The 5 Best Stories on the Big 12 Implosion
As a lifelong expansion junkie, living in Dallas/Fort Worth this past week has been AWESOME!
First there was the University of Texas talking of jumping over to the Atlantic Coast Conference, almost 1000 miles away. Then little-dog Baylor matched big-dog Texas A&M's self-centeredness by threatening to hit them with a lawsuit that shut down all movement for what seems likely to be at least a few days (and maybe a year or more).
This has been a real treat to watch from the front row.
But there are more stories out there surrounding the implosion of the Big 12 than I even have time to write about, and they are stories that the national media is not even covering. So I have decided to thumbnail the stores here in a quick slideshow.
Enjoy Bleacher Report fans!
Baylor as the Lone Gun Man
The assumption made by mostly Aggie fans is that no one is ever going to want "have not" Baylor in their conference due to the Bears threating to sue the SEC and the Aggies. Don't be so certain of that.
The BCS has their haves and have nots too. The thing is very, very few have nots have the ability to take on the haves.
The state of Texas will never allow Baylor to be kicked out of the Big 12 for this. UT and A&M, if they are skilled enough, can leave Baylor behind, but they cannot kick them out.
There is a belief that such a lawsuit would be frivolous. With respect, that is irrelevant. The action is a delaying measure.
Baylor's president is the dogged Kenneth Starr --- the man who tried everything in the book to impeach Bill Clinton. Who better to slide a wedge under the wheels of the first moving truck in line headed out of the Big 12 and tie this up for a long time?
If A&M doesn't go to the SEC, then the PAC-12 has been quite clear they will not expand. No A&M departure, no offer for OU and OSU from the PAC-12. No A&M or OU departure, likely no UT departure.
Baylor is the perfect school to strike back for the little guys.
If Iowa State sued a Big 12 power who would keep them from getting run out?
You should note that while Baylor took action to threaten to sue the SEC and A&M, a lot of Big 12 schools reserved the right to do so. In other words they didn't have to get their hands dirty and feel the potential backlash, but they do appear to have Baylor's back. One can imagine Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri all beaming brightly today from Baylor's actions.
It is interesting to note that prior to this lawsuit, Baylor was not listed as a candidate for the Big East. Today I read an article that suggested that conference of basketball crazy BCS have not's might take Baylor.
Don't be too quick to assume this is an unpopular move with BCS schools. Or with the networks. (More on that in a few slides).
A&M Trying to Stay a Step Ahead of the Texas Committee on Higher Education
A&M has been following the advice of Ohio State President Gordon Gee. They are trying to rush out the door before anyone in the state government can stop them.
A&M had planned to have a meeting of their Board of Regents on August 22. The subject of conference affiliation was not on the table but there was enough time available in the schedule to discuss the matter. It was widely assumed in Texas that a day or two before the meeting that discussion would non-chalantly be added to the schedule and shortly after the meeting A&M would leave.
The Texas Legislature's Committee on Higher Education scheduled a meeting a week prior --- on August 16th --- to discuss the issue with A&M leadership prior to the meeting of the A&M BOR.
A&M responded by scheduling a BOR meeting specifically to discuss the SEC move the day before the Committee was to meet, earning them some choice words from the committee chair before A&M's leaders soothed him with some sweet words.
The chair of that committee, State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) issued this impressive piece of work.
"I'm pleased to hear from A&M officials that the board meeting (Monday) is about beginning serious discussions with the SEC and not about finalizing or completing the acceptance of such a bid,” Branch said. “I don't think it would be wise to preempt an opportunity for legislators to ask them questions.
"I'm trying to keep an open mind. If a bid is extended, that makes sense for A&M—that doesn't have undue consequences on the other Texas schools—I'm keeping an open mind. I don't have any predisposition. My only predisposition is to have something that is a value-added opportunity for the state of Texas."
The quote was quite the political dagger. It paints the politicians as trusting A&M and seemed designed to open the PR door for a serious backlash against A&M if the Aggie BOR did try to run out the door on Monday in an effort to meet the rumored 2012 SEC schedule. It had a certain threat element and an amorphous—likely unreachable—goal. Everything a politician could ever dream of putting into such a quote.
The Aggie BOR did, of course, authorize their president to do whatever he thought best in terms of conference alignment.
With that done, the committee decided to cancel their meeting.
Then a couple days ago when word leaked out UT might be heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference, leaving the Big 12 without UT or A&M and on the verge of collapse, lawmakers reportedly expressed concerns about letting A&M go and urged both schools to wait.
A&M scheduled a press conference to announce their move to the SEC.
Well Baylor just scuttled that.
Now A&M is likely going to have to hear the opinion of the committee with whom the Aggie leadership has been playing games and publicly humiliating for the last month.
I would be nice to see some reporting on the feelings of members of that committee...
It may be time for A&M to call off the movers and accept their fate for a few years before the Committee binds them for good. In the words of Gee, A&M's "window" may have just closed.
