Commentary

Despite criticism, Big 12 will keep current revenue sharing model

Updated: May 23, 2008, 5:44 PM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The potentially vexing problem of equality in revenue sharing apparently has been settled for the foreseeable future by the Big 12's board of directors.

Harvey Pearlman, the chairman of the Big 12's board, announced this week that the league's current revenue-sharing model will remain in place as the conference divvies up a record $113.5 million distribution to its member institutions.

[+] EnlargeDan Beebe
AP Photo/J. Pat CarterBig 12 commissioner Dan Beebe hopes to put the revenue sharing question to rest -- for now.

Unlike conferences like the Big Ten or the Atlantic Coast, the Big 12 does not share its revenue equally among its schools. And Pearlman's declaration means that the current system will remain in place, despite some pointed criticism in recent years by some of the conference's schools with lower athletic budgets.

Big 12 schools share half of their television revenue, with the other portion set aside. That money is then distributed -- with the schools that play in more televised men's basketball and football games, receiving a greater share of the pot.

Schools also earn a greater share of funding for participating and advancing in the NCAA basketball tournaments.

During the 2007 season, each Big 12 school received approximately $1.5 million from a common pool from its football television appearances. The Omaha World-Herald reported that for games on ABC, the participating school received $260,000 for a league game and $520,000 for a nonconference game. For FSN and ESPN games, the figures were $150,000 and $300,000. And for games on Versus, the sum was $50,000.

Schools like Texas and Oklahoma, which have the majority of their games on television, receive bigger television checks than schools like Baylor and Iowa State, which are rarely televised.

Former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg expressed frustration when he left his job the summer of 2007, saying that the issue could potentially prove to be divisive for the league's growth.

But with the Big 12's bylaws requiring a super majority of nine votes to overturn any league funding policy, it was difficult to imagine any scenario where the bloc of the "haves" that includes Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas A&M would ever be outvoted.

And that group has swelled with the recent success of programs like Missouri and Kansas in recent years. The Tigers claimed their first Big 12 North title in 2007, and the Jayhawks advanced to the first Bowl Championship Series bowl in school history. New Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe had hoped to clear the revenue sharing question as a priority as he moved forward on other projects.

"I put it squarely on the plate of the board members," Beebe said. "What I wanted to do is get a resolution about where we are, where we're going and not have any more strife about how we do this."

Estimates are that the school with the most television exposure earned about $2 million more than the bottom school on the conference's list.

"That sum wouldn't have a dramatic effect on any one athletic department," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said.

Merely having the question debated was something that pleased McCaw.

"I think this will be the most robust discussion in the conference's history," McCaw said. "It was well-timed. This league is 12 years old. It's certainly important to reflect on the historic reasons that we have the current model in place. But at least let's take a fresh look at it."

In a sense, McCaw's school seems to be taking some of the constructive criticism as it moves forward. Baylor will claim a bigger share of the television package with its 2008 football schedule under new coach Art Briles.

Nationally-televised games against Wake Forest and Connecticut will provide the Bears more money from nonconference broadcasts than at any time in the conference's history. Additionally, the Bears are set to receive a larger slice of the NCAA tournament pool in men's basketball because of their appearance last season -- their first since 1988.

"There are big budget schools, and those take more out of the conference than others," said Pearlman, who also serves as Nebraska's chancellor. "All of us understand both the interest of those schools and the interest of those ones with smaller budgets. We're trying to work hard to find a way that the conference will serve everybody."

Pearlman also attempted to diffuse some of the complaints that have been festering in recent years about revenue sharing in the conference.

"I think we should emphasize that a lot of revenue of this conference is distributed on an equal basis," he said. "It's not like two or three schools are running away with the whole pie. A lot of it is done on an equal basis."

Spring meeting notes

• One of the reasons why Beebe has been adamant about settling the revenue-sharing question is because he wants to start discussion on future media projects like a potential conference television network and expanded Web sites.

"We need to be nimble and prepared as we go into the next negotiation to be able to move in the direction that will produce a lot more for our institutions," Beebe said. "Whether that will be on the institutional level or the conference level, we don't know that yet."

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and former Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson both have said that a school-specific cable sports network might be a more viable commercial entity than a conference network, particularly with the rapidly changing technological marketplace.

So could a Longhorn Cable Network or a Husker Cable Network available around the country be possible down the road? Who knows, considering that the idea of a cable food network, a travel channel or an all-news network were considered fallacies.

• The Big 12's $113.5 million distribution is a league record, but it still lags behind those generated in 2007 by the Southeastern and Big Ten conferences. The Big 12's total has more than doubled since the creation of the conference, and it represented a jump of 7.1 percent in earnings from 2006.

• There was an interesting staff dynamic that was noticeable as the coaches finished their meetings and left the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was surrounded by a posse of his former assistants. The Sooners coach has three direct links among Big 12 coaches who worked as assistants on his Oklahoma staffs -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Kansas coach Mark Mangino and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. And Stoops also has his first second-generation link among conference coaches in Briles, who earlier worked under Leach at Tech.

• Rumblings have been heard during recent months about the Big 12 testing the waters on a potential "challenge series" for football. It would be tailored along the lines of the one developed for Pac-10 basketball.

The idea would be to match most, if not all, 12 teams from the conference against a similarly configured conference like the ACC or SEC.

Stoops has championed the idea of such a series several times in recent seasons. And Leach said that he was intrigued by the concept, although he hasn't heard anything specific about it.

"I think it sounds like a pretty good idea," Leach said. "The key thing would be to involve everybody."

• The line of the week came from Leach, who was designated as the official spokesman for Big 12 coaches for a media briefing after the coaches' annual meeting.

As Leach told reporters that he had nothing important to report, a loud thunderclap interrupted his comments.

"OK," Leach said. "So that was a lie."

Tim Griffin covers college football for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.