By Keith Fletcher
What on earth is that elephant?
There are lots of guesses out there, complete with a multitude of highly-placed, knowledgeable, involved, anonymous sources confirming it all.
Truth is – nobody knows.
Is it the legality, the Baylor factor?
Baylor president Ken Starr, partnered with deep-pocketed alumnus donor Walter Umphrey, have refused to sign away the university’s rights to sue any conference or school for financial damages that may incur Baylor. Other Big 12 schools have apparently done the same. If the Big 12 falls apart as a result of schools leaving, thus voiding the recent 13-year, billion dollar-plus deal with FOX Sports, there would be significant financial damages.
Starr and Umphrey may not be names to raise an eyebrow with some people. Starr was, among other things, the appointed independent counsel that led to President Bill Clinton‘s impeachment. Umphrey, among other things, essentially invented big tobacco litigation and split the fees of a $17.3 billion settlement with the tobacco companies. His name adorns the Baylor Law School, which he ponied up $10 million to help build.
These are not incidental players from the intramural circuit of law making trivial threats.
Is it Texas?
The trend since May of last year is that if it’s good for Texas, it’s bad for everyone else. Texas has pushed its might, culminating with the Longhorn Network, until it became the straw that broke the back of Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M. Texas, whether it likes it or agrees with it or not, must deal with that fact. It’s doubtful that the Longhorns refund any of ESPN’s money, so that means convincing its partner to ease off the high school coverage and the airing of a second football game – both of which were not revealed in the initial unveiling of what the network’s mission statement was about.
Texas has a Good Cop out in this mess. It can stare OU in the face, with any degree of sincerity it chooses, and claim that it can do without high school highlights and a second football game on their network. It’s the 4-letter network, who has flown suspiciously low on the radar as the real demon in this mess, who assumes the blame of pushing all those envelopes. The self-professed “worldwide leader” clearly needs the content to sell a network that has seen desperately minimal public demand.
Texas was the chief architect of the Big 12 economic model, which should have blown up in its face within 10 years. It took 15. If anything the Longhorns do from this point on, seemingly fair and down-the-middle, the network will still have to be figured in. That’s not sound architecture.
If Texas truly wants to keep the Big 12 together, and all of its brass says it does, then the school needs to be ready to give in. Especially if it is assumed that the Longhorn Network gets grandfathered into any future conference deal.
Is there a chance that this whole “exploring our options” thing from OU has been a ruse to leverage Texas for something? Surely not. There are too many honest people with honest intentions at play here.
Is it money?
The math of the new contract the Big 12 is scheduled to enter next year, year one of a Tier Two TV deal with FOX Sports, will have Oklahoma raking in more than $20 million per year – outside of its own Tier Three TV rights.
No one is for sure what the numbers will look like if the Pac-12 expands to 14 or 16 teams and terms of current TV contracts are changed. But, no number cruncher has yet to produce figures significantly more than what OU would make in the Big 12 beginning next year.
And what would the new OU budget look like competing in the Pac-12? They’ll need a plane far more than they need a bus in the Big 12.
By the way, after Missouri’s Friday matchup with Arizona State last week, the Tigers returned home to Columbia at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Take your pick as you space out OU’s athletics calendar throughout the year with volleyball teams, basketball teams and softball teams going to the west coast: pay for the charter and make the kids zombies the next day, or just buy another night of hotel rooms.
Is it the sex appeal of the West Coast conference?
The photo on the front of the “Come Play In The Pac-12″ brochure is a picture of UCLA playing in the Rose Bowl. Saturday, Texas got the full VIP tour and experience in the icon stadium against the team with the iconic gold helmet and cursive blue logo. It’s an appealing brochure.
In the end, the Bruins were less competitive than the Rice Owls, and the stadium was barely half full. Nearly 9,000 more people saw Missouri play the varsity of Western Illinois High (63,420) in Columbia than saw UCLA face 23rd-ranked Texas (54,583) in one of the country’s most revered venues.
There were more fans in Manhattan to see Kansas State play Kent State (50,483 – capacity 50,300) than there were in Tucson to see Arizona battle sixth-ranked Stanford (49,636 – capacity 57,803).
The Big 12 will never have an ocean sunset on its brochure, but in its landlocked borders of pastures and farmland are some of the most envied, passionate football fans in the country.
Maybe Oklahoma likes the idea of playing in a league where there are plenty of empty seats on the road for Sooner fans to fill.
Is it the schools who stand to join if the Big 12 expands?
This may be the life insurance policy to ensure that the Big 12 is stable into the future, as conference-raiding does not appear to have peaked its crescendo. At this juncture, Oklahoma is the most influential school in the Big 12.
One of the many, countless, rumors is that Texas doesn’t want TCU in the Big 12, but the eight others (Texas A&M excluded) in the league do.
Who knows? Despite what you’ve been reading for months from anonymous sources, it’s really only about four or five people who know exactly.
It’s something. It’s been hinted about and postured around for weeks, months, possibly even years. It might be joked about at the end of the meetings; or it may not be brought up until someone writes the book on his death bed.
Monday it takes the stage and finally gets addressed and either reaches an amicable resolution, or the age of 2000 mile wide, three-time-zone conference begins.
- Source: Pac-12 eyes deal for Texas, Oklahoma (espn.go.com)
- Report: Pac-12 eyes deal for Texas, Oklahoma (crawlnet.wordpress.com)
- College Football Rankings: Can the No. 19 Ranked Baylor Bears Win the Big 12? (bleacherreport.com)
- Report: Pac-12 eyes deal for Texas, Oklahoma (espn.go.com)
- Conference realignment all the rage: ACC welcomes Pitt, Syracuse (denverpost.com)