Has college football's realignment merry-go-round stopped?
May 17, 2013 at 10:46a ET
The spinning’s stopped, and we can open our eyes. Big-time college football is off this crazy realignment kick, right, Chuck? Right?
"Let me just say this," Chuck Neinas, the former Big Eight commissioner and interim Big 12 commissioner replies. "The money that is now involved with college athletics, beyond the Big 12, is astounding to me."
A wise man knows better than to say never. And Neinas’ sixth sense runs wiser than most.
For almost four weeks, a new NCAA benchmark for stability, the waters have been calm. Calmer, at any rate. To paraphrase that noted philosopher Beyonce, if you like it, you better put a ring on it: The ACC decided in April to follow the Big 12’s (and Neinas’) lead and sign off on a grant-of-rights deal — in basic terms, a school that leaves a certain league immediately forfeits its television rights back to its old conference for the duration of the broadcast contract — putting a fairly sizeable padlock around potential expansion targets such as Florida State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Louisville.
For now. We think. When it comes to university presidents, when cash enters the conversation, caveats traditionally follow.
"Well, that certainly is a stabilizing influence," Neinas, president of Neinas Sports Services, a Colorado-based consulting firm, and one-time executive director of the old College Football Association (CFA). "There’s no question about that."
Stabilizing? Yes. Absolute? Well, no.
But we come to praise détente, not to bury it. This month marks the 1-year anniversary of the handoff from Neinas to the Big 12’s current Grand Poobah, Bob Bowlsby, and the league once dubbed " Texas And The Little Nine" keeps laughing all the way to the bank. According to one estimate, the conference will pay out roughly $26 million per member at the end of this school year, or almost enough to keep Bill Snyder in purple windbreakers through the 24th century.
"The TV people are obviously thinking ahead," Neinas says, "and understanding that live sports is what drives ratings."
That and Brink’s trucks. Back in Colorado — now a Pac-12 state, much to his chagrin — Neinas has seen the ledgers. And he even allows himself to take a small victory lap, every now and again.
"Well, I think that if I did anything for the Big 12, I was a catalyst from the outside that came in and allowed people to express their opinions," Neinas says. "You know what I mean? It’s like chemistry. Sometimes you have different (elements), and all you have to do is find the catalyst to make it work. And that’s all I did. I didn’t do anything miraculous; it was just the right situation. It was the right time for the people to recognize that they would all be better working together."
And, sometimes, timing is half the battle. Ousted commissioner Dan Beebe has since taken credit for the whole grant-of-rights concept, but it was Neinas — who’s mentored dozens of athletic administrators, including Texas’ DeLoss Dodds — who got the Big 12’s dysfunctional family members to sit down and push the gravy train forward.
Now everybody’s ordering the merlot. Forbes.com pegged the league to dole out a payout this year of $262 million, split 10 ways, or $26.2 million per school. Bowlsby and others have hinted that figure might be a bit high, but it’s also not that far off. Television deals with FOX and ESPN, which are at the tail end of Year 1 out of a contracted 13, account for roughly $200 million per annum.
To oversimplify things, as long as the per-school payout rakes in more with 10 members than, say, 12 or 14, Big 12 bigwigs will probably keep touting the status quo. At the moment, in Bowlsby’s world, less really is more.
"Of course," Neinas says. "It’s nice to see that the conference is doing so well, and the institutions are reaping the benefits of their labor. Everybody worked hard to make the conference bigger and stronger, and Bob Bowlsby’s got a steady hand on the tiller. And I think everything is looking good."
That’s Neinas’ forecast, and he’s sticking to it. But storm fronts can crop up where you least expect them, even with the College Football Playoff crashing the party in 2014 to make the rich even richer. As long as Park Place sits unclaimed while he’s building high-rise hotels on Boardwalk, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is going to keep throwing the dice.
"I think that the ACC’s grant-of-rights probably thwarts the Big Ten’s potential expansion," Neinas allows. "At least at this point."
Wait. ‘Probably?’ ‘At this point?’ You mean if we were to lay a friendly wager on the membership of the Big 12 in, say, six years’ time …
"Well," Neinas replies, "there’s nothing more constant than change."
Say it ain’t so, Chuck.
"Find out what the odds are," Neinas says, finally. "Make sure you get good odds."
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com