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Texas A&M move would affect Big 12 television contract

By Barry Horn

The Dallas Morning news

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 10:22 p.m. MDT

Fox and the Big 12 are set to kick off a new cable TV contract in 2012 that would pay the conference an average of $90 million annually through the 2024-25 season. The deal, which is essentially for 13 football seasons, is worth $1.17 billion.

When the deal was completed earlier this year, the Big 12 had 10 teams.

So how will Fox react to Texas A&M's imminent departure to the Southeastern Conference, which for the moment leaves the Big 12 with nine teams?

Fox, which will televise Big 12 games on Fox Sports Net as well as FX this season and beyond, declined to comment on Wednesday.

Most likely it will sit back and wait to see what the Big 12 does. Fox's preference would be for the conference to add a 10th school with a strong football program that would expand the conference's appeal to viewers. It's unlikely that the network would sit still for a nine-school conference with only Texas and Oklahoma as marquee football teams.

Here are Fox's options if the Big 12 doesn't add at least one school: It could leave the $1.17 billion deal in place; it could ask for a rights fee reduction; or it could seek to void the deal.

For Fox, the dream addition would have to be Notre Dame. The school's home games belong to NBC through 2015, but its conference road games would belong to Fox.

BYU? The nearest major market to the Utah school is Salt Lake City, 35th largest in the country. SMU? Dallas is the fifth largest market, but an argument can be made that Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech already secure the area for the Big 12.

ESPN owns the Big 12's over-the-air rights. It broadcasts those games on ABC. ESPN and the Big 12 are in the midst of an eight-year, $480 million deal that expires after the 2015-16 season. That averages out to $60 million a year. ESPN declined comment. But like Fox, it would likely prefer to see the Big 12 add at least one school.

If the Big 12 doesn't add, ESPN, like Fox, has standard language in all its conference TV deals to accounts for changes in conference makeup.

Of course, with A&M and presumably another school added to the Southeastern Conference, membership would be expanded to 14 schools. Its television value would increase.

CBS and ESPN are about to begin their third season in their 15-year deals with the SEC. CBS' deal is worth $825 million. ESPN's is for $2.25 billion. The addition of Texas A&M should bring additional interest from the state of Texas, which includes Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston (No. 10) among the nation's top 10 markets.

Expect the SEC to move to re-open its television contracts to account for the additional schools that will divvy up the dollars as well as for the expanded number of homes in the conference.

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