Somewhere out in the affluent neighborhoods of California there is a legendary party going on. Directors, engineers, moguls of the high tech world, and other men and women of means casually hobnob over glasses of fine wine.
Eventually a circle of boosters and alumni from the Pac-10's "Big Five" (Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA, and Washington) come together and, probably due in small part due to the wine and a in small part due to a desire to torture a fellow Pac-10 alum outside their cabal, start woefully bemoaning the fact that the Big Five ever "lowered their standards" and expanded, admitting the last five members of the Pac-10.
Soon after, the talk turns to Cal Tech. An older UCLA grad throws out, "That's an academics school. Imagine if we had somehow dragged them along!"
Former fencing students at Standford and Cal agree, "Plus, they could do research at our level!"
A few hours later, the party disbands and everyone returns home, only to repeat it a few days, weeks, or months later.
There are rumours this party has been going on for decades.
Last days of the Southwest Conference
In the last days of the legendary Southwest Conference, boosters and administration leaders at the University of Texas looked at the changing landscape of college football and college athletics and realized they had a losing hand.
The dawn of conference television deals was on the horizon and the historic Southwest Conference, with its collection of state flagships, strong publics, and academically advanced private schools, still only had the states of Texas and Arkansas from which to generate TV revenue.
It was too small of a footprint with too few people to feed nine mouths at the highest level of sports.
UT had a losing hand and it was simply unacceptable for one of the most dominant state flagships in existence, so they went about reshuffling the deck.
Privately, the leadership at UT approached the leadership at their unrefined and uppity neighbors to the north, the University of Arkansas, and discussed the issue at length.
Politically UT could never leave the conference out of the blue, but Arkansas left first, which would essentially "break the seal" on the conference and allow UT to make the argument that would allow them to leave—that the SWC was no longer a viable concept in this day and age.
Arkansas's Athletic Director approached the SEC leadership over a game of golf and casually threw out the fact that they would accept an SEC invitation if the SEC issued one. Shortly thereafter, the SEC did in fact invite the University of Arkansas to join their conference and Arkansas accepted.
With the seal broken, UT was able to look for a more viable home. Eventually state politics of the time did force UT to drag along Baylor, A&M, and Texas Tech with them, but the fact remains that the Big 12 has been a much better home for UT for the last decade than the Southwest Conference would have been.
UT may have been self-centered in its actions to implode one of the most historic conferences in the history of college football, but their actions did what they were supposed to accomplish—those actions put UT into a situation where UT could compete at the highest level of sports.
Today, UT has the No. 1 revenue generating athletic program in America.
This is a really big idea
I initially was seeking to write a much, much more modest article on potential Pac-10 realignment and how to keep Texas Tech somehow involved, but as I was doing my research I kept running into the idea that there was an "ultimate scenario" for the Big Five schools that really was not accurately traced out anywhere.
The only question is, would the Big Five have the guts to walk down that path? Could they walk away from long time conference mates because their financial viability was severely compromised by their current affiliation?
Could they take the heat a justifiable financial move with no malice might create? Could they bring themselves to take the same steps UT took in those days long past?
Put crudely, do they have balls the size of Texans?
The Pac-10 is just as historic—and broken—as the SWC was in its last days.
The Pac-10 was constructed with the idea of travel partners in mind. The schools are an artistically pleasing collection of pairs of dominant state schools totally unique in the landscape of top level college athletics.
Today, that is a financial anchor, the chain of which is hopelessly wrapped around their legs and threatens to permanently drag them into lower levels of the BCS conferences.
Today, top conferences seek to add as few members as possible, usually state flagships, to secure TV relevance in statewide media markets.
With 10 members already and eight of them in the Pacific time zone, the Pac-10's expansion options are somewhat limited.
The conference dominates the Pacific time zone and the largest population state in the sparsely populated neighboring Mountain West time zone.
The conference seems to want to expand to the East to get to 12 members to offer a conference championship game, have some slightly earlier games to broadcast, add academic powerhouse Colorado (a school that fits their ideal profile and brings in a major TV market), and better position themselves for a TV partnership with the Big 12 that will enable the Pac-10 to harvest their TV markets.
One of the biggest issues that works against the Pac-10 is the fact that their primetime games start after most people on the East coast have gone to bed. Having the dominant statewide followings in states that account for 54 million people on the West coast is not as valuable as having the same on the East coast, where the games are seen by national audiences, not just regional ones.
