Part II: Why the Big 12 Needs to do Everything It Can to Keep Missouri

The continuation and conclusion of our series examining the possible effects of Big 10 expansion on the Big 12.

In Part I of this post, we examined the possibility that Big 10 expansion could target a Big 12 school, specifically Missouri.  That post should have demonstrated that Missouri would consider a move to the Big 10, the Big 10 would be likely to consider Missouri, and that if Missouri left, the Big 12 would almost certainly end up a weaker conference.  Today, we'll discuss this topic further, and offer a few conclusions.

5.  Aren't we wasting our time discussing Missouri?  Won't the Big 10 take Notre Dame?

As mentioned in Part I, my outsider's opinion is that Notre Dame is probably the school coveted most by the Big 10.  It's been mentioned elsewhere, and I believe it's possible that the Big 10 is trying to force Notre Dame's hand.  The conference is basically telling Notre Dame that it's considering the addition of a twelfth school, and that if Notre Dame is not that twelfth school, it will never get another chance to join the Big 10.

Currently, NBC's TV contract with Notre Dame pays the school $15 million per year.  If Notre Dame could ever get eligible for a good bowl game again, any profit from the bowl payout would be Notre Dame's to keep, unlike in a conference where each bowl payout is pooled and shared by all conference members.  Remember also that Notre Dame receives $1.3 million each year from the BCS, whether it makes a BCS game or not, and would get $4.5 million if it could ever rebound to go 8-4, thereby guaranteeing itself a top-eight BCS ranking and, thus, a BCS bowl.  In other words, Notre Dame is guaranteed $16.3 million every year under its current arrangement, and could receive as much as $19.5 million per year if it made a BCS bowl.  That's not too far away from the payout Big 10 schools receive from the conference each year if it makes a BCS bowl.  Even if it doesn't, Notre Dame may place sufficient value on its independent status that an extra $5-6 million wouldn't be worth it.

The real question at this point is whether Notre Dame believes it can continue to garner such a TV contract.  In the article linked above, NBC claims it has no qualms about its deal with Notre Dame at this time.  Its ratings for Fighting Irish games are also competitive, though not outstanding, when compared with the rest of televised college football games.  Basically, if the Big 10 extends another invitation, and the Irish say no, they are gambling that they will improve in the near future, or that NBC will continue pouring money into South Bend.  As Dawg Sports' T Kyle King so eloquently put it, Notre Dame is likely in the throes of a manic episode, believing that Brian Kelly will lead them back to domination, so this might be a bad time for the Big 10 to ask.

As you can see, I think it's entirely possible that either Notre Dame turns down the Big 10, or the Big 10 is looking elsewhere.  Notwithstanding all that, the mere fact that Missouri could be interested were the Big 10 to look its way is sufficiently concerning for the Big 12 that it needs to be ready to deal with that possibility.

6.  If keeping Missouri is such a big deal, what can the Big 12 do to entice the Tigers to stay?

On Between the Lines this week, Kevin Keitzman discussed this very issue and concluded that the Big 12 needs to eliminate the requirement that changes to the bylaws be passed by a 9-3 vote of member institutions.  The upshot of all that would be that changes could be passed by a bare majority vote of 7-5, and presumably we would end up with equal revenue sharing.

While equal revenue sharing in this conference has long been a goal of mine, it simply won't be enough to convince Missouri to stay.  As noted in Part I, Missouri would only gain a couple hundred thousand dollars per year if the Big 12 shared all revenue equally.  If the jump was about the money, this would pale in comparison to the extra $10 million or so Missouri would garner every year as a member of the Big 10.  Therefore, I believe any plan to keep Missouri needs to include not only equal revenue sharing, but exploring additional sources of revenue as well.

