Nearly a week has passed since ESPN signed the University of Texas to a 20-year, $300 million contract to create an exclusive TV network, and I still can’t make heads or tails of what it all means for the Oklahoma Sooners, the Big 12 and the college football world in general.
Thankfully, I don’t think I’m alone.
My initial reaction: The Big 12 really is finished this time. Texas is maneuvering to go independent and BevoTV will give them all the money the Longhorns need to do it. Time for OU to grab a few partners and get proactive about the future.
A couple days later, I’m starting to sing a different tune. Big Ten-centric blogger Frank The Tank, who I consider one of the more astute voices of the subject of conference expansion, makes a compelling case that the unholy union of the sport’s two Evil Empires actually breathes new life into Beebe’s 12. Mr. Tank notes that the reconstituted league satisfies the needs of Texas and ESPN in perpetuity. Ergo, the Worldwide Leader will also make it worth the while of UT’s conference-mates to stick together.
Then, Austin American-Statesman chronicler of all things Texas Kirk Bohls turns around and starts dropping hints that some deep-pocketed Texas A&M boosters may have tired of playing fourth fiddle in the Big 12.
(Writing for ESPN, our buddies at Football Outsiders note that Texas could actually gain a competitive advantage by going independent, in that it would allow the Longhorns greater flexibility to bulk up their strength of schedule. If you’re familiar with UT’s scheduling philosophy under Mack Brown, however, you know making the schedule tougher isn’t a selling point.)
The reality is that the world’s greatest sport has entered uncharted territory yet again. There’s no such thing as an educated guess in all of this. There are hundreds of moving parts in play, and one decision could set off a cataclysmic chain of events.
Would you settle for a rundown of the major players and factors going forward?
One popular theory floating around the Interwebs has the Big 12′s weak sisters taking their destiny into their own hands and lighting out for, wait for it… the Big East.
The thinking goes that Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State could latch on to the BCS conferences’ own weak sister to former the first super-conference. (Note that “super” in this case refers to number, not strength.)
And why not? At this point, they have no reason to believe they won’t get left out in the cold as soon as the price is right for UT.
Nebraska had plenty of reasons for leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten, but bet your bottom dollar that at the top you’d find “sick of kowtowing to Texas.”
Hearing all that loot pouring into the coffers down in Austin, you think the Aggies aren’t feeling a little puny right now? What kind of e-mails are waiting for OU athletic director Joe Castiglione when he sits down at his computer every morning?
You’d hope that decisions like these are made for better reasons than Bubba Booster getting irritated listening to his burnt orange buddies brag about all the money their school is making. Sadly, I think we’d all be surprised.
You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think Texas’ conferencemates are just a little bit pissed off that UT sold out the rest of the conference with its ESPN deal.
So, what if the current members of the Big 12 all decided to break away from Texas and conspired to treat the Longhorns like the scheduling equivalent of a vicious strain of Gonorrhea? If you think the clap is nasty, imagine if the bulk of your annual schedule consisted of teams like Sam Houston State, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan.
Obviously, this could never happen… Right?
OK, this is a given. Yet, more money might not necessarily mean as much to the shot callers if it brings unwanted headaches. When you’re talking about football in the Big 12, that would be…
Texas State Legislature
Navigating the minefield that is the state house in Austin historically has posed major problems in conference realignment horse-trading. Texas politicos helped ensure Baylor’s spot in the Big 12 back in the day, and they undoubtedly exerted some influence behind the scenes in the drama of last summer.
Now that the state’s flagship university is bringing in all that bank from its own network, would the politicians finally accept college football’s manifest destiny?
With TV money driving the bus in the college football world, that effectively makes ESPN the sport’s major stakeholder. The creation of Texas’ network showed that Disney has no compunction about throwing its money around to make sure it directs who ends up dancing with whom when the music stops.
Who am I kidding, right? Well, if Fox really wants to be a player in all off this, it will have to step up with its own bombshell to stay in the game.
How about a gigantic TV deal with the “Pac-16?”
Red River Shootout
The Sooners and Longhorns hook up annually at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for one of the greatest rivalry games in college football. Like Ohio State-Michigan and the Cocktail Party, it’s a priceless experience for fans. Of course, if you had to put a price on it, we’re talking millions of dollars in revenue for the Red River rivals.
The two schools played before they were conference foes, so it’s not as if league affiliation is a must for the game to happen. However, what if a conference shake-up makes the October showdown infeasible?
Or, if you want to get even more Machiavellian, one side could potentially squeeze the other with the threat of ending the rivalry.
The Pokes don’t have the same allure as their in-state rivals, but last summer the word was that the Sooners and Cowboys were a package deal.
I assume that might change if it was worth eveyone’s while. Still, the upshot is that neither side is acting independently of the other.