Big time college football. It’s certainly about the game, but what matters every bit as much as football itself is the money involved. Many of us were primed for a major Division 1 upheaval after a handful of teams jumped ship and bolted for new conferences. Nebraska moved to the Big 10. Colorado and Utah to the Pac 10. Boise State to the Mountain West. And standing in the dust was the Big 12, a conference at risk of being scavenged by more well-positioned leagues.
In that dark hour, just as it was about to be undone, the conference held. Though down to 10 teams, the Big 12 was saved by the power of one program: The University of Texas. The Longhorns had the clout to preserve and improve their way of life, at least for the time being. However in doing so, UT probably doomed the conference to a slower but no less painful death.
Essentially, Texas used its football and financial might to negotiate an agreement among the 10 remaining schools, guaranteeing that the conference didn’t completely dissolve. The cornerstone of this agreement is the promise of a new deal for more television money. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and Texas officials persuaded the other programs to stay on board by dangling a financial carrot.
But while some will get a nice big bite, most schools will get only a nibble. And that imbalance is what Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville took on in an interview with Rivals Radio.
“We have a 10-team league right now, but I just don’t know how long that’s gonna last, to be honest with you,” said Tuberville to show host Bill King.
“I don’t think this conference will last long because there is too much disparity between all the teams. In the SEC, for instance, Vanderbilt makes as much money in the television contract as Florida. Everybody is good with it. Everybody is on the same page. Everyone gets the same votes. That doesn’t happen here in the Big 12. We have some teams that get a little bit more money and have a little bit more stroke than some of the other teams. And when that happens, you’re gonna have teams looking for better avenues to leave and reasons to leave.”
This isn’t just pessimism. Tuberville is being smart and realistic about the conference’s future. While other voices (or lack thereof) are toeing the company line, so to speak, he seems unafraid to throw a little reality in everyone’s faces.
Texas has the keys to the castle at the moment. A few other programs hold some sway as well, but most are merely along for the ride. How long will those be content to watch the Big 12 rich get richer?
If the Big Ten, Pac 10, and/or SEC decide to expand further, more raids on the Big 12 are likely to be one of the first stops made. And each of those conferences plans to be more equitable in its division of revenue.
Which makes this the bottom line: Beebe and his Big 12 cohorts were unable to keep the conference together with 12 teams and a conference championship game. Now they’re down to 10 and that lucrative championship game is gone. Talking about fabulous future deals and big payoffs is all well and good, but how and why will the conference, substantially weakened, succeed now where it failed before?
Someone needed to break the silent nonsense and be realistic about where the Big 12 is headed. Someone respectable. Someone like Tuberville.