Congress and the Big 12 Shakeup

I suppose this was inevitable:  Congress is now considering getting involved in the college football conference shakeup we discussed yesterday.

Plains state senators fretted Thursday over a major impending realignment in college football’s major conferences. Lawmakers representing states with universities in the Big 12 conference urged against moves that would break up the conference, and explored options to affect the schools’ decisions.

The University of Nebraska is expected to announce Friday that it will join the Big Ten, while the University of Colorado will reportedly join the PAC-10. Those moves are expected to add to pressure for an even larger watershed realignment, which could see schools like Missouri and Notre Dame join the Big Ten, and powerhouses like the University of Texas Longhorns joining up with the PAC-10.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican who’s running for governor of his home state of Kansas, said he’d spoken to Nebraska’s governor and two senators — as well as one of the university’s regents — about the move, which could leave his state schools in limbo.  “People look at this as though it’s a done deal, but that Nebraska board of regents has to vote on this, and that’s a big thing,” he said on KMBZ radio in Kansas. “So I really hope that in that elected body of the Nebraska board of regents that they say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s take a little time here and think about this and let’s see what we might want to change in the Big 12 before we bolt.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), meanwhile, said his staff is exploring options through nonprofit and antitrust laws to approach the realignments.  “I’m concerned about what’s happening the Texas universities and the PAC 10 and what would possibly be leaving some Big 12 teams out in the cold,” Grassley said in a Wednesday conference call. “All I can tell you is my staff’s looking into what can be done from a non-profit, anti-trust standpoint.”

Grassley’s Iowa colleague, Sen. Tom Harkin (D), expressed frustration toward the move.  “While I am opposed to the kind of mischief that’s going on with the Big 10 and the Pacific conference,” Harkin said in a conference call, according to the Gazette Online, “I just don’t know if this is a proper place for Congress to get involved unless there is something dealing with anti-trust or something like that, like interstate commerce.”

At least one senator expressed a more mixed view. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) lamented the possibility that a move by Missouri to join the Big Ten would affect the school’s traditional rivalries, but noted the potential lucrative opportunity the move could pose. (The Big Ten’s nascent television network has proven lucrative so far for conference members.)  “This decision is up to the university, who no doubt will be taking into account the traditional rivalries, but also the financial opportunities,” Bond said in a Wednesday conference call. “I don’t know which way they’re coming down, though I would certainly miss seeing the Tigers beat the Jayhawks. That’s always a high point of the fall for me.”

Actually, while I hope and expect that Congress will ultimately stay out of this matter, it’s not completely unreasonable that they should be interested in it.   College sports are a multi-billion dollar enterprise and it’s rather difficult to argue that it’s not part of interstate commerce.

Indeed, Tom Harkin seems to be striking the perfect balance:  Questioning whether it’s the business of the Congress while focusing on legitimate questions, notably anti-trust.   Certainly, given the potential for the have-not schools to be permanently locked out of the competition if things go as some predict, that’s not unreasonable.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Economics and Business, Sports, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m glad that they’ve addressed all of the other pressing problems facing the country and can now devote their attentions to this.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Alternatively, they’ll do less damage than they would otherwise if they’re distracted by something with smaller stakes!

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Isn’t the more legitimate inquiry directed towards the tax exemptions owned by college sports, ether under the exemption for “amateur” sports competition or educational activities?

  4. John Peabody says:

    The politicians get a rare opportunity to commuicate with sports fanatics. It is not surprising that they will suddenly see the crises and demand action, action, ACTION! We’ll be back to normal in a week.

    It’s summer, and weirder stories suddenly get important this time of year, to fill up the pages.

  5. chris says:

    finally! every year the hawkeyes will get to play those huskers!

    if the pac 10 take as many teams as someone has hinted to, or the big ten takes in 4 or 5. that could really mess up the ncaa. i don’t want the government getting involved, but i’m happier the way things were before. blame the longhorns!

  6. Bob Johnson says:

    It is obvious that College Sports (at least on this level) is BIG business. When schools start collecting 10 to 20 Million dollars a year in their sports programs, that business needs to pay taxes.

    A separate issue is the effort to become BIG (16 team conferences) and then use that bigness to push their will on others. Asking for one conference to have two BCS spots is, in my view, an anti trust issue.

