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Tipsheet: Desperation settling as hapless Big 12 faces extinction

Tipsheet: Desperation settling as hapless Big 12 faces extinction

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Former Mizzou athletic director Mack Rhoades is among those sweating out the potential college sports free-for-all.

He is at Baylor now and the Big 12 reeling from the exodus of Oklahoma and Texas to the Big 12.

“The economic impact is real,” Rhoades said during testimony before the Texas Senate. “If we are no longer a member of a Power Five, we will sell less tickets, we will sell less merchandise, we will raise less money and we will have less corporate sponsorship.”

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN with colluding with the American Athletic Conference to poach its remaining schools. That seems a bit far-fetched, but shows you just how far that conference has fallen.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) backed that allegation by asking U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to open an investigation into ESPN's role in the move of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC.

“I write today to ask that the DOJ investigate ESPN’s role in the potential destruction of the Big XII Conference and if any anti-competitive or illegal behavior occurred relating to manipulating the conference change or ESPN’s contractual television rights,” he wrote.

ESPN has denied the allegation.

The Big 12 has also connected the Pac 12, looking for a potential lifeline through a scheduling alliance or even a merger.

The latter option would not surprise Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. He agrees with the widely-held notion that college football could eventually align into four superconferences.

“You hear people talk about ultimately there’s going to be a ‘Power Four,'” Gundy said during an interview with ESPN’s Marty Smith. “In my opinion if I was in meetings or behind closed doors, would I say that’s a probability? I’d say yes. Somebody else might make that decision.”

Obviously the Big 12 would not be one of the four conferences left standing. Its schools could scatter, with West Virginia heading to the ACC, Kansas and Kansas State reconnecting to Nebraska in the Big Ten and Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor heading to the Pac-12.

Here’s what folks are writing about all of the potential Realignment 2:

David M. Hale, ESPN.com: “Before Texas and Oklahoma upended the college football world last week, the ACC was already thinking about how it might secure a new, more lucrative TV deal. The only real answer, several athletic directors said at the time, was expansion. Other changes would be incremental, but adding a brand name to the league could generate a massive influx of revenue. A few of the league's ADs, mere months ago, wondered if perhaps Texas could be the answer to their league's problems. Alas, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey moved quicker. But the Longhorns were always the second option. The team ACC folks really want, the team the league has pined after for a decade, is Notre Dame . . . Now that Texas and Oklahoma are poised to join the SEC, adding to that league's already daunting roster, the pressure for the ACC to lure the Fighting Irish is greater than ever. The new-look SEC, which shares a footprint with the ACC, could potentially earn double the ACC's per-school distribution -- the ACC distributed $32.3 M/team last year while the SEC distributed $43.7M/team, but the SEC will earn more with new ESPN contract, so with addition of Texas and Oklahoma, there's thought that new money could exceed $70M down the road. Already as a league, the SEC had $721M in revenue to the ACC's $497.2M. Money aside, the allure of a mega-conference just a tier behind the NFL would give the SEC a massive recruiting advantage over its neighbor, too. Notre Dame is a lifeline.”

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: “While college sports wonders whether there will be a total reset of the competitive and financial models, for now, the talking points have come down to the statuses of a precious few schools. There are four pieces left on the board, per se, that approach the value of Texas and Oklahoma: Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC. Ohio State and Michigan have no interest in leaving the Big Ten. Currently the richest, oldest conference in existence, it is paying members approximately $54 million per year. Until further notice, Notre Dame is locked into its independence. The one-year football venture into the ACC was intriguing but remains a one-off caused by COVID-19. However, per its contractual agreement with the ACC, it is locked in to joining the conference should it want to move anywhere through 2036. But the Fighting Irish already have their own network (NBC), that ACC football scheduling agreement, increased access to the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff and perhaps the best brand in the game. Why share? That leaves USC. The Trojans have options. USC has one of the most recognizable brands in sports. It resides in the nation's second-biggest television market. It possesses desirable academics and athletics. It would likely enhance any conference's media rights contract. USC could remain in the Pac-12, strike out on its own as an independent or join another league -- with or without partners from the Pac-12.”  

