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Realignment Today: Reports indicate Big 12 zeroing in on making a serious push to expand with 4 schools

In this Oct. 7, 2017, file photo, a Big 12 pylon marks the end zone at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium before an NCAA college football game between Texas and Kansas State in Austin, Texas.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

In this Oct. 7, 2017, file photo, a Big 12 pylon marks the end zone at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium before an NCAA college football game between Texas and Kansas State in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

It had been building steam throughout the past couple of weeks, but it now appears to be nearing lock status.

According to multiple reports, the Big 12 Conference has zeroed in on BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida as four top candidates for expansion.

In fact, Brett McMurphy, of Action Network, reported Friday that a source with knowledge of the Big 12’s thinking told him that there are currently no other targets.

A Thursday report from The Athletic noted that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby paid a visit to the Houston campus to discuss expansion plans.

And several other reports dating back to last week indicated that the Big 12 had zeroed in on BYU as its top choice in potential expansion.

All four programs bring good football, national brands and the potential for growth.

Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all have played in at least one New Year’s Six bowl game in the past six seasons. And BYU, which finished 11-1 in 2020, ended last season ranked No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll.

A source told McMurphy that the Big 12 decision makers viewed TV audience, football status and market size as the three most important factors in their discussions of which schools to add. But, McMurphy also reported that each school’s basketball brand carried significant weight, with the Big 12 putting 75% of its considerations toward football and the remaining 25% on basketball.

Even combined, however, they’re not likely to be deemed as valuable as Oklahoma and Texas, which are planning to leave the Big 12 in 2025 upon the expiration of the current grant of rights agreement among the 10 teams in the conference today.

Still, for a conference on shaky ground, moving quickly to bring stability with four pretty solid schools can only be viewed as a win. For now.

The long-term impact of these moves remains unknown. While Bowlsby said this week that the Big 12 ADs expressed a desire to stick together and focus on rebuilding a strong Big 12 for the future, the potential for any of the existing members to look to move elsewhere figures to remain in place for at least a little while.

For one, none of these moves to add the top four candidates will be effective immediately. McMurphy’s report indicated that formal invitations to the four schools could go out this month. But even that would not pave the way for them to be in the Big 12 anytime soon.

BYU, as an independent in football and a member of the West Coast Conference in other sports, may have the easiest time transitioning if things do in fact go this way.

But in order for the other three schools to leave the American Athletic Conference, they would need to go through a process similar to the one OU and UT are currently facing, with required notice, exit fees and more.

McMurphy’s report said a source told him that BYU could be in the Big 12 as soon as 2022, with the other three schools possibly joining a year later.

All of that would leave time for the current Big 12 schools to field offers, explore options and even sell themselves to one of the other power conferences that likely will move into the new era of college athletics significantly ahead of whatever the revamped Big 12 looks like in terms of dollars and TV contracts.

That’s not to say the Big 12 couldn’t be a safe space. It probably won’t come close to the $35-40 million member payouts currently enjoyed under the existing television deals. But it’s possible that this new group could find a partner (or perhaps multiple partners) that deem the new-look league to be worth $20 million annually or so.

For Kansas, and the rest of the remaining eight, that would be a better outcome than falling into the Mountain West Conference or even the AAC, but obviously not as good as landing a spot in one of the four other power conferences.

The question moving forward will be simple: Do those other conferences (a) want or (b) feel the need to expand.

Time will tell on that. And the answer may very well be no. At least for a while.

If that’s the case, KU would do well to get on board with this Big 12 expansion for stability's sake while protecting its own interests by quietly continuing to explore what options are available and by keeping any new TV contract to a minimum if they need to sign one at all.

It’s likely that any new deal or agreement with a television partner would include a composition clause of some kind to protect the interests of the Big 12 against future departures by any of its members.

Adjustments to and renegotiations of media contracts has been a regular part of the college athletics landscape in recent years, and, for the Big 12, it almost has to be a part of the equation moving forward.

Reply 19 comments from Lee Stanford Ted Hume Rodney Crain Robert  Brock Eric TheCapn Kenneth Johnson Karen Mansfield-Stewart Kevin Woods Brian Skelly Dirk Medema and 4 others

Realignment Today: Big 12 talks lead to further commitment, desire for conference to stay together

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. by AP Photo/LM Otero

Leaders of the eight remaining schools in the Big 12 Conference remain focused on staying committed to one another and the conference they have called home for more than two decades.