UT Plans to Use A&M's Exit to Free the Longhorns to Dump Tech
Another interesting note is the under-reported machinations of the University of Texas.
Most every sports fan knows the lead up to this point. UT kicked all of this off by landing a much better deal for their Longhorn Network than A&M anticipated. Now obviously to an unaffiliated reader that is more A&M's problem than UT's. A&M agreed to the network thinking they could live with it and then when they saw the numbers they started looking for an excuse to leave.
Most of us honor our deals even when we were stupid to make them.
But UT pushed the envelope wanting to put Texas high schools games on the network. A&M found their reason and screamed bloody murder. Oklahoma agreed it was a step to far and UT put the plan on hold.
That wasn't good enough. The conference turned to the NCAA and requested the practice be banned, which the NCAA did.
Problem solved? Not for the Aggies. They screamed "UT cannot be trusted!" at the top of their lungs...as if anyone in America (outside of College Station) did not know this. As they were flailing around like a professional wrestler who had just had deadly venom thrown into their eyes, they managed keep their wits enough to call the SEC and ask about a raise.
But that part most fans know.
The interesting part is what has not been widely reported, but is mentioned in Chip Brown's September 4th report on Orangebloods.com. "Sources said the reason lawmakers are hot is that they received assurances from the Big 12, including [UT President Bill] Powers, that the Big 12 would survive without Texas A&M."
And now you have the other side of the story. The Texas Legislature has been being fed a pack of lies by UT.
When it was first announced that A&M was leaving this year there was talk from Austin reporters that the conference would rebuild and that Houston was actually under consideration by UT. That talk quickly vanished.
It makes one suspect if the Powers and DeLoss Dodds were telling members of the state government that they could let A&M go because UT wasn't going anywhere and had every intention of adding Houston at some point soon to ease the loss.
UT then deferred the decision (and all responsibility) on what conference to be in to OU, knowing full well that OU covets PAC-12 membership to help the perception of academics at that university.
With things quickly coming to a head and OU looking to jump to the PAC-12 --- a heavy blow to the viability of the Big 12 as premiere BCS conference --- Brown reported UT had decided to jump alone the ACC.
The next couple of days there was talk of UT becoming a football independent... or a member of the Big 10 ...or an astronaut (OK maybe not that last one...)
All of UT's recent options have two common elements --- they aren't in the Big 12 and they aren't taking any Texas schools with them.
UT was almost certainly thinking that if they could trick the legislature into signing off on A&M's solitary departure so that when the Longhorns ran out the door, the legislature would not be able to say anything.
UT's future escape is greatly eased if UT can get A&M to once more be the Longhorn's dimwitted pawn. From what we have seen so far this year little brother and UT's compliant conference mates, UT's odds aren't bad.
There was a report yesterday that the Big 12 have nots are considering waiving their individual rights to sue the SEC if Oklahoma commits to stay.
If the membership does that, UT will get the precedent they need to leave on their own one day soon. And OU will follow them out the door.
Again, Baylor's threat of a lawsuit will likely open up some time for some tough questions for UT as well.
Texas Tech; Tamed and Docile
Poor Texas Tech is a modern day Patty Hearst, doing whatever malevolent UT commands.
Like OU they desperately want to bathe in the endless streams of academic and research prestige that is PAC-12 membership, but unlike OU they just aren't a valuable enough national brand. Tech probably needs UT with it's research excellence and massive TV appeal to carry Tech westward.
Tech thought UT, OU and OSU were all on the same page. They were all going to the PAC-12 together.
Instead Tech sits and winces as they hear report after report of UT's "fallback" plans that all start with "well, first we dump Tech, Baylor, and the rest of the Big 12..."
They helplessly pine for UT to love them enough to carry them to the PAC-12.
While all the other have nots have Baylor's back, Tech is forced to mimic UT's stance and waive any right to sue so they keep their slim PAC-12 hopes alive.
The plan to dump Baylor and jump to the PAC-12 requires A&M to "escape" to the SEC first opening the door for UT, so Tech has to do their part. Even if they might get left behind too.
Its almost a tragic melodrama of unrequited love... And no one is reporting the story.
Finally the last story should be a real pick-me-up. Lost in all the gloom and doom is some really optimistic nuts and bolts financial talk. I want to get this out before trained lawyer turned brilliant sports writer Clay Travis beats me to publish the whole story. He is one of the few plugged in sports writers looking at the financial implications and he is a clear and concise writer. (I am jealous.)
First a little framing information.
Rules changes: Last year all Division I conferences were bound by "continuity of membership rules" that among other things required having 6 teams who had played together for 5 years. If a conference was in violation, in two years it's automatic NCAA tournament berth would be stripped. 31 of the 32 Division I conferences have automatic bids. An NCAA tournament automatic bid is a chance for one of your member schools to pile up tournament wins and shares of the net tournament payout. If you don't have an automatic bid you are at a tremendous financial disadvantage.
