As an athletic program, Baylor was a member of the Southwest Conference from their charter creation in 1914 until its dissolution in 1996. Then the Bears joined the Big 12 Conference, where they’ve been for the past generation. However the Bears are a difficult team to project in terms of where they would end up if the Big 12 Conference does fall apart.
Here are the options as we see it right now.
Baylor Looking to the Pac-12?
There have already been reports that Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech have reached out to the Pac-12. The Pac-12 has simply said it would “listen” to any calls, but it is not actively trying to poach teams from other conferences. However the best case for Baylor to remain in a power conference is to go west in a packaged deal as they are reportedly at least exploring. As a private, religious institution there are some roadblocks, as it’s believed in some corners that the Pac-12 may not want a school with a religious affiliation. That seems awfully short-sighted to me, but it’s been one of the conversations out there. Baylor brings to the table excellent athletic programs across the board. The football program is two years removed from a Big 12 Championship appearance, the basketball program is coming off a National Championship and the women’s basketball program has been one of the best in the nation for years. Also, baseball, golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and other programs have been very solid.
Does Baylor bring a huge media market or an enormous fan base? Not so much, but if you’re looking beyond just that, you will see it’s a quality program to add to a conference, especially if the Pac-12 is looking to invade the talent-rich and football-obsessed state of Texas.
A ‘Step Down’ to the AAC
Looking around the landscape, the SEC is full, while the Big Ten and ACC don’t seem like geographic or logical fits for the Baylor Bears. Those two conferences will have options that better suit their needs. So the AAC would put Baylor back into a familiar category with some old Southwest Conference foes like Houston and SMU. This would obviously have a major impact on the athletic department in terms of revenues and just quality of recruit. The Big 12 paid out $37 million last season, while the AAC paid out $7 million. Even if the AAC scoops up a couple of former Big 12 teams and gets a better contract, it’s unlikely to be anywhere close to old Big 12 money.
But still, the AAC would be a better choice than having to go independent or looking to something like Conference USA. This is what puts the Bears into a unique spot. They’ve proven they can compete with the best in college sports, but there are hurdles here, which is why it feels like Pac-12 or bust.
The best-case scenario for the Bears is that they join Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and TCU in the Pac-12. This would give the Pac-12 its desired presence in Texas and Oklahoma, while also giving these four former Big 12 teams a sense of unity in a brand new conference, while still allowing them to make tens of millions of dollars per year. But none of this is a slam dunk. The three Big 12 programs I have the most concerns over finding a new home if the Big 12 falls apart and dies is Baylor, TCU and Kansas State. Here’s to hoping the Bears land on their feet somewhere, if the worst does happen.