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.
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.
The SEC Network is televising some of the conference’s best games, notably the Texas A&M-South Carolina opener last Thursday and Arkansas-Auburn on Saturday. The Big Ten Network will reap the conference schools a combined $3 billion over 25 years while it promotes the conference 24/7/365. The Pac-12 Network, despite distribution problems, is part of the most lucrative media contract in the nation.
The Big 12 could have been out in front of the conference television idea. Weiberg heavily promoted it. Tried to sell it. He was consistently rebuffed.
“I don’t know that we ever put it to a formal vote,” Weiberg said. “But it was obvious you couldn’t get there.” Conference bylaws required nine votes. But there were never more than eight in agreement, and even Kansas, wondering how it would affect its hoops, had serious questions.
“Hard to find that super majority consensus around it,” Weiberg said.
And now conference networks are all the rage, with the ACC considering joining the club. Meanwhile, Texas and its Longhorn Network contract safely keep the Big 12 from considering a conference channel for 17 more years.
Weiberg resigned from the Pac-12 earlier this year and moved back to his native Kansas, in the Wichita area, for family reasons. He’s consulting, still helping the Pac-12 and working on a University of Oregon project. He knows more about conference television networks than any man in America.
“I think they have been successful, by and large,” Weiberg said. “They’ve been sources of revenue for the schools, but they’ve also been great exposure vehicles. Lot of games don’t get on. Especially for the Olympic sports. Great to have an ongoing, year-round conversation about intercollegiate athletics and the conference.”
The conference networks can come in many shapes. Fox Sports owns 51 percent of the Big Ten Network. ESPN is a partner with the SEC, as it is with The Longhorn Network. The Big Ten televises mostly rumdum football games. The Pac-12 offers some decent games. The SEC puts on showdowns, complete with Brent Musburger calling the action.
Who knows what a Big 12 Network would have looked like? It was not an original idea, Weiberg said. He knew the Big Ten was considering a network. He knew media companies had inquired with the Big 12 about a possible startup.
Instead, we have BevoTV and no A&M. We have pay-per-view and no Nebraska. We have West Virginia and no Missouri.
“I’m disappointed there have been membership changes, having worked in the conference nine years,” Weiberg said.
He takes the high road. “I think the conference came out of it in good shape,” Weiberg said. “Bob Bowlsby is an outstanding commissioner and will do an outstanding job going forward. It’s hard to predict the future, from legal challenges to just the whole nature of the way the structure is put together.
“Challenges cause some institutions to question and engage, which could lead to more change. I think the Big 12 has come through it in a good spot. Has a chance for a bright future.”
A chance. That’s where the Big 12 is. It has a chance. The other leagues have a certainty. We should have listened to Weiberg.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.