The Big 12 Conference’s teams — all 10 of the them — came together on Monday and Tuesday. But unlike previous years, the league’s football media days were without friction.
For the first time in two years, talk of who was leaving (Nebraska and Colorado in 2010 and Texas A&M and Missouri last month) was muzzled by who was in (West Virginia and TCU).
The league that spent 2010 and 2011 on the verge of extinction is thriving under new leadership and by all indications, unity.
“I think we have a stability that is far better than perhaps the public perception,” new conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
There were no signs of insecurity on Monday or Tuesday. No snipping about “third-tier media rights” or “unfair recruiting advantages” that plagued the previous two years.
Well, the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are clearly happy to be here. The original members are happy to have them. It’s not often a league can add two teams that have been mainstays in the Top 25 and made multiple appearances in BCS bowls over the last decade. The current Big 12 teams have also figured out there’s enough money floating around to keep everyone happy.
Bowlsby said the league is on the verge of signing a 13-year deal with ESPN for the league’s first-tier media rights. It along with rights OU has already sold to Fox for its second-tier rights will provide the league with about $200 million in annual revenue, or roughly $20 million per school.
The agreement with SEC to start the Champions Bowl at the end of the 2014 season is expected to be another cash cow for the league’s members.
“I think it’s really positive. The teams that have come in now, the quality, you look at the rankings, you look at the contractual agreement that we have now through the league,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “I think it’s really positive. It’s really solid. You look at the leadership of Bob Bowlsby and all our presidents, I think we’re in a really good position to move forward.”
Don’t expect that position to change anytime soon. For the last decade, the talk of college football has been 16-team leagues. The SEC and Pac-12 have grown close with both at 14 members for this season. The Big Ten will have 12 members for the second straight season.
The position the Big 12 schools have adopted goes against that grain. There’s no conference championship, but no divisions either. It’s a true conference that offers yearly matchups other BCS leagues can’t guarantee.
“This is a group of 20 institutions that if we were to press for raised hands in a meeting room around the issue of expansion, I don’t know that we’d get two votes for moving to a larger number,” Bowlsby said. “Now, having said that, expansion is on every conference’s list of discussion items. I don’t think we can ever afford not to think about it.
“But if the Big 12 had to vote on it today, we wouldn’t take any new members in. We believe it should be very difficult to get into this group of institutions. It should be the toughest fraternity in America to join, and the only people that have a chance to join it are those that bring something that is very substantial.”
After a couple years of bickering, four teams leaving and two teams entering, and a the league seemingly on the brink of collapse, 10 unified teams emerged from their July meeting. They’re going to spend this season trying to beat each other senseless. They’ll recruit hard against one another. But all are content to do it year after year for decades to come.