They got it right.
It’s not often you can say that in college athletics because usually when there is a winner in the sports world there is a loser or multiple losers. But in the case of conference expansion, the powers that be in college football put their heads together and got this one right.
As a result, there were a lot of conference commissioners who spent last night breathing a sigh of relief and smoking a victory cigar. That’s what happens when you dodge a bullet that could have ripped a huge hole into the body and heart of college football as we know it.
When Texas announced last night that it would stay and thus hold the 10-team Big 12 together, it allowed the sport to step back from the brink of what could have been a fundamental change in college football as we know it. Some of it would have been good but most of it would have taken on the feel of a shotgun marriage for financial expediency and survival. There would have been some winners but some proud schools with great athletics traditions–we’re talking about you, Kansas–could have been severely damaged.
You have to understand that if all of the dominoes had fallen into place, we could have had two of the six BCS equity conferences (Big East, Big 12) simply put out of the football business. That would have been an ugly and heartbreaking thing to watch for all of us who love college football.
But in the deal that was crafted yesterday, nobody got everything they wanted but just about everybody got something they wanted. That’s the classic definition of a good deal. Let’s run down the conference scorecard this morning:
Big 12: Yeah, they only have 10 teams now that Nebraska has bolted to the Big Ten and Colorado has gone to the Pac-10 (11). That was a good move for both schools. Nebraska wasn’t happy in the Big 12 and will get a big pay raise. Colorado more identifed with the West Coast and will have a chance to compete in football now that the flagship program in the Pac Ten (USC) has been significantly damaged by the choppy waters of the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
You say the Big 12 loses its championship game? Yeah, but you need to know that the coaches in that league are thrilled. They never liked the game and now the winner of the Texas-Oklahoma game can pretty much punch their ticket to a BCS bowl. And the loser has a chance to get into the a big bowl as well. Texas used its considerable muscle to get the payday it wanted. Same for OU and Texas A&M, who used its flirtation with the SEC to make sure that the Longhorns didn’t big foot them on the finances of the new deal. Those three schools were big winners and the other seven schools in the league will get less money. But those schools, particularly Kansas and Missouri, won’t say a word. They are glad to still have a home.
And the Big 12 is not going to add two teams to get back to 12. This is the deal they wanted.
PAC-11: You have to give new Commissioner Larry Scott credit. Because his conference is rarely seen on national television in prime time, he knew he needed to do something bold. So he swung for the fences and tried to create the Pac-16. It would have been a brilliant move and would have sparked a huge bidding war between ESPN and FOX for the television package. But at the end of the day Texas got what it wanted to stay put.
The Pac-11 will add another team, probably Utah from the Mountain West. But remember that I said this: Keep an eye on Scott. He is a very smart guy. Despite the sanctions against USC, he is going to make the Pac-11 a force again.
SEC: The SEC never, ever wanted to expand but commissioner Mike Slive had to have a plan in pace in case his hand was forced. That is why he reportedly (it was never confirmed by his office) went to Texas A&M on Saturday to lay out the SEC case for the Aggies. I believe Texas A&M would have seriously considered splitting with Texas had all of those Big 12 teams moved West. But when the plan was put into place to keep the Big 12 together, A&M was staying put as long as the financials made sense.
So the SEC got what it wanted. It didn’t have to do anything. The conference still has 14 years left on its TV contract with CBS and ESPN. The SEC has won four straight BCS national championships and Alabama will be your preseason No. 1. Life is good. You don’t mess with Happy.
ACC: Breathing much easier today. There was concern that if the SEC felt it had to expand, it might look to strengthen its Southeastern footprint at the expense of the ACC. Everybody in the ACC was publicly expressing their loyalty to the league.
Based on some calls I got yesterday, trust me when I tell you that if the SEC had added Texas A&M and was looking for a 14th team, it would have gotten very interesting for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But a note for those who were floating Duke and North Carolina as possible candidates for the SEC: I don’t have the word skills to fully explain how wrong that was. Duke and Carolina were the holdout votes for the LAST ACC expansion. They don’t like having 12 teams now. They sure weren’t going to join a 14 or 16 team SEC.
Big East: The Big East was vulnerable to getting at least three teams poached by the Big Ten and could have been forced to break up, scattering teams like Connecticut, Louisville, West Virgnia, Cincinnati, and South Florida to the wind. As a football conference the Big East lives to fight another day.
Mountain West: Added Boise State, and that’s a good thing. The MWC may lose Utah to the Pac-11 and that’s a bad thing. It also had a chance to draft those cast adrift if the Big 12 had broken up and that sweepstakes could have included Kansas. So the Mountain West didn’t win and it will survive the loss of Utah. The league is on the way to being an automatic BCS qualifier in 2012. Now the Pac-11 could get frisky again and try to take BYU as well, but for a lot of reasons I don’t see that happening.
The Big Ten: I saved the best for last. The Big Ten didn’t get the monster fish it wanted (Notre Dame) but it did get Nebraska and all of its football tradition. Nebraska is in a small TV market (115) so it’s not a home run when it comes to increasing subscriptions to the Big Ten Network. But the Big Ten can now have a conference championship game on the first Saturday in December if it choses to do so. And it will be huge.
I don’t discount the possibility that commissioner Jim Delany will someday invoke the nuclear option and go to 16 teams. But I think that is less likely right now.
After college football came so close to major upheaval and the possible destruction of two conferences, if Delany jumps back into the fray again and disrupts the peace, he will be portrayed as Gordon Gekko, the amoral financier from “Wall Street” who saw life as a zero sum game and himself as the ultimate winner. Too many people have worked too hard in the past five days to basically save college football from itself.
Today college football is at peace and Delany reads the tea leaves as well as anybody. The Big Ten stays at 12–for now.
So it’s been quite a ride, boys and girls. Of course when the next television contract comes up for negotiation, we’ll probably be having these conversations again. But for now, I’m anxious to start talking about football once more. I’ve had just about all of the high finance that I can stand.
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