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By now, if you refresh your podcast feeds, the latest episode of Going For Two should be available.

Bryan and I are going to try something a little different over the next few episodes. We're reaching out to experts who closely cover the various major conferences ahead of the Fall sports season...not just to talk about major college football storylines, but to really get a feel for the state of the conference. We want to talk about the important athletic directors and university presidents. We want to talk about where we think the league will be in five or ten years. I'll let the rest of the internet break down offensive line depth charts.

For this episode, we're breaking down the SEC with my dude, Richard Johnson. Richard was my old coworker back at SB Nation, and he is now part of the spiritual cousin of Extra Points, Split Zone Duo. Richard was also on Thinking Out Loud, on the SEC Network, last season, and I've heard rumors we might see him on our TVs at some point later in 2021.

In this conversation, the three of us discuss:

  • Whether Richard, who grew up a Florida fan, is excited about the expansion of the SEC
  • How he would sell the expansion to programs who, on paper, won't benefit as much, like Mississippi State, Vanderbilt or Missouri
  • What new football coach he's most excited to watch this season
  • Whether he thinks SEC expansion is a legitimate step towards the SIXTEEN SUPERCONFERENCE NCAA BREAKAWAY, as foretold by the message boards, or if it is a part of something completely different
  • How being an effective SEC athletic director is a bit like being former  Yugoslavian dictator Josip  Tito.
  • What it means when your athletic director is "the right kind of asshole", and how that isn't actually an insult.
  • What we all think the SEC looks like in five years.

This was a good conversation with a good friend, and I think you'll enjoy listening to it, along with our other podcasts.

Going For Two publishes weekly, and is absolutely free. You can download it wherever you get your podcasts, and if you enjoy it, leaving a nice rating really does help a lot. We want those Going For Two podcast ratings to look like Alabama recruiting classes. Nothing but Five Stars...with maybe a Three Star thrown in. Everybody needs to sign a punter, after all.

Earlier this week, I remember reading a story by my friend, Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic. Her reporting stated that the AAC was looking to be aggressive and actively poach Big 12 schools, not the other way around. I had heard similar sentiments from other folks in the industry I had spoken to.

This particular paragraph really stuck out to me.

One source believes that the AAC’s relationship with ESPN should help, assuming the league can pull in a few teams and get up to a 16-team conference. “We’ve already got ESPN at the table,” the source said, adding that it would be easier to engage media partners for a league that has one exclusive partner (plus a small package of games on CBS/CBS Sports Network).

I'm not doubting Nicole's reporting, but I was so surprised to read this that I even texted her about it. Why would a relationship with ESPN be seen as a positive, I wondered, if remaining members of the Big 12 believed that ESPN was at least partly responsible for blowing up the league? After all, if you believed that Texas and Oklahoma plotted a Big 12 departure without any input whatsoever from broadcast partners, I have a bridge to sell you.

It turns out...I misread that reporting.

On Wednesday,  Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby breaking the emergency glass and taking aim squarely at ESPN. Bowlsby sent ESPN a cease-and-desist letter, claiming that the four-letter-network is trying to 'destabilize' the league.

In an interview with The Athletic, Bowsby claims that ESPN is trying to steer "3-5" Big 12 schools into the AAC. Via the story:

“This collaboration between and among ESPN and conferences to undermine the Big 12 is a tortious interference with our business,” Bowlsby told The Athletic. “We would be able to assert that even if it wasn’t in our contract, but in fact it is in our contract. It’s clearly them doing things that are disadvantageous to our business, and I have absolute certainty that what I’m saying is factual.”
Bowlsby declined to name the offending conference or elaborate on the evidence he’s gathered but said, “I can tell you it’s irrefutable.”

ESPN, through a spokesperson, has denied the allegations.

A few thoughts:

  • Does ESPN have a potential incentive to encourage a few remaining Big 12 schools to join the AAC? Sure. With only eight members, the Big 12 is only a few defections away from collapse, and if the league falls apart, ESPN saves money on future rights fee obligations, and Texas and Oklahoma could potentially save money on exit fees. Plus, ESPN already has the rights to the AAC locked up for the rest of the decade. If the Big 12 gets kneecapped, they strengthen the position of an existing property, handicap a rival (Fox also owns Big 12 broadcasting rights), and save a bunch of money. Everybody wins...except the Big 12. And maybe, like, Baylor and Kansas State.
  • Is this an absolutely desperate move by the Big 12? Yes. ESPN is the closest thing to a commissioner in college football, if not all of college sports, and even if this move somehow succeeds and the Big 12 continues to exist, they've poisoned the well with the likely future rightsholder of the College Football Playoff, almost all bowl games, major out of conference games, and the Big 12's key competition. This is something you only do if you feel you have no other option...and candidly, the Big 12 might not have any other option. This is a conference fighting for existential survival.
  • I suspect Bowlsby is probably correct that agents of ESPN have, in some capacity, encouraged or facilitated conversations between other Big 12 schools and the AAC, if not other entities. Could he win a lawsuit, or even force messy discovery? I'm not going to pretend to be an attorney, but after texting a few that practice sports law, the consensus I got was "probably not." If ESPN is actively meddling in conference realignment, I'm not sure if they'd ever face any real consequences.
  • If the remaining Big 12 schools can actually stick together, I still think they'd be better positioned to poach from the AAC, not the other way around. Even if ESPN isn't involved, the Tier 1 rights for a Big 12 + the best 4 AAC schools would likely be higher than the rights for the AAC + the 4 best remaining Big 12 programs, since the "bottom" of the AAC (ECU, Temple, Tulane, etc.) would be worse than the "bottom" of the new Big 12 league. The Big 12 can also promise P5 designation and bowl tie-ins, and the AAC can only promise the potential of P5 designation.
  • But the second one Big 12 school leaves, the entire jig is up. Any remaining leverage goes out the window. And it's not exactly a state secret that every single one of those eight remaining schools is making phone calls to try and figure out who else might be interested in them.

I don't know what logo they're going to wear on their jerseys. But I imagine that in 2023, schools like Oklahoma State and West Virginia will play conference games against Cincinnati and Memphis. I have a pretty good guess who the real losers will be from this arrangement, but the biggest winner, even more than ESPN or any broadcast partner, will be the most dominant dynasty in all of college sports.

Billable hours. They're gonna go 12-0 against this schedule, once again.

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