When Nebraska and the Big Ten Conference revealed their new alliance Friday, wise old Tom Osborne, the former football coach turned athletic director, weighed in with an observation about the Huskers’ former colleagues of the Big 12.
“Sometimes,” he said, “the reason these things don’t work out very well is, we smash cultures together.”
Then he went on to say that Nebraskans appear to share a lot of values with the Big Ten. He used the terms “integrity” and “keeping your word.”
Given a touchy relationship between Nebraska and Texas, the Big 12 behemoth, you don’t have to connect too many dots to infer that Osborne was at least in part launching a final zinger in Texas’ direction.
Around the Pac-10 offices today, they can probably relate. Perhaps it’s doctoring spin, but there’s a feeling that the reason for the collapse of the mega-expansion of the league has a lot to do with Texas changing ground rules as the clock neared midnight.
The Denver Post quoted a source close to the negotiations as saying, “In the eleventh hour, after months of telling us they understand the TV rights, they’re trying to pull a fast one. ... They want a better revenue-sharing deal and their own network. Those were points of principle. (The Pac-10) wants to treat everyone fairly. It’s been that way for months of discussions.”
So, the Pac-10: Played by Texas, or deceived by Texas? Was this good old country hardball or a sleazy, burnt-orange end run?
At the very least, it was Texas doing what it always does, getting its way. No doubt had Larry Scott closed the deal and consummated a Pac-16, he would have been turning cartwheels from Abilene to Petaluma. But Osborne would tell him that if he’s without the Texas cash, he’ll also be minus a migraine or two.
Here’s how Texas runs the Big 12: Its conference commissioner, Dan Beebe, acknowledged on a Tuesday conference call that the have-not members of the conference had offered to tilt the $18 million to $20 million in exit-fee revenue from Colorado and Nebraska toward Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Not TV revenue, but the penalty for leaving the league.
In other words, would it be OK if I drove over in my Pinto to polish the rims on your Jaguar?
You can debate forever whether Scott’s push for unprecedented expansion was nefarious or inevitable. But it’s a given that getting along with Texas would have presented some challenges.
For his part, Beebe has clung to an old-school view of college sports.
“I firmly believe that when we get too far outside the geographic region and you’ve got your team competing against teams of people you don’t even know, that’s going to diminish the value and the experience in intercollegiate athletics,” he said.
“We’re not professional teams moving multimillionaires from city to city, with only their jobs to worry about.”
Meanwhile, Scott was lying low Tuesday, presumably in pursuit of Utah as the Pac-10’s 12th team. Even with the Texas rebuff, there’s talk within the Pac-10 that when it negotiates new contracts next year, sets up a TV network and implements a championship football game, members can realize perhaps $17 million to $18 million annually, or about double what they’re seeing now from TV.
Nationwide, the expansion notion may not just go away, and one defection can ignite a chain of events. The Big Ten has talked about doing its version in “stages” and will still pursue Notre Dame.
Missouri remains uneasy about the Big 12; its governor, Jay Nixon, took a recent potshot at the academic profiles of Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. There’s talk about increasing the exit penalties for the remaining 10 in that league, which is either an affirmation of strength or a sign of weakness.
“As we move forward and heal bruises,” insisted Beebe, “I think we’re going to have a level of commitment that hasn’t been there in the past, and of what these institutions mean to each other.”
It’s just that they mean a lot more when their address is Austin.