Realignment Today: Reports indicate Big 12 planning to officially invite BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to join the conference as soon as Friday
The Big 12 Conference could have a decidedly different look as soon as Friday, even if it won’t impact the schedules and competition for a couple of years.
According to multiple reports this week, including one from CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, the Big 12 appears to be on the brink of ballooning to 14 teams at least for the next couple of years.
The league would go back down — or is it up? — to 12 schools upon the departures of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, which, as of today, is still slated for 2025 at the end of the Big 12’s current grant of rights agreement.
According to Dodd’s report, sources told him that Big 12 presidents — not ADs or commissioners — were prepared to “rubber stamp” invitations to four schools at a Friday meeting.
The four schools who are expected to be added are BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida, a group that emerged as the leading expansion candidates early on in the aftermath of the bombshell news dropped by OU and UT.
According to multiple reports this week, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF have officially applied for Big 12 membership and are expecting to receive invitations. It is not yet clear whether BYU has made a similar request, but, according to several recent reports, the Cougars emerged as the Big 12’s top choice in the current expansion talks.
Because of its status as an independent in football, BYU potentially could join the Big 12 as soon as 2022, with the three other schools following a year later.
While the addition of these four schools will not entirely make up for the losses of big, bad national brands Oklahoma and Texas, reports have indicated that it could be enough for the Big 12 Conference to keep its Power 5 status.
That would be significant both in terms of annual revenue haul and the conference’s ability to keep its access to the biggest pay day of all as the other power conferences explore expanding the college football playoff from its current four-team format to as many as 12.
It also would bring some much-needed stability to the conference — temporary or otherwise — and could make current members less likely to feverishly look for landing spots elsewhere as had been the case a couple of weeks ago.
That’s not to say that a few of the conference’s remaining eight members could not wind up somewhere else a few years down the road. But it does likely mean that if a school like Kansas is going to end up somewhere else, like say the Big Ten, it will be because things changed in that conference and the Big Ten decided to expand and went after KU or whichever other schools it might consider adding.
If that were to happen, KU almost certainly would have to take the invitation. Because while the move to add these four today would help ensure the Big 12’s survival, the conference has proven twice now that it can become vulnerable at any moment.
Beyond that, the Big Ten pay day would still be far greater (nearly double) than what a revamped Big 12 will pull in from its new television deals/partners, even if that number winds up being $20-25 million per school per year.
If no other invitation comes, KU, and others, finding a way to salvage $20-25 million annually from TV revenue should be considered a major victory. Sure, it’s a dip from the current $35 million range that Big 12 members are enjoying. But it could have dipped way lower.
There’s still a long way to go before those numbers become reality. And perhaps there will be some new, innovative twists to what the Big 12 does moving forward that make it (a) more appealing long term, (b) more lucrative for its members or (c) harder for anyone to get out once they’ve committed to the revamped conference.
But all of that can and will be settled over time, which the Big 12 now appears to have thanks to its willingness to move quickly to add what appears to be the best of what was available.
Realignment Today: Reports indicate Big 12 zeroing in on making a serious push to expand with 4 schools
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.
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.
According to a Thursday report from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, it appears that University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod is part of a sub-committee charged with looking into potential Big 12 expansion, as the winds of realignment blow back toward the middle of America.
In the report, Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt reportedly said he, Baylor AD Mack Rhoades and “presidents” from Iowa State and Kansas were on the committee.
Later in the story, Hocutt said the group had been expanded to include all Big 12 presidents.
A KU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Journal-World inquiry about Girod’s spot on the committee.
It also has been reported by several outlets that the Big 12 has turned to former West Virginia AD and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck to serve as a consultant to help the conference work through its realignment options.
The news of the Big 12 moving forward with expansion exploration came just hours after the Pac-12 announced its plan to “stand pat” rather than expand.
“Right now, our complete focus is to make the Big 12 as strong as it can possibly be,” Hocutt told the Avalanche-Journal. “And I expect that Texas Tech will play a leadership role in that. We’re going to continue to be part of the power-five structure in college athletics.”
