Two BCS football conferences are looking to expand, and vultures from the Big Ten and Pac-10 are looking to pick apart the Big 12.
Rumors have been swirling around the Big 12 for the last few weeks. The Pac-10 is interested in the University of Colorado, and they need to add two schools to be able to play a conference championship game. And a championship game means more money for the entire conference.
The Buffaloes would also bring with them the 16th ranked media market, Denver, and an entire state’s worth of television sets. These would be huge bargaining chips for the Pac-10 in its next round of TV contract negotiations.
Missouri and Nebraska are schools on the Big Ten’s radar for many of the same reasons. Both areas (Missouri especially) have desirable media markets. The Big Ten would break ground in two new states, further increasing their cable network profits. And, of course, more money from a conference championship game.
But the rumor that should concern Commissioner Dan Beebe and the Big 12 the most is who is said to be the Big Ten’s main target. Earlier this month, The Lawrence Journal-World reported that the Big Ten has had preliminary exchanges with the University of Texas.
While it wouldn’t be ideal, the Big 12 could survive the losses of Colorado, Missouri, or even Nebraska. The two formers would take with them big media markets, leaving the league scrambling to find suitable replacements. The Big 12 would most likely have to look at taking teams from smaller conferences in a quick fix.
If the Cornhuskers left, it might put the Big 12 on life support. With the apparent resurgence of the Nebraska program, they would be taking with them a large chunk of league legitimacy, as they are one of the few tradition-rich programs in the Big 12. The conference would be left with Texas, Oklahoma, and a handful of second and third-tier athletic programs.
But if the Big Ten were able to lure Texas, the conference mint, into the Great White North? Well, fans of the Big 12 might as well pull the plug.
The Longhorns are the biggest bargaining chip that the Big 12 has. They have the largest alumni base of any university in the Big 12. They are responsible for a large majority of viewers in all of the big Texas TV markets. And they are constantly in the hunt for BCS games, bringing exposure and big paydays for the entire conference.
Not to mention that the Big 12 would be losing the highest grossing athletic program in the country in a conference that does not have many atop the list.
There is no reason that the Big 12 should get caught standing idly by. Rather than affording other conferences the opportunity to sneak around and poach whom they want, Big 12 officials need to get aggressive in protecting the conference if they want it to survive.
If Big 12 officials want to keep their teams from fleeing for greener pastures, they are going to need to offer what the other conferences are offering...more money. And it all starts with television contracts.
Currently, the Big Ten in the middle of a 10-year TV contract with ABC/ESPN that will pay them $1 billion. On top of that, their 25-year cable contract with the Big Ten Network (the only conference network of its kind) will dole out approximately $2.8 billion. That comes out to about $19.25 million per school over the first 10 years of the contracts.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 is inked to a TV deal that will pay the conference $480 million over the eight-year contract and a cable contract with Fox Sports Net for $78 million over four years. While all Big 12 schools aren’t compensated equally, the average payout for each university is about $6.625 million a year. Compare that to what the Big Ten’s deal brings them, and you can imagine the powers that be might be a little embarrassed.
Beebe is already looking into improving the television revenue for the Big 12 universities. The cable portion of the contract with Fox Sports is up in 2012, and the conference can begin negotiations for a new contract in April of 2011. He might be wise, though, to hold out for a better deal.
In an interview from September of 2009, Beebe was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying, “What we’re doing is studying the landscape to determine which model works best for us.” Beebe went on to say that the Big 12 has “looked into forming a network of its own in conjunction” with the Pac-10 and ACC, “which would give it a coast-to-coast footprint.”
It’s time for the Big 12 to look into a little conference expansion of their own.
Beebe should begin his quest in extending the boundaries of the Big 12 by looking east towards the ACC and courting The University of Miami Hurricanes.
A Case for Miami
Speaking of footprints, acquiring Miami would make a large one with its number of households in the nation’s 17th ranked TV market (not including the top 20 markets of Orlando and Tampa). Gaining access into the Florida areas would also be crucial when it came time to negotiate the Big 12’s next TV contracts. Southern Florida would include nearly 5 million households, becoming a huge draw as part of any television deal.
As bad as the Big 12 TV contracts are, the ACC’s are even worse. Their current seven-year contract with ABC/ESPN brings in $258 million, which is about half of what the average Big 12 team profits. With few marquee teams and little conference appeal, the terms of their contracts probably won’t see a large increase.
If Miami were to join the Big 12 today, the revenue from the conference TV deal would be double of what they are currently getting.
Miami, a football school stuck in a basketball conference, would make much more sense playing against the competition of the Big 12. The Hurricane football program is a traditional powerhouse that would fit right in with the profile of the Big 12.
Miami has won five national championships in the last 27 seasons, the most of any university during that time period. And since the 2000 NFL Draft, the Hurricanes have had 26 first-round picks, also the most of any program. No team in the Big 12 can touch Miami’s draft success.
But of the last 10 national championship games, the Big 12 has been represented in seven. The ACC has sent only one. Miami has much more in common with the Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska programs than those of the ACC.
And while Beebe is traveling through Florida on his way to Miami, he should make a quick stop in Tallahassee to visit with Randy Spetman, Athletic Director of the Florida State Seminoles.
A Case for Florida State
For many of the same reasons as the University of Miami, a move from the ACC to the Big 12 would make a lot of sense for Florida State University. While not as big of a draw as Miami, the Seminoles would bring an additional 1.5+ million television sets with them if they chose to leave the ACC for the Big 12. And like Miami, if they joined the Big 12 today, their income would be double that of their current TV deals.
Also like Miami, the Seminoles are a school rich in football tradition that finds themselves stuck in a basketball-dominated conference. FSU can claim two national championships in the last 17 years. Combined with Miami’s five, these two Florida schools own as many national championships as all of the other ACC schools combined.
Conference loyalties shouldn’t keep Miami or Florida State from bolting their conference. Neither Florida school has long-standing ties to the ACC. Florida State joined the ACC in 1991, almost 60 years after the formation of the conference. Miami didn’t join until 2004.
While neither school is geographically close to the other universities in the Big 12, their current setup isn’t much more accommodating. They are each other’s closest road trip at 480 miles. Tallahassee is well over 600 miles from its closest conference foe not named Miami, with many of the schools being much farther than that.
Miami is an average of 850 miles from its division foes. If alumni and fans of these schools are road-tripping this far currently for games, what’s another few hundred miles?
Both schools would keep their biggest rival on the schedule, since they would be moving conferences together. Nothing would change between Florida and Florida State, since they already schedule each other as non-conference games. Miami could keep its sporadic scheduling of Florida. And the Big 12 would immediately gain an all-time rivalry by acquiring these programs.
Of course, the motivation behind any change in college athletics comes down to money. If the Big 12 were to add Miami and Florida State to its roster, it would almost certainly rival the appeal of the Big Ten. Beebe stated that they were exploring shared TV networks with the ACC and Pac-10.
Well, how about just taking the ACC’s two hottest commodities, and creating a network on your own? Or joining forces with the Pac-10, giving you your coast-to-coast footprint? The TV contract for that network would have to be every bit as large as the current Big Ten Network. And all of the Big 12 schools would assuredly reap the rewards.
If the Big 12 does not get proactive in the next 12-18 months, it could very well dry up and become insignificant. Commissioner Beebe needs to take the lead on conference realignment, and realize his conference’s own Manifest Destiny.