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Thoughts On The Breakup

After revisiting these thoughts from eight months ago, which actually holds up pretty well (even the comments), here are some current ones on the Aggies' backdoor escape to the SEC.

Is it a divorce or a dissolved business partnership? I think it’s more the latter, although people are reacting emotionally as if it were the former. I’m seeing a lot of heated comments being thrown around such as “ESPN is colluding with Texas! ESPN is working a master plan to elevate Texas and hold the Aggies down!”. 

Here’s the deal: If ESPN didn't buy the LHN, Fox would have. If the market price had merely been $5 million per year, that’s what Texas would have signed for. And if nobody had wanted to buy it, Texas would have done something else.

I'm feeling peaceful about the Ags leaving, should that happen. It's what they really wanted, so fine. I'm just getting very, very annoyed that they keep blaming Texas for them leaving. They say it's because of the LHN -- the network that didn't even exist a year ago -- when the Ags first tried to leave for the SEC. Back then, it was an idea ridiculed by Byrne as a money loser.

Let's revisit the whole history, shall we? A few years ago, Texas proposes a Big 12 network, and is voted down 11 - 1. Texas commits money to facilitating and developing it anyway. Texas approaches TAMU (Byrne) about sharing. Byrne basically doesn't trust any T-sips, going back to when Texas first joined the Big 12 (he was pissed that we told the Big 8 we wanted to limit PQs, and then actually proposed a rule to do so). He was sure we were inflating the potential of the network, so he turns it down.

The Big 12 breaks apart, gets back together, and TAMU agrees to take a disproportionate share of the CU/NU penalty as a reward for staying. They keep in touch with the SEC, spend a year studying ways to argue the penalty for leaving down, and when Texas pisses them off with the LHN, they leave. Except I'm convinced that if it weren't the LHN, it would have been something else.

So as I understand Aggie logic, the team that tells everybody what it wants to do, does what it says, and abides by all votes is the bad guy? The team that has been working for over a year to get to the SEC, is probably breaking up the conference, and has consistently voted for unequal revenue sharing for decades and has never proposed equal revenue sharing (unless, like NU, they proposed it at the last league meeting as a precursor to bolting) is the good guy, the champion of the little people and willing to stand up to the powerful for the good of all.

I would have a lot more respect for the Ags if they would just say, "Sorry, bro, we got a better deal. See you 10 years down the road when we're cool again."  I think everything will work out better if those involved treat it like a dissolved business partnership, and not a divorce. Taking things personally serves no one.

Texas A&M leaving really hurts the conference’s TV package. In 2010, the Big 12 offered these games:  UT/OU/, UT/NU, OU/NU (B12 CG), UT/TAMU, OU/TAMU, TAMU/TT, CU/NU, OSU/TAMU, KSU/NU, OSU/NU, Mizzou/NU, and ISU/NU.  These were all games that were either Tier 1 ABC/ESPN games or very attractive Tier 2 games. In 2012, none of these are available. 

I took this year's B12 schedule and subtracted all the TAMU games. Week by week, here are what I think are the best two games each Saturday. Note that on week 3, Sep. 17, has no good B12 home games. There are a couple of interesting road games (which the B12 can't sell) and a decent Thursday game and Friday game.

Week 1: OU/UT, Mizzou/Mia (OH)
Week 2: UT/BYU, ISU/Iowa
Week 3: No decent B12 home games on Saturday (couple of D-1AA opponents)
Week 4: OU/Mizzou, TT/Nevada
Week 5: UT/ISU, TT/KU
Week 6: UT/OU, Mizzou/KSU
Week 7: UT/OSU, OU/KU
Week 8: OU/tt, OSU/Mizzou
Week 9: OU/KSU, UT/KU
Week 10: UT/TT, OSU/KSU
Week 11: UT/Mizzou, OSU/TT
Week 12: Mizzou/TT, UT/KSU
Week 13: OU/ISU, TT/BU
Week 14: OU/OSU, UT/BU

This is what the Big 12 TV product looks like without Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas A&M. Pretty average.

So what can Beebe and the Big 12 ADs do in the meantime?

Pick up BYU.  The value in the conference is UT, OU, TT, OSU, and Missouri.  BYU would slot in with the last three.  Texas A&M is solidly above that group.

The B12 should consider not allowing D-1AA games to be scheduled.  Decent non-conference scheduling would fix the September 17 problem.

