Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chaos avoidance FTW

So apparently there was some realignment-related stuff that happened in the past couple days while I was off the grid. A timeline/graph of events and my corresponding confidence in the future of college football (on a scale of 1-10):

I'm not sure who deserves the credit -- more than anything, it was Texas' epic greed that led to both the threat and end of expansion-aganza -- but I was incredibly relieved and had that warm-and-fuzzy feeling come over me as I came to the realization Thursday that college football won't be some sort of fustercluck of weird conference-like conglomerations in 2013. I like my traditions and I like my lawn child-free, damn it.

I'm still deeply concerned about the long-term stability of both the Big 12 and the Big East, but my hope is that everybody has learned enough from the past 15 months to figure out (either through exit fees or binding TV contracts or whatever) a way to ensure something other than an annual game of insane musical chairs.

Back to the Texas thing for a moment: Whether or not you wanted Texas in the Pac-whatever, the fact of the matter is that the Longhorn Network is so toxic (in terms of UT-specific financial benefits) that nobody wants any part of it. A little background:
The Pac-12 decided it won't expand further late Tuesday because commissioner Larry Scott failed to get assurance that Texas would back an equal revenue sharing plan if the league added the Longhorns, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, a source with direct knowledge told

Scott didn't endorse expansion to the league's presidents and chancellors, the source said.
To be fair, I don't blame Texas for taking advantage of a planet-sized fan/revenue base -- the concept of the Longhorn Network is a good one for the school itself -- but DeLoss Dodds basically turned the Big 12 into a failed marriage, with one side laughably abusive and the other pathetically submissive. He and the people in power at UT were well aware last offseason (when the Big 12 was already in danger) that the Baylors and Texas Techs of the world were more than happy to orbit around the monstrosity that is Texas athletics, leeching off the financial windfall, and they took advantage of it through a ridiculously lopsided financial arrangement. And then they tacked on the Longhorn Network to further skew the hierarchy without really considering the effects on the conference and the other relevant parts of it (specifically Oklahoma and Texas A&M). There probably was no need to consider the secondary effects when the worst-case-scenario alternatives were "football independence" and "Pac-16 with similarly sweet revenue deal."

UT had all the leverage the entire time in negotiations with both the Big 12 and the Pac-12, and that was probably a pretty awesome position to be in (there's a reason people in Texas think Texas is so awesome). The Pac-12 didn't really want Oklahoma and Oklahoma State without getting Texas too, so UT basically forced Larry Scott to choose between giving Texas a LHN-related financial advantage and taking the two schools that were only wanted as part of a four-team group. Neither one of those things happened, so Texas is right back where it started and didn't really lose anything.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, was like "WTF" and called for Dan Beebe's head on a stick because IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT:
The Oklahoman reported that the University of Oklahoma would only commit to staying in the Big 12 if the conference added regulations on ESPN's Longhorn Network and ousted Beebe as commissioner.

That was from Wednesday night. This is from Thursday night:

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is out after the conference nearly collapsed for the second time in just over a year. In a statement, the Big 12 said its board of directors and Beebe reached a "mutual agreement" for Beebe to leave the job immediately.

Yes, if by "mutual" you mean "GTFO."

The last 15 months were an unmitigated disaster for the Big 12, and nothing Beebe did helped in any way. The "hey you guys should totally stick around so here's some extra money" bribe last offseason that led to the aforementioned Big 12 revenue hierarchy was both short-sighted and stupid. There's a reason every stable conference splits its money equally. And when Texas announced it'd be showing high school games and highlights on the LHN, everybody who wasn't showering in burnt-orange money was realizing that this would be a problem and probably should have been nipped in the bud by somebody with authority at the Big 12 ... somebody like Dan Beebe.

Really, all you need to know is that in the 48 hours the Big 12 spent on the brink of obliteration, all the "state of the Big 12" statements came from DeLoss Dodds. Beebe was a puppet; I'm not sure he had any choice, but I'm glad Oklahoma put its foot down hard and demanded some equality for the benefit of everybody. Here's where things stand right now:

The Big 12's presidents pledged to grant their television rights to the conference for six years, Oklahoma president David Boren said at a news conference on Thursday.

No contracts had been signed yet in part because some schools must get the approval of their governing boards, league spokesman Bob Burda said.

The Big 12 splits revenue from its Fox Sports contract evenly, but only half of the money from its top-tier deal with ABC/ESPN goes into equal shares. The rest is weighted toward the programs that play on the network more frequently.

Boren said all nine remaining schools -- except for Texas A&M -- "agreed" to give a six-year grant of their first- and second-tier television rights to the Big 12. That means that all revenue from the top television games -- shown currently on networks owned by ABC/ESPN and Fox -- would continue to go to the Big 12 even if a school bolts to another league.

Translation: Everyone (including Texas) is committing to share revenue equally and stay in the Big 12 for at least the next six years. This is muy bueno for stability.

Even Texas is realizing that it's probably best for everybody if the other eight/nine/whatever schools in the conference aren't constantly looking to bolt -- but NOBODY TOUCH OUR GOLD:

Texas President William Powers declared Wednesday that the Longhorns - who receive more media money than other members of the Big 12 - are open to a new revenue-sharing model and have already suggested that top-level television and cable money be shared equally.

What's not on the table is the money from Texas' 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network, which has been blamed in large part for Texas A&M's pending departure from the Big 12.

