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Basketball

BLUM: Big 12, The Conference of the Future?

Jul 18, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to the media during the Big 12 Media Days at Omni Dallas Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The following is a futuristic account of what the landscape of College athletics will look like when the year hits 2024. Let’s gaze into the future.

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October 20, 2024

Today, the Big 12 announced a landmark partnership with technology conglomerate Google, solidifying the once maligned Big 12 as the pioneer in the ever evolving world of college sports. This new five year, $5 billion dollar agreement makes the Big 12 the most financially sound conference in America and the envy of their traditional counterparts.

To fully understand how we got to this place, we have to rewind several years. Around the fall of 2017, television viewing habits reached a critical turning point around the world and especially in college sports.  Hundreds of thousands of viewers were fleeing the once viable cable systems and networks by the month.

The proliferation of viewer specific apps and a la carte TV forced the dish and cable companies to reassess how they did business. The once profitable Big Ten and SEC networks were hardest hit in the sports world. Cable companies could no longer bundle their channel specific costs to all viewers. Instead they promoted sports packages as stand-a-lone additions, greatly reducing subscribers.

So, for example, Ruth Hicks in Millville, New Jersey no longer got charged $15 per year for watching the Big Ten Network that she never viewed. She only wanted to watch HGTV, Fox News and the Weather Channel and with the ability to buy a la carte TV, that’s all she had to pay for.

With the tens of millions of subscribers unbundling and not purchasing the sports networks, the Big Ten and SEC Networks hemorrhaged revenue needed to pay the members of their conferences. This forced the costs on the existing subscribers, angering many. The network bubble burst.

“To be honest, ESPN and FOX have all the good games anyway, why would I pay that kind of money to watch Rutgers and Purdue?” Todd Jones of New Glarus, Wisconsin said in the Fall of 2017.

The large conferences also were struck by the precipitous drop in attendance at football games.

“I have only seen Ohio State come to Kinnick twice in the last 15 years, I’m tired of seeing Illinois and Northwestern instead. I never get to see the good players,” John Sissler of Traer, Iowa said in the Fall of 2021. “Plus, with the new technology out there, I can see things at home I can’t see at the stadium.”

The Big 12 was the earliest adopter of cutting edge technology that changed the way sports are consumed. In 2020, the Big 12 formed a partnership with Google and their virtual reality division.

“Our size and flexibility allowed us to negotiate a deal with Google that the other conferences couldn’t. Because each school owned some of their media and digital rights, unlike the other conferences, we were able to experiment and outfit our arenas and stadiums with virtual reality technology that changed the way young people viewed college sports,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

Watching games on flat-screen TVs became as outdated as CD players. The younger generation craved immersive experiences that brought them closer to the action, right in their living room. Fans could fire up their virtual reality eye-wear and view the game in an unprecedented way. Advertisers flocked to the new venture and the Big 12 became the conference of the future. The 10 schools became premier destinations for recruits because the student-athletes wanted to be in the middle of the hip, new wave.

“Because we had the technology in place already with our individual third tier channels like Cyclones.tv or K-State.HD, we were the first adopters of this viewing experience. The older conferences and their networks were so concerned with dropping subscribers and completely bogged down in red-tape they weren’t flexible enough to adopt.” Bowlsby said.

The Big 12’s decision back in 2016 to remain sleek and efficient ended up paying huge dividends. Now the Big 12 is the most popular conference in the land and other conferences are scrambling to catch up.

“When the ACC signed that 20-year contract in 2016 with a TV network, they were essentially signing up to drive a gas powered Pontiac for two decades, while we here in the Big 12 have driverless and electric powered Teslas,” Bowlsby said.

“We couldn’t be happier. Thank goodness for the foresight to look ahead.”