Reporter Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com is a lightning rod of controversy for a lot of college football fans.
Over the last few years, when University of Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was flirting with every major athletic conference in America—that isn't based in the Deep South—Chip Brown was there with uncanny details of the closed-door deliberations at UT.
When the Pacific Coast needed to know what Dodds had for breakfast and what that meant for the Pac-10, Chip Brown was there.
When the rust belt needed to know what Dodds' golf score was in the afternoon and what that mean for the Big Ten, Chip Brown was there.
When the Atlantic Coast needed to know if Dodds' nightly royal repast upset his tum and what that meant for the ACC...Chip Brown was there!
Through this never-ending drama, Chip Brown has seen the perception national fans have of him devolve immensely. In 2009 he was a relative unknown to most fans nationally. In 2010, he was seen as a great reporter with uncanny access into the Longhorn world. By 2012, he was seen as the mouthpiece of DeLoss Dodds—little more than a secretary typing up the latest Dodds missive to create leverage for UT to use against the other members of the Big 12.
I personally feel the truth is somewhere in the middle of the last two impressions. I have read enough stories on reporting written by top reporters where the best of them admit that to cultivate these kinds of relationships means that at times, a reporter's source uses them.
I have come to feel a little sorry for Chip Brown for his seemingly undeserved poor reputation among fans who largely hope what he reports isn't true, so it was pretty exciting to see Brown reveal that there is a plan at UT for DeLoss Dodds to step down at the end of the year and to possibly be replaced by (of all people) Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12—and then to see the university immediately deny it.
I won't lie. As a realignment follower, the potential implications of Dodds stepping down has my head spinning.
I hope Brown is right on this one and can reclaim some of his lost luster.
UT Athletics: The Kingdom of Dodds
DeLoss Dodds is the most powerful athletic director in college athletics. He built UT athletics into the biggest revenue-generating athletic program in America. He has hired great coaches who have built nationally relevant programs in football, baseball and basketball that are cash cows. His coaches have won 14 national titles.
In my opinion, that is a fitting legacy for one of the greatest ADs in History.
That absolutely should be the legacy of DeLoss Dodds.
But it seems like that isn't enough for Dodds. Instead, Dodds wants his legacy to be the creation and growth of The Longhorn Network.
His refusal to budge even an inch on his view of the role of his legacy piece drove Texas A&M, Nebraska and Missouri out of the conference. It led Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to knock on the PAC-12's door, sheepishly asking (really nicely) for admission in order to escape Dodds' drama.
If OU left, the PAC could have used the potential loss of the Red River Rivalry, an enormous revenue generator for UT athletics specifically, to try to force UT into the conference, likely imploding the Big 12. UT could have been publicly humbled, a very unusual situation for a power program. UT and Dodds would have publicly eaten the blame for eroding the trust within the Big 12 and driving OU out.
With OU fed up with Dodds's intransigence, Dodds' boss, Bill Powers, had to make major concessions to rebuild trust in UT in the conference. Powers had to step in and clean up for Dodds, committing the broadcast rights for UT athletics to an obviously second-tier conference in order to prevent UT's name becoming synonymous with mud in college circles.
Was Dodds' position on the Longhorn network justified? Was it false pride? Even arrogance? Every fan has an opinion—some positive, some negative.
The critics are growing in number as the Aggies experience more success in a much tougher SEC than the Longhorns do in what is seen as a Big 12 filled with mediocre programs.
Recruiting has begun to favor A&M over UT. Some UT fans blame football coach Mack Brown. Some blame Dodds for severely damaging recruiting by making UT look like a school of jerks and generally creating this A&M situation by running off the Aggies.
How is it that UT's three elite-level coaches in their revenue sports (football, basketball and baseball) suddenly seem to have forgotten how to win at the same time? It's really odd. Is that senility or recruiting problems?
I'll be forward and ask the question. "Has Dodds damaged the UT brand?"
After UT's defense was destroyed by BYU and A&M began preparing for the biggest college football match up in the state of Texas in years, UT fans began calling for Mack Brown to be replaced.
And then this story came out.
The story mentioned that Dodds may not want to make certain calls that need to be made in the near future.
The assumption among fans was that Dodds did not want to fire "his best friend" Brown. The Brown article seems to suggest that all three revenue coaches would need to be fired. But is this really the situation Dodds allegedly is trying to avoid?
