Since Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Parry dropped the ball nearly two weeks ago just days after another contentious Big 12 directors meeting, there has been an uneasy situation with athletic directors and university presidents, as well as conference commissioners holding onto their smart phones, as well as plugging in a few more contact numbers.
Even after Florida president Bernie Machen, representing the SEC directors, announced the league was happy with a 12-institution alignment, his clarification as being for the “time being” and further quantifying it as being the “right opportunity” to move to 14 clearly left the barn door wide open.
Similarly, BYU AD Tom Holmoe, in qualifying his comments on a Salt Lake City radio (KFAN 1320AM) sports talk show, made it clear “BYU intends on taking a firm stance to make football independence and WCC membership work.” Similarly, Holmoe has made it clear he “hasn’t been contacted by the Big 12.” Still, for further emphasis, Holmoe has said “those quotes about BYU are not coming from athletic directors, presidents or Commissioner Dan Beebe.”
That isn’t going to stop the fans or the media from speculating, even though what Holmoe said is basically true. However, as Dick Harmon of the Salt Lake City Deseret News put it, “they are coming from reporters who talk to those folks off the record.”
The Big 12, and Commissioner Beebe in particular, have been painted as the biggest losers in this latest round of college conference affiliation realignment, and they’re about to be taken advantage of once again by a more powerful league in a better bargaining position one more time.
Just over one week ago, this entire affair took an uglier turn for the worst when reports of a highly heated phone call between Beebe and his SEC counterpart Mike Slive began to make the news. With his alignment about to lose a third major player, tensions are merely going to further mount.
Despite the rumors of doom and gloom, the Big 12 can take some steps to save itself. As Holmoe eluded to in his interview, the idea of further league consolidation and super-conferences is nothing new. It has been around now for 25-30 years, as the old CFA began to crumble.
Unlike with Nebraska and Colorado last year, Beebe is putting up a fight to hold Texas A&M, even though it as an institution has clearly tipped its hand in making it known it wants to leave. What options he and his other league presidents have to accomplish this remain unclear at best.
While the die for the Aggies departure to the SEC has been all but cast, the remaining piece merely is who else is the SEC going to formally invite? What has likely been the factor driving this move to 14 for the SEC has been the timing of its contracts with CBS (expires in 2025), and the Pac 12's ability to land as lucrative a TV contract as it has.
Still, what has driven the Big 12 further to become as dysfunctional as it's been has been the historical make-up and mesh of the league to date (special thanks to Michael Taglienti for finding this). Perhaps a component that has worked for the SEC besides the equal revenue stream for three tiers of network rights would be a further mesh of cultures from more than two past competing leagues.
Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments that make the Big 12 as dysfunctional as it is isn’t so much Texas or its gargantuan size, but rather, its demand for control of third-tier rights. This is where perhaps BYU makes the most sense for the Big 12, since it has long held a similar demand in its prior MWC and WAC alignments, yet more recently had to tolerate the lack of less exposure on a conference network dominated by Comcast Cable TV as the sole provider.
Enter BYUtv, which not only is featured on Comcast, but Dish Network, Direct TV and Cox Cable, as well as Time Warner and others that Texas and its much ballyhooed Longhorn Network all but envy. This arrangement is something that Texas without question looks at with its lone-star eyes of lust.
As for Holmoe and BYU President Cecil Samuelson, there is little doubt this presents an opportunity they perhaps didn’t see coming as quickly as they did. While Holmoe has without question received emails supporting Big 12 membership if it comes, or some supporting continued independence, options are clearly beginning to appear.
Not only does BYU likely retain third-tier rights in any likely Big 12 scenario, allowing BYUtv to carry any games not picked up by ESPN/ABC or FOX-Sports, but BYU has the potential to showcase itself against similar opponents with similar national clout in the form of Oklahoma and Texas.
Perhaps Holmoe and Samuelson can be thankful the independence option went the way it did to finalize a divorce from the MWC that by this year could have become substantially messier.
It's just as important that the proposed deal with the WAC didn’t work out, since that would have linked them more politically to Utah State, than it would be good if a Big 12 invitation materializes, as I now think it will, as sure as Texas A&M wants to bolt to the SEC.