Big 12 exclusion from College Football Playoff is University of Texas’ fault

by Kent Sterling

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is under fire for Baylor/TCU being snubbed, but fans should point fingers elsewhere.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is under fire for Baylor/TCU being snubbed, but fans should point fingers elsewhere.

What was former Big 12 Commissioner Don Beebe supposed to do, let the Big 12 unravel after Texas decided to shift to the Big Ten or Pac-12?

Beebe played the only card available to him, which was to allow each member school to form its own network.  This wasn’t the best solution because only Texas had the rabid booster base to make a network lucrative, but it was the only option available to him to keep the fragile Big 12 together.  Of course, Texas stood to benefit the most from that freedom, and the Longhorn Network would create an inequity that rendered the Big 12 a less than positive environment for schools with options.

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The Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-12 created networks of their own from which members equally shared new found wealth.  Conference networks allow the paupers to continue to compete with the princes, and equal rewards.  The Longhorn Network turned the Big 12 into the Big One and Little 11, but not for long.

Colorado bolted for the Pac-10 (soon to become Pac-12).  Nebraska left for the Big Ten.  Missouri and Texas A&M hopped to the SEC.  TCU and West Virginia filled vacancies in the Big 12.  As a result, the Big 12 fell to ten teams – below the NCAA mandated 12-team threshold for a conference championship football game.

That was a key element in the exclusion of both Baylor or TCU in the College Football Playoff pairings announced yesterday.

Forestalling the dissolution of the Big 12 is a righteous goal for those employed by the conference, particularly current commissioner Bob Bowlsby who is paid just less than $2-million for his services.  But until there is economic equanimity among its members, the Big 12 will be a port of last resort for schools like BYU, Cincinnati, and Boise State looking for a more stable and lucrative home.

Texas sharing it’s bounty evenly among the Big 12 members is as likely as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers allowing Major League Baseball to institute true revenue sharing.

Cobbling together the wretched refuse from other middling conferences is no way to compete with the Power Four conferences, and the evolutionary drift to four 16-team leagues will continue, if very slowly.

The relative imbalance caused by the existence of the Longhorn Network was pronounced in 2012, with Texas leading the nation in athletic revenue – $163 million.  Iowa State brought up the rear with just over $55 million.  Spending per athlete varied from Texas ($249K) to Kansas State ($97K).

That differs from the business model of the Big Ten.  While Big Ten athletic departments with robust football ticket sales like Ohio State and Michigan clearly cause profitability that Indiana and Purdue cannot duplicate, the Hoosiers revenue would place it in the top half of the Big 12’s public institutions.

Commissioner Bowlsby is being hounded by fans from all Big 12 schools who are furious over the snub by the College Football Playoff committee that left Baylor and TCU in the unenviable position of being ranked fifth and sixth among candidates for invitations to a four-team party.

The physics are clear, four conferences – each with one invite.  Want an eight team playoff?  The conference championships for the Big Four served very nicely this season.  A lack of upsets in those games cleaned up the potential chaos that would have ensued, and the uncertainty of the committee’s behavior earned college football a level of excitement and enthusiastic media coverage that would not have been available otherwise.

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None of the blame for what transpired yesterday should land in Bowlsby’s lap.  He inherited a leaky ship that stopped being seaworthy in 2010 when Texas decided to get greedy and Beebe was powerless to compel them to act otherwise.

Bowlsby will look at adding schools previously deemed unworthy of an invitation by the Big Four as well as the Big 12 in the past, or applying for a waiver so the Big 12 is allowed to hold a championship game with only 10 members.  Either way, the Big 12 will be diminished, but not nearly to the extent it would be through the continued branding as the fifth wheel on a vehicle that works best with four.

Dissolution is the logical outcome for the Big 12, so victory for Bowlsby is now defined by how long the conference survives in its current form, not if it survives.  Yesterday’s decision by the committee did nothing to cause the Big 12 damage – it simply reflected a harsh reality.

