For the third time in three years, there is major conference realignment in the works amongst some of the most powerful programs and leagues in the country. As rumors continue to surface, it looks like the Big 12 will once again be stuck right in middle of this mess.
However, for the first time in a long time, it's the Big 12 that teams are trying to get into, not out of.
When Colorado moved off to the Pac-12 and Nebraska set up shop in the Big Ten following the 2010 season, many began to question the stability of America's most central league.
Then, after the 2011 season, Texas A&M and Missouri taking their talents to the SEC blew the whole conference wide open. The entire league was sputtering, hanging off the edge of the abyss as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State applied to the Pac-12 while Texas searched around the nation for anyone who would support them and their network.
However, by some miracle, Commissioner Larry Scott and the Pac-12 decided that OU and OSU weren't ready for the antics of the West Coast. Texas found its wits and decided to stay put for the time being, while the rest of the conference breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Snaring TCU and West Virginia out of the Big East to move back to 10 programs, the conference has basically been living month to month since. The structure that is the Big 12 could come crashing down any moment if provoked in just the wrong way like a twisted version of Jenga; things weren't exactly looking up for this middle-American group of universities.
All of a sudden, however, the Big 12 picked up a lucrative $200 million TV contract with ESPN and FOX. A spark of life, perhaps?
The "spark" essentially attracted the attention of the bonfire that is SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and his neighboring conference. Forgoing the basketball-centric ACC, Slive set up a "southern Rose Bowl" by pairing his league and Big 12 together.
Basically, the conference that had "screwed" the Big 12 months earlier by stealing two of its top-notch programs in Texas A&M and Missouri had just thrown it a very sturdy life preserver.
The Big 12 is now standing on solid ground with a big-time TV deal and the backing of the best conference in the nation. Now it has the chance to expand to new markets instead of losing them; it's finally the league's shot to steal some powerhouse programs, but who should make the short list?
TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte had a lapse in judgment just long enough to give the college football world a glance at what the Big 12 is planning. According to a Texas Tech radio personality, Del Conte claims the league is receiving interest from ACC programs Florida State, Clemson, and Miami. Further reports have surfaced that Georgia Tech is also looking for a new home in the Big 12.
In the overall scheme of things, however, each of these "claims" actually makes a lot of sense. Financially, the ACC is one of the lowest on the totem pole when compared to the other BCS conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12.
However, the Atlantic Coast Conference has been extremely stable since picking up Big East turncoats Syracuse and Pitt, mostly because many of the league's powerhouse football programs have nowhere else to go.
The Pac-12 is too far away, the Big Ten isn't looking to expand anywhere near the southern part of the ACC, and SEC programs such as Florida, South Carolina and Georgia won't allow in-state rivals to make it anywhere near their conference.
Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami had basically given up on making any kind of move until, as I said before, the Big 12 became rich and connected.
The conference had shown its willingness to expand much beyond its footprint with the acquisition of Big East member West Virginia. However, it was the $200 million TV contract that has caught the attention of the ACC powers.
Also, the new SEC-Big 12 bowl deal essentially boxed out the unsuspecting Atlantic Coast Conference. The new four-team plus-one that is still in discussion was centered around the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and, until recently, the ACC. The SEC, in a bold move, declared the Big 12 much more worthy of the ACC's seat at the table, making any powerhouses in the league nervous about being left out.
On a side note, this also assists in the Southeastern Conference's expansion plans. By destabilizing the ACC, the league should be able to steal away Virginia Tech and one of the North Carolina universities, making the Big 12 partnership a win-win for the SEC.
The three attributes of willingness to expand outside one's "area," a ton of revenue just waiting to be tapped, and having an "in" with in the new plus-one playoff system makes the Big 12 a perfect storm for the ACC and any other league outside the "Big Four."
With the right push, the Big 12 could be absorbing the best of the ACC sometime in the next few months. However, maybe the whole SEC-Big 12 bowl deal is going to the conference's head during this expansion era.
Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are all in-state rivals of current SEC members Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, respectively. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but the Big 12 already owns two of the nation's best college football rivalries with both new SEC affiliates Texas A&M and Missouri.
Adding more out-of-conference rivalries to the already established Lone Star Showdown and Border War would solidify the direct connection with the SEC Mike Slive started earlier this month. Big name annual matchups such as the Florida Cup, the Battle for the Palmetto State and Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate would help link the two leagues together in a perpetual, mutualistic relationship.
While the rumors continue to spread, one can only hope that the SEC and the Big 12 become the next "Pac-12/Big Ten" of college football.
With the next round of conference realignment just starting to heat up, keep an eye out for the Big 12 to emerge the "victor" this time around; there is no time more ripe than now to strike.
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