Even if nothing comes of it, the late-spring/summer brings talk of conference realignment/expansion/chaos. These days, most of that is emanating from the Big XII.
Conference meetings have been happening. The ACC has theirs this week. The Big XII had a preliminary meeting last week, but don’t have their real meetings until after Memorial Day.
It always boils down to money, but the Big XII is wrapping this one up primarily in the matter of the College Football Playoff. How a more members and an unbalanced schedule is actually a plus for getting teams into the CFB playoff.
During the Big XII meetings they were given information supporting that position. The problem is, who do they take? They know there is no one in the other four major conferences. That essentially leaves BYU and teams in the American.
Since any expansion dovetails with a TV network, look to the markets of possible candidates. For now, the top four are believed to be Connecticut, BYU (which has a national following), Cincinnati and possibly Colorado State (Denver market), although the situation is fluid.
Memphis is pushing hard, with FedEx money behind it. I still remain doubtful of BYU with their LDS restrictions that I’m not sure the rest of the Big XII membership wants the accompanying headaches. UConn just wants out of the American and damn the distance.
The Big XII remains a mess, because they have no chance at getting a network off the ground unless they can fold the Longhorn Network into it. And that would require Texas to give up the money they get and the ego boost of their own personal network.
For one thing, folding the Longhorn Network — as well as the third-tier deals of other conference schools — into a Big 12 network is one key potential puzzle piece. While from afar the Longhorn Network looks like an epic disappointment and even a punch line, it’s a major source of university pride for UT folks. How many universities have their own network?
Rest assured, Texas will not agree to anything unless it’s guaranteed all the money remaining on its current LHN contract with ESPN — and maybe not then. Consider what Texas AD Mike Perrin said in Phoenix:
“I can’t say I’ve got an open mind on any of these issues,” Perrin said. “I can say I’ve got an open mind for receiving data.”
The only thing that might play the role in changing Texas’ mind is what happened with the Big 10 media rights deal. The B1G hit it big with selling only half their rights to FOX for through 2024-25.
That is huge. Not just the money they are generating, but the timing. That happens to be just around the time as the media rights come up for the ACC, Pac-12 and Big XII.
The Big 12 has a media rights agreement with ESPN and FOX that runs until the 2024-2025 season. The PAC-12 has a similar deal with ESPN and FOX running through the 2024-2025 season. Notre Dame’s contract to televise football games on NBC will expire in 2025. The ACC’s exclusive deal with ESPN wraps up a season later, in 2026-2027.
If you don’t think that there is some long-term planning on more possible conference expansion by the Big 10 by then, well then you haven’t been paying attention.
Obviously the Big 12 would be the most vulnerable. Oklahoma and Texas are still programs the B1G would love to have in the the conference. Their media money is even showing signs of lagging behind the ACC. But let’s not kid ourselves that the ACC member schools wouldn’t be targeted.
We’ve all heard the rumors before of the B1G having standing offers to schools like UNC, Virginia and possibly Georgia Tech. When the money gets that big, and the gap even larger, you don’t assume anything. Even ND might finally decide it has no choice.
That also explains why there is such increased urgency by ACC powers to resolve the issue of an ACC Network this year. Not simply to get more money annually — though that is obviously a big part of it — but to protect the conference.
A resolution to actually create an ACC network — whether a straight-up channel or a hybrid that has digital distribution — would necessitate a redoing of the media rights agreement. Specifically, it would certainly include extending the time on the rights deal.
An extension of the rights deal is in the ACC’s best interest as it makes it that much more unlikely the B1G could poach ACC schools — as the grant of rights would also be extended.