John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Big 12 Conference expansion was always just a bluff to get more money

John E. Hoover: Big 12 Conference expansion was always just a bluff to get more money
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Those aren’t dice, though the Big 12 Conference certainly appeared to be gambling against TV networks over expansion before deciding Monday it would stay at 10 members. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

The Big 12 Conference spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paying two independent consulting firms to figure out, among other things, if expansion was good for the league or not.

Ultimately, those firms determined expansion from its current membership of 10 would be beneficial.

So Big 12 CEOs authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to solicit presentations from 11 schools who desperately wanted into a Power 5 conference — presentations that have been reported as costing between $10,000-15,000 each.

And Sunday and Monday, those same Big 12 presidents and chancellors met for 6 ½ hours and came to the conclusion that expansion, well, it’s just not the Big 12’s cup of tea.

“We do not consider (expansion) an active agenda item any longer,” Bowslby said.

“This was not a decision not to expand. This was an endorsement and reinvestment in the 10 that we have.”

Right.

And then, just to affirm that everyone’s on the same page and in lockstep on the topic of expansion, University of Oklahoma president David Boren, who doubles as chairman of the Big 12’s board of directors, quickly added this little tidbit:

“We would never say never.”

Unity, indeed.

Bowslby and Boren said during a news conference on Monday evening that the league would stand pat at 10 members rather than expand by taking on the likes of Houston, BYU or Cincinnati.

The vote, they both said, was unanimous, whatever that means.

Apparently there is some measure of disagreement as to the definition of the word “vote.” That was painfully evidenced by a question Monday about July’s unanimous vote to authorize Bowlsby to begin expansion exploration somehow becoming a unanimous vote dismissing the idea entirely.

“We very seldom take votes,” Bowlsby said in July, “but on this one we did take a vote and everyone was supportive of it.”

“It was a unanimous vote,” Boren added three months ago, “to move forward by asking the commissioner to follow up.”

Then on Monday, Bowlsby’s spin was that no vote was actually taken in July.

And we’re supposed to believe this whole silly process was not some two-bit dog and pony show, a three-card monte, a shell game.

“We don’t feel a sense of urgency to expand,” Boren said, “just for expansion’s sake.”

That’s obvious. The Big 12 was never interested in expansion. This was a money grab, plain and simple, a bluff with the television networks.

Just listen to what Fox Sports president Eric Shanks told Sports Business Journal:

“We don’t think expansion in the Big 12 is a good idea for the conference,” Shanks said. “We think it will be dilutive to the product in the short term. In the long term, it’s probably harmful to the future of the conference.”

That means bad football up front, and hardball negotiations in the future.

Still, the Big 12 held a strong hand.

If ESPN and Fox didn’t acquiesce to the league’s demands for a conference network or, more realistically, a simple increase in annual revenue, then the Big 12 would invoke the pro rata clause in the media rights contract by adding members. That gambit would have produced an additional $20-25 million per new school over the life of the existing contract that runs through 2025.

Rather than be saddled with that bill, the networks decided, according to multiple reports, to pony up more cash up front to the Big 12’s current membership. Bowlsby on Monday declined to divulge specifics because the conference is still in negotiations with networks about carrying the upcoming conference championship game starting in 2017.

And hey, who can blame the Big 12 for such a bluff? The league — which was minutes from dissolving in 2010 — will now die a slow but profitable death, with each school taking in more than $30 million annually. Services are pending, but interment should be sometime around 2025, though sooner than that is certainly possible depending on what Oklahoma and Texas want to do.

The league’s grant-of-rights clause — which guarantees that any member’s revenue from first- and second-tier media rights will continue to go to the Big 12 if anyone leaves for another conference — also runs through 2025 and seems fairly ironclad, though it hasn’t been challenged in court yet.

If the legal firm of Boomer, Sooner and Bevo sent the process to litigation, they might win back their TV dollars and land safely in the Big Ten Conference, Southeastern Conference or somewhere else.

And what catchy slogan will be written on the Big 12’s tombstone then? “One true corpse?”

“No one’s looking to walk away,” Boren said. “Any feelings to the contrary are just mistaken.

“We’ll be ready to negotiate in the open marketplace I think with great cohesion at that time,” Boren continued. “That’s certainly, I think, the feeling that we’ve had at the University of Oklahoma, that when that time comes, that’s when you discuss the grant of rights.

“There is not a single institution in the Big 12 looking to go elsewhere,” Boren added. “… There is no theological or abstract opposition to the grant of rights at the University of Oklahoma. We are committed to this conference.”

No one is buying it, especially not the schools who were jilted, or their fans.

Bowlsby and Boren said that during the regularly scheduled board meeting, individual schools were not assessed for expansion. No votes were taken. BYU didn’t get points over Houston, or vice versa.

The only recommendation Bowlsby made, he said, was to bring this process to closure one way or the other and “not kick the can down the road.”

The takeaway from Monday’s news conference was that the Big 12 has decided not to expand. Boren, once the champion of all things expansion (and a title game and a league network) said after that was determined — the meeting went two hours shorter than expected — there was no need to spend any time evaluating the contenders.

Which, of course, made all those schools who chased the Big 12’s cheese feel so much better.

“Our presidents came together in unity and came to the same conclusion, and that was that was that we like the competition that we have. We like playing a full round-robin. We’re glad we added a championship game.”

Unsure whether Big 12 CEOs came to Dallas with a predetermined notion or had their decisions swayed Sunday and Monday, Boren said he figured everyone came with an open mind and left with a singlemindedness.

“I think we all left the room feeling a much stronger sense of commitment to the conference, commitment to each other, that all of us are Big 12 people, we’re proud to be part of this conference, and we want to always be a member of this conference as far as we’re concerned,” Boren said. “We want to see it be all it can be.”


Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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