Big 12: Kevin Sweeney

Beebe, Big 12 offer insight into realignment

July, 7, 2011
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 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?

"Nebraska was leaving no matter what," Duncan believes.
On Beebe's reaction after Colorado and Nebraska announced their departure:
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.

Talking Big 12 stability, celebration rule, etc.

April, 19, 2011
Thanks for all the questions once again today. Great chat. Here's the full transcript if you missed it. Didn't get your question in? Drop yours in my mailbag.

And a few highlights:

Dan in Philly asked: who's the best offensive lineman in the league?

David Ubben: Nate Solder has been that guy for a couple years, but since he left, I'd probably go with Levy Adcock at Oklahoma State. Luke Joeckel at A&M should be a good one, though. He's definitely on his way to a nice career.

Ben in Kansas asked: David, all this talk about how stable the big 12 is now that the new contract never seems to address the in the increased inequality both within conference and eventually between conferences (the bottom of the big ten/SEC will continue to make more than the bottom of the big 12.) The argument that all these teams need to do is win to make more money is inherently flawed because each year in the Big 12 it becomes tougher and tougher for the bottom teams to beat the top 2. Look at the situation now where Texas's assistant coaches are payed almost on par with some head coaches. This can only lead to a lopsided conference that will get overlooked in the championship games in the future.

DU: I'm not sure about that. People want to talk about inequality, but it's not that much of a difference. I've said it tons of times. The importance of unequal revenue sharing is way, way overstated. And it's not like teams like Iowa State, Kansas State or Baylor have terrible facilities that aren't good enough to compete. Equal revenue sharing doesn't seem to help Kentucky football in the SEC or Indiana football in the Big Ten. The people that want to equate equal revenue sharing with parity are using faulty logic. Get the right coach in place, start recruiting well and you start winning games.

Brendan in Lawrence asked: I'm an optimist, I'm also a KU football fan. With some key O-line players returning and recent additions, is it safe to say at least one of our RB's will have a good season? Also, why isn't there much talk about QB recruit Michael Cummings being in the running when he gets here? It's not like Webb or Mecham have set the bar very high.. Is Berglund that much better than everyone else that he very well could come into Lawrence this fall as a freshman and take over? I'm expecting a much better performance this year (I'm a realist, though), and another step closer to relevance.

DU: Yeah, I think James Sims will have a good year. I'm excited to see Darrian Miller, though. He's got a lot of buzz. As for the QB situation, there's a lot of talk about Berglund. He's going to be a bit behind the others when he starts practice this fall, but the feeling is his upside is far superior to anyone else currently on the roster.

Steve in Moore, OK asked: Based on your interview with Kevin Sweeney, how confident are you the conference will thrive (survive)?

DU: I'm pretty confident, but it seems pretty lonely over here on this side of the fence. I'll be examining that issue a lot more in the coming week or so. It's fascinating to me... and I hope others.

Andrew in College Station asked: When the Big 12 signed it deal with FOX, they left money on the table so 3rd tier rights could be pursued individually or collectively. How much more could the conference have gotten if they gave FOX 2nd and 3rd tier? And do you think most schools will be able to get that money back selling 3rd tier rights on their own? It seems unlikely since ESPN doesn't really seem interested in paying Baylor or Iowa State 20 million dollars for them like Texas.

DU: My sense is it wasn't very much. The Big 12 seemed confident the money schools could get from a concerted effort to monetize those rights would be greater than what they would get from Fox, who would be more focused on maximizing what they got out of the second-tier rights. Now, schools have a lot of motivation to put some work into marketing and monetizing those third-tier rights. It's an interesting approach.

Kevin in Reno, Nev. asked: After OU-FSU, is TAMU-Arkansas the biggest OOC game for the Big XII?

DU: That's my pick. Missouri-ASU should be pretty good, too. Probably two top 25 teams there.

LonghornDaniel in Cypress, Texas asked: how come the big 12 can't get TCU?

DU: For the 1,000,000th time, you've phrased that question wrong. The question is, why can't TCU get in the Big 12? The answer is they offer nothing new to the Big 12, have poor facilities, no alumni base and wouldn't bring in enough money to warrant what they would get in conference revenues by being given membership.

Amy in Oklahoma asked: With as much grief as the Big 12 officials have garnered, especially over the last season, how often do you foresee the new excessive celebration penalty being used? It's just a matter of time before a major game is decided by one of these calls. When that happens and the chaos ensues, do you think they'll revisit the rule?

DU: Sweet sassy, this rule isn't even on the field yet, and I can't tell you how much I already hate it. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Who even decided this was a good idea? Since when has college football been plagued by excessive celebrations? Call me when guys start whipping out Sharpies to sign balls or make cell phone calls from the end zone. Sheesh. Pointless, and a controversy waiting to happen.

