Monday, June 28, 2010

Can The Big 12 Survive Re-Alignment?

You might read the title to this post and wonder if I've been in a deep sleep for the last few weeks. The re-alignment is done, right? Well I don't think it is. Here's what we know so far:

For the 2010-11 season there will be no changes. Schedules were already made, so the BCS conference teams will all play out in the same conferences they played in during the 2009-10 season. The changes will begin in 2011-12 when Nebraska moves to the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah to the Pac-10, and Boise State to the Mountain West. This post will only be talking about the Big 12, so I'll leave the other stuff for another post.

The reason I don't think re-alignment is done is because the Big 12 situation is completely untenable. First of all, there's a reason why conferences want 12 teams, and that's the football championship game. The Big Ten and Pac-10 have now added an extra game that will bring in many millions of dollars, while the Big 12 will lose theirs. Second, the idea that a conference becomes stronger if it becomes smaller and higher quality on average is nonsense (and it's not even certain that quality went up for the Big 12 anyway, since Nebraska football is a huge loss). If that were true then Texas would be better off as an independent. Even Notre Dame, with their unique history and nationwide following, is still in the Big East in every sport besides football, and will likely eventually quit being a football independent as well. Even if a conference brings in more money per school, it's still less money in all. Losing Nebraska football money is a lot of money for a conference to lose.

So not only does the Big 12 lose a lot of money with two fewer teams, but it's also in an untenable position because it's really the Big Texas Conference now. Texas is now calling the shots, and will get whatever it wants, including (apparently) their own tv channel. Texas has learned that now they can make any demand of the Big 12, and the mere threat that it might cause them to jump to the Pac-10 will cause the Big 12 bigwigs to immediately acquiesce. This is good for Texas, but it will destroy the conference. Schools like Baylor and Iowa State are going to starve as they get a smaller and smaller piece of Texas football money.

So I do think that in the end the Big 12 is going to change. One possibility is that Texas really does leave for the Pac-10 along with the Oklahoma and a couple of other schools (most likely Texas Tech and Oklahoma State). This would likely kill the conference, causing the remaining teams to flee to other conferences, or else cause the Big 12 to just swallow up so many new teams that the name remains but the entire character of the conference changes (such as annexing the entire Mountain West).

The other possibility is that Texas realizes that the Pac-10 isn't right for them and the Big 12 realizes it as well, and the power balance fixes itself. In this latter scenario the Big 12 would have to add teams eventually, which would likely mean raiding the Mountain West.

Either way, I do think that the Big 12 will dramatically change over the next few years. In some sense it was inevitable. There has always been a desire for the bigger conferences to grow, and they always want to grow by picking the best teams from other conferences. The biggest conferences will always win out, the way that the ACC looted the Big East, which in turn looted Conference USA a few years ago. And the fact is that the Big 12 has been the weakest of the six major conferences. Not only that, but the Big 12 just happens to sit right in the middle of the three conferences most likely to look to expand (the SEC, Big Ten and Pac 10), and also has the one prize that the other conferences really want to tap into (the Texas recruiting pool).

But I just don't see any way that the Big 12 doesn't either lose or gain teams over the next few years.

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