College conferences are neither new or fixed in stone. They are filled with rivalries, welcome relationships and bad karma. From South Carolina that was with the Atlantic Coast Conference, moved to the ranks of independents and then progressed to the Southeastern Conference, to Miami that was independent and is now with the ACC, strong conference rivalries can at times mean a lot of bad blood.
Relationships are key in any partnership. They make the systems owned and run by the partnership workable, especially when each part depends on the interrelationships of the other partners.
In the latest actions of various partnerships among colleges, some have stated that Texas is too self-centered and demands too much. On the other hand, while Nebraska had a football brand, an important factor for any conference, their brand in other areas was weak at best.
It is the importance of the brand that is at the center of the current conference expansions, and none other than Texas is greater in power and prestige. I am no Longhorn fan. In fact, I once dated a Longhorn Chi Omega who said I needed to carry a tire iron because her former boyfriend was a member of the Texas football team and he was gunning for me (so to speak). Indeed, when I started this article, I was convinced that Dr. Tom (Osborne) was the good guy and Texas and especially its coach which used to coach one of my universities was as bad as it gets.
So it is not surprising that I needed something more than Dr. Tom's comments to send me to the next level, something more than the mere bad-mouthing experienced by Texas and its fans. For that matter, even from a team or two inside of Texas, starting with Texas A&M.
And that something was evident after I got through the financial picture and figured on what was driving this parade, why the PAC-10 was so willing to take Colorado, not in the name brand class of Texas or Nebraska, and what is happening here.
It does have to do with the financial picture. Recent articles have shown a variety of ways in which the economics of the current conference arrangements operate. On thing stands out. Texas has demanded and obtained what the schools in the Big Ten refused to give. Special treatment.
Before you (as I did) start to treat Texas as some spoiled child, remember a few things. First, while Texas makes money on its brand by being one of the top licensees of its goods to the world (sweatshirts, etc.), it provides its brand to the conference to which it belongs. And this makes it important both to be in conference that does not tarnish its brand, and why its brand needs to stand out in some ways.
Enter the art of the deal. Nothing less than the ability to control its brand, and to avoid the brand tarnishing that was the Big 12, has moved this mountain. In the end, while money is of utmost importance, the most important issue is the brand itself.
College brands have a variety of ways in which they are important. One is the value to recruiting. And the value can be considered in the three main ways the brand makes money. In academics and research, whereby the universities and colleges attract grant money and those who quarterback grants who also teach, and athletics, which provide another source of revenue.
At one time, few colleges paid any attention to brands. They also treated academics and athletics as foreign to each other.
No longer. And the reason is Tiger Woods. Sure, you may say that is absurd. But when you consider what happened to that brand so quickly, you immediately realize that Mack Brown and all the other football and basketball coaches have one important feature beyond coaching and winning through successful recruiting. They too do not tarnish the brand. All you have to do is look at Matt Dougherty to realize that losing was not as important as on court deportment when he was fired.
A conference is also a brand, a co-brand since it lives along side the brand. And while the deal that Texas cut with the Big 12 had some merit in that it granted Texas more than the other schools, it also had the potential of tarnishing the brand.
When Texas and the other schools' governing bodies meet this week, they will not discuss a lot of financial data. They will not pour over TV contracts and other financial reports and projections. They will and should spend most of the time discussing the brands that they can use to co-brand their teams with. And they will spend some of the time considering the importance of conference alignment to their brand, including its recruiting power.
In the end, the brand names are out there and of importance. Which conference brand is the best one for Texas?
Here is betting that it is not going to be any conference named the "Pac-10." And that when the new conference emerges, which is almost certain to include Texas with UCLA, it could be named something more appropriate to its stature. On the other hand, the creation of a really new conference may have to wait. In the end, one that included the top 16 teams in terms of brand value would seem to be the most sensible. Until you took into account that part of the brand's value is in having North Carolina against Duke in basketball, and other important rivalries.
It is then that you realize that the more important brands are those that connect the schools together in some way. Nebraska has had rivalries with Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. At one time, the Dr. Tom time, Nebraska had never lost to at least one of these schools. Now, it was much more competitive. And the Cornhuskers are bent on joining the Big Ten.
Only time will tell whether and how the rivalries will develop between Nebraska and the Big Ten. However, I predict the fit is outstanding.
Of much more concern has to be the claim that California, Oregon and Washington have something in common with Texas. From politics to the environment, nothing is similar except for one important ingredient. Washington, California and Oregon, like Arizona, have huge Hispanic populations just like Texas. And that could be a financial and cultural pull that has more pop than most other issues, including academics.
We will see.