Domino theories regarding the college football world’s response to Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC abound. For example, a common theory has KU and Iowa State headed to the Big 10, West Virginia headed to the ACC, with some four-team combination of Baylor, K-State, Houston, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas Tech headed to the Pac-12 so that there are four super conferences with 16 teams each.
Some fan bases are extremely confident that their favorite team will land in a particular destination while debates about AAU membership, religious affiliations, and market shares dominate the discussions among other fan bases. Here’s my advice to every single fan base: put a pin in it because nothing is likely to happen all that fast.
What I’m Hearing
Full disclosure: No, I don’t have any inside sources; I’m not plugged into the power structure of any university or conference. All I have is access to premium websites where people who do have inside sources report what they hear, and I consume a ton of college football media 52 weeks a year. I try to hear everything, especially when it pertains to the Big 12.
The big picture that is materializing in front of me is simple: Nothing is likely to happen soon.
The ACC wants Notre Dame, as it recently made clear during its media days. While adding West Virginia would make a heck of a lot of sense from a competitive standpoint, the ACC is saddled with a bad media deal it made for the sake of getting the ACC Network, and it isn’t likely to add teams unless doing so would allow it to renegotiate that deal.
Until the ACC is forced to give up hope on Notre Dame or its current TV deal expires in the mid 2030s, it’s likely that the ACC stands pat.
In other words, its Notre Dame or bust. If Notre Dame could be persuaded to join, WVU would be an easy and obvious 16th team, but WVU alone or in combination with an AAC school likely would not move the needle enough to trigger a renegotiation of the grant of rights, and there’s a sense that WVU isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
The only possible development that might preclude the ACC from taking WVU at its leisure would be if the Big 10 came knocking at WVU’s door. But that’s not likely.
The Big 10
Some Kansas fans seem certain that the Jayhawks will end up and the Big 10, while some Iowa State fans seem only a little less confident. Each fan base has its list of reasons why their team is perfect for the Big 10, and I’m not here to say that those reasons aren’t spot-on.
However, what these fan bases are overlooking is why their teams aren’t perfect for the Big 10 at this point in realignment. The SEC is grabbing up big time properties in Oklahoma and Texas, the ACC has its targeting system locked on Notre Dame, and the Big 10 does not want to be left out of the arms race.
As of now, it appears the Big 10 has much bigger plans than adding KU and ISU. What the Big 10 really wants is Notre Dame, but since that doesn’t appear likely, it is believed the Big 10’s current targets are USC and UCLA.
Adding these two schools would be a seismic shift on par with the SEC getting Oklahoma and Texas. No pair of schools from the “Other 8”, AAU members or not, comes close to comparing to what a takeover of the Los Angeles market and two of the most storied brands in college sports would do for the Big 10.
Therefore, while the Big 10 might want to add KU and Iowa State at some point, those two schools are not an immediate priority and could likely be added at the Big 10’s leisure or not at all. The Big 10’s focus right now is LA and gutting the Pac 12.
The Pac-12 is something of a wild card in all this. There is no obvious chess move the league could make to counter the SEC’s OU/UT move. From what I’m hearing, the Pac-12’s top priority right now is playing defense, which might require a little offense.
The primary question for the Pac-12 is what is going to keep USC and UCLA happy? If the answer is conference expansion, the Pac 12 would likely make a move involving one to four of the remaining Big 12 teams. There’s three scenarios I’m hearing the most about.
In the first scenario, the Pac 12-lands two Texas teams. Texas Tech would be the obvious first team on the list, and the second would be either Baylor, Houston, or TCU. From what I hear, Houston is the most likely pick for a second Texas team due to the size of the Houston market and the Pac-12’s aversion to religiously affiliated schools.
In the second scenario, the Pac-12 takes four teams from Kansas to Texas, which would include Oklahoma State and Tech with the remaining coming from the pool of K-State, Kansas, Baylor, Houston, and TCU. Again, Houston is considered a true contender for the reasons stated above.
In the third scenario, the Pac 12 just takes Tech and Oklahoma State in a move for a share of Texas while snagging the school that is considered the most athletically palatable of the Other 8, OSU.
I have no idea which of these scenarios is the most likely. The one Pac-12 expansion projection I’ve seen the most involves Houston, K-State, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech; however, most of those models assume that KU and ISU are off to the Big 10, which doesn’t appear likely in the near future for reasons discussed above. The Big 12 schools that seemed to be the best positioned in the event of Pac 12 expansion are Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The school the seems to be in the worst position is Baylor.
Possible Myths and Miscellany
Twitter – It was all over Twitter that KU and possibly Iowa State had arranged a call with the Big 10 late last week; however, reports since that call was supposed to have happen indicate that there was no such call and that no call between the two sides is scheduled. Take every report you hear with a grain of salt and don’t make too much of silence from any particular camp: Fan bases are hungry for news, and even rumors (real or manufactured) are news in such an environment, but if universities and conferences are doing their jobs competently, their discussions aren’t going to be leaked on Twitter. That’s not to say incompetence doesn’t abound; it’s just to say don’t let Twitter break your heart.
Magic # 16 – The assumption that the Big 10, ACC, and Pac 12 are now forced to expand to 16 teams come hell or high water is false, at least at this moment. The only thing that would force these conferences to get to 16 is if media players like
Satan ESPN and Fox started dangling big pay raises for conferences that reach the magical inventory number of 16. For now, the game appears to be consolidating superpowers, like Notre Dame, USC, and UCLA, to counter the SEC’s seismic move.
An Unlikely Alliance? – I have also heard that Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and K-State are trying to work together. The underlying connection is that Tech’s AD, Kirby Hocutt, and OSU’s AD, Chad Weiberg, both have ties to K-State. Hocutt’s ties are particularly strong as he played linebacker for K-State where he was the Big 8’s leading tackler in 1993. Both Hocutt and Weiberg have held administrative roles in K-State’s athletic department. A Tech-OSU-KSU combination does make some sense as it offers three contiguous states that would pair well with the western fringes of the Pac 12 along with three athletic programs with good to great facilities and passionate fan bases.
Let’s Get Real
What I’m hearing is that the most likely near future outcome is that the Other 8 stays together. This move would allow them to cash-in on OU and UT’s exit fees and try to retain the Big 12’s lucrative deals with Fox and ESPN in already place.
A potential wrench is that an early exit by Oklahoma and Texas may trigger a renegotiation of the current TV/streaming deals. Many think the Other 8 will look to expand by adding two to four teams, primarily from the AAC, in order to strengthen their position during any renegotiations of the current deals or while attempting to make future deals. The teams that seem like most likely contenders for Big 12 expansion are UCF, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Houston. Apparently, no one in the Big 12 is anxious to go from dealing with Texas to dealing with BYU.
Even if one or two of the Other 8 jump ship, it appears likely that the surviving members would continue to stick together until at least 2025 or further expansion absorbs more members.