Even when Big 12 comes together, it cannot keep its story straight
The Big 12 replaced commissioner Dan Beebe and pledged to work together
The key to the league's stability is a media-rights deal all schools must agree to
Texas A&M appears free to leave the Big 12 for the SEC without fear of litigation
The University of Missouri provided reporters with a call-in number Thursday to listen in as Chancellor Brady Deaton, the chair of the Big 12's board of directors, explained how the remaining nine members intended to stitch their dysfunctional league back together after they pushed the conference to the brink of oblivion for the second time in 15 months. About a minute after Deaton began to speak, another voice boomed through the phone, rendering Deaton inaudible. The voice belonged to Oklahoma president David Boren, who was simultaneously conducting a press conference of his own.
The moment pretty much sums up the Big 12. Even as Boren insisted he didn't want one school "driving the train," he said it while drowning out the person who was supposed to speak for the conference. Which is kind of funny, since everyone knows at least one engineer's cap in the Big 12 is burnt orange.
Boren and Deaton told two different stories Thursday. While they gave matching accounts of the ouster of Commissioner Dan Beebe -- more like a ritual sacrifice to the realignment gods -- they differed sharply in tone when it came to the key piece of legislation that could actually keep the league together for more than a few months.
To hear Boren tell it, the nine remaining schools have agreed in principle to grant their first- and second-tier media rights to the Big 12 for the next six years. Boren's tone made it seem as if nine signatures will finalize the deal and the league can enjoy near-ironclad security through its next media rights negotiation. (What does it means to grant first- and second-tier rights? Basically, a school turns over the rights to its best football and basketball games to the conference. This effectively renders the schools worthless to any other conferences. If, say, Missouri wanted to go to the SEC, the Tigers could leave, but the Big 12 would get all of Missouri's TV money for the length of the deal. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have similar agreements to remove any incentive to conference-hop.) Deaton did not go nearly as far as Boren. He said the nine CEOs had agreed to discuss such a move, but he said they had not agreed upon it yet. Deaton also refused to commit to keeping Missouri -- which flirted with the SEC in recent weeks -- in the conference long-term. Asked Thursday if the Tigers could leave if the Big 12 couldn't work out its issues, Deaton told reporters, "That's a hypothetical that could occur."
The security of the Big 12 boils down to this: If the schools sign that grant of rights deal, the league will stay together for at least as long as the deal is in place. If the schools don't sign that deal, we'll all be watching Realignmentpalooza again this time next year.
If the deal gets signed, the Big 12 will be able to lure either one or three more schools to join. If the deal doesn't get signed, it might be hard to find a decent school that wants to join a group that has created such a toxic atmosphere in recent years.
Neither Boren nor Deaton got into specifics about potential restrictions on Texas' Longhorn Network. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said Wednesday that the school would not have to share revenue from the network, a lucrative partnership with ESPN that involves the Longhorns' third-tier media rights. At issue now is whether the conference will allow the Longhorn Network to show high school highlights, which would add yet another dimension to Bevo's already-significant recruiting advantages. This will be interesting to watch, especially since Oklahoma is in the process of starting its own network.
Also, Boren said Oklahoma would be willing to agree to equal revenue sharing for first- and second-tier rights -- provided it was phased in gradually. That means Kansas State or Iowa State would receive the same amount of money from the league's richest media deals as Oklahoma and Texas, even though Oklahoma and Texas appear on television far more often. Certainly, that can be worked through as long as the schools agree to grant their rights to the conference. Once that happens, the Big 12 is together -- for better or worse.
What was the nation's happiest city Thursday night? College Station, Texas. A stable Big 12 means Baylor no longer has any reason to threaten a lawsuit against the SEC for taking Texas A&M. This paves the way for the Aggies to pack their bags and leave the dysfunction behind. Texas A&M will be that sibling that marries up and then spends all his time with his wife's family. And who can blame Texas A&M for that? The Big 12 is the type of family where the reunions end with someone waving a knife and screaming "I'll cut all of you!" as the police pull into the driveway. In the SEC, they spend their family reunions in Destin, Fla., counting money by the Gulf of Mexico and then watching their wives spend the windfall at the outlet mall across the street from the hotel.
Who is the nation's unhappiest person tonight? It must be Beebe, who will be scapegoated in spite of the fact that he inherited a nearly impossible task. The remaining schools will blame Beebe for the league's near-implosion when it really was their own inability to keep Texas and Oklahoma from making decisions for everyone. Headhunter Chuck Neinas will take Beebe's place on an interim basis. Neinas has the allegiance of most of the league's athletic directors because he ran the searches in which they were hired. In return, they have hired him for big money every time they fire a football coach. Incestous? Absolutely. But great for Neinas, who once ran the College Football Association, the group that helped break schools away from the NCAA's control of television rights -- setting college sports on the path that has led to frequent realignment as schools chase ever-richer media rights deals. It's a shame Beebe will be remembered in such a negative light. It's tough to have too much sympathy because of the sheer weight of Beebe's golden parachute, but he is a good man whose only failure was an inability to get a bunch of egomaniacs to control their egos.
(On a side note, the professional downfall of Beebe has been a boon for the anonymous satirist who impersonates him on Twitter. If the @#$% My Dad Says guy can get a sitcom out of his Twitter feed, Fake Dan Beebe deserves a feature film if only for his accounting of Beebe's final hours as Big 12 Commissioner. "I'M OUT," the fake Beebe wrote Thursday night. "I'M NEVER COMMISSIONERING ANOTHER CONFERENCE EVER AGAIN ... ENJOY YOUR MISERABLE LITTLE CONFERENCE, "BIG 12." I HOPE YOU FAIL. GOODBYE.")
In the end, the real Beebe might be the lucky one. He got paid to leave a group of schools that couldn't even seem to figure out Thursday whether they have done the one thing that would ensure they stay together. If they agree to grant the media rights to the league, it will erase all doubt.
"It's much stronger," Boren said. "All of our breakup language would stay in place as well. If you leave the conference early, you have to pay a breakup fee. ... Added to it would be what I would call the 'handcuffs' of a grant of rights."
Handcuffs, indeed. Maybe they should print some new promotional material to celebrate the New -- no, they really mean it this time -- New Big 12.
The Big 12. The Conference That's Chained Together Stays Together.