Along these lines, it appears the Pac-10 leadership may be pushing to admit a school in Utah which, in spite of their strong athletics, falls short of what the Big Five really want in a member school.
The conference feels financial pressure and peer pressure to take some action to keep up with the wildly financially successful Big 10.
While this plan does get the Pac-10 to 12 members—potentially matching an expanded Big 10—and would increase the revenue streams a bit, it does suggest that the future role of the Pac-10 is that of a junior partner to the Big 10, constantly overshadowed and dramatically out-earned.
That is quite a fall in status for the self proclaimed "conference of champions".
It is hard to believe that this is an acceptable future for the Big Five.
Still, the Pac-10 requires unanimous consent to expand, so there is a very open question as to whether the Pac-10 will expand to 12.
What does the Big Five really want in its membership?
I am going to go out on a limb and attempt to voice what I think the Big Five wants in their membership.
They want top athletic schools which are also top academic and research schools.
Athletic support at most Pac-10 schools is decent, but not great. Perhaps in part due to all the entertainment options available to people living on the West coast, the Pac-10 does not draw as well as other top BCS conferences.
On the playing fields, the Pac-10 has a whole lot of mediocre once you get past Stanford and the LA schools.
The academics and research categories paint an even starker picture of the haves and have-nots.
For a quick and dirty look at academic reputation let's look at the US News rankings of national (doctorate granting) universities.
These schools are scored on a 100 point scale and ranked by the results. About a quarter of that score is based on peer review.
Of the schools deemed "national universities" by US News, due to their awarding of doctorates, about half of them (133) are deemed "tier 1" universities.
The next quarter are deemed "tier 3" and the final quarter "tier 4". The start of the second half of the "tier 1" category - what most of us might call Tier 2 - would seem to be a school ranked 67th overall.
School Rank Score
Stanford 4t 93/100
Cal 21 76/100
UCLA 24 73/100
USC 26 72/100
Washington 42 59/100
Arizona 102 40/100
Washington St. 106 39/100
Oregon 115 37/100
Arizona St. 121 35/100
Oregon State tier 3 <33/100
("Big Five" in bold)
In terms of research, all Pac-10 members except the University of Oregon are ranked as "research universities/very high" RU/VH, the highest ranking that Carnegie awards, but how much of that is due simply to the fact those schools belong to the Pac-10—an athletic conference that doubles as a research consortium?
When you start looking at their annual research expenditures, a similar tiering structure emerges.
School Rank 2006 total research dollars spent in millions
UCLA 3 811
Washington 6 778
Stanford 8 679
Cal 18 546
Arizona 19 535
USC 28 450
Arizona St. 82 201
Washington St. 84 196
Oregon State 87 189
Oregon 165 57
Then, there is membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU), a group of 62 universities who, at least at the time of their admission, were theoretically dedicated to research at the highest level, unfettered by politics or conservative hangups that might limit research.
52 percent of all doctorates in the US are awarded by the 60 US members of the AAU.
I think when the Pac-10 talks about a shared culture, it is less about being liberal and more about taking a progressive view on research and education.
It is about seeking truth, not limiting the scope of research and education based on previous beliefs. This view in large part sums up the core values behind AAU membership and why that would be looked on favorably by the Big Five.
Really, when you look at it from that perspective, only the admission of the University of Arizona stands the test of time.
Is it any wonder why the "Big Five" might privately yearn for Cal Tech (AAU member, tied for fourth in the US News ranking with a 93/100 score and 61st in research with $270 million in expenditures despite being a fairly small private school) despite their marginal athletics?
Is there any wonder why the conference likes Colorado (AAU member, USN rank 77 with a 45/100 score and ranked 65th in research with $250 million in 2006 expenditures)?
Utah (USN rank 126 with a 34/100 score and ranked 67th in research with a $248 million in 2006 expenditures) seems more of a peer of Arizona State or Oregon State, two schools likely to be held up as examples of schools that may not meet the Pac-10's ideal academic criteria.
Are all of the Pac-10 members really consigned to admitting Utah to get to 12?
If there was ever a time for bold action...
The Pac-10's TV deal ends soon. One would think one of the biggest areas of contention when a conference breaks up is how the members left behind are left to deal with the existing TV contracts and the fees charged to the conference dealing with lost revenue.
