Maybe it wasn’t the fireworks of a Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher showdown at the SEC spring meetings this week — with the two dropping accusatory anvils for the whole world to see — but the Big 12 meetings brought their own level of tension this week.
The Big 12′s future was there: BYU and the conference’s three other new members participated in the spring meetings for the first time. The Big 12′s soon-to-be past was there, too: With Texas and Oklahoma in the room, their move to the SEC still a ways away, things were a little awkward in Dallas.
How can you really move on as a conference when the two departing schools are still in the room? And how fast can you get the newcomers up to speed when they don’t arrive for at least another year?
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby admitted to the challenge.
“This meeting has got some weirdness to it,” he said, “It would be less than forthright to not admit that there’s some strangeness to it, and perhaps even some periods when there’s a little bit of tension. But, you know, people are working together in good faith. And we get along and work together because we have to.”
Against this backdrop, the meetings were supposed to break ground on many of the administrative issues that have hindered the Big 12 since the realignment. Things like the new TV contract were supposed to be discussed. Whether or not the conference would adopt divisions in football was also on the table.
And after a couple of days in Texas, many of those issues are still unresolved. The group has not settled on any divisional model and it did not release any firm plans on television contracts. Outside of new revenue-sharing numbers and a women’s basketball update, it proved to be a tense but uneventful meeting.
Divisions still in the balance
The NCAA recently did away with mandating divisions. And while the Big 12 was always small enough to avoid divisions in football, it will not be forced to adopt that model once BYU and the three other members join.
Right now, the Big 12 is planning on having Texas and Oklahoma in the conference through 2025. BYU is scheduled to join in 2023. UCF, Houston and Cincinnati are scheduled to be added in 2024, although that date could be moved up.
So, for the two seasons where there could be 14 schools in the Big 12, the conference has discussed different scheduling models.
Two divisions, with seven teams each, was an option discussed in January before the NCAA did away with the division mandate. Another option would be scheduling pods, with each team having a few permanent rivals and then rotating games.
“We’re still considering whether divisions are the right thing for us, or whether one group together is the right thing,” Bowlsby said.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe has repeatedly said he does not have a preference. This week, he said that a decision should come in the “near future.”
TV Contracts and BYUtv role
The Big 12′s television contract with ESPN and Fox runs through the 2024-25 season. After that, Bowlsby has said the Big 12 is open to auctioning the media rights for the conference.
This could mean having a bigger presence on streaming platforms such as ESPN+. Right now, the Big 12 requires member schools to stream 50 events on Big 12 Now, which is streamed on ESPN+. The conference just added men’s and women’s golf to that package.
“It’s a little bit of a new day,” Bowlsby said in February. “And we need to negotiate in ways that reflect it.”
And while there was not much progress on what will happen after 2025, there are plenty of questions for BYU.
Currently, BYU has its own media contract with ESPN that runs through 2026. It also has its in-house media of BYUtv that streams games both independently and through ESPN. For example, BYU’s football game against Utah Tech will be streamed on ESPN3 but broadcast by BYUtv.
Bowlsby indicated BYU will have the same obligations as the other member schools to put events on ESPN+ once it joins the conference.
“[BYU] has told us that they intend to defer to us,” Bowlsby said. “I think eventually we’ll roll their ESPN package into the Big 12 package. We haven’t had those discussions yet, but we will. We’ve had them with BYU, but we haven’t with ESPN. We’ll have those. It really is not very material, one way or the other.”
Revenue sharing and a women’s basketball update
In a relatively uneventful meeting, the Big 12 did release every member school will receive $42.6 million for this season.
This is a 20% increase from last year and a 9% increase from pre-pandemic levels.
BYU is not a part of that revenue-sharing model yet.
Also, Bowlsby announced the women’s basketball championships will be moved to Kansas City, where the men’s championships are held. This will start in 2024.