Posted: Wednesday June 9, 2010 12:21PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 9, 2010 6:02PM
Stewart Mandel

Pac-10 power, Big 12 ultimatum and more in all-expansion Mailbag

Story Highlights

Big 12 is at mercy of other leagues because of conference bosses and TV

If Nebraska defects, other Big 12 teams will no longer remain committed

Lack of attractive candidates is preventing Big 12 from going on offensive

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As you may have guessed, the Mailbag's moratorium on expansion-related questions has come to a screeching halt after just two weeks. I pledged I wouldn't discuss the subject until we had some actual, legit news, and while we still don't know of any concrete invitations -- and while 95 percent of what you're reading about expansion these days (including from me) remains largely speculative -- I'd say a commissioner given free reign to start poaching teams, a major conference handing out ultimatums and presidents of universities openly lobbying their counterparts constitutes news.

To be perfectly honest, I find the whole Pac-10/Big 12 storyline riveting. I can't stay off Twitter for longer than five minutes for fear that I'm missing another new tidbit. It's not that I want to see one conference completely obliterate another -- but the possibility is morbidly fascinating. And based on my in-box, most of you are similarly on edge.

So without further ado, guys and gals, I give you the first-ever ALL-expansion Mailbag:

I'm honestly mystified: How is it that the Pac-10 can whimsically thrust itself into a position that would allow it to disintegrate the Big 12? I'm from Texas, and it seems like, after the SEC, the Big 12 is the premier conference in the country, both in football and across the Olympic sport spectrum. So how is the Pac-10, perennial butt of college football jokes, somehow in a position to bring the Big 12 to its knees?
-- Michael, Austin, Texas

I'm not going to rehash the backstory of the Big 12's internal strife and Nebraska's long-standing resentment toward Texas, though that's undeniably a factor in the current stalemate. The more pertinent reasons why this is happening now, and why the Pac-10, of all conferences, stands poised to pick up the Big 12's pieces, has to do with commissioners, television deals and plain-old timing.

In 2007, with the Big 12's network television package coming up for renegotiation, then-commissioner Kevin Weiberg encouraged his schools to explore their own version of The Big Ten Network. They declined, a decision that seemed reasonable at the time (the BTN had not yet debuted on air and was struggling to find distribution) but has come back to bite them. Weiberg left shortly thereafter (for, of all places, the Big Ten Network) but not before negotiating a new eight-year deal with ABC/ESPN worth $480 million. Again, those numbers seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. No one knew they'd become utterly outdated just two years later, due in large part to the BTN's success.

When ESPN signed its game-changing, 15-year, $2.25 billion deal with the SEC last year (CBS signed an additional 15-year, $825 million deal with the league at the same time), it did so because the SEC was seriously considering starting its own network. Yes, the SEC is a more coveted property than the Big 12 -- but not by that much. When both 12-team leagues announced their 2009-10 revenue last week, the SEC checked in at $209 million, the Big 12 at $139 million. Even the ACC recently netted a new megadeal from ABC/ESPN (12 years, $1.86 billion, more than double its old deal). The Big 12's cable deal with Fox comes up next year and will almost assuredly garner a hefty spike, but its network package is locked in through 2015-16.

Enter the Pac-10, which has been buried by its own second-tier TV deals for years but has renegotiations coming up next year, and a savvy new commissioner, Larry Scott, spearheading them. And look who's his new No. 2 -- our old buddy Weiberg. The Pac-10 finds itself in a position to start its own network and/or elicit a bidding war between existing networks. (Fox is reportedly very interested in a joint-venture.) The timing is perfect for that league to strike gold if it can assemble the right lineup, and Texas is by far its most attractive option. Weiberg, with his past Big 12 ties, can help make it happen, thanks in part to the threat of Nebraska leaving for the Big Ten. That doesn't leave poor Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe with a lot of leverage.

All that said, Texas, which boasts the nation's richest athletic department, isn't in desperate need of more money. Texas would like to remain in the Big 12, but has indicated it may have no choice but to leave if Nebraska bolts. We'll see. This could all still be a big bluff, with Scott and Weiberg providing the ammunition. But as I wrote last week, the "Pac-16" does make a lot of sense.

The Big 12 has reportedly drawn a line in the sand and given three of its members (Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado) a date by which they must commit to the Big 12. What exactly are they going to do if one or all of these schools says sorry, we just aren't ready to make up our minds? Kick them out and go Big 9? Dissolve the conference? Draw another line in the sand? This doesn't seem like a credible threat at all.
-- Scott Hammond, Saint Amant, La.

My sense is that it's not an official conference-office ultimatum as much as it is a deadline imposed by Texas and the other potentially impacted schools. As in, "You need to tell us by this date (reported to be anywhere from this Friday to next Thursday) whether you're with us, because if you're not, we've got to start making contingency plans." Nobody's getting kicked out, but once this deadline passes, the nine schools that have pledged their commitment to the Big 12 will no longer be so committed.

And that will most definitely be the case if the latest reports that Nebraska may defect as soon as Friday prove true.

Simple question here, haven't seen it addressed at all: Why doesn't the Big 12 go to 16 teams itself to prevent itself from being raided? Go on the offensive and add four teams (Boise, Utah, BYU and TCU?). Why is this not even a blip on the radar, anywhere?
-- T.J., Boston

While those are all solid football programs, none would add any great value to the conference's television properties due to their relatively small markets (or in TCU's case, the fact that Texas already delivers its market). The league would be dividing the pie into four more pieces without actually making it that much bigger, which means each of the existing schools would get less than they would if they stayed at 12.

And remember, the two most important cogs to the league's future, Texas and Nebraska, are old-guard schools with the cachet to be picky. I don't doubt Texas prefers the Big 12 as currently constituted to the proposed Pac-16. But faced between joining forces with USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford or Boise State, Utah, BYU and TCU -- it's going to choose the former. Ditto for Nebraska in the Big Ten. That's why the Big 12 is stuck in an uncomfortable position --- its marquee teams are far more attractive to other leagues than any available teams are to the Big 12.
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