Bob Bowlsby has come out firing as new Big 12 commissioner.
Stanford's former (and formerly laidback) AD lobbed not-so-veiled shots at Missouri and Texas A&M, the latest schools to leave the conference.
“I think it's fair to say that some [conferences] that have gotten larger are now wondering if it's going to be worth it,” Bowlsby said Thursday while visiting Kansas on a conference-wide tour. “There are complexities, especially regarding some scheduling issues, that have really caused some problems.”
“We're feeling pretty good about 10 [teams]. We're also feeling good we brought in two ranked football teams in exchange for the two that moved out.”
Zing! There you go Texas A&M and Missouri. One man's trash is another man's reconstituted league. On the face of it, the departure of Missouri and Texas A&M looks like a net loss for the Big 12. Through 2011, the Tigers completed a run of 40 wins in four seasons. A&M's total history is certainly more impressive than either West Virginia or TCU.
So why does Bowlsby and the Big 12 feel so cocky? First, the conference exists. Don't forget that the conference teetered on the brink of collapse in June 2010 and again last September. Losing four teams and gaining two in a 27-month stretch has been a harrowing experience.
But is the Big 12 really better for having shrunk? Certainly, revenue-wise. There are 10 mouths to feed instead of 12. The league made a record $19 million per team in the 2011-2012 school year having had to split revenue with only eight teams. Missouri and A&M not only didn't get a split, they had to pay exit fees.
And as stated many times, TV networks have indicated over and over that any league that includes Texas and Oklahoma is worth saving.
For a while, the Big 12 has been finalizing a $2.6 billion deal with ESPN and Fox that will put it near the front of the pack in per-team revenue. Each school will take in about $20.3 million per year not counting future split revenue from the Champions Bowl. The league will be further solidified by a 13-year grant of rights.
But that is a very of-the-moment snapshot. The Pac-12 will lead everyone beginning with the new academic year when its 12 teams will split $250 million per year from their ESPN/Fox deal ($20.8 million average). Big Ten schools split approximately $100 million per year from its network alone. Its rights come up for bid in 2016.
The SEC expanded in large part so it could create content for a new network and maximize its revenue.
Conferences these days don't deal much in history. They deal in the now. So let Bowlsby have his day. The Big 12 starts the season, on paper, the best in league in the country. It has six teams that won at least 10 games last season. All six finished in the top 17 of the final AP poll. It is the only league in 2012 with three conference champions in 2011 – TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. (The Mountaineers ended in a three-way Big East tie but got the BCS berth.)
The Big 12 has more teams in the top 22 (six) than the SEC (five). (To be fair, both leagues have six in the top 25 of AP.)
TCU (11-2, No. 14) and West Virginia (10-3, No. 17) replaced Missouri and Texas A&M, both of which finished unranked in 2011. Does that make the Big 12 better? For now, perhaps. It can be argued that TCU/West Virginia are neither a brand nor sport a market. The Big 12 is already in Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. West Virginia doesn't turn on TVs the same way, say, Nebraska does in the Big Ten.
Perhaps the biggest thing about realignment is that it makes the Big 12 whole.
And if the Big 12 view is that league is better, that has to mean that the SEC is worse. Missouri hasn't won an outright conference title since 1960. A&M has been in a recent malaise – Nine bowls, three coaches and no conference titles since 1998.
The truth is in the eye of the commissioner. A better snapshot might be to look back five years.
--TCU is arguably at the highest point in its history having won 55 games and going to two BCS bowls the last five years. Gary Patterson is TCU football. He has remained loyal to the school that gave him a chance after Dennis Franchione left. As long as GP sticks around, the Frogs will be a factor. The jump up in competition combined with roster losses will make 2012 tough, though.
--There is no team more ready for a new conference than West Virginia. Dana Holgorsen coached in the Big 12. He runs a Big 12-like program. Quarterback Geno Smith is the perfect triggerman throwing to perhaps the best set of receivers in the conference (Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin). Don't be surprised if the Mountaineers win the Big 12 in their first season. They're right there with TCU in taking a jump up in competition having at least shared three Big East titles the last five years and going to two BCS bowls.
--Missouri has won 48 games in the last five years. Gary Pinkel is within shouting distance of becoming the school's all-time winningest coach. To that, most SEC observers say, “Feh!” Pinkel is well aware that his program must recruit harder and better to compete in the SEC. Getting receiver Dorial Green-Beckham if for no other reason it kept him away from conference rival Arkansas. Missouri is the type of SEC program that will win a division title every decade or so and be competitive most years. That's enough for Tigers fans.
--Texas A&M has the least experienced coach of the four schools. Kevin Sumlin has never been a BCS head coach, although he has extensive BCS-level experience as an assistant at four power-conference schools, including Oklahoma and A&M. Sumlin was one of the hottest names available and A&M got him. Now comes a quick indoctrination into the SEC. How he adjusts to a new job in the best league will define him and the Aggies the next few years. The program's history certainly suggests it can be a national power again. The problem is, it starts in the SEC West behind Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. At least.
It can be argued over a beer or two that TCU, West Virginia, Texas A&M and Missouri were nothing more than available bodies to advance each conference's goals. The SEC wants to start a network. The Big 12 wanted to survive. There's nothing wrong with that.
Right here, right now? Let's just say: Congrats on both sides.