Around the poker table, the faces are familiar: Jim Delaney, commissioner of the Big 10 (reigning poker champion who could be on the verge of losing his bracelet); Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pacific 10 (a.k.a. the Jim Delaney wanna-be); Daniel Beebe “Gun,” commissioner of the Big 12 (no one knows who invited Dan to play); Mike Slive, commissioner of the SEC (the man whose poker double talk is so damn good, no one ever knows what this guy is going to do); John Swofford, commissioner of the ACC (invited because he’s a nice guy and no one wanted to hurt his feelings); John Marinatto, commissioner of the Big East (the one guy at the table who knows he has no chance to win); and…..William Powers Jr., President of the University of Texas. (As an aside, no one bothered to invite Jack Swarbrick, AD of Notre Dame, because he doesn’t know how to play and all indications are that he doesn’t want to learn). That’s right, five commissioner and just the one university president, and all the participants know that the university president holds all of the cards. The question on everyone’s mind these days, at least on the mind of those fanatical nuts that hang on every rumor, vague quote, and blind speculation is, what will the University of Texas do? If William Power’s Jr. knows, like any good poker player, he’s not telling. Here’s my best guess.
The Flop: In February of this year, Texas to join the Big Ten was the rumor that sent ripple waves through the college world. Would the program with the number one revenue generating athletetic department join the conference with the highest TV revenue? Sports guy convinced himself this never would happen because of geography, the costs and scheduling problems of other sports, and because Texas was somehow unlikely to abandon conference rivals like Texas A&M and Oklahoma. The astute sports fan pointed out how lucrative such a deal could be and the general discord between members of the not so happy Big 12 family. I even drafted a model that would allow the Big 10 to bring in five members from the Big 12 and form two eight team conferences that would allow Texas to play almost all of its games in the central time zone. While Texas President William Powers remained mostly silent on the subject, AD Deloss Dodds and other officials at Texas vehemently denied these rumors.
The turn: This week’s developments, er, I mean, rumor, has the Pac 10 and its maverick commissioner, Larry Scott, striking a deal while the Big Ten does the Texas two step (is Notre Dame the wife or the mistress? Who really knows). The latest rumor proliferated by internet rumor mongers has the Pac 10 expanding to 16 teams in a hostile takeover of the heart of the Big 12, adding Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado. Under this new realignment, the co-opted Big 12 schools would join Arizona and Arizona State in one eight team conference, with the remaining eight schools from California, Oregon, and Washington forming a second eight team conference. Stay tuned.
The (Red) River: At this point, its clear that Texas is the key to conference expansion, the equivalent of the perfect ten woman in the bar hit on by every barfly. If they remain in the Big 12, the conference can likely stay in tact. But if Bevo chooses to leave for greener pastures, or, does so once a school like Nebraska, Missouri, or Colorado relocates, one can safely conclude that the Big 12 as we know it will cease to exist. Sitting on a pair of pocket aces, the question is, what will the Texas Longhorns do?
Texas remains in the Big 12 (A.K.A. Don Beebe’s Wet Dream)
Reason for optimism, if you are a fan of preserving the Big 12, is that nine of the 12 schools have committed to staying in the conference, including Texas (with Nebraska, Missouri, and Colorado the three refusing to commit). Many believe that Nebraska may be the key to determining whether or not Texas can keep the Big 12 together, assuming that they really want to, and it appears that the remaining schools in the Big 12 have given Nebraska an ultimatum. One plausible scenario is that the Big 10 never offers Nebraska because of its age long obsession with trapping an aloof Leprechaun (some believe the Big Ten really only wants to invite Notre Dame and no one else). It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
If you are the number one grossing athletic program in college sports and you have an unbalanced deal with your conference, why not just stay in the Big 12? Why not just start the Longhorn Network and split the proceeds just the one way? It would seem like this is the Longhorn’s preference, but what if the Big 10 invites a school like Missouri and and the Pac Ten grabs Colorado (others have argued that the Big 10 might pass on Nebraska because of academic concerns and because they do not play in a large TV market)? One solution is to simply replace them. My guess is that TCU and Utah would jump at the chance to play in an AQ conference (and no people, Boise State is NOT going to get an offer from either the Pac 10 or the Big 12 should an opening exist, cute blue turf and all. My guess is that they get an offer from the Mountain West Conference, as early as tomorrow). And as far as competition on the field goes, Texas just might like its cozy little arrangement just as it is; beat Oklahoma each year and you have a realistic shot at playing for the national title.
My guess is that Texas stays put. While it’s unlikely that Texas can squeeze more out of it’s members, the unbalanced deal, plus a new Longhorn Network, and a fairly easy path to the national championship game makes the present arrangement a pretty good one for the burnt orange crowd. Even if a few schools bolt, as long as Oklahoma and Nebraska stay put, Texas can remain king of the newly created bunch. Plus, never discount the conservative nature of university presidents who have already profited handsomely from the present arrangement and likely fear the unknown.
Odds: 10 to 1.
Is the Pac 10 about to become the Pac 16? Texas wanted in once before.
