Conference Re-Alignment, Part I: Hangin’ Spurs in the Big 12

In this topic series, Eyes Of TX (along with blog contributors “Keifer Nandez” and John Haynsworth) will assess the rumors flying around on Texas’ potential move to another conference. Since we’ve initially heard the hub-bub flying around, there has been little shared and lots of speculation. We’ll plan to add our own to the mix, starting with why Texas should stay put in the Big 12 Conference today.

The first question is, why would Texas stay or leave the Big 12 conference? Well, that question is easier to answer. Money. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) currently dominates the annual money haul from the major TV networks, splitting $242 million/year in media revenue among its 10 member schools. Compare that to the Big 12 Conference, which splits $78 million/year between its 12 schools, although schools that get more television coverage benefit from that additional revenue stream (i.e. Texas over a school such as Iowa State). And, finally, the Pac-10 Conference which divides its $58 million/year between its 10 institutions. You can see the obvious discrepancies.

Within the Big 12, Texas does bring in the most TV revenue at approximately $12 million annually. But, when compared to every team in the SEC, Texas makes half of their totals. Think about that for a moment. Vanderbilt, long a major football wannabe, makes double what Texas does from TV dollars, and does it without having gone to a bowl game in decades. The standard the SEC has set in media revenue dollars is extremely high.

If you’re a conference commissioner anywhere outside of the southeast United States, you’re desperately searching for a way to even the playing field. Literally. The SEC’s TV contract doesn’t expire for another 15 years – that’s guaranteed, substantial cash flow that even the U.S. government would be jealous of. The Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10, and ACC all face TV contract negotiations after the 2011-2012 season, and that makes time of the essence when it comes to how much money will be left to go around.

Will Texas, or other Big 12 conference members, re-align to help chase down the SEC’s lottery-like dollars? Will other conferences begin their own dedicated television networks to compete? Could we see the evolution of four “super conferences”? To truly understand what options Texas and those other major conferences we’ll take a deeper look from the perspective of the Big 12 (below), as well as the Big 10 and Pac-10 in coming days.

View from the Big 12 Conference
By: Eyes Of TX
There is plenty to be said about the Big 12, and Texas’ role in keeping the conference together. The perspectives below focus on why Texas should stay in the Big 12 Conference, as opposed to leaving for the Big 10 or Pac-10…those will be covered in the coming days from guest bloggers. Let’s dig in to it.

The rivalries.
What makes college football great? The rivalries! The intense hatred of that cross-state school that didn’t let you in or whose team beat yours last year. It’s bragging rights. It’s rub-it-in-your-face, we’re-better-than-you, do-things-your-parents-would-be-ashamed of-to-the-visitors kind of psychological warfare on and off the field. Think about not having the annual Red River Rivalry of Texas v. oklahoma, or the Thanksgiving match-up pitting Texas v. Texas A&M. What about other Big 12 rivalries – Kansas v. Missouri, Nebraska v. oklahoma, oklahoma v. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech v. whoever they choose to play that week? Rivalries are key to the passion and excitement of the game. If those long-term rivalries disappeared, the potential money that’s goes with them is gone too. ABC and ESPN coverage of some of those rivalry games, for example, brings in substantial media revenue to those schools, and drives visibility for the conference as a whole. To lose that income would be an epic failure on the part of the conference athletic directors.

Keep Texas athletes (hopefully) in Texas.
Every year, there are approximately 370+ student athletes at the high school level who have enough talent to play football at the next level. Right now, Mack Brown and his staff can take approximately 20-25 of those kids each spring. That means, a large number of those in-state athletes look elsewhere in the state, or look beyond Texas’ borders to play college ball. It’s natural you’ll lose some kids to other powerhouse schools, but many of them grow up idolizing local institutions.

If Texas were to join another conference, they potentially open up the recruiting trails in to their own backyard. So, instead of competing head-to-head with oklahoma for Adrian Peterson’s talents, for example, Texas might have also had to fend off a USC or an Ohio State. Given Brown’s focus on getting talented in-state kids, there is little doubt he’d want to make it open season for other major conference schools to come calling. In other words, he’ll continue to try and win recruiting battles over oklahoma and Texas A&M, rather than teams in the Big 10 and Pac-10 conferences as well.

As Johnny Cash says, “I’ve been everywhere, man…”
Texas is a big state, and the Big 12 Conference as a whole covers a lot of geography, with teams in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado. That’s basically the bread basket of the entire United States. Right now, Texas plays in the Big 12’s South division, which means every year, it plays at least 5 games (oklahoma, Oklahoma state, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Texas A&M) between the Texas and Oklahoma state lines. In addition, they swap in two North division opponents each year from the other remaining Big 12 teams. That means, Texas’ season schedule (excluding non-conference games, which are primarily hosted in Austin anyway) keeps the team relatively close to home and in the television markets where Texas Longhorn interest (and viewership) is high.

By moving to the Big 10 or Pac-10, Texas increases its travel at least five-fold. Trips to Seattle to play Washington, or to University Park, Pennsylvania, to play Penn State? Those are long flights with a lot of dollar signs attached. And, as an athletic director, you want to see dollars coming in, not going out the door. While the draw of those “new” in-conference games might draw additional TV dollars, it might not benefit any of the schools involved as much as one might think when expenses are taken in to consideration.

The Texas brand.
Let’s not forget what Deloss Dodds has done in his time as Texas’ athletic director. He’s built the UT athletic department, especially men’s athletics, in to a dominant program across all major NCAA sports – football, baseball, basketball, tennis, swimming & diving, etc. And, the women’s athletics programs benefit from that success as well. In essence, Dodds has helped make Texas in to a literal money-making machine for the city and the university. In fact, the football team alone brings in enough money to support every other sports team (men’s or women’s) at the university – and it sustains itself. Dodds has worked his business magic with advertisers, donors, and sponsors to make the Texas experience and brand stand out.

What happens if Texas loses its hold on the brand and its market by moving to another conference? In other words, Texas has a good thing going in the Big 12 conference: they get the most TV coverage of any team, they have the best brand and most advertising dollars incoming, and (admittedly or not) they help dictate the direction of the conference – what’s to keep them from saying, “We like the status quo because it benefits us the most?”

Eyes of TX’s conclusion? Simple. Could Texas make a move? Sure. Would they? No, not unless the Big 12 pantry gets raided in a big way. If other teams begin making a move, expect Texas to pick up discussions with other conferences to play catch-up – and, hopefully it won’t be too late. The worst case scenario for Texas is to end up in a conference that fills gaps with the likes of a Rice, Houston, SMU or UTEP. Honestly, no one wants to see the Southwest Conference again.

More perspectives to come tomorrow (Big 10) and Sunday (Pac-10) – stay tuned for more, or share your thoughts on what conference Texas should end up leaving or joining!


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Filed under Aggies, Big 12, Cornhuskers, Cowboys, Longhorns, NCAA Football, Red Raiders, Sooners, Tigers

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