  7. chris says:


    what happened was when the big 8 became the big 12 the power tilted towards texas. from the big 12 headquarters to the championship game in dallas. the tyranny of the majority – the longhorns. they obviously take in more money than any other big 12 team.

    i think what was the final nail in the coffin was the big 12 championship game this year. nebraska won that game. the big 12 officials didn’t think so. pelini was in the halls and said, “goddamn big 12”. which is pretty much the sentiment many teams felt. all the power the other teams had to negotiate was negated as they walked eggshells around the texas teams.

    keep in mind the big 8 was pretty reluctant about becoming the big 12. it would be nice to see the big 8 again, but that’s not going to happen.

    so welcome big red to the big 10. now i hope you get your asses kicked every year. i hope the hawkeyes go to memorial stadium every other year and make your young husker fans painted in red cry tears of pain.

    btw, karl rove is a longhorn fan.

  8. Trumwill says:

    The Big 8 needed Texas schools to maintain its conference strength. It was in a stronger position than the SWC, but the football world was transitioning against the ability of great plains teams to compete with corn-fed farm boys. The Big 12 gave them access to Texas recruits (check out the rosters of Kansas and Missouri) and with the exception of OU and OSU (which benefited super-strongly from Texas recruits) that wasn’t even enough. It was the SWC imports that were keeping the conference one of the best four in football. It’ll be interesting to see how Nebraska does in the Big Ten. The good news for them is that the Big Ten West Division is not looking like it’s going to be very strong.

    On the subject as a whole, I think Bob is not entirely wrong that there are some anti-trust issues if the Super Conferences reach too far. That’s why I think that a result of this (if the Big 12 as we know it dissolves) will be bringing the MWC to the table if they bring with them some of the Big 5 (perhaps a merger). Then you have first (Big Ten, Pac-16, SEC) and second-class (ACC/BE/ACC+BE, MWC+B5) citizens, but every region of the country is at least represented in the BCS.

  9. chris says:

    i think nebraska will do fine. it’s their fans i fear the most. they’re more annoying than buckeye fans. they for some reason think they could have beaten the fast dominate 1997 michigan team.

    i do know it’s going to get rowdy between the two states that already have no love for each other.

  10. Vast Variety says:

    My only concern is how will this affect the Hawks vs Clones rivalry and games.

  11. chris says:

    they’ll still compete for the cy hawk trophy, that won’t change. i think if anything they might shake up the big ten to an east division and a west division. you can’t shake up the wisconsin-minnesota-iowa, rivalry. hopefully this doesn’t take away the uni game at the beginning of the season. who knows we might see a big ten championship game now.

    anybody see iowa state’s pollard complain about people paying a subsidy to the university of iowa because of the big ten network?

    i’m sure the boomer sooner fans are probably feckin mad at the huskers right about now. looks like the anti husker fans in omaha with the oklahoma gear will have to get some hawk gear now.

  12. superdestroyer says:

    If college sports ends up with 64 schools in four power conferences, there will be a huge push for those 64 schools to move out of the NCAA and form their own, football oriented, association. Then there would be no messy rules, they would be able to cheat, pooch non-big time schools, and not share the money.

    Of course, if the 64 schools move into their own association so that they do not have to share, the next question will be who the SEC schools schedule if Florida Atlantic, Lousianna Tech, and UT-El Paso can no longer be scheduled.

  13. James Joyner says:

    Of course, if the 64 schools move into their own association so that they do not have to share, the next question will be who the SEC schools schedule if Florida Atlantic, Lousianna Tech, and UT-El Paso can no longer be scheduled.

    I’d presume that the new league would adopt rules requiring scheduling only within the league, regular schedules, and the like. Which I’d vastly prefer to the current patsy-for-hire system that allows big schools to play 2/3 of their games at home.

  14. Trumwill says:

    <i.I’d presume that the new league would adopt rules requiring scheduling only within the league, regular schedules, and the like.

    Meh. While I do wish that the powerhouses would schedule a little tougher than they do now, I enjoy the mid-majors having opportunities to take down the big boys. If I wanted parity where all the best teams spend all their time playing all the best teams, I would watch the NFL.