Still lots of unanswered questions for Big 12

April, 19, 2011
The Big 12 employs the legal firm Polsinelli Shugart for its legal counsel. That specifically includes Kevin Sweeney, who has been heavily involved with the league for decades, especially in the past tumultuous year.

Here's more on Sweeney, a Kansas City native.

Now, as it moves into a new future, Sweeney took some time with ESPN to talk about what the new television deal means for the league, how it has positioned itself, and what it means for the stability of the Big 12 moving forward.

In part one earlier today, Sweeney talked about the uniqueness of the Big 12's current position, as well as the new deal exceeding the expectations of those within the conference.

Note: Small portions of this interview were edited for length.

Why do you feel so confident that in 13 years, this deal will still be competitive in the marketplace?

The $90 million, of course, is an average with an increase over time, and history shows that, toward the end of these contracts, they usually aren’t. They usually are below the market. Our last deal was below the market by the end of it. As you know, it’s not at all unusual in this industry, though, for deals to get re-done and re-negotiated before it gets to their end. We’ve done that with ABC/ESPN. Of course, this one with Fox was only one year before the end, but it was an extension. The market dynamics are as such that if Fox and its television partner is sitting there, it’s getting close to the end and they know that it’s getting undervalued, they have two choices: They can either say we’re going to milk this thing and make as much money as we can the last couple of years, even if it negatively impacts our ability to keep these rights in the future, or what is more common in my experience, they can say, we like these rights, we like the programming, it’s the right time and it fills specific needs we have. They’ll take all of that in account and it’s not at all unusual for the parties to get together well before the end of the contract and say we’d like to extend this. The TV partner gets to make sure they keep those rights and [the Big 12 or another conference] can’t take them to the market, and even if [TV networks] have to give up some of the backend economic advantage they would be able to retain.

Withdrawal fees, league policies or the bylaws, have there been any changes to any of those since Nebraska and Colorado left?

No. The provisions that were in place last summer are still in place. Our job No. 1 was to get this contract in place. I think we will then be looking at a number of different aspects of the conference’s governance. It may be that none change, it may be that in light of the fact that the competition changed, the landscape changed, we re-evaluate and give attention to some of the other issues, but that would just be some of a number of issues that we will be evaluating.

I assume those conversations will start to get serious at the Big 12 spring meetings in June?

Yeah, and we’ve begun the process and will continue it then, but we may not conclude it then. You know how academic bureaucracies are and herding calves like 10 or 12 institutions or whatever it is, I wouldn’t anticipate that the process will come to fruition quickly, but it will be deliberate and thoughtful.

This is a unique contract, and I think our members see value in that uniqueness, and therefore, I think this is a significant factor that causes me to be more confident than, certainly, I was in the past about the future and stability of the Big 12 Conference. I think the member institutions understand that, and my perception is right now, even given that we have another bite at the apple with our primary rights in four years, we’ll be renegotiating those no later than four years from now, my perception is that none of our institutions could get this kind of economic deal from any other conferences. And we still have another shot at our negotiations. The Big Ten doesn’t, and if the Pac-10 does a whole package deal, they won’t.

We’ve got another bite at the apple here.

It seems like now, still, there’s not a lot of optimism from fans and others around the college football landscape about the future of this league. How important is it to change that, and what can you do to make that happen?

I think it’s important, but it’s going to take time. There are a lot of still kind of fresh wounds from last summer’s discussion. What’s being done is there’s a significant initiative within the conference to figure out, what is this conference? Why did we stay together?

The newly structured conference with 10 institutions, and I know it’s been discussed, but now that we’ll be playing each other every year in football and twice in basketball. I think that is important and again, differentiating, because other conferences are moving away from that. And we’ve been there. We’ve had the divisions, which were very divisive. We had a championship football game, which, I think, all in all, was more harmful to the conference than beneficial. And we now have a true champion coming out of both basketball and football.

I think it’s going to unify the interests of the schools.

Schools in the North watched the football games in the North. Texas A&M versus Texas Tech they really couldn’t care less about. Now, it will directly impact them, because that may be the team that is directly above or below them in the 10-team standings.

I think you’re going to, over time, see the barriers that were created by the two-division system break down and I think you’re going to see rivalries emerge between groups that weren’t previously in those divisions because they’re playing each other every year and they’re in those cities every other year and on those campuses. So all of that will have a, perhaps not immediate, but over time, will have a significant positive impact on the cohesiveness of the member institutions and their relationships with each other.
The Big 12 employs the legal firm Polsinelli Shugart for its legal counsel, specifically Kevin Sweeney, who has been heavily involved with the league for decades, especially with the tumultuous past year for the league.

Here's more on Sweeney, a Kansas City native.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Brett Davis/US PresswireAttorney Kevin Sweeney believes schools like Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats can thrive under the Big 12's new TV deal.
Now, as it moves into a new future, Sweeney took some time with ESPN to talk about what the new 13-year, $1.17 billion television deal means for the league, how it has positioned itself, and what it means for the stability of the Big 12 moving forward.

