Dan Beebe wooed Texas (with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech close behind) with promises of more unequal revenue sharing and Longhorn TV rights to boot. It was a gutsy move that almost definitely saved the Big 12 from being cannibalized by its neighbors. In the process the Big 12 significantly upgraded its basketball facet by shedding Nebraska (albeit with some history) and Colorado like basketball was at the heart of expansion.
Considering last week most people (including yours truly) had already written a Big 12 obituary, I couldn’t have dreamed of a more appealing resolution from the eyes of basketball (no offense to the dearly departed, but the conference just got exponentially more difficult, and everyone will play twice a year).
But for some reason, I don’t feel completely satisfied with the result…more after the jump.
Here are my initial problems with the new, hoops improved, Big 12 (or whatever it will be called) conference:
- The world is not drifting towards the good old ten-team conferences of the past. Whether it’s now, or in two or three years, conferences are expanding. More teams means more money in the long run.
- Dan Beebe still doesn’t come across as confident. He sounds like someone who just hit a desperation shot to go into overtime. Really he sounds like someone who just saved his job by pulling some statistics and lofty goals (that he doesn’t have much control over) out of thin air, but who hasn’t started thinking about how to achieve these goals.
- The Big 10 says it’s not interested in any Big 12 schools. This is a lie. They would take Texas; mark my words they will take Missouri once they convince Notre Dame to come (please, Missouri wanted out until they realized they weren’t getting an invitation…they fit way too well with the Big 10 geographically and new-TV-market-ly to not eventually be invited). Jim Delaney has always been interested in conference expansion, and he still is (he’s just not in a hurry).
- The conference is still living and dying by the Longhorns’ every whim. No one likes a dictatorship, and that’s exactly what the current situation feels like. While Kansas and K-State are probably thrilled just to have a conference, unequal revenue sharing bodes poorly for future stability.
- The name thing. I know I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but I’m really at a loss regarding solutions to the Big 12 / Big 10 name crisis. Keeping their current names makes absolutely no sense unless people just accept that the numbers are meaningless; swapping names makes all hell break loose; and changing the adjective cedes history, and probably your future as a conference (stay strong Dan). It seems like a lose-lose situation to me, but I vote to keep the names the same until all of the dust settles (or the Big 10 backs down).
Unless Beebe and the Big 12 grab life by the horns (sorry) and move to aggressively control their futures, recent moves are no more than a band-aid. First, the Big 10 wants to expand, just on a slower timetable (or any timetable the Fighting Irish request). They don’t need Missouri until they get Notre Dame, but once the Irish come the Tigers will provide the natural balance. The Big 10 probably would also look at the ACC and Big East to expand their TV market share, but those clearly make a worse fit than Missouri. As a side note, Maryland sounded very against leaving the ACC (which isn’t surprising, as it’s a founding member and an awful geographic fit for the Big 10).
Thus the dominoes would begin to fall all over again. The Pac-10 and SEC would be forced to strike, leaving us with the doomsday scenarios we dreamt up all last week. The more optimistic are looking for the Big Ten to raid the Big East, but Missouri fits better geographically and academically than most of the Big Easters.
Unfortunately, the Big 10 question isn’t the only one plaguing the Big 12’s future: internal struggles may prove the death of the Big 12 before any foreign foes can strike. While unequal revenue sharing no doubt makes the Longhorns king of the castle, it makes financial serfs (relatively speaking; everyone should still make significantly more money than they did in the past) out of the rest of the conference. Right now most conference members are breathing a sigh of relief, but down the road I expect a little more animosity as the expansion fades from the limelight. I think Missouri and Texas A&M will have serious gripes (pretty legitimately) with the current financial state of the conference. For separate reasons (money and to make a statement, respectively) Mizzou and A&M will probably be prime targets for the Big 10 and SEC down the road, especially if neither is happy with the financial agreement.
In my opinion the only way the Big 12 can truly guarantee its future is to be proactive on the expansion front. Currently, twelve teams seems to be the ideal spot for conferences (with the ACC, Big 10, Pac-10, and SEC all sporting a dozen teams), so clearly the Big 12 should shoot for its own dirty dozen. I still think the southern Big East teams hold the most promise (but also some of the most danger). Some pair of West Virginia, Louisville, and Cincinnati seems like the best fit for the conference, but the Big 12 could also go westward to the Mountain West (much less attractive in my opinion, especially geographically).
This would expand the Big 12 market a little east (nothing huge, but Louisville has one of the most lucrative basketball programs in the country), making the conference BCS bid virtually untouchable in the process. Additionally, the Big 12 could sustain minor losses if the Big 10 or SEC did pickpocket a team or two. The one major downside to this plan is it reenergizes conference expansion. Specifically, the Big 12 would seriously cripple the Big East (who would likely have to steal from the A-10 and Conference USA to stay afloat), which might cause Notre Dame to jump ship, and you know the rest of the story. I think the recent tumultuous times would probably keep conference members from jumping ship, but that’s clearly just a wild guess (especially when you take into account the current teams would again have to split TV money twelve ways).
My plan might be too risky, but it’s got to be better than not having a plan…
In the meantime, enjoy a great couple of seasons of basketball while everything gets decided, and be thankful the conference has a future to make wild assumptions about.