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June 15, 2010
How the Big 12 came back to life
The Big 12 was dead. Gone. No pulse.
The funerals were planned in Lubbock and Austin on Tuesday. And again in Norman and Stillwater on Wednesday. Texas A&M would show its last respects later in the week, when it pushed off for Birmingham, Ala., to pop corks with SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
The Big 12 was so dead, the surviving family - Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor - did things you only promise to a dead person. Things you probably don't ever expect to have to pay - like promising the $35 million to $40 million in buyout penalties from Nebraska and Colorado to Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
(Everyone wants to know how those three get to $20 million guaranteed in the new Big 12-Lite? That's how.)
But let's go back and revisit how a corpse not only regains a heartbeat but goes out and wins a 400-meter race in record time four days after receiving a toe tag.
Wednesday, June 9 - Orangebloods.com reports, according to a source close to the Nebraska Board of Regents, that the Cornhuskers are going to the Big Ten and will make a formal announcement two days later on Friday.
I'm driving home from a live remote radio show and call one of my sources at UT. I'm told president William Powers and athletic director DeLoss Dodds have gathered the coaches at UT and tell them, "We've done all we can to save the Big 12 but were unsuccessful."
A plan to join the Pac-16 is basically laid out.
Thursday, June 10 - The Pac-10 announces it is adding Colorado. Orangebloods.com reports that Nebraska will announce on Friday that it is headed to the Big Ten. And OB also reports that Texas A&M is seriously considering the Southeastern Conference and may be put on the clock to respond to its Pac-10 invitation.
This is the first time it's becoming apparent that Texas A&M might not play ball with the other Big 12 teams being invited to the Pac-10. But, according to top sources, Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne is basically assuring Texas that the Aggies will join Texas in the Pac-10. So Texas feels like the Aggies will come around.
Friday, June 11 - Nebraska bolts the Big 12 for the Big Ten and throws Missouri and Texas under the bus in the process. Colorado holds a press conference with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott saying the Buffaloes are headed west.
Sources would later say Colorado panicked at this point because the Buffaloes thought they needed to act more quickly than the others because Baylor might be moving in on their invitation to the Pac-10. (Now, Colorado owes $15 million in buyout penalties to the Big 12 that it can't afford.)
Texas schedules a regents meeting for Tuesday at 11 a.m. This meeting is to announce that the Longhorns are going to the Pac-10. Texas Tech officials post a regents meeting for Tuesday as well. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State post regents meetings for Wednesday. All with the expectation of announcing they are heading west to the Pac-10.
Orangebloods.com reports that all four schools (Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and OU) have confirmed they are heading to the Pac-10 with announcements due after the weekend.
Saturday, June 12 - The focus shifts to College Station. Mike Slive, the Southeastern Conference commissioner, is in College Station to visit with A&M officials. But A&M athletic director Bill Byrne is nowhere to be found. He's at a family reunion in Idaho.
Suddenly Texas' best source for information from A&M is in doubt. How connected is he to the situation?
According to two of the best sources for Orangebloods.com throughout the Big 12 Missile Crisis, Texas A&M has a vote of at least 6-3 to go to the SEC, and we report that.
Other sources around the Big 12 are starting to say Texas A&M is waiting for Texas to hang itself at the press conference on Tuesday before the Aggies announce their departure for the SEC.
Athletic director DeLoss Dodds and UT women's athletic director Chris Plonsky smell the rat: Texas is going to get blamed for breaking up the Big 12 AND for ripping up the 100-year rivalry with Texas A&M. The Aggies aren't going to the Pac-10. The Aggies aren't budging.
A shot of the president's box at the Texas-TCU NCAA Super Regional baseball game on Saturday tells it all. There was Powers, a Cal graduate who had convinced the Texas Board of Regents the Pac-10 was the right move for academic and athletic reasons, had Plonsky over his left shoulder, leaning into his ear. Dodds was casual and calm with Mack Brown to Dodds' left.
I would joke with Brown on Tuesday that there had to be more going on in that picture than watching baseball. Mack Brown smiled and said, "Nope, just cheering on Texas to beat TCU."
Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's presidents and athletic directors meet with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott in Oklahoma City.
Sunday, June 13 - Texas is starting to get the sense A&M is not turning back from the SEC. That any information it got from Byrne is useless at this point, according to sources. Gene Stallings, A&M System chancellor Mike McKinney and other A&M regents led by Morris Foster, a former ExxonMobil executive, are leading the Aggies toward the SEC.
