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All That and a Bag of Mail

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It’s Friday (okay, it’s actually Thursday) but I’m writing the mailbag today because I’m flying out to Vegas this afternoon for a long weekend there. I’ll still do the radio show in the morning from a Vegas studio, and then I’m hanging out with my wife and friends there until Sunday.

So hopefully the mask madness hasn’t taken over in Vegas too much. I was in LA last week, Vegas this week, and I’m going to be in New York for most of next week, so I feel like I’m just jumping from one city that’s gone COVID mask crazy to another COVID mask crazy city week after week.

I can’t wait for college football season when I can get back in the big crowds of people who haven’t lost their minds and dive into the SEC tailgate scene. We’ll have some good news about what OutKick has planned for the fall in the days ahead. But in the meantime, here we go with your questions.

Warren writes:

“If you were in Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s position what would your reaction/plan be?”

Bowlsby is in a really tough spot. He has to do his best to keep his eight remaining teams together while knowing that if any of those eight teams get a better offer from a better conference, they’re gone no matter what he does.

That’s why he publicized the cease and desist letter he sent to ESPN yesterday. (ESPN denied all his allegations today, by the way.) Bowlsby’s trying to fight back with whatever ammunition he’s got to fend off additional suitors for his eight teams. But he doesn’t have to just fend off suitors, he has to keep his remaining eight members from also trying to find new homes too. He’s just in an an insanely difficult spot because he doesn’t control very much.

So with Texas and Oklahoma leaving, the first question you have to ask is this: are the Big Ten, Pac-12, or ACC schools likely to make offers to any of his remaining teams? I wrote today on the Big Ten’s expansion plans, so you guys know I think it’s unlikely the Big Ten teams come after any of the remaining eight teams in the Big 12. I also think the Pac-12 is unlikely to make any aggressive moves to chase the eight teams left in the Big 12 right now. So that leaves the ACC as a Power Five conference that could have some interest in the Big 12. Could I see the ACC, for instance, making a play for West Virginia and/or Kansas? Maybe. But just maybe.

The fact that the American Conference was making a play to try and snag all eight of these schools makes me believe there isn’t massive interest from the other big conferences. Because if there were, the American wouldn’t have been such a focus.

As I wrote last week, I think ESPN is in a tough spot here too. They’re on the hook for large payments to the Big 12 over the next four years, totaling over a billion dollars. But I don’t necessarily buy the fact that ESPN wants the Big 12 to die to save money because I think ESPN is going to have to end up guaranteeing the remaining eight schools somewhat similar payments in the years ahead, no matter what, to avoid getting sued like crazy. So I don’t buy the idea that ESPN is trying to get out of paying these eight schools by killing the Big 12. I think ESPN just wants the best games possible which are going to produce the largest viewership possible. That’s ESPN’s goal because that’s how ESPN makes money.

So I think what you have to do if you’re Bowlsby is get the remaining eight schools in your conference now, if they’ll do it, to sign a binding grant of rights tying up all these schools together for another decade beyond 2025. That way you lock in your eight teams together and can probably go hunting for a couple of more strong additions to get you back to ten teams. Who are those teams? Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Memphis, BYU, Boise State, Colorado State, pick your two, or maybe your four teams, and then essentially extort ESPN to sign you to a decade-long — or more — extension based on the grant of rights your schools have signed.

I think the Big 12’s best negotiating leverage is threatening ESPN with a lawsuit. But this is a delicate balancing act. Because if you threaten ESPN too aggressively — or if you actually end up filing the lawsuit — then they might walk away from ever bidding on your conference again and you’ve killed any chance they are signing your conference to a new deal. That means you’d be down to begging Fox, CBS, NBC, or one of the tech companies to sign you to a new deal. But are any of those entities interested in paying anywhere near the deal you have now for the teams you’d have after 2025? I think the answer is no.

So the lawsuit threat is better than the actual lawsuit, in my opinion.