A breakup prior to the negotiation of a new TV deal or the creation of a new TV network for the Pac-10 would seem a pretty good course of action.
What the ultimate scenario for the Big Five might look like
I am going to lay out what might be the ultimate scenario for the Big Five and do my best to address the major hurdles that would prevent such a thing from happening.
At times, some elements might seem mostly irrelevant to sports, like the amount of research a school does and why affiliations of that sort might help such a conference come into existence, but I'll do my best to explain the relevance.
This will be a long article for this reason.
The schism that formed the Mountain West conference is a pretty good blueprint for what the Big Five would need to do to once more be part of the true elite conferences at the high end of Division I athletics.
As discussed earlier, there is only one school in the Pac-10 that it makes sense for the Big Five to take with them. That is the state flagship of Arizona, the University of Arizona.
Those would be the six schools who should form the basis of an ideal conference home for the Big Five.
The effective dismissal of Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State to a lesser conference would lead to a fairly dramatic restoration of Washington's perceived dominance, which would dramatically improve the caliber of their recruits, restoring Washington to the level of a national football power within a few years.
For ease of use, I have listed the FBS candidates who satisfy most or all of the following criteria:
1) AAU membership
2) signifigant research budgets
3) highly ranked academics
4) State flagships
3) Five million residents in state
School AAU? USNRank Score 2006 research Rank population
UT y 47 57/100 431M* 32* 24.7M
Texas A&M y 61 50/100 492M** 22 24.7M
Colorado y 77 45/100 250M** 65 6.6M
Kansas y 96 41/100 131M** 109 2.8M
Nebraska y 96 41/100 215M** 75 1.8M
Missouri y 102 40/100 215M 77 6.0M
Oklahoma n 102 40/100 101M** 132 3.7M
Utah n 126 34/100 248M 67 2.8M
Arkansas n 128 33/100 99M** 134 2.9M
New Mexico n T3 <33/100 181M 92 2.0M
* UT also has a series of medical centers that if you added to their research totals in would have UT accounting for almost $2 billion in annual research, which would put UT somewhere in the top five and possibly No. 1 overall. The research totals and rankings above are exclusively for research totals designated specifically for the institution.
** In the Interest of fairness, A&M has a medical center that does another $76 million in research, Colorado has one that accounts for another $258 million, Nebraska has one that accounts for $108 million, Kansas has one that accounts for $64 million, OU has one that accounts for $77 million, and Arkansas has one that accounts for $107 million.
There are three no-brainer candidates for expansion—UT, A&M, and Colorado.
While the resulting conference could become a Pacfic Southwest Nine, I believe that none of the parties with the exception of Colorado would be satisfied with that arrangement. (Plus it would be a lot harder to make a reality.)
UT and A&M in particular would not be content to be distant outliers just because the Big Five would want to overcompensate on newfound exclusivity.
Their terms for joining might be a 12 member conference with them, especially UT, having a large say in in the membership of the Southwestern Division (probably an equal say). That means admitting 3 lesser academic candidates.
I think for those reasons a Pacific Southwest 12 makes the most sense. Missouri is the obvious 10th choice due to the two markets they offer. Kansas has a relatively strong academic school and provides another historically dominant basketball program to prevent the conference from being unbalanced or too football heavy.
The Big Five would probably favor Nebraska for the final slot as despite a rather dubious historical commitment to excellence in academics, they are a well-respected academic university, an AAU member, and they do a pretty good amount of research, but I think that would be a deal breaker for UT.
Nebraska is the only school in the Big 12 that challenges UT on conference direction issues. Frankly, from UT's perspective, Nebraska doesn't know their place.
I think UT would far prefer bringing their little brother, OU, with them, despite OU's comparative academic limitations.
OU provides everything Nebraska does in football and is a pretty good basketball school as well. Their state has a better population than Nebraska and it makes more sense for UT to have OU in the same conference with UT in recruiting terms than to have OU find their way into, say... the SEC.
So the initial lineup of the Pacific Southwest 12 would be:
Pac Six division
Southwest Six division
This is a collection of the elite academic flagships in the region plus Stanford, the top academic private in the region, and a school large enough to compete with the flagships in athletics. Stanford is also unaffiliated with any churches, ensuring that religious beliefs will not interfere with research at all for members of this new conference.
