In the 10-year history of Kansas City’s aging-but-still-new Sprint Center, just five programs have walked into Kansas basketball’s home away from home and come out victorious.
One of them was Davidson, which was one of two teams to defeat the Jayhawks at Sprint Center during the 2011-12 season. The Jayhawks, of course, wound up reaching the national title game in New Orleans that season, but not before going 1-2 in Kansas City, including a loss to Baylor in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship.
The Davidson loss, which came on Dec. 19, 2011, featured a Kansas team that shot just 40 percent from the floor — including 6 of 23 from three-point range — and did not force a single Davidson turnover in the second half of a game that was tied with 6:33 to play but saw Kansas end up losing by six, 80-74.
Although the rosters have turned over completely since that night, KU coach Bill Self said one thing remained the same about KU’s next opponent, which the Jayhawks will face at 6 p.m. Saturday in Sprint Center — Davidson coach Bob McKillop.
“He’s a great coach,” said Self of the man who became popular in the mainstream for recruiting and coaching Steph Curry but also happens to have racked up 521 victories during his 28-year head-coaching career at Davidson.
Kansas and Davidson have met just one other time throughout the years, with Self and the Jayhawks holding off Curry, McKillop and Davidson in the 2008 Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four en route to the ’08 national title.
Despite that victory, which was and still is monumental in Self’s monster career, the KU coach, true to form, was more focused on the loss to Davidson than the win following KU’s most recent victory last weekend.
“The last time we played them in Kansas City, they beat us,” he recalled. “So we’ve got to play better than we did (vs. Nebraska last Saturday), or at least the second half. That’ll be a tough game and I think one that our guys will look forward to.”
But playing well against Davidson on Saturday night is about more than just winning a single game. With just two non-conference games remaining before the Jayhawks (9-1) open Big 12 play Dec. 30 at TCU, Self wants to see more improvement from his team before it turns the page to beginning its quest for a 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.
“We need to finish the semester off on the right foot because once we get to Christmas there are no guaranteed games before we start hooking up and playing for real,” Self said. “We’ve got to make some improvements before we do that.”
Kansas is 33-6 all-time at Sprint Center, including 2-0 already this season. The Jayhawks defeated UAB and Georgia in Kansas City in November to bring home the CBE Classic title.
The Jayhawks are 6-0 in their last six games at Sprint Center and have not lost in the building since falling to Iowa State in the 2015 Big 12 Championship title game.
KU’s other losses at Sprint Center came to Iowa State in 2014, Syracuse in 2008 and UMass in 2008.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 86-65 victory over Siena in the home opener Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks were so good in transition and really responded to Siena’s threats with some big buckets when they needed them, but again struggled from three-point range (3-of-12) and the free throw line (17-of-26). KU did shoot 57 percent from the floor overall.
If you just watched how many times Bill Self rubbed his temples in frustration after watching his team miss an assignment, you might’ve given them an F. But if you looked at Siena’s 37 percent shooting from the floor you’d probably go higher. KU recorded 10 blocks, five coming from Landen Lucas.
Carlton Bragg had a great night, but his two running mates (Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike) struggled, scoring just 7 points and grabbing 8 rebounds combined.
There were times when the KU guards were outplayed by Siena guard Marquis Wright. But they always seemed to answer when they needed to, they got a big time game from Lagerald Vick and there were just so many of them.
Vick carried the grade for the bench, as Azubuike played just seven minutes and Svi gave Self at least seven headaches.
Individuals with knowledge about the recruitment of Class of 2017 point guard Collin Sexton by both Alabama and Kansas told the Journal-World on Wednesday that neither side knew, as of late Wednesday, whether the No. 7-ranked player in the country, according to Rivals.com, was going to pick them.
Rivals.com reported earlier Wednesday that sources had indicated that Sexton’s decision could come down to the wire. If it does, that should make for a very interesting afternoon Thursday, as the 6-foot-1, 170-pound, five-star prospect is slated to announce his decision on ESPNU at 5 p.m. central time.
