SBD/August 16, 2011/Colleges

NCAA President Emmert Suggests Conference Expansion Meeting Among Commissioners

Emmert reportedly expressed concern to SEC leaders about expansion
NCAA President Mark Emmert “reached out to several top college officials Monday, suggesting a meeting to discuss a less cannibalistic and more collegial way to approach conference expansion,” according to Pete Thamel of the N.Y. TIMES. Tension "is high among some commissioners” with speculation that Texas A&M could move from the Big 12 to the SEC in the near future, and a source said that the Big 12’s Dan Beebe and the SEC’s Mike Slive “had a heated phone conversation last week about a potential move.” Thamel notes as conferences “teeter on the edge of significant realignment, Emmert’s proposal shows the level of concern among major college sports officials.” Emmert “lacks the authority to make unilateral decisions about realignment, but he can preach common sense.” The “genesis of a potential meeting came from conversations between” ACC Commissioner John Swofford, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto and Beebe “about a more constructive way to conduct business.” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said of Emmert, “He’s in a position of influence. He’s doing what members are asking him to do” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/16). Meanwhile, ORANGEBLOODS.com’s Chip Brown cited sources as saying that the SEC “indicated that the league will expand by four schools to 16.” The sources said that Emmert is “expressing concern to SEC leaders about any plans to expand for fear of the instability it could cause in conferences across the country” (ORANGEBLOODS.com, 8/15).

TAKING THEIR TIME: In Ft. Worth, Jimmy Birch reports the Texas A&M Board of Regents yesterday gave school President R. Bowen Loftin “unanimous approval” to negotiate on the school's behalf in regard to conference alignment, and Loftin “made it clear the Southeastern Conference is an intriguing option to the Aggies.” But he stressed that “a ‘100-year decision’ on the fate of A&M athletics will not be made hastily.” Loftin confirmed calling Slive "on July 21 to begin discussions that led to Sunday's decision by SEC administrators to take no action in regard to A&M.” Loftin said he and Slive have "had conversations, on and off, the last few weeks." He added that the school is “not sitting on an SEC invitation.” Loftin: "There is no bid. There has never been a bid." Loftin said if the SEC extended an offer, "We'd certainly have to evaluate that. ... It's not so much what is wrong with the Big 12. It's what is right for Texas A&M." Birch reports Loftin “made it clear the Aggies have lots to ponder before pulling the trigger on a move to another conference.” One “significant obstacle” is the “forfeiture of 90 percent of league-related revenues over a two-year period (last year and this year), as outlined under Big 12 bylaws, if the Aggies joined the SEC by the 2012 football season.” Loftin, meanwhile, “downplayed the significance of an A&M departure on the league's 13-year, $1.17 billion contract signed in April with Fox Sports” (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 8/16). In Dallas, Chuck Carlton cited a source as saying that the “pressure could increase for the status quo with Emmert involved.” The source indicated that A&M and the SEC “might have to make a move soon.” But Loftin “did not seem like someone who felt rushed" as he answered questions after yesterday's Board of Regents meeting. He said that A&M “was driven by greater national visibility for the school and its athletes and a desire to increase revenue.” He also “denied any timeline” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/16).

LISTEN TO THE MONEY TALK: Loftin said that he “would have to consider the financial consequences to leaving the Big 12, if Texas A&M wants to go somewhere else.” If A&M leaves the Big 12, there is a chance the conference’s 13-year TV deal with Fox Sports “could be voided, which could lead to legal issues for Texas A&M and its new league” (AP, 8/15). In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes “eventually” Texas A&M will join the SEC “for money reasons alone.” If the SEC “moves from 12 teams to any larger number, even the awkward and temporary total of 13, it will be time to renegotiate its $30 billion TV package with ESPN and CBS.” Since that “gargantuan 15-year contract was signed in 2009, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have done even better by beefing up their membership, and Texas has formed its own TV network, too.” George: “The SEC could live with that, but it won't. Too much power in the product” (PALM BEACH POST, 8/16).

DOUBLE STANDARD: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes, “Isn't it time for the folks at Texas A&M to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths with this entire public flirtation with the Southeastern Conference? Isn't it time that someone called them out on their complete hypocrisy? This is an institution that wraps itself around a student honor code, but its administration seems to have blatantly orchestrated a lengthy adulterous relationship with the SEC -- in the face of a solemn pledge to keep the Big 12 Conference one big happy football family.” Loftin yesterday said, "We've made no decision about terminating our relationship with the Big 12." But Burwell writes Loftin “might have just said, ‘I did not have relations with that conference, the SEC,’ because it has that same, smarmy insincere feeling to it as President Bill Clinton once did when discussing his actions” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/16).

THE BLAME GAME: CBSSPORTS.com’s Dennis Dodd wrote it is “clear that ESPN has a major stake in the issues being discussed.” The network “could be upset that if the SEC gets Texas A&M that would allow the conference to renegotiate a new deal at a higher dollar value.” If A&M leaves, then that “would put in jeopardy the future of the Big 12, which is due to go out to bid in exclusive negotiating window with ESPN within the next two years.” ESPN could also “be concerned about the future of, and its investment in, the Longhorn Network” at the Univ. of Texas. Dodd: “In essence, ESPN would be paying more for the SEC but potentially lose a property in the Big 12 if that league breaks up. The net result, potentially, would be less inventory for ESPN to telecast. That's the reason why ESPN and Fox combined to save the Big 12 last summer” (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/15). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes ESPN in many ways “started this mess by overpaying for the Longhorn Network and then announcing it would broadcast Texas high school games before discussing any of it with other conference schools.” If the steps “play out the way so many expect it to and A&M leaves the Big 12, this will prove to be a historically bad business decision by ESPN.” It would have “essentially paid $300 million for something (the Longhorn Network) that will force it to pay millions more for one thing it already bought (SEC broadcasting rights) and lose something else it already paid for (Big 12 rights).” Mellinger: “If the selfishness of Texas helped keep the Big 12 together last summer, maybe the selfishness of ESPN can do the same now” (K.C. STAR, 8/16).
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