The other play I’d consider is attempting a merger with the Pac-12.

Would a twenty team Pac-12 that stretched from California to West Virginia make any sense? I have my doubts. But with both the Big 12 and Pac-12 TV deals up soon, you could build two ten team divisions and play a title game between your western and eastern schools.

There’s so much desperation for content right now that with the SEC and ACC locked up and the Big Ten likely to command a king’s ransom that there just aren’t many valuable properties out there in college sports. Maybe a twenty team combination of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 could make more money than either conference could standing alone.

I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s at least an idea.

Finally, I think Bowlsby needs to fight as hard as he can for an automatic College Football Playoff bid for the Big 12 champion. I don’t think he’s going to get that, but it would help to strengthen the Big 12’s bargaining hand too. Because as is, a 16 team SEC is poised to snag half the playoff spots every year. Toss in the Big Ten getting a couple every year, Clemson in the ACC, Notre Dame and maybe a Pac-12 team, and I just don’t think that the eight teams left in the Big 12 will have playoff chances very often.

So in addition to all of the ideas above, he needs to try and get them a spot locked up as part of this overall expanded playoff negotiation.

But the first move I’d make is trying to get a new grant of rights signed by the remaining eight schools. That would stop the bleeding, at least.

Kevin writes:

“Which current SEC team(s) do you feel like will benefit the most with the addition of Texas & OU into the conference? (i.e. scheduling, recruiting, etc.)”

I think Arkansas and LSU will benefit a great deal on a recruiting basis. Just based on proximity to Texas, playing multiple games, probably, in that state every year means you can recruit Texas better than before. I also think Texas and Texas A&M will benefit too because they’ll be able to sell the state of Texas recruits on staying home and playing a decent number of games in state. I think a huge in-state rivalry always helps both sides of that rivalry recruit inside the state.

Oklahoma also stands to benefit immensely as I think they’ll be able to recruit in Texas and all over the SEC even better than before just based on the ability to sell the SEC brand now mixed with the proven success of Lincoln Riley. And to the extent recruits in Oklahoma are deciding between OU and Oklahoma State, this will make it a no brainer decision to pick the Sooners.

The best teams in the SEC will also benefit because the SEC will be even more front and center in Texas, allowing them even more access to recruiting those players.

But I think the biggest losers are clear too — it will be the non-SEC schools in Texas. The Big 12, if it continues to exist, is now a vastly inferior brand to Texas A&M and Texas. The best recruits in Texas will now almost all go to the SEC, either in state with the Aggies and the Longhorns or out of state with other prominent SEC schools.

The SEC talent pool, in other words, is about to become far deeper than it already is, creating even more of a talent discrepancy between the SEC and the rest of college football.

Steve writes:

“What is the sports gambling perspective on this NFL COVID policy? Potentially huge impact or nbd?”

It’s massive, just like last year.

The NFL seems intent on treating a positive COVID test as a two week quarantine in the coming year, just like they did last year. So you’ll have top players, quarterbacks in particular, who are otherwise healthy suddenly unable to play in games, which will cause the lines to swing wildly based on when that information breaks.

If you’re a gambler, you’ll have to keep Twitter notifications turned on for top NFL newsbreakers just to make sure you can move as quickly as possible when the information comes out.

Usually NFL lines are fairly set in stone. This year, they will gyrate wildly based on COVID test results.

Nutz writes:

“Time zones matter, streaming matters, but do you think the historically low Olympic television ratings are, at least in part, an inevitable result of nearly constant anti-American rhetoric by major networks?”

Yes, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Look, a distant time zone, the lack of big stars like Phelps and Bolt, more streaming options than ever before, the difficulty of figuring out when big events air live, the absence of fans, the stupid COVID protocols, all of those details are conspiring to help drive down interest in the Olympics, but I think prominent teams like the US women’s soccer team and the US men’s basketball team being filled with athletes who have denigrated Americans who have different political beliefs than they do has undoubtedly stripped away some of the excitement of rooting for your country.

