Ever since the ACC raided the Big East, I've been waiting to see who makes the next big move in conference realignment. Recently, the big news has been announcements by the Big Ten and Pac 10 that they were each strongly considering conference expansion.
Many discussions have centered around how the University of Texas is desired by both the Big Ten and Pac 10. Much has also centered around the idea of "super conferences" or conferences of greater than 12 teams. This speculation was further fueled when Washington A.D. Scott Woodward discussed conference expansion with a Seattle Times reporter:
When asked if the league might expand beyond two teams, Woodward said that’s a possibility. “It could be two, four or a merger of Big 12. … There’s a theory that at the end of the day there’s only going to be four super conferences. Now what it’s going to look like, God only knows.”
Woodward also talked about expansion and said the Pac-10 and the Big Ten have reached out to officials at Texas and Texas A&M. “I’d be surprised if our office is not in contact with them,” he said. “I’m sure those conversations have happened and are taking place.”
All this talk has made me wonder about the future of the University of Texas. What is the best place for UT? Is in the Big 12, the Big Ten, Pac 10 or the SEC? It also made me ponder what a 'super conference' would look like, and how it could even work.
So after giving it some thought, I designed a model for a potential super conference.
THE PAC 16
Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State
USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford
Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State
Red River Subgroup
Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
How this conference would work
Instead of divisions, schools are divided into four geographic subgroups. Each year, each school plays the three rivals from its group, as well as two games against teams from each other subgroup.
This leads to a nine-game conference schedule, which is what the Pac 10 currently employs. A conference championship game would then be held amongst the two teams with the best record, regardless of group.
Why not divisions? A 16-team conference with divisions would mean you'd virtually never play teams from the other division. Playing seven rivals in your own division means that with an eight game conference schedule, schools would play each team from the other division only once every eight years. With a nine-game schedule, interdivision games would be once every four years.
Under this system, each team gets to maintain its best three local rivalries every year and still get to play everyone else every other year. Thus, each school gets one road game and one home gain against each subgroup, allowing for exposure every year in every region.
And unlike 12 team conferences, which often have title games featuring 8-4 teams (ACC, Big 12...I'm looking at you), the Pac 16 championship game would always feature the best 2 teams in the league.
In basketball, schools would play each rival from their subgroup twice, and every other team once, leading to an 18-game schedule.
For non-revenue sports, the Northwest and California subgroups (the original Pac Eight) would be grouped in a Western Division, and the Mountain and Red River subgroups in an Eastern Division. This would allow for significantly decreased travel costs.
Why the Pac 10 would want to add these six schools
In order to make expansion worthwhile financially, any schools added would have to bring more revenue in than they would consume. With the Pac 10's television deals set to expire soon, now is the time to expand if they are going to do it.
Most speculation currently centers around Colorado and Utah. Both schools would expand the conference's geographic footprint into good TV markets (Denver and Salt Lake City), both would fit culturally and academically (criteria listed by conference commissioner Larry Scott), and both bring a history of football success (despite Colorado's recent struggles under Dan Hawkins).
However, they aren't slam dunk additions. Texas is. And knowing the politics of Texas, UT and Texas A&M are almost certainly a package deal.
But would Texas and Texas A&M come alone? They'd be the eastern outliers in a West Coast conference. Other than each other, they'd have no natural or historic rivals. Their non-revenue sports would suffer from excessive travel.
By inviting four schools from the Big 12 south, the Pac 10 would add several natural rivals, creating a subgroup that could feel at home in the new conference. By inviting Colorado and Utah as well, the Pac 10 would add worthy programs that bring new markets and also add geographic cohesion between the old schools and the new.
After this expansion, the Pac 16 would be in great position to rapidly expand their revenue and prestige. They'd control two of the best recruiting areas in the nation—Texas and California. They could form their own network and be on almost every cable package west of the Mississippi.
They'd mortally wound the Big 12, leading the Pac 16 to be the dominant conference of the west. And by adding football powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma, it would increase competition and ensure that the conference champion was respected, which it often isn't when USC has a down year.
The Pac 16 would also be able to negotiate better bowl tie ins.
Culturally and academically, Texas, Texas A&M, Utah and Colorado would all be welcome additions to the Pac 10. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would not, but they wouldn't be the sole academics outliers in a conference that also includes Arizona State and Washington State.
Overall, I don't feel this expansion wouldn't harm the academic reputation of the Pac 10.
Why Expansion Targets Would Do It
Utah : One could fairly assume that Utah would sell its soul to be in a BCS conference.
Colorado : In 1994, Colorado's Board of Regents voted 6-3 against joining the Pac 10, not on the merits but rather because Colorado felt an obligation to stick with the Big 12 conference they had just helped create. Much of their out of state alumni comes from California and they recruit heavily there for their football team. They are also more liberal and cosmopolitan than the rest of the Big 12 and may feel more at home in the Pac 10.
Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State : They'd presumably follow Texas if Texas accepted. They know Texas is the big draw for the Big 12 and that without them their TV revenue would plummet.
Which leads us to Texas...
Why Texas Would Want to Join the Pac 10
Texas has had wandering eyes for quite some time now. Before leaving the Southwest Conference, Texas had discussions with the Pac 10. Now in the Big 12, word has leaked that there have been "preliminary exchanges" between the Big Ten and Texas.
People question why Texas would move to conference so far geographically away. It's not about geography—if it were Texas would never have left the SWC. It's about money and prestige. The Big 12 is certainly a step up in both from the SWC, but it's still hardly ideal.
The plains states are small TV markets that gain more from associating with Texas than Texas gets from associating with them.
Even with an unequal revenue distribution that favors them, UT gained roughly $10 million less than any team in the Big Ten in television revenue. Furthermore, the two largest non-Texas markets in the Big 12? Missouri (which is all but begging to join the Big Ten) and Colorado (which may soon receive overtures from the Pac 10). So a bad financial situation for the Big 12 may only get worse.
In terms of academic prestige, Texas would gain from being associated with the California universities, who are ahead of anything that the Big 12 could offer.
Under my Pac 16 plan, Texas could maintain its strongest rivalries (Texas A&M and Oklahoma) and wouldn't increase travel costs overwhelmingly as it would be in the Eastern Division for non-revenue sports.
Rather than be saddled with a Big 12 north division that isn't contributing financially or competitively in football, Texas could start a new epic rivalry with USC that would be both exciting and lucrative.
Why Not The Big 10 or SEC?
Of course, I can see what some of you are thinking. If Texas is willing to move, and if conferences are willing to expand to 16 and bring in Texas's main rivals, why wouldn't Texas prefer a move to the Big Ten or the SEC?
Regarding the SEC, it comes to money and prestige. The SEC has 15 year deals with CBS and ESPN. They are locked in. Inviting a new team like Texas, while it would help in contracts down the line, won't help now for a long time and just will split the pie into more pieces.
Also, while the SEC makes geographic sense for Texas, it doesn't make academic sense. Texas will only move out of the Big 12 if it's a step up academically, not a step down.
The Big Ten is a more realistic option. If the Big Ten invited Texas and four other Big 12 schools to make a Big 16, it could be just as tempting as the Pac 16 would be to Texas.
In terms of academic prestige, the Big Ten is arguably higher than the Pac 10, as every Big Ten member is part of the Association of American Universities. In terms of finances, currently it's no contest. The Big Ten—with the hugely successful Big Ten network—has much more television revenue than the Pac 10.
But there are two reasons I think the Pac 10 would make a better home to Texas and the Big 12 south schools.
The first is location. I think Texas recruits and fans would much rather visit sunny California and Arizona once each every year than the likes of Michigan and Minnesota. And I don't think the people of Texas will like the idea of being in a largely Northern (read: Yankee) conference.
The second in the future. The Big Ten might offer more television revenue...now. But make no mistake, the Pac 10 will catch up.
One reason the Pac 10 is behind is because they don't have a TV network. However, they've already hired Kevin Weiberg, who helped set up the Big Ten network, and one assumes a Pac 10 network is in the works.
Another reason the Pac 10 is behind in revenue is because they are often only relevant on the West Coast. With 6 more schools in the fold, all in the Mountain and Central time zones, the Pac 16 would have broader national appeal.
The third reason the Pac 10 is behind is population. The Big Ten represents more households because the Midwest has more people than the West Coast. But that is going to change. Every school in the Big Ten is in a state growing slower than the national average.
California, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon are all gaining population well above the national average, as are Colorado and Utah, states with potential expansion targets.
Texas, with its rapidly expanding population, would be smart to get out the Big 12, a conference full of small stagnant plains states that will never be a force in television revenue. But if it moves, it would be smart to align itself in a conference that's also growing quickly. America's population is shifting south and west, and in 25 years or so, the states of the current Pac 10 will likely pass the states of the Big Ten in population.
A 16-team conference certainly isn't perfect. It didn't work for the WAC, and while it seems to be working just fine for the Big East in basketball, I can't imagine that a football school/basketball school split won't be upcoming eventually. And while I like my idea of subgroups, it's an untested model (as far as I know) in college sports.
It's also hard to picture Oklahoma State in the Pac 10. However, even if you change one or two of the schools (like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to Texas Tech and BYU) most of the fundamental premises behind a new Pac 16 with Texas as the key addition still work.
In all probability, if the Big Ten and Pac 10 decide to expand at all, they will choose to move to 12 teams, allowing each conference to stage a potentially lucrative conference championship game.
But to get Texas, the big prize, I think either conference would have to be bold. A Pac 16, far from being the unwieldy monstrosity the WAC once was, could make academic, travel, financial, and competitive sense.