Although the Mableton, Georgia, guard made official visits to Oklahoma State and NC State, and even kept alive in-state programs Georgia and Georgia Tech, recruiting analysts for weeks have had this pegged as a race between Alabama and Kansas.
Sexton, who has made it clear that he would sign in the early signing period — which began Wednesday and runs through next Wednesday — announced his decision date two weeks ago and has had nothing but great things to say about both Alabama and Kansas.
A source said Wednesday that Sexton came to a decision on Monday after sitting down with his family and coaches. But the same person said late Wednesday night, that it appeared that Sexton had not informed either program of his decision.
Widely regarded as one of the most dynamic and talented players in the class, Sexton is seeking immediate playing time and an opportunity to develop his game into NBA-ready status. While both Alabama, led by former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson, and Kansas, led by Mr. Draft Lottery, Bill Self, seem to have that going for them, only one has a campus located reasonably close to Sexton’s home town.
Whether that proves to be a critical factor or not remains to be seen, but unless Sexton decides to put things on hold, we’ll know one way or another later today.
The intent when this series began was to give a little deeper look at what to expect from each key member of this year’s Kansas basketball team leading up to the start of the season.
There was no exact plan for the timing or when to roll each installment out, but we certainly can’t complain with the final edition being posted the morning of the exhibition opener.
Today’s "He Will, He Won’t, He Might" features the 10th player in our series and one of the Jayhawks fighting to become an important part of KU’s regular rotation.
Sophomore guard Lagerald Vick, who has received a fair amount of hype of his own this preseason, said Monday that the one player who has caught his eye during recent practices is freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot. Asked why, Vick responded with, “I just see him getting comfortable every day, fitting in, learning fast.”
While nearly all of this team’s most important roles are already established and clearly defined, this battle between Lightfoot and junior transfer Dwight Coleby for second big man off the bench minutes should be as intriguing as any to watch, especially early in the season as the roles and rotation are being established.
In case you missed any of the earlier installments in this series, follow the links below:
Now, back to what to expect from Lightfoot...
He will: Be ready for big time college basketball
Does that mean he could start for the Jayhawks and help them win 30 games this season? Probably not. But there’s just something about this young man that projects that none of this is too much for him.
He looks calm, he looks comfortable, he looks beyond excited and he plays with a natural vibe and flow and never appears to be trying to do too much. That’s a quick way to get meaningful minutes and an even better approach to improving quickly.
The players who think too much about everything little detail often wind up pressing and getting in their own heads. We haven’t seen even a hint of that with Lightfoot and it will be interesting to see if that continues once they tip it off for real. If it does, this guy is going to be a player sooner rather than later.
He won’t: Be overlooked by Bill Self
KU coach Bill Self clearly knows what he has in Lightfoot, both in the short term and the long term. He’s said as much and continues to sing his praises every time he talks about the freshman class.
Self’s method of playing the guys who deserve the minutes, regardless of age, name, hype, etc., ensures that (a) the players who can best execute what he wants done will be on the floor, and (b) freshmen, newcomers and veterans who some think have been left for dead will get an equal opportunity to prove to Self that they belong in the rotation.
Lightfoot has already done enough to prove to Self that he’s worthy of consideration for that. All that’s left to do now is to prove he can handle the bright lights and pressure from opponents. If he can, Self will recognize it with ease and Lightfoot will have a role right away.
He might: Play more minutes than Dwight Coleby
As mentioned above, this battle is one of the more intriguing battles for minutes on the roster. With the starting five set and Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk both shoe-ins to play perimeter minutes off the bench, that leaves KU’s frontcourt rotation in question.
Because of his X-factor potential and raw size, Udoka Azubuike seems destined to become the first big man off the bench, but in those games when Self needs another, it’s either going to come down to Coleby or Lightfoot. Coleby has the edge in experience and Self said Monday that the Ole Miss transfer has looked much better of late. But Lightfoot is the better athlete in some ways and, at least at this point, appears to have a little more confidence. Beyond that, I think Lightfoot fits a little better with KU’s desire to play fast and small.
