Props to Husker Mike for bringing to light a really bad development for the Big 12 conference today. He had to go all the way to the San Antonio News-Express to find it. I didn't notice it in the KC Star, Omaha World-Herald, or Topeka Capital-Journal.
Anyway, the news is this: TBS won't be broadcasting Big 12 football games anymore. Yeah, that's right. Just when you thought the conference's TV deal couldn't get any worse, it did. We are now stuck entirely with FSN, and it would take me the better part of a year to run down all the problems with FSN being our only carrier. I'll hit the high points...
First, FSN is splintered into a bunch of regional networks (some even smaller). Here in Houston, I primarily get FSN Houston, which cares a whole helluva a lot more about the Rockets, Astros and Texans than it does about Big 12 football. Because FSN is so splintered, the conference often don't get national broadcasts of our conference's games because affiliates like FSN West Coast doesn't give a damn. That can destroy our TV exposure in important markets like California, Florida, and the East Coast.
Second, FSN does only a marginally good job of packaging and marketing its games. The graphics are average, the announcers are worse, and the reporters don't have the in-depth knowledge they should considering it's the one conference they always cover. Granted, it's better than Gary Thorne calling us "KU" during most of the UT game last year, but I'll even take Brent Mushmouth over the guys in the booth for FSN.
This is all just a part of what I've seen as a general decline in the overall quality of the Big 12 conference in the last 5 years or so. Think back to about 1998. We had six conference teams (K-State, NU, CU, MU, UT and A&M) who won 8 or more conference games (Texas Tech won 7). Nebraska was one year removed from a split national title. K-State came within one game (nay, one quarter) of playing for a national title. Two years hence, OU would actually win the title game. The point is, from the day the conference was formed until about 2002, there was always speculation that at least one team from the Big 12 would be in the national title picture in football.
Contrast that with where we are today. Even though UT won the national title only one year ago, the Big 12's legitimacy in football has fallen off the map compared to what it was. The only people who talk about Nebraska being in the national title picture now are...Nebraska fans. K-State is now happy to make a bowl game. Colorado has fallen off the face of the earth. The only teams who have any credibility right now are OU and UT. And even OU's credibility is a little lacking after their 2003 beatdown in Kansas City (and subsequent loss to LSU) and the 2004 implosion against USC. Every other program in the conference is at best a pretender, an also-ran in the top 25 (if even that high). Nobody honestly thinks Texas Tech or Missouri is going to win a national title.
We can discuss basketball in this, too. Between 2001 and 2004 (three NCAA tournaments), this conference put 5 teams in the Final Four. We haven't had a Final Four team since. Another nice stat to look at...
Big 12 national championships in basketball: 0
That's right. Since this conference was formed, it has won as many national titles in basketball as Nebraska has won NCAA tournament games in history. Zilch, nada, rien, nothing. That's pitiful for a power conference.
I could go on. Outside of Oklahoma State, Big 12 golf is a joke. Baseball? Well, until they actually make it fair for teams north of Arkansas, I guess that doesn't really count, but how many Big 12 teams do we see each year playing in Omaha? None last year. Like golf, outside of UT, Big 12 baseball is a joke (yeah, I know Nebraska, you went to the CWS a couple times, but you really didn't do much). I guess I'll give some respect to Baylor's women's basketball for keeping the conference relevant in that sport (K-State might have been able to do so as well, if we had a real coach, but that's another rant for another day).
So what does this all come down to? Does it mean our schools generally are only average at sports and always will be? I'm not buying that. If a school like K-State can take the worst football program in college football history and turn it into a legitimate contender, at least for a little while, the other schools in the conference can be competitive. Our schools have the money and facilities to be competitive. So what's the problem here?
This man has been the Big 12 commissioner for nine of the conference's 11 years of existence. He is to be blamed for a lot of the problems today (as well as praised for some of the successes along the way).
Why on earth do I have to watch K-State vs. Nebraska on pay-per-view when I can watch Indiana vs. Northwestern on ESPN2 all day long? How did a 17-13 K-State basketball team not go to the NIT two years ago? How in HELL did K-State get left out of the NCAA tournament this year, behind teams like Arkansas? (These are just K-State grievances)
It seems to me Weiberg is much more concerned with making sure he doesn't irritate people at the NCAA than promoting his conference. He doesn't want to rock the boat and suggest (demand) there should be a Big 12 representative on the NCAA selection committee. And I don't buy the argument that conference reps don't have any pull on who gets into the field. That's bullshit. The fact that they're there means they can suggest or mention or in a million ways implicitly recognize their conference's teams, or at least keep them in the discussion. Plus, think about a time when you've had to turn someone down for something. Was it easier to do it by telling them face-to-face, or would you have preferred to make the decision and let the other party find out through channels?
Maybe more importantly, why in the hell hasn't he fought for a better media deal for the conference, especially in football? When Tim Weiser came to K-State as athletic director, he immediately upgraded the school's radio package, bringing better coverage and more money for the department. Tell me what the problem is, Kevin. Why can't we get a better television deal? Is it because the TV stations don't want to show games in small markets? I thought that was half the reason we brought these freakin' Texas teams into the conference. We now have schools in markets such as Houston (#10), Dallas/Fort Worth (#7), San Antonio (#37), Denver (#18), Kansas City (#31) and Oklahoma City (#45). It can't be because we didn't have the teams that would attract ratings when the conference began, as I noted previously. So is it just because you're really fucking lazy and just don't want to get it done, or is there an actual, legitimate reason?
(Ship image courtesy Google images, Weiberg photo courtesy Big 12 Sports Web site)