Big 12 expansion losing momentum: No grant of rights extension, ranking candidates
The twists and turns of the Big 12 could come to a head at a mid-October meeting of league presidents
The Big 12 is not expected to extend its grant of rights -- the contract that essentially keeps the conference together -- no matter the outcome of expansion talks, CBS Sports has learned.
Those two schools are thought to have the most conference options when the 13-year, $2.6 billion media rights contract with ESPN and Fox expires in eight years.
"Those grant of rights aren't going to be extended," an official at one of those schools told CBS Sports.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the Big 12 will "extend the grant of rights when there is reason to. Right now, we're not talking about extending any of our TV agreements. There wouldn't be any reason to do it right now."
None of it necessarily mean the league is on life support. There continues to be a worth to advertisers of having a major conference in the middle of the country. In addition, Texas and Oklahoma may eventually decide their best chance of winning championships continue to be in the Big 12.
The grant of rights basically says, if a school leaves before the end of the media rights agreement, the conference retains the television rights to its football and basketball games. Because of that, no school is expected to leave the conference prior to that 2025 expiration unless it mounts a massive legal challenge.
In addition, three of four other Power Five conferences have similar grant of rights stipulations that basically limits any movement before the middle of the next decade. The SEC is the only conference that does not due to its unwavering strength and loyalty from its member institutions.
There is still no tangible momentum for Big 12 expansion at the moment, several sources said. CBS Sports reported last week there is a 50-50 chance the league won't expand after an elaborate process that started in earnest in July.
Bowlsby acknowledged that one option with ESPN and Fox could be the networks paying the league not to expand. The current contract calls for those rightsholders to pay pro rata -- current equal value revenue -- to any new teams entering the league.
"It's plausible," Bowlsby said. "It's among a whole wide range, array of possibilities. I suppose that's one possibility. Nobody really enjoys paying more for what they already own."
Such a move could conceivably mean a net savings for the rightsholders. ESPN and Fox could be on the hook for $800 million to $1 billion in Big 12 revenue, per the current contract, if the conference adds four teams. SportsBusiness Daily reported in August that the networks are against the Big 12 expanding outside Power Five conferences.
The league is currently considering 11 finalists, all of which are independent or from Group of Five conferences.
If the Big 12 does expand, another possibility includes ESPN and Fox requesting an extension of the grant of rights for cost certainty.
The Big 12 formally began expansion exploration in July the day after the ACC and ESPN agreed to a 20-year extension of its rights through 2036. ESPN agreed to partner with the ACC on a new network debuting in 2019. A Big 12 network is not in the discussion at this time, Bowlsby said.
The Big Ten recently chose to go the opposite direction. A more modest six-year deal with ESPN, Fox and CBS is reported to be worth $440 million through 2022-23.
Even if the Big 12 expands, sources say at least Oklahoma and Texas would want to flexibility of exploring their options after the current media rights agreement expires for football 2024 and basketball in 2025. Oklahoma regent Max Weitzenhoffer told CBS Sports in May the school was "within 30 minutes" of leaving for the Pac-10 in 2010.
Big 12 members are expected to each be making $43 million in annual revenue at the end of the current deal. Texas and Oklahoma are each expected to be earning more than $50 million in annual revenue by that time.
As mentioned, Big 12 schools seeking to leave early could challenge the grant of rights in court. However, the league took the extra step of incorporating in Delaware where the law makes it less likely members could cite sovereign immunity to keep from being sued by the league.
The most likely scenario for a school seeking to leave would be to wait about six years. That would avoid extended court battles and leave two years until the 2025 expiration to extricate itself from the Big 12.
You can see the Big 12's grant of rights provisions here.
Now let's take a look at those Big 12 expansion prospects:
1. Houston: As one observer put it, "How does the Big 12 not invite Houston now?" Money, facilities and a hot coach on a playoff run make it almost impossible if the league expands.
2. Cincinnati: The school has been diligent in its approach. Cincinnati gives the Big 12 a balanced geographic league with another team east of the Mississippi.
4. UCF: The Big 12 doesn't have to play in Florida to be able to recruit in Florida.
5. South Florida: Its presentation alone to the Big 12 could make it No. 1. But there are other factors -- starting with UCF being a competitor right down the road.
6. Air Force: Tasty option because of Troy Calhoun's tasty (triple) option. Great combination of academics, competitive football and scenery.
7. Connecticut: If this was basketball-only, the Huskies would be in. If it's football-only, UConn is a longshot.
8. Colorado State: CSU does not deliver Denver. CSU does not deliver Denver. CSU does not deliver Denver. Am I making myself clear?
9. Tulane: Only one of two Association of American Universities member on this list (Rice is the other). Ask your local faculty rep how big a deal that is.
10. SMU: If it's all about inviting a candidate near Bob Bowlsby's Dallas home ...
11. Rice: School president David Leebron can wow them at the next faculty mixer. "Yeah, I can't believe we were Big 12 expansion finalists either."
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