Did you ever want to know what exactly is going on behind the doors at big 12 headquarters?
While a ton of information about the Big 12 (and every conference) stays behind closed doors, every school has a few fans that for some reason or another have access to a lot of information that goes on behind closed doors.
I tracked two of them down that I had read a couple times before and have prepared this article from their leaks for all the hard core Big 12 realignment curiosity seekers.
What is really going on in the Big 12 over the last year?
What you are about to read is the full, awful, horrible truth.
60-80% of this is absolutely 1000% true.
So with no further ado...
What happened behind the doors of the Big 12 in the last 13 months.
October 2014 - UT and Fox have clandestine meetings. Fox tells UT the next Big 12 contract will be significantly less and the Big 12 shares will not match other power conference shares. They encourage UT to join the Big Ten. UT is content owning a conveniently local conference and getting payouts that match any school's. (Fox is in a partnership with the Big 10 on the Big 10 Network which uses the Big 10's tier 2 rights. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation from other sources that Fox will be a major player for the Big 10's tier 1 media rights when the conference's current deal with ESPN ends after the 2016-17 season.) There is a general feeling that OU knows the score. Oklahoma and West Virginia are keeping lines of communication open with the SEC. It may not be OU's leadership's preferred target, but the SEC has been consistent with their appreciation for the Sooners. ESPN learns of this latest instance of unrest and makes some gestures to try and keep UT and OU in the fold. They allow the floating of the idea of converting the LHN in large part into the Big 12 Network to get the attention of the Big 12. Tensions in the ACC over ESPN dragging their feet on the formation of the ACC Network also has ESPN's attention. ESPN would advocate improvements to the Big 12 (expansion) in the next few years. Both Network partners have at this point confirmed the Big 12's current membership will not yield competitive payouts at the power conference level. BYU and Cincinnati are considered frontrunners in Big 12 circles, but the ACC's unrest noted by the Big 12 membership. Thoughts of an ESPN failure to launch an ACCN causing the ACC GOR deal to fall by the wasteside in the near future, opening the door to potentially poaching the ACC of Florida State in a few years has a number of Big 12 schools preaching patience. The conference has options. The thought is that if the conference added BYU (football only) and Cinci to yield a title game, the added net for each Big 12 school would be about $3-4M more...
November 2014- The thought in the conference as the month opens is that the Big 12 will not expand for a couple of years. The membership anticipates better candidates who would move the media value of the conference substantially at that point and make a Big 12 network viable. Per one of our tweeters, ESPN internally expects a loss of 75% of cable & satellite subscribers by 2020. How that would affect the Big Ten Network in particular could be game changing.
December 2014 -On December 7th, the Big 12 has a collective meltdown when their worst case scenario presents itself and TCU and Baylor are passed over for the playoffs. The conference does not get the $14 M playoff payout. The moment of realignment that I often talk about is near. The rank and file are ready to admit BYU (football only) and Cinci (all sports), then all of a sudden a new plan is introduced to lure in Arkansas and LSU. It is likely put forth by UT to blunt expansion efforts. Some or all of the membership (likely lead by OU) is sold on the fact that this strategy is totally viable. The membership decides to do their due diligence trying to lure in LSU and Arkansas. Memphis realizes they are likely out again so they throw out a ridiculously conference-friendly offer where essentially the Big 12 membership would get them for free for a number of years and Memphis would pay a buy-in fee for the privilege (!) (It is noteworthy that this is very similar to the package that Memphis offered the AAC years ago.) Memphis rightly plays off the short term thinking of most Big 12 members. The offer makes an impression. UT is considered the only school against expansion, but every school favors different strategies. There is no consensus. The conference membership is fairly unified that playing a CCG with 10 members would create a real competitive disadvantage vs. other conferences. Everyone sees the need for at least an expansion to 12 for playoff reasons. Two big 12 schools are in particular (likely TCU and Baylor) are enraged with the commission and want to fire him, likely over the derailing of realignment and the lack of a conference title game. Ultimately they are sated with the idea that if Bowlsly doesn't land a good TV deal back in return for the new members, the other schools will back their play to oust him. UT is also dealing with the impending reality that there is real traction with ESPN to use conversion of the LHN into a Big 12 Network as a tool to keep the Big 12 together (OU is the most likely to leave if things go south). To join the Big 10, UT would have to give the LHN up anyway. UT isn't headed by the borderline deranged DeLoss Dodds and isn't winning enough to have any leverage to change that