Thursday, July 7, 2011
Beebe, Big 12 offer insight into realignment
By ESPN.com staff
We're more than a year beyond the realignment saga of last summer, but as part of the new Big 12 website, Big 12 correspondent Wendell Barnhouse has a four-part series looking back at the events that shaped the new 10-team Big 12.
I'd suggest all Big 12 fans read it, as it answers some of the big questions you hear all too often when fans ask about realignment from last summer.
One of the biggest? Why did the Big 12 stand pat while others looked to expand, and take what looked like a reactionary approach while others took what appeared to be a proactive approach?
Commissioner Dan Beebe put together a "war council" made up of a handful of people qualified to peer into college football's future.
From part 2:
"We played out every scenario, every aspect of what might happen," [former associate commissioner Donnie] Duncan said. "It wasn't just involving the Pac-10. It was the national picture. If A moves to B, and B moves to C, then what happens? Who would pay for it? How does TV benefit? How do they not benefit? Then from a legal standpoint, what are our parameters?"
One consideration discussed was expanding the Big 12. Instead of waiting for its member schools to be courted, why not strike first?
"We concluded that 12 was the maximum number for us, in this part of the country," Beebe said. "Was there anyone out there we should try to add? The potential candidates would not have added to the Big 12; they would have taken away.
"When the Big Ten made its announcement we were in high gear."
The group, put together in late 2009, was made up of Big 12 deputy commissioner Tim Weiser, former associate commissioner Donnie Duncan, New York-based television adviser Joel Lulla and legal counselor Kevin Sweeney of the Kansas City law firm Polsinelli Shugart formed Beebe's "war council."
Here's a Q&A I did with Sweeney earlier this offseason.
Part 3 went up today, and part 4 debuts tomorrow.
Part 3 delves into the tense 10 days in June that culminated in the Big 12 staying alive, giving some never-before-seen looks behind the curtain of events that had been reported elsewhere.
A few selections:
Of the Orangebloods.com report that the Pac-10 was courting the Big 12 South during Big 12 meetings:
"That news pretty much ended that day's meetings," said Donnie Duncan, a former Big 12 associate commissioner and one of Beebe's advisors during the crisis.
On the aftermath of those Pac-16 reports the following day:
The Big 12 presidents met Friday morning. While not contentious, the gathering was tense. It was analogous to a 12-hand game of poker. Good friends Nebraska president Harvey Perlman and Texas president William Powers basically asked each other to put their cards on the table. Was Nebraska leaving for the Big Ten? Was Texas (and other schools) leaving for the Pac-10? To answer Beebe's challenge, who was committed to the Big 12 and who was not?
On Beebe's reaction after Colorado and Nebraska announced their departure:
"Nebraska was leaving no matter what," Duncan believes.
The first domino had tipped. Wednesday night, Donnie Duncan received a call from Beebe, who sensed that the Big 12 was crumbling. "He was very emotional," Duncan recalled. "He felt he had let the [conference office] staff down."
Beebe and the his advisers recalled getting ESPN/ABC to honor their current TV contract, despite the loss of Nebraska, Colorado and the Big 12 Championship game their "ace in the hole."
"On Saturday ESPN had agreed to not reduce our money," [Big 12 TV strategist Joel] Lulla said. "We were trying to stabilize our TV deals. Dan talked with both ESPN and FOX about the kind of deal the Pac-10 recently signed. He wanted to tear up both existing deals and work out a joint deal with ESPN and FOX. ESPN resisted that.
"When we got ESPN to agree to not cut our right fees - they probably could have reduced our deal by $75 million to $100 million over the final six years of our deal- that put us in a better position because we were getting the same money and having to distribute it to two fewer schools.
"For ESPN, on a business level, it made a lot of sense. Also, they had already budgeted the money so they weren't going to lose any money."
At this point, there's not much left to say about last summer that hasn't already been written in said in countless other places, but I've generally felt like (and written a few times) Beebe's gotten far too much of the blame for the Big 12 losing two teams and the public perception of him is entirely warped for reasons that don't make a lot of sense.
As for the Big 12's recent resurgence, it's clear it's a lot more than a one-man show, and he's perhaps gotten a bit too much credit, but those closely involved in the negotiations last summer when the perception was Beebe was being played like a fool thought it was unfair, too.
"I've been doing this a long time and I've never seen anyone cooler under pressure than Dan," Lulla said. "The tension in that room was unbelievable. ESPN was reporting that the move of five Big 12 schools to the Pac-10 was 'imminent." But we knew the tide was turning. We were kind of laughing at what we thought was bad information. We didn't think we were being played by Texas because we were getting a lot of encouraging signs from Austin."
"I cannot remember a single event in intercollegiate athletics where the focus came on one individual so unfairly," Duncan said. "I've never seen one person subjugated to having an image portrayed that was 180 degrees from who the man is.
"Dan stayed ahead of the game. And he won the game."
Check out this series. You'll be glad you did. Lots of insight, especially from a conference website.