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Survivor, NCAA Style: Big 12 Talks Alliances, “Friends With Benefits”

gfx - they said itBig 12 athletic directors will meet in suburban Dallas on Monday and Tuesday.  With a report surfacing earlier in the week that officials would have a “philosophical” discussion about expansion, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby gave some insight on Friday where the league could be headed.

In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, Bowlsby said the league has had alliance discussions with three other conferences.


“The ACC is one of them. It’s a process of discovery that would provide some of the benefits of larger membership without actually adding members.”


Bowlsby would not name the other two leagues, although the Pac-12 is believed to be one of them.  He also told that the paper that an alliance – which would cover areas like scheduling, marketing and possible television partnerships –  is not necessarily a precursor to expansion.


“If anything, it’s the opposite. You can begin to get some advantages without taking on any of the disadvantages (of expansion). It’s one option that allows benefits. It’s kind of like friends with benefits.”


Any alliance would include football and basketball and could spread to other sports. On Wednesday, reported that Bowlsby’s interested was piqued in December when a report surfaced that Florida State had reached out to the Big Ten about possible membership.

Meanwhile the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch obtained minutes of a meeting in December where Ohio State president Gordon Gee is quoted as saying he “believes there is movement towards three or four super conferences that are made up of 16-20 teams.”

Responding to a student question about where the league might go, Gee said:



There are opportunities to move further south in the (E)ast and possibly a couple of Midwest universities.”


The Big 10 has reportedly tried to gauge the interest of several ACC schools. ESPN, picking up on the “Midwest universities” part of the quote, asks if that could be good news for Kansas.



The PAC-12 has few desirable options for expansion within its borders (and you could probably say none as I can't see the university presidents/chancellors having too much interest in Boise State, UNLV, Nevada, or New Mexico).  But just across the "border" are three HIGHLY desirable candidates--Texas (AAU member and the #1 revenue generating athletic department), Oklahoma (football power with a decent-sized national following, and it's just down the road from where the NCAA Women's College World Series is held--remember the PAC-12 is a softball power), and Kansas (AAU member and a dominant basketball power).


If the PAC-12 and the Big 12 form an alliance it would be like the hen house hiring the fox for "security services".


Who are the couple of Midwest university opportunities for the Big Ten? Notre Dame certainly would be one but who is the other?


The only major midwest universities not already in the Big Ten are Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. I doubt the Big Ten is interested in Cincinnati, Iowa State or Kansas State. Of the two remaining schools I think the Big Ten would have more interest in Missouri than Kansas. It's a larger state with more TV viewers. I don't know how much Missouri adds to the Big Ten since St. Louis and Kansas City TV probably already cover the Big Ten due to neighboring states in the Big Ten (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska). Can Kansas leave Kansas State behind and jump to the Big Ten? Look at how Kansas reacted to Missouri leaving the Big 12 and then Kansas would be doing the same thing to Kansas State. I think a Big Ten offer would be hard for Missouri to pass up.


Well, the B12 would be smart to get a foothold into at least two other current SEC states, pick 2 (Florida, Louisianna would be at the top of my list for talent, but can't think of a LA school that really brings much in the way of buzz to the table), or VA and NC (NC would be hard, as you pretty much have to take two from NC to make it palatable to Duke and company). Reason would be LA and Florida are the best talent pools per capita outside of Texas and California, but this is all about the money (read that tv money), so who knows. Don't care what anybody says, WV is just an outlyer in the BXII right now, and could use some company in the East.


If an alliance of some sort is contractual and related to TV coverage then I think it could be beneficial.  Some semblance of that idea has always made sense to me.  The more schools team up with each other in the marketplace then the better off the whole body is.  I still want 2 more schools for scheduling purposes, but these sort of agreements could work.

DanHogan 1 Like

 @AllTideUp I'm not so sure.  If the 5 top conferences have some kind of combined Tier 1/2 tv agreement, that interferes with basic competition in the marketplace.  Every conference except for the ACC has benefited by having agreements with multiple conferences and the ability to play them off one-another.  The B1G, for example, will likely force ESPN and Fox into a bidding war for at least tier 1 content. The Big East, before they lost the C7, was looking at selling at split package to two broadcasters at basically a Tier 2 line.


The best play right now for just about everyone is to talk to both Fox and ESPN and go to the highest bidder.  Some day, NBC will get into the game with more gusto and CBS will free up more top-line money when the CBS Network gets running.  Having too much organization among the top 5 could prevent them from taking their respective products to the highest respective bidder.


As a side note, there are benefits to a broadcaster owning pieces of two contiguous tiers so they can shift games between the two.  Doing that lets them get more value for their investment and, in turn, makes it more worthwhile for them to pay more.  For example, ESPN can slide games between ABC and ESPN and between noon and 3:30 to fit their needs. 



