Conference Realignment Wrap Up

I.

If yesterday's news went too fast for you or you weren't glued to the news from 4:00 to 9:00, here's what went down. First, Chip Brown the Texas-focused Rivals web site dropped a bombshell that had far reaching implications. Supposedly the Pac-10 gave up on its idea of a joint TV network with the Big 12 and it was ready to just absorb half of it.

Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech composed the shopping list, while Missouri was likely to get a Big Ten bid. Brown thinks Nebraska's only a maybe for the Big Ten, potentially leaving the Huskers along with Kansas out in the cold, inter-conference void. Fox would then create a network for the Pac-16 like it did for the Big Ten. The only holdup is that Texas A&M is far more interested in the joining the SEC if the Big 12 falls apart rather than the Pac-10.

The Pac-10 issued a denial, and almost everyone else wouldn't talk about it. Colorado's athletics director gave some credence to it, but he couldn't remember where he heard about it and backed off his claims. The Big 12 canceled its unity-focused press conference that was to happen yesterday.

II.

Here's roughly where each Big 12 school stands, based on everything I've read:

  • Baylor: loyal to the Big 12, but doesn't feel like it has much influence.
  • Colorado: wants the Big 12 to survive, but it will take preemptive action if it thinks the conference will dissolve.
  • Iowa State: committed to the Big 12.
  • Kansas: committed to the Big 12 and scared of what might happen without it.
  • Kansas State: no public comments, but presumably committed to the Big 12.
  • Missouri: doing everything it can to entice the Big Ten to extend an invite without coming out and saying it plainly.
  • Nebraska: doesn't like the way the Big 12 works right now, would be very interested in the Big Ten, but is wary because it knows a Big Ten invite is not a sure thing.
  • Oklahoma: committed to the Big 12, but would follow the crowd to the Pac-10 if that's where the crowd is going.
  • Oklahoma State: at last check it didn't think it was a serious contender to get an invite from another conference, but presumably it would follow the crowd if the crowd moves.
  • Texas: prefers the Big 12 to stay together because that's the best way for it to consolidate its power in the state of Texas, but it's considering its options.
  • Texas A&M: committed to the Big 12, but if it falls apart, it would greatly prefer to go to the SEC rather than the Pac-10.
  • Texas Tech: committed to the Big 12, but probably about the same as Oklahoma State.

III.

The SEC has no plans to fire the first shot at expansion. The direct quote from Mike Slive is, "We would be reactive rather than proactive, and the fact is that we’re pretty happy." The SEC as currently composed works on pretty much every level. You don't mess up a good thing if you can avoid it, and no one is sure that power conferences bigger than 12 work.

Slive also stated that the conference doesn't "need to get larger for the purpose of distribution." In other words, TV markets are not and will not be the focus of any SEC expansion discussions. Just like I've been saying all along.

IV.

Texas A&M holds a surprisingly large amount of sway here. As I mentioned above, it wants no part of the travel that would come along with Pac-10 membership. It would rather go to the SEC.

Well, the SEC isn't going to be sending out invitations any time soon. Slive has made that clear. We also know that the Texas State Legislature won't let Texas destroy the Big 12 if Texas A&M isn't taken care of. Contrary to popular belief, it's not that the two of them have to go to the same place together; it's that they both have to end up in major conferences. It could conceivably happen that Texas goes to the Pac-10 and A&M goes to the SEC. Except that the SEC won't be preemptively doing anything.

So if Texas A&M says no to the Pac-10, Texas isn't going either. If Texas isn't going, then the whole scheme falls apart. The other four rumored schools don't want to leave the Big 12 if possible, and a plan for a 16-team conference is not worth the Pac-10's time if Texas isn't involved.

V.

I can't remember where I saw this (sorry), but I read somewhere that the SEC did things right by adding teams to the middle of the conference when expanding rather than to the top. I'm beginning to come around on that.

The ACC added Florida State to the top back in the day, but it was so far above everyone else that the conference got steamrolled for over a decade in football. The Big Eight added alpha dog Texas in the mid-1990s, and Nebraska still hasn't gotten over the influence the Lone Star State holds. The resulting compound has turned out to be quite unstable. The Big Ten added to the top with Penn State, but it was coming in from being an independent, not from running a major conference like Texas does now.

If the Pac-10 can pull this off, its power brokers of today are probably going to end up feeling like Nebraska does now. Texas and Oklahoma would come in expecting to call some shots and not just take orders from the west coast schools. The existing Pac-10 schools would have to give up some of their power and influence, and no one ever likes to do that. It could easily end up a volatile mix like what the Big 12 has now.

VI.

It's important to remember that almost nothing is certain in the conference realignment game. The only sure bet at this point appears to be the MWC extending an offer to Boise State. Everything else is noise.

The Big Ten is still out there, and Ohio State's president has been talking with Texas' president (best line: Texas has "a Tech problem"). Texas state politics are a huge factor now just as they were when the SWC fell apart. If the Pac-10 doesn't offer a revenue sharing program sufficiently tilted towards Texas, the Longhorns will balk. A&M might not go along, like I said above. Washington's athletics director seems to think a full Pac-10/Big 12 merger is possible.

In the end, it's university presidents who will decide what schools do. Not conference commissioners. Not athletics directors. Not coaches, not fans, not long-winded SEC bloggers. University presidents tend to view things differently than everyone else does, so there's no way to know what's going on.

VII.

There are only two firm, solid rules to the expansion game:

  1. If you are in no danger of losing a member school under any circumstances, you're in a position of strength. Only the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-10 apply.
  2. If you are in danger of losing one or more member schools in any conceivable circumstance, you're in a position of weakness. That's everyone else.
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