After two days of meetings this week with athletic directors from what the Big 12 is calling the eight “continuing members of the Big 12 Conference,” Commissioner Bob Bowlsby shared the tone of the talks.

“The eight ADs remain committed to furthering the Big 12 as one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences, and look forward to working with our presidents and chancellors to strengthen the league,” Bowlsby said Wednesday night in a statement released by the Big 12. “Future exploration by the group will continue to center on options that best position the long-term strength of the conference.”

The Big 12 is in this position, of course, because of the recent decision by Oklahoma and Texas to announce their plans to leave the conference for the SEC after the grant of rights agreement expires in 2025.

Whether the two powerhouse programs remain in the conference that long remains to be seen and could depend largely on what the eight members they’re leaving behind do in the coming months and years.

Shortly after OU and UT announced their future departures, the three other power-five conferences in college athletics announced that they were forming an alliance.

Leaders of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 held a joint press conference to announce the alliance and they said then that the Big 12 was not included in it because of the general instability the conference is currently facing.

Speculation about Big 12 expansion, and which schools (and when) the Big 12 might add in an effort to regain stability and offset some of the losses of Oklahoma and Texas, has run rampant in the past couple of weeks.

But while he did not give a specific timeline of any kind, Bowlsby’s statement on Wednesday makes it clear that nothing is imminent.

BYU above all, along with Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston, have gained the most traction in expansion talks and rumors. But at least half a dozen other schools have been floated in recent weeks as universities the Big 12 might — or even should — consider adding.

The conference’s preference for patience likely comes from the fact that OU and Texas would face stiff exit penalties for leaving the conference, therein bringing even more money to the pockets of the eight remaining members.

But while financial stability may be a reality for at least a couple more years, the future of the conference beyond that seems to be viewed as being on rocky ground throughout the rest of college athletics at the present time.

Reply 51 comments from Jdwilhm Pamela Shanks Shimsham Krohnutz Vern58 Karen Mansfield-Stewart Robert  Brock Tony Bandle Jeff Coffman Brett McCabe and 5 others

Realignment Today: As reports surface of a power conference alliance moving forward, at least one of those conferences remains open to expansion

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

As the alliance between the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 continues to move toward reality, at least one of those conferences appears to still be considering expansion.

The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reported Friday that a formal announcement about the alliance between the three power conferences could be announced as soon as next week.

Her report indicates that in addition to making sense from a scheduling standpoint, the potential grouping is on the table because key people within all three conferences still value the college model and do not want to see it destroyed.

That means academics, offering a variety of sports and preserving the idea that those who wear the uniforms and produce the highlights are student-athletes will remain a central mission in all three conferences.

As for the alliance itself, there does not appear to be anything new there regarding the schools that are involved. The Big 12 Conference’s eight others still appear to be on the outside looking in.

But that does not mean things are completely stagnant with regard to those eight schools — or at least a few of them — still trying to make moves to land in a power conference when the new landscape becomes a reality, be that in one year, four years or anywhere in between.

In a recent article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, new Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff indicated that the conference, though happy with the 12 members it currently has, could still be open to the idea of expansion.

“I think we’re really, really happy with the 12 that we have in the league,” Kliavkoff told the paper. “The opportunity to revisit that following Texas and Oklahoma has certainly presented itself. I am not actively poaching any school or convincing anyone to leave their existing conference, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t listening to schools that wanted to go in the Pac-12, and we’ve had a lot of them reach out. Probably all of the ones you would expect and several you’d be surprised by.”

Kliavkoff went on to say that the conference has conducted “initial meetings” with every university that has expressed an interest in joining the Pac-12 or aligning with the league in some manner.

No specific names were mentioned, but Kliavkoff said the conference had formed a working group that handles such activity. That group will be the one to recommend — or not recom-mend — the direction the Pac-12 goes from here.

While such a set up might seem open-ended, Kliavkoff told the Review-Journal that there was a deadline of sorts in place because of his desire to help calm the raging river that currently is the future of college athletics.

“There’s no hard deadline related to any of this,” he told the paper. “But I would say I don’t think it’s good for college athletics given the vibration that’s going on as a result of the Texas and Oklahoma news. The quicker we can dampen that vibration, the better. We will have a decision on whether we intend to expand or not in the next couple of weeks.”

