What's Happening To The Big 12?

  • Thursday, June 10, 2010 11:40 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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By the time you’re reading this, everything I have to tell you about what’s happening may be outdated. This machine is moving faster than anyone realized, or wanted. It’s not just the blazing instantsy of the Internet and television, folks: The moving parts spread from New Brunswick to the Rose Bowl are moving constantly and quickly, trying to prepare for the Armageddon that seems imminent.

Nebraska to the Big Ten. Six other Big 12 teams to the Pac-10. Television networks. Money money money. You know all the lingo, but you might not know exactly what has happened in the blur of just a few days. It’s not worth my time to sit here and write about what’s going to happen, because what’s going to happen could become what’s already happened before I finish this sentence. But I can tell you how this new era of college football – when it happens – happened:

Nebraska didn’t kill the Big 12. Right now, the spotlight is on Tom Osborne, that football coach turned politician turned athletic director turned Gordon Gekko stand-in. Nebraska and T.O. are getting all the attention and are likely going to be the first team to defect from the Big 12 Conference, but this wasn’t their idea. Nebraska is nothing more than the convenient scapegoat for all the parties objecting to the Big 12’s imminent break-up. The Huskers are only reacting to a situation that has become too likely, too threatening to their future as a major university, both academically and athletically.

Remember, it was Missouri that first got huffy over its place in the Big 12, with school administrators and even the state’s governor declaring interest in the Big Ten. According to unnamed sources, Nebraska isn’t even the first Big 12 school to receive an official invite from another conference – it’s still waiting to get asked to the dance while Colorado mulls over its future with an invite from the Pacific 10 Conference in hand. And depending on what the Big Ten’s motives are, five more Pac-10 invites could be headed to the Big 12 South schools, with Baylor being the unfortunate (but logical) odd man out. However, none of the schools mentioned – in fact, no school anywhere – is responsible for killing the Big 12. In fact, it wasn’t even a homicide.

The Big 12 killed the Big 12. Yes, that’s right – suicide. But why, you may ask, face quivering and rain-drenched. In a word, stupidity. In two words, poor leadership. First, the obvious: College football is all about money. It’s not about tailgating, school colors, Red Rivers, rivalries, NOTHING but money. And in the Big 12, that didn’t amount to much – only $7 million to $12 million in revenue share for the member schools. Revenue share, as its name suggests, is the money earned by the conference mainly through television contracts and distributed to all schools evenly.

Despite the excellent on-field product in the Big 12, the conference failed to generate that into big dollars for the member schools. Its television contracts were puny and outdated compared to what the SEC and Big Ten were doing. The Big Ten even put together its own television network to enjoy a larger piece of the television pie. The result? Big Ten schools split $22 million last year. That’s a tough figure for most schools to pass up, particularly if you’re coming from the Big 12. The Pac 10 isn’t doing any better, averaging $8 million to $10 million in revenue share each year, but the addition of anywhere from two to six new schools could prompt the Pac-10 to put together its own television network, which would increase revenue significantly – as would the creation of a conference championship game.

If the Big 12 could have done this, things might have turned out all right, but a Big 12 Network was never a realistic possibility. More likely, though still in its dream stages, was Texas’ interest in creating its own Texas Sports Network, creating enormous earnings for one school while cutting out the other 11 schools. If you’re the most valuable school in terms of bringing money into the conference, that’s a great idea. If you’re everyone else, you hate that idea. And you hate more that there’s no alternative, a la a Big 12 Network. And you look over the fence and see everyone else driving nice new cars, and you realize the direction your neighborhood’s headed.

So Nebraska and all these other schools want to get more money? Yes. Wouldn’t you? But it’s not just the money. In the case of Nebraska, it’s the opportunity to align itself with respected

academic universities – schools with higher academic profiles than those in the Big 12. That improves the complexion of the school, which can lead to an increase in research funds and grants – also called money. And before you ask why money matters, let me pull out a tissue and prepare to console you when I wake you out of your utopian daydream: These schools are businesses, the kind that juggle hundreds of millions of dollars – sometimes billion – in an effort to stay afloat, academically relevant and financially secure. They’re not about to act out of emotion, and any time it seems like they do, it’s only because there is financial incentive to do so.

Why is Nebraska at the center of all this? People in Nebraska are wondering the same thing. After all, Osborne’s stance has never swayed away from taking the wait-and-see approach. In essence, every school and conference involved is watching Nebraska because they’re the wanted piece: The Big Ten wants the Huskers, and even the Pac-10 wouldn’t mind taking a run at them if some of its top options fell through.

Nebraska is a well-run money machine. The athletic department doesn’t use any tuition funds or money from the academic side to stay afloat – in fact, they end up giving money to the academic side of things. The school has a huge fan base that will generate income for whatever conference it belongs to. It’s important to remember that in a revenue-share system, it’s pointless to bring in a school that doesn’t make enough money to account for itself and then some – if Nebraska were going to come into the Big Ten and draw money away from the other schools, no one would support it. But with the Big Ten Network and the massive national fan base, Nebraska will flourish -- much more so than a school like Missouri – and all the schools will reap the benefits.

