Could a meeting between the Big 12 and Pac-12 commissioners lead to something super?

·5 min read

A day after a Texas Senate committee in Austin held a six-hour hearing on the “future of college sports,” news broke Tuesday that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff were meeting to discuss potential partnerships between the two conferences.

Maybe it’s a full-on merger. Maybe it’s a scheduling alliance. Maybe it’s something else.

As one source put it, “These are exploratory and very early in the process, but there are some natural synergies that are well worth exploring.”

Bowlsby hinted at this type of arrangement during his Q&A with state senators on Monday. He said the league would explore those options first before considering possible expansion candidates.

“I think there are options for us to partner with other conferences,” Bowlsby said. “There may be opportunity for mergers. There may be opportunities to add members. There may be other opportunities that are currently unforeseen.”

Bowlsby said the league had not reached out to any prospective schools about joining the league on Monday.

The early takeaway is that it feels as though the eight remaining schools have a sense of loyalty to one another, particularly the three remaining Texas schools — Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU. All have a common enemy, too, in holding Texas and Oklahoma to their respective grant-of-rights contracts. But that loyalty could be tested in the coming months if another league targets one of the eight.

But one thing that is certain is that with UT and OU’s pending departure from the Big 12 to the SEC at some point within the next four years, Texas is in jeopardy of seeing a few of its Power Five schools lose their Power Five status.

Texas’ reasons

Texas president Jay Hartzell spent much of his time explaining why UT was leaving the Big 12. He mentioned a myriad of reasons, which provided the first glimpse inside UT’s decision.

Hartzell and OU president Joe Harroz had a conversation in the fall of 2020 about the future of college sports and their shared concern. That’s when the seed had been planted that maybe leaving the Big 12 would be in the best interest of those schools.

The timing is discouraging to others throughout the league because that just so happened to be during a season in which the league seemingly came together to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, as Hartzell proceeded down that path, he eventually reached out to the SEC in the spring.

“It was a question of if this was a path that was even somewhat feasible,” Hartzell said. “And we heard it was somewhat feasible. After that, there were follow-up conversations trying to decide if we wanted to pursue this course of action or not and then ultimately arrive at a decision that we did.”

Hartzell listed a number of reasons for leaving the Big 12, ranging from attracting better recruits to playing in bigger games to having a more secure financial future.

“I did think through, ‘Can the Big 12 get to that SEC-like future,’” Hartzell said. “And in my estimation, it was a low-probability event.”

ESPN whiff

Hartzell said the university didn’t contact anyone from ESPN in terms of making the decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speculated such contact had been made in comments last week before trying to diffuse the situation Monday.

“Absolutely, categorically, no,” Hartzell said when asked if ESPN was part of any of these discussions.

While the topic was addressed, it seemed the senators could have approached the line of questioning better. For instance, no senator brought up the fact that ESPN and the SEC agreed to a 10-year, $3 billion TV deal for its primetime package in December, which will eventually make ESPN the exclusive home of the SEC.

That deal alone translates to $300 million per year for the SEC, which would roughly payout $21.4 million per the 14 schools. With UT and OU joining, that payout would drop to $18.75 million per school if it’s not renegotiated.

A simple question for Hartzell would have been why would the SEC schools welcome UT and OU if it meant they’re going to receive less money from a deal the league signed less than a year ago? Clearly, it would appear, there had to be some assurances from ESPN or a third-party affiliate that the network would at least keep the payouts equal, or possibly increase them, with two additional schools.

Senators, Baylor tee off

There were several quips and shots taken at UT throughout the hearing. Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a TCU alum, issued one that went viral on social media.

After asking Hartzell where UT’s athletic budget ranked, which is among the top in the country at $220-225 million, Kolkhorst said: “That’s without a winning football team.”

“We’ve been winning, just not like we like to win,” Hartzell replied.

“3-7 against the Horned Frogs,” Kolkhorst shot back.

For accuracy’s sake, which actually bolsters the senator’s point, TCU is 7-2 against UT since joining the Big 12 in 2012.

But Kolkhorst wasn’t alone in ripping UT.

Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades took shots, saying he would have been among those cheering for UT in the College Football Playoff or Final Four had they reached those events during his tenure.

Rhoades later added, “Many of my colleagues around the country believe that [Texas] created this situation because they think so highly of themselves.

“I completely disagree. I think it’s because they felt too little of themselves. The high-profile success of a neighboring conference has created in them an unwarranted insecurity that has metastasized,” he said. “And unfortunately, so many of us bear the fallout.”

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