Why KU is in better shape during this round of conference realignment than in years past


Overall view during the game against Indiana State Saturday afternoon at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 31, 2019.

Overall view during the game against Indiana State Saturday afternoon at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 31, 2019. by Mike Gunnoe

Conference realignment has once again reared its ugly and oh-so-lucrative head, but this time the University of Kansas appears to be in better shape than in the past.

That’s not to say there won’t be some restless nights or uneasy times, but thanks to the recent move that triggered this round — UCLA and USC going to the Big Ten of all places — both KU and the Big 12 seem to be on much more solid ground than they were during the chaos of previous rounds of realignment.

Here’s why.

As things look today, KU’s two most likely options in the forthcoming Power 2 era of college athletics are, in no particular order, to stay in a suddenly-strengthened Big 12 Conference or become one of the last schools snatched up by the Big Ten.

There are legitimate reasons why each outcome is the more likely outcome for the Jayhawks, and KU still has plenty of work to do to get its house in order (yes, we're talking facilities and football stadium here) to continue to be a strong and attractive partner. But if that’s where KU lands when all of this is finished — if it ever is — then either option winds up being a win.

There’s no disputing that landing in the mega-millions world of the Big Ten is the better option financially. The schools that wind up there or in the SEC — be it with 16 in each conference or as many as 20 or 24 — will essentially be holding a lottery ticket that likely will be worth billions of dollars over the next couple of decades and worth even more in terms of stability.

Those two conferences are where everyone wants to be, and that’s why this thing is only going to get crazier.

But if Kansas stays in the Big 12, and if the Big 12 acts quickly and boldly to expand its membership with the best of the rest in the Pac-12, KU’s current conference suddenly winds up as the clear third-best option. And it’s probably not even close.

The ACC and Pac-12 fall way behind — if they don’t disappear altogether — and being in that third slot with the kind of guaranteed TV money that’s in the ballpark of at least what they’re used to bringing in today is a heck of a lot better than watching those dollars disappear and trying to figure out how to run your athletic department without them.

KU’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is $110 million. Without the $40.6 million haul from the conference’s television rights deals, which is already 17% higher than the Pac-12’s and nearly 20% higher than the ACC’s, you’re looking a mid-major budget in a hurry.

The key to the Big 12 solidifying that No. 3 spot — for both financial gain and continued prime time exposure —is for the conference to act quickly and decisively.

Reports have surfaced that tie Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah to the Big 12. One such report, from Jason Scheer, who covers Arizona for the 247 Sports network, even indicated that that foursome would be meeting with Big 12 officials on Tuesday for “significant discussions.”

That’s acting fast. And smart. And if history has taught us anything with realignment, it’s that these types of conversations can turn into action quickly. The Big 12 moving to add those four programs not only would bolster the conference’s cache, but it also could be a final blow to the Pac-12. And getting rid of the Pac-12 on the power grid eliminates at least one conference from the competition of ESPN's and FOX's football television dollars.

Think of it this way: The Pac-12 just watched USC and UCLA do the equivalent of what Oklahoma and Texas did to the Big 12 just one year ago, but was left without the same kind of nationwide appeal to pick up the pieces and move forward. Pac-12 officials are no doubt looking at all of their options. But, at least as of today, those options appear to be both severely limited and lacking juice.

As for the Big Ten angle here, that conference appears to be locked in on seeing what Notre Dame will do before it makes any other moves.

Who knows when that will come? But it seems as if this latest round of realignment, for better or worse, will force Notre Dame into some kind of long-term and complete conference commitment if for no other reason than the fear of being left out because of its stubborn pride.

The fact remains that if the Big Ten ever decides to extend an invitation to KU, the powers that be at Kansas have to accept it and never look back. The money and stability the Big Ten can offer is just too great to turn down.

However, while many Jayhawks are still holding out hope that a Big Ten invitation is still on the horizon, those same people should be celebrating and supporting whatever moves the Big 12 makes in the meantime because a strong Big 12 merely strengthens KU's chances at survival.

None of this is fun. It all further contributes to the deterioration of college athletics as we once knew it and that’s a drag.

But this is no time for nostalgia or burying one’s head in the stand. This is a time to seek survival, and, as strange as it may seem, the tables finally appear to have turned in the Big 12’s favor — and therefore KU’s, as well — in that department.

