Texas President Gregory L. Fenves throws up the Hook 'Em sign after giving the State of the University address on Tuesday, September 13, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: Big 12’s long-term stability will remain an ongoing issue

Bob Bowlsby says grant-of-rights extension wasn't 'on the table for anybody,' but Texas, OU officials won't commit to anything behind 2024-25

Posted October 27th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • What's the league's future? Bowlsby: “Ten years from now, I’ll be fishing some place.”
  • Iowa State AD believes that without Texas, OU, this is the "Mountain West Conference."
  • Nobody's offering a better TV deal now. What's going to change in eight years?

The Big 12 Conference still has some important issues to hash out in the coming weeks.

The league is close to finalizing a five-year deal with a host site for its new championship game. That doesn’t seem too difficult. Anchor the event at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and be done with it.

The Big 12 must figure out how to determine the championship game participants. If the conference goes to a two-division format, as has been discussed, who will be in each division?

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That seems easy, too. Put the old Big Eight schools together with the four Texas schools plus West Virginia. That way, you have a theoretical chance of getting one Texas-Oklahoma game in October and another in December.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to reporters after the Big 12 Conference meeting in Grapevine, Texas, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Big 12 Conference has decided against expansion from its current 10 schools after three months of analyzing, vetting and interviewing possible new members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to reporters after the Big 12 Conference meeting in Grapevine, Texas, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Big 12 Conference has decided against expansion from its current 10 schools after three months of analyzing, vetting and interviewing possible new members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Despite all the teeth-gnashing, bloviating and screaming about expansion, the league stood pat with its current 10-team configuration. Thumbing their nose at Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and others may have ultimately been the right call, but that didn’t solve the league’s overarching problem: Long-term stability.

On Tuesday, at men’s basketball media day in Kansas City, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby joked that “10 years from now, I’ll be fishing some place.” That’s two years beyond the league’s current TV contracts and two years past the current grant-of-rights agreement among the schools.

Currently, no television network has stepped forward to offer a new or improved TV deal. With eight years left, why should they? Well, here’s a thought: If nobody wants to start a new Big 12-branded TV network, as OU President David Boren said, and if nobody wants to extend their current deals, what’s really going to change in eight years?

Come back in 2024 and Texas will still be Texas. Oklahoma will still be OU. There will still be eight other schools hoping that Texas and OU don’t go anywhere. And there will still be other leagues raking in more TV money than the Big 12.

Asked if it bothers him there’s a perception that the Big 12 could be gone in eight years, Bowlsby pushed back. “The grant of rights doesn’t have anything to do with it. Zero,” the commissioner said.

Bowlsby argues — correctly, I should add — that a grant of rights is merely a negotiating tool, nothing more. Each school “grants” the league the “right” to negotiate on each institution’s behalf for a collective, common good.

An extension of the grant of rights “isn’t on the table for anybody,” Bowlsby said. “You guys (the media) took off with that concept, and it wasn’t on the table for anybody. We didn’t have anything to offer that we needed their grant for.”

All that said, the grant-of-rights issue is a theological sore subject for the folks in Austin and Norman. The fact that Texas and OU do not wish to extend their grant of rights beyond the 2024-25 athletic year can be viewed as both schools wanting to remain as flexible as possible. Or it could mean that neither school wants to be tied to the Big 12 for any longer than possible.

Think about Boren’s comments in September 2011. The Big 12 announced a six-year grant of rights by its member institutions. “These are very strong handcuffs,” Boren said then. “The grant of rights really does bind the conference together, and it shows that we fully intend to stay together.”

Nowadays? A grant-of-rights extension is “completely off the table” for Texas, according to a university source. That speaks volumes. And OU officials feel the same way, one source in Norman said.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren speaks to reporters after the second day of the Big 12 sports conference meetings in Irving, Texas, Thursday, June 2, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
University of Oklahoma President David Boren speaks to reporters after the second day of the Big 12 sports conference meetings in Irving, Texas, Thursday, June 2, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

“I just want to underline, there is no theological or abstract opposition to the grant of rights at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren said after the recent expansion decision. “We are committed to this conference.”

Texas President Gregory L. Fenves issued a statement that he was pleased with 10 schools and that he wanted to work with others “to make the Big 12 even stronger in the years to come.”

Nowhere in his statement did Fenves say Texas was committed to the Big 12 beyond the current contractual parameters, though.

Asked how Fenves acted during the expansion meetings, Bowlsby said, “Well, I’m not going to characterize what any one president was doing during the process. But our board was very engaged. There wasn’t a single president that wasn’t up to speed on the issues and not fully engaged in the conversation.”

On Tuesday, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard went on a Des Moines radio station and said that without Texas and Oklahoma, “We’re the Mountain West Conference.”

Said Bowlsby, “I don’t share that vantage point.”

Yes, Big 12 stability, or the lack thereof, is a real and serious issue. And it’ll be ongoing, unfortunately. Texas and OU will always control their own destinies, and everyone else will be on their own.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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