Note: Small portions of this interview were edited for length.

What was your role in last summer’s realignment and these recent contract negotiations?

I’m the general outside counsel for the Big 12 Conference and I have been since its inception and I represented the Big 8 before that. So, I was in the middle of all the stuff in Dallas last June and I was the primary legal negotiator of the Fox deal this spring. So I worked hand in hand with Dan Beebe, with the TV consultants and we sat in rooms for about a week in LA and then before and after that, getting to the contractual language that the conference was able to announce with Fox this past Wednesday.

How would you characterize the negotiations? How much finagling did it take to get to this point?

The interesting thing about this contract, and I’ve done lots of these TV contracts, but in the second-tier rights contract, the TV partner always wants to take everything that isn’t in the primary tier, so you’ve got ABC/ESPN here having the first 18 games, and traditionally, Fox would say, "We want everything else. We’ll let the pay-per-view and everything come back, but we want everything else."

The challenge in this negotiation was that we started with the premise that our member institutions wanted to retain a package of rights that each of them separately could go commercialize. So, David, the interesting part of this was it took a lot of really good input from the schools, working closely with Fox and working closely with technology experts to project out 13 years and say, “How might a member institution want to take their specialized, focused programming out to their constituencies? And how can we carve that out of the Fox deal, while still allowing Fox to come in and take the stuff that applies across the member institutions and is of interest nationally, so they can maximize what they’re willing to pay for that?”

So that slicing and dicing, from delayed rights to live rights to replays and coaches shows, they deal with digital platforms, what will happen with convergence of all these streams of programming -- we used to have over the air and cable and those lines are kind of disappearaing -- we’ve got iPhones and iPads and we’ve got down the road there will be other new methods and it’ll all converge into one pipeline and how we sliced and diced that was, to me, the really interesting part of the negotiation of this contract.

This conference differentiates the approach the Big 12 is taking to commercialization of its rights from what most, if not all the other conferences are doing. And I think that’s one of the reasons why, this model where we allow our member institutions to go out and figure out the best way to commercialize their package of rights and take it to constituencies most interested in those rights -- because you can’t do that in the Big Ten, and we don’t think the Pac-10 is going to allow that -- was one of the issues that came to the front.

This is one of the differentiators that is one of the reasons why I am very optimistic about the future of the Big 12.

What was your role last summer?

As outside counsel to the conference, we were dealing with the application of the provisions in the bylaws that related to the withdrawal fees payable by withdrawing members, and we played that out with Nebraska and Colorado. The public numbers are out there, about 15 million in withdrawal fees which are far and away the largest withdrawal fees that have ever been paid by any institution. Also, a lot of corporate governance issues.

Did the Big 12 know a deal like this that could propel it back into the elite, at least in terms of strictly dollars, was coming? Or did this surpass even what you thought was possible back in June?

The Big 12 and the Pac-10 were the last two conferences to have their secondary deals come up for renewal, so last June we knew ours was coming up and we’d seen what other conferences, the SEC and Big Ten, had done. We knew that values were increasing, because years ago, we were concerned that there was only going to be one player in a monopolistic environment, ABC/ESPN.

Since that time, we knew the landscape was changing.

The Comcast/NBC deal was changing. Fox Sports was saying they wanted to take a larger role in college sports. Turner was stepping up to the plate, CBS College Sports. We knew that from a timing standpoint, we were positioned well for what was an undervalued contract, and get market value.

Even given that, David, I will have to say that this contract exceeded my personal expectation of where we might end up, while still being able to retain a significant package of rights for our member institutions to commercialize.

Back to the third-tier rights. Take schools like, say Iowa State and Kansas State, that don’t have the fan bases and resources of a school like Texas, who can put that third-tier programming on its own cable network versus others, who might stream it on the Internet. How much additional revenue can smaller schools expect from these third-tier rights?

I can’t quantify that right now in my mind, but I know there are opportunities. For example, [Texas A&M athletic director] Bill Byrne in your column this morning, was talking about different ways of packaging those rights. So is a K-State or Iowa State by itself able to maximize revenues? Or let’s say maybe you had a Kansas Network -- KU and K-State together. Or you took all the old Big 8 schools, or all the nine other Big 12 schools and package them together. Maybe it’s a cable deal. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s an internet deal that has a free tier and then a premium subscription for certain things. If you want all the extra basketball games or you want to watch women’s volleyball.

I can’t predict that these will rise to the level of what Texas is able to do, or even proportionate to that, but what we’ve done is created the flexibility with hopefully as good a vision as we can 13 years out, so that whatever opportunities arise, that we can create an opportunity for members to capitalize on them.

In part two later today, Sweeney talks about why he feels such a long-term deal can remain competitive, possible changes to withdrawal fees for teams leaving the Big 12, and plenty more.