Wild times get wilder.


Rodney Crain 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The B12 expanding to 16 teams is the only option here. Az, ASU, CO and Utah would be fine, but none of those have huge media markets. At least we could move up to be the 3rd best confernce option.

It is highly unlikely the B10 is interested in KU. The football stadium is substandard. The program is a few years from being respectful too.

ND is the key, if they grab a golden B10 ticket, it might trigger alot of quick moves.

Dale Rogers 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Arizona and Arizona State bringing in markets of metro Phoenix (5 million) plus metro Tucson (1 million) plus the rest of Arizona is nothing to sneeze at.

Rodney Crain 2 months, 3 weeks ago

As I said Az is fine, but it is not slated for growth. With no end of the drought in sight living in a desert is not ideal. In fact there are a lot of empty homes and office buildings. They aimed for growth that just has not happened. I had a friend looking for a home there to retire in. He had a lot of options, but when he checked on water projections, he decided not to move there. 75 in March is great but 120 during the summer with hazy water projections for the next 20 years scared him off.

Micky Baker 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Arizona did grow from 2010 to 2020 by about 760,000 people which is a little less than 12% growth. Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada all had more than 10% growth in population. That doesn't mean that that automatically means that they're going to be fans of those college programs in those states, but the advertising revenues will go up at those rates. Utah is probably one of the better fits to join with BYU because of that rivalry. The Oregon/Oregon State rivalry might be beneficial and the Washington/Oregon Rivalry. I am not sure about the Colorado rivalries since they departed from the Big 12. Colorado would be beneficial for teams in the Big 12 now. Boulder is pretty close to Denver and there is a lot of alumni in Denver. I would agree with the four you listed as the first to be offered, but I wouldn't want to burn bridges with the Oregon and Washington schools. The other teams that would remain in the PAC12 would be in a bad situation and would be seeking new homes if the Big 12 expands to 16 teams with the schools you listed. The PAC12 would be whittled down to just 6 teams. I don't think it would be a bad deal to shoot for 20 by offering the first 4 teams as a package deal and the second 4 teams as a package deal to get into a conference that could end up with 20 schools. If the latter does happen the 2 teams leftover from the PAC12 could go to the Mountain West. The markets are state wide for the schools, and if you could both teams from Washington and both from Oregon, that would add value to our Conference.

With all that said, The University of Kansas needs to get the ball rolling on either building a new stadium or getting the renovations to Memorial Stadium done to include an increase in capacity to hold more fans. Some policy changes might work as well, such as permanently allowing the sales of beer and other liquors at the stadium and telling people that if they leave at halftime, they cannot reenter.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Why CU and Utah vs Washington, Oregon, cal/Stanford?

Brian Skelly 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Because UW, Oregon, and the Cal/Stanford combo would look at the Big 12 as it's 2nd choice.

The Arizona schools and Utes and Buffs aren't going to be offered to join the Big 10, likely ever. The lifeline from the Big 12 has percolated about in previous rounds of this realignment stuff, so it's probably a better fit from the get go.

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Remember that the state of California basically tried to ban travel to states with different values, Kansas included. I think that this was about bathroom laws and trans athletes. Plus, Stanford scoffed at joining a league that included Baptist Baylor, hard to imagine they'd be interested now that BYU is also going to be in the mix.

Rae Bricil 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"different values" is a religious speak for bigotry and prejudice. the same speak that has been used around the world to justify slavery and other forms of oppression and division.

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I guess the travel ban doesn't matter anymore though seeing as how UCLA is going to be joining the B1G and Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio were also on the banned list

Benny Armstrong 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I looked into this same issue this morning because I was trying to understand how UCLA will make this work. I think the only way around it is that the bill and the supporting articles I read said that public money cannot be spent on travel to these states, so that means you just have to use private funds. Typically the athletic departments at schools are their own business entity separate from the university and funded in part through public funds, but the bulk of their funding comes from media rights and private donations, so they shouldn't have any problems funding travel without using state dollars.

Like most issues, there is a public show of force about some position or law and then quietly there are loopholes that allow for the activity to continue through very specific means. The move to the Big10 wouldn't have been cleared if that law was actually an obstacle for them to travel to away games at several of their new conference members.

