The Second College Football Missile Crisis

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled education policy wonk nerdapalooza to bring you this update on college football!

A few years ago the Big 10 conference succeeded in pulling in a lot of money with a Big 10 Network, and then announced that they would add a 12th member (they had operated with 11 members since Penn State joined the fold in the early 1990s).

This set off the first College Football Missile Crisis. The Big 10 has long yearned for Notre Dame, and also dreamed of adding the 24 million television sets in Texas. Rejected by Notre Dame and Texas, the Big 10 added Nebraska.

During this first College Football Missile Crisis, the Pac-10 made a huge play for Texas as well, offering to add the Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to form the first 16 team super conference.

Larry Scott, the PAC-10 commissioner, crafted a shrewd offer for the University of Texas. The inclusion of Texas Tech would lessen political issues, and constituted a sweetener that the Big 10 would be unwilling to match (all Big 10 schools were AAU members until Nebraska got the boot last year- quelle horreur!)

Furthermore, by including a bunch of neighboring schools of Big 12 and the Arizona schools, Texas and Oklahoma would basically have their own mini-conference to minimize travel. One trip to the West Coast per year (So-Cal, No-Cal, Oregon or Washington) plus a trip to Arizona every year (bring your golf clubs) and then a bunch of places you are already familiar with. Scott’s plans brought in major media markets in Texas and Colorado for the PAC 16 network to exploit, and gave the network a supply of games in the Central Time Zone (the East Coast tends to be asleep by the time a Pac-10 night game hits the air).

Three problems arose with this plan. First, Baylor summoned up the blood in an attempt to get the Texas legislature to quash it. Second, the Aggies decided that they didn’t want to join the PAC-X, and began to make noises about joining the Southeastern Conference. Finally, Texas decided that the same reason that the PAC 10 wanted them was the same reason they didn’t want to go: they would contribute more than took out. Instead, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds extracted an agreement to allow individual schools to create their own networks and sell their 3rd tier rights from the Big 12. Sensibly, Scott decided not to match this offer.

Colorado, not taking any chances with Baylor’s political machinations, quickly accepted an offer from the PAC 10, the PAC 10 also brought on The University of Utah to create the PAC 12. Fox and ESPN actually increased the total amount of money going to the Big 12 despite having lost Colorado and Nebraska (fragmentation of the television market has networks paying a heavy premium for live sporting events these days) and the College Football Missile Crisis drew to a close well short of Armageddon.

…or so it seemed last year.

ESPN partnered with the University of Texas to create the Longhorn Network, pledging a minimum of $300 million dollars over a long period of time for what amounts to 3rd tier rights (out of conference road kill football game, basketball games the networks don’t want, and Olympic sports). Despite the fact that the average payout to Big 12 teams had just doubled, the wailing and gnashing of teeth began. It all reminds me of this:

Now, this is the part of the story where the Aggies dive off the deep end. During the First College Football Missile Crisis, elements of the Texas A&M Board of Regents, including an a former University of Alabama football coach (seriously) banged on pots for the Aggies to join the SEC. This ignited a fan rebellion which was only put down with difficulty, and which was reignited by envy of the Longhorn Network.

So shortly after signing long-term agreements with Fox and ESPN, the Aggie brain trust started pounding on the door of the SEC, which just so happens to be entirely tolerant of members selling their 3rd tier rights. In fact, six out of the top 10 schools in generating 3rd tier rights revenue are….wait for it…..SEC schools. I’m willing to bet that they are all chomping at the bit to benchmark their inventory against the Longhorn Network as soon as their current contracts expire. If they aren’t, they need to fire their athletic directors.

Last week or so A&M sent a letter to the Big 12 announcing an exit date contingent upon their acceptance in another conference. Yesterday, the SEC Presidents met in Atlanta and unanimously voted to accept A&M’s application to join the SEC, contingent upon each of the Big 12 schools signing a waiver of any right to sue the SEC conference.

Imagine a state legislature passing a voucher law contingent upon the teacher unions signing a legal document pledging not to file suit against it in court. Some of the universities have contingency plans, and some do not. Most notably, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas state face an uncertain future if the Big 12 expires. You may remember the current President of Baylor University:

Yes, that Ken Starr! The possibility of Starr going on a fishing expedition discovery process seems to have deterred the SEC. Say what you will about the Whitewater fiasco, but there can be little doubt regarding Starr’s ability to exact vindictive revenge if provoked. Sure, the SEC wants A&M, but only if A&M falls into their lap. It reminds me of how Fred Thompson “wanted” the Presidency: he’ll take it as long as he doesn’t have to work for it. Otherwise they are good with being a movie star with a stunning young wife the most successful athletic conference in the country.