Regardless of which one of these guys wins the battle — and a scenario exists in which they both play in rotating fashion — neither figures to average high minutes. But during those games where foul trouble hits or a big lineup comes calling, one of them will be a factor at some point or another this season and it’ll be very interesting to see if the young freshman can jump the upperclassmen for the No. 9 spot in the rotation.
Class of 2019 point guard Markese Jacobs may have been impressed enough to commit to Kansas following Saturday's Late Night in the Phog event at Allen Fieldhouse, but he was not the only weekend visitor who enjoyed his trip to Kansas.
The following is a quick look at some of the feedback from the top talent in the Class of 2017, which sent six of the Top 36 players to Kansas for Late Night.
Sexton excited by atmosphere
Collin Sexton, the No. 7-ranked player in the 2017 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, took full advantage of his recent visit to Lawrence and came away with strong feelings about all aspects of the Kansas basketball program.
“It was a crazy atmosphere. I thought it was great,” Sexton told Matt Scott of TheShiver.com. “The fans really get into it and everyone at Kansas loves basketball and the players. It's not always like that.”
Ranked as the No. 1 point guard in the class by 247 Sports, Sexton was one of 15 visitors during last weekend’s Late Night festivities. Hosted by guards Frank Mason and Malik Newman, Sexton spent time with the team both on and off the court, bonding at the team’s dorm and in the locker room and watching the Jayhawks run through a workout before leaving town.
Sexton said KU coach Bill Self emphasized the impact the 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard could have on the program if he were to pick Kansas and added that leaving Georgia for the Midwest would not be that difficult for him to do.
"It's not a factor at all,” he told Scott. “I want to go where I have the best fit and where I can grow on and off the court.”
One way he could do that would be by playing with top-level talent and that fact was not lost on Sexton, who said he could see himself playing next to fellow five-star 2017 point guard Trae Young, should the Oklahoma prospect pick Kansas.
"We could definitely play together," said Sexton, noting that he and Young could become KU’s next Fank Mason-Devonte’ Graham duo. "We can both score and play either guard position. It would be real good. Real, real good.”
With just one visit left to take — Sexton already has visited NC State, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Kansas — Sexton said he hoped to make a decision by the end of the month or the beginning of November and could sign during the early signing period in mid-November.
Brown eyes November signing
Five-star Las Vegas prospect Troy Brown, the No. 12-ranked player in the Class of 2017 according to Rivals.com, is planning to end his recruitment in November.
Brown, who was in town for an official visit for last weekend’s Late Night, told Shay Wildeboor of JayhawkSlant.com that he would take his final visit this weekend to Georgetown and then get busy deciding on his future.
“In November, I will sign for sure,” Brown said. “I don't know how much more of the recruiting process I can handle. I would say, since being recruited since the eighth grade, it's just really worn on me. I wish I would have cut (my list) to less schools, honestly, because it just kind of made it more hectic.”
That said, Brown told Wildeboor that he loved every second of his KU visit and added that, now that he’s a senior, things seemed much more real.
“With it being an official visit, we kind of understand why I'm here,” he said. “I know all of the players and I hung out with everybody.... I had a really good time with them.”
Power forward Cody Riley, another Class of 2017 prospect in for an official at Late Night, was blown away by his trip to Lawrence.
"My visit to Kansas was just unbelievable," the four-star prospect told JayhawkSlant.com. "The atmosphere at Late Night in the Phog was that best that I've ever seen and I know that it's the best atmosphere in college basketball. The fans make that place so special and they really support and care about the players. I really didn't expect to see what I saw at Late Night.”
Riley, 6-7, 225 pounds, is ranked No. 34 overall in the 2017 class by Rivals.com and, thus far, only has visits planned to Kansas and UCLA.
Shortly after becoming one of the prized signings of Kansas coach Bill Self, former KU star Andrew Wiggins became one of the premiere spokesmen for Adidas basketball.
