Column: Fox deal brings stability to Big 12 but no help on fair distribution

The Missouri football team played its annual Black and Gold game Saturday, but the biggest headline of the week came from off the field.

Last Wednesday, the Big 12 Conference signed a new deal with Fox Sports for exclusive cable rights to the league’s Tier II football games, matchups that are not picked up by ABC/ESPN but can still attract a regional audience (think MU’s game against Kansas State).

Under the current deal that expires at the end of this season, Fox pays the conference $20 million annually. The new contract is good for 13 years and will pay the Big 12 $90 million each year, a 350 percent increase. And when you figure the money will be split ten ways rather than 12, the deal becomes even sweeter.

Fox claims it offered the increased amount because the market value for college football has risen substantially and that the value for live sporting events in general has gone up as they remain “DVR-proof” compared to staged sitcoms and dramas. Because a higher percentage of people watch them live, networks can demand higher advertising fees.

So what does this mean for Missouri and the Big 12?

For the conference, the contract brings stability in the short term and wards off questions of splitting up. At its bleakest hour last summer, no one gave the Big 12 and commissioner Dan Beebe a chance of surviving conference expansion.

Yet the Big 12 survived and will now receive $150 million from its television contracts. The conference has a concurrent deal with ABC/ESPN through the 2015-16 season for its highest-profile games worth $60 million per year. Doing some quick math, each team should receive $15 million.

Emphasis on should.

Because the Big 12 catered to Texas to prevent it from leaving, unequal revenue sharing will still exist except on a greater scale. Teams with the most television exposure receive the lion’s share of revenue, so Texas and Oklahoma may receive $20 million while Iowa State and Baylor may only attain $10 million. When you add in the $30 million ESPN pays Texas to produce a 24-hour Longhorn Network, you suddenly have a $40 million disparity in finances, which provides many advantages when it comes to facilities, marketing, etc., which can bring in better recruits and translate to more success on the field.

Not to mention the additional cushion Texas receives from its own profits compared to those of, say, Missouri. Texas generated $68.83 million in profit from its football program between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, according to Forbes Magazine. Missouri, comparatively, received $11.61. That’s an additional $57 million right there.

When evaluating the numbers, it’s easy to see why universities grumble about fairness. Suddenly, conferences such as the Big Ten Conference and the Southeastern Conference that split up television revenue equally seem quite attractive.

For schools that may have missed out on the musical chairs event last summer should the Big 12 South have joined the Pac-10, having a seat at the table (albeit the kiddie table) in the new Big 12 is enough to be content. And it should not be forgotten the gap in television revenue between the Big 12 and the Big Ten and SEC shrinks dramatically.

But for a school such as Missouri that undoubtedly called for a fairer distribution last summer, the new contract brings no relief on that subject. The Fox deal is a band-aid on a larger problem, so it’s easy to see why history may repeat itself with another round of conference expansion and the public hearing about schools unhappy in their current situation.

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