What’s Next for the Remains of the Big 12: A Look at Some Options
It started with some flirtation by Nebraska and Missouri with the Big Ten. And when step-brother, Nebraska, seemed like they could actually leave the Big 12, big brother Texas started to make some noise…by publicly considering an offer by the Pac-10 to join, a scenario that would allow them to bring their immediate siblings, Texas A&M;, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. Meanwhile, the almost forgotten family member, Colorado, didn’t like the infighting and decided to leave on it’s own..the first move in the demise of the once proud Big 12 family.
When Colorado accepted an invitation to the Pac-10, the wrecking ball started swinging. A day later, Nebraska made it official, and accepted an invitation to the Big Ten. With that move, it appears that Texas hit the detonation button and put an end to the Big 12. On Tuesday, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. are expected to accept invitations to the Pac-10. Texas A&M; might follow, but at the time of this article, is still considering the SEC as an option.
And assuming on Tuesday, that the four Big 12 schools do opt for the Pac-10, (and Texas A&M; opts for the Pac-10 or SEC) this means that the once seemingly happy family of 12 schools in the Big 12 is no more. Even a last ditch effort by the SEC to convince Texas, Oklahoma & Oklahoma St. would result in the same thing…as all that will remain will be fond memories, classic football battles on ESPN classic…and 5 schools left to wonder what is next for them.
Missouri got all dressed up for the Big Ten, putting on it’s prettiest dress and makeup. But for now, the Big Ten has opted to to invite only Nebraska. Missouri can only hope that as things play out, that the Big Ten will come back to Missouri with an invite…whether it’s weeks, months, or years down the road.
Kansas remains an option for the #16 spot in the Pac-10, only if Texas A&M; goes the bold route of leaving it’s Texas brethren by opting for the SEC. Should they do such, my sources confirm Kansas and Utah to be the top candidates for that final spot, as they would provide access to the Kansas City or Salt Lake City markets for a potential new Pac-10 television network. Unfortunately for Kansas, my same sources have states the Utah might be the front-runner.
And then there are Baylor, Iowa St., and Kansas St. All three sit in the same position, a position that at this time, Kansas & Missouri are in as well: schools from a BCS conference that could soon be without a home.
So what happens next for the 5 left-over Big 12 schools if 5 of the remaining 10 schools do leave this week?
Losing the long rivalries they’ve had with the departing seven Big 12 schools will be tough to swallow. But when you look at the future of these schools, there is some sign of optimism: all five schools will likely end up in a better situation than the majority of FBS schools. It might not seem that way right now as their fans feel the bitterness of being slighted by the Big Ten and Pac-10. But the future holds a number of scenarios that could at least take away some of the pain and help these programs develop new rivalries and continue to generate television revenue.
So let’s take a look at some of the scenarios:
Big 12 Regroups:
You’ve got five schools left behind. In times of crisis, the instinct is to run and for each school to fend for themself. But there is another option: to regroup by courting some of the best from the Mountain West, CUSA and even the Big East.
There are a number of schools either in, or on the fringes of the current Big 12 footprint, that when combined with the remaining five, could make for a dynamic and profitable conference. Make no mistake, the available options are not as strong as departing schools like Nebraska and Texas. But the quality is there to rebuild the Big 12 conference that would remain superior by most standards to both the Mountain West and Big East in regards to football and on the same page in basketball.
Markets would certainly be a factor in deciding what schools to pursue, as this new group would battle with the Pac-10 and others for viewership.
Some of the top options would include Utah, BYU, TCU, New Mexico and UNLV of the Mountain West. In CUSA, you have schools like Houston, UTEP, Memphis and SMU. And in the Big East, you have schools like Louisville, Cincinnati and WVU who might see the benefit of such an alignment.
When looking at the current Mountain West, Big East (football), and CUSA conferences, there is an argument to be made that the following lineup could be stronger on the field, court, and in the revenue streams:
East: Louisville, Memphis, Missouri, Iowa St., Kansas, Kansas St.,
West: Utah, BYU, New Mexico, Baylor, TCU, Houston
Kansas City (#32), St. Louis (#21), Houston (#10), Albuquerque (#44), Salt Lake City (#31), Louisville (#49), Dallas-Ft. Worth (#5), Memphis (#50)
* Would allow the five Big 12 schools to remain together
* Would have two geographically fit divisions
* Would maintain some current Big 12 markets and add new DMAs for a television deal
The Mountain West Option:
When the Mountain West expanded to 10 on Friday with the addition of Boise St., it did open some eyes regarding the plans of the potential remaining Big 12 schools. The move to add Boise St. was simply to improve the conference, specifically it’s chances of gaining an automatic BCS bid. While adding Big 12 schools might have done that also, none have had the level of success on the field of Boise St., not to mention the BCS criteria boost that Boise St. provides.
The Mountain West now has the option to remain at 10, or consider expansion options that could allow them to grow to 12, 14 or perhaps more.
If they chose to expand to 12, the easiest move would be to simply add Kansas and Kansas St, if both were available. Baylor remains a strong option and would give the conference another presence in the state of Texas (along with TCU).
And perhaps the boldest move would be to invite all five Big 12 schools, along with another school, to expand to 16.
Some options for the Mountain West:
12 schools: add Kansas and Kansas St.