The cost of the kingdom
The current belief is that at least in part the Big 12 is not expanding because no schools they add would increase their per school payouts. BYU seems the obvious choice that would move the needle, but ESPN and FOX apparently do not want BYU.
Now Dodds sees UT in a conference with by far the smallest number of viewers in their footprint and no real ability to expand the conference resident total in any meaningful way...without member schools taking a TV paycut.
In financial terms, even sitting at 10 members the conference is fine as long as someone is in the football national title hunt—and that team is usually OU or UT.
Conference TV deals these days often have clauses to allow limited financial re-negotiations to reflect athletic dominance every few years.
If the programs at UT and OU fall off (football dominance is cyclic), then like the ACC of the last decade, the value of the Big 12 TV product will likely be weighed on those failings just as the ACC has been. At that point, having a tiny demographic footprint could also be dramatically reflected in any potential value increases.
Going back to the ACC example, The ACC has one of the best TV footprints but their dominant programs have struggled, hurting their TV leverage. With their conference down, their TV deals have reflected a poorer value than most would expect. A couple football national title runs could dramatically spike the ACC's ratings (and their payouts) when their next re-negotiation period hits. In theory, these clauses will help TV deals more accurately reflect current values. These clauses should have money flowing to the more successful conferences.
Does anyone think TCU or Texas Tech is ready to dominate this conference? Are they ready to go to national title games if UT and OU cycle downwards? If OSU is on probation?
Would the networks pay a premium for a conference dominated by TCU or Tech?
And that is just football TV money.
Here UT is, trapped in the Big 12 for a decade plus.
Academics are in a bad spot as well
To look at the academic situation, you have to look at the moves other conference have made.
Let's start with the Big Ten. One can see the financial implications of their moves helping their universities' academic bottom line as much or more than their athletic bottom line.
The rust belt states have seen dramatic population declines. This has reduced the available pool of top level senior academic applicants in their footprint. Adding states like New Jersey and Maryland provide a good source of top students with the money to pay out of state tuition to a Big Ten school.
The shrinking populations in the rust belt has the Big Ten losing house member seats to sun belt states. Unaddressed, those losses could have the Big Ten losing out on federal research dollars that they might have had an edge to secure in the past.
The Big 10, Pac-12 and ACC have all leveraged their athletic conferences to increase the populations in their footprints, potentially helping their institutions' efforts to secure federal research dollars. To put it into perspective, UT, the most lucrative FBS athletic program, had an athletic budget of $150 million in 2011. The top research budget among FBS schools in 2011 was Michigan with a budget of $1.279 billion. With those numbers in mind, it seems like the Big Ten is playing a different realignment game than say the SEC. Focusing on athletics and ignoring research seems like hoarding pennies while dollars blow away around you.
Texas A&M may be comfortable playing penny poker in a conference that only cares about football, but that has not been a position UT has shared. Since the last days of the SWC, UT's leaders decided the SEC as a conference was academically beneath UT's standards. UT's leadership doesn't see the role of sports and academics the way the SEC does. UT's leadership has effectively insisted they belong at the dollar poker table with the PAC-12 and Big 10 academic elites.
The SEC doesn't seem to even realize dollar tables exist.
And yet UT has granted their media rights long term to a conference that is playing at the sports only penny table. And one that is only treading water at that.
Today UT president Bill Powers has to look at the Big Ten's efforts in expansion and how it has enhanced that conference's ability to secure research dollars and he can't be happy. There are only so many federal research dollars. The Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC are well positioned to secure more of those dollars in the coming years.
It must frustrate him immensely to see UT (28th nationally in research dollars) committed long term to a conference with only two other serious research schools (No. 71 Kansas and No. 76 Iowa State) and a tiny footprint that only contains 52 representative and 10 senators.
How exactly will UT keep up with the coordinated efforts to secure federal research dollars of AAU schools in the Big 10, PAC-12 and ACC?
Where are UT's academic alliances?
The status quo has the potential to stagnate growth or even seriously wither UT's (and A&M's) research budgets over the next 10-20 years.
That is letting athletics erode academics. A lesser AD might have been fired over creating this situation.
What is good for the state?
Superbowl-like ratings for the Texas A&M/Alabama game. (A joke. Sort of.)
Research creates high paying jobs and industry. UT is the state's No. 1 public institution and A&M is No. 2. Every other public University in Texas is a non-factor in the national research dollar hunt.
