Big 12 title game returns in 2017; cable network idea is dead and expansion talk has cooled

University of Oklahoma President David Boren speaks to reporters Thursday after the second day of the Big 12 sports conference meetings in Irving, Texas.

IRVING, Texas — For the last six seasons, the round-robin football schedule has determined the Big 12 Conference champion. It will again this year.

In 2017, the league will add a football title game.

“I think it positions us in a very good place,” Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Friday at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. “If we’re playing a full round-robin and we’re playing a championship, our way of determining our champion is the strongest of all of the conferences. In that regard, I think it puts us in a very good position and a very good light.”

There were two reasons for adding the game. From a competitive standpoint, the lack of one hurt the league the two years. It was cited by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is a reason for keeping Baylor and TCU out of the 2014 playoff. Last season, OU got in the college football’s final four. But they dropped to No. 4 in the final ranking to determine the four teams.

Bowlsby said the addition of the game lifts the Big 12’s chances of reaching the playoff by 14 percent.

“The proof is in the pudding. We’re two years in and we’re batting .500,” he said. “And we’d like to bat higher than that. And we think this gives us the best chance to do that.”

The other rationale: money.

Bowlsby said the addition of a football title generates upwards of $30 million in revenue for the league.

A site hasn’t been determined or how the participants will be chosen. Bowlsby said it is likely the league use five-team divisions starting in 2017. The two top teams in the standings are a possibility.

Either way, FOX and ESPN have agreed to alternate broadcasting the event. FOX gets it 2017.

“There is no way you can look at the data and say we shouldn’t move forward,” said University of Oklahoma President David Boren, who is also chairman of the conference’s board of directors. “So it was enthusiastically embraced.”

A college football title game was one of three things Boren said the league had to have in January in order to remain competitive with the Big Ten and SEC, financially.

The league announced it will distribute $304 million amongst its members. This is the first year TCU and West Virginia receive full shares, meaning each school pockets $30.4 million.

The revenue puts the league behind the Big Ten and SEC. A year ago, the SEC doled out $455.8 million (or $31.2 million per school) amongst its 14 members. It won’t announce its last financial figures until October.

Those conferences bundled their third-tier TV rights into conference networks. The Big 12 doesn’t. OU pockets at least another $6 million per season under the Sooner Sports TV agreement it has with FOX Sports.

For the last year, Boren has trumpeted the need for the Big 12 to adopt the same model as the Big Ten and SEC. He has considered a cable network and expanding to at least 12 members as essential.

His tune dramatically switched over the course of the meetings. Dramatic changes in cable television distribution model rocked the industry.

After hearing three days of presentations from media analysts, a Big 12 cable network, that idea is lifeless.

“I would say that the marketplace has decided that issue for us. Everyone in this room knows that for probably six or eight years I have advocated a conference network,” Boren said. “But that was postulated on the marketplace that we had it. As we know we have disruptive technologies coming into the marketplace. Economic models for our traditional models now are being called into question. How they will evolve as uncertain. So, this is certainly not the time.”

Expansion doesn’t seem likely anytime soon either. No votes were scheduled on the matter, but expansion was part of the information the presidents received from the media consultants.

A clear choice on the topic emerged: punt it away for a later date.

“There was no feeling that we’re going to slow down our look at expansion or we’re going to slow down our evaluation of the prospects,” Boren said. “I wouldn’t say it’s cooled but I would say it’s like the decision on the championship game, it’s entered a period of really data examination — thoughtful analysis of the data. We got data today but it’s a much more complex subject than the championship game.”

John Shinn


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