Oklahoma President David Boren, left, and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, shown at league meetings last October, had a positive outlook on the future of the conference at new meetings this week while disbursing an average of $34.8 million per Big 12 school. LM Otero AP
Oklahoma President David Boren, left, and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, shown at league meetings last October, had a positive outlook on the future of the conference at new meetings this week while disbursing an average of $34.8 million per Big 12 school. LM Otero AP

Big 12

Big 12 issues big checks to members, hopes for more stability

June 02, 2017 5:35 PM

IRVING

Let the record show that Big 12 administrators unleashed another round of celebratory comments and kumbaya actions Friday after distributing a fresh wave of record-setting revenues on a per-school basis.

Each of the league’s 10 members collected an average of $34.8 million in league disbursements for the 2016-17 school year, although some of Baylor’s money will remain in escrow until further notice. The per-school disbursement increased by 14.5 percent from last year’s $30.4 million average and the money tree will continue growing with the resurrection of December’s football championship game at AT&T Stadium (date TBD).

It’s not SEC money, as loyalists from that league will be quick to point out. But it’s more than enough to assure solvency and profitability for the conference that includes TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. It’s enough to top per-team hauls in two other Power 5 leagues (Looking at you, Pac-12 and ACC).

Ideally, University of Oklahoma president David Boren hopes Friday’s financial windfall does more than that.

“It makes the conference more stable,” Boren said. “We’re more optimistic than we have been in some time about the future of the Big 12 and the strength and stability of the conference. My goal is to get that topic off the table.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. In fact, Boren – whose recurring questions about league stability triggered last fall’s aborted look at league expansion – could not make it through the entire news conference without offering an eyebrow-raising comment about the next anticipated wave of conference realignment in college athletics.

We’re more optimistic than we have been in some time about the future of the Big 12 and the strength and stability of the conference. My goal is to get that topic off the table.

Oklahoma president David Boren

That is projected to occur as we approach the 2024-25 school year, the final year of the Big 12’s existing television rights agreements. Other leagues, he noted, face a similar timetable.

“When you enter a period of time in which a lot of the distribution contracts and other contracts all come up at the same time, it gives us a … landscape that change is perhaps somewhat more likely than it is at other times,” Boren said.

Translation: Oklahoma, like Texas, would be a free agent at that point. So would several Pac-12 schools. Lots of alternatives are possible and no one can predict the future.

But realize this: As meaningful as Friday’s financial figures will be to Big 12 bottom lines on annual budgets, the numbers the league needs to produce in order to silence recurring questions about its long-term staying power cannot be generated in a board room.

14.5 Percent increase in Big 12 revenues distributed to each member during the 2016-17 school year ($34.8 million) from last year’s average of $30.4 million per school.

Those digits must surface on the football field in an era when the College Football Playoff has become the prism through which success in intercollegiate sports is judged. Three years into the CFP era, the Big 12 is the only Power 5 league without a playoff victory and without having at least one team advance to a national championship game. Each loss or omission in the playoff era costs the league dollars and reputation points.

Texas, which joins Oklahoma as one of the league’s pillars in terms of national perception, has zero winning records in the CFP era. If the Big 12 continues languishing on the football front, it will be hard-pressed to emerge as a survivor if the top tier of conferences is reduced from a Power 5 to a Power 4 proposition in the next decade. If the Big 12 regains its level of national relevance from 2004-2009, it will be just fine.

The league has eight years to make up ground, starting with this year’s conference title game in Arlington that will be played Dec. 1 or Dec. 2, depending on the preferred network TV window. Time will tell about the league’s eventual stability and whether it truly is “getting stronger in so many ways,” as Boren declared Friday.

We’re very impressed with her commitment … to do the right things at Baylor. To make sure the right kind of culture is being created.

Oklahoma president David Boren, on new Baylor president Linda Livingstone

One area in which it made strides came in crisis management. The Big 12 spring meetings overlapped the first day on the job for new Baylor president Linda Livingstone, who made a Friday presentation to the board of governors about how she plans to clean up the school’s image in the wake of an a sexual assault scandal involving members of the football program.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Livingstone “was very forthcoming” in Friday’s discussions and league administrators emerged “very impressed” with her. If she can assure league officials the proper changes are being made on the Waco campus, Baylor may eventually recoup $6 million of disbursements being held in escrow until administrators are satisfied the new Baylor regime is meeting all Title IX requirements.

Big 12 officials have hired attorney Janet P. Judge to do a third-party verification on behalf of the league before Baylor gets all of its money.

“We’re very impressed with her commitment … to do the right things at Baylor. To make sure the right kind of culture is being created,” Boren said.

More than anything, Big 12 officials are happy to be banking $34.8 million per school after distributing just $12.1 million per school in 2011, before the current TV deals began. The future remains undetermined. But Friday included lots of reasons for celebration throughout the Big 12.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

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