I remember tracking the medal count in 1988 as a kid like it was a hugely important deal. That Olympics was overseas in South Korea, but it didn’t matter. We watched every night in my house. Was the United States going to end up with more medals than any other country? I cared deeply. The same thing was true in 1992 when the Dream Team debuted and in 1996 when the Olympics took place in Atlanta.

This year, my interest level in the Olympics has been lower than ever before.

It’s true that we all have way more entertainment options, but I just don’t think most Americans feel like celebrating America right now. And the athletes certainly have a great deal to do with that.

By the way, props to Suni Lee for stepping up and winning the women’s all-around in gymnastics this morning. There has been a ton of attention on Simone Biles quitting, but I think we’ve underdiscussed how well the other women who had to step up on a moment’s notice and perform have done.

They deserve a great deal of praise.

Congrats to them. Next woman up, indeed.

Vets writes:

“Does a combined AAC and whatever’s left of the Big XII joining together even get a seat at the 12 team CFP table? Maybe one of them at best?”

That’s a great point.

I think, at best, the winner of this conference would have a good shot at one spot in the playoff.

The real reason the American is trying to expand and add, potentially, all eight teams is because otherwise, the American is afraid the best teams in its conference will get poached by the Big 12. So while the Big 12 is weak, the American is trying to pounce before Bowlsby can get his conference organized and go raid the American.

It’s a smart strategic move, but it’s a strategic objective motivated by weakness, not strength.

The American is trying to be predator before it turns into prey. But my bet is ultimately it ends up prey.

Kirby writes:

“I want to know why natural immunity is now considered not a big deal or less than vaccine. People who recovered from the virus, actually having it, are far more protected than vaxed. And they don’t spread it like the vaxed do. What gives? Money?”

There are many details we still need to learn about what sort of lasting immunity comes from having gotten and recovered from COVID. But we know there’s a great deal of antibody protection that comes from virtually all viruses once you’ve had the virus.

And we also know that tens of millions of people, probably over a hundred million people, have already had COVID in this country. What we don’t know is how many total people have gotten the vaccines and how many total people have had COVID. And then we also don’t know how many total people this represents since many people have had COVID and gotten the vaccine, so these two groups overlap.

But given that nearly 70% of adults 18 and up have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine and it seems reasonable to count at least another 10-20% of the public having had COVID, but haven’t gotten the vaccine. If those calculations are roughly correct, we’re talking about a massive number of the adult population having at least some COVID antibodies, potentially as high as 90% of adults.

And if that’s true, we basically have to be at herd immunity. (The combination of the vaccine and the natural immunity would explain why COVID deaths have collapsed over the past several months.) The next question that comes out of this data is, how long will strong COVID immunity last, on average, for both those infected and those who have gotten the vaccine?

And we still don’t know the answer to this question.

To me, however, the current evidence suggests the COVID vaccine is going to be more like a flu shot than a measles or mumps vaccine. By that I mean that once you get the measles or mumps vaccine, the measles or mumps virtually vanish. The data suggests we’re never getting to COVID zero and eradicate it forever. Rather, COVID is likely to become endemic to the world, like the flu.

Unfortunately the initial sales pitch for the vaccine has already been wiped out. That pitch was this, “Get the COVID vaccine and you won’t have to wear a mask any longer.” Well, that lasted two months. And now we’re already preparing for booster shots, which it appears many people, especially the elderly, are going to need as well, and we’ve already brought back the mask requirement for much of the country.

Will people follow the new mask requirements? Well, that’s a great question.

So I think the COVID vaccine story is far more complex than our “medical experts” have shared with us thus far. Not sharing all the details with the American public leads to constantly shifting guidance, which ultimately undercuts the public’s trust in our leaders.

And I think that’s where we all are now.

Okay, I hope all of you have fantastic weekends. Thanks for supporting OutKick. I’m headed to Vegas now.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

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