Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Jun 2010

Big 12 Conference On Life Support

We've been conspicuously low on the conference realignment talk around here; part of me wants to apologize for that, another part says, "You're welcome." Quite frankly, it's been an exhausting couple of days. The above link from Dr. Saturday is probably the most comprehensive survey of where things stand at the moment. Nebraska and Missouri have been given an "are you in or out?" ultimatum by Big 12 university presidents (now extended to next week, kindly enough). If they fail to give proper assurances that they are in the Big 12 for the long haul, and aren't still willing to leave for the Big Ten if offered, then supposedly the Pac-10 will swoop in and claim six Big 12 members for a new-fangled Pac-16 conference (which six is up in the air, as Baylor is trying to cut in front of Colorado in the line while proclaiming an undying desire to keep the Big 12 together). Before the Big Ten can express interest (or lack thereof) for their friends in Lincoln and Columbia, they have to find out Notre Dame's plans. Meanwhile, this evening Colorado regents are engaging in what was supposed to be a secret meeting to discuss their legal options if they want to make a quick exit to the Pac-12, Pac-16, Pac-24, or whatever the Pac- may be. The Kansas chancellor is begging Nebraska and Missouri to commit to the Big 12, and all hell could break loose ... or very little could happen, depending on the Big Ten's intentions, and the strength of Nebraska's and/or Missouri's wills.

And as soon as this XP is published, the entire storyline will change.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 08 Jun 2010

50 comments, Last at 10 Jun 2010, 1:52pm by Will Allen


by Bill Connelly :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 7:22pm

...if satire is your game, you might instead want to get your news from Bring On the Cats' Adventures of the Big 12: Twelve Angry Men and EDSBS' succinct reenactment of the Kansas-Missouri phone call.

by andrew :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 12:01am

Here is the cheerleader version of the conversation...

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 12:38am

Yeah, that post wins. Especially for Iowa State.

by Marko :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 8:44pm

I don't think there's any way Baylor will be able to cut in front of Colorado and get in the new Pac-16 (or whatever it will be called - I think "16-Pac" or "Big Pac" would sound better). As one of the linked articles mentions, Colorado would bring the Denver TV market to the deal. Baylor would bring . . . nothing, since every Texas TV market would already be delivered courtesy of the other Texas schools. And obviously, this is primarily about potential TV deals.

by oi! (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 10:27pm

I wouldn't be surprised if Baylor and Colorado both end up in the Pac-16, with Texas A&M headed to the SEC...

by Alternator :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 11:46pm

Not happening. Texas A&M is going to stick with Texas in any reasonable scenario; politics will see to it.

by BT6453 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:26am

Is there any possibility that the Big 12 will end up with 10 teams and the Big 10 will end up with 12? Couldn't they just switch names then? Or would they stay the same just to confuse everybody?

by DavidL :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:31am

God, I hope so. Or, better yet, they could just have one school from the Big 12 jump ship.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 9:53am

The Big 12 could have a difficult time even having 10 teams. They could end up going back to being the Big 8. Kansas, KSU, Iowa State, and Baylor with four teams yet to be determined. (TCU, Colorado State, New Mexico, and NMSU maybe?)

by JPS (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 9:48am

Oddly enough, I believe that the Big 10 has had 11 teams ever since Penn State joined.

Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

So it would be the "Big 13" if that switch took place. :-)

by andrew :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 10:55am

But it would be much harder to sneak in a Subtle 11 into the "BIG TEN" Logo....

by speedegg :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:27am

A great move for the Pac-10.

Hmm, wonder if this a result of Pac-10 hiring Kevin Weiberg, the former Big 12 commish and mover & shaker for the Big 10 Network, as the deputy commish and chief operating officer? Plus, the Pac-10's TV contracts are up for renegotiation in 2011, so with a bigger conference with 16 teams......

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 3:47am

If the PAC 10 becomes 16 will it be 2 divisions, 8 teams makes a big division.

by Lola was a dude (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 12:27pm

I understand that if Texas and the rest of the Big 12 South all bolt for the Pac-10, that's pretty much the end of the Big 12.

But I guess I don't understand why Texas is taking its cue from what Nebraska does. Nebraska is a solid football program, but they're not really a main rival of Texas, or at least not on the level of A&M or Oklahoma. Is Texas really sitting around thinking "you know what would be the only thing that would make me reconsider taking this giant sack of money with a dollar sign on it... a promise that I'll be able to continue to play against Nebraska."