conversation. Fox advises the membership they will financially support expansion if sufficient value is added (+1 time zone and a 25% increase on footprint population ...about a 10M person increase.). UT AD Patterson pushes out the idea that the Big Ten will expand again and destabilized the ACC. No one's buying it. BYU allegedly offers to join the Big 12 but keep their existing TV deal until the Big 12 deal is up. The only revenue BYU would pull from the pot would be bowl revenue. The Big 12 would be able to add the value of in conference BYU away games to the portfoglio that generates the revenue that pays the other Big 12 schools. The idea is to offset Memphis's offer. (Note: This would make sense if BYU was only being considered as a football only possibility. There are two possibilities that would dictate that. The most likely scenario is that the Big 12 schools do not want travel to Utah in general, so a football only trip once every 2 years is all they will tolerate. The second is that BYU sees a ton of value in their affiliation with the Christian schools in the WCC. Given how the greater American Christian community has historically viewed Mormonism, an agreement that allows BYU to blend into the greater Christian majority in any way may be something BYU may strongly desire to retain.) Adding a football-only member is generally not what conferences want to do. With the Memphis offer, finances could direct the conference to add UC and Memphis as they are comfortable in-footprint all-sports options. Financially the Memphis offer balances the perceived superior value of BYU and is "easier". This BYU counter-offer may amount to BYU's best offer possible as a football-only option. The BYU counter-offer does not trigger an immediate invitation.
January to June
(What I was able to work out: Gridlock on what schools to include leads to no schools being invited. In the interim, the conference arrives at a strategy of back loading their schedules. The concept is that if they have 4-6 schools that are undefeated or 1 loss teams prior to the first playoff committee meeting, the Big 12 should have 4-6 schools in the top 15. This should create a scenario where the committee would be forced to include a Big 12 team despite lack of a conference title game based strength of schedule push in the last week. It appears that the effort to land LSU and Arkansas quickly fail, but OU's leadership continues to believe it is a viable strategy if UT will surrender the Longhorn Network.)
July 2015 - OU, frustrated by the lack of expansion, threatens to leave the conference, including UT and OSU if there is not expansion soon. OU wants 12 schools by the end of the year and the LHN addressed by 2017. BYU and Cinci favored in the conference, Memphis next in line...OU doesn't have a path to any other power conference without UT... besides the SEC. OU has boosters who would like to go to the SEC, but OU's leadership sees the bigger picture. The perception is the Texas schools think OU to the SEC is going to happen one day soon anyway so they are blowing off OU's threats. West Virginia and Virginia Tech have made overtures to the SEC about being #16 if OU leaves. Some members of the ACC and Big 12 have the idea that if there are more defections from each conference, there is a great likelihood of some kind of merger, something that has been discussed in the past. In theory the best media values in each conference playing ofdff each other could make a enough value to create a conference network that generates shares similar enough to UT's LHN payouts that would make UT keeping the LHN a non-issue. (This is probably a play left from the Deloss Dodds playbook. Dodds once spent about 5 minutes on tape talking about a conceptual UT/ND/ACC merger. It is very enlightening. The concept was touched on in an article of the time. Expanding on this is on my list of articles to complete soon...keep reading!) ESPN executive alleged to have told one of our tweeters that ESPN is trying to kill the Big 12 in order to drive down total expenses and keep Papa Disney happy. KU, KSU, ISU, OSU, TCU in support of OU push for expansion. WVU on the fence. Tech and Baylor waiting on UT. UT against it. (8/10 votes needed for expansion.) Expansion and reform (re:LHN) are hot topics. Tech backs UT's non-expansion stance. ESPN preparing to announce launch of ACCN (winter 2016 launch). UT AD Steve Patterson got into a shouting match with OU's Boren. Told him OU should leave if unhappy and that ESPN will look after UT. UT will have a very lucrative home after the BIG 12. UT's president contacted OU and assured them there would be expansion by at least two and that UT would prop up B12 network creation efforts by supplying some more UT content. (This would be the second time in a few years where a UT president would have to rush in to repair the relationship with OU after a dismissive UT AD alienated OU. There is a good chance Patterson gave away UT's backup plans. There is a very good chance this is why Patterson is no longer the UT AD.) Fox has offered to help create a B12N, but ESPN would have a lot easier time orchestrating it. ESPN would prefer to see the B12 go away though, so less interested. There is a lot of work needed in terms of recovering tier 3 media rights for a B12N. Expansion with more than 2 members would bring more needed content and help a lot along those lines. Georgia Tech and North Carolina State asked Big 12 about possible addition if ACCN doesn't happen.
