The Big 12 expansion derby has entered its next phase, with commissioner Bob Bowlsby being assigned the tasks of gathering information and identifying the best candidates for expansion. At this point, though, how much more information can Bowlsby get? And will any of it be new?
Bowlsby and the league have gotten the results of multiple studies from consultants on the viability of various league moves, ranging from the establishment of a championship game to a TV network to expansion dynamics. Those have certainly been augmented by proposals, both informal and semi-formal, from schools desiring to join the league. The latter have come in through multiple channels, ranging from Bowlsby to member school presidents and athletic directors. Those, of course, only highlight the positives of each potential applicant, but they can be useful in comparing and contrasting the strengths of the schools under consideration.
Somewhere along the way, the Big 12 also likely has generated a document on the negatives of each candidate, and those factors will also play a part in consideration. Most likely, geography, athletic (read: football) success and program cleanliness will be the big pillars to consider here. Still, that's not the deciding factor that will come into play. Maybe these items wind up being tiebreakers, but they'll all take a backseat to the money issue.
Strangely enough, it's a money issue in reverse – at least for the schools vying for a seat at the Big 12 table. How much less than a full share will a school being willing to take in order to secure that spot – and for how long?
In this case, Bowlsby will be “gathering information” but it's not going to be on how many seats are in the football stadium or how many football wins are on the resume. The Big 12 already knows that. Instead, it's going to be more of a negotiation. 'Hey, Midrange Tech! Our payout next year will be $30 million per school on the full share plan. What is the bottom percentage you are willing to take over the next five (or seven) years?'
This type of bidding and negotiation process gives more leverage to the Big 12, because it doesn't have to stop with just one round. Say Tech comes back with a figure of $16 million for the first couple of years, and Flatland State is next at $17 million. That will just give the Big 12 a baseline to start with. They will then likely go back to each contestant with those figures, and note that they will have to beat them (that is, underbid them) in order to get back into the derby. The process will continue until a “best and final offer” is established for each school.
This won't be a total low bid evaluation, of course. As noted, every school has negatives, and the tough decision to make will be in balancing the bids against those drawbacks. Is UConn's geography offset by a lessened payment of $1 million per year? Is UCF's terrible football performance last year compensated for by its TV market and Florida location? Does the Memphis\FedEx financial tie allow the Tigers to bid even lower?
What makes all of this so uncertain, and impossible to pin down to a deadline, is that it will truly be an ongoing negotiation process. While there might be a time frame set for schools to make a final formal presentation, it's not likely that those will be tied to a bidding process. The financials will be shared, and then the negotiations will truly begin.
There are still other factors in play. Would schools from the current Pac12 be interested in making a move when their agreement expires? (That could influence the decision on the number of schools to add now.) And, obviously, the TV networks interests will be fully taken into account. Even though the current contract forces ESPN and Fox to match the payout for each team added, forcing them to do so could be harmful to future contracts. So, just as in the discussions with scho0ls themselves, it's all likely to be based on negotiation.