Future expansion could rightly be described as and conceptually limited to schools that do extensive research and are state flagships or are large public or nonsectarian private schools in top half of the US News tier one.
There are 109.9M people in the states west of the SEC and Big 12 territory. This new conference comprised almost entirely of state flagships with statewide followings would deliver 92.5M of those 109.9M people.
To give some perspective, here are the current statewide populations of BCS conferences that have multiple state flagship universities (or the equivalent) with statewide support.
(TV advertising is looked at by markets, but as we are looking at programs with statewide support at the high end of college athletics, I have totaled state populations to give a "quick and dirty" look.)
conference total states populations
Big 10 67.3M
Big 12 47.1M
The Pac/SW 12 layout bisects the sparsely populated Mountain West time zone (only 19.4M people live there if you count Arizona) and gives the Big Five five central time zone locations from with to broadcast interdivisional games.
The way to get the value of this is to look at it against the current Pac-10/proposed Pac-12.
If the Pac-10 were to go with Utah and Colorado, UCLA might play an out of division game at Washington that might start at 7PM Pacific. That is 10PM eastern.
In spite of two national names playing each other, the game would likely only have a regional audience.
In a Pac/SW 12, UCLA could play at OU for example in a primetime game that would start at 7PM Central. That is 8 PM eastern.
That game would probably draw a national audience, or at worst an audience that stretches across three time zones.
Having potentially 3 games a week played in the Central time zone would be a terrific boon in TV terms and would allow the Big 5 pacific powers to be sold better to an eastern audience.
The SEC negotiated their TV deal in a time of economic prosperity. Even though the Pac/SW 12 would not have that luxury and the SEC draws noticeably better (an indication of a much more robust fan base), having a legitimate ownership of states with populations of 92.5M and that being about 84 percent of the people living east of SEC and Big 10 territory, one would think at absolute minimum, this new conference could pull enough revenue to allow an equal $13M payout per school in TV revenue to start if they signed a contract with a network.
It also seems likely that when the startup funds became available, they could chose to start a network that could potentially do pretty well...perhaps as well or better than the Big 10 network.
This could be the greatest athletic conference in the nation.
The Pac Six would have headliners Washington, USC, and UCLA in football matching up against the SW Six's UT, OU, and A&M to earn a shot at playing in the Rose Bowl.
In basketball, the Pac Six could send headliners UCLA and Arizona against the SW Six's UT and Kansas.
UT, Stanford, USC, and UCLA would make this the elite conference nationally in Olympic sports.
This new conference would be dramatically superior to the current Pac-10 and would rival the Big 10 as the nation's elite research consortium.
The Big Five favor parallelling the Big 10.
One could also see the Pac/SW 12 taking a page from the Big 10 and forming their own expanded "research only conference" that expands beyond the membership of their athletic affiliation in order to ramp up their academic reputation.
(Unlike the Pac-10, technically the Big Ten is not a research consortium. It is just an athletic conference. However all of the Big 10 members, along with former Big 10 member the University of Chicago, belong to a group known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the CIC. This group is the research consortium and is casually known as "The Academic Big 10".)
The idea of taking this idea of an extended "research only" conference and expanding it to its full potential could drive a lot of additional research dollars to the Pacific Southwest membership and make the formation of such an entity far easier to create by giving more people in Texas and California a vested interest in seeing it come about.
The idea of adding more strong research partners to expand the influence and potential of the Pac/SW's CIC seems something that UT, A&M, and the California schools would likely back the idea.
The expanded roster of their research alliance could help alleviate those annoying troubles that an expanded footprint could create.
Just as the Big Five miss their formal academic affiliation with Cal Tech, I don't think it is a stretch to say UT would love to renew formal academic affiliation with Rice.
The "Pac/SW Research Alliance" could have multiple tiers:
1) Full members (and their Associated medical schools)
2) Academic members—Schools with whom the full members desire a pretty much permanent affiliation. I would think large dominant public research schools, some of which potentially could eventually add sports at the top level and join as full members, as well as dominant nonsecular private academic schools from the region who are likely too small to ever merit the full athletic association. The designation would be an acknowledgment of "peer" status academically, but not athletically.
