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Looking To The Future
July 08, 2011
This is the last of a four part series written by Big 12 Insider Wendell Barnhouse, examining the events of the past 18 months that brought us to the current configuration of 10 institutions in the Big 12 Conference.
Part One
Threats From East And West
Ten Days In June

By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

There was not a single factor, no magic bullet, no super hero as the Big 12 Conference reaching the brink but not falling into the precipice. Commissioner Dan Beebe, vilified by the media for fiddling while his league burned, brushes aside talk that he saved the Big 12.

"It's my nature to be eternally optimistic until the final whistle but when Nebraska left I thought the conference was at very high risk because we had other institutions looking very hard at other opportunities," he said. "But I decided to play it out as hard as I could."

"There's satisfaction in the outcome. You prepare as best you can, you work as hard as you can, you play as hard as you can. It's not so much about winning; it's about doing all you can to put yourself or your team in a position to win."

With the retrospect of a year later, here are some of the factors that contributed to the Big 12 victory:

* The Texas Legislature. The possible end of the Big 12 - with Baylor left league-less, Texas A&M headed to the Southeastern Conference meaning the end of the UT-A&M rivalry - was untenable for the politicians in Austin. They made it clear there would be hell to pay if the Pac-10's invitations were accepted.

* Texas A&M. Instead of going along as part of the "Texas package deal," Texas A&M made it clear that it was comfortable being a leader and not a follower. Athletic director Bill Byrne, in particular, disliked the idea of Aggies teams trekking to the Pacific Northwest.

* Texas. At the end of the day, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds surveyed the landscape and was able to convince UT president William Powers that the Longhorns were better off staying put (when the school and ESPN agreed to a $300 million, 20-year deal to launch The Longhorn Network this August, that decision was justified.)

* Television. ABC/ESPN wanted the Big 12 - and its Central Time Zone homes - to survive. The decision to not reduce rights fees for the length of the current contract helped Beebe's vision of a bright future for the Conference. And that future was further solidified when FOX made good on the promises it had made in Kansas City in June of 2010.

"It became obvious that there would be a nice reward if we could keep the conference together," Big 12 television consultant Joel Lulla said.

In April, FOX and the Big 12 agreed to a 13-year deal for the Conference's "second tier" (cable) TV rights. Neither the network nor the Conference will discuss the financial details but several media outlets have pegged the deal to be worth $1.17 billion, an average of $9 million per year per school for the length of the deal.

"We under promised but we over-delivered," Lulla said. "It justified what we had told our members. This deal was better than anything we thought we could get. FOX really wanted the Big 12, it's incredibly important to them."

Ohio University sports business professor David Ridpath told the Dallas Morning News that the fulfilled promise of the cable deal with FOX was a crucial deal maker. "You have to give credit where credit is due to Dan Beebe for saving the Big 12," Ridpath said.

The Big 12's contract with ABC/ESPN for "first tier" (over the air) rights runs through the 2015-16 season. That deal is valued at an average of $60 million per year. Based on the market place, the Big 12 figures to double - triple? quadruple? - its television revenue for over-the-air rights.

The bottom line is that Big 12 schools' annual slice of the Conference revenue pie will be on a par with schools in the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences.

"All the indications are incredibly positive," Lulla said.

That's far from what Big 12 folks were feeling during the first two weeks in June of 2010.

"Twelve months ago it was a near-death experience but we've come out of that very strong and very united," Baylor president Ken Starr said.

At this year's spring meetings, the Conference presidents voted to reform revenue sharing, a prickly topic since the league's inception.

For the first 15 years of the Big 12, just over half (57 percent) of conference revenue had been distributed equally. At the spring meetings last month, Conference presidents unanimously voted to increase to 76 percent the revenue that his equally shared. The remaining 24 percent of television revenue is doled out according to each team's television appearances.

"The important thing is we're dealing with a lot more revenue, so everybody feels good about the contract and giving us the flexibility and resources to be more competitive," said Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton. "And there's also the growing recognition that to be a strong conference, we've got to have every member be strong and competitive in an ongoing basis in all sports."

The Big 12 will soon roll out a media campaign that will extol the virtues of its 10-school alignment - round-robin schedules in football and basketball, heightened rivalries, rooted traditions and heartland ties that bind.

"Our conference now is as strong as or stronger than it has ever been," Dodds told the Dallas Morning News. "Avoiding some big shift of schools somewhere else, I don't think anybody in the Big 12 is going to do something different. We're solid. The money is good. The competition is good. I like everything about it."

Perhaps the events of last summer and the departures of two original members were inevitable. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Nietzche also said, "You look into an abyss, the abyss also looks at you."

The Big 12 looked into the abyss and is now stronger for it.

"I think for all of our institutions, after going through last summer, after some intense self evaluations, when they decided to come together I think there's a strong will to make it work," Beebe said. "I think there's a lot of excitement of doing what conferences like the Big Ten and the SEC did for decades - playing each other every season, establishing rivalries. Conferences going to bigger numbers are going to have challenges and issues.

"When the conference came together, it was a marriage of convenience to put together a lot more homes to be able to compete in the marketplace - television homes. Well, now after the full exploration everybody gave to whether they should do something different, it's a marriage of commitment."
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