I think so, but it will take more vision than we are used to seeing from the current Big 12 leadership.
I hope you don’t mind the “marriage” analogy, which I plan to stretch to its limits (and beyond!) in this post. Frankly, I see the Big 12 as being like a marriage where the spouses don’t actively despise each other, but can’t really remember why they wanted to be together in the first place. They are aware that they have some traits that are hurtful to the union, and intend to correct them in the next marriage.
The Big 12 is not alone in this arrangement. In college football, there are three really tight, well knit conferences- the SEC, the Big 10, and the Pac-10. Although each is unique in character, they all share the bond of a unified vision and a commitment to their conferences. The ACC is a little weaker (although basketball is a great tie there), and the Big East is notably weaker. If there is a super-conference shakedown, it will be centered on the SEC, Pac-10, and Big 10, and will scavenge the remaining BCS conferences. Good news for Vandy, Northwestern, and Washington State- no teams will be dropped from the “well functioning” conferences, only from the dysfunctional ones.
I don't think that Texas particularly wants to leave the Big 12, or that leaving is a priority. The administration is very sensitive to politics, and doesn’t want to be perceived as the conference-breaker. Things are going fine, for the most part, although we are aware that our conference-mates are extremely jealous and resentful of us. Why does Texas think that? Take a look at this poll, and compare how the Big 12 coaches voted Texas, compared to how the SEC coaches voted Florida, their 2008 CCG loser and arch-rival…this is the marital equivalent of a wife calling her husband a “loser” when the plant is closed. He hangs his head and thinks, “There will be a time when you need me, and I will remember this.”
Texas also isn't happy because last May's 11 – 1 vote on the tie-breaker, not fixing a situation that actually happened in order to purportedly avoid a situation that has never happened, made it clear that the conference resents us. Is there any other way to take this than “F’ you, Texas”?
Also, the league office is loathe to actively regulate recruiting (street agents in football and basketball). Texas saw how this played out in the SWC, and doesn’t understand why nobody will listen to its warnings. TAMU is unhappy because they just can't find any football success in the Big 12, and feels that dropping TT and OSU from its recruiting competition would help.
These aren’t the only ones dissatisfied. Consider Missouri and Colorado. Neither has really profited, in tradition nor financially, from their decades long affiliation with the Big 6/8/12, but each finds themselves courted by more attractive partners. That is…enticing. Nebraska wishes things were like they were years ago, when they were happier. The smaller schools look at Texas and Texas A&M (bringers of the needed major media markets) as the bitchy wife whose parents make the car payments. They need “daddy’s” money, and she won’t let them forget it. OU is the rogue whose charm may still work on the neighbors but has faded at home. This is the fatal flaw of the Big 12- nobody really, truly wants to be affiliated with the others, and longs for greener grass elsewhere.
Texas doesn’t want to take the cheap and easy political hits that come with bailing on a conference. However, we realize too well that if Missouri and/or CU leave the Big 12, there are no good replacements, and the Big 12 has to take a step down in prestige, and more importantly, TV revenue. This starts the SWC-like downward spiral, where reduced revenues force the popular schools to insist on keeping a larger share of a shrinking pie, while the smaller schools have to agree to hold off the inevitable collapse.
Why would Missouri or Colorado leave? For more money. The Big 12 currently has a better TV contract than the Pac-10, but significantly worse than the Big 10 (with its TV network generating revenue from every cable box in its region), and the Pac-10 is planning to start a network. Most colleges lose money in athletics, and the promise of an extra $10 million per year is very enticing.
Missouri and Colorado know that their size and location should be getting them more money. The conference’s smallest schools are unhappy because the TV revenue isn't shared equally.
The Pac-10 and Big 10 are surely aware that if Missouri and Colorado are pulled away, the Big 12 unravels, and Texas and TAMU (yes, a desirable school for TV) become available. What could the Big 12 do? (Aside- I see a lot of posts speculating that the legislature won’t let Texas and TAMU abandon Baylor and TT. I would not count on that. Those schools have much less political power now than they did 20 years ago, and the schools are much less dependent on state funding than back then. Also, the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems have grown, octopus-like, across the state and carry a lot of influence in hither regions).
I think that a couple of simple moves could save this conference. This will require all of the schools, including Texas, to make concessions. However, like any good marriage counselor would advise, these are the concessions they know they will have to make in the next marriage anyway).
1. The TV contract must be improved. A Big 12 network should be created, and the schools should agree to share revenue equally. Texas is giving up a bigger share of the pie in doing this (Texas has invested millions into the Bevo-D channel that would be rolled into a Big 12 network), but hopefully gaining a bigger piece due to the pie growing. The Big 12 will have to strongarm cable suppliers into carrying the network as part of the base package, much like the Big 10 did.
The small schools need to agree to schedule so as to support the TV contract; i.e. no more than one D-1AA game every other year. I know that this is counter to the KSU strategy of breaking in the Jucos against weak teams. That’s too bad. Those games are non-entites with respect to TV value, and must be curtailed. If teams want to insist on playing the Chattanoogas of the world, perhaps a penalty should be built in to cost them $1 million in shared revenue for each cupcake scheduled.
The Big 12 also needs to increase the value of the package by copying SEC scheduling and having league games starting in the second week.
The strongest conferences share revenue, and the Big 12 should too. This might as well happen now, rather than later. This will do more than anything to satisfy the smaller schools, who should see their receipts jump $2 – 10 million per year, depending upon the success of the Big 12 network.
2. The conference needs to get serious about regulating recruiting. Oklahoma State and Kansas State are getting too close to street agents. TAMU and BU are flirting with them. This needs to be controlled, before competition inevitably forces more schools to turn to them. The NCAA isn’t going to do it for us, and this is a huge source of dissatisfaction to some programs.
3. The league presidents and athletic directors need to enforce a policy of conference unity and collegiality. Other schools’ coaches should not be allowed to pick sides in rivalries. Again, see
The SEC has very strong rivalries, but at the end of the day they all realize that a strong conference benefits all. The league office can no longer simply throw its hands in the air on such issues and say it’s beyond their control. Somebody is going to have to make people act like adults. Again, if there is a shakedown and OU ends up in the SEC, Stoops won’t be able to organize his “mean girls” against LSU or Alabama. Why not make the changes now that will have to be made in the next alliance?
Basically, these changes force weaker programs to surrender a little competitiveness (aggressiveness in recruiting and scheduling), and the big programs to surrender some money. Again, these are the changes everybody will have to accept in a realignment, so the only thing in the way is pride.
Well, can this marriage be saved? Can Dan Beebe pull together the kind of “Come to Jesus” meeting that would be required to institute these changes? I doubt it. More likely, needed change will start with an Iowa State or Kansas State president calling the UT president and hashing something out that could be sold to the others. If so, he better hurry and pick up the phone, before the Big 10 calls Missouri.