As much as we may love this conference, it probably isn't going to garner a blockbuster TV deal like the SEC's or the Big 10's.  Take a look at a comparison of top-50 markets in these three conferences:

Big 12 (8): Dallas (No. 5), Houston (No. 10), Denver (No. 18), St. Louis (No. 21), Kansas City (No. 31), San Antonio (No. 37), Oklahoma City (No. 45), Austin (No. 49)

SEC (10): Atlanta (No. 8), Tampa-St. Pete (No. 13), Miami-Fort Lauderdale (No. 16), Orlando-Daytona Beach (No. 19), Nashville (No. 29), West Palm Beach (No. 38), Birmingham (No. 40), Jacksonville (No. 47), Memphis (No. 48), Louisville (No. 50)

Big 10 (12): Chicago (No. 3), Philadelphia (No. 4), Detroit (No. 11), Minneapolis-St. Paul (No. 15), Cleveland-Akron (No. 17), Pittsburgh (No. 23), Indianapolis (No. 25), Columbus (No. 32), Cincinnati (No. 34), Milwaukee (No. 35), Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo (No. 39), Harrisburg (No. 41)

Unless the conference is currently working on an unforeseen new TV deal with ABC or ESPN that will dramatically increase income, the Big 12 is going to have to get creative in trying to find new revenue streams.  It's been discussed that creating a Big 12 Network or exploring the possibility of Internet TV may be a new source of revenue.  The Big 10 Network now generates $6 million per year for each school, despite its early growing pains.  It's unrealistic to expect that a Big 12 Network would be as lucrative, but what if it provided another $3-4 million in revenue each year per school?  An extra $4 million may sufficiently boost Missouri's take that tradition and history would win out over a few million.

In any event, I hope the Big 12 is more serious about keeping Missouri than conference commissioner Dan Beebe's comments seemed to indicate this week.  Now, it's entirely possible that Beebe is posturing on this issue, just as it's possible that Missouri is posturing to get a sweeter deal out of the conference.  However, given Missouri's demonstrated value to this conference, Beebe's comments reflect an alarming lack of concern over a potential Mizzou defection.  In response to a question about how to keep Missouri in the Big 12, Beebe responded:

[We need to m]ake sure that they understand how well they're wanted in our conference, how well they're connected to the rivalries that have developed.  There are a lot of Missouri fans that now enjoy playing Texas, playing Texas Tech, having the continued Big 8 rivalries with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, not to mention Kansas, Iowa State and the others, so I think it would be a big departure for them to go try to establish rivalries with another part of the country.

Later, in response to a question concerning how the Big 12 would go about keeping Missouri should the Big 10 express formal interest, Beebe said:

As much as you can fight to keep them, we'd fight to keep them, [because] there isn't a member you want to lose.  [But t]here isn't a lot you can do if they've already set the momentum in a certain direction.

First off, I know plenty of Missouri fans, and not one of them would list games against Texas and Texas Tech -- especially Texas Tech -- as a reason for staying in the Big 12.  Frankly, rivalries will always pale in comparison to the lure of filthy lucre -- just ask Nebrska and Oklahoma -- and just as I believe he was doing when discussing the possibility of the Big 12 football championship game's permanent move to Dallas, I think he was avoiding an outright discussion of the real issue: money.  Second, I agree that once the Big 10 makes a formal offer to Missouri, it is likely too late to change minds, but we damn sure better be doing something in the interim to show the Tigers that we're serious about offereing a deal that is, if not as sweet as the Big 10's, then at least close enough that the squishy factors like "tradition" and "rivalries" tilt the scales in our favor.