The Big 12 needs to figure out how to make people want to watch. Remember in 2008, when the B12 decided to raise interest by not calling holding, driving scoring up? Maybe we need to do that again, except all teams participate instead of just Tech and OU.

There will be a lot of pressure on Texas to play TAMU.  The Big 12 contract needs that game every other year.

So yes, A&M bolting the Big 12 is a huge deal. Imagine a weekend where ESPN's Tier 1 B12 game is TT/KU, and its Tier 2 SEC game is TAMU/Ol' Miss.  Who gets relegated to ESPNU in Texas?

After a bunch of legal arguing, NU’s and CU’s penalty for leaving the conference ended up being just about what they were owed by the conference for the 20010 – 2011 season ($9.2 and $6.5 million, respectively).  In other words, the conference wrote them no checks, and they wrote no checks to the conference.  To me, it looks like it’s an example of possession being 90% of the law, and the Big 12 office was in possession of the TV revenue for one year. 

TAMU’s penalty for leaving will be what they are owed this year in TV revenue.  I suspect that a lot of Beebe’s posturing and ultimatum talk is focused on locking that up legally.  Now, is this fair to profit from our business partner of 100 years?  Yes, because they are acting in their own interest, and hurting the conference.  The conference is absolutely justified in making what it can as it limps into the future.

So is this ultimately a smart move by the Ags?  Maybe, and I'm far out on a weak limb here.  It’s definitely a game changer.  This is not about the LHN (see above).  The LHN is a competitive advantage, but only for a few years, until all of our rivals take advantage of the growing technology and market segment management to imitate it. They might not make as much money off their networks, but they don’t make as much from selling their t-shirts either, do they? 

Texas has another competitive advantage over the Ags (and over OU)- it’s in Austin.  Being in the region’s most attractive locale, especially for young people, cannot be imitated.  This is the obstacle the Ags have fought for decades and will fight for decades more to come (Side note- Branding one’s program as a rural culture governed by a military faction is actually a competitive disadvantage in recruiting, believe it or not).  The LHN only helps this advantage.  Rivals have two choices- fight it (as OU has, with …uh…”aggressive” recruiting approaches, or superlative coaching), or change the game.  That’s what going to the SEC does.  It puts them in a different sphere, and in many ways a more attractive one.  The SEC is not a collection of universities that like football as a method of augmenting student life.  The SEC is a collection of football programs attached to universities that support them absolutely.  It is the largest stage, and that will be attractive to a lot of star athletes, especially if Texas A&M uses the move as an opportunity to lose its most embarrassing traditions and rituals.

This works even better if they adopt the shady (but effective) SEC recruiting style and Texas (and/or OU) doesn’t call them on it. There is enough elite talent in Texas to compete well in the SEC. TAMU’s challenge will be obtaining it.

I cringe a little at this prospect. I remember during the 1980’s when SWC programs were all pointing fingers at each other and the beneficiaries were all of the out-of-state schools that swooped in.  It wasn’t fun then and it won’t be fun now.

The risk for Texas A&M is that they don’t get the talent upgrade they need and wallow in the middle of the SEC pack, if not the bottom. While the Ags may earn a small degree of respect for trying to compete against the best, 6-6 is still 6-6.

The Aggies replace 10 senior starters in 2012, including their starting QB, RB, and star WR. That could be a bumpy start.  If they also start off in bad financial shape due to having $18 million held back from them by the Big 12 and still need major stadium renovations, the chances of this gamble working out for them shrink even more.

Given all the downside for Texas and the Big 12, should UT and the conference do whatever it takes to keep the Ags in? Should Texas just shut down the LHN and apply Legislature pressure?  No.  The Ags want to go. They have wanted to go for over a year now and desperately crave to get out of their big brother's shadw. Thwarting them again will just strengthen their belief that staying is a mistake. 

Let them go.

And also tell them we are done playing them for a few years.  Tell them playing us in the future is dependent upon their actions.  If they fly straight in recruiting, we should play them.  If they adopt a SEC payscale for players, we absolutely shouldn’t.

I’m also convinced the Big 12 isn’t viable even in the short term without them.  Musical chairs is far from over and OU is the canary in this coal mine. The fact that they are silent is very telling.  I bet there is a plan and OU is briefed on it and is fine with it.  I get that they have ties to OSU but I doubt that’s a suicide pact.  If the deal is to let the Ags fund us until the next big thing, great.

One final thought.  Note to the movers and shakers -- keep this stuff in the early summer when we have nothing to talk about.  The season is only two weeks away, and we have QB depth charts to obsess over...