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June 3, 2010

Exclusive: Pac-10 set to invite six from Big 12

Chip Brown
Rivals.com College Football
Columnist

The Big 12 meetings are reaching their climax Thursday and Friday in Kansas City with the presidents and chancellors from the league coming together to discuss pressing issues, including sites for championships. (Look for the Big 12 title game in football to stay at Cowboys Stadium for the next three years.)

But when it comes to possible realignment, the Big 12 meetings may be premature.

Why?

Because it appears the Pac-10, which has its meetings in San Francisco starting this weekend, is prepared to make a bold move and invite Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado to join its league, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

Left out would be Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska and Missouri.

Messages left with Pac-10 officials by Orangebloods.com on Thursday were not immediately returned.

The six teams from the Big 12 would be in an eight-team division with Arizona and Arizona State. The other eight-team division would consist of USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State.

The thought is the Big 16 (or whatever they decide for the name) would start its own television network that could command premium subscriber dollars from cable providers on par with the Big Ten Network and pay out upwards of $20 million to each of the 16 schools in TV revenue.

Such a merger between the six Big 12 schools and the Pac-10 would build a conference with seven of the country's top 20 TV markets (Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and Sacramento). And such a league would likely command attention from every cable system in the country and command a premium rate from every cable system west of the Mississippi.

Those projected TV revenues would double the current payouts of roughly $9 million to Big 12 and Pac-10 members. If the Big 16 reached its projections, the league would also surpass the SEC's projected payout of $17 million per school reached in a 15-year TV deal with ABC/ESPN and CBS signed in 2008.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the TV revenues paid out to the Big 12 in 2007 (the last year revenue was made public) were as follows:

1. Texas: $10.2 million
2. Oklahoma: $9.8 million
3. Kansas: $9.24 million
4. Texas A&M: $9.22 million
5. Nebraska: $9.1 million
6. Missouri: $8.4 million
7. Texas Tech: $8.23 million
8. Kansas State: $8.21 million
9. Oklahoma State: $8.1 million
10. Colorado: $8.0 million
11. Iowa State: $7.4 million
12. Baylor: $7.1 million

AN OFFER THAT CAN'T BE REFUSED?

An invitation from the Pac-10 will be hard for the six Big 12 schools being targeted not to consider. Why? Because Fox Cable Networks (a division of News Corporation), which serves as the chief operating partner of the successful Big Ten Network, appears ready to make the Big 16 Network happen.

Fox is the chief television partner of the Pac-10 currently, and its subsidiary Fox Sports Net currently holds the rights to the Big 12 cable package, which comes up for bid in the spring of 2011. The Pac-10 also has television deals with Fox up for re-bid at the same time.

The Big Ten has shown the conference network model works. According to published reports, the TV revenue paid out to Big Ten schools jumped from $14 million for the fiscal year 2006-07 to $22 million for the fiscal year 2007-08.

A&M TO THE SEC?

There does appear to be some resistance to an invitation from the Pac-10 from at least one of the six schools being targeted - Texas A&M. According to a source close to the situation, A&M officials have had serious conversations with the Southeastern Conference about the Aggies joining that league.

In Thursday's editions of the Houston Chronicle, A&M athletic director Bill Byrne was asked if the SEC is an option for the Aggies should the Big 12 break up, and he said, "It might be. You know what? It might be."

Byrne, the athletic director at Oregon from 1984-92 before going to Nebraska, has been openly critical of having student-athletes travel west, only to return home at odd hours.

Byrne has used the example of when the Aggies had their men's and women's basketball teams in Spokane and Seattle for the NCAA Tournament in March and couldn't get back to College Station until 6:30 a.m. with students having to attend 8 a.m. classes.

It's no coincidence Byrne's example included cities in the Pac-10's dominant time zone.

There is also reason to believe Oklahoma could be enamored with joining the SEC. But that does not appear to be an option Texas officials would be willing to consider. There is a sense among UT officials the academics in the SEC are not on par with Texas.
If A&M and Oklahoma were to splinter off and join the SEC, the Pac-10 would obviously have to revise its invite list.