Reply 30 comments from David Robinett Krohnutz Eric TheCapn Vern58 Lee Stanford Cshjhawk Jeff Coffman Njjayhawk Cassadys Barry Weiss and 11 others

Realignment Today: Alliance chatter between ACC, Big Ten & Pac-12 brings potentially scary times for Big 12

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is seen on the big screen in an empty Sprint Center as he talks to the media after canceling the remaining NCAA college basketball games in the Big 12 Conference tournament due to concerns about the coronavirus Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is seen on the big screen in an empty Sprint Center as he talks to the media after canceling the remaining NCAA college basketball games in the Big 12 Conference tournament due to concerns about the coronavirus Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The very thing that looked like it could save the Big 12 Conference a couple of weeks ago might now be the thing that winds up doing it in.

Such is life on the wrong side of the realignment lunch room.

If you’re not sitting with the popular kids today, you very much run the risk of getting overlooked when college football passes out its tastiest treats.

We’re not there yet. But a Friday report from The Athletic indicated that we might be close.

And this comes just days removed from Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby meeting with new Pac-12 boss George Kliavkoff about a possible partnership between those two conferences.

Evidently, things didn’t get very far.

According to the Athletic’s recent article, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC are now conducting “high-level discussions” about some kind of alliance that would further strengthen all three entities.

The basis for the alliance, according to the report, is scheduling. Think of it as the best football programs in each conference pairing up on a semi-regular basis to provide an even more appealing product for their television partners.

Such a move would drive up the price tag on broadcasting the games, and driving up the price tag means keeping up with the SEC in this new era of college athletics.

That alone is not the death knell for the Big 12. But, according to the Athletic’s sources, that’s not all there is to the discussions either.

Another factor in these three power conferences exploring the idea of teaming up is the idea that they then would work together — and more importantly vote together — on any major college athletics issues such as College Football Playoff expansion and governing changes at the NCAA level.

According to the article, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC do not need anyone in the Big 12 for that.

“While these plans are still in the works, it appears the Big 12 will not be included in the alliance,” the article reads.

The reason is simple. Coming together in an alliance would give the aligned trio 41 votes they could count on. That’s more than twice as many as the 16 votes the powerhouse SEC will bring to the table, and, therefore, adding any more would be unnecessary.

That’s especially true if the three conferences do not believe that any of the remaining eight schools in the Big 12 bring enough value to help increase the TV contracts.

So, what does the Big 12 do now?

There are a couple of options. But none of them are particularly pretty as of today. With the way these things go, though, there’s no telling what might surface tomorrow, a week from now or a month from now.

Both The Athletic’s report and a similar report from ESPN.com indicated that nothing is imminent with the alliance. But then, what is these days?

We know OU and Texas are headed to the SEC, but even that move is not exactly imminent and could — could — take four years to play out.

That may be the Big 12’s first and best option.

Buy time, milk every penny you can out of the existing contract that still includes the Sooners and Longhorns and see how much (or if) things change in your favor during that time.

It’s not likely, but at least the financial hit would be delayed and you’d have time to get creative with your next move.

The other option is to expand quickly — with the best American Athletic Conference schools (Cincinnati, Houston, Central Florida) and potentially others like BYU — and fight like mad to maintain Power 5 status.

The TV deal will decrease significantly, and you’ll sit a distant fifth behind those other power conferences in terms of television revenue. But, if it works, you’ll still get those Autonomy 5 advantages (so long as the NCAA still exists) and will avoid becoming extinct.

If it doesn’t, we could be looking at the reverse scenario playing out, with the AAC scooping up the Big 12’s leftovers and expanding its reach.

Either way this goes, it appears as if several schools in both of those conferences could get left out of the picture.

It’s hard to envision that being Kansas, but all of this alliance talk makes it a much more real possibility than it was even just a few days ago.

So, what do you do if you’re Kansas? Easy. Sell, and sell hard, the best of what you have to offer.

Whether that’s basketball, Bill Self, the money you have spent on football (and the promise of spending more), Lance Leipold or your AAU status and academic high points, it’s time for the full-court press.

Even that might not be enough in the end, but, at least at this point, sitting around hoping that things work out for the Big 12 seems like a much riskier path.

Reply 32 comments from Robert  Brock Krohnutz Kenneth Johnson Cassadys Robert Lofthouse Patrick Bryant Ervin O'Neal Brad Barker Armen Kurdian Rockchalkjd and 12 others

Realignment Today: U.S. Senator from Kansas calls on Department of Justice to investigate ESPN’s role in conference realignment

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., speaks during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the nomination of Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., to be Secretary of the Interior on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., speaks during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the nomination of Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., to be Secretary of the Interior on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. by Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP

United States senator Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, has called on U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland to investigate ESPN’s role in kick-starting the latest round of conference realignment.