Mike Farrell, Rivals.com: “With Texas and Oklahoma gone there is not enough value left in the league to remain a Power Five conference for the long term. And I don’t see any teams it can add to the league that will change that. The loss of the revenue that Texas and Oklahoma bring and mainly the perception of the Big 12 without them is too much to overcome. Who’s the giant in the Big 12 now? That’s the question that has to be asked and there is no good answer. The league will lose Power Five status by 2025.”

Paul Myerberg, USA Today: “The conference is no longer viable as a national contender without Texas and Oklahoma, which has left a roster of eight teams —Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia — with nearly nonexistent coast-to-coast appeal and a worryingly dire future when it comes to negotiations for the next grants of media rights agreement. Expansion is the key to the league's long-term survival. But where, who, when? To start with, there's Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston, SMU and South Florida from the American, which would expand the Big 12's map and might make the league slightly more appealing to potential broadcast partners. That's if the Big 12 can even entice these teams from the American. These Group of Five programs may have long wanted a seat at the Power Five table, but would this reworked Big 12 really be any more appealing as a permanent destination than the American, especially with a reworked College Football Playoff format providing greater opportunity to teams outside the Power Five umbrella?”

Pete Fiutak, College Football News: “And now we’re supposed to believe that the American Athletic Conference might try grabbing the remaining Big 12 schools? (Painfully outdated reference alert.) You think you’re going into Moe Greene’s hotel and take over? The Big 12 buys the AAC out, the AAC doesn’t buy out the Big 12.”

Barrett Sallee, CBSSports.com: “A complete merger between the [Big 12 and Pac-12] conferences would create a 20-team superconference, assuming no programs were pushed out. It would also give the new league four more teams than the SEC, though conferences often operate without equal numbers of teams. If a merger was to happen, all bets would be off in terms of next steps around the country with realignment in full swing.  Whatever happens with the Big 12, it's clear that it's trying to bring into focus a future that has become blurry over the last three weeks.”

Jim Alexander, Orange County Register: “The last major wave of conference reconstruction – and remember, it included Bevo and Boomer considering the efficacy of joining the Pac-12 for a brief period in 2010 – was seismic but didn’t really change the prevailing ethos in the sport, aside from watering down the regional emphasis that once gave college football its charm. (Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC? Boston College and Syracuse in the ACC? West Virginia in the Big 12? Seriously?) Now, with new NIL guidelines giving players a chance to be compensated (if not a total voice in their welfare yet) and the NCAA leadership struggling to retain relevance, there’s no better opportunity to forget the pretense and totally revamp the sport. And our solution would make it more competitive at all levels. The key ingredient: Promotion and relegation, the elements that soccer leagues elsewhere in the world use to maintain interest and motivation. We’d create a pyramid at the top of the sport, under the umbrella of College Football Inc.™ – it’s been big business all along, so why not make it official – to reward not only those at the top but the upward strivers among the sport’s middle-class. The structure would be a Super League pyramid, four divisions of 10 teams each. The initial groupings in our scheme are based strictly on the won-loss percentages from the last four seasons, 2017-2020. You play every team in your division each year plus two non-division games for an 11-game schedule: One against a traditional/geographical rival (USC-UCLA, Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, etc.)  and the other against another team in the pyramid, no exceptions. (Happy, Trojan fans? You’ll still get that Notre Dame matchup.) And there will be no more carping about a program’s legacy or strength of schedule or a conference’s power rating. The little guys get a crack at the big guys, and it’s up to them whether they remain there. No excuses.”

MEGAPHONE

“We do consult with our television and business partners on issues related to our conference; everyone does. But any suggestions or statements that we colluded with ESPN with regard to the structure of any other conference is a completely unfounded and grossly irresponsible accusation, and that's all I really have to say about this at this point.

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco, denying that his league wants to poach Big 12 schools.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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