In short, we need equal revenue sharing and new streams of revenue.  The question is whether any of the entrenched four -- Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Nebraska -- would agree that losing Missouri was sufficiently alarming that equal revenue sharing was worth keeping them.  The possibility of more revenue might be enough to win one of them over, making the vote 9-3 in favor.  As discussed in Part I, the Big 12 inevitably becomes a weaker conference without Missouri, diminishing the possibility of landing a blockbuster TV contract.  The other consideration is the possibility that these schools would see Missouri's departure as the death knell of the conference.  If they did, they wouldn't bother with trying to fix an obviously doomed situation, and would instead look out for themselves.  The problem is, where would they go?  Texas has no interest in the SEC, the Big 10 would already have 12 teams, and the Pac-10 seems awfully far away.  The Longhorns could undoubtedly thrive as an independent, but would the Texas Legislature let them leave Texas A&M -- not to mention Baylor and Texas Tech -- out to dry like that?  The possibilities are enough to be the subject of a separate post, but my opinion is that these schools would be better served to preserve the Big 12 as it is than to chance a dramatic realignment of college football.

7.  Does the Big 10 have ulterior motives here?

Several reasons for Big 10 expansion have been discussed, all involving money.  The addition of a conference championship game, in a huge venue like Chicago's Soldier Field, Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, or even Green Bay's Lambeau Field, would mean a payday for the Big 10.  That game would be broadcast to all those huge Big 10 markets and the rest of the country, whether by the Big 10 Network or ABC/ESPN.  Finally, a new team would most likely open a new TV market for Big 10 Network expansion, whether that's east -- New York City -- or west -- Kansas City/St. Louis.  All of that means more money for the Big 10, which is a necessity if the conference is going to bring in a twelfth school with whom to divide money.

I'm not claiming that money is anything other than the primary goal of this merger, but it seems the Big 10 could accomplish other results by expanding.  For the past two years, at least, the SEC and Big 12 have been considered the best football conferences in the country, while Ohio State's repeated title game drubbings, Michigan's demise, and USC's utter domination of the Rose Bowl have combined to relegate the Big 10 to almost second-class status among the major conferences.  It has to be galling for the Big 10 to endure such criticism, given that the Big 10 used to be the gold standard for college football conferences.

The point is, there's yet another reason why the Big 10 may take a long look at Missouri.  Part I demonstrated how much Missouri's loss would affect the Big 12.  Even if Missouri's new TV markets and a Big 10 conference championship game were only a wash given that a twelfth piece of the pie had to be divided, the fact that the Big 12 would be weakened by the loss of Mizzou may be enough to make it worthwhile to the Big 10.

8.  We don't care about the money.  Would Missouri really leave behind its legacy in the Big 12?

The University of Missouri has deep ties to the Big 12 and its precursor conferences.  Mizzou was a founding member of the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1907, and has been a part of the Big 6/Big 7/Big 8/Big 12 ever since.  Most of the old Big 8 schools -- the current Big 12 North plus the Oklahoma schools -- have been affiliated with Mizzou for decades, if not a century.

The biggest consideration is whether Missouri could leave its historically significant -- that feels like the mother of understatements -- rivalry with KU.  It's a rivalry that started in the pre-Civil War days, and back then it had nothing to do with sports, but rather unimportant things like life and death.  A complicated swirl of events involving slavery, state's rights, and even the mere ability of those in western Missouri and eastern Kansas to live their lives without the fear of murder, rape and plunder combined to unleash a bitter feud that is a lingering memory 150 years later in this part of the country.  In fact, the State of Kansas is probably one of the few places in the country where one school's primary rival is not its in-state school of the same conference, but rather a school from another state.  To say the Border War is a big part of Missouri's identity would be like saying Lebron James is pretty good at basketball.

In recent years, as Missouri's football program ascended to previously unknown success under Gary Pinkel, the Tigers dared to be so impudent as to steal Nebraska's birthright, also known as the Big 12 North crown.  Such an affront would not be tolerated by the Big Red horde, and thus the upstarts in Columbia have been deemed a public enemy by the school that "has no rivals."

Missouri also plays Iowa State for some stupid trophy that nobody cares about.

