The University of Missouri provided reporters with a call-in number Thursday to listen in as Chancellor Brady Deaton, the chair of the Big 12's board of directors, explained how the remaining nine members intended to stitch their dysfunctional league back together after they pushed the conference to the brink of oblivion for the second time in 15 months. About a minute after Deaton began to speak, another voice boomed through the phone, rendering Deaton inaudible. The voice belonged to Oklahoma president David Boren, who was simultaneously conducting a press conference of his own.
The moment pretty much sums up the Big 12. Even as Boren insisted he didn't want one school "driving the train," he said it while drowning out the person who was supposed to speak for the conference. Which is kind of funny, since everyone knows at least one engineer's cap in the Big 12 is burnt orange.
Boren and Deaton told two different stories Thursday. While they gave matching accounts of the ouster of Commissioner Dan Beebe -- more like a ritual sacrifice to the realignment gods -- they differed sharply in tone when it came to the key piece of legislation that could actually keep the league together for more than a few months.
To hear Boren tell it, the nine remaining schools have agreed in principle to grant their first- and second-tier media rights to the Big 12 for the next six years. Boren's tone made it seem as if nine signatures will finalize the deal and the league can enjoy near-ironclad security through its next media rights negotiation. (What does it means to grant first- and second-tier rights? Basically, a school turns over the rights to its best football and basketball games to the conference. This effectively renders the schools worthless to any other conferences. If, say, Missouri wanted to go to the SEC, the Tigers could leave, but the Big 12 would get all of Missouri's TV money for the length of the deal. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have similar agreements to remove any incentive to conference-hop.) Deaton did not go nearly as far as Boren. He said the nine CEOs had agreed to discuss such a move, but he said they had not agreed upon it yet. Deaton also refused to commit to keeping Missouri -- which flirted with the SEC in recent weeks -- in the conference long-term. Asked Thursday if the Tigers could leave if the Big 12 couldn't work out its issues, Deaton told reporters, "That's a hypothetical that could occur."
The security of the Big 12 boils down to this: If the schools sign that grant of rights deal, the league will stay together for at least as long as the deal is in place. If the schools don't sign that deal, we'll all be watching Realignmentpalooza again this time next year.
If the deal gets signed, the Big 12 will be able to lure either one or three more schools to join. If the deal doesn't get signed, it might be hard to find a decent school that wants to join a group that has created such a toxic atmosphere in recent years.
Neither Boren nor Deaton got into specifics about potential restrictions on Texas' Longhorn Network. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said Wednesday that the school would not have to share revenue from the network, a lucrative partnership with ESPN that involves the Longhorns' third-tier media rights. At issue now is whether the conference will allow the Longhorn Network to show high school highlights, which would add yet another dimension to Bevo's already-significant recruiting advantages. This will be interesting to watch, especially since Oklahoma is in the process of starting its own network.
Also, Boren said Oklahoma would be willing to agree to equal revenue sharing for first- and second-tier rights -- provided it was phased in gradually. That means Kansas State or Iowa State would receive the same amount of money from the league's richest media deals as Oklahoma and Texas, even though Oklahoma and Texas appear on television far more often. Certainly, that can be worked through as long as the schools agree to grant their rights to the conference. Once that happens, the Big 12 is together -- for better or worse.