MORGANTOWN - In the end, there were virtually no surprises when the Big 12, ESPN and Fox finally put the ink to contracts Friday that will provide the networks with programming and the league with tons of money.But it's that absence of surprises - not necessarily in the new television rights deal, but for the conference over the 13 years of its term - that is the most significant element of the deal.West Virginia's new conference and the two sports network giants signed a deal Friday that is thought to be worth $2.6 billion all told and at least $20 million per school per year. It is essentially the same contract that was agreed upon in May, but hadn't been signed because of details that took four months to iron out."This,'' said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, "is a monumental day for us.''It is monumental not only because of the financial terms - the Big 12's 10 members will now reap as much or more in revenue sharing as almost anyone in the country - but because of the length of the contract and the stipulations within it that anchor the schools to the league.The contract is for 13 years, through the 2024-25 school year, and includes the long awaited grant of rights to the league by all 10 schools through the life of the contract. Nine of the 10 schools have formally signed off on the grant of rights and Texas Tech is expected to follow next week after a regents meeting that is considered a formality.What the grant of rights means is that the 10 schools have signed over the rights to their television money to the Big 12 for the next 13 years. If a school decides it wants to leave, it leaves that money to the league.In other words, no one is leaving the Big 12 in the foreseeable future. While conference hopping might continue elsewhere, it won't be teams leaving the Big 12. The Pac-12 and Big Ten have similar long-term commitments in place."I think what it does is it gives us a very public and a very business-oriented substantiation of the commitment that our 10 institutions [already had] to one another privately,'' Bowlsby said Friday morning after the deal was announced. "I think many were concerned that we were going to come off the rails again at some point in time and I think this demonstrates that's not going to happen. We're going to be partners for a long, long time.''Indeed, it was only a year ago that the Big 12 was rocked by the defections of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC and by talk of some of the league's standard bearers - including Texas and Oklahoma - negotiating to join the Pac-12. West Virginia and the Big East, in fact, were toying with the notion of inviting leftovers such as Kansas and Kansas State into the Big East when the Big 12 dissolved.
What a difference a year makes. The Big 12 has not only retained the core of its membership and added WVU and TCU, but now is as stable - or more so - as any other conference."The stability of the Big 12 Conference is cemented,'' Bowlsby said. "We are positioned with one of the best media rights arrangements in collegiate sports, providing the conference and its members unprecedented revenue growth and sports programming over two networks.''The absence of a signed deal had already delayed many of the specifics regarding television coverage and kickoff times for the football season that began last weekend. The league had only announced three weeks of scheduling.With a contract in hand, more details should begin flowing soon, although as always many of the specifics won't be announced until the networks decide two weeks ahead of time - and in some cases six days ahead of time - what games to broadcast on what networks and in what time slots.But for the first time, every Big 12 football game will be televised on one network platform or another - typically ABC, one of the ESPN networks, Fox or one of the Fox platforms that include Fox Sports Net, FX and Fox College Sports.
How those games are divided up between ESPN and Fox remains a bit of a mystery, and that was the primary holdup in signing the deal. Fox was renegotiating a deal it had signed with the league in 2011 and matching it up with the ESPN extension of its contract with the league. Neither Bowlsby nor network executives would lend much detail to the process by which the networks divide the games, saying only that the deal gives Fox "enhanced selections'' through 2015 and that the networks will then rotate selections beginning in 2016.Fox's primary platform, the over-the-air Fox Network, will televise at least six games per season, beginning with a prime-time contest two weeks from today that is expected to be Oklahoma-Kansas State. Fox will also carry Pac-12 games in prime time.The contract also covers men's basketball - ESPN will carry 100-105 league games a year - as well as provisions for covering women's basketball and non-revenue sports. The deal also allows each school to retain the rights to one football and four men's basketball games each year.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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