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Big 12 revenue plan provides needed help

I believe it was Karl Marx who once uttered the eternally prescient proverb: "Mo money, mo problems."

The Big 12 may have soon learned this, with bigger paychecks to each school on the way, thanks to a generous offer from Fox.

Since its inception, the Big 12 has distributed revenue unequally. Fifty-seven percent of the conference revenue was distributed evenly. The other 43 percent was distributed according to a variety of factors, namely how often a team was on television.

The importance of this, as I've repeated several times in this space, was overstated during the realignment fracas of last summer. But it's changing now.

After the 2006-07 school year, the Big 12 distributed $103 million to its 12 member schools. The gap between the highest earning team (Texas, at 10.2 million) and the lowest-earning team (Baylor, at 7.1 million) was just 3.1 million.

In 2008-09, the last year individual financial data was made available, Oklahoma, the top earning school, earned $4 million more than Kansas State, who earned the least. After the 2009-10 school year, the Big 12 distributed $139 million in revenue.

During the 2012-13 school year, once the new deal with Fox kicks in, the Big 12 will have $150 million to distribute in football television revenue alone, much less basketball television revenue, monetized third-tier rights or BCS bowl payouts.

Sometime around 2014 or 2015, the Big 12 will re-negotiate its first-tier rights, currently worth $60 million. Fox agreed this spring to pay the Big 12 $90 million for its second-tier rights, up from $20 million.

Point being, mo' money is coming. And that gap between the top and the bottom teams was only going to grow. It was going to grow exponentially what it did in the first 15 years of the Big 12's existence. Mo' problems, of course, could emerge as that gap widened.

The concrete effects of what that means on the field, (i.e. parity) are certainly up for debate. But I'm not willing to debate one big point: Texas aside (the Longhorns will cash a $15 million check from ESPN for the Longhorn Network every year on top of its conference revenue), the Big 12's top earner making $10 million per year more than its lowest earner would not be healthy for the unity of the league.

The new revenue sharing formula isn't wholly equal, but it will keep the raw numbers close to what they've been in the past. Teams that earn more money by building their programs will still make more, but not so much more as to foster any further resentment. Nor will they risk upsetting the balance of power and make the Big 12 a hopelessly top-heavy conference.

After adding two teams last summer, the Pac-12, which previously distributed its revenue more unevenly than the Big 12, went to an equal revenue sharing plan.

The SEC and the Big Ten already share revenue equally.

The Big 12 has already shown it's not a league that's heavily influenced by its peers, zagging while others zigged with mixed results.

The league was the second BCS conference to add a conference championship game, but next year, when the Pac-12 and Big Ten add a conference title game, the Big 12 won't have one.

Each of its conference peers retain a program's third-tier media rights. The Big 12 gives the schools the right to monetize them however they see fit, a process that should prove fascinating in the near future.

Commissioner Dan Beebe said that he didn't anticipate a change in revenue sharing after the Fox deal was announced, but clearly the winds of change blew across Big 12 country between then and the conference meetings last week.

So what will this latest move, which seems to fall in line at least a bit with the rest of college football, mean in the long term? It's too early to tell, but in the immediate future, it helps teams who could use the help in the new Big 12. Teams from the former Big 12 North will have to get used to playing everyone from the stronger Big 12 South.

Coincidentally, those same teams, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas, are teams who have struggled to reach bowl games in recent seasons. Baylor, one of the Big 12's lowest earners, but one with a rising football program under Art Briles, has also straddled bowl eligibility in recent years and could use the money for any number of things.

With a nine-game conference schedule, those are the teams that could be hurt the most.

With this new revenue-sharing formula, those are the teams that benefit the most.

That money may not foster wins in the future, but it will foster good will.

For a league looking to cement exactly that among its members in the future, that new change is a good one.