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Big 12 reaches $2.6B deal with ESPN, Fox Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas — The Big 12 announced a new 13-year deal with ESPN and Fox Sports on Friday that is reportedly worth $2.6 billion and should provide long-term stability for a conference that once seemed on the brink of collapse.

The deal to televise football and men’s basketball through 2024-25 includes a so-called “grant of rights” by each of the league’s 10 schools. That allows the Big 12 to retain the media rights and accompanying revenue of any school that leaves the conference. Few would be expected to ever take such an expensive step.

“It gives us a very public and very business-oriented substantiation of the commitment that our 10 institutions have to one another privately,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “I think many were concerned that we were going to come off the rails again at some point in time. I think this demonstrates that that’s not going to happen, that we’re going to be partners for a long, long time.”

Terms weren’t released, but ESPN cited anonymous sources in reporting the contract was worth an average of about $20 million per school each year.

The deal will include games on ABC and all of the ESPN platforms, including the year-old Longhorn Network. Fox Sports is also part of the agreement, providing for games on the Fox network and its cable platforms.

Every Big 12 football game will be televised, beginning with this season. That includes TCU playing at Texas on Thanksgiving night on ESPN, and future televised games on that holiday evening and the day after.

ESPN and Fox already had agreements with the league for football, but the new deal expands opportunities for both networks. After previously airing games on ABC, ESPN will now be able to broadcast Big 12 games on its cable networks. Fox, which had cable rights, will have over-the-air broadcasts beginning with a national game Sept. 22; the matchup has not yet been announced.

Fox Sports will have over-the-air access to at least six Big 12 games each season.

ESPN said it will televise up to 19 conference-controlled football games through 2015, then that number would increase to 23 starting in 2016. ESPN will remain the primary rights holder of Big 12 men’s basketball, including the conference tournament, and broadcast up to 105 games per season.

The Big 12 said the new 13-year deal with ESPN replaces a previous eight-year agreement that was scheduled to run through 2015-16. That runs concurrently with the 13-year agreement between the conference and Fox reached last spring that was changed to reflect the expansion of rights and platforms.

“Today’s announcement, coupled with the hiring of Bob Bowlsby as our league’s new commissioner, is a great example of how well the Big 12 is positioned for the future,” said Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, chairman of the Big 12 ADs. ” This contract ensures the Big 12 Conference will continue to be one of the premier conferences in the country.”

The new TV deals were already in the works when Bowlsby, the former Stanford athletic director, was named commissioner in May. And they come after two summers of uncertainty, when it appeared that the Big 12 might not survive the flurry of conference changes.

West Virginia and TCU begin Big 12 play this season, offsetting the departures of Texas A&M and Missouri to the Southeastern Conference. Nebraska previously went to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12.

While the Big 12 lost four schools to three other conferences, the BCS league now seems as solid as ever.

Bowlsby believes the Big 12 is now going to be the envy of some leagues because of the expectation that “our distributable revenue will be every bit consistent with the highest in the country.” Plus, the overall structure of the league that provides for a round-robin schedule in football and all basketball teams playing home-and-home each season.

For now, there are no plans for expansion for a league that just last fall was looking for replacements.

“We have no active agenda for expansion of the conference at this point in time,” Bowlsby said. “That doesn’t mean that we are oblivious to what might be other opportunities going forward, but I really believe that a period of calm would be advantageous to us and college athletics in general. … We have a lot going for us and we ought to be slow to share that unless somebody brings extraordinary cache.”

Without being specific, Bowlsby said there are provisions in the new deal and an ongoing dialogue for “active issues, changing circumstances” and potential changes should there ever be league expansion and changes such as the re-establishment of a Big 12 conference championship game in football if more teams are added.

Bowlsby said the schools unanimously adopted the “grant of rights” and were also unanimous in its approval of the television contract in an early-morning conference call Friday.

“We are fully aligned group of member institutions and we expect that our futures will go together in lock-step in the years ahead,” Bowlsby said.

Texas Tech has to take agreements to its board of regents for final approval, but that is considered a formality.

“This is an exciting day for the Big 12 Conference. Our future has never been better,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement.