Next Steps for the Big 12 (Part 2)

The Situation

Last year the Big 12 threatened to expand to 12 teams (novel, given the conference’s name). But TV execs balked at the possibility of adding more mediocre games on top of the heaping mediocrity of the Big 12’s current, round-robin schedule.

In the past, geography played an important role in TV money. Want cable companies in Florida to carry a Big 12 Network? You better add a team or two from the state. But with the accelerating ubiquity of live streaming this is no longer the case. The middle-men (cable companies) are losing influence and customers (fans) are going straight to broadcaster’s websites.

So perhaps instead of adding members, the Big 12 should focus on offering quality TV content. Other than the round-robin what do they have? The competitively disadvantaging though financially rewarding Championship Game. And…

Non-Conference Home Games

This year the Big 12’s TV partners (ESPN and Fox) have the following non-conference teams drawing eye-balls to their games:

UTEP, Maryland, Iowa, SMU, Charlotte, East Carolina, Central Michigan, Arizona State, Tulsa, Eastern Washington, Jackson State, UTSA, and Tulane.

Not exactly an all-star line up. In order to create more content opportunities the Big 12 will have to cannibalize its 9-game conference schedule, reduce it to 6 or 7 games, (add divisions in order to keep its lucrative Championship Game,) and then look for big-name partnerships to fill the schedule.

Lots of Work?

Sounds like it. How is the conference going to come up with 20-30 extra games against quality competition? Ah, the Big 12 is not the only conference suffering from the last decade’s expansion.

SEC coaches often lament the infrequency and inequity of cross-division games and have advocated determining division champions based solely off 6-game divisional record. Those cross-division games then become glorified non-conference games and some of the absurd “rivalries” (like Texas A&M vs. South Carolina) could quickly come to a halt.

In Microcosm

Here are 8 games scheduled for 2017:

South Carolina @ Texas A&M
Missouri @ Arkansas
Texas A&M @ Florida
Auburn @ Missouri
(On Big 12 TV)
Texas @ Iowa St
TCU @ Kansas St
Baylor @ Kansas
Kansas @ Texas

And compare each set of games, after a rearrangement, with those below .

Kansas @ Missouri
Texas @ Arkansas
TCU @ Florida
Baylor @ Texas A&M
(On Big 12 TV)
South Carolina @ Kansas
Missouri @ Iowa St
Texas A&M @ Texas
Auburn @ Kansas St

This is your patented “win-win” scenario. Both the SEC and the Big 12 get boosts in their football product. But, the SEC can hardly scrap enough of their own cross-division games to fulfill the Big 12’s significant demand.

A Third Partner

The ACC has also hit a wall with its unwieldy 7-team divisions. Like the SEC, cross-division teams visit each other only every 14 years. Teams like UNC and Wake Forest have even scheduled a non-conference series to deal with this.

Many of the rivalries broken by realignment could be restored. Think: Pitt-WVU, Texas-A&M, Kansas-Missouri,  and VT-WVU, even games like Auburn-Florida could be restored if the ADs willed it to be so. We could also see annual games like Georgia-Georgia Tech and one-off games like Alabama-Florida State rolled into a larger scheduling alliance where all 3 conferences play 6 “divisional” games, up to 2 rivalry games, and at least 1 game determined by TV (and certain Kickoff Game) partners.

This would be a win-win-win for all parties involved!

Full 2017 Sample

Of the 38 teams in this alliance, 5 do not have room in their 2017 non-conference schedule to adjust to a full 9-game commitment. Obviously such a system would be planned a few years in advance so that all teams could comply with their new obligations. Opponents in parentheses are those which have replaced cross-division games.