With the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten entering into an alliance that binds those three power conferences together — at least philosophically and perhaps even as voting partners — and with the SEC doing the powerhouse football thing in the southeast, the eight remaining Big 12 schools have some decisions to make.
From the day Oklahoma and Texas announced their plans to move to the SEC, the talk in the Big 12 has been about the remaining eight staying strong and loyal and seeing what options they might have next.
While it may seem on the surface like their hand has been forced and that expansion and salvaging some kind of TV deal for its future survival is the conference’s only move, that may not be the case for at least the next three to four years.
Remember, as things currently stand, OU and UT are not planning on leaving the Big 12 until the grant of rights agreement expires in 2025. That would give all 10 current Big 12 schools four more years of solid financial footing.
It’s important to remember that simply putting together a committee does not mean that expansion is inevitable. And it’s certainly not imminent. After all, the Pac-12 just proved that in a matter of a few days.
And while Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said Thursday that the conference had no plans to expand, it is also important to remember that, in today’s wild times, that plan is more of a “that’s how we feel right now” sort of thing rather than an “it’s etched in stone forever” deal.
Things change. They always have. Things change often in college athletics these days. More so than ever before.
Best to be ready, or at least ready for Round 2 after getting blindsided the first time around.
According to the Avalanche-Journal report, the Big 12’s expansion committee is slated to meet Friday morning before a round of “in-person meetings next week involving Big 12 athletic directors and media and television consultants.”
“We’re continually talking to (Big 12) commissioner (Bob) Bowlsby as well as Oliver Luck,” Hocutt said in the story. “(We) feel very fortunate to have Oliver engaged in our con-versations in helping us navigate the waters, as well.
“There is a lot of interest in the Big 12 Conference," he added. “There is a lot of interest for people to be associated with us, to join with us. So we will take our time, be diligent and make sure we make the right strategic decisions for the long-term fu-ture.”
Realignment Today: All eyes on the Pac-12 for the rest of the week, even if the conference deciding to expand is highly unlikely
From the moment Oklahoma and Texas first announced that they were leaving the Big 12 Conference for the greener bank accounts, I mean pastures, of the SEC, a huge chunk of the Kansas fan base immediately put its focus on KU’s chances of joining the Big Ten.
While that may still be the most desired outcome — if it’s even possible — it’s another of the remaining power five conferences that bears watching this week.
Shortly after yesterday’s groundbreaking announcement of the alliance between the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff told multiple media outlets that the Pac-12 would announce by the end of the week whether it intends to expand.
The fact that there’s such a quick turnaround on that answer leads me to believe that we’re simply waiting for a no.
But in these uncertain times, the mere fact that one of the conferences out there that could provide a lifeline to at least some of the remaining eight Big 12 schools who have no idea what their future holds means it’s worth tracking.
Shortly before the newly announced three-way alliance became a thing, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Kliavkoff met to discuss the current landscape of college athletics. The hope then, among fans of the Big 12, was that those two conferences would form some kind of partnership. It never happened. And now the Big 12 has been left out of the alliance altogether.
Still, Kliavkoff seems like a leader who has his head on straight and he also appears to be genuinely exploring all kinds of options for the good of the Pac-12, possible expansion being one of them.
Earlier this month, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the following:
“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."
As already mentioned, the smart money this week is on hearing that the Pac-12 has no intention of adding any schools to its conference at this time. Saying anything else would seem to run counter to the whole point of announcing the big alliance on Tuesday.
But just because the Pac-12 says no today — if that’s in fact how it goes down — does not mean it is etched in stone forever and can never change. Same goes for the Big Ten or the ACC, for that matter.
If we’ve learned anything during the past decade, and, more specifically in the past couple of years and months, it’s that things are ever-changing in the world of college athletics and today’s stability is only as good as tomorrow’s actions.
Kansas to the Pac-12 remains way far down on my list of likely outcomes for the Jayhawks when all of this is settled. But it certainly doesn’t hurt any of the Big 12 schools searching for hope to know that at least one of the power conferences is entertaining the idea of expansion as we speak.
Realignment Today: Why KU remaining patient (for now) is the right move as the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 formally announce new alliance
Updated at 3:27 p.m.
Commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 joined together on Tuesday to formally announce an alliance between their three power conferences.
