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The Big 12 Conference should have listened to Kevin Weiberg

By Berry Tramel September 2, 2014
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Kevin Weiberg isn’t the kind of guy to gloat. He always was low-key, even as commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.

So Weiberg isn’t saying I-told-you-so. Even though he told us so.

Before Weiberg helped the Big Ten launch the Big Ten Network, and before Weiberg helped the Pac-10/12 launch the Pac-12 Network, he tried to talk his Big 12 constituents into a Big 12 Network. Tried to tell them that a conference television channel would produce financial bounty and exposure galore.

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Weiberg never could sell it to enough Big 12 schools. The rich — Texas, OU, Nebraska and Texas A&M — figured they were better off keeping their options open. Figured they could do better on their own, with school-specific media-rights deals.

Now the Big Ten Network flourishes, the Pac-12 Network is part of a huge bonanza out West and the SEC Network has launched in the last two weeks with flare and hype that eclipses both.

And here in Big 12 territory, we’re keeping a stiff upper lip. Keeping our chin up and our gaze focused, all the while thinking, why didn’t we listen to Weiberg?

The Big 12’s hits have been steady since Weiberg resigned from the Big 12 in frustration seven years ago to help launch the Big Ten Network. The loss of four schools. Instability so severe the conference nearly imploded twice. A loss of status in the college football food chain. The loss of the conference football championship game, in an era in which every other major conference has one. Constant speculation about the Big 12’s future.

Most of it stemming from the Big 12’s decision to pat Weiberg on the head and tell him to forget about a Big 12 Network.

“In order to do a conference network, you have to have a very broad assignment of media rights,” Weiberg said. “In the Big 12, there wasn’t a willingness to participate in the common conference approach. You lose a little bit of the glue that holds a conference together.”

A “little bit,” Weiberg said. Told you he was low-key. The Big 12 lost most of the glue that held a conference together. Texas A&M and Nebraska grew tired of Texas’ power. Missouri no longer trusted Oklahoma. Colorado jumped on the first life raft that floated by. The Big 12 became Dangerous Liaisons; no one trusted anyone.

Texas signed on with ESPN for The Longhorn Network. OU made a decent deal with Fox Sports. Kansas got some cachet with its basketball brand. Most other schools in the conference are fighting for scraps of television money and exposure outside the conference’s contracts.

“You can make the argument the Big 12 from a pure financial standpoint is doing just fine,” Weiberg said. “But an additional value of those kinds of networks, they cause members to have to kind of throw in to a bigger common approach.”

Commonality was a foreign concept in the Big 12 in 2010 and 2011. Trust was gone. All for none and none for all. And despite all the flowery talk the last three years, the truth is, the Big 12 remains a conference that lives on out of desperation more than anything else. Some have nowhere else to go; others, like OU and Texas, know they are kingpins of scorched Earth.

If the Big 12 had voted to install a network, perhaps it would have rankled Texas. Maybe the Longhorns would have bolted the league, though it’s clear now that other conferences would not be so quick to capitulate to UT. Would not roll out a burnt orange carpet for The Longhorn Network. Who knows? Maybe the Big 12 would have been staggered either way.

This much we know. The SEC passions boil up plenty of hatred. Georgia hates Florida. Tennessee hates Alabama. Alabama hates Auburn. Everyone hates LSU. But give the SEC credit. Its schools have come together in solidarity. They chant “SEC! SEC!” after big bowl wins, and they mock their inferiors in other conferences, and they sign away their precious inventory of ballgames to the common cause of the SEC Network.

Meanwhile, in the Big 12, Texas and ESPN connive to get as many as three games a year on Bevo TV, and Kansas State, a top-20 program by any definition, can’t get its season opener televised even in Kansas.

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