In a formal letter addressed to Garland, Marshall asked for the Department of Justice to look into ESPN’s role, if any, in Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I write today to ask that the DOJ investigate ESPN’s role in the potential destruction of the Big 12 Conference and if any anti-competitive or illegal behavior occurred relating to manipulating the conference change or ESPN’s contractual television rights,” Marshall wrote, according to published reports of the letter.

In the letter, Marshall, who has degrees from both KU and Kansas State, cited a recent claim from Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby that the Big 12 has “evidence that ESPN was manipulating all of this.”

ESPN’s role in this round of conference realignment has become a hot topic of late. The network currently is one of two major television partners with the Big 12 Conference. But that contract, which Oklahoma and Texas announced they would not renew, is scheduled to expire in 2025.

The end of the contract and the conference’s grant of rights, along with OU and UT declining to extend the agreement and instead head to the SEC, figures to put the future of the Big 12 in jeopardy.

Last week, Bowlsby sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN and accused the network of soliciting the help of at least one other conference — believed by many to be the American Athletic Conference — in trying to break up the Big 12.

A day later, ESPN responded by saying Bowlsby’s claims had no merit.

Others, including Texas president Jay Hartzell and AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, also said ESPN had done nothing wrong.

Earlier this week, Bowlsby promised to do his part to put an end to the public back-and-forth claims between the Big 12 and ESPN. “We have agreed to not escalate this publicly,” Bowlsby said. “It’s in neither party’s best interest to do so.”

Marshall’s letter, written on United States Senate letterhead, is dated Aug. 4, 2021 and was sent to directly to Garland.

U.S. senator Roger Marshall's letter to the U.S. attorney general asking for an investigation into ESPN's role in conference realignment.

U.S. senator Roger Marshall's letter to the U.S. attorney general asking for an investigation into ESPN's role in conference realignment. by Matt Tait

Reply 13 comments from Vern58 Rodney Crain Jeff Coffman Robert  Brock Brian Skelly Krohnutz Dirk Medema Nzjhawk Njjayhawk Brett McCabe

Realignment Today: Reported meeting Tuesday between Big 12, Pac-12 worth noting for several reasons

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. by AP Photo/LM Otero

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said throughout the past couple of weeks that he believed the Big 12 would have “options” that make it viable to stay together after Oklahoma and Texas depart.

Although the conference — and college athletics as a whole — remains a long way from knowing what he meant by that, a hint surfaced Tuesday.

According to a report from The Athletic’s Max Olson, Bowlsby was slated to meet with new Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff sometime Tuesday.

The details of the meeting’s agenda were scarce and probably will remain that way. But it’s clear, both from Bowlsby’s own words on Monday and from the fact that the meeting is taking place at all, that anything and everything is now on the table for the Big 12.

“I think there are options for us to partner with other conferences,” Bowlsby said Monday at a hearing of Texas lawmakers in Austin. “There may be opportunity for mergers. There may be opportunities to add members. There may be other opportunities that are currently unforeseen.”

When it’s survival you’re talking about, you can bet that anything goes for Bowlsby and the Big 12 from this point forward.

One other thing worth noting with these two conferences in particular is the fact that the Pac-12's TV deal expires in 2024 and the Big 12's in 2025. If they reach the point where they've decided to come together, perhaps the next round of TV negotiations would begin with the 2024-25 season, which would no doubt make OU and Texas happy.

I'm not saying the Big 12 is looking to do them any favors, but we know those two have a fair amount of influence in college athletics. Perhaps a you-scratch-our-back-we'll-scratch-yours situation could be in play that works for all parties involved.

The most interesting thing about Bowlsby’s reported meeting with Kilavkoff is that the Big 12 may actually have a little bit of an upper hand in it.

For one, it’s the Big 12 — with Texas and Oklahoma, of course — that has consistently ranked third in TV revenue payouts during the past several years, behind the SEC and Big Ten but ahead of the ACC and Pac-12.

The conference’s makeup will take a significant hit without OU and UT, but could a potential merger, if discussed or even proposed, be one that allows the Big 12 to survive based partly on that fact?

Another factor that could play to the Big 12’s advantage here is location.

When it comes to network dollars — undoubtedly a declining metric but still important to date — the central time zone is much, much more attractive than the late games on the West Coast.

If the Big 12 and Pac-12 were to merge in some fashion, keeping the Big 12 name and locating its league headquarters in the middle of the country could prove beneficial.

