The Big 12’s annual spring meetings ended on Friday with surprising fanfare. I don’t know if the conference CEOs are spinning or truly feeling good about the state of affairs, but happy talk was in abundance.
A few of my takeaways:
*I wouldn’t say that I feel bad for Bob Bowlsby or anyone else in a position of power at the Big 12 schools. After all, these guys – and they are exclusively men, from what I can tell – collect big paychecks on the 1st and the 15th.
However, even I would admit that the conference’s shot-callers are damned if they do or don’t. Media members react to everything the conference does with derision. The league could have rolled out concussion-proof helmets with state-of-the-art hydration systems in their mouthguards on Friday. The news would have been met with something like, “Hurr durr, is Texas going to allow anyone else to wear them?”
Even so, the schools have no one to blame but themselves. Backtracking and backbiting became the foundation of the conference almost as soon as it was formed 20 years ago. Grandstanding was woven in when the conference nearly imploded in 2010, as people like DeLoss Dodds and David Boren decided that business should be conducted through the media in leverage and power plays.
If the conference wants to shake its dysfunctional image, it will take years and years of the powerbrokers shutting up. Best of luck, Bowlsby.
*Of course, it would also help if everything the league didn’t feel so disorganized and half-baked. The back and forth on the Baker Mayfield rule is a high-profile example of the sense of chaos emanating from everything around the league. It extends down to simple details like the commissioner publicly flubbing tiebreaker rules or the fact that the league can’t even issue a press release without eventually coming back to make a correction or clarification.
*As for the most substantive news to come from meetings, the conference championship game’s return elicited a strong response on my Twitter timeline. Not much of it was good.
A conference with a round-robin schedule has no need for a redundant championship game. That’s the point of everyone playing each other in the first place. The home of “One True Champion” never figured out a way to hammer that point home to the masses.
As it currently stands, a guaranteed rematch just puts an unfair obstacle in front of what should be the league’s legitimate winner.
It also puts an extra $2 million or so in every school’s coffers without expanding. I guess it should come as no surprise they would opt to go that route.
*Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com painted an interesting picture after the meetings wrapped up of how the Big 12 can claim some serious stroke in the media landscape now.
The upshot of the conference’s contractual provisions regarding expansion isn’t that the league is about to start adding teams. It’s that the Big 12 has the potential to throw a crimp in the ongoing negotiations over the Big Ten deal, which gives the conference leverage over ESPN and Fox.
Going forward, that could be used to extract some concessions out of the two sports media giants. For example, the Big 12 schools could negotiate favorable terms to undo their third-tier rights deals, opening up the possibility of a digital network in the near future. (Sans Texas, natch.)
*I’d also argue that expansion remains palatable, so long as those invitations are exclusively for football. If the league is going to have a title game, two divisions with six teams each sounds preferable to the current alignment
With a traditional television network now off the table, the need to lock up major media markets takes on less importance. Instead, the conference could grab the programs from the Group of 5 that actually play the best football – BYU and Boise State, for example.
*I’d still bet on the conference splitting up once it becomes economically and politically feasible for Oklahoma to leave. Yet, the Big 12 does seem positioned to make the most of things in the meantime.
Live as long as you can and prosper.