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September 17, 2011

Realignment takes a dramatic turn

College realignment took a dramatic turn with the developments of Pittsburgh and Syracuse applying for membership to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A Big 12 administrator told Orangebloods.com those schools will be announced as the 13th and 14th members of the ACC on Sunday.

Two sources close to the situation say the ACC as an option for Texas may be decreasing. Nothing is ever final in the world of realignment until it's final.

But a source close to Texas told Orangebloods.com the Pac-12 may be becoming more of a viable option for the Longhorns and that moving UT's non-football sports into the ACC and remaining independent in football would not be a leading option for Texas at this time.

Another source close to Texas said UT officials were totally surprised by the developments involving Pitt, Syracuse and the ACC.

That source said Texas' top priority remains trying to hold the Big 12 together. But that option may have been dealt a blow with Pitt now appearing headed to the ACC. Pitt was a target of the Big 12 after it became clear Texas A&M wanted out of the league, sources have told Orangebloods.com.

Orangebloods.com caught up with Texas president Bill Powers outside the Rose Bowl Saturday, and Powers said, "We are not going to comment until all of this is over."

Another Big 12 administrator told Orangebloods.com the ACC appears as if it is moving on without Texas in its plans.

That Big 12 administrator said the ACC is reluctant to bring in Texas for three reasons: 1) how the Longhorn Network would be worked into its revenue sharing; 2) that the ACC sees itself as an east coast conference and wants to protect that by not reaching into the southwest (no matter how much TV money adding Texas would mean); and 3) Texas indicated to the ACC it would need to bring Texas Tech with them to the ACC, and the ACC members were not excited about that because of Texas Tech's academic standing (No. 160 in latest U.S. News and World Report).

If the ACC is diminishing as an option for Texas, that could be bad news for the future of the Longhorn Network. If the Longhorns are to stay tied to Texas Tech and head to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the LHN may have to be dramatically altered to fit into Pac-12 revenue sharing formulas.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott talked to a group of reporters that included Orangebloods.com on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Scott sounded surprised when told of the news the ACC could announce Pitt and Syracuse as new members as early as Sunday. He repeated that the Pac-12 is not initiating contact with any schools and added that he has no plans to talk to Texas officials while the Longhorns are in California to face UCLA.

"Once we finalized things with Colorado and Utah, we've been solely focused on 12 and making 12 work," Scott said. "I certainly anticipated this day would come - that there would be further realignment - if in fact it happens. And my view has been we need to build the best, strongest conference for schools to come if there is more destabilization.

"But I never would have anticipated this within 12 months of what happened last year. I'm surprised at the pace of destabilization in other conferences, and that we are having this conversation right now.

"By the same token, I'm thrilled with what we've been able to do in the last year in terms of the TV agreements, our TV networks, the solidarity in our conference. We are in a good position."

Scott said he would be watching the outcomes of separate regents meetings on Monday at both Texas and Oklahoma.

In a meeting with Texas officials last Sunday, OU officials indicated they deemed the Big 12 dead without Texas A&M in it, and also indicated their sights were set on the Pac-12.

Texas would love it if OU and Oklahoma State would recommit to the Big 12. Monday's meetings could help clarify where both schools stand.


When asked about how the Pac-12 might be divided if it expands by two or four schools - whether it's four-team pods or two divisions - Scott said it was too early to speculate.

"That was a hot topic going from 10 to 12," Scott said. "We had a lot of deliberation. That's why I'm hedging on giving any kind of timetable. There were really important details that took three months to work out last year.

"It was after we decided to expand, then we figured it out in terms of how alignment within the conference would work. We evaluated a lot of different models. And ultimately got unanimity. So that's something we would be very cautious about, very consultative with our members."

Scott said the Pac-12 looked at four-team pods as a possible structure when it attempted to go to 16 schools last summer.

"We looked at models like that last year," Scott said. "I guess that's all I could say. I don't want to go down a path of a hypothetical because it's getting out in front of where we are. But we certainly looked at pod structures, and our conference is very well set up for that.

"We have very distinct geographic territories with two members in each market. So we've got a lot of flexibility and creativity to bring to how to align divisions."

Scott said there was interest in a four-team pod alignment when the Pac-12 was considering going to 16 schools last summer. "But we never had decided on how it would work last year when we thought about 16," Scott said.

When asked about the Longhorn Network if Texas was to join the Pac-12, Scott said, "It would be an issue."

"We've got contracts in place and a certain structure for our networks that if we were going to add any school, any school would have to be part of that structure in some way," Scott said. "It's hard for me to be more specific than that."

Scott has set up a series of regional networks that pair two schools to share revenue from their third-tier TV rights with each other and with the Pac-12.

I asked Scott if there could be some exception to the third-tier rights network structure he has put in place, and he said no.

"We are really proud of the equal revenue sharing we have in the conference. It's one of the hallmarks of a stable conference," Scott said. "We've got a great spirit of one-for-all, and that's benefited us. We've certainly benefited in our TV negotiations, and one of the strengths of our conference has been the stability, the unity, the pooling of our rights and sharing the money equally, so that's not going to change."

A source close to the situation said the Pac-12 projects its TV revenue to average $35 million annually per school over the 12-year life of its $3 billion agreements with Fox and ESPN.

Texas was due to make roughly $35 million starting next year from its Big 12 TV revenue (roughly $20 million) and LHN (roughly $15 million). But that $35 million for Texas was expected to grow as time went on because of other TV negotiations on the horizon (the Big 12's deal with ABC/ESPN is up after the 2015-16 school year).

A Big 12 administrator told Orangebloods.com the ACC's acquisition of Pitt and Syracuse would be "bad news for everyone in the Big 12 as well as TCU."

Pitt was a school being courted by the Big 12 as a possible replacement for Texas A&M, and TCU is slated to join the Big East next year. That could now be in jeopardy with the Big East destabilizing.

I was told by a Big 12 administrator that West Virginia is looking like the 14th member of the Southeastern Conference after Texas A&M is added as the 13th member.

A Big 12 administrator said the list of candidates to help hold the Big 12 together would now include BYU, Louisville and most likely some other Big East school (maybe Cincinnati) as well as TCU.

But Orangebloods.com has been told by industry sources the Big 12's TV partners (ABC/ESPN and Fox) would not be interested in committing the money they are currently spending on the Big 12 for a conference that does not include Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

That could mean the schools left in the Big 12 and schools left in the Big East could form a conference, a Big 12 administrator said.

Stay tuned.





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