Big 12 presidents are in “fact-finding” stage for realignment

Big 12 realignment may not even come to a conclusion on adding or not adding teams until the end of the year.

Oklahoma President David Boren had more comments about the future of the Big 12 landscape, and just like nearly any other time he or someone at a high level within the conference talks not much really happened.

Earlier on Thursday, Boren met with the Oklahoma Board of Regents and the meeting was more of “fact-finding” rather than a “decision-making” stage on the future of the Big 12.

“We’re inching along, but I don’t know exactly how soon we can come to these conclusions,” Boren said regarding creating a conference network and conference expansion.

One of the biggest questions surrounding if the Big 12 will expand revolves around the potential for a Big 12 Network, and Boren made one of the few definitive statements on the subject.

“If you’re not going to have a network, you don’t need an expansion,” he said.

The OU president is very correct on that statement because a conference network with just 10 teams will not work due to the lack of inventory. A niche network needs as much content as possible and that is a reason why the Big Ten and SEC have expanded to 14 teams as it provides plenty of original program. Twelve teams would be the minimum to start the discussion for a league-wide channel.

The problem is that there is no sure-fire set of teams to add to start a Big 12 Network — we will get to the albatross that is the Longhorn Network shortly — yet, the Big 12 is concerned about closing the monetary gap with the Big Ten and SEC.

Boren’s idea is to start conversation about a conference network, look at expansion candidates and then a title game. Others in the league might see things differently as to the order of those options.

The first step to getting a conference network is to figure out how to make Texas agree to shift their Longhorn Network into a Big 12 Network, and Boren insists he is not going against his rival.

“They think I’m out to get Texas. I’m not out to get Texas,” Boren said. “I’ve never asked them to fold it (Longhorn Network) up. You’ve got to make Texas financially whole. You can’t expect them to give up $15 million.”

The Longhorns may want more than $15 million per year to give up the vast advantages of having their own television network, so there is that issue. There is also the issue of who will want to set up a conference network since there is a good amount of people getting rid of pay television or taking to services like Sling or PlayStation Vue for a less expensive television package.

“We can’t do a network without Texas raising its hand and saying, ‘We’re willing to roll it in,”” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told CBS Sports at the Big 12 basketball tournament. “We’ve had those conversations [and] they haven’t raised their hand. But they also haven’t said, ‘Stop right now. We’re not willing to talk about it.'”

Then there is who is going to pay for a network. ESPN would be logical since they already partner with the Longhorn Network, but there are TV insiders who do not see any major network wanting to invest in a conference network, or put resources into getting the channel on as many platforms as possible.

“I feel that the Big 12 network is an uphill battle,” the insider told ESPN. “Nobody in the industry wants to spend money right now in the satellite or cable distribution world. Nobody wants to dance in this climate. That is the biggest issue with a [Big 12] network.

“I believe the days of conference networks have kind of come and gone for the most part,” the insider said. “The SEC Network feels like the last one to me. No cable or satellite distributor wants to pay for another network, not in this environment.”

Then there is the issue of the money the network would need to be an incentive for other teams in the league, and that number might need to be in the upper 10-figures.

“Yet for Texas — not to mention Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia — to recoup a palatable portion of tier 3 money, a Big 12 network would have to generate a collective payout in the ballpark of at least $80 million, provided the conference would share the revenue equally. That’s a tall task, considering the Pac-12 delivered about only $17 million total through a network in its fourth year of existence.”

So, even if a network gets off the ground and backed by ESPN, which is the most logical choice, the money might be less than the current third-tier rights schools are getting right now.

The next step in Boren’s own plan would then be to see if there are teams worth adding. West Virginia AD Shane Lyons said Monday he expects a decision on expansion to come in the next 90-180 days.  However, that may no longer be the case, and it should not come as a shock that it is expected to be the latter rather than the former time frame with Boren saying a vote on whether to expand and on a television network might not be “by the end of the year.” That sentiment is shared with others across the Big 12, meaning we wait.

As for who to add to the league Boren said, “I personally don’t have any (expansion) candidates.”

However, he should have a good idea of who is interested in expanding as he said he has received information from 25 schools who want to be considered as a future Big 12 member, but he did not elaborate on who those schools were.

Boren said that the conference is coming closer to coming to a consensus on whether to expand or not once they are likely to vote at the end of the year.

“The consensus could be [to] do nothing,” Boren said.

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