Big TV payday will let us see what's important from Ames to Austin

Apr 15 2011 - 5:24pm

Dan Beebe wants this to be a victory parade, and he's entitled to it. The Big 12 has gone from the brink of extinction to having one of the strongest television contracts in the country, all within a year, all on his watch as league commissioner.

Good on him.

Now we get to see what it all means.

The Big 12 made its big announcement on Wednesday. You probably heard. They sold 40 second-tier football games per season for what is being reported as $1.17 billion over 13 years. This is 350 percent more money paid out to 10 teams instead of 12, and the league gets even richer when the contract for first-tier games is up in four years.

Beebe and other league power brokers are touting this as the clearest possible demonstration of the Big 12's viability, and in the immediate future, this is all terrific. For what most people will care about and pay attention to, it is all that matters.

Texas and probably Oklahoma get to start their own TV networks to show one football game and a whole lot of self-importance, the other eight schools stay in a major conference, and fans across the region -- particularly here in Kansas City -- move a little further from the scare of last summer.

This is a good thing.

Until it turns into the same old thing.

The Big 12 just moved into a ritzy neighborhood. Depending on how it's calculated and what the league does in four years with the first-tier contract, the 10 schools will receive as much or possibly more than universities in the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12.

Beebe also pulled a subtle bit of brilliance in making sure the deal expires one year after the SEC's television contracts. This way, whoever is running the Big 12 at that time can use the SEC's next contract as a framework for negotiations.

Again, these are all good things for us fans.

But it also presents an interesting question about what the extra money will actually accomplish for the student-athletes, whom this is all supposed to be about.

On the teleconference announcing the deal, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was asked where he thought the extra money might be spent.

Teleconferences are awful places to get thoughtful and specific answers. Castiglione talked about focusing on the value of the conference as a whole and keeping up with "the rising costs of athletics."

Those words echo.

"The rising costs of athletics" too often have remarkably little to do with helping student-athletes.

"Rising costs of athletics" is too often code for "the football coach wants a raise."

And this is where more money starts to lose meaning. We've all wasted our time and emotion if the biggest change from this deal is another million dollars or so for football coaches.

For all the money involved in major college sports, it's telling that only a small handful of athletic programs -- around 20 percent that play bowl subdivision football -- make money.

As a local college sports executive likes to say, "getting more money just means we have more money to waste."

So which do you think is more likely to happen with the new money:

Schools like Kansas, K-State and Missouri fund more scholarships for more teams?

Coaches like Mack Brown ($5.1 million salary before bonuses and incentives) and Bob Stoops (about $4 million) get raises?

There's the old saying: Don't tell me what's important to you. Show me your checkbook, and I'll tell you what's important to you.

Now's the perfect chance for the Big 12 schools to show what's important to them, and we all understand they're in a tough spot.

If the competition is willing to build bigger weight rooms or nicer player lounges or pay bigger coaches salaries, then nobody wants to make a stand on principle that will end up hurting the highest-profile teams.

But at some point, there has to be enough money to do more than just keep up with the Joneses.

Look, this is a happy time, and this column isn't meant to detract from that. The Big 12 is thriving less than a year after most figured it dead. That's the obvious takeaway, one with legitimate benefits to Kansas City and beyond and one you can read and hear in a lot of different places.

But it would be nice if some of the extra money could be used for more than just keeping the remaining schools together.

Reality can be annoying like that sometimes.

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