Unfortunately for the Big 12, Nebraska is also a significant pillar in that conference. Losing Nebraska also means losing prestige and dollars. The Big 12 North becomes a wasteland of schools that don’t have much to offer the conference economically. And rather than risk money lost in a post-Nebraska Big 12, any school that gets the chance is likely going to jump over to a more stable conference.

Why now? Why not wait and try to fix the Big 12, and see if it works? It’s a noble idea, and it has some legs. But no school trusts the others enough to do that. If one school goes, it will start a domino effect that will destroy the Big 12. Furthermore, the offers from other conferences are coming in now, not a few years down the road when efforts to fix the Big 12 fail. The opportunity to find a new home may not be available later. If you’re Nebraska, you also have to consider that if you say no now, another school may accept the invitation originally offered to you. If the ship starts to come apart, the Huskers may not have a soft spot to land. And I would bet you anything that all the schools begging, pleading and chastising Nebraska to stay in the Big 12 – if they were in the Huskers’ position, they would leave the Big 12. It’s the only safe thing to do.

What happens to the other schools? If Nebraska moves to the Big Ten and six other schools join the Pac-10, the prospects for the schools left out will be grim. Missouri may end up getting a Big Ten bid, but it is not being given serious consideration at the moment. Kansas has a great profile for the Big Ten, with a powerhouse basketball team and a great reputation, but its football program is behind the times business-wise, and the school has committed to sticking with in-state rival Kansas State. Iowa State is in a dire situation and may have to lobby for a spot in the Mid-America Conference or possibly the Mountain West, where Kansas State and Kansas are most likely to land. Baylor is geographically closest to the Conference USA, but its Texas locale may be of interest to the Mountain West.

And then, there’s the chance that the leftover Big 12 teams could patch together a new conference, plucking teams from the smaller conferences interested in better television coverage and an automatic bid. It’s not impossible, but it won’t resemble the old Big 12 in any way.

Doesn't this seem to be very hastily done? Aren't there any risks involved? There are risks with anything. Unfortunately, this train seems to be moving so fast, not many people seem to understand the risks, or even know they exist. One potential scenario is that the Internal Revenue Service, which has played nice with college football conferences, giving them federal tax deductions due to their collegiate sport status. But this blatant moneygrab could push lawmakers to reconsider that break and cost the schools millions of dollars each year. You can bet that politicians in the states where schools are shut out of the BCS landscape - Kansas and Iowa are both likely - lawmakers will pull out the stops trying to save the universities, whether it's killing the tax deduction or pursuing antitrust law violations on the parts of the BCS conferences.

When can I expect the realignment to happen? You just spent the last 10 minutes reading. For all you know, it’s already happened.

Do you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night laughing hysterically about any of this? Yes.

What, then? That’s easy! Missouri and its tough guy impersonation. Le Tigres thought they were all tough talking about how they wanted out of the Big 12, thinking that widespread boot-quaking would ensue. Instead, their northern nemesis – the one that continually shot down the opportunity to state its interest in leaving the Big 12 – gets the invitation that Missouri so desperately coveted. The Tigers may come out alright if the Big Ten decides to invite them, but I imagine it’s tough to sleep at night if you’re a Tigers fan. The lesson to be learned: When you talk out of your butt, sometimes you bite yourself in the ass.

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Hawkins' Motivational Tactics Backfire

  • Wednesday, September 16, 2009 10:21 AM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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I don't care if he flat out denies it: I know Dan Hawkins regrets his preseason motivational mantra.

So much for "10 wins and no excuses!" While catchy, those five words are haunting the Colorado coach in worse places than the media. They're wreaking havoc on the psyches of his players.

Whenever a team with high expectations for itself takes a hit -- particularly an early one -- you immediately guard against a letdown. Everyone will be watching teams like Oklahoma State and Ohio State for ones this weekend, just like they eyed Oregon against Purdue last Saturday.

Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne has said that, in the 1970's and 80's, he was always leery of setting finite preseason goals such as winning a national championship or winning 10 or 11 games for fear of the letdown. If you lose early and suddenly find that you can't achieve your goals, it's difficult to change course and establish lesser goals.

Granted, come the 1990's he began to let the team set its own goals, and those goals were often very lofty, such as winning a national championship. Even though the Huskers were in the hunt for a title many of those seasons, there were still times when Nebraska lost early in the season -- remember a 19-0 loss at Arizona State in the second week of the 1996 season -- but rallied to finish strong.

That may say more about Osborne's ability to rally his team and motivate them. But beyond the intangibles of a legendary coach that Hawkins lacks, the word of caution rings relevant: Be careful about the goals you set. Remember, even though Osborne did not win a title until 1994, he still fielded teams every season that believed they could win every game they entered. Colorado circa 2009 is a much different story, coming off a 5-7 season under a coach that hadn't yet proved himself at a major-college level.

Hawkins rolled the dice by setting the stakes so high and allowing no room for error. Maybe he meant to, but even if he did, the gamble wasn't smart. Perhaps he thought a do-or-die attitude, a public charge to his team, was what they needed to get over the hump. If he did, though, he was wrong. Their 0-2 record is proof.

