CHICAGO — Hold onto that lotto ticket, Nebraska.
No news is still good news for the Big Ten, but the lack of fireworks here Tuesday was surprising. Conference media days are where splashes are made, and we expected Jim Delany to do a cannonball.
Didn’t happen. The Big Ten did not use the media forum to announce its TV money bonanza. Not even a peep about the future of Big Ten expansion, though it was discussed in the hallways and I’ll have more on that later in the column.
Before we get Oklahoma and Texas on the line, let’s get those dollar figures in line. The Sooners and ’Horns will want to know about the money.
It’s going to be B1G.
For now, we have the numbers quoted last month in the Sports Business Journal’s report: six-year deals with ESPN and Fox for $2.64 billion.
Yeah, the “B” word.
Nebraska, you’re about to hit the lottery.
Now, what are you — and the Big Ten — going to do about it?
To quote an old athletic department philosopher, this is why they did what they did. Or why NU said “how far” when Delany said “jump” in 2010.
True, NU will have had to wait until 2017 to get the full money, but the promise of riches was always there when the Huskers joined the Big Ten frat. It was always a question of how much Delany, the top negotiator in college sports, would go for.
Well, Delany hit it big. And now Nebraska is sitting here like a guy in Kearney with a wife and two kids and a house and car he loves and a life he wouldn’t trade for anything. A guy with the Good Life.
That guy wins the lotto and with the riches come all these decisions. Do you change your life? Do you move to Malibu? Do you retire? The hard-core Midwestern values in the guy tell him he doesn’t want to give up his life.
That’s how I see Nebraska and the Big Ten with all this new money. Do you change who you are?
Does NU start throwing money around like a monopoly game? Does NU start trying to shop like Alabama and Texas?
Do the Big Ten schools throw away their fight songs and academic reports in exchange for becoming football factories?
Let’s face it: Either one of those would be shocking.
“I don’t think we’ll start seeing $7 million coaches and $1 million coordinators all over the Big Ten,” Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network said.
“The Big Ten schools are all rooted in Midwestern values,” said John Bacon of Michigan, a conference historian. “The Big Ten has been predicated on winning the Big Ten. If you win the Big Ten, you’ve had a good season. That goes back to Bo (Schembechler) and Woody (Hayes). They never talked about winning national titles. They had no control over it. Big Ten titles are in your hands.”
But what NU and the Big Ten can do is buy themselves a nice new car. Maybe get a condo in Scottsdale.
The money windfall coming their way comes with no excuses. There’s no excuse to have an old, failing facility or locker room. No excuse not to have the very best for student-athletes. No excuse not to pay top dollar for a football or basketball coach if that’s what you want.
There’s a Nebraska Way of doing things, and certainly through the years Tom Osborne led by example. Osborne was never about money, turned down pro jobs that would have paid him $1 million, gave his TV and camp money to assistants so they would stay. When it came time to hire coaches as an athletic director, money was an object. Osborne went for “fit” over established, experienced big-time coaches.
That’s great. The Nebraska Way is an identity you want to keep. It’s how you want to conduct your business.
But it’s also 2016, with new boundaries and a new normal. The price of winning big has gone way up, crazy high. But college presidents are like professional sports owners. If they’re paying the money, they can’t complain about it.
Husker fans talk about wanting to return to the spotlight, relevance, big-time bowls, etc. In a league with Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, that won’t come cheap. And now the big boys have more money to spend, too.
The point here is not that Mike Riley or Tim Miles are going anywhere. They aren’t.
The point is, NU needs to tweak its mindset. Adjust the dial a bit. If there’s a building you need, an amenity the players want, a key assistant coach who might need a raise to stay, you get it done.
But if NU one day wants to get into the $4 million to $5 million coaching business, it can, too. No excuses.
This is something Delany and Big Ten athletic directors should address. There’s no reason to have programs like Purdue or Rutgers flailing around. You’ve got money. Spend it. Build. Whatever it takes.
There will likely be some push-back from Big Ten types on this. The Big Ten and SEC get compared a lot, and here’s the inherent difference: the SEC is obsessed with being the best in college football. The Big Ten is obsessed with being the Big Ten.
The SEC media days is a four-day infomercial about SEC football. The Big Ten has a cost-efficient two-day shindig, including the giant lunch with the fight songs and speeches. On Tuesday, a guy in a bow tie walked around the scene.
The Big Ten wants to keep its bow tie. It can do that and win big. Ohio State won the national title two years ago. The schools at the top of the Big Ten are national caliber. The league just needs more of them.
The league also takes pride in supporting the maximum number of sports and being an academic leader, all that. Some things can be sacrificed to raise the level of football. Then again, $2.64 billion can buy a lot of books, too.
But can it buy the Sooners or Longhorns?
Big Ten expansion appears on hold. The news last week that the Atlantic Coast Conference was signing a long-term grant of rights — making it incredibly costly for any ACC school to ever leave — might dissuade Delany from going after a North Carolina or Georgia Tech or Virginia.
In fact, the only league left to poach would appear to be the Big 12, which also has a grant of rights but only for several more years. However, where there’s a lawyer, there’s always a way.
And if Oklahoma or Texas chose to bolt the Big 12, certainly the destination conference would help pick up the tab.
But would they come north? It’s definitely worth a call. Despite all the money the Big 12 will get for expanding, folks in the Big 12 are not assuming that means stability.
In fact, my hunch is, adding mid-major football schools like Cincinnati or UConn or Central Florida or Houston will make the Sooners and ’Horns antsy to join a league with bigger names and bigger games.
I just don’t know if OU or Texas would want to try to persuade Texas kids to play on frozen tundras in Michigan, Indiana or Wisconsin. I don’t see the Longhorn Network as a detriment. It doesn’t provide a competitive imbalance. If the ’Horns have $15 million more, is that a reason not to take UT and all the Sun Belt benefits it brings?
It’s still worth a shot. So give the Horns a call.
And while you’re at it, call Missouri. They say nobody leaves the SEC. But Big Ten money is about to get better. And Mizzou originally wanted to be in the Big Ten.
How about Mizzou and Kansas in the Big Ten?
The feeling at media days is that Delany may not be done yet, though the Boss said Tuesday he may not be here for the end of the six-year TV deal. Never say never with Delany.
The truth is, the Big Ten might be done for a while. But those 14 schools will be busy counting money soon. And then they need to get busy spending it.
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