Prompted by the end of Colorado and Nebraska in the Big 12 in the major, money-making sports, I'm taking a look at this funny little muddle called the Big 12.
In the Big Book of Big 12 Realignment, the topic of third tier television rights and schools starting their own networks took center stage. Ostensibly, the conventional wisdom was that Texas didn't jettison the Big 12 and go west because the Pac-10 wanted all teams to cede all television rights. While it is debatable that this is what kept the Longhorns in the Big 12 Conference, it remains an important part of what will likely hold the Big 12 together moving forward.
When the realignment talks were happening, the talk that Texas wanting it's own network dooming the Pac-16 superconference were overstated and overblown. In reality, good old fashioned Texas politics got in the way. The notion that the Longhorns wouldn't go anywhere without Oklahoma (or Baylor or Texas Tech) did indeed hold some merit. (On a side note, the most interesting part of all of this is just how much power Tech and Baylor held over the process, by creating enough of a commotion to slow things down). Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are also more or less attached in such a manner, as well as Kansas and Kansas State. Supporters and legislators in each state will go a long ways to make sure that their school is taken care of.
In terms of school-based television networks, don't let the rabble-rousers scare you. Texas forming their own network is no first step towards independence. Sure, one can't make that as definitive statement so long as the world of conference realignment is so topsy-turvy, but, simply put, if Texas wanted to be independent right now, they would be. But, with Texas politics and sense of history and ties with other South schools, it's not something to worry about at this time. To that end, it needs to be clear that this, in no way, negatively impacts fellow Big 12 member schools compared to the current situation. Any games that would be picked up by the UT Network that involve other schools would be games that would not otherwise be available. The rights involved are third-tier, which, for ISU, would be games appearing on CTN. First tier games appear on channels such as ESPN. Second tier games are broadcast under the Big 12 Network banner, and appear on local broadcast stations. Third tier games are games that are not picked up for distribution outside of the market. If an Iowa State-Texas game is only available on Texas' network, that means it was not chosen to be picked up by any other distribution outlets. As of this time, anything that would be on a school based network would be the odd football nonconference game, low-quality men's basketball games, women's basketball and other Olympic sports.
The fact that Oklahoma and Texas A&M are now actively looking into their own networks really work towards preserving the security of the Big 12. Both schools were invited by the SEC back in June, but those invitations are surely no longer on the table, and it's tough to fathom that Mike Slive and the SEC would allow those two schools to join with their own networks. And with Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M in such a position where they can make even more money by staying put, they will.
In terms of Iowa State, it would be difficult to imagine that they would start their own network. It is possible that Iowa State will try and further their web-based content, but short of pairing with other Big 12 schools, there is virtually no chance that Iowa State will establish it's own network. If Iowa State can become part of a network involving Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, there's a greater chance of distribution. However, such an endeavor would struggle with programming and would be a tough sell outside of Big 12 country.
The future of the Big 12 is in much better shape than many think. While it may appear to be a conference that is held together by rubber bands and scotch tape (and this isn't too far off), it's built in such a way that is stronger than it appears. The next step for the conference is to market, market, market. The Big 12 has to establish itself as a brand. While I don't think changing the name is the way to start, an identity needs to be created. The upcoming television contract negotiations are a place to start, and with the megabucks that ESPN and FOX are willing to spend on college sports, the Big 12 appears to be in good shape. Sports are always in demand. ESPN basically anted up to make sure the Big 12 survived, so it's difficult to imagine that someone won't pay up for the high quality football and basketball that the Big 12 will offer.
While many favor expansion to get back to twelve teams, any additions would have to add value to the conference, and there are simply not many universities that would do that. Notre Dame, Arkansas, Brigham Young, Arizona and Arizona State are the only somewhat realistic options for expansion, and none of the five would appear to be chomping at the bit to get in.
What does this mean for Iowa State? More money. Iowa State is facing a mandate (more or less) from the state legislature to get the athletics department off of state money and self sufficient. The increase in Big 12 TV money should ensure that. Iowa State will actually more than likely be the most financially sound "smaller" BCS athletics department in the country. The new money will also aid in the upcoming facilities upgrades, including a football only building and the enclosing of the south endzone. Competitively, obviously, things will get more difficult in the two money-making sports, but we want to be big time, right?
It's time to embrace the new Big 12. Conferences like the Big 10 cling to their history while conferences like the Pac 12 are looking forward to the future. It's time for the Big 12 to embrace history while looking to the future. So, cozy up to your Longhorn brothers, your Sooner sisters and your Red Raider cousins. Learn to love those teams a little more. Learn to hate them a little more. But it's time to carry the Big 12 flag.