Friday, September 23, 2011

Don't Buy What the Big 12 is Selling

Sometime during the first break-up of the Big 12 in 2010, just as the walls were crumbling down around the conference, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, mostly for political purposes, came together to "save" the conference from implosion. As the medicine for the ailing conference Commissioner Dan Beebe was able to negotiate a promised television deal and allowed Texas their own Longhorn Network as part of the revamped financial structure for the conference.

Fast forward 15 months and the same problems that plagued the league in June 2010 are still causing problems. In 2010, after a last minute deal involving a wide array of business interests both inside and outside the Big 12 conference, we heard Joe Castigliano, Oklahoma Athletic Director tell the world, "We’re going forward with the belief that we’ll stay together. Probably argue that this group will be closer than it’s ever been, but time will tell. The conference will examine the contractual relationships that would bind us together.”

Later, to show the newfound unity of the reduced Big 12, we learned that the exit fees for leaving would now be even higher as proof that the conference was on solid footing.

As the Big 12 negotiates their new strategy for saving the conference just more than a year later, we are, once again being told that the new terms of the deal will create stability by enforcing even stricter terms on teams leaving. Yahoo reports that the remaining nine teams in the conference have "'agreed' to give a six-year grant of their first- and second-tier television rights to the Big 12 for the next six years. That means 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."

Um, excuse me? Isn't this what we were told last year? Weren't we told in 2010 that the teams remaining had agreed on a  deal that would handcuff the teams together for at least 6 more years? Yeah, to quote Dr. Phil "how'd that work out for ya Big 12?"

If they stay together, good for them, it keeps regional rivalries somewhat intact. Strong conferences are good for college football. Unstable conferences? Well, we see what that does, turns the whole world of college athletics upside down.

But anyone who thinks that these new "handcuffs" are going to keep the league stable are kidding themselves. You cannot make people happy by obligating them to a failing relationship.

If a man is running around having affairs and his wife discovers the affair, can he force her to stay with him simply by making leaving unattractive? Sure. But will she be happy while doing so? Absolutely not! More importantly, if part of the terms that he offers her for staying include allowing him to continue the affairs, how likely is she to say "wow, thank you so much for staying, please, have as many affairs as you like!"? Not likely at all to say such a thing.

Yet, here the Big 12 is telling the world that they have resolved their differences and will now be stronger than ever. And we are supposed to believe this story? Haven't we heard this all before? Of course we have.

The real root of the problem is the root that almost tore the conference apart in 2010; it is the root that caused Texas A&M to bolt for the SEC; it is the root that caused Oklahoma to look for a new conference to call home. The root is simple, one school receives a proportionally larger share than any other in the conference.

Today, Texas, magnanimous as ever, agreed to share in tier 1 and tier 2 television rights without the weighted share that they are currently receiving. Oklahoma also agreed to a change in this policy which will cost them some money.

What was Texas unwilling to compromise on? Yep, The Longhorn Network. On Thursday, Deloss Dodds, Texas Athletic Director, said that the network is non-negotiable.

And therein will lay the future crumbling of the Big 12. As other schools find out that there is very little interest in their own individual networks and that there is no way for them to ever make up the difference in the monetary gap, they will get antsy. And, there will be another fracture in the conference. The next time may be the final death knell of the conference.

What about that "handcuff" that will tie the teams together for 6 more years? Simple. The deal will say that the conference will retain the rights to the television monies of schools for the entirety of the contract. So how will the schools get around this handcuff? Disband the conference. You cannot pay money to a conference that does not exist. POOF, problem solved.

As long as Texas gets their own special deals, the Big 12 is doomed to fail. As Castiglione said after the near break-up in 2010, time will tell.
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