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