College Football has undergone some seismic shifts in the past few years. The BYU-Utah rivalry took a big hit when the Pac-10 Conference decided to take Utah (from the Mountain West Conference) and Colorado (from the Big Twelve Conference), changing its name from the Pac-10 to the Pac-12 Conference. Other conferences have expanded by raiding other conferences. The Big Ten (with eleven teams) added Nebraska (from the Big 12), Maryland (from the ACC), and Rutgers (from the Big East), leading other teams to shift conferences. (The Big 10 now has 14 teams but kept the name Big 10.) The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12 (breaking up the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry.) The Big East then lost powers Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami to the ACC. This left the Big 12 and Big East Conferences scrambling. The Big East lost other teams as well, and it is no longer a major player in NCAA football. The Big 12 (now with just 10 teams) added Texas Christian University and West Virginia in 2010 and is seen as the most likely conference to be picked off by the other 4 major conferences (ACC, SEC, Pac-12, and Big 10. Together with the Big 12 conference, members of these leagues are now called “Power 5 schools.”) Texas and Oklahoma were invited by the Pac-10 back in 2010 (when Colorado left), and according to Oklahoma president David Boren were within 30 minutes of joining the Pac-10 Conference when they changed their mind and decided to remain in the Big 12.
BYU was invited to join both the Big East (which makes no geographic sense) and the Big 12 back in 2010. (To be fair, there was no official invitation from either league, just talks.) However, they were concerned about the stability of the Big East and Big 12 leagues, and instead decided to leave the Mountain West Conference and go independent when ESPN offered them $5 million per year to televise all their home games. With the implosion of the Big East, (which has now been renamed the American Athletic Conference-AAC), BYU’s non-move seemed prudent. However, BYU turning down the move to the Big 12 was not such a smart move. The Big 12 quickly moved past BYU and invited TCU and West Virginia to stop the demise of the conference at the time. (TCU had announced its intention to join the Big East, but then the Big 12 changed it’s mind and joined the Big 12. They were forced to pay a $1 million exit fee to the Big East, despite never having played a single game in the Big East Conference. At least BYU did not make a $1 million mistake like TCU did.)
Despite the seemingly big influx of $5 million cash per year from ESPN, BYU is losing the money war to Power 5 schools. Utah is said to be getting in the realm of $12 million per year, and TCU has more than made up for its $1 million mistake with the Big East by joining the much more lucrative Big 12.) This led BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall to openly campaign to join the Big 12 Conference. Problem was, there were no plans to expand when he made this 2014 video below.
So, Bronco Mendenhall left BYU this year to join Virginia of the ACC, a Power 5 conference. When the current television deals expire in about 8 years, many experts expect more conference realignment to create four 16-team super-conferences, and BYU surely wants to be part of that move in order to avoid falling further behind in the money race. This summer, the ACC conference agreed to create a new conference network and looked likely to poach some other teams, putting the future of the Big 12 conference in jeopardy again. The Big 12 announced that they would seek to expand by at least 2-4 teams, and invited many schools to apply for admission. As part of its contracts with ESPN and Fox Sports, current Big 12 teams were contracted to make $25 million per year, per school if the Big 12 conference expanded. With BYU already being paid by ESPN, the network wanted no part of a yearly expenditure of $250 million to pay the Big 12 Conference. Talk at beginning of the summer indicated that the Big 12 just didn’t care what ESPN and Fox thought, and were prepared to force ESPN and Fox to honor the contract. The networks were fuming.
According to several media outlets, BYU was seen as the best school available from the non-Power 5 conferences, and Sports Illustrated reported “BYU was the prohibitive favorite to join the league.” However, several LGBT groups publicly protested BYU joining the Big 12 Conference this summer, due to BYU’s honor code prohibiting practicing gays on campus, saying the Honor Code was discriminatory. Then came the story that the BYU Honor Code office was mishandling rape and sexual misconduct allegations on campus. The Big 12 already had it’s own rape scandal involving Baylor University (a Baptist, religious school no less) for it’s mishandling of sexual assault and rape by football players. This led to the firing of successful coach Art Briles for his role in the scandal. (It should be noted a murder scandal involving the basketball team at Baylor led to the firing of Dave Bliss back in 2005. Despite being a religious school, Baylor is a mess.) There were talks that Baylor University might get kicked out of the Big 12 conference. However, the Big 12 wasn’t keen on substituting one sexual scandal (Baylor) for another (BYU.)
Last week, the Big 12 announced that it has decided that it will no longer expand at all. So what’s the real reason for the Big 12 decided not to expand? I’ve maintained that ESPN and Fox were the reasons–they had $250 million reasons per year not to expand, and there are many media reports that ESPN and Fox have offered Big 12 teams more money on their current contract in exchange for removing the $250 million provision for expansion. For me, it was always a money issue. However, Sports Illustrated reported
Two events shifted the tenor of expansion exploration. The first came in early August when FoxSports.com wrote an article indicating the potential backlash from the LGBT community against BYU if the Cougars were admitted. BYU was the prohibitive favorite to join the league, and when it became politically untenable to take the school, which is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the entire tenor of expansion changed.
