ARLINGTON, Texas — The Big 12 has this, the biggest, best-est football stadium ever built. One-point-two-billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium with a one-point-two-million-pound HDTV video board, site of the conference championship game the next two years, is something to behold.
The Southeastern Conference, now has everything else — the national championships, the passion and now the most lucrative and expansive media contract for a conference in college sports history.
Channel surf this season and the next 14 to the SEC Network, not only in Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville but also Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Wichita and Springfield, Mo.
Those biggies in the Big 12 footprint are among the 73 markets covered in the $2.2 billion deal announced by ESPN and the football-crazed conference last week.
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Oh, you’ll still get your Big 12 fill this season. More games not picked up by league partners ABC/ESPN, Fox Sports Net and Versus will be beamed on pay-per-view.
But where your Big 12 market would get one or two SEC games on previous Saturdays, now you’ll get most of them in many markets.
The finances work out to about $17 million annually per SEC school, the equivalent of a BCS bowl payout, a little less than double the average Big 12 check to its members from this school year.
Think about that. Vanderbilt will take home more network TV football money this season than Texas.
In a recession no less.
When asked how other conferences could keep pace, SEC commissioner Mike Slive smiled and said, “I wish you could see the expression on my face.”
The guess is that expression said, who cares what the Big 12, Pac-10 and others think? We sold ours. You sell yours.
The Big 12’s deal with ESPN has been extended through the 2016 football season and its cable deal with Fox Sports Net goes through 2012. But commissioner Dan Beebe said Tuesday on a stadium tour that the conference isn’t sitting on its hands.
“We’re not going to wait and come up on the eve our negotiation and try to figure out what’s going on,” Beebe said.
But the Big 12, like the Pac-10, ACC and Big East, trails in this competition. They seem like regional entities as the SEC goes national.
“The infiltration of that programming in our markets is a big concern,” Beebe said.
More for the mid-range budgets than the national football brands like Texas and Oklahoma.
“When you look at our program, our facilities, the education we’re able to provide a student-athlete, the environment, ours rivals anybody’s,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.
As much as he’d love the additional income from an expanded media contract, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said exposure for all programs would be as great a reward.
“Think of what additional exposure would mean to our softball, baseball and soccer teams,” Alden said. “And not just ours but throughout the conference.”
Beebe said the work doesn’t stop on finding new deals, whether it’s patterned after the SEC, Big Ten or a partnership with another conference. He didn’t dismiss the idea of individual schools cutting their own deals with networks like Notre Dame did.
“That’s part of what we have to explore together,” Beebe said. “Are we better off to combine everything? Is it better for some schools to have a different vehicle? It’s all part of the considerations.”
The Big 12 had delivered product. Last season’s Saturday night games on ABC were some of the most watched in the short history of that program. In terms of league strength, football and men’s basketball rank among the top three nationally.
Now it’s a matter of finding a buyer.
The SEC’s deal is the biggest in college football since the Irish changed the landscape with its NBC agreement nearly 20 years ago. Soon after that, the SEC, Big Ten and ACC expanded, the Big 12 was formed and Big East football was invented.
College football may be on the edge of another television-contract shift, and the idea for the Big 12 is not to get left behind.
“Our brand is very strong,” Beebe said. “We’re not going to fade away.”