The Big-12: A League No Longer Under Siege, Dan Beebe Delivers

David MooreCorrespondent IIApril 25, 2011

Big-12 Commissioner Dan Beebe has much to celebrate
Big-12 Commissioner Dan Beebe has much to celebrateTom Pennington/Getty Images

One year ago, most prognosticators, seeing a major realignment of both the PAC-10 and Big-Ten, who both announced expansion plans early in 2010, began to put the Big-12 under siege. 

Reports of the Big-Ten interested in Nebraska and Missouri, and the PAC-10 continuing its pursuit of Colorado and Texas—not to mention an entourage of schools making up most of the league’s southern division, as well as potential “super-league” 16 school alignments rumored and actually proposed—became front line college football stories everywhere.

Big-12 Commissioner Dan Beebe quickly found himself the butt-joke of every sportswriter on major network and publications, as well as the disdain of other fans of institutions throughout the league.  Many were upset that he allowed Texas to call so many of the shots at league meetings to allowing Nebraska to go as easily as they did to the Big-Ten. 

But last week Dan Beebe got the last laugh, when the Big-12 and FOX-TV Sports announced a new second tier rights deal that will generate $90 million a year for the league through 2025.  But with this new found stability comes future threats on the horizon, first being the first tier rights contract with ABC/ESPN coming quickly in 2016, but more ominous is the future expansion clause in the PAC-12 first tier rights contract currently being negotiated by Commissioner Larry Scott.

While many are now praising Beebe for his leadership in holding a league together, now is where his leadership skills will intensely be under the microscope, since as a contracted 10 member institution league, the Big-12 can build more overall unity. BUT they also will be more watered down perceptively than the Big-Ten, SEC or now the PAC-12, which they’ve been judged to be on par with or even superior to since its inception nearly two decades ago. 

Despite the thinking of some that this will go away over time, with the situation described above time isn’t on the side to stabilize the Big-12 as a ten school league.

While the Conference Championship Game is something that Mack Brown of Texas and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma are glad the conference has ridded itself of, still others bemoan the fact that with the Big-Ten and PAC-12 now hosting such events; the vacancy left by the Big-12 could, at some very near future December, leave their champion out of the National Championship game. 

The threat of having two of the three top tier power leagues finishing undefeated and emerging that way from CCG weekend has increased by one.

While league officials and the league board of directors (the school presidents/chancellors) deny any plans for expansion, it seems most writers and fans of the Big-12 and its remaining schools envision some sort of expansion in the not too distant future.  None of the remaining schools are in any hurry to go elsewhere now.  So now might be the time to look at expansion and make a modest move that can better project the league into a coming new round of more critical TV rights.

Every writer and fan has their proposals for the Big-12—from poaching Arkansas from the SEC, to potentially retaliating against the PAC-12 by inviting Arizona & Arizona State as David Ubben of ESPN recently proposed. Still others propose TCU or the usual C-USA schools like Houston, SMU, Memphis or even Tulsa. 

I’ll propose a move for Beebe and his directors that they could move on more quickly than many fans or writers often think of, and that is invite BYU as the 11th school and follow the model the Big-Ten has used for nearly two decades with Penn State.

If BYU can make the move to jettison the MWC and their most restrictive, not to mention cheap, TV deal and negotiate a highly flexible and lucrative deal as they did with ABC/ESPN, as well as third tier rights on their own BYU Channel with potential international rights, then they are clearly the best addition possible for the Big-12 to start reclaiming some of the power base and prestige lost to other conferences during the 2010 realignment.

While being somewhat of a geographical outlier with Colorado now gone and some 700 miles away from the nearest fellow Big-12 campus, who would have thought in 1991 that the Big-Ten would agree to take Penn State?

BYU has numerous escape clauses in their deals reportedly, as well as the conference agreements they’ve made for their other sports which are very short term.  An invitation to a BCS-AQ league is one that is clearly spelled out and not in fine print. Rumors are circulating that BYU AD Tom Holmoe has been approached by several Big-12 and even Big-Ten schools for potential home and home dates for 2013 and thereafter. 

While such deals look good, a school has other athletic programs to stabilize, and if there is any additional incentive, it provides a school with a strong and well recognized brand in college athletics which many have gone on about in articles on these pages over the last year.  The facilities and attendance numbers BYU generates speak for themselves.

Academically BYU might not be the established research school with five to six dozen PhD programs that PAC-12 presidents feel more comfortable in dealing with, but they provide large numbers of highly qualified undergraduates that AAU affiliated schools need access to in order to keep such revenue generating programs going. 

By being part of the Big-12, Texas in particular for their immensely large graduate and professional programs can gain better access to such a student body that would otherwise consider west coast schools for post graduate work.

Unlike Utah moving to the PAC-12 or TCU to the Big-East, BYU won’t be expecting an immediate financial windfall with respects to current TV deals.  While an 11 school league presents some logistical problems as well for a league, if the Big-Ten can do it for 18 seasons with Penn State, the Big-12 can deal with this challenge and make a case to ABC/ESPN that they are serious about improving their league brand as this first tier deal comes up for renegotiation. 

Dan Beebe and the league presidents can then bide their time as the Big-Ten has done and then potentially poach an Arkansas when the fortunes of alignment are completely in their favor. The Big-12 would immediately gain credibility in basketball by inviting BYU that Nebraska and Colorado could NEVER provide them with as well.

While Dan Beebe has made mistakes that have cost the Big-12 stability and prestige, he has had lots of experience as an NCAA investigator and deputy commissioner prior to becoming head of the Big-12 in 2007. 

In many instances in the business world, companies that come out of Chapter 11 insolvency are better suited by finding merger partners.  As was the case with Delta Air Lines a few years ago, acquiring Northwest Airlines just over a year later is what stabilized and expanded their brand.  Dan Beebe must now look at following such a similar lead, and BYU would be the easiest and best possible acquisition.