Even if it’s just the optics of such a move that matters, it still seems worth noting.

At first glance, the Pac-12, which reportedly paid out $32 million per member in fiscal year 2019 (compared to $35 million in the Big 12), may not have much use for the Big 12’s leftover eight.

But it’s not hard to see how a full-on merger and the formation of a 20-team super-conference could be viewed as attractive to ESPN, FOX, CBS or whomever else might want to get into the broadcast race.

After all, if those two conferences were good enough on their own to pump $30-plus million payouts, it stands to reason that combined, even without OU and Texas, they’d be able to negotiate a contract that comes somewhere close to that number.

The benefit of such an arrangement for the Big 12 is obvious.

The benefit for the Pac-12 comes in the form of stability and exposure. You’re now in all four major U.S. time zones — at least half of the time — and you no longer have to worry about any of your members getting poached by another conference.

Beyond that, competitively speaking, these two teaming up seems like a decent play, too.

For the Big 12, you’re gaining traditional powers like USC, UCLA, Oregon and Stanford.

For the Pac-12, you’re picking up programs like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and TCU, all of which have played in major bowls of late and been factors in the College Football Playoff or BCS conversation over the past decade.

And that’s to say nothing of adding the Kansas and Baylor basketball brands to the lineup.

Who knows what’s possible or what will come of today’s meeting? It could be a courtesy. It could be to talk about a scheduling alliance and not a full-fledged merger. And it could lead to absolutely nothing.

The good news for Big 12 fans, though, is that it’s happening.

Bowlsby may have his back against the wall and be scrambling like we’ve never seen before. But at least he appears to be actively pursuing whatever avenues he can think of at the moment.

In that way, there does appear to be solidarity in the Big 12, because you have to think that’s what all eight of the conference’s schools not named Oklahoma and Texas are doing right now, too.

Reply 39 comments from Cassadys Bville Hawk David Atchley Ted Hume Ervin O'Neal Rodney Crain Karen Mansfield-Stewart Brian Skelly Jeff Coffman Jayhawkmarshall and 13 others

Trying to make sense of why ESPN might meddle in this conference mess in the first place

August 26, 2011 - Austin, TX - University of Texas South Mall: ESPN College Gameday for the Longhorn Network Launch. Anchor Lowell Galindo (l) and Analyst Kevin Dunn. Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN

August 26, 2011 - Austin, TX - University of Texas South Mall: ESPN College Gameday for the Longhorn Network Launch. Anchor Lowell Galindo (l) and Analyst Kevin Dunn. Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN by Joe Faraoni

By now, you’ve all surely read the story/stories about Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby accusing ESPN of trying to put an end to the conference via tampering and encouraging another conference to scoop up a few — or perhaps all — of the Big 12’s eight remaining members.

But in case you still don’t quite understand why ESPN, the Big 12’s biggest and most powerful/visible television partner, would do something like that, here’s a quick breakdown of what I believe is happening.

First, we must remember that ESPN darlings Oklahoma and Texas are, in fact, eventually headed to the SEC, where the annual payout per member after the conference’s new television contract is in place is expected to deliver $67 million annually to each institution.

That number, during the 2019-20 season, was around $45 million, meaning the SEC will need to find a way to earn roughly $22 million per member per year following the 2024-25 season.

From all the reports I’ve read about the topic, it sounds like getting there is a mere formality now that the conference can bring the OU and UT brands into the fold.

OK. Now that we’ve provided that reminder, let’s look at what’s going on with the tampering talk and why it might be happening.

ESPN, as a Tier 1 rights holder of the current Big 12, will be (would have been?) on the hook for whatever is deemed to be fair market value in a revamped Big 12. Without Oklahoma and Texas, that obviously won’t be anywhere close to the $35-37 million the conference has been paying its members in recent years.

But, depending on what the new-look Big 12 roster includes, it’s safe to assume the annual TV revenue distribution number could be in the $15-20 million range.

Again, that’s per team and per year.

So that leaves ESPN, which has made news for its own financial issues and recent layoffs of large numbers of its work force, looking for a way to find an extra $20ish million per SEC school while still paying the Big 12 a good chunk of change to exist as a second-rate Power 5 conference.

If your brain just fired and produced that ah-ha moment, you now know how the execs at ESPN may have felt if they were in fact involved in the alleged tampering to destabilize and, ultimately, bring an end to the Big 12 Conference.

