The Blunting of PAC-10 Conference Expansion Plans
The University of Texas had the best of poker faces heading into this weekend. All the while, University President Bill Powers held the right cards and held his cards close to his chest as ESPN and half of the sports information outlets had the Big 12 South merger with the PAC 10 as "imminent" only this very morning. If it was not clear before, it is certainly clear now: Texas owns the Big 12. The University of Texas could probably make a motion that they be officially known as the Big 12 flagship university and all the members would, despite grumbling, acquiesce and second the motion.
Commissioner Dan Beebe led a midnight campaign run to get the right financial package in place for the Longhorns to be well enough off for now to remain in the Big 12. You can be certain, Texas was pulling all the strings. Texas did as so many NBA free agents do: Posture and motion to be leaning to accept an offer principally as a mechanism for sweetening another deal. The Big 12 Commissioner appears to have delivered. The package reportedly giving Texas the rights to create a "Longhorn Network" and retain all rights and revenues for such.
The PAC 10, it seems, has done the Big 12 a favor of sorts. In reviewing varied responses from the league's athletic departments, everyone seems to be glad to be rid of the struggling Buffaloes. Nebraska, however, is another story, with most reports confirming that the Cornhuskers departure for the Big 10 will cost the Big 12 in potential revenues many times that of Colorado.
The league is asserting the current 10 members are sufficient, if not ideal at this point, to carry on as a conference. This assertion can be understood in a number of ways and only time, of course, will tell if this remains to be so. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione was reported by Tulsa World to state, during deliberations regarding the PAC-10 offer, that BYU and Air Force were mentioned as possible replacement teams for the departing Nebraska and Colorado should the conference remain together.
Greg Wrubell at KSL Radio in Salt Lake City quotes an unnamed AD in the Big 12 expanding on this thought. Wrubell writes, "This particular AD said he thought Air Force would be a great replacement for Colorado from a character standpoint, an academic standpoint, a fan base standpoint, a geographic standpoint, and at least in football, a competitive standpoint. BYU, he continued, would be about as fine a replacement for Nebraska as you could find in that you are looking at a program with a national name and identity, an historical record of competitive excellence, and in general, an institutional fit that is all but ideal in every way but Sunday play."
Certainly, then, the topic of replacement teams has been discussed and is certainly an option down the road for the Big 12 Conference. (If it ever gets officially taken off the table, somone better do something about the conference number names as the 10 is 12 and 12 is 10 oddity will only grow stranger with time.)
It will be intriguing to discover how much Commissioner Beebe and the Big 12 conference will disclose in the coming days about the profitability of remaining at ten members. Historically the Big 12 Championship game garnered respectable profits for the members of the conference, not to mention a great deal of national spotlight. Coach Joe Paterno of Penn State was concerned prior to Nebraska's inclusion with the Big 10, that the conference was rendered irrelevent at the end of November. Potentially, the Big 12 may also find that the value of a conference championship game is greater than the dollars collected from the event itself. In fact, its biggest worth may be the more intangible value of showcasing the conference late in the season as teams jockey for the national championship. Yet, that advantage can always work as a double-edged sword as the upsets do occur which can damage those chances.
It could be that the Big 12 is not entirely certain at this point whether adding replacement teams is a wise option. Is there any hurry? Certainly the existing members would like to collect all exit clause penalty fees from Nebraska and Colorado first and distribute them before adding other programs.
One of the unifying themes in preserving the Big 12 was maintaining a sense of tradition and cohesion in the Midwest. (As long as that cohesion is centered around Texas, of course.) Will time prove that the conference championship game has become one of those traditions that Big 12 members would like to remain intact? Perhaps even the national presence of the conference will be found to be best served by keeping the game going. The Big 12 will have an interesting dilemma in 2011 as Nebraska will have departed and Colorado will have yet one more year before beginning membership in the PAC 10. How do you make a schedule with 11 teams? Unless a single team is added post haste, there will be no 2011 championship game if NCAA statues are not ammended by then.
Will the conference part from the spectacle of the conference championship game recently scheduled through 2013? Dan Beebe was quoted by the Dallas Morning News, "The Cowboys have a world-class facility in our area of the country ... and we should use it as often as we can." Of course, that was prior to Colorado's and Nebraska's departure.
Perhaps, we will see the conference expand slowly. If the profits and national exposure gained by a championship game, which requires maintaining 12 members, are to be kept going in 2011, BYU or some other addition would need to occur this year.