The talk of UT moving to the Big Ten is difficult to imagine while the Big 12 is still a viable BCS conference.
The loss of Colorado to the Pac-10 and Missouri to the Big Ten would dramatically compromise the viability of the Big 12 in the eyes of Texans, freeing UT to move to a different conference without repercussions.
So, are the Pac-10 and Big Ten knowingly compromising the financial integrity of the Big 12 as a BCS conference to have a shot at UT?
This really is mirroring the last days of the Southwest Conference, when UT pushed Arkansas to break the seal on the SWC allowing UT to try to escape.
Missouri to the Big Ten
The rumor of Missouri being a leading candidate for the Big Ten didn't make sense to me.
It took a homerun addition of Penn State to get the Big 10 up to 11 teams. Does anyone see Missouri as a peer to Penn State in what they offer?
While Missouri is quite an attractive candidate for BCS conferences, it isn't like they draw 100K per game or hail from a state with 12.6 Million people like Penn State.
Missouri might be a good candidate for the SEC down the road, but I would think they would have a lot less to offer the Big Ten in particular.
The Big Ten already has heavy influence in the neighboring state of Illinois with both the University of Illinois (state flagship) and Northwestern (arguably the state's No. 2 university). These two universities means the Big Ten already has TV relevance in St.Louis, which I would think dramatically reduces the benefit they would receive by adding Missouri (unlike the SEC who would look at Missouri as adding a state with six million people and including two new major media markets).
While Missouri does a fair amount of research ($215M in 2006), that number isn't a homerun either. It is in fact far less than some of the other candidates for that 12th spot.
On the positive side, US News ranks Missouri as a Tier 1 National University, they are a state flagship, and they are one of the 60 US members of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU).
However, all together they don't look like a homerun for the Big Ten.
Colorado to the Pac-10
Colorado on the other hand is a very understandable target for the Pac-10.
There are very few large media markets near the Pac-10 footprint, so unlike the Big 10, the Pac-10 doesn't have a lot to chose from if they want to keep a somewhat tight footprint.
The state of Colorado has about five million people and the Denver DMA stretches into a number of surrounding states. Adding Colorado to the Arizona schools would give the Pac-10 the top teams in the two major markets in the Mountain West time zone.
The University of Colorado shares the liberal perspective appreciated at schools like Stanford and Berkley—a very important factor when you consider the Pac-10 requires a unanimous approval on expansion votes.
Colorado would be a much stronger football program in the Pac-10 because the schools in Colorado would be a hotbed for California recruits. The idea of playing football near skiing areas is a lot more attractive to Californians than it is to most Texans, who just see it as a cold place.
With much better recruiting there is a good shot Colorado would regularly be a lot better team.
The Buffaloes did $250M of research in 2006, are a US News Tier 1 National University, are a state flagship, and are one of the 60 US members of the AAU. So, academically they hit all of the Pac-10's desires.
Pairing Utah with Colorado?
No offense to the Utes, but the second part of the Colorado rumors (adding Utah to the Pac-10) makes little sense unless it is designed mostly to provide leverage. If there is any truth to the rumors, the sincerity of the interest might be questionable.
Utah does a fair amount of research too ($248M in 2006), but per US News they are the eighth worst school in their Tier 1 national category. They are 127th out of the 133 schools that made Tier 1 and only eight slots from being ranked a Tier 3 university by that periodical. That is not nearly as impressive as Colorado, UT, or A&M — the other candidates mentioned as being considered for the Pac-10 over the last 2 decades.
They are a state flagship with statewide support, but Utah only has 2.8 million residents.
Additionally, I don't totally buy that Utah will ever have Cal's vote. The Utah-based Latter Day Saints Chuch's incursion into California politics to deny gay people the right to marry in the last election is deeply resented by liberals in the state and Berkley is the probably the most liberal major campus in the US.
This is just another reason BYU will likely never get into the Pac-10. Utah may be the victim of friendly fire (depending on your perspective) in that regard.
Plus it is not like the University of Utah is an SEC caliber football draw that pulls 80-90,000 people per game. Utah is not like those SEC schools where the fevered nature of their fans can outweigh a relatively small population base in the view of TV execs. Utah averaged 42,000 per game last year.
Lets take a very quick and dirty look at the top five BCS automatic qualifier conferences which have an abundance of flagships with statewide support—the Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12— to get a feel for the Utah and Big 12 situations. Totalling up the residents in those member schools' states and dividing them by the number of universities, you get between 4.9 million and 5.6 million residents per school for all of those BCS automatic qualifier conferences but the Big 12.
The Big 12 averages 3.9 million residents per member school.
In terms of support, the Big 12 does not have overwhelming support to outweight that. The Big 12 does not have three universities with the largest multi-year gameday attendance averages like the Big Ten (Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State) or six of the top 10 like the SEC (Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Florida, and Auburn).
UT is in the top five and Nebraska, A&M, and OU are in the top 15 but the rest of the Big 12 schools lag far behind. It is hard to see how they would hope to contend with those conferences in TV revenue — especially as Texas will have all the leverage to push for the largest slice of the pie.
Utah is the 2nd most popular football playing university in a very small population state. I'd feel a lot different about Utah's chances if they were drawing 80,000 per game, but I have a hard time thinking Pac-10 officials would bless adding a small state school with modest attendance and marginal (by Pac-10 standards) academics unless they absolutely had to add them.
How does that kind of addition help a conference like the Pac-10 with its own TV issues?
Let's play it out
Let's say the Big Ten adds Missouri and the Pac-10 adds Colorado and rumors abound that they are close to adding Utah as their 12th school.