I don't see why Nebraska leaving would necessarily mean that it's time for everyone to jump ship. The Big 12 minus Nebraska (and maybe Missouri, but who cares) would still be a major conference. The divisions would have to be realigned to keep the conference championship game from devolving into a complete joke, but other than that, it would hardly be a crushing blow. If they really wanted to, the Big 12 could even attempt to replace Nebraska with Utah, BYU, Boise State, New Mexico or somebody like that. I would argue that swapping out Nebraska for Utah wouldn't even be much of a downgrade in terms of football, and would be an upgrade in terms of men's basketball. And it's probably about a wash in terms of gained vs lost population centers.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 12:47pm

If the Texas schools stay in the Big 12, NE and MO could be replaced with a couple Texas schools. TCU, Rice, and Houston are all better fits than any of the smaller western schools. Then the Big 12 South could be all Texan and the North could be everyone else. (And with Oklahoma in the North, that division might even win a few championships.)

by Dean :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 1:16pm

If Nebraska and/or Missouri leave, the Big 12 doesn't have enough teams to be allowed to play a championship game.

At that point, it becomes a money decision for the horns. They can bolt to the Pac 10, and be a key component in the new Pac 10 TV network, or they can bolt elsewhere (all of which seem unlikely - this week), or they can stay put and hope that once the Big 10 and Pac 10 have their fill of former Big 12 teams (who all want to leave because the money isn't distributed evenly in the B12), there's enough scraps leftover to still field a viable conference.

The real question to me is - if you have a choice, why would anybody want to go/stay in the Big 12? Even a TCU or a Boise State - if they're going to leave, they can probably do better.

by Muldrake (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 10:19pm

Except Utah isn't Nebraska. Nebraska is one of the traditionally elite teams in college football and draws in casual viewers. Nebraska/Texas is a good game in the eyes of casual viewers. Utah/Texas is meh.

And, incidentally, the reason why Texas probably doesn't see this working without Nebraska is that they tried it before with the SWC. Although Texas does indeed love football, nobody outside the state cared...especially after Arkansas left. If Penn State and Ohio State are playing, nobody is going to watch Texas/Boise even if it is the better game. The ABC coverage map of a Texas/Boise game would be tiny compared to a Big Ten game of Nebraska/Michigan. Programs make conferences, and Nebraska is too big a program to be replaced by even the elite of the MWC.

by Lola was a dude (not verified) :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 11:37am

I wasn't saying it would necessarily be an even swap, only that it need not necessarily be the Big 12 apocalypse that was being reported.

Alas, it appears to be a moot point now, as Colorado has just announced that they're moving to the Pac-10. So I guess the apocalypse will proceed as planned. And that also answers the "Baylor or Colorado?" question.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 1:00pm

Why would Texas and Texas A&M prefer to be in the Pac 10, as opposed to the Big 10? Why would the Big 10 desire Mizzou and The Cornhuskers, over the Longhorns and Aggies? Is the Pac 10 more willing, compared to the Big 10, to let Texas keep all of it's revenue from a Longhorns Cable Network?

In any case, the trend for major football powers, like Florida, to develop their own cable networks, really makes more obvious how badly this cartel is exploiting the labor that generates the revenue. Room, board, and tution at Florida runs about 17k year. Out of the 85 guys on scholorship, maybe 10-20 end up making any money playing football professionally? Meanwhile, the university builds a media empire with their labor, so Urban Meyer can increase his seven figure annual compensation. Hell, go for eight digits, Urban! That might help you sleep better at night, and if you have to run off a few minimually compensated laborers, to bring in some new hot prospects, that's just business, right?

by QCIC (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 1:44pm


Not really sure how much longer the blatantly false premise of student-athletes can go on. They are university employees employed in the fund-raising department, and if they want to take some of their compensation in tuition that is great, if they would rather take it all in cash there should be nothing stopping them.

That way schools could have higher academic standards, better football teams, and move tutoring/special needs resources away from athletics (which gobbles up a lot of them). Not putting out such inferior graduates would also increase the value of the degrees offered. The athletic departments could still be affiliate with the schools for branding purposes.

At Wisconsin & Minnesota I saw basketball players taking tests behind a closed door with a tutor, their book, and no time limit. This is on tests that regular students had to take in an hour with no book, and no speaking to anyone, much less someone who already passed the class with a good grade. Of course the athletes were classified as "special needs", but really that was just code for "no way in hell they should be in college". There were many athletes who wouldn't have graduated from my crappy public high school if they had to make it on their own, much less belonged in college...

