Eleven days ago, Bob Bowlsby stood at the podium in the middle of AT&T Stadium and addressed the media. When the question of realignment came up, Bowlsby was almost flippant in his response, saying “[realignment] motivation is essentially gone. The cable universe has shrunk 20 million households already. It’s going to continue to shrink as we migrate to digital consumption and streaming. And so a lot of the motivation for realignment is no longer there.”
One week later, his conference was in shambles.
When news broke Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma were on the verge of leaving the Big 12 Conference and securing an invite to the SEC, the reaction was pure shock. Days later, we would discover that the two large state universities had been having back alley conversations with SEC. commissioner Greg Sankey going as far back as early December, and that this had been all but a done deal for months. Working behind the backs of Texas A&M, the conference secure enough yes votes to ensure that by the time the deal leaked, the train was halfway down the tracks.
With Monday’s joint statement release stating that they would be leaving at the expiration of the grant of rights agreement in 2025 — while looking for every avenue out in the meantime — the train has not only left the station, it’s about to pull into the next one down the line.
This is, without question, a straight money grab, one likely spurred on by the school in Austin that can’t put a winning program together on the field so feels compelled to explore every avenue for making itself ridiculously wealthy off of it. Have to pay all those payouts when you keep firing coaches somehow, I guess. Oklahoma isn’t innocent here, but at least they’ve earned the right on the field to advance — one team wins ten games annually, the other has trouble winning ten games once in a decade plus.
There’s a lot to be troubled by if you’re a fan of one of the eight remaining teams — and there should be a lot to be troubled by if you live in either Texas or Oklahoma, too. These two flagship public universities are about to throw the other major schools in their systems completely under the bus, taking tens of millions of dollars off the table for Oklahoma State and Texas Tech — which in turn will funnel down negatively to the other, smaller schools in the system. Not to mention what this could ultimately do to other athletic programs at places like Baylor and Iowa State, Kansas State and TCU. All eight remaining schools will have to slash their budget if they no longer receive the $38 million in revenue that the rights deal allotted them annually — and having to account for that with no warning will be detrimental to some of the non-revenue sports that provide opportunities for hundreds of student-athletes annually.
You think baseball is getting screwed now? Just wait.
While fans of Texas and OU dance on our graves, we are left with a lot of what-ifs and what’s next. Though the current deal expires in 2025 — and there would be an $80 million per school penalty to get out of it early — the current state of things makes a four year wait period untenable. This season will play out as normal, but with ESPN/Disney pulling the strings, even a 2022 Big 12 season feels in doubt. Sure, there might be a redux of the Big Eight for a year while realignment gets sorted out for the other schools, but it’s hard to imagine anything more than holding on for more than a year or two.
The idea of golden parachute invites to other conferences is nice, but the remaining four Power Five leagues don’t have any motivation to move quickly here. The Big Ten has already made it known that they are only interested in adding AAU schools, a designation that eliminates all but Iowa State and Kansas from the conversation. The ACC and WVU have often been linked, but the East Coast conference has passed before on the Mountaineers. The Pac 12 seems primed to pick up the scraps; prior to last week, it was considered the conference in the worst position long term — but does adding religiously-based (as minor as it might be for TCU) schools like Baylor and TCU appeal to a group that has shied away from such things in the past? And is getting a footprint in Texas worth adding Texas Tech and Oklahoma State?
Of course, many fans would like to see the Big 12 stand firm with the eight schools already in conference and add the top of the AAC — sure, adding SMU, Houston, Memphis and/or some combination of UCF/USF would be great for fans and football, it would not draw nearly the rights deal that the Big 12 currently does. Houston/Kansas on a Thursday night just isn’t moving the needle nationally, friends. And besides, it’s been made clear now — if it wasn’t already — that fans and actually games on the field mean nothing compared to filling the already bursting coffers with more gold for the administrators on the top floors.
For TCU fans — especially those of us who watched the university claw and scrape its way from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West and ultimately the Big 12 — who EARNED our spot through winning and investment and flat out hard work, seeing Texas (led by Chris Del Conte — but I will have more on that later this week) pull the rug out from under us just a decade later, is truly painful. The Big 12 has bowed down to the school in Austin and their stupid network for the last thirty years and for what? To see the Horns pack up the Mayflower van and move out in the middle of the night. They kept their Tinder profile active despite being in a committed relationship just in case something better came along. And we knew the whole damn time and just let them.
There aren’t a whole lot of soft landings available for us or the other seven schools waking up with the same feelings this morning, and at the end of the day, it’s going to turn into every man for themselves. Like I said last week, this is Jeremiah Donati’s Alamo... he’s going to stand at the top of the fort and fight like hell, but winning is anything but guaranteed.