Are these rivalries enough to override the potential $10 million per year payday Missouri would realize by moving to the Big 10?  As with any determination involving amorphous concepts, it's hard to say.  The only rivalry that Missouri would really hate to lose is the Border War, and as we've seen with the Busch Braggin' Rights games, it's possible for Missouri to play a rival in the non-conference.  Kansas City is a natural battleground for these schools, and yearly games at Arrowhead and Sprint Center could keep this rivalry going.  Of course, there's no guarantee those relationships will be maintained in the absence of conference mandates.  I suppose it's even possible -- though unlikely -- that the Big 12 would forbid KU to play Missouri in an attempt to punish the Tigers.  Regardless, Missouri would have to give a lot of consideration to whether the Big 10's money was worth the possible loss of the Border War.

9.  Hey, TB, over here.  Yeah, this is still a K-State blog.  We want to know what it means for the Purple and White.

If Missouri leaves, the best-case scenario for K-State is that the Big 12 picks up one of the schools mentioned in Part I and continues as a weakened going concern.  While the loss of St. Louis and part of Kansas City would not be recoverable by the addition of any realistic candidate, the Big 12 could probably survive with the addition of a Memphis, New Mexico, Arkansas, or Utah/BYU.  However, any prospects for a significantly improved contract from ABC or ESPN would probably follow Missouri out the door.

The possible disaster scenarios are too numerous to mention.  If Texas can overcome its own state's legislature, it could make a go of it as an independent.  Colorado has considered a move to the Pac-10 before, and one of their local reporters believes the jump would be made if offered again.  In short, the Big 12 could disintegrate.  If that happened, the best-case scenario would be that Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Nebraska were left without anywhere to go.  In that situation, their best option would be to keep around the other conference schools and pick up enough schools of the Utah, BYU, TCU, Arkansas, Houston, Memphis, Boise State and New Mexico group as were necessary to form a viable 12-team conference.  Again, this would come nowhere near matching the current Big 12, but it would be better than the potential disaster scenario.

The disaster scenario is, of course, that all the schools in the conference with big TV markets find homes elsewhere, and K-State is left in the dark with some combination of Nebraska, Iowa State, KU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor.  If this happened, we would probably have to forge some sort of conference with the best of Conference USA (Houston, Tulsa), the Mountain West (TCU, Utah, BYU), and the WAC (Boise State).  The result would be a geographically distributed conference with limited appeal even in its biggest TV markets, such as Houston, D/FW, Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Salt Lake City.  It makes me shudder even to think about it.

Conclusions

As you've probably gathered, I think it's imperative that we keep Missouri.  The problem is, we won't keep Missouri based on money alone.  We will have to do what we can financially -- equal revenue sharing and new revenue streams -- to make the money comparable enough that Mizzou's ties to the conference and rivalry games prevail.  It will have to be enough to at least close the gap enough that Missouri decides keeping its rivalries and ties to these schools outweighs the fear of the unknown.

Some have mentioned recruiting Texas as a reason Missouri should stay in the Big 12.  Nobody knows how that would play out, but I think it's an open question.  Using the example provided in the link, maybe Iowa doesn't have Texas players because it has never tried to recruit Texas.  Is one or two games in Texas per year really the reason Texas kids are going to Missouri?  Or is it because Missouri's coaching staff has taken the time to cultivate relationships there and show the players that they can have success at a major-conference school?

What it all comes down to is whether the other 11 schools think Missouri is worth fighting over.  This will come down to who the replacement would be -- and I don't think any of the reasonable alternative are sufficient replacements -- and whether the other schools think the Big 12 is worth saving if someone like Missouri leaves.  Is saving the Big 12 worth giving up some money in revenue sharing each year to Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Nebraska?  The answer to this question depends significantly on what those schools' other options are.  If any of those schools could join a more lucrative conference or, in Texas' case, go independent, then saving the Big 12 is probably not worth it to them.  But if the options are give up a little money in revenue sharing with the possibility of new revenue streams and a better TV contract down the road in order to keep Missouri, or lose Mizzou and, with it, bargaining power in the next TV contract negotiation, then the former is probably the better option.

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