What happens in Texas?
The Big 12 currently has 47 million residents living in the states. If you remove Missouri and Colorado, that number drops to roughly 36 million divided by 10 schools.
Who could the Big 12 add to fix that?
No, the Big 12 is already media relevant in the metroplex. UT, A&M, Tech, OU, and even Baylor have large alumni bases in the Metroplex.
Again, their primary base of operations is Utah, which has a population 2.8 million. While they do draw a crowd, I don't think they would be considered a strong enough replacement.
While they are in the Denver DMA, they are quite a bit farther from Denver than the Buffaloes and they only draw about 40 percent of the fans the Buffaloes do.
The loss of Colorado and Missouri would send a message to Texans that the days of the Big 12 as a power player are over. When that occurs you can forget about the Texas legislature reigning in UT or A&M to force them to stay in the Big 12.
It won't happen.
Several really bad things could occur for the Big 12.
UT could join the Big Ten as it's 13th school with Missouri acting effectively as a bridge. From there the Big Ten might wait for Notre Dame or add Rutgers to get a platform to push their name programs' popularity into the NYC media markets as the Big East once effectively did with Miami.
A&M and OU could approach the SEC and sneak away overnight.
Recall A&M never wanted to be in the Big 12 in the first place and has long coveted a spot in the SEC, out from under UT's shadow. In fact, years ago LSU was ready to sponsor them for admission.
OU is certainly not going to sit on it's hands while UT's TV revenue goes up to at least $25 million per year. Far better to get a $16 million SEC payout than a $6-7 million one in the former Big 12.
If they headed to the SEC, that would kick the door wide open to Texas recruiting for SEC schools, hurting all of the Big 12 membership's efforts to stay competitive.
Or perhaps The Pac-10 would follow the admission of Colorado by offering UT a slot finally completing what they tried to get done years ago.
Or maybe even UT and A&M slots. If the powers that be in Pac-10 are willing to consider Utah (a state flagship from a very conservative state) or at least not reject them out of hand, maybe they have the votes for A&M now.
There are no "fixes" for that.
You could add Houston to replace A&M, but A&M draws 82,000 people per game while Houston only draws a fourth of that. A&M has an enrollment of almost 50,000 while UH has just under 30,000 students.
Sure you could recover some relavance in the Houston area, but the scale of the fandom is just not going to be the same and neither will the TV money.
Adding TCU would be largely the same story in DFW.
Media relevance in Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas would affectively be lost.
Grim future prospects
Lets get something straight. You will not hear anyone connected to UT talking about life after the Big 12.
Those words would be a death sentence for the conference and would bring a lot of heat on UT in the state of Texas. The last thing the administration at UT wants is to give the the state legislators of the other Texas schools a reason to rally against UT and threaten their deathgrip on things like the Texas Permanent University Fund and generally make life a hassel for UT.
There is a lot of political posturing going on here with UT. UT would have to be perceived as knowingly and intentionally screwing over A&M, Tech, and Baylor for those kinds of changes to be discussed. UT is not going to let that narrative get started.
Just like in the last days of the SWC, UT needs a school or schools to make the conference look unviable first. Preferrably, like Arkansas, this school would be a state flagship with no second school in the state who could adequately work as a replacement.
In today's environment those schools should own fairly large markets. 11M of the 47M people who live in Big 12 states live in Missouri and Colorado.
These schools just happen to be the exact kind of schools that would "break the seal" on the Big 12 and free UT to go conference hunting.
Would the loss of Colorado break the seal on the Big XII? Maybe. Maybe not.
It does seem very likely that Colorado and Missouri leaving would do it and that even Colorado leaving and Missouri being in leaked talks to leave would probably do it.
Even if the Missouri thing is just a feint designed to open the door for UT to leave that no one in the Big 12 takes seriously, there seems to be too much momentum for schools leaving the Big 12 for the conference to just "ride it out."
The Big Ten might just take UT, leaving the SEC to chose between OU, Missouri, and A&M.
The Big Ten might have to bring on A&M to land UT—something no Big Ten fans seem to think would be a deal breaker—leaving Missouri and OU as potential SEC candidates.
Missouri would provide a sufficient market and strong basketball and OK football. OU would provide the smaller Oklahoma population (3.7M), but also has strong support into Dallas and could help open wider SEC recruiting into Texas.
The addition of OU would do a lot to reinforce the SEC West.
The Big 12 is still going to be a BCS conference when any movement is all said and done, but the odds are they will join the Big East in not having a BCS level TV contract.
In fact if UT and A&M go west, do not be suprised if the Big 12 is entirely cut out of the proposed Pac-10/Big 12/ACC network talks.
(Unlike the Big Ten memberships whose TV network grants them the relative status—in conference TV revenue compairisons—of eating steak dinners, today the demographics would suggest that a Pac-10/Big 12/ACC Network would have the Pac-10 and ACC members eating Big Mac combo meals and the Big 12 members eating kid portion happy meals.)
Nebraska, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Tech, Oklahoma State, and even Baylor need to think about positioning themselves better for the future. The four northern schools need to really look at this and realize that today they could steer this conference in directions they might not be able to tomorrow.
The conference needs to make some tough choices today and probably needs to start talking expansion.
Schools like Texas Tech may need to start thinking about what they can do and where they want to be and may need to start making some clandestine alliances if they don't want to be part of a empty husk of a conference.
As things stand, the future of this conference looks to be shaped by the whims of the Pac-10 and Big Ten membership, not the Big 12 membership.