A month ago, interim commissioner Chuck Neinas told the Tulsa World that the Big 12 Conference was indeed happy with 10 members.
Since then, former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby was identified as Neinas' successor, and Florida State has put itself on the Big 12's wish list for possible expansion.
That's the college football world today. Always moving, always shaking - sometimes seismically. That's how fast "happy" can become, at the very least, willing to listen.
Spring meetings in the Atlantic Coast Conference wrapped up Wednesday, and commissioner John Swofford said he had informal discussions with Florida State administrators about the Seminoles' supposed interest in leaving the ACC for the Big 12.
Swofford told reporters gathered in South Carolina that FSU president Eric Barron affirmed to him the Seminoles' commitment to the ACC. Swofford called the discussions positive and, when asked if he had any real concerns about Florida State leaving, said, "I don't deal in hypotheticals. I deal in what's tangible."
What's most tangible, of course, is money - money to FSU, and money to the Big 12.
Everyone talks up the fine merits of the nine-game, round-robin football schedule and the 18-game, double round-robin basketball schedule Big 12 schools now enjoy. But don't be fooled. The main reason Big 12 members - using Neinas' words here - "seem to be satisfied, at least at this point, with 10" isn't a streamlined schedule-making process.
It's cash - specifically, cash from television contracts.
If the new TV deal with ESPN goes through as has been reported ($1.3 billion through 2025), the Big 12 will distribute average annual television revenue of $247 million. Combined with a $1.17 billion contract with Fox, schools will earn $20.6 million each for the next 12 years from television alone.
Just two years ago, in 2010, the Big 12 reported earnings of $72.5 million from television contracts. And that was before the league hammered out an equal revenue sharing agreement.
So while schools like Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma in 2010 earned overall conference revenue disbursements of around $12 million (including bowl payouts, NCAA Tournament revenue and ticket sales from conference championship events), the likes of Colorado ($8.3 million) and Iowa State ($8.9 million) were paid significantly less.
What Big 12 presidents and athletic directors will try to learn at the league's upcoming annual spring meetings (May 30-June 1 in Kansas City) is whether adding a member (Florida State) or two (Louisville, Clemson or Miami) cuts into everyone's $20 million projected payday.
Will the TV networks pay the same money for 12 schools they've agreed to pay for 10? Or will they add to the coffer to maintain each school's bottom line? Or would they pay even more for brand recognition like a Florida State?
Big 12 members don't want to expand to 12, Neinas said last month, "unless you get a commitment to offset, or get a commitment to finance a new member so none of the current members lose (revenue)," Neinas explained, "but there's never a guarantee on that."
Any "commitment" would come from the Big 12's television partners adding to their already bountiful payout. It seems unlikely Fox would want to pony up more cash. That deal has been done since last year.
An extension of the Big 12's partnership with ESPN was reported in the Sports Business Daily two months ago, but it has not been finalized yet. That ongoing delay could be a strong indication that the league has been intentionally slow-playing the World Wide Leader so it can gauge how genuine Florida State's interest really is. At worst, the Big 12 is doing its financial due diligence before agreeing to anything.
Only a property like Florida State (or Miami, possibly Clemson) would be attractive enough for television networks to want to rework an already outrageously rich deal.
And only something like a $20 million gold rush would seem enough to lure the Seminoles out of the Florida panhandle and into Texas and the Great Plains.
The ACC's new deal with ESPN announced last week will pay schools an average of $17 million per year, though the contract is heavily backloaded. And though that might still sound like a lot, it's only $4 million more than the old contract. Moreover, the new deal grants third-tier broadcast rights to ESPN, rights each school in the Big 12 are allowed to retain.
"It's mind-boggling and shocking," FSU chairman of the board of trustees Andrew Haggard told Rivals network website Warchant.com
. "It continues the perception that the ACC favors the North Carolina schools."
Big 12 rules allow schools to retain their third-tier rights for all sports, a shrewd move that opened the door for Texas to start the Longhorn Network, a 20-year, $300 million ESPN-owned venture. Oklahoma is working with Fox Sports to show Sooner-themed content on multiple platforms. Texas Tech is working on a model similar to Oklahoma. Kansas State has its own online network.
And don't forget that FSU reported a projected budget deficit of $2.4 million in 2012-13.
Neinas said last month the Big 12 is stronger than ever because "contentious issues ... have been resolved," and he credited the league's leadership with being "forward-looking" and "progressive."
Although things may be changing quickly and on a grand scale, Neinas' words aren't outdated yet.
Original Print Headline: Money talks in Big 12's possible expansion
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