The extra money saved by the demise of the Big 12 could then easily be shipped to the SEC to help cover that new TV deal with the nation’s most powerful football conference.

While the money saved would not cover all of the anticipated SEC increase, it would have made the whole thing much more manageable and reduced the amount of “new money” needed to a significantly smaller amount. Also of note is the fact that ESPN, over the life of a new contract with the old Big 12, reportedly would save nearly $1 billion dollars, which also could be used to further strengthen their position in the remaining conferences if the Big 12 were to disappear entirely.

ESPN has gone on record stating that what’s in the cease-and-desist letter sent by Bowlsby and the Big 12 to the network has no merit.

Bowlsby insists that it does and that he has proof that the American Athletic Conference was used as a pawn by ESPN to try to gobble up the eight remaining Big 12 schools — at first it was reported at 3-5, but CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd amended that late Wednesday night to include the potential plucking of all eight schools — in an effort to make the Big 12 simply go away.

Wild stuff. And it just keeps getting wilder.

Regardless of what’s accurate or not at this point, one thing is crystal clear: The Big 12 isn’t going down without a fight. And that fight, no matter how long it lasts or what it entails, could last a long, long time.

What's more, no matter how this thing ends up, it also seems fairly safe to assume that the days of the Big 12 and ESPN as partners will be over following the 2024-25 season. Don't be surprised, though, if the Big 12 makes it as painful as possible for OU, Texas and ESPN until then.

Before this thing is over, OU and Texas may very well have wished they never so much as thought about what life in the SEC might be like.

Then again, this is Oklahoma and Texas we’re talking about. And they do have the self-anointed “worldwide leader in sports” in their corner. So maybe there’s an easy outcome on the horizon that works in their favor.

Either way, neither side comes out looking all that good in this mess at the moment.

And it appears as if things may continue to just get messier.

2:34 p.m. Update:

Thursday afternoon, ESPN fired back at Bowlsby and the Big 12 with its own letter, which stated simply that there was nothing to cease and desist.

Here's a look at that document.

ESPN letter to Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby dated July 29, 2021. (Courtesy of espnfrontrow.com)

ESPN letter to Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby dated July 29, 2021. (Courtesy of espnfrontrow.com) by Matt Tait

Reply 14 comments from Jayhawkmarshall Cassadys Rae Bricil Robert  Brock Tony Bandle Brett McCabe Njjayhawk Matt Tait Plasticjhawk David Friend and 4 others

OU and Texas should pay to leave the Big 12, but future financial issues are not theirs alone

The Big 12 Conference logo is shown here in the lane of the north goal at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Big 12 Conference logo is shown here in the lane of the north goal at Allen Fieldhouse. by Matt Tait

Now that Texas and Oklahoma have formally stated their intentions to leave the Big 12 Conference, let’s take a first glance at how the next several months (years?) might play out.

And then we’ll do it again and again and again and again. Because it sure doesn’t feel like this train is slowing down any time soon.

But it could be over sooner than later, and the guess here is that that’s exactly why OU and Texas are playing this the way they are.

On the surface, the two Big 12 defectors are saying all the right things.

“We’re just thinking about the future here.”

“We’re happy to honor our commitment and stay in the Big 12 for the next four years.”

“We want this to work out for all parties involved.”

It sounds good. But who’s buying it?

Does anyone — those at Texas and Oklahoma or people associated with the Big 12 — really want those two to stick around for the next four years, knowing they’ve got one foot out the door already and probably can’t be trusted to do what’s in the best interest of the Big 12 during that time?

I sure wouldn’t.

Big 12 bylaws state that members that plan to leave the conference are required to give 18 months notice and pay an exit fee that is equal to two years of revenue distributions.

Last year, the Big 12’s revenue distribution was around $34.5 million per school and there were signs that it was headed toward $40 million prior to the pandemic. So that means a total of somewhere between $75-80 million EACH for OU and Texas to leave.

I’m not exactly sure how that money is absorbed or distributed from there, but if it is spread out equally among the remaining members, you’re looking at an additional $18-20 million — roughly a 50% one-time bonus — for being loyal.

Not bad.

Getting back to OU and UT’s willingness to stick it out for the remainder of the grant of rights agreement (through the 2024-25 seasons) this whole thing, at least to me, sounds like a play on behalf of the Longhorns and Sooners to try to make their exit from the conference a little less costly.

They say they’ll play nice and fulfill their contract. The Big 12 says to heck with that. And then the two sides settle on a buyout agreement that is less than the $75-80 million they’re currently on the hook for, perhaps by a significant amount.