SEC-W Alabama Arkansas Auburn LSU Ole Miss Miss St Texas A&M
G7 vs. Tennessee (vs. Texas) vs. Georgia @ Florida vs. Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky (vs. Baylor)
G8 ** Florida St vs. TCU @ Clemson vs. Syracuse (@ Baylor) (@ S Carolina) @ Texas
G9 (@ Oklahoma) (@ Texas Tech) (@ Kansas St) (@ OK State) xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx
G10 @ California vs. BYU @ UCLA
SEC-E Florida Georgia Kentucky Missouri S Carolina Tennessee Vanderbilt
G7 vs. LSU @ Auburn @ Miss St (@ Iowa St) (@ Kansas) @ Alabama @ Ole Miss
G8 vs. Florida St @ Georgia Tech vs. Louisville vs. Kansas (vs. Miss St) ** Georgia Tech vs. Kansas St
G9 (vs. TCU) (vs. OK State) (vs. Iowa St) xxxxxxxxxx vs. Clemson (vs. W Virginia) (vs. Texas Tech)
G10 @ Notre Dame vs. Purdue ** NC State
ACC-A BC Clemson Florida St Louisville NC State Syracuse Wake Forest
G7 vs. Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech vs. Miami (vs. Texas) vs. UNC vs. Pittsburgh vs. Duke
G8 vs. Notre Dame (@ Oklahoma) @ Florida @ Kentucky @ Notre Dame @ LSU @ Notre Dame
G9 (@ Iowa St) @ S Carolina (@ OK State) (@ W Virginia) (@ TCU) (@ Virginia) (@ Kansas St)
G10 vs. Auburn ** Alabama ** S Carolina
ACC-C Duke Georgia Tech Miami UNC Pittsburgh Virginia Virginia Tech
G7 @ Wake Forest @ Clemson @ Florida St @ NC State @ Syracuse (@ Kansas) @ BC
G8 vs. Baylor ** Tennessee vs. Notre Dame vs. Notre Dame vs. OK State (vs. Syracuse) ** W Virginia
G9 (vs. Texas Tech) (vs. TCU) (vs. Miami) (vs. Baylor) vs. W Virginia xxxxxxxxxx (vs. Kansas St)
G10 vs. Indiana
B12-N Baylor TCU Texas Texas Tech West Virginia Notre Dame  
G5 @ OK State @ Iowa St ** Oklahoma @ Kansas @ Kansas St @ BC
G6 vs. Oklahoma vs. Kansas vs. Kansas St vs. Iowa St vs. OK State vs. NC State
G7 (vs. Ole Miss) (vs. NC State) vs. Texas A&M (vs. Arkansas) (vs. Louisville) vs. W Forest
G8 (@ Texas A&M) (@ Florida) (@ Louisville) (@ Vanderbilt) (@ Tennessee) @ Miami
G9 (@ UNC) (@ Georgia Tech) (@ Arkansas) (@ Duke) @ Pittsburgh @ UNC
G10 @ Duke @ Arkansas ** Virginia Tech vs. Georgia
B12-S Iowa State Kansas Kansas St Oklahoma OK State    
G5 vs. TCU vs. Texas Tech vs. W Virginia ** Texas vs. Baylor
G6 @ Texas Tech @ TCU @ Texas @ Baylor @ West Virginia
G7 (vs. BC) (vs. Virginia) (vs. Auburn) (vs. Alabama) (vs. LSU)
G8 (vs. Missouri) (vs. S Carolina) (vs. W Forest) (vs. Clemson) (vs. Florida St)
G9 (@ Kentucky) @ Missouri (@ Va Tech) (@ Miami) (@ Georgia)
G10 @ Vanderbilt @ Pittsburgh

Opponents have been matched roughly by 2016 performance. A drafting system would likely have to be implemented to ensure each conference gets marquee games for their TV partners. All 38 teams would have to open at least 1 game slot (alternating annually, home and away) for this draft, but each would be free to schedule all other games with any non-divisional rival.

It should be noted that Notre Dame was also included in this sample. This is done, primarily, to get their ACC opponents to the 9-game benchmark. Requiring Notre Dame to play a 6th game against this alliance is likely superfluous to the alliance’s aims.

Beyond Three Partners?

The ultimate extension of this idea would be to include the Big Ten and Pac-12 (bring back the annual Oklahoma-Nebraska game!), to break the pairs of 7-team divisions into three smaller, 5-team divisions, and to incorporate existing Championship Games into a reworked playoff. “Conferences” at this point would simply be sets of divisions that pool TV revenue, and one day even that may become consolidated.

The target for such an arrangement as this would be by the early-2020s so as to gauge its effectiveness before TV deals are reworked in the mid-2020s. Without an arrangement such as this, schools like Oklahoma and Texas are bound to join conferences where they can play more elite teams than currently and the mass of the conference will end up in the rubbish heap.

This inter-conference alliance is a win-win-win and the Big 12 should be pursuing this arrangement with its “Power Five” peers. Who knows, the Pac-12 with its lagging TV revenue may make the first move toward an alliance like this.

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