Texas the prize piece in college football expansion
Will the Southeastern Conference make its play on the Longhorns?
DESTIN — The Texas Longhorns are suddenly taking RSVPs at the door of arguably the most exclusive party in college football.
The Pac-10 welcomes Texas with open arms.
The Big Ten has made its play.
The mighty Southeastern Conference could be next in line, but the league hasn’t given any public hints that it will be proactive in college football expansion.
The possibilities are endless in talks of college football realignment, but Texas is the 100-foot yacht that could sink all other motorboats. Complete with a collegiate-high $138.45 million in sports revenue, according to the Department of Education’s 2008 numbers, Texas could change a conference’s financial dreams — or ruin the Big 12′s.
The SEC is comfortable with about $3 billion in television money. Almost every league president, athletic director or coach has pointed out that fact at this week’s spring meetings.
But some members are receptive to growth.
When asked about whether the SEC should risk losing Texas or other prizes in expansion while others gain, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said, “I don’t think the Southeastern Conference ought to be left out of the conversation.”
Added Florida president Bernie Machen on that same subject: “I don’t know. That’s what we have to decide.”
Expansion talk amplified late this week with a report that the Pac-10 is poised to invite six Big 12 schools — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — into its league. Chip Brown, a columnist with OrangeBloods.com, which first published the report, wrote that the Pac-10 plans to generate $20 million annually per team under its own channel, a distribution that would trump the SEC’s $17.3 million per school.
A newly formed Pac-16 could vaporize the Big 12, which is trying to keep the league intact. Unless the Big Ten snags Texas first.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany corresponded via e-mail with Ohio State president Gordon Gee about Texas joining the conference, according to the Columbus Post-Dispatch. Gee told Delany on April 20 that Texas president Bill Powers would welcome a call from the league. Powers on Thursday bailed on a scheduled press conference with Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe.
Beebe said at Friday’s Big Ten meetings that plans to sustain his league were encouraging.
“I am comfortable,” said Beebe, according to the Associated Press. “There’s still a process we’re going through but based on the conversations we had, I think we’re in a very good position.”
Iowa State president Dr. Gregory Geoffroy and athletic director Jamie Pollard said in a university-issued letter that the school is optimistic the Big 12 will stay together, but the league’s long-term viability is not in its control.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive won’t outline his “strategic and thoughtful” approach to expansion. His definition of his plan: “It can mean doing nothing, no matter what anyone else does. It can mean doing something.”
But Slive said distribution — the amount of money each school gets annually from the conference — will not be the reason the league expands or not.
SEC presidents discussed expansion Friday in “broad generalities,” LSU chancellor Michael Martin said.
Reasons behind an SEC expansion can include geography, television ratings and the ability to grow the SEC brand. Big 12 schools split $7 million to $10 million last year based on television deals with Fox and ESPN. The SEC already doubles that average.
Martin said his concern is athletes traveling too far for sporting events while academics suffer.
“I believe we all think the SEC is just right as it is,” Martin said. “I don’t think any of us are looking for a way to change what’s a very good model.”
The SEC’s television contracts are flexible if the conference adds teams, Slive said, and the league traditionally distributes money evenly among its schools. A school must gain access to the SEC through a majority vote of nine of the 12 league presidents.
“My sense is (the television contracts) are going to be a big part of the commissioner’s evaluations going forward is to make sure that any conversations along those lines enhance our league not only from a financial standpoint but from a brand standpoint,” Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said.
Whether — or when — the SEC makes a play at Texas could be determined in the next few days as expansion stories continue to surface.
The 16-team model, Slive says, would be difficult to administer. But Texas could certainly make the burden worthwhile.
“One of the reasons why we’ve said really as little as we’ve said to your utter frustration is because, in effect, there may be some other leagues that have needs they are trying to fill,” Slive said. “The inference from that is for the moment, we’re pretty comfortable.”
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