12 schools: add Kansas and Baylor
14 schools: add Kansas, Kansas St., Baylor and Missouri
14 schools: add Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., and Missouri
16 schools: add Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., Missouri, Houston, Memphis
16 schools: add Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., Missouri, Ho
Potential Format (16 schools):
East: Missouri, Iowa St., Kansas, Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, Houston, New Mexico
West: Boise St., UNLV, SDSU, Utah, BYU, Wyoming, Colorado St., Air Force
Kansas City (#32), St. Louis (#21), Houston (#10)
Benefits for Mountain West:
* The Mountain West would be doing it’s part to keep up with the Pac-16 in this scenario.
* New television markets for the Mountain West could increase their current (and low ranked) television deal
Benefits for the Big 12 schools:
* If all 5 schools were included, and it’s doubtful that would happen, they’d all remain in a BCS conference and retain their existing rivalries.
Due to the restrictions in their current television contract, the best scenario for the Mountain West would likely be to expand to only 12 schools with Kansas and Missouri or Baylor, although Kansas State would likely be the option due to Kansas politicians wanting the schools to remain together.
The Big East Option:
Depending on what the future holds for the Big Ten and their expansion plans, the Big East could very well have a quite different look a year from now.
Schools such as Syracuse and Rutgers remain on the Big Ten radar, in that conferences attempt to gain further penetration into the population rich New York and New Jersey television markets. The Big Ten Network could certainly use those markets to generate more revenue with it’s cable subscriber base. And if the ACC lost any schools (SEC could have interest in Florida St., Georgia Tech, Clemson or Miami), the Big East would certainly be the target for the ACC to find replacements. Some believe, including former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, that we’ll eventually see more conferences grow to 14 to 16 schools. So the ACC might even look towards the Big East to expand on it’s own, before the SEC makes any moves of it’s own. As Syracuse and Rutgers remain high candidates for the Big Ten, it would seem that the ACC targets would likely be UConn, Pittsburgh, WVU and Louisville in that order.
So if you’re the Big East, you’re relieved that the first wave of conference realignment happened without losing any of your eight schools.
But that doesn’t mean that the Big East won’t soon enough find itself vulnerable.
A previous piece on CollegeSportsInfo.com mentioned how the Big East is being proactive enough this time around to consider various scenarios where they could protect themselves from losing multiple schools, something that almost caused the conference to split in 2003 when it last happened.
One of the scenarios that has been partially discussed within the Big East offices, includes expanding to a 12 football school/20 all-sports conference by adding Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., and Missouri. Basketball fans would drool over the idea of so many tradition rich basketball schools all under the same umbrella.
The conference would likely be split into two (10) school divisions with a limited number of cross division conference games. But the carrot of having so many quality schools participate in the Big East tournament would make that single event a premiere spectacle that all eyes would be on.
For the football side of the issue, such an expansion would provide a number of advantages to the current eight Big East football schools.
* Better quality football product than current Big East
* Protection in the event that current Big East schools leave the conference for the Big Ten, ACC or even SEC (WVU might be the only risk to depart for the SEC).
* As a 20 team conference with 8 non-football members, the conference would retain it’s strong basketball product in the event that even 6 football schools ever left. Other candidates such as Memphis, UCF and ECU could be brought in as replacements should there be a Big Ten or ACC raid.
The Big East Option: Split
One option that the remaining Big 12 schools could choose, and has been discussed by the Big East, could come from a drastic change to the existing Big East. With the potential now to court 4-5 BCS caliber schools, the Big East could use the collapse of the Big 12 to create a 12-16 school all-sports conference of it’s own. In doing so, they would lose the 8 non-football members and the markets they bring. But they would be making a bold move to drop the stigma of being one of the weaker football conferences with only 8 schools.
It’s important to note that this scenario has much less support in the Big East offices than the 12/20 option, with primary concerns being which schools might leave for other conferences. Losing schools such as Syracuse, considered the glue that keeps the basketball schools and football schools together, could be a major blow to the current union of 16 schools. For as proactive as the Big East claims to be, it seems that they will almost have to wait to see what happens with the Big Ten before moving forward with any type of split.
Such a scenario that did involve a split, could look like:
Potential format (12 schools):
East: Syracuse, Uconn, Rutgers, Pitt, WVU, USF
West: Cincinnati, Louisville, Missouri, Iowa St., Kansas, Kansas St.
* primarily the same as the 20 school big East scenario, but would serve as an all-sports conference, attempting to retain the BCS autobid, while providing an upgraded football product.
Potential format (16 schools):
West: Louisville, Memphis, Missouri, Iowa St., Kansas, Kansas St., Baylor, Houston
These are just a few of the scenarios that could take place. There are plenty more that could come to fruition, with the remaining five Big 12 schools splitting up for different homes. Missouri might be on deck for a Big Ten invitation, or perhaps one from the Big East on it’s own. Kansas might still find a way into the Pac-10 if Texas A&M; doesn’t make that move (although my sources claim that Utah might have the advantage at this time). ACC administrators might even have some interest in bringing Kansas into their historic basketball conference, despite the awkward geography. Perhaps political pressure in Iowa would bring Iowa St. to the Big Ten, although it remains the longest of shots. And while Baylor was left out of the Pac-10 migration by three of it’s Texas partner schools, perhaps they seek a spot in the Mountain West or CUSA without the other four Big 12 schools left behind.
These five Big 12 schools and their fan bases need to find some optimism, as difficult as that may be. While none of the detailed scenarios presented above seem to be at the same level of the Big 12 circa 1996-2009 , there remains hope: in all these scenarios, it is likely that the football product would at least remain worthy of a conference BCS automatic bid. And one could argue that in some of the scenarios, the basketball conference might even be better with the loss of Colorado, Nebraska and Texas Tech.
For now, we wait. And see what happens to the forgotten children in the once happy Big 12 family.