The Big 12 is moving forward, together, and plans to use its relationship with Texas and Oklahoma for as long as its contract allows.
There is virtually nothing the Big 12, and its commissioner Bob Bowlsby, could have done to prevent the league’s two biggest schools from leaving the conference for the SEC.
According to multiple Big 12 officials, the trigger in Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to leave the conference centers around ESPN’s next offer to remain the league’s primary media right’s carrier.
The contract does not expire until after the 2024-25 season, but the parties were already discussing what the new deal could look like.
The offer was going to be virtually the same as the 13-year deal the Big 12 signed with ESPN back in 2011 when the league agreed to a $2.6 billion contract that included Fox Sports as a partner to carry secondary games.
ESPN declined comment for this story.
As schools continually look for ways to increase revenue, the thought of not being offered more by the nation’s largest sports carrier was more than enough reason for the powers that be at both Texas and Oklahoma to look to the Southeast.
That original contract put the Big 12 solidly behind the SEC and Big 10 in the Power Five conferences in terms of media rights value.
Texas and Oklahoma made about $34 to $35 annually from this current contract with the Big 12.
By going to the SEC, the respective take for each school should increase to $60 million annually.
At the behest of a consulting group the league hired, the Big 12 approached ESPN and Fox back in May about a new contract.
Both networks said it was too early to talk about numbers. Considering the rapidly evolving state of cable TV, streaming and cord cutting, the networks wanted to play this out a little further.
However, in casual and unofficial conversations among administrators it became evident the numbers were going to be the same.
Without multiple bidders, ESPN was going to offer what it wanted, and the same financial parameters was not going to be enough for the two biggest schools that can get a lot more elsewhere.
The Big 12’s problem was competition. There is none.
Without a streaming service such as Hulu, Amazon, or Apple TV either entering or making a grand commitment to live sports by money whipping the Big 12 with an absurd contract, there was nothing the Big 12 could have done to come close to matching that type of potential figure for Texas and Oklahoma.
Fox Sports was not going to do it. Neither was NBC nor CBS.
The Big 12 always knew it was beholden to Texas and Oklahoma, but it didn’t realize exactly to what level.
Unless Texas and Oklahoma cough up $80 million, each, to leave the league before the current contract expires in 2025, the Big 12 plans to leverage both schools to its maximum potential.
Or the league will sue them, and likely receive a fat settlement check.
Until then, the Big 12 will use them, while secretly hoping they both lose.
The conference athletic directors of the remaining eight Big 12 schools met this week, and they plan to remain together with an eye on expansion.
”Following two days of consultation with the athletics directors of the continuing members of the Big 12 Conference, the eight ADs remain committed to furthering the Big 12 as one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences, and look forward to working with our presidents and chancellors to strengthen the league,” Bowlsby said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “Future exploration by the group will continue to center on options that best position the long-term strength of the Conference.”
Although the school is covered in concerns, BYU remains desirable. The athletic department has been consistently competitive for decades, and brings interest and eyeballs.
The concerns are its stance about not playing games on Sunday, and its hard-line position against the LGBTQ+ community, which has come under scrutiny and criticism from some students and alums.
The league already considered expansion back in 2016, which became more of a national punchline. By announcing its potential plans to expand, however, the Big 12 at least avoided the potential snag of litigation.
Among the list of potential additions were 11 schools: BYU, Air Force, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple and Tulane.
This is not a path the Big 12 wants to be on, but this is where it stands because the money the league was going to get was not enough for its two biggest members to stick around.