While doing so, they made sure to point out that they’re rooting for the Big 12 Conference and emphasized that a thriving Big 12 is good for college athletics and the power conference landscape as a whole.
Not so good that they would want to include the remaining eight schools in the suddenly-on-life-support Big 12 in the alliance, mind you, but good.
In addition, the ACC’s Jim Phillips, the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren and George Kliavkoff of the Pac-12 all expressed admiration and confidence in Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and at least one of them, Phillips, said they all were willing to do whatever they could to help the Big 12.
Again, everything but securing its future by including the Big 12 schools left hanging by Oklahoma and Texas in the groundbreaking alliance, which, Warren said, was done in part to bring stability to college athletics.
That may well be true in those three conferences and with the SEC. But things remain anything but stable in Big 12 country.
The whole thing reeked of an awkward break-up, with one person saying really, really nice things about the person they’re dumping, first, to lessen the blow of the break-up, but, more importantly, to make themselves feel better about what they’re doing.
The details of the alliance remain a work in progress. Heck, there’s not even a contract, and Kliavkoff said there does not need to be.
That sounds like it’ll go well down the road.
At the center of it all, though, is the group’s belief that there will be scheduling advantages that lead to more television dollars, a shared belief that's important to preserve the core values that have always existed in college athletics and the idea that academics should remain a key part of the puzzle.
They didn’t come right out and say that some of those things don’t seem to matter as much in the SEC anymore, but you weren’t alone if you read into it that way.
It’s unclear today how any of this might impact Kansas and the remaining eight schools in the Big 12.
Things continue to look bleak in terms of the conference surviving as the power conference that we have known it to be for the past couple of decades.
And those eight schools whose futures hang in the balance have very different paths forward. Some, like KU, may be best served by remaining patient and seeing how things play out for the next year or two or four.
Others, like Kansas State, may have to be a little more aggressive, both from the perspective of self-preservation and in saving what they can of the Big 12 Conference.
That’s why you’re hearing K-State AD Gene Taylor offer up his thoughts and hopes for K-State’s future and also why you’re not hearing much of anything coming from KU.
It’s not because the Kansas administration — and, remember, this whole thing will play out at the university and athletic department levels — is sitting on its hands and carrying on like it’s business as usual. Conversations are being had. Strategies are being considered. And there seems to be a strong and sincere confidence that KU will be fine — whatever that may mean — when all of this is settled.
You don’t have to like it, but it is a part of their strategy. And it’s probably a smart move.
If KU is going to land somewhere other than a revamped Big 12 Conference in the near future, it is not going to get there by rushing into an agreement now with schools that either aren’t, have not been or will not be power five type programs.
This has to be attacked from the long-range approach, not from what makes you feel safe and secure in the present.
Let’s take every KU fan’s biggest dream of seeing the school land in the Big Ten as an example.
It does not appear that there is anything concrete happening there at the moment. Nor has there been. That does not mean that things could not change if — or is it when? — the Big Ten decides to expand sometime in the future.
If KU were to lead the charge or even just throw its full support behind inviting new schools into the revamped Big 12, it could find itself locked into an agreement (like the soon-to-expire granting of rights deal) that extends for a decade or longer.
That would backfire big time if, in three or four years, the Big Ten came to KU and said, ‘Hey, you want in?’
The answer then would still be yes, but there would be exit fees and a big mess to work through to make it happen, much like the situation you’re seeing with Oklahoma and Texas today.
It might not be a popular approach among the fans, but waiting patiently, keeping all of your options open and, most importantly, not locking yourself into anything concrete for at least the next year or two seems like the smartest plan of attack for KU at this point.
That all changes if the Big Ten, or even the ACC, were to come to KU in three months with a formal invitation to join. But short of that happening, remaining fluid is the best move.
Realignment Today: As reports surface of a power conference alliance moving forward, at least one of those conferences remains open to expansion
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.”
Realignment Today: Alliance chatter between ACC, Big Ten & Pac-12 brings potentially scary times for Big 12
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.
Realignment Today: U.S. Senator from Kansas calls on Department of Justice to investigate ESPN’s role in conference realignment
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.
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.