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"It Seems to Me....."
by Steve H Kehoe
Like the sound of air escaping from a balloon, that noise you just heard recently was the collective sigh of relief by the five "Northern" schools that comprise half of the Big 12 Conference. Uh-make that now the "Big Ten"; No, that can't be right, we already have a Big Ten-uh-no-wait a minute! The "original" Big Ten now has eleven members, since the University of Nebraska Corn-Shuckers have elected to flee what was perceived to be the sinking ship named "Big Twelve", opting to go join the Big Ten. Are you confused yet? Better believe, I am! Let's see, now.....We have the Big Ten now with eleven members, and soon to be adding at least one more (Rutgers?). We have the Big Twelve now with only ten members, owing to the defection of Nebraska, and the Colorado Buffs to the Pacific (Pac-10). Someone in Boulder surely neglected to calculate the increased travel costs the Golden Buffs will encounter beginning in 2011 when their 70-man traveling squad, plus coaches and trainers and cheerleaders and "Ralphie" their Bison mascot hafta fly to the Left Coast and up to Washington to play the Huskies, Uclans, Trojans, and their ilk. I'd venture to say that someone in accounting in Boulder has his/her job on the line! Agree, Pete Frank?
What's this all about (Alfie)? Simply this: For over two years now, the grass has been perceived as greener by some schools of the Big Twelve (no, it's now the "Big Ten"-but it can't be-that name is taken (even though that conference now has eleven members) as being more lucrative and attractive than holding firm to a membership that began back in 1996, and, save for a couple of anomalies, has served its twelve (here we go again!) member schools well. The "grass" referred to by this confused but loyalistic writer is "T.V. Money"-commonly referred to as "television revenue". You see, folks, since the advent of televised sports back in the 50s (ah, them wuz the days, Abner!) television was still in its infancy. Gone were some of the original "standards" such as Uncle Miltie, Texaco Star Theatre, Kukla, Fran & Ollie, and "Father Knows Best". About the only sports to be seen regularly on TV were the Friday Night Fights-commonly known as the "Gillette Cavalcade of Sports"-which included only boxing!
When TV execs sought to fill some of this void, a brave few opined that televising Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon football just might open up new markets for television revenue. Boy, Howdy! Were they ever right! I just wish Mark at channel 7 and his colleagues were a tenth as accurate in prognosticating as these early TV boys were!
Revenue-sharing, from the sponsors, through the networks, to the member universities, has been a boon since those early days. Televising of college football games, in particular, caught on like bargains at a swap meet. Schools shared in the TV rev, which in turn, if you were a member of a conference (conference: sorta like an extended family-like having grandpa living with you), you shared in the total take of revenue from TV and sponsors. Most conferences divvied up the dollars in a fair way; some schools, by virtue of the size of their TV market, and the vociferousness of their alumni, took the Lion's share (Roar!) while allocating the left-overs to the other conference member universities (meow!). Since Football was King, even to the point of supporting 100% the costs of other "minor" sports, those schools (U.T. was and is one of the foremost) make-a da rules, by which big bro' shared with his L'il brothers, and everybody came out whole. Everybody could wear silk shirts, go to Dairy Queen as often as one wanted.
