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Big 12 to Begin Media Rights Negotiations

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12 Conference announced Wednesday that they would begin early negotiations with media partners ESPN and Fox “to explore an accelerated extension of its current agreements.” Realignment and media negotiations are a hot topic across college athletics as the Pac 12 is working to negotiate its new deal after the loss of UCLA and USC and after the B1G announced its record breaking deal with Fox, NBC, and CBS.

“It is an exciting time for college athletics and given the changing landscape we welcome the opportunity to engage with our partners to determine if an early extension is in the best interest of all parties,” said Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark. “The Big 12 has enjoyed a fantastic relationship with its multi-media rights holders, and I look forward to having these conversations.” This sentiment shows a stark difference from only a year ago, when the conference was accusing its media partners of trying to effectively doom the conference after the announcement of Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the SEC.

That realignment news may be one of the major triggers for this move to begin negotiations early, as many have speculated that ESPN would prefer to move OU and UT to the SEC sooner rather than later. But, each school is currently bound by a costly grant of rights clause that has prevented them from jumping to a new conference before the current Big 12 media deal is concluded. If ESPN is looking to bolster its major college football partner, the SEC, in light of the new B1G realignment and media deal, it’s smart for the conference to move forward as soon as possible to use that leverage to negotiate a better deal for the schools who will be staying in the Big 12. CBS’s Dennis Dodd has reported exactly this, that with the new deal negotiations beginning, there are now active conversations regarding UT and OU’s ability to leave the Big 12 early.

You can see how starting negotiations (and ESPN being a gracious negotiating partner) would benefit all parties involved. The Big 12 gets a solid deal that stabilizes the conference and makes it a more enticing landing spot for Pac 12 schools. Texas and Oklahoma get to begin their SEC journey. And, ESPN gets to solidify their partnership with one of 4 biggest CFB conferences while simultaneously having Texas and Oklahoma in the news cycle next year in the SEC to combat the coverage that the B1G will receive after poaching USC and UCLA.

At the very least, these negotiations should provide Big 12 leadership with hard numbers that they can use moving forward. They should be able to understand what the conference looks like in the media landscape in a post OU/UT era, as well as information regarding the payouts if the conference were to expand further, such as grabbing some schools from the Pac 12. Having these numbers makes realignment with potential expansion schools much easier.

We may also hear nothing. The Big 12 and ESPN/Fox do not have to sign a new deal right now. If the two sides don’t come to an agreement, they can all walk away to wait and see what the future holds and do this dance once again in 18 months when the official exclusive negotiating window opens up. The current Big 12 deal runs through 2025, so there is no guarantee that we will see any official numbers or the announcement of a new deal. But, starting this negotiation early shows an aggressiveness from the conference that many Big 12 fans have been desiring for years. Not only does it provide possible long-term benefits for the conference, but it also mitigates any advantage that the Pac 12 had by being the only conference currently at market for a new media deal

The Big 12 likely has information regarding what to expect, they wouldn’t be making this move blind. Leadership would be involved in background discussions with their partners and what they desire, and most likely has a ballpark figure that they are shooting for based on the information they have. But, negotiations do fail, and even the best plans fall apart. That said, the new Big 12 leadership is showing signs of being active, rather than reactive, and that bodes well in the current CFB landscape. Hold on to your hats Big 12 fans, we may be gearing up for some major news in the coming months on the future of the conference, and how the conference stacks up against the big boys from the SEC and B1G.