OU and Texas can then say, “Look, we wanted to stay until the end of the contract but they kicked us out so we’re paying less.”

Or, worse yet, “We’re not paying.”

The 18 months part of that equation makes this a little tricky. If the Big 12 allows/encourages those two to leave sooner than that, they’re essentially undercutting their own bylaws. So there is some logic behind allowing them to stay at least the 18 months.

But even that is going to be rough. For one, it would put us right in the middle of the 2022-23 seasons and, for two, it would create issues with future scheduling and planning and the like.

The best guess here is that this break-up will become official following the 2021-22 seasons. It’s far too tough to make a move now. All sides would likely lose money in that case. And doing it next May allows both conferences the 2022 summer to make a smooth(er) transition.

If that’s the way it plays out, it should be at OU and Texas’ request, though.

The Big 12 — for now, at least — is in a position of power in that it can demand that those two to pay the exit fees that they agreed to when the bylaws were written.

Anything less is an even bigger abomination than the one we’re already witnessing.

The biggest challenge in all of this is the uncertainty associated with what becomes of the Big 12.

If the conference destined to go down, the eight remaining members should absolutely take every penny they can get from OU and UT and take joy in doing it.

But if the plan is for a revamped Big 12 to move forward with new members, then perhaps some kind of settlement so all parties can move forward more quickly is actually in the best interest of the Big 12 Conference.

After all, when the existing grant of rights contract expires and it’s time to negotiate new TV deals, stability will be your friend and uncertainty can cost you millions.

And then there’s the question about what happens if other teams follow OU and UT out the door, seeking to ensure their own survival and stable futures somewhere else?

There likely will be penalties to pay there, too. But only if the Big 12, in some form or another, survives.

All of those factors, and more, are absolute musts for athletic and university officials at Kansas to consider. And I’m not sure any amount of research and strategic planning is going to lead to an outcome without some kind of financial downside.

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Ervin O'Neal Dale Rogers

With OU & UT reportedly eyeing the SEC, are we on the brink of conference realignment 2021?

Oklahoma players take the field before their game Saturday against Texas in Dallas. The Sooners will entertain Kansas on Saturday.

Oklahoma players take the field before their game Saturday against Texas in Dallas. The Sooners will entertain Kansas on Saturday.

Moments after reading a Wednesday story from the Houston Chronicle that reported that Oklahoma and Texas had been in contact about potentially leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, I went out to mow my lawn.

My how things have changed from the conference realignment days of old.

Back then, when schools moved from conference to conference like some strange game of musical chairs, I was afraid to even leave my computer.

Mowing the lawn or going to the grocery store seemed like crazy ideas in those days, because, even in just 5-10 minutes, major news could come out that could affect any one of college athletics’ power conferences.

Wednesday’s report, which indicates that a decision on whether to add the two Big 12 power programs to the SEC could be made in as little as two weeks, certainly qualifies as major news.

Any time programs like OU and Texas — particularly football programs of that nature — are talking about relocating, you have to at least consider the domino effect that such a move would have on all of college athletics.

The reason this type of talk does not seem quite as desperate and panic-inducing this time around has everything to do with what we’ve seen in the past several months and weeks on the college athletics landscape.

Change is coming. Heck, change is already here. And it seems smart to expect in the not-too-distant future that college athletics will look very different than it has in the past.

That’s not to say that losing alliances with power brokers like OU and UT should be considered a good thing for any of the rest of the Big 12. But if you squint just a little, what appears to be on the horizon in the new era of college sports may provide some comfort for those athletic departments that once believed that their only path to survival was to provide Bevo and Boomer with around-the-clock butler service.

Just last year, a longtime college athletics administrator told me that they thought college athletics as we know it today could be virtually unrecognizable within five years.

That was before the name, image and likeness and changes to the transfer rules passed, and before NCAA President Mark Emmert threw up as close to a white flag as we’ve seen by saying recently that it may be time for college athletics to be decentralized.

Hello, free enterprise. Adios, NCAA?

In the end, as was the case last time, this whole thing is again going to come down to the money.

If OU and UT truly are looking to leave and the powers that be in the SEC believe that adding them to the conference would increase their television deals by enough cheddar to make their additions worthwhile, it may very well happen.

Multiple reports this afternoon noted that 75% of the SEC’s 14 members would need to vote yes on the invitations for anything to happen.

