The Big 12, currently with 10 programs, and its collective plan for the future is what happens when Economics 101 becomes the sole source of reasoning for conference structure. When money and mathematics become the heart and soul of college athletics, the whole reason behind the success of the product is entirely lost.
Sports are about the thrill of competition. Football is about tradition, the "Power I", "Spread Offense", and rivalry week.
College football's essence is not money. When this principle is forgotten, ironically, the sport will become less interesting and therefore, less profitable.
The Big 10 received a great deal of attention beginning in December 2009 with their announced intention of conference expansion. The focus of media reports has been upon the Big 10 Network and the cash boon that it is for conference members.
The focus is a worthy one, yet, in the Big 10's selection of Nebraska, it was clear that TV was not the only consideration on the table. Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney has demonstrated that he understands why the network is so profitable.
Is Lincoln, Nebraska among the nation's top television markets?
Does the national following of Cornhuskers compete with other large markets such as St. Louis/Kansas City or those in the Northeast?
This question is more debatable, but the answer is certainly not a resounding "Yes".
The Big 10 sees value in its future product by including Nebraska. Nebraska is a pillar of college football's identity even with less than stellar results on the football field during the last decade.
The Big 10 is a more prestigious league with a traditional powerhouse like Nebraska on board. The Cornhuskers give the Big 10 staying power.
Why is the SEC so profitable? Primarily it is the strength of the league. Secondarily, it is the television markets involved. Because of this, the entire nation wants to see big games in the SEC, not just those fans in the Southeastern United States.
The Big 12 is now forging down the road of getting this backwards.
It's hard to entirely blame Dan Beebe and the Conference Presidents and Athletic Directors for taking this stance. There is a sense of consolidating resources and "holding down the fort" after a near schism with the events behind PAC 10 expansion.
Nevertheless, this conservative approach and its attention to dollars may be the very road to financial weakness.
Conference cohesion is already tenuous because of revenue disparities built into the Big 12 structure. If Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma continue to grip their profits too tightly, it may indeed backfire.
The longevity of the Big 12 will be tied to its overall strength and breadth of appeal, not to the next television contract.
The loss of Nebraska is to be found more in the perception of the impact upon the conference's strength in competition more so than in the immediate effect on negotiations with Fox Sports or ESPN.
The value in a conference championship goes well beyond the direct money flow from the game itself. It is part of the conference's identity. Once the identity changes, all bets are off.
Do Dan Beebe and company really believe that a conference championship game in the context of a regular season round robin will be nationally interesting?
The game will be a rematch. The game will also have every bit the potential of knocking a team out of contention for the national championship. While holding out this possibility, the conference is talking out of both sides of its mouth.
The question is, how long will it take the conference to realize that the collective strength of the conference took a hit with the loss of Nebraska as well as the 12 team structure?
Jerry Jones gets it. The man is a freakin' gazillionaire. Perhaps he ought to become one of the league's financial advisers. Yeah, I know he has skin in the game, I'm not sure that it would be a detriment.
But seriously, the Big 12 has a smaller window than it realizes.
Does Dan Beebe really think that Missouri is off the table when it comes to the next round of Big 10 expansion?
Will the Big 12 come to understand that it's national perception will have taken a hit with the Cornhuskers gone?
Yeah, perhaps the mathematics of television contracts currently on the table don't keep the profits as high in the short run by expanding. Yet, there are programs the Big 12 could acquire that would definitely raise its football power rating.
Power rating equals interest equals longevity.
And as Jim Delaney has so eloquently put it, it is the long term that really matters.
I thought that the Big 12 was interested in the long term.
It's time to think that way.