Kansas City, Mo. The Big 12’s lower-revenue schools walked out of the conference meetings Friday with a multimillion dollar pay raise.
Previously, the Big 12 distributed 57 percent of football and basketball TV dollars equally among its 12 members. But with Colorado and Nebraska gone, the 10-team league has decided to spread 76 percent of the dollars equally. It is one of the biggest changes since the Big 12 was formed in 1996 and was agreed upon unanimously Friday, the final day of conference meetings.
Commissioner Dan Beebe declined to speculate exactly how much this will mean to lower-revenue members such as Kansas, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State. But he agreed it will be “millions” given the new $1.17 billion football deal with Fox taking effect in 2012.
“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 unanimous vote also underscores the atmosphere of peace and prosperity that has replaced the rancor and uncertainty that threatened to tear the league apart in 2010. Meeting in the same midtown hotel last June, Big 12 members were fighting over whether to remain together at all. Colorado ended up going to the Pac-10 and Nebraska dropped out to join the Big Ten, and nearly fell into litigation with the conference over the financial penalty it would pay for withdrawing.
For several weeks, the league teetered on the brink of extinction. Expansion-minded conferences such as the Pac-10 and Southeastern Conference made moves to pick off the Big 12’s choice schools such as Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
Had they split up, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, Missouri and Kansas State would have faced the harsh reality of life without membership in any major conference. The “forgotten five” as they came to be called, went so far as to offer Texas a portion of their conference revenue as an incentive to hold the league together.
But with the promise of a much more lucrative television contract, the 10 remaining schools did stick together. Now they agree they’re richer, happier and better off.
“There was some angst,” said Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne. “But I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the way it ended.”
Everybody, except perhaps coaches, also is pleased with having a round-robin football and basketball schedule made possible by a 10-member league.
“We didn’t plan it, exactly, but what we’ve ended up with is probably better than we would have planned,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said.
Everyone also seems happy to be doing away with the football championship game that pitted the North and South division winners. Now there’ll be no divisions.
“I think it hurt more than it helped. I like where we are not having the game,” Dodds said.
The remaining 24 percent of television money will be distributed according to several criteria, including number of appearances, quality of competition and willingness to move games to accommodate television. The new plan does not affect so-called third-tier rights such Texas’ new Longhorn Network.
Whether the more equitable revenue distribution would have been adopted had Nebraska remained in the Big 12 is impossible to say.
“It’s hard to speculate,” Beebe said. “Nebraska’s point was not to do this as equally as some of the others (wanted). How they would have weighed in, and Colorado, we really don’t know.”
Nevertheless, the huge boost in revenue for all 10 members will be substantial.
“It’s very significant,” Missouri’s Deaton said. “We’re all faced with multiple fiscal challenges. This enables us to make sure we have the right programs in place for all our student-athletes.”
The league is spending part of its new money on polishing its image and brand. After contracting with GSD&M Idea City in Austin, Texas, the league will launch a media blitz at the start of football season.
“There was a moment of critical decision for our states,” Deaton said. “Because of that, there’s no question the collegiality is (present). Maybe smaller numbers, having two fewer members, helps a bit because you get more interaction among the 10 and everybody’s just working together real well. It’s a good time for the conference.”