Thursday, April 14, 2011

College $ports Today

For a conference that almost died last year through realignment, the Big XII (and yes, it will keep that name with only 10 teams) now looks stronger than ever--all thanks to TV/Internet/ media money. This week, the conference signed a new deal with Fox to televise its second-tier football package (ABC and ESPN get first dibs), but it's certainly not second-tier money: $13 million for 12 years. This comes on the heels of the unveiling of the Longhorn Sports Network deal with ESPN, which gives Texas $300 million over 20 years.

It all sounds like Monopoly money, but the buzzword in college athletics these days is "monetizing," meaning that member schools "can monetize some distribution rights" like Texas has, according to Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castliglione.

So a conference that was essentially on its deathbed last summer has now solidified its position and even extended its prominence. That's great news for the Big XII, but also unsettling that the television networks have that much power. TV money has allowed Notre Dame to stay independent and made the University of Texas athletic budget bigger than some third-world countries. The fear is that schools like Texas will try to also try to become independent to maximize their profit like Notre Dame, or that the big schools will band together to create their own super-conferences (which is what caused all the realignment mess last year).

But what's to say ESPN couldn't broker a deal to create its own super-conference? As long as TV is calling the shots why not let them go all the way? We could have an ESPN North (Big 10 and some Big East), ESPN South (SEC and some ACC), ESPN Southwest (Big XII and some Mountain West) and ESPN West (Pac-10 or 12? with some other schools). Very logical, especially around Final Four time.

As long as the tail keeps wagging the dog, it's not as far-fetched as it sounds.


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