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The Perks of Big12 Football

After a loss, people say some crazy things. So, after a four-game losing streak, it shouldn’t come as a shock that some of the chatter from West Virginia fans had become outright outrageous.

Lazard says the move to the Big12 had a lot to do with his decision to commit to WVU over Ohio State.

The wildest thing I’ve heard, though, is that the Mountaineers should never have left the Big East for the Big 12.

I can think of millions of reasons (literally, but we’ll get to that) why that’s an utterly ridiculous notion. Let’s begin with four.

Recruiting

I’m sure there are some out there that just rolled their eyes when reading that word, but they shouldn’t. There’s a reason that schools spend millions of dollars to help their coaches trudge through thousands of hours of tape and send them across the country to suck up to 17-year olds.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. It builds the team. It builds an athletic department. Heck, it is the basis for all the of the school’s athletics.

Simply put, recruits are important to West Virginia – and the move to the Big 12 is important to recruits.

“WVU joining the Big 12 had a lot to do with my decision,” said offensive tackle commit Marcell Lazard. “We will be playing great teams every week. It now gives us a better chance to play in the national championship playoff.”

Fellow lineman pledge Tyler Tezeno agreed with him.

Tezeno chose WVU over LSU thanks in large part to the move.

“(The move) was extremely important in my decision,” said Tezeno, who chose the ‘Eers over SEC power LSU. “I’m from Texas and growing up here, the Big 12 has been huge. They always produce good teams and good players.”

It's no surprise this 2013 class is filled with, by far, more Top 50 prospects than any class before it.

Throughout the past year, the move to the Big 12 has been a topic of conversation I’ve had with over a hundred recruits. I’ve yet to find one that didn’t see it as a positive. In fact, once the move was finalized, several prospects let their true feelings about the Big East be known.

“Now that they’re out, I’m just glad to see they’re in a real conference now,” joked one prospect that later committed to an SEC school. “They were still WVU (in the Big East), but the Big 12 is one of the best conferences in the country. It’s somewhere I would play. I wouldn’t play in the Big East.”

Respect

Did you like that smooth transition? I hope so.

Better question: did you know Louisville was undefeated up until last week? You may have because you were keeping up with former Big East brethren, but much of the nation was unaware.

On a regular basis, ESPN referred to the “four unbeatens,” listing Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. At one point on College Gameday, they were discussing teams’ National Championship hopes. After they finished with the aforementioned four teams, the analysts moved on to seven or eight other one-loss teams and never mentioned the Cardinals.

Almost five million viewers saw Geno Smith and company beat Texas in front of the largest crowd in Longhorn history.

Even if you did know their record and saw their surging ranking, could you name more than one player on the team? Could you name who they have played?

Probably not, because five of their twelve games will not be aired nationally and none of them have or will be shown on Saturday night primetime.

Which leads us to…..

Exposure

In the world of television, there’s one truth: all other aspects being equal, if you put something on broadcast television (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC), it will garner more viewers than on cable (ESPN, ESPN2, FX, etc), which will attract more eyes than regional or limited channels (ESPNU, Gameplan, etc) and so on.

Not only are better television possibilities good for college football fans, who tend to be spread out across the country, but it does wonders for exposure. The more people who see a program, good or bad, the more people recognize that program. The more people recognize a program, the more they want to be a part of it.

And the difference between West Virginia’s “exposure” this year compared to last year is, to put it lightly, drastic.

In 2011, despite the fact that West Virginia was in the Top 25 most of the season and eventually won the Orange Bowl, finding them in your TV Guide was a lot harder than one might expect.

Of the 12 regular season games, the Mountaineers appeared on a broadcast network twice (ABC against LSU and Rutgers) and they played on cable four times (ESPN against Marshall, Syracuse, Pitt and USF). However, the other six games – an entire half of a season – West Virginia was relegated to limited, regional or internet-only broadcasts. They played Maryland on ESPNU, Cincinnati on ABC Regional and Norfolk State, Bowling Green, UConn and Louisville were all on “Gameplan.”

This year? Of the eleven games played or scheduled (the season finale against Kansas is still up in the air), West Virginia has only been on the lowest rung of the ladder once – the FedEx game against James Madison. They have appeared on broadcast stations seven times and cable networks three times. Not only that, but they have been showcased in primetime games on three separate occasions (Texas, Kansas State and this weekend versus Oklahoma).

Three nationally-televised Saturday night primetime games? That’s never happened in the history of West Virginia football.

Money

Speaking of television exposure…. That leads us to television contracts and those contracts lead us to money.

Lots of money. Oodles of money. Scrooge McDuck, let’s take a head first dive into a vault full of cash, money.

The Big12 television contract alone – which was agreed upon earlier this fall – is worth $2.6 billion over the next 13 years, which equates to $20 million per school, per year.

By contrast, the Big East’s negotiations are currently ongoing and, per ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, estimates range wildly “between $60 million to $130 million annually.”

That would mean full members would receive between $4.06 and $8.8 million a year. Even if we assume the contract would be worth more with West Virginia as part of the package, the best case scenario would net West Virginia only half of what they are getting currently in the Big 12.

And that’s just the television contract.

The Big12 and SEC, in conjunction with the Sugar Bowl, announced a 12-year deal with ESPN this week that would net an extra $80-million a year that goes directly to the schools. There’s an extra $3.33 million per year in the coffers in Morgantown for doing absolutely nothing but being a part of the Big 12.

Speaking of bowls, the payouts for the Big 12 affiliations are substantially higher than the Big East’s. Take a look at the list below, which details the team picked, the Big East payout and then the Big 12 payout.

No. 2 Team - $2.275 million, $3.625 million
No. 3 Team - $1.700 million, $3.175 million
No. 4 Team - $1.800 million, $3.350 million
No. 5 Team - $900k, $2.075 million
No. 6 Team - $538k, $1.700 million
No. 7 Team – none, $1.800 million

That’s a substantial difference - an average of $1.4 million - but it doesn’t even take into account two other factors. First, the Big 12 has an opportunity every year (including this one) to get two teams into the BCS. If they can do that, that’s an extra $17 million a year to split up among the conference. I think it's safe to say that the Big East will not get two teams in the BCS anytime soon.

Also, remember how, after “13-9,” many Mountaineer fans were reluctant to travel cross country for the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma and the school had to pay out over $1 million for unused tickets?

That doesn’t happen in the Big 12. In the same scenario, the conference pulls from their funds to foot the bill.

Even when you include the sliding scale entrance for WVU (50%, 67% and 84% the first three years), their buyout from the Big East and the increase in expenses for travel, the University could earn an extra $150 million or more over the next twelve years.

In the never-ending arms race that is college football, that will get you a lot of perks.

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