IRVING — David Boren called Friday “a watershed day” for the Big 12.
He could have gone even further. The Oklahoma president and chairman of the league’s board of directors could have labeled the day’s stunning developments one of the biggest days in the history of the Big 12.
The news was that big. Not even sure Donald Trump could have trumped the Big 12’s blockbuster’s announcements. Well, maybe.
- The league learned that its annual income from television, bowl games, NCAA basketball tournament appearances and rounds of advancement had increased 20 percent in a single year to a whopping $304 million, an impressive figure, but one the Big 12 admits will still be far behind the revenue generated by the SEC and Big Ten. (The SEC will release its numbers in October.)
- The Big 12 unanimously approved reviving its football championship game, starting in 2017 on Fox, because a title game will enhance its chances of finding a berth in the College Football Playoff by 14 percent. “Two years in, we’re batting .500,” commissioner Bob Bowlsby said of the first two CFP years. “We’d like to bat higher than that.”
- The league, “in all likelihood,” Bowlsby said, will go to a pair of five-team divisions, but hasn’t decided what criteria to use to derive its two teams for the title game and which schools would be in which division. The Big 12 would love to avoid a late-season rematch as would have happened with Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, had a championship game been in place last season. That’d be smart.
- The conference is abandoning any plans to pursue a Big 12 Network because of the changing, downsizing television marketplace in favor of more digital opportunities, and that guarantees the survival — and acceptance by the Big 12, at least officially — of the Longhorn Network. Boren said that marketplace “made the decision for us.” As for a conference network, Boren quipped, “That ship has sailed.”
- Expansion is not dead, but it seems to be on the back-burner. The league commissioned an analytics firms to continue researching the issue with more data and will revisit the issue later this summer. “I wouldn’t say it’s cooled,” Boren said, adding the researchers also told the presidents the value that different schools would bring to the Big 12 “I’d say it’s ongoing definitely.” But he added any new schools can’t dilute the Big 12’s “competitive reputation.”
The league could still expand to 12 and increase its revenue intake by about $45M with the addition of two members because of existing, escalating television contracts, which means new Big 12 members would increase — not dilute — the size of current members’ slices of the pie. The league would not have to give, say, Cincinnati and Houston full shares right away, meaning an Iowa State next year could get its minimum of $30 million, another $3 million from a title game and maybe another $3-5 million if the expansion invitees got a reduced share.
Paint these developments any way you want, reasonable folks will come to the same conclusion.
Texas was a clear winner. It no longer has to worry about Big 12 demands that it abandon LHN in favor of a Big 12 Network, and for just its television rights alone will realize a paycheck of $45 million before it sells a single ticket or soft drink or beer.
Texas athletic director Mike Perrin was pumped. “I came away thinking that it could be the most intriguing matchup of any conference,” he told me. “There are a lot of logistics we still need to work out, but I’m excited to hear that it was voted in today and that the Big 12 will once again be part of Championship Saturday.”
Boren either capitulated, decided Texas would be unbending, or truly embraced the notion that the Big 12 is a viable and strong conference as is. This was as close to a mea culpa from the league heavyweight as you’re going to ever get. I don’t think he was being the career politician he is. He was being honest. As when told his own coach, Bob Stoops, had opposed a championship game, Boren said, “He hadn’t seen the data.” Boren changed his mind. On a lot of things.
The criteria for the expansion candidates may have changed overnight. Less important might be new television markets. More valuable could be the fortunes of a candidate’s football and basketball programs, improving academics and proximity with less travel expenses.
Hello, Houston. Bad time for Paxton Lynch to leave Memphis. Cincinnati, whatcha got? Expansion may be more about selling tickets when these teams come to Big 12 stadiums than what their ranking as a national TV market. As Boren put it, “Our fans don’t want to see us play lesser or mediocre teams.”
The league money continues to rise, as much as $117 million since 2012. That’s a large amount for a conference that’s everyone’s whipping boy on Twitter. “The 20-percent gain in one year shows we’re in a very healthy situation,” Boren said.
The Big 12 is here to stay.
When I asked Boren if today’s news sends a strong message that the Big 12 will be around well beyond the 2024-25 year when the grant of rights expires, he joked in the hallway and said, “Oh, I think they’re going to be here for a long time. I won’t be, but the conference is going to outlive me, I’m sure of that.”
He looks pretty damn healthy at 75. And for all its many detractors and widespread perception otherwise, so does the Big 12.