3) Research Affiliates—a far less prestigious level for schools who likely won't be full or academic members without dramatic improvements in reseach spending or academic competence, but still offer value in one way or another.
Essentially, the research affiliate designation could be a way to include institutions of strategic importance to the full members that are working hard to ramp up their research budgets.
This could be be the grease to help along change. For example, this designation could be given to the "lesser" members of the UC system as well as the seven large publics in Texas that Texas politicians are trying to help upgrade their research budgets to become "research universities" (as well as the large Texas schools like UTPA and Texas State which will probably want to join that group in the near future).
Potential academic and research candidates of a Pac/SW Research association
School USN rank score 2006 research in Millions rank tier
UC-San Francisco - - 796 5 Academic
UC-San Diego 35 62/100 754 7 Academic
UC-Davis 42 59/100 573 14 Academic
Washington U. in St. Louis 12 87/100 547 17 Academic
Baylor College of Medicine - - 462 24 Academic
Vanderbilt 17 80/100 376 35 Academic
UC-Irvine 46 58/100 300 52 Affiliate
Oregon Health & Science U. - - 272 60 Academic
Cal Tech 4 93/100 270 61 Academic
Colorado State 128 33/100 253 64 Affiliate
University of Hawaii-Manoa T3 <33/100 249 66 Affiliate
UNM T3 <33/100 181 92 Affiliate
UC-Santa Barbara 42 59/100 174 97 Affiliate
NMSU T3 <33/100 169 98 Affiliate
Rice 17 80/100 66 156 Academic
Tulane 50 55/100 114 121 Academic
UC-Santa Cruz 71 46/100 114 122 Affiliate
UC-Riverside 96 41/100 124 113 Affiliate
plus the seven large Texas publics—Houston, UTSA, UTD, UTA, Tech, UNT, and UTEP—as research affiliates.
(These schools are not listed here as they are all US News Tier 3 universities or worse with less than $100 million each in annual research spending. Each would ordinarily be considered a developing university not of sufficient caliber to join a prestigious Their inclusion would strictly be political and would make the "research affiliate" designation far less prestigious.)
Future expansion pressures
This kind of dominant athletic and research conference would likely force the Big Ten to evolve to keep up.
I could see Pittsburgh with their enormous research spending added to the academic Big 10. Potentially even more distant schools like Maryland, Johns Hopkins, and MIT might be approached, but Pitt's distance in this circumstance might actually properly work for them.
I could see the Big 10 considering adding Nebraska—a dominant national football brand—to upgrade the financial viability of their football product in the West.
I could see the admission of Rutgers and/or Syracuse to add the NYC DMA. (Rutgers is in the NYC DMA, but it has been argued adding them would only deliver a higher subscriber rate fee from the cable companies for NJ residents—about 30 percent of the NYC DMA. Syracuse is outside the NYC DMA, but is in the state—potentially delivering New York State's 18 million people at a higher subscription rate, including about 60 percent of NYC. Syracuse advocates argue the school has a pretty strong basketball fan following in NYC although no one disputes they are football irrelevant there. The financials of this are glossed over here as I simply don't know enough on the nut and bolts of the cable fee payout argument to be authoritative. The real point is that both schools are apparently candidates.)
I could see the Big Ten sitting at 13 forever waiting for Notre Dame...or getting off the pot and adding a 14th school to help capture the NYC DMA based on their network's number crunching.
What of the remaining candidates would best deliver NYC viewership? Syracuse? Pitt? Rutgers? UCONN?
Then there is the possibility of Rutgers, Notre Dame, and Pitt joining the Big Ten which I discussed in my last article.
If the Big Ten should hit 13 or 14 members, the Big Five would likely want the Pac/SW to mirror that conference.
Expansion to 13 or 14
An expansion plan to 14 would probably be agreed to in advance.
Oregon would make some sense, but it is unlikely that school would be able to ramp up their research commitment in time. As that is the gripe with Oregon, it would seem likely the Big Five would keep them out until Oregon addressed those issues, perhaps granting them affiliate status and forcing Oregon to wait until the next round of expansion—if it should occur.
The Pac Six might prefer seeing Colorado move into their division. Colorado playing the California Four would dramatically upgrade that school's football recruiting. It would not be surprising to see Colorado become an Oregon level program in that division strengthening the Pacific division while still meeting the Pacific's tougher academic requirements.