Neither UT nor A&M is in a good long-term position from a research perspective being outside one of the true Big Three conferences, in addition to being quite a distance from other top research schools. (Telecommunications obviously helps a lot in terms of multiple University research projects, but challenging geography still has the ability to divert those dollars to other schools.)
It is a disappointing status quo. That puts a cloud on the long term financial health of the state.
A&M is happy as a pig in slop playing "foobaw" in the SEC. Their fans can't see any negatives in their euphoria over no longer being seen as UT's little brother. Their administration seems equally caught up in the madness. (Exactly what kind of "institutional control" was exhibited in that "Johnny Football-new rims" punishment? A&M is quickly...and happily...becoming Auburn.) I guess you can't fault them. For 30-plus years, the Aggies have wanted to be in the SEC. Now they are in and doing well.
Still, that puts the state's best interests firmly with "big brother." It is time for UT to make the right call in conference affiliation and figure out a way out of Dodds' Big 12 finger trap and into a relevant conference. As soon as possible.
And I am not saying that will be easy to do. The Big 12 Grant of Rights deal is undefined enough to be scary for an institution to face head on. Extreme measures may be required.
The best "possibly workable" plan I can come up with to meet those goals is, admittedly, pretty extreme. Frankly it might not even work (I don't have access to all of the Big 12 documents, there may be a by-law that sinks all of this), but here is my best shot.
- Implode the Big 12: In theory, eight of 10 member schools could vote to disband the conference. That would likely defuse the Grant of Rights deal. One would think leaders at schools like Kansas and Oklahoma see the poor hand of the Big 12 even more than UT's leadership, and they would be willing to kill the Big 12 for a richer and more secure future.
- The Longhorns would have to carry six or all seven of UT's Big 12 killing co-conspirator schools with UT to the PAC-12. Per Sports Illustrated, Former Ohio State president Gordon Gee said in January that he thinks major conferences expanding to 16 to 20 members is likely. UT's situation is exactly what may lead a conference to go to 20. A power conference will probably expand to 16 to 20 in the next 15 years. The 14-member Big Ten is reportedly looking at expansion by 2016. The Pac-12 is the only power conference with few enough numbers to accept eight Big 12 members—the total required to implode the Big 12 and free its member schools early. The Pac-12 could get UT and OU in the near future where other power conferences would likely have to wait for the expiration of the Big 12 GOR deals. The PAC geography and conference structure would also work to allow such a move. The Pac-12 also has TV deals with ESPN and FOX—just like the Big 12. The 2009 PAC-10 could comfortably and peacefully become the Pacific division in a PAC-20. The Texas-based division would likely be trading Baylor and Iowa State or Kansas State for Utah and Colorado. Give those two Pac-12 schools some scheduling concessions and it would really be a pretty smooth transaction for both Pac and Big 12 schools. )
- Based on the 2010 failed PAC-10 expansion effort, it seems Baylor is seen as a poison pill for the PAC. To control lawsuits, it would make a lot of sense for some kind of long-term, lucrative settlement deal to be reached with schools left behind, like Baylor (probably including scheduling arrangements with UT, OU, OSU, Tech, as well as Kansas, Arizona and USC basketball as well as PAC protection in case of any elite conference breakaway.) This could transform Baylor into a powerful independent; the Baptist version of BYU or Notre Dame. That would not be a bad long position for Baylor.
- Negotiate a major adjustment to the Longhorn Network that would make it a regional network for the PAC.
(Just thinking out loud, if some kind of exit were planned, wouldn't all of this be a lot easier to accomplish with the Big 12 commissioner on the UT payroll rather than working against UT to save his commissioner job? Isn't the Big 12 job a better job than an AD job, even at UT? It's possible that conspiracy buffs will wonder if he was given the heads up by his friends at UT on a future without the Big 12.)
Making all of that happen would create a lot of crow to eat after everything that was done to protect the Longhorn Network.
Now Chip Brown may be right. Dodds may simply not want to be the guy who has to fire Mack Brown, baseball coach Augie Garrido and basketball coach Rick Barnes.
But I think there are bigger issues out there that are coming to a head and will need to be addressed soon. It's entirely possible that the idea of imploding the Big 12 and moving on has been discussed too. Should the Big 12 be imploded, Dodds will get the blame.
Really, when you think about it, Mr. Dodds will have to retire some time soon. Why not this year?