The Big 12 says it's going to expand past its current 10-school membership, and the politics behind its decision could turn weird quickly.
ESPN's Jake Trotter has an interesting new article. In it, he writes about a potential dynamic between the Big 12's most powerful schools. Oklahoma has its eye on BYU as a top expansion candidate. A Sooner-led push to add BYU could be closely intertwined with a Texas-led drive to add Houston. But we also already knew OU probably wants Cincinnati as well.
When Texas' university president came out in support of "considering" Houston for the Big 12, apparently for political reasons, it came as a surprise. Conventional wisdom has long held that Texas wouldn't be interested in promoting another in-state recruiting rival.
The Longhorns haven't publicly endorsed adding Houston, but they sure seem interested. When Texas Tech followed suit, it was even more surprising, because the Red Raiders are a smaller program and stand to lose more in recruiting by the elevation of another Power 5 Texan. The politicians are onboard, too. TCU and Baylor haven't made public comments..
Could Oklahoma and Texas do some horse trading?
To add a new member, eight of 10 Big 12 schools need to vote in favor of its inclusion.
Oklahoma and Texas are powerful, and they've long been thought to command the attention of geographic Big 12 voting blocs, with the Longhorns wrangling most of the league's three other Texan schools and the Sooners being the longtime most vocal proponents of expansion.
It isn't hard to imagine a scenario in which Texas president Greg Fenves whips support for BYU's inclusion and, in return, Oklahoma president David Boren delivers votes for Houston.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said the league could expand by either two or four teams, or perhaps none at all.
Oklahoma also wants Cincinnati, and that'd make three. But anything more than two might open another can of expansion worms even more.
The Big 12 has two TV partners: ABC/ESPN and FOX.
The way the league's contracts with the TV providers are drawn up, the networks need to pay proportional increases to the Big 12 for every new member. Based on current terms, that translates to an extra $25 million or so per year for every addition.
Because the Big 12's grant of media rights to ESPN and Fox runs through 2025, that would mean up to $800 million in new money from ESPN and Fox if the league expanded by four teams. Two-team expansion would cost about $400 million. The networks are reportedly unhappy about all this.
Here's ESPN's Trotter:
If the Big 12 pulls the trigger on expansion, one recourse the networks would have would be to request an extension to the grant of rights, to at least gain long-term security for the league's live content. Recently, ESPN agreed with the ACC on a network, which will launch in 2019. In exchange, ESPN got the ACC to sign an extension of its grant of rights through 2035-36.
The difference with the Big 12 is that ESPN and Fox, contractually, have nothing to leverage the conference for the grant of rights extension -- the $25 million-per-school increases are already in the contract.
On this one, ESPN and Fox can only ask and hope.
Several Big 12 members' interests probably would align with the networks'.
A major function of a grant of rights is to prevent any school from collecting TV money from another league until its old conference's deal expires. From there, a longer grant of rights holds the Big 12 together. And for schools like Iowa State or Kansas State (which might not have a place to land in the Power 5 if the Big 12 dissolved), the more stable the Big 12 is, the better.
The networks would probably rather not pay out large sums to the Big 12. But if they do, a guarantee they won't lose the property altogether wouldn't be a bad consolation.
It's going to be hard for everyone to get what they want.
Texas could help get votes for BYU, and Oklahoma could do the same for Houston, and the networks could settle for two-team expansion that costs a lot but not as much as four teams.
That would require Oklahoma to sacrifice its Cincinnati goal, or perhaps to swap the Bearcats for BYU. It could also cost the networks a lot of money.
Another option is four-team expansion, but how would the Big 12 assuage the networks' concerns about costs?
Or, none of this could happen, even though the Big 12 has declared it's about to expand. This has already been going on forever anyway.