What’s more, other reports pointed out that Oklahoma politicians made it awfully clear last time that OU wasn’t going anywhere without Oklahoma State. So while it’s possible to picture 11 of the 14 current SEC schools voting yes to add the power twosome, you have to wonder if the number would remain as high if the SEC schools were voting on adding Oklahoma State, as well.

The OU and Texas side of this thing only further underscores how much this would likely be about money.

With the college football playoff system headed for some kind of expansion, with the six highest-ranked conference champions likely getting an automatic spot in the playoff in the new system, why wouldn’t those two programs want to stay in the Big 12, where their chances at winning a title are exponentially higher year in and year out than they would be in the dog-eat-dog SEC?

Money talks.

All of this certainly bears watching in the rest of the Big 12, which would find itself in a world of hurt if OU and UT were to leave.

While just about everything was on the table in terms of a response the last time this kind of threat hit the conference, I have to think that it would be much more likely that the reaction to such an upheaval this time around would be much different.

Put a different way: Rather than desperately seeking replacements for OU and Texas, it would make more sense to me for the remaining members to go scrambling for the best landing spots they could find.

For Kansas specifically, the ACC and Big Ten come to mind. Beyond that, KU fans should rest easy knowing there were good options out there the last time this all happened that likely would be options again.

You also have to wonder if all of those past rumors about the Big 12 pursuing Arizona and Arizona State would suddenly have some juice behind them, and whether those additions would be enough to keep the Big 12 alive.

The options are out there. The question now is whether any of them will be needed.

Regardless of the answer, the two-week timeline hardly makes any of this worth getting worked up about just yet. There will be plenty of time for that — and other emotions — if this actually happens.

Right now, I’m headed to get the weed eater to finish up outside.

Reply 17 comments from Ted Adams Koolkeithfreeze Glen Steve Hillyer Ppbrittain Barry Weiss Chicagohawkmatt Onlyoneuinkansas Robert  Brock Krohnutz and 8 others

What Kansas fans can learn from K-State’s approved attendance plan for the 2020 football season

Kansas State defensive back Donnie Starks (10) runs in an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Kansas State defensive back Donnie Starks (10) runs in an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. by Nick Krug

The Riley County Commission on Monday approved Kansas State University’s plan for roughly 25% attendance capacity at football games in Manhattan this fall.

The Big 12 Conference is allowing schools to set their own attendance policies based on local jurisdictions, but it’s safe to say K-State’s plan and KU’s plan will have a lot of similarities.

KU has not yet presented its plan to Douglas County, but that is expected to take place this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday. And while it remains to be seen if Douglas County health officials will approve KU’s plan as it is presented, you can bet the basics look a lot like Kansas State’s.

Here’s a quick look at the key points of the K-State plan, which will allow for a maximum socially distanced crowd of just under 15,000 fans per game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium this fall:

• Fans must wear face coverings over their mouths and noses in order to enter the stadium and continue wearing them inside the stadium. Fans should provide their own face coverings. K-State will not provide face coverings. Stadium employees also will be required to wear protective gear and face coverings.

• Tailgating will be prohibited in parking lots controlled by K-State Athletics and satellite lots operated by Kansas State University groups in order to reduce the risk of large gatherings. Parking lots will open in conjunction with stadium gates two hours prior to kickoff and fans will be encouraged to immediately enter the stadium once parked.

• Once inside, fans will not be permitted to re-enter the stadium should they elect to exit.

• With tailgating and re-entry into the stadium eliminated, beer and wine will be available for purchase for the first time ever in the general seating sections of the stadium at multiple locations on the concourse and concession stands.

• Hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout the stadium, as well as signage to encourage social distancing.

KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said last week that he expected Kansas to have fans in the stands at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium when the Jayhawks open the season against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 12.

But Long said then that he anticipated KU’s capacity being at or below 50% for the Jayhawks’ five scheduled home games this fall.

If it’s in line with the K-State plan, at 25%, that would mean KU would be allowed to host just under 12,000 fans per game at Memorial Stadium this fall. Expect the final number to be between 10,000-14,000.

It’s not clear if that total would include fans in the suites, which, if used, would provide their own social distancing advantages.

Because there are slight differences between Douglas and Riley counties, from total population to the prevalence of COVID-19 in each locale, KU's plan might differ from what's listed above.

But it's hard to imagine the most important components of each plan — attendance percentage, face masks and tailgating — being that much different.

Reply 4 comments from Jeff Coffman Gdkadjayhawk Bob Strawn Ryan Mullen Njjayhawk

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