The notion of separating from Texas is starting to feel invigorating to the Aggie power brokers. Foster likes the idea of A&M being the top research insitution in the SEC. Stallings wants A&M football to connect with history shared by Alabama (Bear Bryant coaching at A&M before winning six national titles at Bama).
And McKinney is ready to collect the paychecks of at least $17.4 million to help get the Ags out of the $16 million hole the athletic department is in.
With the Big 12's obituary seemingly imminent, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe secures assurances from ABC/ESPN that it will honor its current contract with the Big 12 through 2016 even if the league is 10 members and without a conference championship game. Meaning, all of Colorado's and Nebraska's share of the TV revenue as well as the money from the championship game would now be divided between the 10 schools.
The five schools who appeared to be the pall bearers for the Big 12 - Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor - make a commitment to hand over their share of the $35 million to $40 million in penalties to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado to Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
Now, those three schools are guaranteed to start making $20 million immediately. No waiting. No fuss no muss - $20 million.
That number is better than the payout of the SEC ($17.4 million) for Texas A&M. It also is better than the Pac-10, which initially sold the Big 12 schools on a number of $20 million starting in 2012, but later said it might take a year or two to scale to $20 million, according to sources. The initial number might be closer to $17 million in 2012 and $20 million by 2013 or 2014. So suddenly Texas is better off by $3 million with no waiting.
Larry Scott and Pac-10 chief operating officer Kevin Weiberg fly from Oklahoma City to College Station Sunday morning. A meeting between Scott, Weiberg and A&M president R. Bowen Loftin and a couple regents is short and not so sweet. Texas A&M tells the Pac-10 officials they are not ready to accept an invitation. The Pac-10, which is actively falling in love with Kansas, takes this as a refused invitation.
Scott and Weiberg fly from College Station to Lubbock and are met with a king's welcome. If Tech's board of regents could have accepted a bid to the Pac-10 right then and there, they would have. Scott and Weiberg leave Lubbock feeling like they've got Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tech. All they need now is Texas, and they can figure out the rest (sub Kansas for Texas A&M).
But by the time Scott and Weiberg get to Austin on Sunday night, DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky are already feeling queasy about everything, according to sources.
Dodds and Plonsky are already anticipating that Texas is going to get blamed for ripping up the Big 12, for tearing apart the rivalry with Texas A&M and for agreeing to a deal with the Pac-10 that is not as financially sound as the one now facing them thanks to Dan Beebe's hustling of ABC/ESPN and the generostiy of the Desperate Five in the Big 12 (Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor).
Texas knows with the $20 million guarantee and the ability to launch its own network in the Big 12, the Longhorns could be pulling in between $23 million and $25 million in no time. They'd be the richest school in the BCS in terms of TV revenue. And that total could scale if the Longhorn Network was a success and surpassed its consultants early projections of $3 million to $5 million per year.
And Scott and Weiberg made one critical mistake in the courtship of the Big 12. Other than its somewhat foggy math that a 16-team Pac-10 could readily get to $20 million in TV revenue per school, they wanted to substitute Kansas for Oklahoma State late in the process, according to multiple sources in the Big 12.
Texas was really starting to feel queasy now, sources said. UT officials knew deep down Texas A&M wasn't coming to the Pac-10, despite Bill Byrne's assurances, according to sources. And now Scott and Weiberg were looking to dump Oklahoma State in favor of Kansas. If A&M was a no-show, the Pac-10 would add Utah. Scott was looking to add new TV markets, not stick to the deal that was agreed upon a few days earlier.
According to sources who talked to me Tuesday (two days after the fact), Dodds and Plonsky couldn't stop thinking about all the negatives. And now they were dealing with a wheeler-dealer Pac-10 commissioner who wanted to sub out Boone Pickens' Cowboys for the chance to grab new households in Kansas, Missouri and middle America.
Dodds had given Oklahoma State his word they would be part of the group headed west. Now, the Pac-10 wanted to do some late rearranging. Dodds didn't feel good about it, sources said Tuesday. Now, Dodds and Plonsky had to convince Powers that the Beebe Plan was the best plan.
Powers had convinced the board of regents the Pac-10 was the answer if Nebraska came out of the league, according to the sources who talked on Tuesday.
(Powers had such a strong relationship with Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman that in his mind the conference was toast without Nebraska in the league.)
I made routine calls to my sources across the Big 12 Sunday night and got one response at 10:40 p.m. CT in a text message that said, "Texas may be changing course. Look into it."
