Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby played the role of Jerry Maguire during Friday’s final day of the league’s spring meetings.
He showed them the money. And league administrators rejoiced.
Big 12 officials, who oversaw a conference that teetered on the brink of collapse in the summers of 2010 and 2011, spent Friday reveling in a league-record $198 million in revenue distributions to their 10 members for the 2012-13 school year. The total was a $15 million increase from last year.
That translates to approximately $22 million per school for the league’s eight charter members. First-year members TCU and West Virginia each will receive half-shares of roughly $11 million as part of a four-year phase-in agreement put in place when those schools joined the Big 12.
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Even as half-share recipients, the $11 million represents a significant jump in revenues for TCU and West Virginia. TCU left the Mountain West, where it never earned more than $2 million in any year from league coffers. West Virginia, a former Big East member, took home less than $7 million last year.
For the other members, the $22 million is the largest per-school take in Big 12 history. It also exceeded Friday’s announced revenues in the Southeastern Conference, which passed out $20.7 million per school ($289.4 million total) to its 14 members, including Texas A&M. The Aggies left the Big 12 to join the SEC in July 2012.
“We like the amount of money that we’re distributing on an institution-by-institution basis. There’s a lot to like about our current circumstance,” Bowlsby said. “I think our league is rock-solid and we have done everything we can, in the near term and in the long term, to keep this group of 10 schools together in perpetuity.”
Texas President Bill Powers, whose school also will receive another $15 million in revenues this year from its Longhorn Network deal with ESPN, expressed satisfaction with the financial numbers, as well as the increased league stability that has come with it.
“We’re happy with our equal share,” said Powers, whose school’s LHN revenues are not part of league-wide distributions. “A rising tide helps everyone. I think there’s a real sense that realignment is behind us.”
Bowlsby said the Big 12 distribution numbers, derived primarily from television contracts, bowls and NCAA basketball tournament appearances, will only increase in future years. Bowlsby said projected revenues will reach $30 million per school by 2015-16, the first year that TCU and West Virginia will receive full shares, and could top $40 million by the end of the league’s existing television contracts with Fox and ABC/ESPN that run through the 2024-2025 school year.
For officials at TCU, athletic director Chris Del Conte said the school’s first year in its new league — marked by school attendance records in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball and other sports — reinforced the concept that it is “phenomenal… we are back in a conference where regional competition matters.”
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said his school, despite a lack of proximity to Big 12 peers, remains thrilled by its move.
“The Big 12 money is certainly bigger than it was [in the Big East],” Luck said. “Even half a share is much more than our previous conference.”
Bowlsby, who recently completed his first year on the job, credited predecessor Chuck Neinas for bringing stability to the league in Neinas’ stint as interim commissioner following the firing of Dan Beebe in September 2011. League administrators, including Texas men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds, cited Bowlsby as a stabilizing influence, too.
“He’s a calming effect on the conference. He is absolutely the answer to what we needed,” Dodds said.
Now, he’s also been the commissioner of record for the largest revenue distribution in league history. Bowlsby said his hope is that Friday’s payday will quell any remaining issues with outsiders who question league stability.
“I can understand some uneasiness, especially based on what has gone on the last couple of years,” Bowlsby said. “If there has been a significant point of progress over the last year [in league meetings], it’s been that there’s been a tangible improvement in trust.”
And, as of Friday, a bigger payday than ever before.