The Big 12 was due to fall to 5 members and lose their tourney bid. It would be very likely that they would have been picked apart by the Big East.
That rule was greatly softened this spring to protect the Western Athletic Conference and fragile BCS conferences like the Big 12 and Big East. The whole continuity thing has been thrown out. Now when a conference falls below the threshold of members, the NCAA allows a conference a 2 year cushion to rebuild to the minimum. Simple as that. Add the required number of replacement schools within 2 years and you keep your bid.
Exit fees: By most accounts the exit fees for the Big 12 are a confusing mess. Travis has read them and concluded they are horribly written and potentially toothless as well.
Be that as it may, Nebraska settled for a 12M buyout last year and Colorado paid over 6M. Precedent can go a long way (as can a desire not to be sued). If powers UT, A&M, and OU go their settlements may combine for 36M. Tech and OSU would probably pay a little more than Colorado. That could easily be a 50M pot of gold awaiting the schools that stay.
Iowa State and Baylor have few other BCS options and Tech could likewise see their ticket to the PAC not materialize and be stuck in the Big 12. A lot of media sources are assuming the Big 12 will just suddenly turn out the lights and every have not member will scuttle away like roaches into the Mountain West or some other dark non-automatic qualifier hole. It boggles the mind that some think that trio in particular isn't going to insist on receiving their share of the exit fee money pile.
BCS language: The BCS Automatic Qualifier language was written before conferences got fragile and names the member AQ conference including "the Big 12". Their rules have to look transparent to the fans and fair in order to not draw government attention. It certainly looks set in stone that the Big 12 will be a BCS AQ conference through the 2013 season. Check out this from The BCS site:
"2. The champions of the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, and Southeastern conferences will have automatic berths in one of the participating bowls through the 2013 regular season."
There are not apparently any BCS specific rules about the number of schools the Big 12 must have as members.
Now Colorado and Nebraska rushed out the door with only 1 year notice to join their new conferences and get their larger payouts. It seems likely that the other schools would do the same. That means that a rebuilt functioning Big 12 would be a BCS member in 2013. In PR terms stripping them of membership would be much harder to do than not giving it to the old Mountain West. Especially if the new BIG 12 chose their schools wisely and had good football arguments.
TV dollars: ESPN and Fox not only have TV deals with the Big 12 they also have TV deals with the SEC and PAC-12 which puts them in an awkward situation with the Big 12. It is possible the best case for those networks in legal terms is to give the new conference the current big 12 money for the length of the deals.
Travis has been all over this story and beat me to publish. His article on the subject is a must read (like most of his stuff).
Fox just signed a deal with the Big 12 for $1.17 Billion. They thought they were getting UT, A&M, and OU. I have to think they won't be thrilled about paying that money to Baylor and friends. But what can they do---Fox also has a deal with the PAC-12 and is almost certainly going to pay more if a PAC-14 comes into existence.
This is a nightmare scenario for ESPN as they could have to pay the PAC-12 and SEC a premium and still pay the gutted Big 12 at their full price. It is not out of the question that Fox may try to force ESPN to pay a part of Fox's Big 12 deal. There could be quite a bit of money here.
Every year that Baylor can keep the Big 12 together will save Fox and ESPN millions. Think about that for a minute.
That alone is a factor that might still come into play to save the conference as is, just like it was a factor last year.
$155 million split evenly between members schools is a heck of a lot of incentive to join the new Big 12.
Geography: Take a look where all the indisputably legitimate candidates for inclusion in a BCS conference are located. Only 2 of them (East Carolina and The University of Central Florida) are really in the Big East footprint. The Big 12 offers a much better footprint for most of them.
So ...which conference are you going to join...?
Realignment pressures: Should A&M leave it will trigger a move to 14 and 16 team conferences. The conference most likely to be decimated is the Big East. The SEC will pull 2 from the ACC and the ACC will pull from the Big East. The Big 10 may pull a couple of schools from the Big East. The SEC could pull West Virginia.
Now the Northern four could possibly save the Big East and deal with flights to North Carolina and Florida or they could just rebuild the Big 12 for much more sensible travel.
Basketball School meddling: It is also possible if the Big East loses 4 football schools that the non-football members may start meddling --- pushing strong basketball candidates like Memphis with weak football measurables in the current BCS standings. I could see something like that being the deciding factor in driving TCU (which seems to have only good intentions and gratitude to the Big East) into a rebuilt Big 12.
All of this seems to imply the remaining schools would have a great shot to rebuild to a Big East level. What is to stop them from adding say Boise State, BYU, TCU, Houston, and Tulsa and not having instantly a football conference with better BCS measurables over the current evaluation period than a cobbled together BE?
While it is no halcyon dream like most of the conference jumping to the PAC-12, it would be a BCS AQ conference and might draw reasonable TV dollars when it came time to issue new contracts.
This loss of control cannot be a happy thought for the BCS powers.
All I can say as a fan of the little guy, is "Give them heck, Baylor!"