I tried to reach more sources. But it was late. I couldn't sleep at all that night. I just kept scanning other media outlets' web sites to see if they had the news. Nothing. I still couldn't sleep. I fell asleep for a couple hours - from about 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. CT - on the couch in my kids' play room. I took over that room the previous two weeks because it has a TV in it, and I needed a place where I could work and keep one eye on my laptop and one eye on ESPN News.
Monday, June 14 - How early is too early to call a source?
In this case, it's never too early. I was carpet-bombing every source I had in the story thus far to find out if Texas was changing course.
At 8 a.m., another top source in this story told me Texas was not only changing course, it was almost ready to commit to a remodeled Big 12.
I cobbled a story together about how Texas had gone from nearly being signed, sealed, delivered to the West Coast to racing back to the Big 12 dinner table to see if there was any food.
I popped my story on Orangebloods.com at 8:36 a.m. and began Twittering furiously to draw attention to it. I got up to run to Starbucks for an iced, venti, Chai latte and by the time I got back home, Joe Schad of ESPN was saying in a story on ESPN.com and on television that Beebe's plan had "zero" chance for survival, according to four sources.
I knew ABC/ESPN was involved in the Beebe Plan. So my immediate thought was Schad knew something I didn't because he had walked down the hall in Bristol and talked to some TV executive. What if The Worldwide Leader had pulled its assurances off the table? Did Schad learn ABC/ESPN had pulled the rug out from under the Beebe plan?
I started texting my sources immediately, wondering if even they knew about some new wrinkle to the story. Then, I got a text back saying, "No worries. The train is still on the tracks."
I Twittered to my now 12,000 followers, "I'm not backing off my story."
And then all the other texts and calls I'd sent out started responding. Texas A&M was at the table and seemingly on board. So was OU. I already knew the Desperate Five were on board. And I knew Texas Tech and Oklahoma State weren't going to do anything without Texas, OU and Texas A&M.
(Although Texas Tech's regents put that to the test on Tuesday, waiting to agree to the Huck Finn blood oath to be a happy camper in the Big 12-Lite until about 3:30 p.m. CT).
All my sources started weighing in, saying the deal to rescue the Big 12-Lite was almost done. By 4 p.m. CT, I had confirmation from all my top sources the deal was done. Then, a regents meeting scheduled for Tuesday was canceled in favor of a press conference at Texas at 10 a.m. CT. A teleconference with Beebe was scheduled for 11 a.m. CT.
Tuesday, June 15 - We learn from the Texas and Beebe media conferences and some more reporting from sources that ABC/ESPN basically protected its investments and held off college realignment by allowing the 10 schools in the Big 12 to keep all the money ABC/ESPN agreed to pay the league through 2016 when it had 12 members and a conference championship game.
Why would ABC/ESPN agree to such a bad deal? I'm convinced because it didn't want to see Texas and Oklahoma disappear to the Pac-16 conference network likely to be run by Fox. ABC/ESPN, in my opinion, also saw the possibility of realignment coming if the Big 12 fell apart, and that could have led to remodeling the SEC and ACC, conferences in which ABC/ESPN has more than $4 billion tied up in TV contracts.
If the SEC expands by four or the ACC gets picked apart and then remodeled in some merger with the Big East, ABC/ESPN likely has to renegotiate those deals, possibly for more than the $4 billion it had already committed.
So why not just honor the deal it had struck with the Big 12 despite losing two teams and a conference championship game? By comparison it was a relative pittance to keep Texas and Oklahoma away from Fox and protect its investments in the SEC and ACC.
Texas became the first to blink, backing away from its Pac-10 invitation and reaching out to Texas A&M at the bargaining table. Credit both the Aggies and the Longhorns for realizing the time wasn't right to break up a 100-year rivalry that even includes mentions of each school in the other's fight song.
In the end, the Big 12 is not a better football league than it was less than a week ago. It's a better basketball league (an 18-game conference schedule means Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri now play Texas and A&M home and home).
But the principals in the deal walk away feeling better about the knowns than what seemed like some elusive answers about the unknowns.
TEXAS A&M - Aggies' athletics are $16 million in debt and are one big dysfunctional family (How else do you explain Bill Byrne at a family reunion in Idaho when the Ags are contemplating their most important moment in the last 100 years?).
Say what you want about Gene Stallings and A&M system chancellor Mike McKinney zeroing in on the SEC, they didn't waver, and it finally got to Texas.
As UT officials began having doubts about the Pac-10 deal, the Longhorns didn't want to be seen as the drivers in ripping apart the Big 12 and a 100-year rivalry with the Aggies.