Any move the SEC made in terms of expansion would likely cause the 15-year, $3 billion in TV contracts the SEC landed with ABC/ESPN ($2.2 billion) and CBS ($825 million) to be re-opened for negotiation.

The question would be how much more money the SEC could command in TV revenue without starting its own network?

A&M is starved for cash because its athletic department fell $16 million into debt and received a loan from the school's general fund to pay it off, causing a rift between the university and athletics. That rift, in part, led to A&M school president Elsa Murano to resign under pressure because she was pushing for the money to be paid back and was met with resistance by A&M system chancellor Mike McKinney, whose sons played football at A&M, and possibly even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Aggie who is still very involved in the school's politics.

Surprisingly, the Legislature doesn't appear to be an obstacle for the state's two biggest schools to split off into separate conferences, although that is not an ideal situation for either school. If A&M opted to head to the SEC and Texas opted to go elsewhere, there is a very good chance Texas would no longer play the Aggies in any sports.

NEW OPTIONS

So after this weekend, there will be a new option for half the schools in the Big 12 to find a new home.

There also appears to be a chance Nebraska will not get invited to the Big Ten, which means the only school the Big 12 stands to lose to the Big Ten is Missouri. The Big Ten and its efforts to move south, thus far, have been rebuffed by Texas, which doesn't like the logistics of serving as the southern boundary of the Big Ten.

So the Big Ten continues to focus on Notre Dame and is seriously considering whether to invite Missouri as well as three schools from the Big East (Rutgers, UConn and either Syracuse or Pittsburgh) . Such a move would likely collapse the Big East, where Notre Dame plays its sports other than football, and might cause the Irish to finally acquiesce to joining the Big Ten.

If that happened, there would be a strong likelihood that four super conferences of roughly 16 teams could emerge: the Big Ten, the SEC, a collaboration of the Big 12 and Pac-10 as well as a collaboration of the Big East and ACC.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe warned against that when the Big 12 meetings started this week in Kansas City.

"I think it's very serious," Beebe said. "And I think it's something that we better be very careful about. If we come to a day where there are four 16-member conferences, then it's going to be a sad day, and it's going to be very difficult to not have more legal issues and interventions. The pressures will be immense for certain programs to be successful, (and) there will be less chances to win conference championships and national championships."

CAN THE BIG 12 SURVIVE?

Believe it or not, it's still Texas' goal to hold the Big 12 together, and simply create a non-conference football scheduling alliance with the Pac-10 that would help generate a big-money, cable TV deal for both leagues.

Such a move would continue to allow Texas to pursue its own network and create a unique, potentially lucrative revenue stream UT wouldn't have to share. If Texas ended up as one of the six schools going off to join forces with the Pac-10, it would likely have to forgo its own network.

Larry Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, told Orangebloods.com recently his schools are "very interested" in exploring a conference network and that it would have to be an "all rights in situation."

Can Texas convince the rest of the league the Big 12 is the way to go? Would all the wandering eyes like Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Missouri commit to staying in the Big 12 immediately if Texas committed to staying in the Big 12 in light of the Pac-10 offer?

Missouri probably would not. The Tigers already have one foot in the Big Ten. But Nebraska has no assurance it will be invited to the Big Ten and could be left completely out of the power conference structure if it's not careful. Texas A&M doesn't have the resources to start its own network and doesn't appear eager to be in a league that allows Texas to generate added revenue. The same might be true for OU.

So the plot thickens. The Pac-10, which is hamstrung by geography and would love to have its sports aired into the Central time zone, wants a merger. And it appears ready to upstage the Big Ten in this game of musical conferences. No one would have its own network in the Big 16, which could compel A&M and OU to accept an invitation.

The Pac-10 doesn't want to waste time by going out on dates with the Big 12 with a non-conference football scheduling alliance. It wants to take half of the Big 12 and get married. Now, we'll see, who, if anyone, meets them at the altar.

Chip Brown joined the Rivals.com network in August 2008 after 10 years at The Dallas Morning News, where he covered the University of Texas for eight years and the Dallas Cowboys for two. Brown also covered the Big 12 for the Morning News from 2006-08. Brown worked for The Associated Press for 10 years, covering news and sports before joining the Morning News.
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