Texas joins the Pac 10 (A.K.A. “The Pac 10 is relevant again”)
This would be a huge win for the Pac 10, a conference that for too long has had only one nationally relevant program, the University of Southern California, the semi-professional team based in Los Angeles. Sure Oregon teases people with their state of the art facilities and Nike’s money, but other than leading the conference in suspensions and sucker punches, the Ducks are typically irrelevant come January. And don’t even get me started on the always overrated California Golden Bears, the Virginia Tech of the West (next year will be the Bears year, you’ll see. Now excuse the Bears while they scrap with the likes of the Minnesota Golden Gophers for three quarters on their way to another non-BCS bowl type season). Texas would make the conference immediately legitimate, especially if they are able to bring Oklahoma over as discussed in the rumor above. And a model that has the five Big 12 schools joining the Arizona Schools would allow Texas to play the vast majority of their games in either the Central or Mountain time zones, meaning the Longhorns could show most of their broadcasts back home in prime time.
Another advantage inherent to this model is that the Pac 10 is apparently willing to allow Texas Tech to come along, the red-headed step child of the Big 12. I’m not sure Tech gets the TV sets turned on in California, Washington, Oregon, or anywhere for that matter, but it helps the Longhorns avoid certain political entanglements in the crazy Texas Legislature. A group of these said lawman are reportedly pushing for Baylor’s inclusion in the Pac 10 offer, leaving Colorado twisting in the wind like Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary pass against Michigan. When the Big 12 was formed in the mid-1990s, then Texas governor Ann Richards, a Baylor grad, got Baylor into the new league with her political clout. If the Pac 10 agrees to include Baylor in the mix, meaning that political opposition in Texas is removed from the equation as all the Texas schools are included on the dance card, such a move could make the Pac 10 the front runners in the Texas sweepstakes.
On the flip side, why would Texas do this from a revenue perspective? Last year the Pac 10 teams split approximately $8 million dollars apiece from their TV revenue deals. While Larry Scott would undoubtedly make the formation of a new TV Network his first order of business, estimates that I have read suggest that this newly formed conference could expect revenues in the range of $15-$20 million dollars apiece. My question is, with the Big 10 already at $22 million apiece and counting, why would Texas settle for a “second rate” conference, television revenue wise, like the Pac 10? Texas will leave money on the table only if the “Tech problem” forces their hand.
And then there is the Stanford Cardinal problem. In the Pac 10, any decisions that would include expansion require a unanimous vote before it could happen. And one should not forget that when Texas was shopping for a home last time, it was Stanford that voted to keep them out. While Stanford may think otherwise this time around, the question is, if other lesser schools are packaged as part of the deal, will this be too much for Stanford to swallow? While the Cardinal had a nice little season last year, threatening to win the conference as late as 10 games into the season, for the most part, Stanford is an academic institution that hangs its revenue hat on the academic hook. Stanford commands approximately $1 million dollars in R&D grants for each student enrolled at their small private school. That’s another way of saying that the money associated with conference expansion is a proverbial drop in the bucket for the Stanford Cardinal. Do they really muddy the academic waters by taking in programs like Texas Tech and Oklahoma. They may not.
Texas joins the Big 10 (A.K.A. “The SEC’s worst Nightmare”)
You have to imagine the SEC likes things just the way they are. While the Big 10 Network earned each Big Ten team slightly more than each SEC team earned from the CBS/ESPN deals, factor in the local TV deals for each SEC team, and the difference is negligible. And the whole world apparently still believes that the SEC plays a superior brand of football (and by whole world I mean ESPN), allowing the conference to parlay this into four straight appearances in the BCS championship game.
But add Texas to the Big Ten, and it’s a completely different shootin’ match.
For one, if the Big 10 does convince Texas to come over, it’s likely part of a bigger package. To soften the blow, the Big 10 would likely extend an invitation to Texas A&M, an AAU school that is a significant player in the Research and Development game. My guess is that once the Big 10 offers two, they don’t stop until they get to sixteen total teams, meaning that college football will now have its first super-conference since the failed WAC experiment. Available to the Big 10 possibly on the cheap would be Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska, all schools the conference would likely find acceptable. And while some balk at a model that has Texas joining them Yankees up north, ostensibly because of the timezone difference, I have already drawn up a 16 team model with Texas in the Big 10 that would allow them to play almost all of their games in the central time zone. The SEC’s little cozy arrangement would be in jeopardy, as Clive and the boys are unlikely to watch their conference take a back seat to Delaney’s new sixteen headed monster. This may result in the college football equivalent to the eighties cold war nuclear detente between the United States and the Soviet Union, only more vicious.
Ohio State and Texas played in three thrilling games in the last decade. Is there a chance this could be a regular match-up, this time to decide the conference championship?
There are several reasons such a move would appeal to Texas, mostly financial. For one, they walk into a conference with a successful Network already generating $22 million dollars for each school, an amount that almost certainly would increase by simply adding the Longhorns and a conference championship game. Also, this move might appeal to Texas because of the prestige of the the Big Ten Schools, all members of the lucrative CIC. As I discussed in the article above, all of the Big 10 schools (plus the University of Chicago) are members of the CIC and share their resources. Add five new teams, and R&D grants could total in the neighborhood of $8 billion dollars. Simply put, the Big 12 schools will never match the Big 10 schools in either academic prestige or R&D grants.