UT officials ultimately blinked first and said they'd go back to the table for the Beebe Plan if A&M would. The Aggies did and walked away with $20 million guaranteed - the same as Texas and OU - because it had a real suitor. Not bad for a destitute, non-performing football program for most of the past decade.
ABC/ESPN - On its face, it looks like the Worldwide Leader is getting taken to the cleaners by continuing to pay the Big 12 for the next seven years as if it's a 12-member league with a conference championship game (even though it's a 10-member league with no title game).
But ABC/ESPN isn't out any more money, and it protected its interest in several areas (UT and OU don't go to Fox as part of the Pac-16 conference network; the SEC and ACC likely don't expand; Notre Dame remains an independent; and college realignment is averted for at least seven more years.)
DAN BEEBE - Put in a bad spot from the beginning as Big 12 commissioner because he inherited staggered TV contracts (the cable deal with Fox expires in 2012, while its network deal with ABC/ESPN expires in 2016), Beebe went to ABC/ESPN, asked them to honor a bad contract and got a dysfunctional family back to the table.
That's not easy. Think of all the rancor in this league (starting with Missouri's open flirtation with the Big Ten, which launched the "instability" in the league a year ago). And now think of the money pouring into a league with no championship game and only 10 members (or only 2 members depending on your count - Texas and OU. Come on Tech, A&M and anyone from the old Big 12 North).
Beebe came up with the Beebe Plan, and it saved a league that was always the most likely candidate to get picked apart and possibly trigger realignment. This was no easy sales job, considering all the conversations between his member schools and other conferences. Dan Beebe comes out a huge winner in this.
TEXAS - The Longhorns walked away from a deal with the Pac-10 they were losing confidence in; preserved their 100-year rivalry with A&M; AND walk away with the chance to make between $23 million and $25 million in TV revenue thanks to its own network (and maybe more).
And don't forget the easier path to a national title game (without a conference title game).
THE DESPERATE FIVE - The decision by Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor to pool their share of the Nebraska/Colorado penalty money ($35 million to $40 million) and give it to OU, Texas A&M and Texas costs these five in the short-term. But it worked. They helped save the conference, and now they are going to earn between $14 million and $17 million each going forward.
COLORADO - The Buffaloes can spin this any way they want, but they effectively gambled and lost. They got out ahead of the posse on Friday, hoping to cut off Baylor from trying to wrangle its invitation to the Pac-10, according to sources. The Buffs believed Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were unshakable to the Pac-10, thus anticipating the Big 12 would crumble, so there would be no one left to collect the Buffs' buyout penalties. Now, there are 10 schools gladly waiting to line their pockets with $15 million the Buffs' can't afford to pay. (CU couldn't afford to pay Dan Hawkins' $3 million buyout last year. Gulp.)
THE FANS - Fans of the Big 12 lose one of the great, tradition-laden programs in the history of college football (Nebraska), and they will lose a conference championship game at Jerryworld in the near future. Fans with ties to most of the Big 12 South also miss out on road trips to Scottsdale, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene and Seattle in favor of trips to Ames, Iowa; Manhattan, Kan.; and Columbia, Mo. OK, I'll stop now while I'm behind ...
TEXAS TECH - The Red Raiders probably have a legit gripe about not being included in the payout from the Desperate Five. After all, Tech has been in the Top Two in the last two years, while Texas A&M has been sucking wind for most of the past decade. So the thought of Tech making $14 million to $17 million when Texas A&M is poised to rake in $20 million has to burn like acid reflux.
The Tech regents wanted to make the rest of the Big 12-Lite feel their pain, so they didn't agree to sign the Huck Finn blood oath to be a happy camper in the Big 12 on Sunday, opting to make everyone wait until 3 p.m. on Monday. Tommy Tuberville will have a winner on the field soon, so the Red Raiders will pop some Tums and get over this ... eventually.
Orangebloods.com broke the story about the Pac-10 possibly raiding half the Big 12 on June 3. The next 12 days threatened to change the direction of college athletics forever. Against maybe all odds, the Big 12 Missile Crisis ended with diverging forces standing down.
If Texas A&M decided to go with Texas to the Pac-10, we might have had complete upheaval and the beginning of massive college realignment, resulting in four, 16-team mega conferences. As it stands now, realignment appears to have been averted for at least the next seven years (until the ABC/ESPN contract expires).
For now, these will live on as the 12 days that could have changed the course of college athletics ... but didn't.