Donuts: 13 Big Takes On The Big 12
PRE-DONUT: Full Disclosure: I grew up a University of Texas fan. In fact, four generations of my family have attended UT, including my great-grandfather, my grandmother, my father, and my sister. I lived through the rough years though – the six-year losing streak to OU at the Cotton Bowl. When Mack Brown apologized to all Texas fans, I swear he was looking at me. Then as a high school senior, I decided to attend the University of Alabama and was enrolled as a student there with a class schedule and a housing assignment when, at quite literally the last minute, I switched my enrollment to the school I grew up hating, the University of Oklahoma. It's a long story explaining that transition, and essentially I got an offer I couldn't refuse. I bleed Crimson and Cream to this day, but my unique history allows me to retain some semblance of objectivity on this topic.
DONUT 1: The free market sometimes leads to strange outcomes. Ideally, the market allocates resources to the most useful destinations based on demand. However, not always does the invisible hand of the market tie things up so neatly. Case in point: the imminent destruction of any and all semblance of rationality in college football conferences. To understand the madness, lets follow the money.
DONUT 2: It starts with us, the consumer. Free markets are set up to give us what we want. We reveal our preferences by what we are willing to pay for. We have a preference for college football. We also prefer television. In fact we prefer college football on television so much that broadcasters are willing to pay silly amounts of money to conferences for the exclusive right to carry games on their networks. Conferences with the best football get big, big contracts and the money that flows to the conferences gets passed on to individual schools and their athletic programs. Awash in riches, these programs built lavish facilities, and shower coaches with ridiculous salaries. Mack Brown is the highest-paid public employee in our state. Let that sink in.
DONUT 3: Ironically, those responsible for generating all the spectacular plays that generate the buzz that gets the eyeballs glued to television sets don't see a drop of the river of TV money running through college sports. However, paying players is a whole different can of worms and outside the scope of this discussion. Even more ironic: public universities are supposedly ‘not for profit' ventures and therefore are tax-exempt entities.
DONUT 4: In pursuit of an ever-expanding pile of money, individual colleges are scrambling to form larger and larger athletic conferences with the belief that a ‘Super Conference' will be able to negotiate an even bigger contract with TV networks. However, as Mark Cuban blogged recently, there is a whole slew of unintended consequences that can come from chasing the almighty dollar with no respect for tradition, geographic sensibilities, or the increased demand it will put on those who generate all that money (the players).
DONUT 5: But what set this chain of events in action? It all started in the conference that's about to be no more: The Big XII. A conference that sits in one of the best football regions in the country is on the verge of not having its own regional network for two reasons: 1) The fragile compromise upon which the conference was built, and 2) The heavy-handed dealings of the University of Texas.
DONUT 6: The Big XII always rested on unsteady ground because it was a conference that was born of convenient economic interests. Interestingly, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech were fleeing another crumbling conference, the SWC, at the time and sought refuge in the Big 8 to create the Big XII. However, instead of sharing revenue equally between schools, the Big XII decided to adopt an "exposure-based" revenue-sharing model. This allowed the schools with larger audiences, namely the University of Texas, to rake in a significantly larger share of conference revenue than say, Kansas State.
DONUT 7: This revenue model created relative haves and have-nots in the conference. As history has shown, a two-tiered system eventually creates jealousy among the have-nots. This is evidenced by Nebraska's defection from the conference last year. Long weary of the influence wielded by their counterparts in Austin and the overall Texas-centric orientation the conference had taken, Nebraska bolted for the Big 10 under the belief that they would no longer be relegated to the kids' table at conference meetings. Rumors circulated that the Big XII was doomed and that the Texas and Oklahoma schools would soon join the Pac-10 to create the nations first super conference.
DONUT 8: It was this tantalizing vision of the future that has so enraptured college administrators and conference presidents. The super conference is a 16-team behemoth that could wield unprecedented clout at the negotiating table with networks, create unforeseen national exposure for teams and create dream intra-conference matchups that would drive TV revenues even higher. This is the model that the ACC, Pac-12, SEC, and Big 10 are all chasing. Heck, when the 64 best schools are all contained in one neat bundle, who needs the NCAA, or the BCS?
DONUT 9: It may be tempting to lay all the blame for the current chaos at the feet of Texas A&M, but while that attribution is convenient, it is misguided. As mentioned, the Big XII was on shaky footing before it lost two members last summer. When it gained a stay of execution, the renegotiated peace between its members sowed the seeds of its eventual (presumed) destruction. Indeed last summer when Texas (and Oklahoma to a lesser extent) decided to remain in the conference, they did so under two wrong-headed conditions. Instead of learning from the failures of the unequal revenue-sharing model, the conference doubled-down on that idea and guaranteed UT, OU, and TAMU a bigger slice of the pie than the rest. Furthermore, to placate Texas, the conference allowed for the creation of the Longhorn Network that you've heard so much about but probably haven't seen a minute of.
DONUT 10: Since Texas was clearly the belle of the ball last summer, keeping UT under any means necessary was understandable. However, as Europe learned in the 1930's, the policy of appeasing the powerful bully can come back to haunt you. Texas A&M, admittedly with a large Little-Brother complex, decided that getting chewed up (at least for a few years) by the buzz-saw that is the SEC was better that living another day in the shadow cast by the Longhorns. Their decision isn't without merit however. TAMU boasts an impressive athletic program from top to bottom and is currently enjoying their best football team in years. They are a boon to the SEC and will be extremely competitive in most sports beyond baseball and possibly football. Also the Longhorn Network, especially when armed with high school games and highlights, would seem to confer a significant edge in recruiting and exposure. Furthermore, fueled by the hype-machinists at ESPN eager to see return on their $300 million investment, there's little reason to believe that the Longhorn Network's ambitions would stop there. Indeed, the details in the contract of the Longhorn Network provide incentives that, if followed to conclusion, point UT in the direction of independence. http://outkickthecoverage.com/espn-texas-contract-for-longhorn-network.php The Aggies merely read the writing on the wall. The Big XII, as currently constructed, is doomed.
DONUT 11: … Or so we thought. Indeed, with the Pac-12 declining not to add any teams at this time it seems that the Big XII may have gained yet another eleventh-hour reprieve. What is the cause of this new life? Texas, of course. It was known that there would be difficulty sandwiching LHN into the conference's revenue model, but what ultimately killed the deal was Texas once-again balking at equal revenue sharing. UCLA and USC had to be convinced of the virtues of equal revenue sharing in the first place and they made it clear there would be no special deals for Texas and its network. Conference commissioner Larry Scott put it more eloquently saying the conference prefers not to disturb its "culture of equality," which is a nice way of saying that Texas wouldn't budge.
DONUT 12: But is any of this actually good for college athletics? Well that depends on what you believe the greater good actually is. Four super conferences might spell the end of the BCS system as we know it. However, most of what we love best about college football would also be over. The pageantry, the regional rivalries, the tradition - over. Why? Incentives. Do you think UT/TAMU would have any incentive to play an emotional, non-conference opponent so late in the season when losing that game could derail a national championship run? DeLoss Dodds echoed this sentiment today.
DONUT 13: ('Cause I'm a man of the people): Furthermore, as pointed out in this NYT article, conference realignment could actually be bad for states as well. Any Congressman or Senator from a state whose public university is about to be left out in the cold would be compelled to intervene.
Which means we may be much further from the resolution of this mess than we think.
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