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 3 weeks ago

there's an obvious cynicism to the justification that public funds can't be used for travel to other states, but they can be used to pay the salaries of the people who are scheduling the travel and participating in the travel and to pay for the salary of the person who's job it is to raise private funds to pay for the travel.

Brian Skelly 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Unless the Big 12 can convince ESPN -- doubtful, but who knows -- to convert the Longhorn Network into the Big 12 network once UT goes to the SEC (which already has it's own tier 3 network), I don't know / see how you go past 16 teams -- in adding the ones being talked about.

Of course, if that happens, maybe ESPN sees the sense plopping that down in many many more markets -- including some good ones -- it might see the sense of it. Of course it'll more likely shut it down.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Is the mountain west the first choice?

I think it would be fun to leave the buffaloes hanging out on their left coast culture of choice.

Andy Godwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Clearly college football drives the bus. It will be interesting to see when major college football programs finally breaks off from the NCAA oversight and all conference alignments and just becomes a semi-professional league. Then the NCAA and college ADs can oversee the other college sports (at least until men’s basketball reassess its position).

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Seems like we're moving towards three mega conferences: with two big money conferences. While the Big 12 won't be one of the big money conferences, it can be a very solid medium money and fan's conference with regional games that make sense.

Pick off Colorado, Arizona, Utah and add South Florida. Forget ASU for now.

In 10 years or less, Oregon, Washington, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, Miami and Clemson will be in either the SEC or Big10. The Big 12 (hopefully under a new name) can then pick up another round of four ACC teams and land at 20 to solidify its east coast presence.

Not as good financially as being in the B10 but probably be more fun from a fan standpoint (who wants to see KU football terrible forever) and still be in a mega conference.

Robert Brock 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The B1G is always Waiting For Godot (Notre Dame).

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I didn't know that Godot looked like Quasimodo

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Micky - Virtually any school would add revenue, but they don’t add value unless the additional revenue is in excess of $50M. That was the reason why the conference didn’t expand in the past.

Brett McCabe 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Jonathan, why don't you enroll at USC or UCLA, graduate and then go on their sports boards to discuss the political implications of those schools moving to a conference that we aren't in. MAGA, always on the lookout for a way to preach their bigoted/racist ideology - even when it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. Let us not worry about California statutes as they relate to a private university (USC) and one of their public universities. At least not here.

Back to the issue at hand, another good reason that we might be in a better position is that the millionaire in charge of the AD right now seems to be quite a bit more competent than the last two idiot millionaires that we hired who did literally everything wrong.

We either arrange for a full merger of the two conferences or Stanford will go to the Big 10, as will Oregon and Washington. Those are the three biggest brands remaining. Arizona is next. Cal is a wild card. If we could sweep in the leftovers, we'd still have a solid but nonsensical conference. Let us hope that Goff can move us as the last team into the Big 10. By far the best outcome for us.

Micky Baker 2 months, 3 weeks ago

If you don't want to talk politics here, then why would you say something as absurd that MAGA, "always on the lookout for a way to preach their bigoted/racist ideology"? Jonathan said nothing about MAGA. You did. Says more about you than him.

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm confused.

But anyway, I only remembered about the California bill because I read about it on this site,

Benny Armstrong 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Brett, This absolutely has something to do with the issue at hand if a public university is potentially going to play in a conference where the California state legislature has passed a law that bans the use of public funds to travel to certain of the states in that conference. As it turns out, they can use private funds to cover travel expenses so it shouldn't be an issue, but I speak for myself (and others) when I say that I don't think most on this page read what Jonathan said as a political statement, rather just asking a valid question about how this would work in light of the law.

As Micky said, your comment seems to say more about you than it does any other commenters on the board. No one mentioned this until you brought it up.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

“the conference’s television rights deals, which is already 17% higher than the Pac-12’s and nearly 20% higher than the ACC”

Matt - Do the television rights deals all include tier 3? Only tier 1&2?

My understanding is that the Big12 TV rights don’t include tier 3, while they do for the other conferences. While tier 3 doesn’t close the gap, my understanding is that it still is a chunk of $ for KU in particular.

Matt Tait 2 months, 3 weeks ago

You're correct. Tier 1 and 2 only. Tier 3 rights belong with the individual schools, hence The Longhorn Network.

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