Big Ten, Pac 10 Expansions: Texas' Conference Choice Is Key

m sContributor IFebruary 16, 2010

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Tackle Adam Ulatoski #74 of the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As conference expansion discussion has grown, one fact has become clear: The University of Texas holds the key to determining the landscape of college sports for the foreseeable future.  Ultimately, future possibilities can be sorted based on what Texas does.

I've arranged these possibilities based on what I consider most likely to least likely.  Feel free to stop reading whenever it gets too crazy.



1. Texas Stays in the Big 12


The most obvious choice is to do nothing.  Texas can stay in its current conference and work to improve it, possibly by starting a Big 12 network in cooperation with another conference, such as the ACC or Pac-10.  It also could try to use the leverage gained by the interest from other conferences to obtain an even more imbalanced revenue distribution.



In this scenario, Texas maintains its rivalries in the conference (A&M and Oklahoma).  It also keeps its position at the top of the conference pecking order and continues playing relatively local schools, keeping down travel costs.



The Big 12 has substantially worse TV and bowl deals than either the SEC or Big 10, causing Texas to receive less TV money than Indiana and Vanderbilt.  If Missouri or Colorado (the second- and third-largest states in the conference) were to leave, this deal could only become worse. 

Furthermore, Texas has never really fit in well with the Big 12, academically or culturally.  Having to constantly explain to Iowa State why UT receives more TV money or to Nebraska that it should not have an entire team composed of "partial qualifiers" might not be worth the trouble.


What Happens Next (Even More Purely Conjecture Than the Other Sections)

In this situation, I am guessing that the Big 10 passes on Nebraska and Missouri, staying with 11 teams.  The Pac-10 scoops up Colorado and Utah to go to 12, and the Big 12 adds BYU.  The conference negotiates harder in its next contract and obtains a substantially improved TV deal, but still not close to the Big 10 and SEC.  



2. Texas goes to the Big Ten



Texas would see an immediate doubling of its TV revenue.  It also would be able to join the CIC, a $5-billion-a-year research consortium made up of the current Big 10 schools (and U Chicago and UIC—sort of).  Overall, Texas would be with universities more like itself (large, research-focused schools).



Texas would have trouble maintaining rivalries.  Also, many of the Big 10 schools are much further away than the current Big 12 schools.  Much has been written in both directions about whether or not Texas would have an easier time winning games/making a BCS bowl/making the national championship game in the Big 10.  Because I have seen so many arguments for both sides, I am placing it as a "con" because of the general fear of the unknown.  In its current position, Texas has proven perfectly capable of making BCS games and national championships.

In the Big 10, Texas would no longer have the control over the conference as it does the Big 12.  It would have equal revenue sharing with its conference opponents, taking away some of the advantage it has over schools such as Baylor and Iowa State.

I've also seen mention of a cultural divide, a general dislike for "Yankees," rather derogatory comments on the appearance of certain schools' coeds, and sheer terror at white stuff falling from the sky.


What Happens Next (Even More Purely Conjecture Than the Other Sections)

I think that Texas and A&M would both go to the Big 10, which picks one other school (Notre Dame?) or even stays at 13 (if they can stay at 11, they can stay at 13). 

In this case, Colorado and Utah definitely bolt for the Pac-10, leaving Nebraska and Oklahoma to pick up the pieces.  They immediately join the SEC, leaving only seven of the original 12 teams.  Among those seven, the remaining Mountain West and Boise State, they form a 12-team BCS conference.  It would likely have the worst TV contract, though.



3. Texas Goes to the Pac-10



Texas would be associated with schools such as Stanford and Berkeley, which would improve its academic standing.  Also, the Pac-10 would almost certainly invite Texas A&M as well, allowing Texas to maintain that in-conference rivalry.  While conference strength is always a little tricky to compare, I would argue that Texas would have an easier path through the Pac-10 than through the current Big 12.  California and Arizona have nice weather and attractive women.

The Pac-10 has a TV revenue sharing scheme similar to the Big 12, which would give Texas an advantage over its conference opponents.  (In absolute terms, the money Texas would receive would still be about half what a Big 10 or SEC school receives.)



The Pac-10 TV deal is about the same as the Big 12, and its bowl agreements are, if anything, worse.  Both would likely improve with the addition of Texas, but it is difficult to say by how much.  The travel distances to the Pac-10 are even worse than to the Big 10.  Also, if there is a cultural distance between Chicago and Austin, then Berkeley is in a different world.  (I know that Austin is "liberal for Texas," but that is nowhere near Berkeley's "liberal for California.")

I have also seen comments about the two time-zone difference between Texas and the West Coast.  I doubt that this issue would have much effect on a decision, but it certainly is not a positive.


