Conference Realingment Notes: Big 12 Approves Conference Championship Game & Expansion in Play

Photo via Daniel X. O'Neil @ Flickr

The Big 12 concluded their Big 12 meetings last week and in addition to adding a conference championship game, there’s also a new twist to the expansion thoughts.

Photo via Daniel X. O'Neil @ Flickr

FOX Sports’ Stewart Mandel recaps last week’s Big 12 meetings, namely that the Big 12 has decided to add a championship game and will have two divisions of five teams.

Of course, the addition of a championship game is repetitive in a conference that plays a round-robin schedule, but by adding the conference championship game the Big 12 could add an additional $30 million in revenue, an additional $3 million per school and then there’s the data point that the additional game will mean a more likely addition to the College Football Playoff:

Of course it’s not a sure thing that both teams in the league’s 2017 championship game will be ranked, especially with Bowlsby indicating Friday that the conference will likely employ two five-team divisions. Many of us previously assumed they would just pit the top two teams. Divisions, more often than not, are imbalanced. Which means 11-1 “South” champ Oklahoma could well play 8-4 “North” champ Iowa State.

But even if the on-field action doesn’t go to plan, there’s still at least one guarantee from the new event — cash. Bowlsby said Friday that revenue from the game could approach $30 million annually, or nearly $3 million per school. Given Friday’s other big news that the league’s revenue distribution spiked 20 percent this year to an average of $30.4 million per school, suddenly concerns of the conference falling drastically behind the SEC ($32.7 million last year) and Big Ten ($32.4 million) should quiet.

Two points to note there, the potential of having unequal divisions, which will be interesting and then the idea that the Big 12 distributed $30.4 million per school, which is third behind both the SEC and the Big Ten.

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CBS Sports Dennis Dodds recapped the Big 12 meetings and his thoughts were a bit more nuanced in that Dodds is suggesting that because the Big 12 has written in its contracts with FOX and ESPN that they have to match the distribution to each school, could the Big 12 then, in turn, force both FOX and ESPN to break the bank and spend their money on the Big 12 rather than being able to spend money on the Big Ten or the SEC:

But ESPN/Fox has to pay the Big 12 in expansion if it comes to that. They want the rights to the Big Ten. See how the Big 12 could upset a lot of folks by cashing in?

“I’m aware of that,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, dryly. “It’s probably not fair to say it’s a zero-sum game, but it’s not unrelated.”

Oklahoma president David Boren said the discussion over adding teams was “ongoing.” He continued: “There was no feeling we’re going to slow our look at expansion.”

To that point, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has mentioned he would like to have his deal done some time around the Big Ten Media Days in late July. Bowlsby said he hopes to have a decision on expansion by the end of summer.

ESPN wouldn’t pass on the Big Ten because it had to pay the Big 12, would it?

That’s truly fascinating, at least to me, and an angle I hadn’t considered. The problem seems that the timeline may not work out for the Big 12, especially if Dodds is correct in that Delany wants a deal done by the end of July. Just wondering how ESPN and FOX can negotiate with the Big Ten with the potential to spend more money that they bargained for with the Big 12?

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Should also note that NewsOK’s Ryan Aber writes that the idea of the Big 12 Network is dead, with Oklahoma president David Boren agreeing that such a network is long gone:

“I’d just say the marketplace has changed,” Boren said of the conference network idea. “It’s a moot issue now. The marketplace simply isn’t interested in a traditional network. I can be for it or against it, but the important thing is, is there a market for it? Is there a willing partner right now for a network for anybody?”

Boren cited a shift in the way programming is consumed — through streaming sites and on smartphones and tablets instead of through traditional broadcast or cable television services — as a reason for the shift on the issue.

“I would say the marketplace has taken the Big 12 Network, in the traditional sense, off the marketplace. That would be true for the SEC or the Big Ten or anybody else coming up for the first time trying to create a network at this particular time,” Boren said. “There’s no reason for us to quarrel with anybody over whether their network is going to continue or not when there is no possibility for a marketplace for creating a traditional Big 12 Network.”


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