The biggest problem I see with this model is what Ohio State President Gordon Gee aptly described as the “Tech problem”. It would appear that Texas Tech is indeed the “fat little girlfriend” that Mike Leech was talking about before his departure. While the Big 10 may be willing to invite A&M to join its new super-conference, this deal could fall apart if political pressure from the Texas legislature forces Tech to be included in this package deal. Whatever one thinks of the Big Ten money making consortium, this guy believes that the academic standing of its members remains important. No invite for Tech, and Texas may have to look elsewhere.
Odds: 50 to 1.
Is a regular Texas-Alabama match-up in the cards? This guy doesn’t think so.
Texas joins the SEC (A.K.A. “The Big Ten’s Worst Nightmare”)
Adding Texas is a no-brainer for any of the conferences. As great as the run has been for the SEC the last seven years, adding Texas to the SEC would unquestionably make the conference the king of college football, especially if Oklahoma comes along for the ride. Could you imagine a slate that includes Alabama, Texas, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Oklahoma? In terms of both TV markets and recruiting areas, it would literally be the SEC on one side and everybody else on the other.
This might also make sense from a financial perspective, as each SEC school earned approximate $17 million dollars from their CBS/ESPN deals. As noted above, this total does not include local TV contracts. One way the SEC schools could entice Texas is by allowing them to keep a good chunk or all of the money they generate as a result of local broadcasts. It should be noted that the CBS/ESPN deals contain clauses that would allow the contract to be renegotiated if the conference expands, meaning that the SEC almost certainly could command more than the 3.1 billion dollars ESPN overpaid for the SEC package. Such a scenario would make Texas and each SEC team filthy rich.
Simply put, though, this isn’t going to happen. For one, speculation is rampant out of Texas that the Longhorns are not interested in being associated with a conference that consistently ranks low academically. For another, the difficult road through the SEC to the national championship game might not be all that appealing to the to the Texas folk. It’s one thing to work your way through Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. It’s quite another to navigate through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana State, and Oklahoma in the same season. For these reasons, I don’t see this happening.
Will the biggest school from the Lone Star State stand alone? I’m not betting on it.
Texas becomes an Independent (A.K.A. “Texas goes Notre Dame stupid on us”)
If one school could pull this off, it would be Texas. But why would they? For one, it seems inevitable that the Big 10 and the Pac 10 expand, whether Texas is apart of it or not. And more to the point, both of these conferences have talked about expanding to 16 teams, creating super conferences. As I discussed in another piece criticizing Notre Dame, being Independent has actually made it more difficult to be relevant on a BCS level. For Notre Dame to get a BCS invite, they must be in the top 8 of the final BCS standings; for Texas to get such an invite, they need only win their conference. As an example, Nebraska nearly earned a BCS bid last year as they came within a second of beating the Longhorns in the Big 12 conference championship game. Nebraska nearly earned a BCS birth with four losses, something that would never happen for an independent team.
As another practical matter, its much harder to start a network when you are an independent, as I discussed in this article. That’s because you would have no affiliation with any of the teams that you play, making it very difficult to sign the sort of exclusive broadcast deals necessary to make your network a prized commodity (you either tune into the Big 10 Network to see Purdue against Indiana, or you don’t see the game at all).
Finally, you have the problem of being independent for football but needing conference affiliation for other sports. While ND has been able to work out such an arrangement with the Big East, recent grumblings have made it clear that some are unhappy with ND, demanding that they put all their chips in or give up their seat at the table altogether. It’s unclear whether Texas would be able to strike such a deal.
The only major football power left as an independent is Notre Dame, and with good reason. While the Fighting Irish might not see the problem with their present arrangement, the good business men and women at Texas would.
Hours into the tournament, nothing had been settled. Marinatto and Swofford, never having a good hand, sat paralyzed watching the action unfold. Slive bluffed a good game, but in the end, was right where he began, chip set in tact, sitting idly by with no intention of risking his current stack. Delaney slowed played a pair of pocket Kings; had he been aggressive from the beginning, he could have controlled the action and forced players from the game, but alas, his advantage was gone. Beebe, for his part, tried to bluff his way to the final showdown, losing each and every hand–it was apparent to everyone at the table that he was irrelevant from the very beginning. Just when you thought that nothing of importance was going to happen, Scott, looking at Powers, suddenly rose up from his chair, and in dramatic fashion, pushed all his chips in the middle. Before Powers could respond, the door swept open to cries of “what’s going on in here”; Delaney was the only one that even noticed that Swarbrick had entered the room. Powers waited through the flop, the turn, and river, fully aware that his pocket aces gave him a full house, the hand that would trump all others at the table. Maybe it was for effect, but Powers enjoyed watching the others sweat, with the confidence of a man that knew he was going to win, whether he played this hand or waited to go all in on the next.
Categories: College Football