As various Big 12 constituents complain about the Longhorn Network, the Big Ten and Fox are reportedly nearing a 10-year media rights deal that could be worth $250 million or more to purchase half of the conference's inventory, which could represent a real and significant threat to the Big 12's ability to remain competitive.
Despite the tax-exempt status of the NCAA and claims of amateurism, there's no question that money rules everything in college sports, especially football, the biggest money-maker by far. As a result, anything that funnels money towards one conference impacts all the rest, with major advantages conveyed to schools that receive considerable income from television deals by providing the resources to win arms races in facilities and recruiting.
Still, SB Nation's Matt Brown points out that the impact to the Big 12 from the reported deal could be more than monetary -- it could reduce the conference's exposure:
Big 12 games are already on FS1, but the league apparently has a low number of guaranteed games on the platform (a minimum of six games a year). So if that Texas Tech/Kansas State game was going to be slotted to FS1, there's a chance it's getting bumped to FS2 or FSN to make room for, I dunno, Michigan State/Illinois, even if that's going to be a worse game. The massive fanbases around Big Ten programs make those games attractive TV properties, so if you are a fan used having regular games on FS1, you may want to make sure you get the other Fox channels in your package.
Considering the lack of big brands outside of Texas and Oklahoma in the conference -- sorry Baylor and TCU -- and the lack of a recruiting base across much of the Big 12's footprint, missing out on that needed exposure could hurt those schools as they attempt to capture the attention of out-of-state recruits.
Framed in that manner, it's easier to understand why Oklahoma president David Boren feels so disadvantaged by the Longhorn Network and why Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy thinks that the network is a failure and must be eliminated to benefit the conference.
Beyond the Longhorn Network, one of the problems for the Big 12 is that the current agreement with ESPN and Fox runs through the 2024-25 season, so it will almost certainly be years before there's another negotiation of the first- and second-tier rights that command the most money from networks.
Until then, member schools will have to play catch up with the third-tier rights that are far less valuable and further diminished by the lack of a conference network.
Also at issue is the lack of a Big 12 championship game. Recent rule changes would allow for the conference to institute an extra game to decide the champion, but coaches don't support playing another game because of the current round-robin schedule and the risk involved, so the status quo will remain at least through this season.
The conference-wide problem is that a championship game could be worth $25 to $35 million in television money, revenue that becomes all the more important because the top-tier rights are locked in for so long and there's such a limited shortfall from the third-tier rights for everyone but Texas.
Even the number of schools in the conference impacts overall revenue by lowering the number of teams that can earn paydays from bowl games and NCAA Tournament appearances. There aren't really any viable expansion candidates, it's true, but that doesn't change the fact that having 10 member institutions still confers a competitive disadvantage in those ways.
Ultimately, the lucrative and long-term contract with ESPN for the Longhorn Network and the overall revenue of the Texas athletic department insulates the Longhorns from the concerns of the other nine schools in the Big 12. But at some point in the near future, there may be a reckoning regarding the future of the league's third-tier rights that could force some concessions, including the dissolution or reorganizing of the only school-specific network of its kind.
There aren't any easy solutions for the Big 12 and the conference grant of rights makes any realignment movement much more complicated. After the struggles of the last few years with Texas football, it's easy to turn the focus inwards and gloss over the significant fractures and problems that plague the conference former athletic director DeLoss Dodds opted to hold together by spurning the Pac-12. It may not be possible to do that for long before there's an impact on the Longhorns, too.
The Pac-12 made a serious mistake in attempting to manage the conference's network itself, but compared to the SEC, and Big Ten, the Big 12 is not in an advantageous position and continues to fall behind. Though it may not be an issue that current athletic director Mike Perrin has to face head on due to his short-term contract, it's impossible to ignore the continued issues that face the Big 12.