The Big 12 Conference is undoubtedly in a better spot than it was in the years leading up to conference realignment a decade ago that nearly led to the destruction of the conference many of us love.
However, as the slow creep of conference realignment chatter starts to pick up again, the Big 12 still has to watch its back. Is the Pac-12 Conference going to try and make a move? Might the SEC try to lure Oklahoma? What about the Big Ten and Texas? None of it has any real legs to it at the moment, but I prefer to not end up in a situation where it’s a legitimate possibility.
And if you’re a fan of any Big 12 team other than Texas or Oklahoma, you desperately want the Big 12 to remain in tact. You’re cashing checks for tens of millions of dollars per year on the backs of Oklahoma and Texas. Now don’t get offended when I write that, because it’s true. TV networks pay conferences hundreds of millions of dollars for their content to then in turn go sell these games to advertisers that makes them even more money. And when you look at the Big 12, the latest TV ratings for the Big 12 make it clear, Oklahoma and Texas are the ratings drivers and therefore the big revenue generators.
Ian Boyd of Inside Texas put together a list of the highest-viewed Big 12 games during the 2020 season. For some perspective, in Week 4, TCU vs. Iowa State had 346,000 viewers. The following week, TCU vs. Texas at 2.7 million viewers and Iowa State vs. Oklahoma had 3.71 million viewers.
Now, let’s look at the highest-viewed Big 12 games aside from the bowls, which Boyd put together.
Highest rated B12 games aside from the Bowls:
RRS: 4.81 million
Bedlam: 4.10 million
TX vs Ok State: 4.04 million
OU vs ISU: 3.71 million
TX vs ISU: 3.57 million
B12 CCG: 2.99 million
ISU vs Ok State: 2.81 million
TX vs TTech: 2.72 million https://t.co/Xa3paa5j7q
— Asst to the Minister of Culture (@Ian_A_Boyd) June 2, 2021
Every one of these games, outside of Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State, had either Oklahoma or Texas in the match up.
So if you’re a team not named Oklahoma or Texas, you need these two staple programs to keep driving the revenue you get off of them. The Big 12 distributes between $35-40 million per season. By comparison, the top Group of 5 Conference, the AAC, sends out about $7 million. The reason and difference is simple: the Crimson and Cream and Burnt Orange don’t reside in the ACC. If OU and Texas picked up and went to the AAC tomorrow, the revenue payouts and TV deals would immediately flip flop.
Now what does it mean for Oklahoma and Texas to get along? Well, they don’t need to spend the holidays together. But they just need to tolerate each other, while also understanding they are both better off being the anchors of the Big 12, then going to the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-12 and trying to share the head seat at the table with Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, USC or UCLA.
However if you’re a fan of Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech or West Virginia, you should do everything in your power to make sure these two keep a good rapport. Maybe that means once in a while sending flowers to Texas and signing the card, “Love, Oklahoma”, or vice versa. Whatever works. And no one will know.
The Big 12 has already been rejected by ESPN and FOX regarding starting negotiations of a new TV deal. That doesn’t concern me, as it’s still early (the current deal runs through 2025). But the reality is that there will be no mega-TV deal for the Big 12 without Oklahoma and Texas agreeing to stay where they are in the conference. Everything will hinge on that.
Also, while there’s still plenty of time for a deal to get done, well, that means there’s still plenty of time for someone to think the grass is greener elsewhere. It usually isn’t, but as we saw 10 years ago, when the combination of money, ego, emotion and rivalries get involved, the consequences can be bad. Plus, unlike 10 years ago, the Big 12 could lose a couple of staple programs in Nebraska and Texas A&M, but still be a very viable Power 5 Conference. Now, there are two in Oklahoma Texas, and if either leave, it’s lights out for the Big 12. And that would be a nightmare which would be impossible to wake up from.