16 thoughts on “Big 12 exclusion from College Football Playoff is University of Texas’ fault

  1. Rob

    Well that’s one theory, but not the correct one. The committee picked tOSU over TCU and Baylor clearly because of name recognition. Old habits die hard and the howling by the old media and TV networks would have been heard on the moon if tOSU was jilted by a small religiously-affiliated private school. It just doesn’t make for good marketing. As for the defections from the Big 12 falling all on Texas, that’s highly dubious as well. The merger of the SWC and Big 8 didn’t sit well with the prima donna schools, primarily Nebraska, because they were forced to discontinue the “partial qualifier” program and raise their qualifying standards, and they no longer had a monopoly on power within the conference. aTm used the LHN as an excuse to come out of the shadow of Texas and make a name for themselves by using the SEC brand as cover. It has worked reasonably well up til now, as their early success in the conference is now regressing toward the mean, just as they did in the Big 12. There may indeed be a big move for the conference in the future, but it’s still unknown as to what that will be…either two more solid programs will be added or there will be the creation of a few super-conferences.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I like your thinking, but the name of the game in media and athletics is the same – cash. Money is the reason that Ohio State is the #4 seed in the CFP. Name recognition is beyond the horizon of reasons for their inclusion. If you meant to imply that name recognition = popularity = money. That’s a bit of a stretch, but I can allow for that although the metric is imperfect at best.

  2. Brendan Toungate

    Thanks for the article: I needed a good laugh this morning.

    This is less of a fact-checking point and more of a general disagreement, but I would contend that the Big 12 has always been at best a shotgun marriage and at worst the Titanic. The conference was created in order to keep some semblance of the former Big 8 and SWC affiliations intact and preserve some level of the traditions that were going to die due to lack of TV audience. The two conferences essentially decided to pool their resources because it was either that or complete dissolution of both leagues. Even from its inception many fans of the schools within the conference disliked it due to its kinda sloppy nature with which the marriage was created (Nebraska and Oklahoma losing their yearly game being the main-and legitimate-reason). Thankfully, though, due to the initial excitement around the country and the continued importance of network viewers, the league stayed strong, despite its still low amount of eyeballs in its geographic footprint. When the idea for a Big 12 Network was thrown about, it wasn’t just Texas that didn’t agree with it, but also OU, A&M, Nebraska and Kansas all vetoed it. Why not blame them? If two of those schools had agreed to the network-say NU and KU-this conversation wouldn’t be happening.

    Now granted, I hate the Longhorn Network. As a fan who doesn’t have access to it, it’s frustrating when I want to watch a game and can’t. DeLoss Dodds turned the school into a punchline. But to lay the blame of this at one school’s feet is lazy at best.

      1. kentsterling Post author

        It’s wrong. The reason is money. The reason for everything is always money. That’s why I corrected predicted these four teams would be in the playoff four weeks before. Follow the money. Always follow the money.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Sure, there were issues that pre-dated the LHN that diminished the Big 12, but the agent that accelerated the decline and will result in the death of the Big 12 is the economic inequity generated by the LHN.

      Any school, other than Texas, that decided a conference network was not in their best interest – if the network was going to share revenue and resources equally – was not thinking clearly.

      I’m no fan of everything the Big Ten does, but the Big Ten Network was a stroke of correctly applied logical thinking.

  3. ron

    A fine article, though you forgot to mention a couple of facts:
    Fact one: while Texas could have left the Big 12 and gone anywhere else it wanted, in the end they stayed and held the conference together. For this, TCU, Baylor and almost all other members should be eternally grateful. I wonder how much money K State or Kansas would be making in the American conference???
    Fact two: Texas gave a lot of thought to following the Notre Dame model and becoming an independent. If it did, then guys like you could no longer complain. And had it done so, I wonder how much revenue sharing would have been left for residual Big 12 members??? I think most count their blessings that Texas stayed, with the Longhorn network. Also, don’t forget, other schools like OU have their own network today.
    Fact three; If you are going to blame anybody, I think it is really all Nebraska’s fault. That is, when Texas joined the Big 12, Nebraska was king of the hill. Texas wanted equal revenue sharing for all members. Nebraska would have none of that. They wanted to share revenues based on TV scheduling. With Nebraska being the headliner on Tier 1 (ABC), it was set to take the biggest share. That model was crammed down the Southwest Conference 4, leaving them no option if they wanted in the Big 8. Funny thing happened thereafter. Tom Osborne retired, Nebraska became non relevant, and then they took their ball and went home (to the Big 10). Perhaps you should follow.

    In the end, its always about the money!! But to blame Texas is ludicrous.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Okay, thanks to Texas for holding a gun to the Big 12’s head and creating a business model where other schools play by entirely different rules. Nebraska is responsible for Texas’ behavior because they acted poorly in the past?

      You must be a lawyer. If not I hope someone pays you well for advancing spurious arguments with a straight face.