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:05pm

I have friends who are Notre Dame grads, who told me similar stories regarding prominent athletes for the Irish, back in the 80s. I've always wondered if students who were not afforded such benefits, and were graded on a curve with athletes who were, had basis for a class action lawsuit in Federal court, alleging fraud.

by Dean :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:59pm

These athletes are going to college for a year, two years, five years, whatever, in order to be prepared for their chosen vocation and they select their school with that vocation in mind. Yes, a great number of them never pursue a career in that vocation. I wonder how that compares, statistically, with the percentage of "traditional" students who get a degree and pursue a career in something other than their major?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 4:04pm

I wonder how many professors are earning 5 million a year, based upon the quality of the student's work, while telling some enrolled students to go away, if some high school senior with a great SAT score indicates an interest in enrolling.

by Dean :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 4:21pm

No "traditional" student gets turned away because of an athletic scholarship. All that happens is the total enrollment improves by one.

And I wonder what percentage of distinguished alumni are well known and bring prestige and recognition to their universities because of their athletic prowess vs the distinguished alumni who are well known for their endeavors in all other walks of life combined?

And I wonder how many people ever plunked down $50 on a ticket to watch a professor do a chemistry project?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 4:34pm

Plenty of students lose their athletic scholorships when coaches become more enamored of a talented athlete who recently graduated from high school. I wonder how many people ever plunked down $50 to watch a football coach do his job with players who weigh 150 pounds and run a forty in 5.5 seconds?

It is inadvisable to make a market-based argument for the level of compensation for college football coaches, while ignoring the fact that the people who are just as critical for generating the revenue, if not more so, lack the opportunity to sell their talent to the highest bidder, as the coaches do.

by Dean :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 4:42pm

They might lose their spot on the team, and might even lose their scholarship, but they're not kicked out of school.

And I have no issue with that. It's no different than, say, being cut from your high school basketball team - you don't get expelled from school because you couldn't make the squad. It's good training for the real world, where not everybody gets a trophy.

College is not an entitlement (yet). You can choose to go if you qualify. One way is by meeting traditional requirements - i.e. good grades, test scores, etc. Another way is by demonstrating some unique talent - usually athletic or artistic.

by DavidL :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 6:35pm

Yes, but the student athletes aren't there to be students. They're there to generate revenue for the school through its athletics program.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 6:37pm

Plenty of student-athletes go on to make great use of their degree.

Also, only a few sports actually make money, yet the divers, pole vaulters, and softball players are getting scholarships too.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 6:43pm

Yes, the football players, and a few other athletes, are paying for the education of a lot of other people, with labor which places their health at significant risk, while a cartel fixes how much they can be compensated for that labor.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 6:39pm

If there was not a cartel placing a ceiling on their compensation, for the time they do earn a spot on on the team, I'd have no trouble with it either. What we have, however, is a cartel which fixes the compensation for the labor which plays the game that people pay money to see or broadcast, while the cartel does no such thing for the management which coaches the labor, and the labor, labor which is taking significant health risks, can lose their relatively small compensation the moment the management thinks it would do better with a new laborer. It is profoundly immoral.

by Muldrake (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 10:50pm

There are two problems with this argument. First off, while there is a ceiling on monetary compensationnthere is not a ceiling placed upon the consideration. The true value of a scholarship is not necessarily in dollars but in an apprenticeship in both football skills and conditioning, which may pay off handsomely in the NFL, as well as in a college education which may increase a person's earnings exponentially during the course of a non sporting career at no cost or debt to them. Whether more players should be taking better advantage of this is an entirely different question. The fact is that a free college education is nothing to sneeze at. It is best not to confuse compensation with consideration, and it is tough to argue that atheletes have not received adequate consideration for their abilities, especially when no one knows what those abilities really are before they step on campus.

Secondly, it would appear your beef is really with the NFL, which refuses to draft people fewer than 3 years out of high school and has never established a development league like MLB has. If the NCAA is a non-competitive cartel it is because of the NFL and not anti-trust enforcement or lack thereof.

And incidentally, while I agree that college coaches are overly compensated, their ability to recruit the best apprentices increases the brand as does their ability to teach their apprentices marketable skills.

by Still Alive (not verified) :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 12:45am

The problem with this argument is that if you throw open the college football labor market the pay goes up substantially.

Also a college degree does not "exponentially" increase ones earnings. You give up 4 years of earnings for maybe a 10k pay bump assuming you are employable at all at a college degree seeking job (which is questionable for good portion of these people).

Particularly as more and more people go to college. It still pays off, but not nearly the way it did say, 25 years ago.

Now an engineering degree, or a few other specific degrees make a large difference, but I don't think too many football players get engineering degrees. They seem to clump in sociology/philosophy/psychology/communications/business the least monetarily valuable degrees...

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 9:56am

There are about 8500 guys on scholorship at the top 100 football programs. Maybe 1000, at most will make any money in professional football. Compared to the very common high six and seven figure incomes that coaches commonly make, because the cartel does not collude to cap their compensation, as it does with the players, that opportunity is trivial.

