College Confidential

Report: TV partners push back against Big 12 expansion plans

The Big 12 and commissioner Bob Bowlsby may be hitting a snag in the league’s expansion plans based on reported pushback from ESPN and Fox Sports officials.
The Big 12 and commissioner Bob Bowlsby may be hitting a snag in the league’s expansion plans based on reported pushback from ESPN and Fox Sports officials. AP

As speculation about Big 12 expansion candidates continues to circulate at warp speed, the league’s primary television partners are pushing back in attempts to add new teams to the 10-member league simply to produce a short-term financial windfall.

The Sports Business Journal reported Monday that executives at ESPN and Fox Sports are digging in their heels about the Big 12’s plan to trigger a clause in the league’s existing contracts that calls for carriers to pay current market value for new members added during the life of television contracts in place through the 2024-25 school year. Citing unnamed sources within the TV industry, the SBJ report said network officials are not happy with the idea of paying $20 million or more for each new member the league might add from non-Power 5 leagues as part of an anticipated two- or four-team league expansion.

Among the likely expansion candidates are Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis and Connecticut. When Big 12 officials went public with their expansion plans on July 19, commissioner Bob Bowlsby made it clear that league administrators had no problems triggering the clause in existing TV contracts that calls for current value for additional members added to the league during the remaining years of the existing deals (Big 12 schools averaged $30.4 million per school in conference-related disbursements last year, most of it from TV revenues).

“It’s a mutually binding contract that we put in place four and a half years ago,” Bowlsby said. “So I don’t think we have to make apologies for activating around stipulations that we both agreed to.”

Bowlsby also has made it clear that prospective expansion members can expect to be added on phase-in agreements similar to the ones given in 2012 to TCU and West Virginia that required those schools to wait until their fourth year as a league member before receiving their first full shares of Big 12 revenues in June.Already, high-ranking administrators from Texas and Texas Tech have been public with their support of Houston’s candidacy as a Big 12 expansion option.

Bottom line: each existing Big 12 member would receive a financial windfall for each new member added, with potential per-school bumps of as much as $6 million to $8 million per school for the 2017-18 school year, depending on the candidates added.

That provision has triggered speculation that Big 12 expansion may only be a short-term money grab by administrators from a league that questions its long-term staying power beyond the final year of the 2024-25 TV deals. Per the SBJ report, such an approach has triggered the ire of TV executives who remember paying the Big 12 at the same level it agreed upon for a 12-member league when the conference became a 10-team league during the latest major round of conference realignment in 2010-2012.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch