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Trip Down Memory Lane, Part II: Big 12 at a Fork in the Road

TB's Note:  This story was posted on June 14, 2007.  I wrote it in the wake of Kevin Weiberg's resignation as Big 12 commissioner, in response to the conference revenue sharing issues raised at that time.  Please note I made a mistake in the math of the new TV deal...UT would get $48 million over the next 10 years, not $48 million per year, under the new arrangement and its present payout rate.

Kevin Weiberg stepped down today as commissioner of the Big 12 conference.  This came straight out of left-field for me.  It seemed things were getting better, with the slight improvement to the TV contract announced recently.  However, to hear K-State AD Tim Weiser on KC's 810 sports talk today, this wasn't a surprise at all.  Weiser indicated Weiberg had been frustrated for a while with what was going on in the conference.  That seems apparent to me because Weiberg is taking a huge step down in terms of prestige (and presumably pay) now to be the vice-president in charge of university operations for the new Big Ten Television Network.

This is going to raise a whole lot of sensitive issues for the schools in the Big 12, and the person chosen to replace Weiberg (not to mention the search process to find him) will tell us a lot about the road down which this conference is going.

The most contentious issue among the Big 12 members right now is revenue sharing.  All non-television money is shared equally.  Of course, non-television money is a pittance compared to the money generated from the TV contracts.  Half the TV money is split equally, half is split proportional to the number of TV appearances each school makes.  Here is a quick look at the number of TV appearances each school made last year in football (from

  1.  Oklahoma:       14 (6 ABC, 1 TBS, 1 Fox, 5 FSN, 1 FSN Southwest PPV)
  1.  Texas:          12 (6 ABC, 2 ESPN, 3 TBS, 1 FSN)
  1.  Nebraska:       12 (8 ABC, 1 Fox, 2 FSN, 1 FSN PPV)
  1.  Texas A&M:       8 (5 ABC, 2 ESPN, 1 FSN)
  1.  K-State:         7 (4 FSN, 1 ABC, 1 FSN pay-per-view, 1 NFL Network)
  1.  Missouri:        7 (4 ABC, 1 CBS, 2 FSN)
  1.  Oklahoma State:  7 (1 ABC, 1 TBS, 1 ESPN, 1 ESPNU, 1 CSTV, 2 FSN)
  1.  Texas Tech:      7 (1 ABC, 1 TBS, 2 CSTV, 1 NFL Network, 2 FSN)
  1.  KU:              6 (1 ABC, 1 ESPN, 4 FSN)
  1.  Colorado:        6 (1 ABC, 1 TBS, 1 ESPN Gameplan, 3 FSN)
  1. Baylor:          5 (1 TBS, 4 FSN)
  1. Iowa State:      4 (2 ABC, 1 ESPN, 1 FSN)

As you can see, there's a pretty fair disconnect between the top four teams and the next eight.  While K-State, Okie State and Texas Tech are only one appearance out of the top four, several of their appearances came on stations that get much less penetration than ABC and ESPN, including ESPNU, CSTV, NFL Network, and PPV games.  According to the Omaha World-Herald, it's even more unequal than you think (K-State received the least TV money last year???  How is that so?)

And that's where the problem lies.  Changing the Big 12 bylaws requires a super-majority vote of 9 out of 12 schools (athletic directors).  Those four teams on top aren't going to be very excited about giving up some money every year to the other eight teams in the conference.  Texas AD DeLoss Dodds isn't for it (or wasn't in 2001, and I doubt he's changed his mind).  Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said on KC's 810 sports today he isn't for a revenue change (no word on what Steve Pederson thinks about it...or if he's even still alive).  Bill Byrne is a former Nebraska guy and now at another of the top four money schools, so I doubt he's for the change.  I have no idea what OU thinks about this, but there's little reason to believe they're for it.

Basically this is shaping up as a real showdown over Big 12 ideologies.  Two factions have emerged, those who favor fully equal revenue sharing of all revenues (the schools outside the top four mentioned above) and the bigger schools.  The bigger schools argue it's not fair to them to give up that money to the schools who don't earn TV appearances for the conference.  It shouldn't surprise you that I don't see that as a real winner of an argument.  First, the Big 10 shares all revenue equally, and it's really destroyed Ohio State and Michigan (or not).  Actually, the Big 10 has done almost as well overall in football since the Big 12 was formed (three national titles for the Big 12, two for the Big 10, counting one each for Nebraska and Michigan in 1997).  In basketball, the Big 10 has won one national title in that time, while the Big 12 has none.  Second, there's a reason schools band together as conferences.  The idea should be, in at least some ways, to benefit all members of the institutions.  The top four schools from above don't want to give an inch on this issue, believing it would cause them irreparable harm.