Earlier this summer, Wiggins took another step toward becoming a mega shoe mogul when he helped Adidas launch its newest basketball shoe, the aptly named Crazy Explosive.
“You haven’t seen adidas shoes like this before,” Wiggins said in a promo. “These shoes are dope.”
The shoes, which utilize Adidas’ latest Boost technology and are said to feature equal parts comfort, performance and style, come in seven different models and colors. The “solar red” version currently is available worldwide and additional color schemes, including the Andrew Wiggins Home PE, will be rolled out throughout the rest of the year starting in October.
“Adidas came to me with a shoe to make me more explosive on the court,” Wiggins said in a recent interview with footwearnews.com. “When I tried this shoe for the first time, I really felt the difference when attacking the basket. And we all care about style.”
Picked No. 1 overall by Cleveland in the 2014 NBA Draft, Wiggins debuted his first Adidas shoe — the Crazylight Boost 2.5 — shortly after joining the Minnesota Timberwolves via trade. The shoe came in three styles and color schemes and featured on the tongue the initials AW, with a maple leaf designed to pay homage to Wiggins’ native Canada inserted into the A. That feature is also included on Wiggins’ second shoe.
His initial deal with Adidas was the largest signed by an NBA rookie in company history. Reports pegged the deal as a five-year commitment worth somewhere in the $12-13 million range. Wiggins’ agent Bill Duffy later went on record saying those numbers were inaccurate, leading many to believe they were low.
There’s nothing low about the Crazy Explosive, though, and, in June, several shoe buffs hammered the shoe on the Internet for looking more like a hiking boot or being something someone’s grandmother would knit.
The pairing of Wiggins and Adidas was a marriage that everybody knew was coming given KU’s association with the popular shoe brand and Wiggins’ status as both a bona fide college phenom and future NBA star.
With his pro career taking off — Wiggins averaged 20.7 points per game during his second NBA second, up four points a night from his rookie year — and Wiggins becoming one of the most popular and powerful young players in the league, Adidas certainly appears to be on the verge of cashing in on whatever investment it made in the former Jayhawk.
While he currently is known as an exciting and explosive scorer for an up-and-coming team, stunts like his recent attempt at a 720-degree slam dunk merely add to the buzz surrounding the young Canadian.
Like anything, though, Wiggins’ star will shine brighter if his team becomes more relevant. That, according to Wiggins, is on the way. During a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, the third-year pro declared that the Timberwolves, “can make the playoffs.”
Getting there would take quite a jump, especially in the Western Conference. But with a young core of Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine, among other young and promising talents, it’s easy to see the T’Wolves improving on their 29-53 record from a season ago.
“I think we're going to have a way better season than we had this year,” Wiggins told SI. “We've got some new pieces. I think last year we could've beat any team on any given day. This year we need to be more consistent with it.”
I know you’re out there. I can hear you all the way over here. And I don’t blame you.
But I do think you should take a brief pause from the eye-rolling and exhaling that surely hit most of you after learning about the pair of Alabama football transfers that announced plans to come to Kansas this week.
It’s not your fault that your gut reaction is to be skeptical. Heck, after all of the seemingly-promising transfers that have passed through here and never quite panned out, I would think skepticism would be a gut reaction upon learning that more were on the way.
But there’s something different about Alabama’s Daylon Charlot and Charles Baldwin that you might want to consider before writing them off.
There’s a lot different, actually.
First of all, these are not the Dayne Crists, Mike Ragones, Anthony McDonalds, Jake Heapses and Justin McCays of the world. All of those aforementioned players, and a few others just like them, came to Kansas on the heels of some serious hype because of their previous recruiting buzz and the names of the universities from which they came. Notre Dame. Oklahoma. BYU.
