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The Big 12 and the Big East are like the two drunkest, most desperate people at the bar trying to hook up. It’s never pretty. One day after it was clear that West Virginia was on the last helicopter out of the Big East Saigon, it suddenly wasn’t clear at all after reported phone calls from Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell to Oklahoma and Texas Tech leaders. You knew at some point that truth would become stranger than fiction in the conference realignment mess. You just didn’t expect for United States senators from West Virginia to make statements like these:
“If someone as U.S. Senator interfered after the process took place, then that’s wrong and unacceptable,” West Virginia’s Senator Manchin said. “If a U.S. Senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate.”
And with these quotes the conference realignment male soap opera, turned into a script so insane even Latin American telenovellas would reject it as unbelievable.
At this point, there is only one logical conclusion to conference realignment: After a two year investigation Baylor president Ken Starr will be impeached for having an affair with an intern.
The Big 12 is the root cause of all of this mess. That conference’s instability has led to every other conference’s makeup changing in the past year. Consider for a moment the simple Big 12 math over this past year and a few months: 12-2-1+1-1+1 = ?
Who is the root cause of all this instability? Texas.
The Longhorns have bullied the rest of the conference so far that anyone with any power wants to leave. Only, you guessed it, no one can leave now. This conference is a bad reality show, CBS’s Big Brother meets college sports. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State tried to leave but found out no one would take them. Somewhere Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri have to be reading these latest headlines and doubling over in laughter.
You know how the 1972 Miami Dolphins undefeated team gets together every year and cracks open a bottle of champagne to celebrate? The schools that got out of the Big 12 — Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri — should have an annual party where they break open a bottle of champagne and celebrate their disunion from the fundamentally broken Big 12.
Here are nine additional thoughts about the latest insanity:
1. How bad is the Big East?
West Virginia and Louisville are threatening to lead us into full on Senate investigations over an invite to a conference that anyone who can leave wants to leave already.
This is like fighting for an opportunity to board the Titanic.
Yep, the Big East is so unstable that people are trying to prolong their lives by boarding a ship that everyone knows is going to sink someday.
2. The Big 12 and the SEC are fighting over who is going to have the uneven schedules.
Missouri is the prize that balances out the hang-ups. I still believe Missouri will be in the SEC for 2012, but as time drags on this becomes more difficult to manage.
So the question hanging out there is this: Will the Big 12 have a nine team conference in 2012 or will the SEC have a 13 team conference in 2012? Both are problematic.
If the SEC has a 13 team conference then it has to apply for a NCAA waiver and play unbalanced division schdules that could end in disaster — two undefeated division champs that never played in the SEC West.
Alternatively, if the Big 12 has just nine teams then every conference team has to add one out of conference game for 2012. With this short notice every school would have to pay a substantial sum — likely $500k at minimum — to round up opponents.
So Missouri’s location in the 2012 season has become a plum prize.
3. Here’s my compromise plan on behalf of the Big East, the SEC, and the Big 12.
In honor of the political establishment’s involvement, we’ll call it the Travis Compromise. This works particularly well since the reason I have the name Clay is because my grandfather, born in Kentucky, was named after Henry Clay, the great compromiser. So I’m following in my namesake’s footsteps here.
The Travis Compromise entails:
a. Missouri comes to the SEC in 2012.
As a result of that departure Missouri owes the Big 12 in the neighborhood of $13 million as a buyout. (Texas A&M owes a similar sum).
The Big 12 pockets $26 million in buyout fees and the SEC doesn’t have an unbalanced schedule to worry about.
b. West Virginia comes to the Big 12 in 2012.
The Big 12 gives $13 million, the Missouri buyout fee, to the Big East in exchange for the Big East waiving the 27 month exit fee requirement. That $13 million may sound like a lot of money, but when you consider that Big 12 schools would be on the hook for at least $6 million to buy games if they don’t have 10 conference teams, it’s actually a pretty good deal.
It also sets a precedent for the Big East — if Pitt and Syracuse can come up with $13 million each, they can buy their way out of the 27 month exit fee as well. But that’s in addition to the $5 million buyout. So each school would need to come up with $18 million to leave. If Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia all pay $18 million to leave that gives the Big East a windfall of $54 million which it can redistribute to the remaining five Big East schools. As a part of the receipt of these distributions each remaining Big East school would sign a ten year guarantee to the league, which the league could then use to add new members.
South Florida, Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut and Rutgers would each receive $10 million and a guarantee that they’d remain in a BCS league alongside the new additions. Where does that BCS guarantee come from?
c. The SEC and the Big 12 agree to vote in favor of preserving the Big East’s automatic bid when the next round of BCS negotiations arises.