Without getting into the exact figures (there have been no less than six versions of who got what in terms of $) suffice it to say that the recent "musical chairs" episode regarding "fight or flight" was humorous in terms of the scramble to change affiliations-all based on market sizes and what revenue could be generated-even from sharing the conference "take" with all the "lesser" market schools (meow again). First shot to be fired was about six months ago, when the University of Missouri fielded a suggestion that the Big Ten (back when it was ten, not eleven, as it is now) invite the Tigers and their good program (plus no less than THREE big TV markets-Columbia, St. Louis, and Kansas City-to join up with the storied likes of the Illini, Buckeyes, Wolverines, and Nittany Lions. Mizzou, no doubt feeling giddy at even being considered for membership in this senior circuit, had meeting after meeting late into the night to decide if-should a formal invite be forthcoming-they wanted to change their conference affiliation. It was like Cinderella receiving an invitation to the Ball by The Prince, and coyly "making up her mind", when any one of her sisters would go in a heartbeat. "He who hesitates is lost" so the saying goes, and in the case of the Tigers, that is exactly what occurred. While Mizzou was soul-searching and nail-biting behind closed doors, with A.D. Mike Alden feeling no doubt like a five-year-old boy who just knows his mom and dad were gonna give him a Lionel train set for Christmas, the Big Ten (oops, the original ten members this time) began trekking thru the corn fields of Lincoln, Nebraska, and a few other sites, seeking interest in joining their conference. And guess what, sports fans? They found some! By this time, Colorado had already defected to the siren song of the Pac-10 (without considering how much air fares to the Left Coast are), the marriage between Herbie Conshucker and the Big Ten was consummated. Hmmm. So where did this all of a sudden leave Missouri? Remember that scene in Oliver where the poor waif, with outstretched hands, says: "Please, suh! May I have some moah?" Well, by the time it became generally known that the University often called "The Athens of the Persimmon Belt"-your writer's own alma mater-would indeed accept an offer to the ball (the dance, dunce, not the actual "ball") it was simply too late. Prince Charming (the Big ten-er-eleven-had slammed the door shut, and gotten another date for the Prom, leaving Truman the Tiger and his loyalists out in the-heat. Mizzou was never turned down; but she wasn't ever formally asked, either!
It would have been the death knell of the entire Big Twelve-er-ten-had not the vaunted University of Texas-a collegiate athletic giant on the order of the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Yankees-stood up and said: "E-Nuff! ". U.T., with its mega- massive program and ultra-massive alumni support, opted to remain in what had been the Southern division of the Big Twelve (oh, no, not again!) along with Tech, A&M, Baylor, and the two Okie schools. This may have ensured the survival of the Big Twelve-er, ten-but it complicated things for an up and coming football program at Missouri in ways not foreseen. Coach Gary Pinkel's Tiger football program has been on the upswing for five seasons now-five seasons capped by a bowl appearance (let's forget about ‘09s crappy effort vs. the Naval Academy in San Anton', shall we?) and increased signing of top 100 national high school seniors. Now poor Gary faces a murderous "round-robin" (where on earth did that term come from, anyway?) sked, which ensures that they play all remaining nine schools annually in football as well as basketball. In b-ball, let there be no doubt that MU can hold its own against such game giants as K-State, Texas, and Kansas U.; Mike Anderson's job is firmly secure! But in football, they usta only hadda play giants such as UT and OU every other year-not every year! And against UT and OU Gary has a record of 2-10. Hmmm. Now dem days is over, sports fans! In the minds of Tiger faithful, the additional TV rev generated by UT and OU and other member schools, even being shared equally with the other Big Twelve (stop it!) schools, is proving to be like taking castor oil; It may cure what's ailin' you, but the taste is YUCCH! MU will hafta rise-as will KU, K-State, Baylor, Tech, A&M, and poor ol' Iowa State-far far above their currently successful recruiting years in each consecutive years the Big Twelve (I give up!) remains an "entity". Not impossible, but a daunting task, and one hardly fair to a man who has given the "U" more than his fair share of savvy and leadership for a dozen years now, coming as he did from Toledo, Ohio.
But, hey, who's to say life is fair, huh? This loyal Tiger alum will drink the Kool-Aid and choose to believe that the rivalries within the remaining conference members will be "better'n ever". Well, Hot Damn! I am glad the Texas schools didn't scatter to other conferences, but having to limit their non-conference schedules to three games instead of five hurts to a degree. Hey! Maybe the Big Ten II (There! I finally said it!) can even add a couple schools to once more play a more interesting slate. Thinking ahead, Arkansas has already declared no interest in leaving the S.E.C. (and I think that's a mistake). SMU and TCU would seem like logical choices, but consider: TCU's program, while recently "top shelf", has a limited regional following. SMU, even with its beautiful facility, only seats 32,000, and they, coming off a bowl year, can't even fill that many seats. So it would seem that the Big Ten II will labor on until the next round of "TV Revenue Bingo" hits the screen. Uh-Excuse me, ma'am! You're blocking my view! I wanna see the "Big Ten II" game of the week! After all, who'd wanna miss Iowa State versus Baylor?
Steve H Kehoe
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