MIZZOUEXPANSIONAPALOOZA 2010™: So ... That's It, Then?

Thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me... fell into a deep peaceful sleep, and haven't thought about you since.

-- yes, I just quoted Good Will Hunting

Yesterday, 60% of Rock M readers responded to a poll by saying that they were in favor of keeping the band Big 12 together, because the fear of the alternative was pretty jarring.  Now that it appears to have happened, the reaction from Mizzou fans is ... less than enthusiastic.  Why is that?  Pretty easy, really.

Yep, quite easy.

Source: Texas making good faith effort for Big 12

...

Texas Tech and Oklahoma State would be in a position to offering a lifeline to Missouri, which started all this mess by openly flirting with the Big Ten. Even the Missouri governor. dismissed Tech and Oklahoma State as academic institutions while pining for schools like Wisconsin.

The official storyline does seem to be settling in pretty well -- Mizzou begged and pleaded for Big Ten inclusion, got turned down, and was going to end up in the Mountain West or Conference USA until the South schools, particularly Texas, saved them by keeping the Big 12 together.  It doesn't matter that there is no evidence that Mike Alden, Brady Deaton, or Gary Forsee actually said or did anything akin to "begging or pleading"; this is the story we apparently have to get used to.

This was driving me crazy earlier this afternoon.  If conferences were all expanding to 16 teams, then Mizzou still had a very good chance at landing in one of them.  All hope was not lost.  And now, with the rumored deal ready to roll, Missouri still gets to deal with the revenue inequality that one doesn't have to deal with in more stable conferences like the Big Ten or SEC.  Frustrating, to say the least.

But now that I've had some time to wind down and detach from the situation, I think there are three things that Mizzou fans needs to keep in mind about today's developments.

1. This is still a pretty good deal. 

Despite the unequal revenue sharing, Mizzou now looks to make between about $6 million and $10 million more per year than they currently do.  If they don't pull down what the average SEC program does, it's close.  Now they can pay their basketball coach and continue to upgrade their facilities and overall athletic program, and when the Big 12-Or-So falls apart in a few years -- and it almost certainly will -- Mizzou will be that much more attractive to potential suitors.  This is the healthiest way to look at this.

Mizzou fans are going to try to blame Mike Alden and company for getting taken to the cleaners on this, and there's plenty to be less than thrilled about (we'll get to that), but the bottom line is that the revenue they will soon be receiving will be more than enough to continue improving the program.  Everything else is secondary to that.

And beyond that, while Mizzou was probably going to end up in a decent situation when the realignment all shook down, it obviously wasn't guaranteed.  And no higher-up from a program like Missouri or Kansas State is going to want to be the one who was at the wheel when their program fell to mid-major status.  While a lot of us wanted Mizzou to say "Screw it" and roll the dice ... it's a lot harder to do that when you're in charge.  When I'm playing Blackjack on my phone, I always know when to hit on 15 or 16 and when not to, when it's smart to double and when it's not ... but when I'm playing with real money, it's really tough to hit on 15 even when it's the right play.  If I were in charge of Mizzou right now, there's absolutely no way I could have even thought about saying no to this.  And you know you're in the same boat.

(Plus, for the more spiteful among us, since the conference now appears to be sticking together, we can sit back and enjoy as Nebraska is forced to pay the early exit fee they thought they wouldn't have to pay since they were "forced out" by a collapsing conference.)

2. This is what Mizzou officials wanted.

Yes, it would have probably still worked out well for Mizzou if the conference fell apart, but the potential happy ending was still possibly weeks or months away.  That's a lot of hand-wringing and consternation.  Fans and employees alike were getting very nervous, and when insecure Mizzou fans get nervous, they get angry.  Nobody wants that.  If this is what Mizzou officials wanted, then we should probably take that to mean it's a pretty good thing.  They absolutely know more about the situation than we ever will.

3. Just say "You're welcome."

Here's the realization that led to my leading off this post with a Good Will Hunting quote (I'm still making fun of myself for that, by the way).  If members of rival Big 12-Or-So fanbases want to mock Mizzou for supposedly whoring themselves for a Big Ten bid and falling up short, go with it.  Because if Mizzou hadn't spent the last six months "unbuttoning a couple of buttons on their blouse," then Dan Beebe probably wouldn't have spent the last month or two trying to put together the foundation for a new TV deal ... which almost certainly led to the current deal the conference appears to now have in place.  So I say with a half-joking, half-serious tone ... you're welcome, guys.