Players good enough to land scholarships at those schools traditionally do not come to Kansas. In each of those instances there were extra circumstances at play that paved the way for them to land in Lawrence. And while each of them had good moments and gave everything they had, none of them really proved to be the caliber of player that KU fans were expecting to get. Because of that, KU fans then built up a wall that prompted them to first laugh and scoff at the news of any transfers coming this way in the years that followed.
As I mentioned above, I get it. I was duped too. And maybe if things were different in some ways or if they had come at a different time, those former transfers would have enjoyed terrific careers at KU and this narrative would be completely different. But that didn’t happen. So those guys and many others who followed in their footsteps immediately were labeled as busts, has-beens or never-would-bes because the guys before them didn’t quite pan out.
In almost every one of those cases, though, we already knew what type of player Kansas was getting. Sure, the idea that they had played at OU or suited up at Notre Dame sounded like a dream scenario for a struggling KU program. But each was deep into his career and had not really shown anything at the previous stop to make people here think things were going to be different. The excitement of the shiny name and the hope of better days blinded many of us to that fact.
That’s on us. Our expectations and preconceived notions created that. Not the players.
But, guess what? These guys who are coming from ’Bama are not proven — good or bad. And we don’t know that they couldn’t cut it in Tuscaloosa. All we know is that they want to try it somewhere else.
In the case of Charlot, that was after one season and, most likely, because he wants a better chance to get on the field or to play in a different style.
In the case of Baldwin, he was dismissed for violation of team rules, so we have to be careful there. And like current Jayhawk Anthony Olobia or former Jayhawk Marquel Combs before him, he was one of the highest rated junior college prospects in the country before heading to Alabama. While that part might sound familiar and surely leaves more than a little to be desired given the way things played out with Combs and Olobia, the big difference is this: Baldwin was a player Ala-freakin-Bama wanted. The best programs on Olobia’s offer list included Texas Tech and Utah.
Besides all of those facts, this is a different era of Kansas football. Much of the failed junior college experiment and transfer route took place under Charlie Weis, who was simply trying to crawl out of the mess made by Turner Gill and wound up creating a different kind of mess because of it.
Had the transfers mentioned above panned out, Weis would’ve looked like a genius and KU would’ve won a bunch more games. Neither happened and that led to the arrival of David Beaty.
Believe me, Beaty does not go into these deals lightly. If he’s taking a transfer, it’s because he thinks — maybe even knows — that adding that player immediately makes KU better. If he doesn’t believe that’s the case, he doesn’t take the player. It’s that simple.
Transfers are tricky and there is no guarantee that any of them are ever going to be what fans and coaches hope they will be. Many of them aren’t.
There’s no doubt that both Charlot and Baldwin will forever be labeled as the former ’Bama guys and, therefore, will both be held to that standard, especially in the eyes of KU fans desperate to see this program return to its winning ways. And the scenario exists that has these two playing good but not great or even being downright busts and becoming the next in a long line of promising transfers who went on to disappoint.
But I’d say the odds that they’ll succeed are at least as good as the odds that they’ll fail and probably better. Better, because they’re coming into a whole different set of circumstances than those players from the past.
So to write these two off just because of the past failures of so many others who came to KU and underperformed is a bit premature.
Things are different now. And maybe this time it will wind up being OK to be excited about this kind of potential good fortune happening to Kansas football.
Despite being nine years apart, Kansas basketball’s 2008 recruiting class and 2017 recruiting class might wind up having a lot more in common than anyone could have predicted.
We won’t know, of course, what KU’s 2017 class looks like for several weeks, perhaps even months, but it did get off to a solid start this week when the Jayhawks landed a commitment from versatile Dallas guard Marcus Garrett, the 44th ranked player in the country according to Rivals.com.
While it remains to be seen exactly how big — or how stellar — KU’s 2017 class will be, this much we know today: It is likely going to consist of somewhere between 4 and 6 players and nearly all of them will make up key parts of the 2017-18 rotation.
Sound familiar? It should. KU coach Bill Self has rebuilt his rotation on more than one occasion during his days at Kansas. And each time he’s done it with a great deal of success.