I would agree with that, but I don't think that's the sort of alliance that is being discussed right now.  The top conferences already have a de facto alliance within the BCS framework so I don't think there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid in order to create a new NCAA division.


What I'm getting at though is the fact that there are more conferences competing for airtime right now than networks actually broadcasting the games.  ABC/ESPN, FOX, CBS, and NBC/Comcast are the only players in big time college athletics.  They may have multiple channels per company, but the competition has been limited and so the leagues can be played against one another.  There are more networks getting involved in the game the last couple of years and that will continue to increase, but the networks have been too strong up until now.


I don't think all 5 leagues should have some sort of shared agreement, but I think there is more room for partnership in the current climate.  I think that is a part of the drive towards expansion.  Increasing a conference's content through additional teams and games has driven up revenues and bargaining power for multiple leagues.  The real boon to the pocketbook would be if a much larger league or partner leagues had the ability to shift content to their conference network.  If 24 schools, for example, can control what games the networks have access to and actually compete head to head with the secondary sports networks like ESPN2, ESPNU, NBC Sports, or the new Fox Sports 2 then ad revenue for these conference owned networks would go through the roof.  That would be in addition to the subscription fees collected across a broader footprint.


I don't think that is what they're talking about specifically behind the scenes, but that sort of consolidation could be very beneficial.


 @AllTideUp This blogger brings up a good point.


While I think TV agreements aren't appropriate to combine, but they could look at working together better to do tv scheduling.  Why put the B1G Championship, the ACC Championship, and the Big12 regular season finale up at the same time?  He also brings up ACC and Big 12 3rd Tier which sounds great assuming the ACC can wrestle them away from ESPN.  Another interesting note -- non-revenue sports like baseball. 


Interesting points.  I still think there football broadcast rights won't be a part of it, but maybe there's an array of other topics to be included. 



It's a good point.  We don't really know what they're thinking right now.  I'm not really making a prediction as to what they are talking about other than to say it would have to be media based to have any real teeth.


I will say though that the deals the conferences currently make with networks have to be agreed upon by the networks so their leverage is still significant.  The B1G, for example, could hold more games back for the BTN if they wanted but at what cost?  Would a network then agree to give the B1G the same value for their Tier 1 and 2 content?  Probably not.


The sort of consolidation I'm talking about comes down to how much quality content is actually available.  A larger conference with its own network has more leverage because the Tier 1 and 2 content by definition can only be so many games.  The quality of content shifted to Tier 3 could make a huge difference depending on which and how many schools are in the league.  If the level of consolidation produced 3 different 20+ team leagues then the leverage increases because valuable products are more centralized.  Some of the dross is removed and the overall overhead in operating a conference is reduced as well.  The networks can't be as effective in playing conferences against each other because there are fewer legitimate options.  ESPN could abandon a larger SEC if they wished and sign a deal with the MWC, but they risk losing too much quality content.  The more high quality programs are consolidated at the top would give these super-conferences the leverage to move more games to their own networks.


 @AllTideUp We'll have to sit back and see what they are working on.  I'm not sure that the competition has been limited -- I'm not sure that is keeping with the ever-increasing TV contracts.  And individual conferences can build more into their conference networks based on how they build their supposed Tier 1/2/3 agreements.  Take a look at what the Pac-12 has done with their agreements with Fox.  The Pac Networks get very high choice of games for a handful of weeks every football season.  The other conferences could do that individually without multiple leagues working together.  The real trouble would be getting out of the deals that have been struck recently. 


The only leagues that have do have something to gain are the Big 12 and the ACC since both leagues are having trouble getting a lot of value from their Tier 3.  (I'd have to say that everyone seems to be doing well off their tier 1 and 2.)  Nine of the ten Big12 schools (what an odd phrase) are probably having trouble getting full market value from the one football game that they own.  The ACC certainly isn't getting what they could from Tier 3 -- the trouble is they don't own it anymore as they sold all their rights to ESPN. 


I'm not sure what the Big12 is cooking up here. 


The Big 12 already has already formed an agreement with the SEC in the Sugar Bowl. I would not be surprised if the SEC is one of those conferences.


This sounds like the first step in your prediction that the top 5 leagues will form a new subdivision within the FBS.  I would be surprised if TV rights ended up being a part of it because of the conference networks (B1G, SEC, Pac, ACC*maybe) and the current disparity between tier 1/2 value amongst the five, but I could see a scheduling arrangement that becomes the process that improves non-conference scheduling even if conferences go to 9 or even 10 conference games.  (Boy, I hope it's 9 and not 10!) 


The real story to me -- provided I'm not reading too much into it -- is the fact that they've talked to *three* other conferences.  There are actually *four* other BCS conferences.  Who have they *not* talked to? 


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