"That's never been in play, that's not in play," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said.

Fortunately, that doesn't appear to be an issue. The should-be-shared money will be shared equally and everyone (except Texas A&M, obviously) will be happy. The Big 12 -- in some form -- will survive for at least the foreseeable future

"In some form" refers to the uncertainty of what's next. There's no way the conference wants to stay at nine teams; the only question is whether there are three worthwhile additions (12 teams and a conference championship game would be ideal) or just one, most likely BYU.

Quick side note: Rather than going after BYU (which numerous sources have reported as the frontrunner for an invite), why not try to steal TCU away from the Big East? TCU would be a football upgrade and would have an orgasm at the chance to join the Texas Elite Club and get in a BCS conference that doesn't consist entirely of schools two time zones away. Seems like a win-win situation, yes?

Thank God for Texas affiliate (which is totally unbiased, BTW) and its up-to-the-minute updates/propaganda on the Big 12's status:

According to Chip Brown of, BYU isn't eagerly rushing in to sell itself to the Big 12 and now expansion targets have turned to Big East-bound TCU.

"While BYU has been the popular thought as a replacement for Texas A&M, a key source close to the situation says BYU may no longer be interested in joining the Big 12 because of the recent instability," Brown wrote.

I have no idea why BYU thinks it'd be better off staying out of even an unstable Big 12 -- independence is always an option down the road -- but TCU makes a lot of sense in every way.

And that brings us to the Big East. If the conferences were women, the Big Ten would be Jessica Alba, the SEC would be Hayden Panettiere, the Pac-12 would be Jessica Biel, the ACC would be your wife, the Big 12 would be the sometimes-attractive-but-mostly-weird-and-unstable Avril Lavigne and the Big East would be a slumpbuster. The drop-off is steep.

With the ACC going renegade and stealing two of the Big East's three best all-around schools -- Pitt and Syracuse, in case you forgot -- the rest hardly seemed worth keeping together. West Virginia was gone to the SEC (or wanted to be), Rutgers and UConn were gone to the ACC and implosion was imminent. But when the Pac-12 did us all a favor and told Texas to suck it, everything stopped.

Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said all the members of his conference are committed to staying together.

The presidents and athletic directors from the Big East football schools met for three hours at a New York hotel Tuesday. Marinatto said each member pledged to remain in the conference and the league is aggressively searching for replacements for Pittsburgh and Syracuse. He said the non-football members also are on board.

Whether that's true or not is a matter of debate, but less than 24 hours later, East Carolina submitted an application; it's unclear if the Big East will approve it or wait to hear from the service academies, which collectively represent the first tier of choices. Central Florida -- which, IMO, should be at the top of the list because of its size, Orlando location and new stadium -- is reportedly right there with ECU as a secondary choice.

Whenever Pitt and Syracuse end up leaving (2014-15 is the hypothetical target, but it'll probably be a lot sooner), the Big East will have seven football-playing members: the current six and TCU. I wouldn't be shocked if all five of the aforementioned schools get picked up. Villanova has also been trying to move up from I-AA for a while and would be a suitable (albeit not very competitive at first) addition if, for example, Air Force decided to stick it out in the Mountain West.

One potential caveat buried in the story on the Big East's presidents:
A source with direct knowledge of the meeting told's Andy Katz that Connecticut didn't commit to remain in the Big East and is still actively pursuing membership in the ACC.
Interesting. The question isn't so much whether UConn gets plucked but whether UConn and somebody else (probably Rutgers) bail, which would leave the Big East back at "is this worth saving" status and potentially lead to another week of realignment stupidity. FWIW, most reports thus far have said that the ACC will only consider additional expansion if it can bring in Notre Dame, which isn't happening in a million years. So the Big East is alive and kickin' and at least trying to keep itself relevant. The automatic BCS bid is probably gone when that contract runs out in 2014, but that's a relatively minor issue compared with survival.

So ... there are still six major conferences (for now). This is probably a good thing. And I've changed course from a few days ago, when I said this:
Commence superconferences. At some point in the very near future, the Big East and Big 12 will be historical footnotes and the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-whatever will have some unreasonably large number of teams held together by little other than a conference name. They will each negotiate $100 quadrillion TV deals, require two BCS bids and possibly set some sort of playoff in motion.
Now that we've gone to the brink and NOT crossed the uncrossable line, I'm not sure the superconference thing is such an inevitability (maybe a probability, but not an inevitability). The fantasy of some sort of eight- or 16-team playoff is what's driving a lot of that talk, but there are soooo many steps in between those two things (consensus among BCS-conference presidents and commissioners, an Earth-shattering break from the NCAA that would change college sports forever, the requisite lawsuits, etc.) that are being ignored so the talking heads can say "SUPERCONFERENCES PLAYOFF NOM NOM." The Big East is and will continue to be in danger because it's bordering on BCS outlier and makes something like 1/20 of what the Big Ten makes in TV money; the others are all doing fine financially, and since the Pac-12 doesn't want Oklahoma without Texas (and Texas doesn't wanna leave the Big 12 if it'll have to give up some of its LHN revenue), there's somewhat of a stalemate that will hopefully make everybody pause and realize how stupid the last week has been in the big picture.

In summary: Yay, even if it's only a temporary yay. I'll gladly take short-term (and the chance for long-term) stability and adherence to tradition over immediate lunacy.


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