Oh, look -- reliagnment is in the news again!
Just when you thought it had gone away again after the retrospective pieces from the five-year anniversary of the Big 12's Nuclear Missile Crisis approximation, Oklahoma Sooners president David Boren sent realignment news back into the collective college football consciousness by boldly claiming that sticking with 10 members could be a "debilitating" long-term decision:
"I think it's something we should strive for while we have the time, stability, all of that to look and be choosy," Boren said. "(We) can be very selective about who we want to add. It would have to add value to the conference. I think we should."
Previously, comments by commissioner Bob Bowlsy in late December indicated that the Big 12 doesn't have any short-term expansion plans:
"Ten is what we are and I think the status quo with all 10 schools committed and with grants of rights for all our media, we're distributing the largest amount of money per school of any of the leagues right now and I don't think any of our members want to change that," Bowlsby said. "Competitively, we think that having everybody play everybody is the right way to determine a champion, even if you do sometimes have a tie."
Boren isn't completely breaking ranks here because he's talking about long-term decisions while Bowlsby is referencing the near future, but this isn't really standard fare from a Big 12 president.
As for Bowlby's assertions, the ability to continue the round-robin schedule that ultimately failed to benefit TCU and Baylor last season during the inaugural College Footblal Playoff selection and the current television agreements are the primary arguments championed by those in favor of remaining at 10 teams for at least the near future.
Of the two arguments, the revenue slicing from expansions seems to hold the most sway, but Boren buried that claim by asserting that television money might not necessarily decrease:
"The contract says that our main television contract ... if we grow from 10 to 11 or 11 to 12, their payments to us grow proportionally," Boren said. "So everybody's share stays the same. If it's ‘X' dollars, it stays ‘X' dollars."
This is not a small claim since which schools could force the networks to maintain or increase the televsion contract lies at the heart of any Big 12 expansion discussion.
The candidate list looks something like this -- Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati, UCF, with maybe Memphis or Tulane more on the margins. Other than the Cougars, that's a relatively tepid group, although the Bearcats make sense geographically after adding West Virginia.
If Boren is right, would that mean that adding schools like Cincinnati and Central Florida would convince the networks to back up the Oklahoma president's argument? Those schools would likely jump to the Big 12 in a heartbeat given the opportunity and wouldn't cause any seismic movement elsewhere, so there's no reason why it wouldn't happen if the league determines two schools available actually add value.
Recall that back in 2010, former commissioner Dan Beebe pulled off the significant coup of holding the Big 12 together by getting the networks to renegotiate the television package that currently pays the conference quite handsomely -- behind only the Big Ten in total per-school revenue by a mere $400,000, a number certainly bolstered by averaging in the Longhorn Network's hefty addition for Texas.
Ultimately, would those candidates for expansion actually add value? Without a looming near-threat of superconferences, would the networks be as willing to keep the status quo by maintaining or increasing the current per-school payments that will ultimately make the decision much easier for the conference to make?
Back to Boren, though, because he was on quite a roll, declining to hold back on the Longhorn Network in going full Bill Byrne "our friends in the state capital" on what remains the only school-specific network in college football:
"The elephant in the room remains the network south of us that has struggled and has in a way as long as it's there," Boren said. "And we have done quite well with our network and if anything ever changed, it has value to it which we see. But someday, maybe we'll get past that other problem as well. It's a problem."
Somewhat lost in the discussion regarding the Longhorn Network's future viability and current success is the conference-wide impact -- the Big 12 schools all own their third-tier rights, but have to get creative with them because there's no Big 12 Network that would provide an increased stream of revenue from a partnership with a major network.
The difference in incomes from those numbers is significant because by holding down third-tier revenues in opting out of a leage-wide network, the Longhorns are in essence holding every other Big 12 school down -- it's the difference in a huge sum of money.
Consider that Texas makes $15 million from the LHN, while Iowa State's 2013 third-tier deal with the state's largest media provider, Mediacom, reportedly nets the school somewhere in the six figures. By comparison, Illinois pulls in $7.6 million per year from the Big Ten Network.
Since the four most revenue-poor Big 12 schools (Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas State, and West Virginia) posted income between $68 million and $77 million and and profits ranged from $1.2 million (Iowa State) to $4.4 million (West Virginia), that extra money the Big Ten's poorest schools receive would represent a major addition to athletic department coffers with full cost of attendance looming for those athletic directors.
When Boren bashes the Longhorn Network, that's why, and it's understandable to see that as an ultimately destabilizing factor in the power conference that barely survived realignment. Hey, not the AAC, though, right?
But how does Boren foresee getting past the Longhorn Network problem? Perhaps renegotiated deals for Big 12 schools, but Oklahoma, for instance, sold the rights to what became SoonerSportsTV to FOX on a 10-year contract, so there are so many different providers involved that the renogotiation process would become much more complex until those 10-year deals start expiring in 2022.
There's a lot of questions here, but it seems certain that if there's another round of conference realignment, the Big 12 will be the power conference headlining it, in return producing another necessary query.
Just how stable is the Big 12 as a conference with perception on the recruiting trail and at large falling with the currently flickering stars of Oklahoma and Texas?