August 2015 - Big 12 expansion committee looking at 2 all-sports members in east and 2 football-only in the west. B12 EC told 8 group of five schools (SDSU, BSU, BYU, CSU, Houston, Memphis, Cinci, and UCF) there will be 2 all sports members added soon --- possibly with 2 more football-only adds --- and that they need to show what they would bring to the table (support for big games, etc.). The Big 12 members want to see "how these school perform under pressure"....(Crazy, huh?) News that Pac-12 and ACC schools are having trouble with cost of attendance numbers have UT pushing for no expansion using the argument that other schools might be available from within the power conference ranks.Notre Dame talking to other conferences. Some thought ND is being disingenuous. (How this might work...It the B12 members thought ND might be available, they might not do a large expansion. The status quo has the Big 12 is a worse position than the ACC. One of the tweeters feels this is what occurred with Louisville.) Cinci & UConn talking to ACC. (Should the ACC take Cinci off the board it could remove allegedly the most accepted candidate on the Big 12 list.) BYU tells the Big 12 they want an all-sports offer or nothing.
September 2016 - B12 EC has contacted all candidates. WVU president confident that expansion to 12+ soon. Fox helping conference run data. Committee impressed with Memphis. BYU has a lot of support. Baylor pushing Houston. Tweeter thinks ESPN is manipulating BYU to demand all-sports entry. (The thought is again the Big 12 leaders' lack of desire to travel to play western schools.) Cable subscriptions to fall by 50% in next 5 years. Disney ordering ESPN to cut costs. ESPN has given UT the impression they would be willing to sell LHN to someone else. Financial pressure could change the status quo dramatically.
October 2015 - If Big 12 happened today, it would be Cinci and Memphis. Memphis has said will not take a cent from big 12 for 5 years AND will volunteer to pay an entrance fee. (Very believable...Memphis used the same kind of concessions to stack the deck for their admission into the AAC.) $50 Million entry fee (Wow.) WVU president strongly plead to the other schools for expansion. ACC not expanding unless Big 12 schools available. B12 Commissioner knows conference must expand. UT trying desperately to kill expansion effort. Effort to move MNF to ABC ledger to free more money for ESPN. Cinci preparing future schedule for future move to Big 12. AAC looking at 2 teams from the west again. Dissenting leaks from B12 --- some say 2 likely adds, some say 4 candidates alive. Cinci has a pending offer. Memphis is leading for #12. BYU and UCF still alive. Contrary opinion from the other tweeter. 3 members of B12 EC want expansion as does Kansas and ISU. Big 12 to stay at 10 unless miss the playoffs; then expansion is on. B12 doesn't want 10 or 11 + CCG as the schedule would be prohibitively tough and hurt their playoff chances. Big 12N discussion happening in conference and UT participating positively. Primary threat to the Big 12 is PAC 12. Officials at some ACC school have used the term "power 4" to one of our tweeters inferring that ACC is not part of ruling elite. ESPN appears soft on starting up the AACN.
November 2015 - FSU concerned about ACCN delay. Off the record officials from NC State and VA Tech say ACC GOR not binding. ACC GOR has an opt out if no ACCN. Conference design issue in ACC --- two teams in ACC deliver 90% of ratings. 7 private schools having trouble with cost of attendance financing...If Big 12 misses playoffs again, expansion schools will be announced before New Years Day. Big 12 administrators are again disappointed with playoff rankings. Thought is that the schedule backloading did not work at all and that the Big 12 will again get passed on championship game weekend when all the other conferences get a strength of schedule bump. Current thought there will be a 2 team expansion this year and a 2nd expansion after the Big 10 gets their new contract. (The thought being if the Big 10 needs more schools for some reason, Their moves might free up some strong options for the Big 12.) ACC shares look pretty small on review. difference of opinion from our tweeters. One thinks OU is solid for the length of the GOR even if they are unhappy. B12 backing away from expansion again... B12 officials very impressed with Memphis. Boren and Gee pushing for expansion. No other schools all too excited about the candidates. Pressure from UH supporters angering UT and Tech. Big 12 EC (Boren -OU, Starr-Baylor, and Gee-West Virginia) narrowed the field to BYU, Cinci, UCF, and Memphis but no one could agree on which two. Then UT pushed for the inclusion of UH (surprise!), saying the only way UT votes for expansion is if it includes Houston. Those are their terms. There is thought their terms have killed expansion. So the B12 EC is recommending the admission of Cinci and Houston. (Seems possibly like UT again trying to kill expansion.) Starr has been pushing Houston for recruiting in Houston, but really to have another Texas school to hopefully keep UT in the conference long term. That doesn't mean there are the votes. Right now 7 schools in their heart of hearts would like to vote no on Houston. If the committee doesn't have the votes for Houston they won't submit them to the presidents for a final vote. Votes are likely there for 2--- Cinnci and Memphis/BYU. Houston candidacy getting leaked by UT in order to rile up UT boosters and make efforts to bind UT to accept UH too costly for politicians who may be on the take for UH leadership. Governor Abbott (UT guy) was allegedly willing to go along if no heat. Now he is out. Likely no expansion until 2017. ESPN trying to get the ACCN off the ground but having trouble. Talking to UT about joining ACC and converting LHN into ACCN ---killing two birds with one stone. This will free up money because ESPN will not renew Big 12 TV deal with no UT.