Facing a conference abyss, rumor has it tonight that Baylor and some of the other smaller Big 12 schools aren’t going to sign a waiver unless the University of Oklahoma decides to stick with the Big 12 conference. Oklahoma, quite understandably, still seems interested in joining the PAC-1X conference. No one really seems to care whether the Aggies take their inferiority complex/delusions of grandeur over to the SEC for a weekly dose of gridiron humiliation: put some popcorn in the microwave and pull up a chair! The schools without good options just don’t want the conference to implode.

I will say this in defense of the Aggies: the Pac 1X would be an odd fit for them:

As a Texas fan, my main concern with the Aggies going to the SEC is the exposure the other teams will get as they turn A&M into their doormat, and begin some of those extra special SEC style recruiting tactics, like showing up with a dufflebag stuffed with $200,000 cash money. Given that the Big 10 has a research consortium that seems to bring in an extra $200m-$300m a year in research dollars, much of which is agriculture related, the obsession on the Texas A&M board of regents with joining the SEC tells us what we need to know about them: they are making decisions like t-shirt wearing football fans rather than as regents.

The Texas athletic department has been trying very hard to have their cake and eat it too. They want their network, and to be a part of a conference. They have also revealed some control freak tendencies. An astute Longhorns sports blogger noted that college football is supposed to be about fun and the Big 12-2 or 3 and counting is simply not much fun. Personally, I’ll be hoping that Texas joins a PAC 16- that would be the most fun. If I were a regent charged with enhancing the academic prestige of my university, I would favor the Big 10. Longhorn fan would much rather be sitting on the beach in So-Cal than freezing in the snow in Ann Arbor, but tooooo bad. The Big 10 research consortium would exceed the loss of the Longhorn Network many times over.

What they have actually been trying to do is to keep something called the Big 12 together: its local and allows them to operate their own network. Texas operates as an independent with a conference, getting the best of both worlds. It looks to be a bridge too far. Dodds wonders why the maples can’t be happy in his shade, but it sure looks like they can’t. Another possibility is an alliance of independents. Texas scheduled both Notre Dame and BYU (a new independent) and they scheduled each other last year. Hmmmmm.

If the Texas third tier rights are worth $300m, the bean counters in the Texas athletic department are surely curious about what their 1st and 2nd teach rights would fetch. Whatever decision they make, I hope they will make it enjoyable for the fans and wildly profitable for the university, in that order.

Let’s see what happens next…

6 Responses to The Second College Football Missile Crisis

  1. ByronSchlomach says:

    Yes. Texas A&M is weird. We actually make football games about – oh, I don’t know – FOOTBALL. Our tradition is that we kiss girls in the stands when we make a touchdown rather than watch girls we don’t even know bounce around on the field, never being able to hear them. Our yell leaders actually lead yells, whereas the cheerleaders might cheer but they actually lead nothing and no one. I must admit that cheerleaders make an otherwise boring football game interesting. But then, I’m a GUY. I can tell you, the gals in the stands don’t get a charge out of the tight football uniforms on the field. And, by the way, what percentage of fans actually ever have a decent view of the cheerleaders anyway?

    All in all, when you consider the ostensible purpose of cheerleaders, which is to get the crowd involved, Texas A&M is in that admittedly weird position of being unique in actually having it right.

  2. matthewladner says:

    “Ostensible” being the key phrase-y’all have fun with that. It will be a source of great entertainment for sweaty and liquored up LSU fans once they put the game away in the third quarter.

    • ByronSchlomach says:

      I don’t even want to think about dealing with LSU. I think one reason so many young Aggies are anxious for the SEC is that they haven’t dealt with LSU on the A&M campus. Want to see the grass around the MSC trashed? (That’s sacred ground to Aggies) Then have LSU at Kyle Field.

  3. Tim says:

    Another year of big-time college sports, another few billion spins in the grave for Robert Maynard Hutchins.

  4. Minnesota Kid says:

    Matt,

    It is inexorable. A&M and Baylor will join the SEC West, Alabama and Auburn will move to the SEC East, and the SEC title game will become the de facto national championship game each year. Other conferences will be a nice distraction but not really relevant. Hook’em all u want.

  5. matthewladner says:

    Minnesota Kid-

    There are many crazy rumors floating around, but this is the first I have heard postulating that Baylor would go to the SEC. They don’t have THAT much leverage on the SEC.

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