TV Rights Pacts, Distribution Deals Could Follow Like Dominos With College Sports Conference Realignment

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College realignment is starting to take root and the TV sports landscape -- and presumably some conference names -- will change with it.
On June 11, it became official that Nebraska would exit the Big 12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference as its 12th member during the 2011-12 academic year, while Boise State, home of the blue football field, will migrate to the Mountain West Conference from the Western Athletic Conference, also starting during that school year. The day before Colorado said it was leaving the Big 12 behind, to kick off as the 11th member of the ultra-expansion-minded Pac 10 in 2012-12

With the future of the rest of the Big 12 up in the air, as schools, led by Texas, are expected to make the call on whether to move to the Pac 10 as soon as next week, conferences and the monies tied to their attendant TV rights contracts are in flux. Moreover, distribution prospects for Big Ten Network, FSN and The Mtn.-The MountainWest Sports Network will also change alongside the realignment.

Boise State field

Indeed, the Big Ten Conference commissioner, bolstered by the presence of the Big Ten Network, set all these plays in motion when he voiced his intentions to add at least a 12th school and give the league a conference championship game. Nebraska's addition aside, Notre Dame, Missouri, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Maryland are among the schools that have been reported to be on the Big 10's radar. A major part of the attraction: Big Ten Network's lucrative million dollar payouts to member schools.
The tradition and the popularity of the Notre Dame notwithstanding -- the Fighting Irish have a national contract with NBC -- Rutgers holds vast appeal to the conference and BTN from a TV perspective, with its access to the New York DMA. Area distributors like Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, RCN and Verizon FiOS would have to pony up more money under the network's current license fee structure.
Co-owned and operated by Fox Cable Networks, BTN is said to collect 70 cents or more per subscriber in the eight states currently home to conference members, and some 10 cents in areas outside that footprint. Distributors in Nebraska can now anticipate negotiations for a significant rate hike for BTN.
For its part, the Pac 10 is looking to add as many as six schools. The first domino, in the form of Colorado, has committed to the conference. Meanwhile, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas and Texas A&M have also been widely reported to being wooed by Pac 10. The latter may have interest in switching to the football Southeastern Conference, which signed huge traditional, long-term rights deals with CBS and ESPN in August 2008. The value of those 15-year pacts are worth more than $3 billion combined.
Pac 10 commissioner Larry Scott, the former head of the Women's Tennis Association, said he's looking to add teams and clout by year-end, because negotiations with its TV partners, Fox and ESPN, commence in 2011. The conference realignment aspect is obviously accelerating. Depending on meetings, announcements of a larger conference and geographic footprint could come next week.
A 16-team version of the Pac 10 -- with USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State in one division, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas in the other -- could follow the BTN model in the form of its network. Such a service would include eight of the nation's top 20 DMAs -- Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Sacramento, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and Denver.
Fox is the lead TV partner of the Pac-10 on the regiional cable side, while its subsidiary Fox Sports Net currently holds the rights to the cable package for the Big 12, which also comes up for bid next spring. The dissolution of the Big 12 would likely make Fox play even harder to retain Pac 10 rights or join with the reformed conference on a new service, a la the BTN, as well as perhaps bringing broadcaster Fox into the mix. ESPN/ABC presently holds the national rights to the conference for both football and basketball.

As for The Mtn., the regional sports network owned by Comcast and CBS College Sports Network should take a turn for the broader with the addition on Boise State. The Broncos have been the dominant football program in the WAC over the , past decade and won last year's Fiesta bowl over Mountain West member TCU to cap a 14-0 season.
TCU had joined the Mountain in 2005, joining the conference that was established in 1998 with Brigham Young, Utah, Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Colorado State.
"We are pleased and excited to welcome Boise State University to the Mountain West Conference," commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. "Since our inception just 11 short years ago, the Mountain West has experienced tremendous success, and the addition of Boise State will further enhance that strength. The MWC continues to strategize regarding potential membership scenarios and bringing Boise State into the Conference is an important part of that evolution."
The Boise State addition on June 11 came just four days after Thompson said the Mountain West would hold off on expansion, dependent on other conference moves. Some believe that if the Big 12 does implode, some/all of its other members -- Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State -- could become part of the Mountain West. Kansas is one of the nation's premiere programs on the basketball court.

Last season, Boise State was ranked fourth in the final Associated Press college football poll, after topping No. 6 TCU in the aforementioned BCS contest. BYU and Utah won bowl games to complete their seasons as No. 12 and No. 18, respectively.
Boise State obviously raises the conference's profile on the football field and could serve as a driver for Comcast and CBS College Sports to fill in some of the gaps in The Mtn.'s distribution footprint.
Comcast's national sports service Versus also airs Mountain West football games.

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