Since the Big Ten originally hinted at expansion, my theory has always been that this was the first time since the Big 12's creation that Mizzou actually had leverage.  And while it is unclear to what extent they attempted to utilize that, and how much of it simply came from rumors or paranoia, to some extent it worked.  While I certainly wanted my team to end up in the Big Ten, the hope all along was that, if the Big Ten didn't happen, they would end up in an improved Big 12.  It's not a conference that is any more equal than before, and clearly Nebraska is a loss, but in terms of money, Mizzou is clearly about to be better off than they were before.  The leverage was at least somewhat successful.

Now...

...there are very clearly problems here.

  • Revenue sharing and inequality are eventually going to kill this conference.  It is almost certainly going to happen one day.  As soon as this TV deal fails to suffice in comparison to that of other major conferences, the same issues are going to pop up.  This is only a band-aid, and it's hard to see it as anything but that.  And part of the reason I felt so disappointed when this was announced was simply that ... honestly, I wanted to be done with this.  I wanted this to be the Summer of Expansion, and I wanted to be done with the issue forever and ever (unless they ended up in a worse conference, ahem).  Instead, we stare at a future with another potential breakdown on the horizon.  Healthy conferences have members who feel like equals.  That has never been the case in the Big 12.
  • How are we determining who makes how much?  Initial word is that Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas A&M will make $20 million per year under the current arrangement, with the apparent dregs of the conference everybody else making between $14-17 million.  I want to put this delicately, since it does sound like they went to bat for Mizzou in discussions with the SEC, but ... Texas A&M?  Really?

    Conference records since 2005:
    Texas Tech 26-14
    Missouri 24-16
    Oklahoma State 19-21
    Texas A&M 17-23

    I'm not sure the best way to look up television appearances since then, but I'm willing to bet A&M is either third or fourth among these teams on that list.  (And if they're not, then why aren't they?  The idea with unequal revenue sharing is that it supposedly rewards you for succeeding ... if that's not the case, then that's an entirely new issue.)

    I understand that A&M has probably been included in the "upper tier" of revenue because they seemed the most likely to leave. When the SEC talks, you listen, and it probably took a little bit of extra nudge for A&M to stick around.  Fine.  But five years from now, when they've made $100 million or so from this deal and a team like Texas Tech, a much better team for most of the last decade, has only made around $80-85 million ... yeah, I'm thinking the "thank goodness we were able to keep them" bonus is going to rather quickly lose its charm.
  • An 18 year deal?  Eighteen?  The other jarring part of the rumored TV deal is the length.  If the deal kicks in within the next year or two, that means the conference is supposedly set until almost 2030.  And I'm willing to bet that $14-20 million/year isn't going to seem that impressive in 2030.  I really hope, for everybody's sake, that this figure is negotiable down the line.  Otherwise this is the same misstep that I'm pretty sure the conference made originally (I'm going strictly by memory here, so correct me if I'm painfully wrong), when what was a great deal in 1996-98 grew quite stale when other conferences upgraded their own deals.

    Despite having ten of 12 members finishing in or near the top ten at least once in the last decade, the conference has trailed drastically in terms of TV revenue for quite a while.  The last thing they should do is agree to a deal that will dump them right back into the same situation in a few years.  (Unless, of course, they really do know this is just a temporary fix, and things will still fall apart down the line ... in which case there are no expectations of reaching the 18th year of this deal.)

Bottom Line

I know Mizzou fans, and while they are possibly not as upset right now as A&M fans, I'm assuming a majority of them are out for blood right now.  It's just how we are.  And to be sure, this unfolded in just about the most teasing way possible.  Less than an hour after PowerMizzou dropped the rumor that Texas A&M was attempting to bring Mizzou into the SEC with them, the rug was pulled out from under everybody.  It was appearing that they could end up in the Big Ten ... or the SEC ... or even a pretty stinking great Big East, and instead, they remain in a conference that refuses to even pretend that everybody is equal, a conference that has done nothing to address its long-term issues.  But this is a deal that presents to Missouri a future as good as they want to make it.  And in the end, that's good enough for now.

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