So what to make of all this...?
In looking at rumors, you have to understand that even the most plugged in of us (=all of fandom) all only really gets to see a tiny picture of the discussion on realignment issues. There are 5 power conferences encompassing massive geographic regions. We maybe have a good grasp on one.
Even our local one is largely a mystery in the conclusions it reaches until after the fact when motivations are explained. Every voting school has an agenda and to some degree (or to a huge degree) they will play "survivor", viciously manipulating their conference mates (and leaks like our tweeters) to try to achieve their goals.
I really don't doubt much of the information I mined from the tweets at all. I am sure a lot of it is totally true or at least is participant's view of the truth. There is usually a lot of back and forth and changing of positions in realignment discussions.
And frankly most of it makes sense.
When I look at things I am looking at the general course of things rather than the specifics. If you look a the specifics too hard you need unquestionably "reliable rumors" and that simply doesn't exist. If you look at the general direction you can have stuff that is 60-80% accurate to the perceptions of the group and have a decent feel for the room.
I can totally buy some of the details... BYU may have totally been the victim of poor timing. If Memphis really did offer a sizeable ($50 million ??? That may be a suspect number.) buy in and no share for 5 years, their short term value to the Big 12 --- which itself may only be around for a short term ---blows the doors off BYU's short term value (especially BYU as an isolated football-only member).
And finances are not the whole story. Memphis brings recruiting. If you add Memphis there is a great chance that recruiting gets a ton better at the conference's 4 poor football recruiting schools (Kansas, KSU, ISU, and WVU) as Memphis may be close enough for all four of them to mine for three star supplemental talent. Plus schools like OU and Baylor may be able to pull 4 star talent away from UT and the SEC.
I can buy that before the UH nonsense occurred there were basically 3 tolerable candidates (Cinci, Memphis, and BYU) effectively competing for 2 slots in this go-around. (Seems like there was no eye-popping candidate team 14 to allow 4 schools to be added.) Cinci may be the most universally approved candidate. I can buy that effectively they may be pretty much invited and that is distorting what is going on a great deal.
I think a two team expansion is a poor idea. I think if you were going to add two in this go-around and I was on the committee, the strongest program (BYU) would be in. Now it may be that there is legitimacy to the idea the network partners want a 10 Million footprint population increase. I think you have to try and make whoever you can get approved meet the short term goals of the conference --- getting schools into the playoffs and propping up UT and OU.
There is no guarantee this dysfunctional lot will agree on expansion in any coming year.
One would hope BYU wises up and hires someone to do a hard PR push to UT and the Big 12 member schools over the next 2 weeks. I have a feeling if they do not get in now, they may never.
The candidates recommended were Cinci (who everyone in the Big 12 apparently likes) and Houston for #12 which appears to have been the fifth ranked candidate (or worse) and appears to have little support.
I am frankly very disappointed that SDSU apparently didn't even make the first cut. I think that is the prejudice against travel to the west and it is very short sighted.
K.I.S.S. - Keep it simple stupid.
There is a lot of over thinking in this segment (and really this article) on expansion. Expansion requires 8/10 votes. So any more than 2 "NOs" and a school is eliminated. If the thinking gets too convoluted, just remember that.
You have two firm NOs (UT & Tech) who are likely firmly against any expansion because that is UT's position.
If you take nothing else out of this article, that is a strong takeaway.
Starr pushing Houston would be totally in character. I also don't think UH's failure is a done deal. This is EXACTLY the ACC VA Tech scenario --- 2 firm "NOs" and a decider (Baylor).