The inability to add BYU then cooled the expansion enthusiasm of Oklahoma president David Boren. Boren had long favored expansion and publicly pushed the league to pursue it, even calling the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged” in its current 10-member state. Boren’s public comments in mid-September that the conference wasn’t guaranteed to expand basically foreshadowed the league coming to this conclusion.
The thought among league officials and athletic directors is that they are better off taking more money and staying in their current form than expanding. The addition of a conference championship game to the Big 12’s television contract essentially opens a window for the league’s TV partners, ESPN and Fox, to construct a new contract that would include more money for the current schools. Neither ESPN nor Fox was pleased that the Big 12 was going to use the pro rata clause in its current deal to get an additional $25 million per school.
The conclusion to not expand allows the league to potentially get more revenue and eliminate the pro rata clause from the television deal. While ESPN or Fox are not eager to pay more money, the elimination of the pro rata clause would eliminate the potential headache of the threat of expansion every year until the contract expires in 2025. Without the pro rata clause, it’s unlikely any school the Big 12 might add could command the nearly $25 million per school the conference currently receives from its television partners.
BYU should have accepted the chance to join the precarious Big 12 back in 2010. Instead the Big 12 added a different religious school, Texas Christian University (TCU) when there was no publicity about LGBT issues. It should be noted that Baylor didn’t allow dancing on campus until 1996 due to it’s Baptist Honor Code, and last year changed it’s Honor Code to remove the prohibition on gays on campus. (I’ve never thought Big 12 schools cared much about religious honor codes with Baylor and TCU being members.) Do you think BYU will change its Honor Code as Baylor did in order to get admitted to a conference?
On the other hand, by not expanding, the Big 12 seems to have signed its own death warrant. There are many people who blame the Big 12 problems squarely on the Big 12 itself. Unlike other conferences that negotiated in secret, they opened up a public “beauty pageant” asking schools to bring presentations to them. When they added TCU and West Virginia in 2010, the select process was quiet. However, by making it public, this allowed LGBT advocates to build a public campaign that tarnished BYU. It also left the Big 12 with plenty of egg on its face. It was yet another example of how dysfunctional the Big 12 Conference has been. Most experts think the Big 12 won’t survive when tv deals end. They are still the only conference without a TV network. Texas, like BYU, has its own Longhorn Network, and that will have to be dealt with by other conferences who won’t like the Longhorn Network. The combination of BYU TV and the Longhorn Network would have made a nice Big 12 Network. Maybe the Big 12 will reconsider? Who knows. Hopefully they will learn to be less dysfunctional if they change their mind (again) and expand, but with the removal of the pro rata clause, it seems unlikely the conference will expand again, at least in the short term.
All the other 4 conferences want Texas and Oklahoma, the two most profitable teams in the Big 12, and surely in 8 years (if not sooner) the Pac-12 and Big Ten will make overtures and are the most likely destination for these 2 schools, although the SEC and ACC will go after them as well. Being in the center of the country, Texas and Oklahoma are good geographic fits for all conferences, except possibly the ACC. In 2010, these 2 schools were negotiating with the Pac-10 to become the Pac-16 by adding Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and one other school (I believe it was Texas Tech.) However these other 4 schools are merely afterthoughts. The jewels of the Big 12 are Texas and Oklahoma. With 12 teams in the Pac 12, 14 in the Big Ten, 14 in the SEC, and 15 in the ACC, BYU will be scrambling along with the other 8 Big 12 teams to get the remaining 9 spots among the potential 4 Superconferences. Of course there are non Power-5 teams that want to join these conferences including Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, Air Force, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston, SMU, etc., not to mention Notre Dame which has a clause that they can only join the ACC if they choose to join a conference. Notre Dame is the real crown jewel of all the conferences, but it appears the ACC has the best chance to sign them if they decide to join a conference.
I guess I’m changing my opinion a little. I always thought this was only a money grab, and despite its mishandling of expansion, the Big 12 will become richer without adding more teams, but I do believe the conference will be poached in 2025. Even if BYU had joined the Big 12 today, it would have been left scrambling again in 2025. It will be interesting to see if the prospect of millions of dollars per year inspires the brethren to re-think the gay ban. I tend to doubt it, but perhaps if we had some of the old men die, and get someone like Ballard in charge, the policy might change. I see Monson, Nelson, and Oaks much like McKay, Smith, and Lee. If these first 3 die quickly like the last 3 did, perhaps Nelson is our Kimball. He did say something at the last general conference that gave me a little bit of hope that things could change regarding the gay policy. Still, it’s a long way from the current anti-gay rhetoric to acceptance of gays at BYU. That would be a big revelation indeed. Making such a revelation now instead of in 7-8 years would be better received as not a money grab revelation.
So that leaves the question, which was the bigger issue that prevented BYU from joining the Big 12: money or LGBT/sex issues? I’ve always said money, and I still believe that, but apparently the LGBT issue was larger than I thought. What do you think?