Voila, an elegant compromise saves the day.
Congress is removed from the equation and everyone is happy. (The payment amounts could be negotiated, but all three conferences win under this scenario.) You can easily see a way the Big East could extract the same promise from the ACC to help protect its automatic qualifying bid. With the SEC, Big 12, and ACC all lined up in its corner the Big East would have four votes to preserve its automatic bid.
Remember, the single most important asset the Big East has is the automatic qualifying bid in the BCS. If the conference loses that it loses the ability to bring on new schools. So protecting that bid is the primary objective of the Big East.
4. For those of you who are surprised the Senate got involved, a Congressional anecdote.
I spent four years working in the Capitol while I was in college in Washington, D.C. One of my roles during those four years was giving tours of the Capitol. I’m a history buff so I picked up all the anecdotes I could to make my tour sparkle. One of them was this:
Just after the Civil War, the dome was completed and a massive chandelier was added to the Capitol. When they returned from recess and Congressional members saw it hanging there, the chandelier provoked an outrage. Member after member derided it as too ostentatious to hang in the Capitol. The scandal grew. Until an enterprising reporter found out where the real outrage was coming from:
Congressmen recognized the chandelier because it used to hang in D.C.’s highest end brothel.
So am I surprised that Senators are getting involved in realignment?
5. Adding more than ten schools isn’t an option right now.
Some of you are already emailing asking why the Big 12 can’t add both Louisville and West Virginia. The answer is simple — the TV money isn’t there right now. Going above ten members means that every school in the Big 12 would make less money. Going to 11 also means you have to go to 12.
Unless ESPN and Fox agree to pay more money — which ESPN certainly isn’t going to do and I doubt Fox would do — then the TV money is set. Recall that ESPN is already paying for a 12 team conference and agreed to pay the same amount for a ten team conference. So do you really think ESPN is going to agree to pay more money for an 11 team conference when it already bought a 12 team conference?
Now, when the ESPN deal comes up in a couple of years expansion beyond ten may become viable. But not now.
Ten is going to be the number. Especially when you consider that in the past year the Big 12 has lost four of its six top television teams: Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri have all been replaced by a quartet of vastly inferior television draws.
6. Why isn’t the Big 12 considering Memphis?
I understand West Virginia, but I have no idea why the Big 12 would rather be in Louisville than Memphis.
It makes no sense.
The cities are roughly equal. (I’d give the nod to Memphis personally, but there’s no great separation between the two).
Both are great basketball programs. Granted, Memphis’s football program is presently awful, but it’s in an incredibly fertile recruiting region. Lots of schools, I would think, would love to be able to recruit in Memphis. There are zero recruits in Kentucky for either football or basketball.
Plus, getting in to Memphis gets the Big 12 inside the SEC’s footprint and limits the travel to a great degree. Every school would still be in the central time zone
It seems like a no brainer to me. But what do I know? (I bet the answer is a lot more than Memphis’s clueless AD R.C. Johnson).
7. The Big East would give up Louisville in a heartbeat if it meant they got to keep West Virginia.
That’s why a part of me thinks that the Big East is actually encouraging this Louisville to the Big 12 talk. Anything to keep West Virginia, the only football program in the conference that anyone pays any attention to at all.
If Louisville left replacing them with Memphis would, it seems to me, be pretty close to an even trade.
Basically, Memphis has to end up in the Big East no matter what. But if the Big East could get the Big 12 to take Louisville over West Virginia it would be a massive win.
8. Why isn’t Ken Starr still threatening to sue anyone?
Remember when Ken Starr was concerned about major conference expansion? Remember his threats to sue the SEC over Texas A&M’s departure? Remember his insistence on keeping conference’s geographically cohesive?
Now his conference is going to gut the Big East, fly hundreds of miles across multiple states, all to play either West Virginia or Louisville. And Ken Starr isn’t uttering a word.
Everyone is looking out for their naked self interest. Everyone. That’s why Ken Starr, in particular, is so full of crap. He tried to pretend, like always, that his stance was predicated on something other than naked self interest.
9. Funniest suggestion for how to solve the West Virginia-Louisville battle? A teeth-off.
The fan base with the most teeth gets the Big 12 invite.
Given that Kentucky and West Virginia have the worst teeth in the United States — this is an actual stat — this has reality show written all over it.
It’s like The Biggest Loser meets teeth. Someone steps up to a dentist with their mouth closed and we all write down how many teeth we think they have. Then they open their mouth and the tally goes up on a screen.
To the victor goes the spoils, the fairest method to decide conference realignment of all. It’s the electoral college of teeth.
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Read all of OKTC’s conference realignment stories here.