If UT did push out UH now, that could make some sense if Starr was planning on using the Houston gets in as (?) team 14 or Baylor will be the third vote blocking any expansion effort strategy during the actual voting process. UT pushed the issue now when Houston doesn't have the support yet to even get submitted for a vote.
It is kind of a weird "force the issue" strategy.
There is some thought that TCU is out on UH as well over Texas 3 star recruiting and that may be relatively firm.
If the Big 12 doesn't get a playoff invite, Starr could get his scenario (they just have to get TCU not to vote no). If the Big 12 does get a team into the playoffs, it is unlikely this scenario happens.
It makes my head spin too.
Who provided all this information?
I pulled it from tweets from the much maligned West Virginia pair of tweeters --- the Dude of West Virginia and MHver3. The Dude meanders from subject to subject so I only followed his tweets back to October, MHver3 is more realignment focused in his tweets (and took a 6 month hiatus) so I pulled 13 months.
The combination is jarring enough just going back a few months as these two don't seem to agree on much. The merging of their content into an easy to follow timeline proved tougher to do than I anticipated when I started the article. I apologize to you readers for my lack of skill.
For some, the fact that I sourced either one of these guys makes their brains explode.
Bear with me.
Both guys' goals and methods for exploding brains are more misunderstood that truly evil... :)
Both of our WVU guys clearly have some perhaps strong, perhaps not access to the West Virginia tail of the Big 12 footprint.
Does WVU control the conference? No. So how accurate are their presentations going to be taken if read as predictions?
Does it mean the things reported actually happened? Often to most of the time, I'd say yeah, but sources tend to release those things that help their goals.
So even if we get the truth, we only get part of the truth? Yep. Very common.
Does it mean the info is bad? Not at all.
It is all in how you sift through it.
I filtered the data for what I considered logical motivations.
So who are these guys who's actions explode heads?
I'm going to weigh in with what I see...
The Dude of West Virginia is a guy who tries to "tweet responsibly". That term right there should explain why someone who clearly tries to do things right is constantly having his credibility challenged. My head almost exploded typing it.
He is a realignment guy trying to directly apply investigative reporter skills. He want confirmations on everything before publishing. The trouble is that sometimes one source is all you are going to get on a realignment leak. And sometimes the real poop from one source is a 1000X better than the company line from everyone else.
But to him, credibility in each tweet is more important than being first.
He is local news.
Or some might see him as the old curmudgeon mourning the death of "The Local Newspaper".
MHver3 is a guy who doesn't care about vetting nearly as much. His philosophy is "I heard it, I put it out there. You decide if you want to believe me. I don't care about an individual reader getting his panties in bunch --- I have plenty of readers. And I don't care about The Dude's stupid rules."
He's blogger, really more of a tweeter, to the core. He's the AP wire. Effectively anonymous. A huge source of stories with no context provided to tip the reader in helping them to evaluate the quality of the data.
Predictably he drives The Dude nuts.
Two realignment guys with polar opposite methodologies that don't lend to mutual respect, with presumably some different and some shared WV sources, pushing out media in exactly the same way.
Both West Virginia guys.
Both consumed by breaking realignment news via twitter.
Constantly lumped together in discussion due to the similarities. (And I lumped them together here...)
You can understand the constant bickering.
A lot of people who actively follow and write about realignment and are "respected and responsible" will quietly follow these guys and occasionally base articles off a line from one of their tweets.
People who are curious about realignment, but aren't junkies like myself will explode over anyone sourcing this duo. They think it is irresponsible. In an emotional way, these critics don't want to read about what almost happened because "DAMMIT, IT DIDN'T HAPPEN!!!".
These readers want their realignment packaged nicely 5 minutes before the story breaks and "Dammit, it better break!"
That is news reporting, not rumor reporting.
The West Virginia duo don't do much news reporting on realignment.
I don't do much of that either!
After years of writing, I have come to realize my skillset pretty much limits me to being an editorialist. I look at a ton of different sources (even diving into the often irresponsible and unverified twitterverse sometimes) to spur the ideas that become my editorials. I try to explain my takeaways based on my knowledge and then get at anything I think needs a good scrubbing.
Articles like this show I don't mind staying up for 48 hours filtering through years of tweets deciphering what might plausibly be real and what is probably garbage or actively leaked disinformation to put together rumor content for a nicely packaged, fan friendly article.
But I hope this article also shows there is a place for these guys too.
I for one appreciate what they both bring to the realignment community.