  4. Robert Coleman

    What a tsunami of commentary the expansion of the collegiate playoffs from one game to three has created! Hundreds of hours of TV and radio time and miles of newspaper and blog comments, far in excess of last year’s collegiate finale. That has to be good for all programs, even Baylor and TCU, who found they didn’t have a chair when the music ended. The #5 team will always be unhappy, it’s the nature of the set-up. So why get upset—or dismantle a conference? There’s always next year—and next year’s controversies. You can’t make this stuff up! What has boiled over is the fact that the smaller conferences don’t have a one in a hundred chance of making the top 4, anymore than they could reach for the brass ring when it was only two teams. Their only real chance is to politic for an 8 team playoff, to increase their chances of playing with the big boys. Then we’ll get the ultimate storyline—the Cinderella team from Bushleague City College defeats the mighty Goliath University on the gridiron! 2 is good, 4 is better, 8 is great!

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I’m with you, but the Big 12 being excluded is not the reason for the Big 12 to be absorbed into the four power conferences. The death spiral began with Texas being allowed to elevate itself head and shoulders above the rest of the Big 12 through the establishment of the LHN – a revenue generator none of the rest of the schools in the league can possibly emulate. The death of the BIG 12 is inevitable, and its exclusion is a result of the slide that began almost five years ago. Only Texas or Oklahoma will ever find a way into a four-team playoff.

      One other thing about the playoff and committee – the result was predictable weeks before and rendered the previous results of their silly meetings and rankings meaningless.

  5. Harold

    On the contrary. I believe Texas is setting a trend. It’s only a matter of time before the likes of tOSU and Michigan realize just how much money they are leaving on the table just to satisfy the rest of the Big 10.

    The Big 10 network will work just as well if tOSU and Mich demanded to get a greater share of the money. The Big 10 would work just a well too. Some idiot some where once decided that equal revenue sharing was the right thing to do and no one has dared question that assumption.

    What would the weaker/smaller Big 10 schools to if tOSU/Michigan/PSU really started demanding payouts in proportion to the value these schools add to the conference? A similar argument also holds true to the Pac and SEC. In fact the board of regents of the “have” schools in these conferences are being grossly derelict in carrying out their responsibilities to their schools by agreeing to the equal sharing model.

    Really, the only schools that benefit from equal revenue sharing are the smaller “have nots”, the bigger “have” schools gain nothing. If all the haves banded together and demanded payouts more in keeping with their real value, exactly what can the smaller schools do?

    Seriously, what choices would Vanderbilt have if LSU and Alabama were give twice as much money in payouts? What would Northwestern or Purdue do if tOSU and Michigan demanded more money from the Big 10 payouts?

    The likes of Vanderbilt are bottom dwellers in the SEC now and will continue to be that of whether they get an equal or lesser share of the payouts. How does the SEC benefit from giving Vanderbilt the same payout as Alabama?

    Equal revenue sharing may have had some value in the past but today seems an antiquated notion that adds value to some programs by subtracting value from others, its net effect on a conference as a whole is neutral at best, and indeed by depriving the best programs of money, may actually be hurting the overall value of a conference.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Take a look at the relative popularity of Major League Baseball and the National Football League. In baseball, the rich get richer, and in the NFL – everyone gets rich. Could the Cowboys earn more money that the Jacksonville Jaguars if the NFL abandoned its rev share model? Of course. The Cowboys slice of the pie could grow as the Jags’ sinks. But the NFL was smart enough to embrace the notion that growing the pie is the best route toward wealth.

      That is why your argument in favor of Ohio State and Michigan breaking from the rest of the Big Ten is spurious. Growing the pie, rather than focusing on the individual pieces, is the soundest goal the max out revenue.

      And that is why the Big 12 is failing.

      1. SZM

        Sorry, but I have to go with Harold on this one. You cant compare college athletics to the NFL. College athletics are more like European soccer leagues. In the NFL (and the NBA), the draft and salary cap is great equalizer. A similar situation in college athletics would be if colleges were not allowed to spend more than a certain amount per athlete, maybe even set the same amount for all colleges. Or maybe the worst performing teams each year are allowed to spend more than the best.

        Its no coincidence that the most profitable leagues and individual teams in the world come from European soccer. Manchester United, is a global brand, and perhaps the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Because of Man U, and its rabid following there is global interest in English Premier League. To a much lesser extent the global brands of the NFL are the Dallas Cowboys and for MLB its the Yankees.