What Happens Next (Even More Purely Conjecture Than the Other Sections)

In this scenario, I think the Big 12 remains mostly together by adding two teams from the Mountain West (perhaps Utah and BYU).  The Big 12 is greatly diminished, but it remains a BCS conference. 



4. Texas goes independent


Another possibility is that Texas becomes an independent, free from any conference- scheduling or revenue-sharing restrictions.


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Texas would be able to sign its own TV contract and keep all of the revenue, rather than share it.  Similarly, they would keep all bowl payments.  As an independent, they would likely be able to continue scheduling whatever schools they would like, allowing them to maintain as many rivalries as they see fit. 



Going independent would have the greatest number of unknowns associated with it.  For instance, what sort of TV contract would Texas be able to get?  The only vaguely comparable independent school is Notre Dame, whose contract pays only about as much as Texas receives now.  Furthermore, would Texas continue to be a part of the Big 12 in nonfootball sports, similar to Notre Dame with the Big East?  Before Notre Dame joined the Big East, its other sports—particularly basketball—were very poor.  

While Notre Dame is obviously not Texas, the only other FBS independents are the service academies.  If any school could make it as an independent, it would be Texas—or a very short list of others.  However, the fact that all of the former big-name independents (Penn State, FSU, Miami) have joined conferences is disconcerting to anyone else making the attempt.


What Happens Next (Even More Purely Conjecture Than the Other Sections)

Texas would successfully sign a TV contract worth about the same as what the school is making now, but it will have trouble maintaining a schedule of reasonable difficulty, as middling schools such as Kansas or Missouri will not want to play them out of conference.  Inspired by this success, several other schools return to independence, only to fail.  The Big 12 replaces Texas with BYU but takes a hit on TV revenue and bowl pairings.

If you are a fan of a nonpowerhouse Big 12 school, this scenario is likely the best other than keeping UT.  While A&M does not quite have the same drawing power, this situation would expand into the Utah (and LDS) markets while maintaining a significant connection to Texas.



5. Texas Goes to the SEC


While I have not seen this possibility discussed, I would definitely consider it an option.  Think of it this way: If Texas said that it wanted to join the SEC, the conference would admit it tomorrow.



The SEC has arguably the best TV contract of any conference and would offer an immediate, substantial improvement over the current Big 12 situation.  Furthermore, unlike the Pac-10 or Big 10, the SEC is contiguous with Texas.  Also, working out a deal in which Texas A&M or Oklahoma joins as well would not be difficult.  Texas could additionally restart the "rivalry" with Arkansas—if anyone actually cares.  



If Texas feels lonely in the Big 12 because of its academic standards and research goals, it would be on a virtual island in the SEC.  While not rehashing various rankings, I will simply state that Texas could not argue that the SEC is an academic upgrade from anywhere. 

Conversely, the SEC has proven to be the most difficult conference to win recently—or at least the teams that have won it are the best in the country.  If UT had even a slightly down year, there are five or six teams that could beat the Longhorns in the SEC.


What Happens Next (Even More Purely Conjecture Than the Other Sections)

Let's say Texas and Oklahoma leave for the SEC.  I think that Colorado would leave.  BYU, TCU, and Boise State would join.    



6. The Texas Conference


Fed up with the BCS, Texas and the other schools in Texas (A&M, TTU, UTEP, TCU, Baylor, UH, SMU, Rice) form their own conference.  The state then secedes from the U.S., which allows for the winner of the conference to be the national champion every year. 



With only the other Texas schools in their nation, UT would certainly be able to compete for the national title every year.  Furthermore, it could help recruiting by having the national—formerly state—government of Texas refuse to issue visas to players who wish to leave the country, effectively achieving the "lockdown on Texas" that UT has always desired.  Academically, Texas would almost certainly be first or second nationally in the TNWR (Texas News and World Report) rankings every year.  Travel expenses would be very low and all games would be in the state, facilitating fan travel.  



Maintaining the rivalry game with Oklahoma might be difficult, but it could be possible if held in some sort of demilitarized zone.  Also, most nonconference games would presumably have to be played against high schools. Other than these small issues, this plan seems best.


What Happens Next (Even More Purely Conjecture Than the Other Sections):

The U.S. fights a brief war to retake Texas but eventually decides it is too much trouble.  However, it maintains a "One Country, Two National College Football Championships" stance, insisting that Texas remains a part of the U.S. but is allowed to have certain separate rights, including declaring its own national college football champion.  The Big 12 decides it never really liked having the Texas schools anyway and goes back to being the Big 8.



7. End of Sports at Texas

Texas declares that it no longer wishes to field any sports teams, like the University of Chicago did in the 1950s.  Stating "Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes away," AD Dodds enacts the dissolution of the Texas athletic department.  Oklahoma and Nebraska residents dance in the streets—or whatever they have instead of streets in Oklahoma and Nebraska.  The Godzillatron is repurposed to show black and white art films.


That's too crazy even for me to continue.