THE STAGE IS SET FOR A BETRAYAL
In my mind, I imagine the meeting about the next round of TV rights negotiations between ESPN and the Big 12 early last year went about like this:
All of the ADs are in the room with the execs from ESPN
ESPN to the BIG 12:
"While we value the partnership that the Big 12 has shown ESPN, we should all recognize that 2025 is a long way away and there are a number of things that could change between now and then. We feel like it is premature to talk about this right now."
Big 12 to ESPN:
"That is very disappointing, we were hoping for more enthusiasm about the value of our relationship in the future."
As everyone is walking out of the meeting, disappointed and confused, ESPN whispers to OU and UT: "Guys, let's go to the back room: we need to talk"
Enter the backroom.
ESPN to UT and OU: "Our priority is the SEC right now. We have a budget for TV rights and since almost every kind of media other than live sports is becoming worthless for Ad revenue, we are going to have to start consolidating our portfolio. We are looking at payouts of 100 million dollars per team. With the money we are spending on the ACC, what the bill is going to be to keep the SEC, and what we need to budget for the College Football Playoff, we are not prioritizing the Big 12 TV negotiations. Given that, I know there is a home for you guys in the SEC and, like we said, the payouts there are going to be massive."
UT to OU: "Sounds like we really don't have a choice."
Trigger 2021 realignment.
I cannot imagine that there wasn't an almost identical conversation between the PAC 12, Fox, UCLA, and USC earlier this year. The networks are realizing that it is too expensive to buy rights for multiple conferences and that it is in their best interest to maximize the value of the horse they are bidding on. While it is a massive conflict of interests for the networks to employ these tactics, it is clearly fair play in the world of College Sports TV rights negotiations.
THE PLAYERS IN THE GAME: THE BIG 4
Traditionally, college football has been owned by a combination of ESPN (ABC) and FOX. All networks have aired tier one games intermittently but we all know who has made the sport a priority for broadcast. They aren’t the only players in broadcast. The other two networks have dipped their toe in the water with Notre Dame (NBC) and the SEC game of the week (CBS) but they have clearly not made the commitment to college football that they have to other live sports broadcast properties. Brett Yormark needs to make his number one priority to change this trend. Some of the best moves in the realignment game are being brokered by the TV networks so trusting a network that clearly values a different conference more than they value yours is a recipe for MORE disaster. The Big 12 must get someone that they know wont slip a blade between their ribs from behind when the knife fight starts.
Big 12 game of the week?
Multiple sources have reported that the SEC has dropped CBS as a partner for its marquee games. This leaves a programming void from a major broadcaster that the Big 12 would love to fill. CBS has a head start on college football with the team they have put together to broadcast the SEC game so sliding the Big 12 tier one rights into this slot could make for a great partnership.
The partnership with CBS doesn’t have any built in protections that may spark further expansion by the Big 10 so the realignment option would be some combination of the "four corners schools" and the Oregon/Washington combo.
A New Contender!
As reported by Dennis Dodd, NBC is considering choosing a conference for a TV partnership to bolster is college football presence so they can justify the 75 million annual payout Notre Dame is demanding. The Big 12 could be this conference. This comes with the added benefit of alignment concerning isolating the most valuable remaining PAC 12 properties for admission to the Big 12. CBS also reported that the BIG 12 is concerned that some of the schools being considered may seem to make sense as they are already in a power 5 league, but they may not be valuable enough to be "additive instead of dilutive" . This is probably what has held the Big 12 back from planting a flag in Arizona.
This opens up a scenario that we haven’t discussed: NBC locks up Notre Dame in a long term contract that eliminates the possibility of the Big 10 adding more Pac 12 teams. If the Big 12 could fill in the roll of "Shoulder Programming", they could approach the 4 most valuable PAC 12 properties as expansion candidates. Again, a network approaching a school in a realignment conversation is much more compelling than a conference holding a conversation with estimates and unsubstantiated "ish" figures of what they would make in a realignment scenario. If those numbers get big enough, schools that would normally turn their nose up at the Big 12 may be willing to listen.
The ideal scenario would be as follows: Oregon, Washington, Stanford, and Utah.
I know. I KNOW! Stanford would have to hold their nose and cover their face in Menthol gel to make this transition. Football independence may be preferable. NBC is the only source that can virtually guarantee the three schools that seem to view the Big 12 as a step down that there will be no further Big 10 expansion. If anything, we have learned two things about college football: money tends to trump ideals when it comes to realignment, and the Big 12 will yield more money than Independence, a weakened PAC 12, or the Mountain West. For continued relevance, a check that would be close to two thirds of the number one and two conference, and regular access to the college football playoff, it just may be palatable. This would put the Big 12 in the best remaining markets in the PAC 12, yield the most lucrative TV rights contract and cement is reputation for quality football for years to come.
In the event that you can’t get Stanford: Oregon, Washington, Arizona State, and Utah.
This may be more realistic, it gets you to 16 teams, and it puts the Big 12 in a position where they are relevant, financially viable, and in a partnership that isn’t trying to kill them.