        The problem with the communist model of US pro sports is that it keeps one team from being dominant year in year out, as a result no team develops a global following like Man U, Barca, and Real Madrid, AC Milan etc have. This is not such a big problem as global interest in the NFL is tiny compared to soccer. Similarly, the global college football brands are Texas, Michigan, tOSU, USC, Alabama and 3 or 4 others. Not even in their own conferences do many people care about the likes of Vanderbilt or Mississippi State.

        Similarly I would argue that by continuing to use a revenue sharing model where small market teams (e.g. Buffalo and Jacksonville) to stay afloat, the NFL is in fact giving up a lot of value. If the NFL had a more capitalist revenue model, maybe the small market teams would out of necessity move to bigger markets, generating more revenue and value for the league as a whole and themselves. I mean seriously, would the Buffalo Bills have survived if their existence had not been subsidized by the likes of the Cowboys and 49ers? Maybe the NFL would be even more better off if small market teams folded altogether, instead of moving to bigger markets.

        E.g. San Antonio could probably support an NFL team, so what if the Bills moved there and became the San Antonio Roughnecks! Would the NFL be better off, or would the net value created be near 0, as any increase in the value of the Bills because of the move would come at the expense of the Cowboys and the Texans?

        Yes, soccer is a global sport and it would have a huge following regardless, but because of the rabid following of a select few teams, all of European soccer is richer. Not having a few dominant teams would have in fact hurt European soccer. It takes years of success to build a strong brand, and global following. A flash in the pan team may arouse temporary interest, but nothing more. Man U and Barca apparel sales and TV audiences are truly global, on a scale that the NFL can only dream of replicating.

        Despite the fact only a few teams dominate the purely capitalistic European soccer leagues, the teams at the bottom are not exactly starving. In fact one major strength of this model is that it allows anyone to spend money and build a champion. Just see the the case of Chelsea, or the up and coming Manchester City team.

        If it had been Texas or OU instead of Baylor and TCU, do you really think that the playoff selection team would have left them out? Branding is huge. Despite their recent success on the field, Baylor and TCU aren’t anywhere near as valuable or noteworthy brandwise as Texas and OU. Outside the state of Texas Baylor and TCU have very little following and no amount of additional funding from the Big 12 or Texas will change that fact.

        How does equal sharing of funding in a conference help Vanderbilt or Iowa State? What if the conferences gave their perennial doormats just enough money to keep their football and basketball programs afloat and nothing more? Would SEC be really worse off if Vanderbilt got less money from the TV deal or the SEC network? Would the conference not be better off if the top performers got extra funding so they can remain at the top by spending more on facilities, and players? You pointed out that Texas spends $249K per player, and ISU $55K. How would the Big 12 be better off if the LHN were rolled into a Big 12 Network and the revenue equally split among all members? How would the B12 benefit if because of reduced revenues, Texas could now spent $235 K per player, while ISU could spent $65K per player?

        Communism results in misalignment and mis-allocation of resources, that is why it is inherently economically unsound and ultimately not able to support itself long-term. Capitalism, for all its faults, has built in self-correcting mechanisms that result in the best use of available resources. Why do people expect it to be any different in the sports world? Unfortunately one of the biggest flaws of capitalism is that it results in the creation of haves and have-nots. That will always be the case. The tables may turn some day and the have-nots can become haves, but only at the expense of the haves, who will become the have-nots.

        College football is infinitely richer because it has so few “royalty” programs! European soccer leagues are infinitely better off because so few teams dominate each year. People want to see Man U play, they dont care about who the opponent is. Of course some match ups generate more interest than others. English soccer is wealthy enough to support 2 leagues! A top league the Champions and the Football league. Both leagues are capitalist and remain profitable.

        Imagine a TCU v Vanderbilt play off game. It would be a ratings disaster. The game probably wont even sell out. The result would be that everyone (including TCU and Vanderbilt) would end up getting hurt. The networks (whose pockets fund college football) would lose a lot of value, and because of that all of college football would be worse off. And no amount of equitable funding sharing would help this situation. On the other hand a Texas v Alabama game would be a bonanza for everyone! Should the conferences not be spending their resources in a way that best helps match ups like Texas and Alabama happen as often as possible? If ISU and Vandebilt want to improve their football programs, let them make suitable investments and build their programs to a point where they can demand a greater share, until them the rob-peter-to-pay-paul only results in long-term value destruction.


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