The Big XII is staring into the abyss after losing its two premium football brands to the SEC while watching the rest of the Power 5 leagues align their goals and potentially future schedules. If you are in the Big XII, this is not the time for linear thinking, you must think big and you must think long term. Be Bold and adopt one of Bowlsby’s Big Moves.
Option 1: The Big Quarter: Go to Fox, Comcast and Paramount and get preliminary bids on the media rights value from combining the ACC with Big XII and adding Uconn and Cincinnati. Split the inventory up either three ways or two ways and position it for a 6 year contract effective in July 1, 2025.
Then take that deal to Jim Phillips, Notre Dame, UConn and Cincinnati with the following proposed structure.
Notre Dame can stay independent with its situationship with the ACC in foorball intact. The Irish could pick their division for other sports.
You end up with three divisions that are pragmatic but at the same time honors a host of traditional conference matchups. You have strong Helmets in Miami, FSU, Clemson and 20% of Notre Dame plus a bunch of quality supporting football brands. You’ve also assembled an incredible portfolio for basketball season with Duke, UNC, Kansas, UConn, etc, etc.
Then you go to your Alliance partners and cash in some favors.
In football, TBQ is going to have 3 division champs and a wildcard play a four team bracket to declare a Champion - the semifinals would be part of the regular season so the rest of the teams would play a flex game that week.
In basketball TBQ ought to get 3 division champs into the NCAA tournament as automatic qualifiers so we are going to pursue a rule where a Divisions of 8+ from conferences that meet a certain criteria can qualify for automatic berths. This will pave the way for 3 conference tournaments. The ACC Division will play their tournament in Charlotte, Big 8 in Kansas City and the East Division will play in Boston or ideally MSG eventually.
This would be the biggest college sports packages ever taken to market with premium content running from September through March and a geographic footprint covering the entire eastern half of the United States. This is a Billion dollar package once you consider the premium the media partners would place from knee-capping ESPN and their college sports rights hegemony for the past 30 years.
Option 2: The Big Egalitarian. There is a good chance that existing bylaws or contracts make the The Big Quarter an impossibility, if that is the case the play is to aggregate all of the G5 programs and independents into one giant conference.
There are 3 principles to this deal:
An equity model so that higher value schools can enjoy a bigger slice of the pie than lower value schools at the outset. Kansas’ share of the overall college sports revenue is more than UABs now and we need to account for this in how the pie is split within this mega-conference. Conventional wisdom says you need equal distribution for stability but stabilizing forces for this conference will come from its access and its sheer size.
Flex scheduling. Schools in The Big Egalitarian will be able to schedule a handful of locked in games on their calendar. The Conference office will then handle the rest - each school will have set Home and Road dates on the calendar and all games will be scheduled with at least 10 days notice, but the conference will be designed to create matchups in dynamic fashion considering both the TV value of the games and postseason considerations.
Egalitarianism. This conference will focus on supporting those programs who, by their performance, deserve the opportunity to compete with the premier programs in the sport. Those programs will get on TV and they’ll have their chances to earn a CFP berth and high seeds in the NCAA tournament. Equity share bonuses can be used to reward those programs who are drawing the biggest audiences to create incremental value for the conference as a whole. Over time any program in The Big Egalitarian will have its chance.
To execute this vision we’ll need to guarantee each individual school will receive at least as much under The Big Egalitarian as they would in their existing conference. That means we’ll need media partners that will commit to a minimum of $300MM annually - this is about 6 hours of Amazon revenue.
It may or may not be Amazon but the streaming companies are going to love The Big Egalitarian - we may not have a ton of 4 million viewer games but we’ll have tonnage of games that draw 250k viewers. The streamers know that this an awful lot of precisely targeted advertising impressions and as long as they have the scale in aggregate this will be extremely valuable. Streamers have unlimited real estate and The Big Egalitarian will have nearly unlimited inventory to fill it up, furthermore, we’ll have schools in all four corners of the US and everything in between. While the tonnage is the foundation, The Big Egalitarian will create value for traditional broadcasters with the flex scheduling approach which will guarantee nationally relevant games each week.
The Big Egalitarian should look for some kind of minimum guarantee + performance bonuses model from its media partners. They’ll live up to their ethos and maximize the value by sharing some of the risk with its partners. It's almost a mathematical certainty that each week there will be interesting intersectional games and there will be blockbusters on occasion. With aligned incentives the media companies will benefit from the millions of social media posts the schools of The Big Egalitarian and their many fans will contribute.
The last point on The Big Egalitarian and perhaps the reason it is a viable concept is that it could really simplify managing the CFP postseason. This would end up being 5 conferences so any CFP concept beyond the current 4 team model could see each conference’s champion receive automatic berths. Importantly, this would also greatly simplify the distribution of CFP money and add some flexibility for the CFP to be more creative with its structure. The split may not be 1/2 - 1/16 like in the other Power 5 conferences but this firms up access and a cut of the revenue.
Option 3: Mr. Bowlsby Goes to Washington
If for some reason the first two concepts fail to materialize Mr. Bowlsby should aim for political clout. The plan here is to grow to 16 teams while balancing football prowess, recruiting, TV considerations while also arming myself with as much political clout as possible.
As we are already aware from all the political machinations in the fallout of OU & UT’s decision to bolt to the SEC, Power 5 access is vitally important to Universities. With this in mind, the above model gives Bowlsby 8 new Senators (Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah) to the 4 he already has (Kansas and West Virginia) who could be motivated to help protect his constituents if the remaining 4 conferences attempt to demote them.
With status as Power 5 intact the opportunity for success on the field is robust. The conference will have a presence in each of the top 3 talent producing states and with reasonably strong brands to go with it they will put a quality product on the field. Then, as the only Power 5 league with a presence in each time zone the opportunity to monetize rights increases. The basketball promises to be robust as well.
Mr Bowslby’s primary goal has to be preserving status and access for his 8 remaining constituents, each of the models presented above does exactly that. The first two models may seem revolutionary and that flies in the face of a landscape that has proven to be extremely slow moving and evolutionary in nature. Over the last 15 years the Big Ten and particularly the SEC have grown in power, the rest of the conferences have lost ground. The Pac-12 is focused too much on its next rights deal to make the big power move that is required with these times and the previous regime in the ACC sold its soul years ago to ESPN. What everyone needs right now is stability and Bowlsby has an opportunity to provide it.