with penalties for schools leaving their league more punitive than ever?
Or does expansion get revisited closer to 2024, when all the major Tier 1 and 2 TV contracts are up across the Power 5 conferences as well as the College Football Playoff.
That’s the more likely scenario for the next seismic shift in realignment.
By then, the Power 5 might even realize the most TV revenue to be had would be if they came together to collectively bargain their TV rights, a la the NFL, which expects to be at $27 billion annually in TV revenue by 2025. Why couldn't college football get into that TV revenue neighborhood?
And if Nick Saban's idea of a college football commissioner ever came to pass - producing a visionary who could show the Big Ten and SEC there would be even more money if TV rights were sold off NFL-style (Thursday night, Friday night, a CFB and CFB Red Zone Channel, satellite rights, etc).
A commissioner who could convince the Power 5 to play 11 regular-season games and eliminate league title games in favor of a 16-team playoff (the way FCS does it), thus giving four playoff spots to non-Power 5 schools and sharing enough revenue to avoid anti-trust legislation.
To read more on how college football could pull that off without violating anti-trust laws, just click the link below ...