MORGANTOWN - In the end, there were virtually no surprises when the Big 12, ESPN and Fox finally put the ink to contracts Friday that will provide the networks with programming and the league with tons of money.
But it's that absence of surprises - not necessarily in the new television rights deal, but for the conference over the 13 years of its term - that is the most significant element of the deal.
West Virginia's new conference and the two sports network giants signed a deal Friday that is thought to be worth $2.6 billion all told and at least $20 million per school per year. It is essentially the same contract that was agreed upon in May, but hadn't been signed because of details that took four months to iron out.
"This,'' said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, "is a monumental day for us.''
It is monumental not only because of the financial terms - the Big 12's 10 members will now reap as much or more in revenue sharing as almost anyone in the country - but because of the length of the contract and the stipulations within it that anchor the schools to the league.
The contract is for 13 years, through the 2024-25 school year, and includes the long awaited grant of rights to the league by all 10 schools through the life of the contract. Nine of the 10 schools have formally signed off on the grant of rights and Texas Tech is expected to follow next week after a regents meeting that is considered a formality.
What the grant of rights means is that the 10 schools have signed over the rights to their television money to the Big 12 for the next 13 years. If a school decides it wants to leave, it leaves that money to the league.
In other words, no one is leaving the Big 12 in the foreseeable future. While conference hopping might continue elsewhere, it won't be teams leaving the Big 12. The Pac-12 and Big Ten have similar long-term commitments in place.
"I think what it does is it gives us a very public and a very business-oriented substantiation of the commitment that our 10 institutions [already had] to one another privately,'' Bowlsby said Friday morning after the deal was announced. "I think many were concerned that we were going to come off the rails again at some point in time and I think this demonstrates that's not going to happen. We're going to be partners for a long, long time.''
Indeed, it was only a year ago that the Big 12 was rocked by the defections of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC and by talk of some of the league's standard bearers - including Texas and Oklahoma - negotiating to join the Pac-12. West Virginia and the Big East, in fact, were toying with the notion of inviting leftovers such as Kansas and Kansas State into the Big East when the Big 12 dissolved.