Few were as impressive as the 2008 class, which was finalized less than a month after Self led the Jayhawks to a national title with a roster dominated by upperclassmen.
Only Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich returned as key contributors on that title team.
Five players from that 2008 national championship squad were lost to the NBA draft. And four others — Russell Robinson, Jeremy Case, Rodrick Stewart and Brad Witherspoon — left town after graduation. That’s nine players gone from a roster of 17, two of them walk-ons.
Needless to say, Self’s work on the recruiting trail as he simultaneously attempted to guide Kansas to the title was more than a little important.
The same could be said about the current state of Kansas basketball. We don’t know yet if the 2016-17 team will bring home a title, but it certainly looks like a legit contender. What’s more, Self stands to lose a good chunk of this year’s roster at season’s end, whether the Jayhawks win it all or not.
KU’s official roster includes 15 players. Of those, we know that seniors Frank Mason, Landen Lucas and Tyler Self won’t be back.
Beyond that, we know there’s a better-than-good chance that freshman Josh Jackson, junior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and possibly even Carlton Bragg and Devonte’ Graham won’t return.
(For what it’s worth, I’d bet money Graham will be back for his senior season, but you never know.)
For this exercise, let’s say Graham’s back and the rest leave; that’s six players departing from a roster of 15, or 40 percent.
In 2008, KU lost 53 percent of its roster. The big difference, though, was that just six of the nine players — 67 percent — who bolted after the national title were regular parts of the rotation, while five of the six — 83 percent — who could leave after the upcoming season figure to be key rotation guys.
There exists the possibility, of course, that Bragg, Graham and Svi all could return for the 2017-18 season. Heck, even Jackson, technically could return, though that’s much less likely. If any or all of those players were to come back, the importance of the 2017 class obviously would be lessened and Self once again would roll out a talented and experienced crew to start the 2017-18 season.
Either way, Self is staring at, in the very least, a restocking of the roster, even if he does not have a full rebuild on his hands.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see that the coach set to enter his 14th season in charge of the Kansas program is well ahead of the game compared to the way things played out in 2008.
Even though they're not traditional members of the 2017 class, Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman and Liberty transfer Evan Maxwell already are on campus and practicing with the team. Both will sit out this season and be eligible again in 2017.
Add to that the early commitment from Garrett and you’re looking at a three-player headstart for Self and the Jayhawks.
KU’s 2008 class, which consisted of guards Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrone Appleton and Travis Releford and forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, Quintrell Thomas and Mario Little, landed its first official commitment in June of 2007 (Releford, a local prospect, committed June 20) but did not fill up until Taylor’s commitment on April 29, 2008.
So even though Garrett’s commitment came a few weeks after Releford’s on the calendar, one of the most important pieces in that 2008 class came at the very end, and the presence of Newman and Maxwell, along with Garrett, puts KU ahead of the recruiting pace from 2008.
Add to that the fact that Self and the Jayhawks still are in pursuit of some of the top talent in the country, including No. 1 overall prospect DeAndre Ayton and Top 10 prospects Kevin Knox, Billy Preston and Troy Brown, among others, and it’s safe to say that the prospects for the 2017-18 season look a lot less scary than the outlook for that 2008-09 season once did.
So how’d the Jayhawks fare in 2008-09? KU rolled to a 14-2, first-place finish in the Big 12 Conference and topped out at 27-8 overall, falling to eventual national runner-up Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Imagine the following conversation, set well in the future, creating some serious confusion for Kansas basketball fans.
Fan 1: I still can’t believe that magical run the Jayhawks made in 1988 at Mosaic Arena.
Fan 2: Mosaic? What are you talking about?
Fan 1: You know, the venue right down the road where Danny and the Miracles capped off their run to the national title, KU’s first since 1952.
Fan 2: Yeah. I know the story. But what’s this Mosaic you’re talking about? That Final Four took place at Kemper Arena.
Fan 1: No. It was at Mosaic.
Fan 2: Umm, no. It was Kemper.
