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The Big 12, Nebraska, and the Red Herrings

It’s pretty interesting to read the comments on Big 12 conference realignment articles.

 They are filled with Nebraska supporters explaining why it’s not the Huskers’ fault if the league starts to break up, started by a Nebraska bolt to the Big 10-plus.  Basically, they explain, it’s Texas’ fault. 

They give three reasons:

 1.  UT uses its size and influence to dominate the conference.  Well, anybody who was around in November 2008 would argue the domination part, but UT is big and it does have influence, which it uses to support its interests.  Maybe Nebraska would be happier in the Big 10, which has three UT-like institutions (Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State are all three flagship schools with secure recruiting bases).  Probably not, although they would be better off financially.

 2.  UT killed the Osborne model for football domination by limiting the use of partial qualifiers.  Yes, UT did vote against PQs, along with 10 other Big 12 schools.  Yes, UT would have walked if the vote had not gone its way, which it made clear during the initial formation discussions.  No, the Big 10 will not allow PQs either.

 3.  UT is selfishly halting the creation of a Big 12 Network, modeled after the Big 10 Network.  UT wants its own network, and to horde all the money to itself.

 It is true that UT is developing its own network.  It’s also true that UT is not getting behind a Big 12 Network.  However, that is just one side of a two-sided story.  Here is the other.

 A Big 12 Network was first proposed in 2006, when Kevin Weiberg was the conference commissioner.  The Big 10 Network was being started, and the Big 12 was considering something similar.  It decided not to go forward.  Reports from the time gave two reasons- doubts about profitability (the Big 10 Network looked very risky at the time, and many predicted it would be a money loser), and the conference’s “haves” were reluctant to share more with the “have nots”.  Shortly afterward, Kevin Weiberg left to take a position with the Big 10...responsible for launching the Big 10 Network.

 Texas went ahead and began developing Bevo-D.  This involves a lot more than just saying “Hands off our content” and collecting checks from cable companies.  Texas issued bonds, secured by anticipated revenues, to pay for wiring up every athletics venue (even so-called non-revenue sports) for TV.  This represents an investment UT made, on its own, while the conference formally tabled the Big 12 Network.  

Any school could have done the same for themselves.  srr50 has been all over this.  Note his prior posts, his discussion of the threat this holds for the Big 12, and the lack of interest in the comments from fans of any other schools.

 Now it’s 2010.  The Big 10 Network has been far more successful, even in these recessionary times, than anybody could have ever anticipated.  The league is now interested.  As OU AD Joe Castiglione said recently,

 "We have the opportunity to consider a channel for ourselves,” Castiglione said. "We had that on the table a few years back, but decided it wasn’t the right thing to do. But we left the door wide open for it in the future.”

 If by “left the door wide open” he means “thought it was a loser and never came up with any formal media strategy or policy for the future”, he’s right.  Now, UT has spent the money, developed the business plan, collated the content, and started selling to the cable companies, and the conference wants to co-opt the whole thing.  Know what this is like?  Your neighborhood has a bunch of failing old wood yard fences.  The HOA considers issuing an assessment to rebuild them.  There is disagreement over how much to assess, what the standards for the new fences should be, etc., so nothing is done.  You decide on your own to replace your wooden fence with brick.  It looks so good that now the HOA decides to assess every home to fund a common design brick fence for every home.  Your stance- “I’m sure as hell not paying an assessment.  I may want a refund, depending upon the cost.  I’m also not willing to discuss architectural requirements.”  That’s UT’s stance.

 Now, Dodds is foremost a businessman.  When he says, “No”, he means, “Your offer isn’t good enough…yet”.  You want a Big 12 Network?  Let’s talk facilities and broadcast standards.  Let’s discuss expense and revenue allocations.  Let’s talk guarantees about long term conference viability.  You want equal splits?  Let’s discuss every school’s commitment to marketing.  Everything is negotiable, but you have to make an offer.

 What’s that Tom Osborne?  You want to Texas to promise to share all revenue equally before you discuss committing Nebraska to the Big 12 long term?  Well, Dodds wants to see assurances of Nebraska’s commitment before discussing equal revenue shares.  He may also want to discuss recruiting standards, and university presidents’ oversight of the Athletics Departments.

 The fact that the Big 12 can’t see eye to eye enough to even have this conversation is killing it, not Texas’ greed.

 Why are Nebraska and Missouri considering leaving a conference they helped form nearly a century ago?  The Atomic Teeth guys mentioned why.  They are concerned that if they forego a chance to jump to a stronger conference now, they may be replaced in that lineup and not have a safe have if the Big 12 dissolved (unlikely) or diminished significantly in stature (more likely).  It’s the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.

 The revenue sharing and conference network issues are red herrings.  Dodds isn’t a fool.  He knows that the next conference Texas lands in will require revenue sharing and cooperation with a conference network.  He just doesn’t see why he needs to just give that to the Big 12 without receiving any assurances in return.

BTW, the Big 12 could always just vote a network through, structured as the other 11 members like.  This conference doesn’t have a problem with 11 – 1 votes.