Although Colorado is notorious for scheduling in almost lunatic fashion, annually putting together non-conference schedules that make or break their teams before the Big 12 stretch rolls around, there's no way CU should be 0-2. No program on the rise would lose to a team that's barely good enough to respect as an in-state rival, then give up 624 yards at Toledo.

Does this mean Hawkins is gone? At another school, almost certainly. At some schools, it might have already happened. But Hawkins has the luxury of an expensive buyout, and Colorado would have to tap its meager athletic funds significantly to get rid of him. If disgruntled donors start offering up lump sums, though, CU's administration might start warming up the trigger finger.

Keep in mind, the loss at Toledo saw the Buffs fall behind 30-3. This wasn't a shootout they simply came up short in. This was a trouncing that made both teams look like they were in the wrong conference. Colorado looked lifeless.

Doesn't surprise me. Hawkins set up his team for failure, and there's no excuses.

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Thursday hangover, Friday forecast

  • Friday, September 4, 2009 12:20 PM
  • Written By: Jonathan Crowl

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Any college football fan who tuned in last night saw Boise State humble Oregon on the Smurf Turf. What you might not have seen was the postgame aftermath, in which Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount completely lost his head -- first punching Broncos defensive lineman Byron Hout square in the jaw (a beautiful punch, for what it's worth) in front of BSU coach Chris Petersen, then attacking a group of heckling Boise State students, bringing us to this week's *cue booming voice* Big 12 Alum of the Week:

Frost, a former Nebraska quarterback, wrangled and contained Blount after he went for the kill in the stands. Not only did this former Husker more or less overpower and manhandle a young man in his athletic prime, he saved the lives of at least three BSU students, whose Krispy Kreme bodies had no shot of defending Blount's attack.

That said, it's time to look ahead to the weekend's games and make some predictions. I'll be keeping track of my overall and conference prediction record over the course of the season. I'm late getting to Iowa State, which defeated North Dakota State 34-17, and to the three of you who cared, I apologize. But really, what do you want me to say? Here's my after-the-fact prediction:

North Dakota State at Iowa State: The Cyclones will win but will offer no encouragement that they can do any better than worst in the Big 12 Conference. I expect ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud to throw for between 226 and 228 yards and think Grant Mahoney will boot a 50-yard field goal, if given the chance.

Yeah, it's a gift. Now for the real predictions:

Baylor at Wake Forest: It's a pretty tall order for Baylor to go into hostile ACC territory on opening weekend and hope to bring home a win. And I believe in Robert Griffin -- I believe he is Baylor's savior, that much like in The Beauty and the Beast he is the spellbound red rose, floating and wilting ever so precariously, the only remaining hope Baylor has of transforming into something other than the ugly football wannabe it currently is -- but I don't believe he can win this game. I think senior quarterback Brian Skinner produces just enough offense to help out the Demon Deacons' defense.

Georgia at Oklahoma State: Big 12 game of the week here. I subscribe to the school of thought that Georgia will almost always, almost surely lose a game early in the season that Bulldog fans will bemoan when the bowl bids get handed out. This is that game.

Illinois vs. Missouri: This has been a fun game to watch the last couple years. That may be the case this year, too, but Illinois will claim redemption over a down Missouri squad.

Florida Atlantic at Nebraska: I prefer to look at is as Nebraska v. Howard Schnellenberger, the coach at Miami when the Canes claimed their first championship after Tom Osborne's famous-but-failed two-point conversion attempt in the 1984 Orange Bowl. All-time classic game. This one's on pay-per-view. Why? Easy Nebraska win.

North Dakota at Texas Tech: What's with all these Big 12 teams scheduling sure-win games with schools from North Dakota? I swear, if Kansas State has Bismark Tech on the sked ...

New Mexico at Texas A&M: What I love about this game -- and I know, it's sick to delight in one team's pain -- but I love that this is not a sure A&M win. I'm picking them, but I'm not convinced.

Northern Colorado at Kansas: Another boring Big 12 home-opening win. I'm sorry, I wish I could be more interesting, but I'm not being given much to work with. Alright, here's something: KU hangs 50!

Massachusetts at Kansas State: The only thing coming to mind is Marcus Camby. But on a more serious note, I'd actually like to watch this game. I'm a big Bill Snyder fan, and with all that's gone on in Manhattan this offseason, even if the game's boring the commentary will pull me through. Oh, and I'm going with KSU.

Oklahoma vs. Brigham Young: That's what I'm talking about, a real game. It gets more interesting with Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham out. I still think they'll win, but BYU is just good enough to scare the Sooners and expose their problems on the offensive line.

Louisiana-Monroe at Texas: This is just a stats-grab, but it matters if my Colt-for-Heisman prediction will come through. I'll say 300 total yards for McCoy, no turnovers, and he sits the fourth.

Colorado State at Colorado: The Buffs' dubious road to 10 wins starts against their in-state rival. Expect them to win this game, but don't count on double-digit victories.

Finally, for those of you who made it this far:

Creepy coincidence: Also on the Ducks' staff with Frost is a tight ends coach named Tom Osborne. I wonder how it would feel to be the second-best football coach with your own name?