Fan 1: Nuh uh. Mosaic.
Fan 2: I’m leaving.
There’s no need to get frustrated or lose friends over this. It’s as simple as Kemper Arena, site of the 1988 Final Four and so many memorable Big Eight tournaments, finally receiving a name change after all these years.
According to a Tuesday news release, Kemper Arena will be renamed Mosaic Arena under an agreement announced by Foutch Brothers, the development company that plans to turn the arena in the West Bottoms into a regional amateur sports venue. The deal, with Mosaic Life Care, makes Mosaic the naming rights sponsor for the arena.
Mosaic Life Care is a health care company based in St. Joseph, Mo., that is expanding its services into the Kansas City metro area. CEO Mark Laney said in a release that he believed taking over the naming rights for Kemper Arena would help the company expand its brand. But for fans of KU basketball the move likely will be remembered as little more than the reason that one of the most important venues not named Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas basketball history now goes by a new name.
The guess here is that most KU fans will continue to refer to the arena as Kemper, but there does exist the potential for confusion like the mock conversation that played out above to one day occur between different generations of KU hoops fans.
Well, isn’t this just completely fitting?
Just when you start to think that the Big 12 Conference is making moves in the right direction regarding expansion, something pops up that completely calls into question what the conference is doing and now, if they’re not careful, the conference could have a heck of a problem on its hands.
That’s the gist of a report from Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal that indicates that the powers that be at the Big 12’s television partners are not happy with where expansion might be headed.
Before we go any farther, let’s take a quick pause for a moment of honesty. Is anybody really happy about the direction of Big 12 expansion?
I mean, yeah, there appears to be more money to be made if the conference expands from 10 to 12, or even 14 (more on that in a moment), but it’s been well documented that the pool of candidates does not include the kind of knock-your-socks-off schools that would turn the concept of expanding from something that makes sense and seems fairly practical into something about which people — fans, players, coaches and administrators — would get excited.
And therein lies the issue that the conference’s TV partners have.
For those of you who have not been keeping up with this whole saga, there’s a clause in the Big 12’s media rights agreement that automatically creates higher revenue in the event of expansion. The clause is known as “pro rata” and could be worth as much as $80 million annually to the conference. Add to that number, what the Big 12 would gain in terms of revenue from a conference championship game (which will return in 2017), and you’re looking at a potential increase of $100 million annually for the Big 12.
Throw in the fact that the new members would not immediately pull in the same percentage as the existing members and you’re looking at quite a deal for the 10 schools that already call the Big 12 home.
That’s for now, though. The clause is written in plain English and, despite reports about ESPN and FOX pursuing legal action, I can’t really see any way of them getting out of it. Of course, I’m not a lawyer and I have not studied things that closely.
What I do know, however, is that while this could be a big time gain for the Big 12 in the short term, it could wind up being a nightmare in the long term. Let’s say the Big 12 goes through with expansion against the wishes of its TV partners, who do not deem any of the “available candidates” to be sexy enough to move the television ratings needle. That might deliver big time dough through 2025, but it also might deliver a heck of a chip on the shoulders of those media giants and when the grant of rights agreements expire and the Big 12 is back at the drawing board looking for stability and partnership well into the future those powerhouses might not be there.
It’s risky. And it’s precisely the reason Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other Big 12 brass are negotiating and trying to find a peaceful and profitable resolution for all parties.
Can they get there? The guess here is no. The make-up of these schools who are seeking admission into the Big 12 is not going to change and it would be a nightmare to even consider the idea of pulling in teams from another Power 5 conference — though, that idea is not entirely crazy.
My guess is that the TV muscle wins out this time but that the Big 12 gets some sort of quiet assurance — written or otherwise — that ESPN and FOX will be there, ready to re-sign, when the current deals expire.
If that’s the case, it probably goes down as a win for the conference, which misses out on the exciting headline grab that would come with announcing expansion but also gets long-term stability and continues to be able to spread the wealth among 10 members, an enviable position as long as the money continues to rise.