Tell ya' what; instead of soliciting your opinion or my opinion as to what constitutes adequate consideration, how about we just prohibit cartels from colluding to fix what the consideration should be, and we allow people to form agreements in a competitive bidding environment? Tell me why Urban Meyer's family should benefit from that, while the family of Meyer's most sought after recruit does not?

Finally, no, my beef really is not with a labor force and a management group who have collectively bargained for an agreement which has a minimum age requirement, although I would prefer that it not exist. I have a much larger beef with an organized management group forming a cartel, and then colluding to keep down labor costs from an unorganized labor force, while allowing individual managers to auction their services to the highest bidder.

by Still Alive (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 6:50pm

You are missing the point. The point is the REASON coaches make so much money is that other inputs into the product (players) are priced artificially low due to a non-competitive trust the government allows the NCAA to establish.

When this trust was just a small sidelight to the academic programs it made sense.

When it is a multi-billion dollar industry it does not.

by Still Alive (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 6:53pm

Ah Will beat me to the punch because a phone call interrupted my typing for a bit.

by Anonymous 3 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:01pm

I can't see a Florida News Network or Longhorn News Network being viable, how much programming can you pack into a 24 hour day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year? I can see a Big 12 Network or Pac-16 network that will do football games, coaches' press conferences, player interviews, commentary, and eventually other sports. Having your own network is nice, when you're winning championships. During the off years when your seniors or stud juniors leave for the NFL(Florida), your own TV channel might be a cash sinkhole.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:08pm

I think Florida is already generating revenue that they don't share with the SEC, from distributing sports programming content to cable providers in Florida, which is why Texas is pursuing it.

by Will :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 2:15pm

At the end of the day, Notre Dame will join the Big Ten and nothing else will change. Just a lot of smoke to make something happen that should have been done 15 years ago.


by Anonymous 2 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 7:36pm

You mean at the end of the week Nebraska will announce it's bolting to the Big 10, the Pac-16 will expand with the Big 12 South, maybe Notre Dame makes up their mind and joins, and the college football world will be turned upside down.

by Sophandros :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 5:22pm

The latest message board rumor is that Nebraska has officially accepted an invitation to the Big 10 and will make the announcement on Thursday.

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by Quickfish (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 7:25pm

"I knew it, I knew it was coming..."

John Connor, Terminator Salvation

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 10:51pm

What was, Arnie? (Link NSFW)

And can we please not dignify that pathetic, Christian-F-Bale-starring, Skynet's-not-everywhere-or-even-all-that-hard-but-it-is-in-some-surprising-places-such-as-ponds excuse for a movie by referring to it, ever?

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 1:04am

What movie?

As far as I'm concerned, the future's not set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves. Miles Dyson stopped his work and skynet never existed.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 7:33pm

If Jim Delaney lets Texas go the Pac 10, while he settles for Nebraska, he's a bigger schmuck than I thought he was, which is a significant achievement.

by Eddo :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 10:05am

Geography. See my post in the Nebraska's-leaving thread. The Big Ten prefers/requires new teams to be in states adjacent to already-occupied ones. Nebraska and Missouri border Iowa (and Missouri borders Illinois). Texas does not border any current Big Ten states.

by Dean :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 11:36am

Also, the horns actually have to WANT to join the conference. And from all reports, they prefer the PAC 10.

They'd be a nice pickup for the Big 10, but the Big 10 is doing well enough already that they don't need to prostrate themselves before the horns - which is exactly why the Big 12 is staring at its extinction.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 1:30pm

Why would they prefer less money, and two timezone travel? Now, if the issue is that the largest pot of cash comes from the Longhorns having their own network, and the Pac 10 won't make them share it, that makes sense, as it somewhat does if the Texas legislature will require that Texas Tech be chained to Texas, and that is a nonstarter for the Big Ten, especially if Delaney still dreams of all things Irish. Otherwise, the Big 10 offers much more money, and much better travel.

I am a little surprised that schools like Cal or Stanford are cooperative with being joined to Texas Tech.

by Dean :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 1:35pm

"Why would they prefer less money, and two timezone travel? "

Maybe culture? You'd have to ask someone else for a definitive answer.

But it seems fairly obvious that they do prefer the Pac 10.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 1:52pm

Which is what makes me suspect that the Pac 10 is willing to give Texas more leeway, with regard to sharing revenue from a Longhorns Cable Network, compared to the Big Ten. Nobody turns down 5-10 million annually over cultural feelings.

by speedegg :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 7:26pm

That's it! The end of the Big 12 as we know it.