That's a bunch of crap, really.  Stay with me here and I'll demonstrate how little money the big schools would be giving up by sharing all TV revenue equally.  First, here are the operating expenses for each Big 12 school, thanks to

  1.  Texas:           $83,600,248
  1.  Oklahoma:        $64,322,580
  1.  Nebraska:        $63,695,480
  1.  Texas A&M:       $61,419,536
  1.  Texas Tech:      $53,337,768
  1.  KU:              $47,554,572
  1.  Colorado:        $45,731,544
  1.  Missouri:        $45,184,836
  1.  Oklahoma State:  $44,061,812
  1. Baylor:          $36,228,960
  1. K-State:         $34,834,468
  1. Iowa State:      $32,541,236

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the overall allocation in 2005-06 totalled about $90 million.  If that total is shared equally, each school gets $7.5 million.  As it is, Texas gets $9.68 million, while K-State gets $6.47 million.

Whoa.  What the hell are we arguing about here?  You're telling me Texas can't take a $2.18 million cut in revenue?  That's a whopping two percent of its operating expenses.  Meanwhile, even the school getting the smallest cut (K-State), only gets an extra $1 million.  What exactly are you scared of, Texas?  Is an extra $1 million to lowly K-State going to make or break you?  Hell, one rich oilman in West Texas can make up that $2 million per year.

The problem is, the stakes get higher soon.  The new Big 12 TV deal will be worth $480 million.  If UT keeps getting 10 percent of that, they'll be raking in $48 million each year.  If K-State keeps getting seven percent, they'll be getting $33 million each year.  The rich keep getting richer, building bigger and better facilities, and forcing the smaller schools to break their banks to keep up.  Now, if we all share that $480 million equally, everybody gets $40 million each year.

In my opinion, two things need to be done, and done soon.  First, we have to get a new TV deal done.  The new commissioner needs to know that the minute he takes his seat in Dallas, he needs to have a phone to his ear, connected to Bristol, CT, and he needs to bust ESPN's balls to get more TV for our teams.  The Big 10 is going to its own network, we need to get ESPN to start showing more of our games and fewer Big 10 games.  But even that isn't going to be easy.  The big schools don't really care if we have more TV appearances or not.  Almost all their games are already on TV, so more TV slots mean the smaller schools get on TV more and eat up more of the revenue.

Second, the presidents/chancellors and athletic directors of this conference need to authorize equal revenue sharing for ALL conference income.  It's not going to be easy.  It's going to require a vote from one of the top four to give up some money.  Nebraska has the least to lose financially, but in terms of its division, it has the most to lose (four north division schools would gain money from equal sharing, only Colorado was above last year's median).  Whomever it is, it has to get done, or we're going to run into more serious trouble than we're already in.  If we truly are a conference, looking out for each other's interests and wanting everyone to get better, this has to happen.

On 810 today, both chancellor Perlman and AD Weiser noted, idly, the possibility of schools leaving the conference.  Perlman noted that Nebraska wouldn't rule out the possibility of leaving the Big 12 (presumably to go to the Big 10) if forced to share revenue.  Weiser indicated he's so fed up with the debate that, at this point, if someone says they "want to take their ball and go home" if forced to equally share revenue, he'd be happy to tell them to take their ball and leave.  I'm not going to get into who could leave, and where they'd go, but it just illustrates how selfish some of the schools in this conference are, and how divisive the issue is.

I love the Big 12, just as I loved the Big 8 before it.  This has been, and could be again, the best conference in the land.  But to be the best, we're going to have to start acting like brothers, rather than enemies.  If the big boys lose in this, will they throw a fit and go elsewhere?  Or will they realize they're still far better off than the other schools and continue to play?  Michigan and Ohio State have survived equal revenue sharing, there's no reason for me to believe Texas and Oklahoma can't do the same.