This would have the Pacific schools likely deferring to UT and the central schools as no Pacific schools would meet their division's criteria anyway and better financial value could be added in the mountain and central time zones.
UT and A&M would push for longtime SWC rival Arkansas. with the TV dollars being close to the SEC payout or possibly better, the research dollars and academic esteem being infinitely greater, and a chance to renew rivalries with UT and A&M, Arkansas would join.
Arkansas would likewise profit from renewing their lost Texas recruiting pipeline, pushing them back up to a consistent top 25 program.
The conference could stay at 13.
With UT, OU, Arkansas, Missouri, and A&M, the southwest division would be just as tough as the SEC.
With that in mind, it would be difficult to see Nebraska added.
It is also difficult to see a school like Utah with its competitive football team and crazy home field advantage being considered with that in mind. Travel to Utah would be difficult for all of the Southwestern members. The Pacific members would prefer Colorado in division and vice versa. And to top it off, Utah doesn't offer much of a market.
I cannot see UT, OU, Arkansas, Missouri, and A&M agreeing to add a potential national title chase ending upset game - based mostly on travel, altitude, and cold weather - against a team with whom they have no marketable history...just to say they added the best football team possible.
If a 14th team is desired down the road to join the southwest division and provide an "easy football win", I think the sensible choice would be to add a basketball school.
UNM is a state flagship, has a strong research budget, has a well developed and supported basketball program as well as a rivalry with Pac/SW member Arizona.
Geographically they would tie together the two halves of the conference.
With their name, mascot, proximity to Mexico, and the population explosion among Hispanics in the southwest, UNM has exceptional future marketing potential that would do a lot to outweigh their very unexceptional undergraduate academics.
In football terms they aren't likely to be ranked, but they could be a lot more competitive than Baylor is in the Big 12. UNM is expanding their football stadium and exists in a major city with no NFL competition. In such a conference, their ability to draw could quickly and dramatically improve.
In such a conference they would own New Mexico recruiting and could take a number of better West and North Texas recruits from Texas Tech and TCU and the occasional south Texas recruit and become a much more competitive bottom feeder in the PAC/SW than they are in the MWC.
In this kind of conference they could become a peer of today's Rutgers or Northwestern in football.
In athletic terms, think Kansas-lite.
UNM (down the road?)
That is a stacked conference would rival the SEC in football and would be similar to the Big East in basketball with strength at the top dragging their bubble teams into the tournament annually via strength of schedule rather than knocking them out, but much, much better than the Big East.
Hurdles to building a Pac/SW 12 and how to overcome them
The biggest hurdles are the financial penalties. All schools in the Pac-10 and Big 12 feel the pinch of the economy as they try to remain competitive with the SEC and Big Ten.
Cal and UCLA are public schools, which hurts them somewhat by being tied to California's dysfunctional tax system.
Scraping together the $50 million or so to launch a conference network or millions for exit fees would certainly be doable but would be trying.
If the Big Five and Arizona left the Pac-10, it is unclear if the remaining schools would immediately lose their BCS bid. Certainly in short order a BCS slot and a rose bowl bid would be awarded to the 6 stronger schools.
With the loss of those six, the Pac-10 would drop below six members and lose their automatic basketball bid. This would make it very difficult if not impossible for the remaining schools to maintain and rebuild the Pac-10.
Would you see exit fees if the conference no longer exists?
There aren't a lot of articles dealing with schools leaving the Pac-10 or the dissolution of the Pac-10, so quite honestly, I don't know if they added exit fees like most other conferences after the ACC's raid on the Big East.
I am working from the assumption there are exit fees in their rules.
In the Pac-10 scenario, there is no TV deal there for the abandoned members to have to be reimbursed for their conference breaching of a network TV contract, therefore there would seem to be a lot less legal claim to be used against exiting members.
Additionally, like the flight of the MWC Eight out of the WAC, the remaining schools would look around and see that they are still towards the top of the Pac/SW's expansion possibility list and may opt to quietly simmer rather than pursue damages, lest they remove themselves from that list.
Additionally there is the question of whether a Pac-4 + MWC6 (their likely "rescuers")would legally be considered a continuation of the conference. The NCAA rules seem to imply that six members over five years are required for an NCAA tournament berth, so any lawyer would argue that by NCAA rules this new conference is actually a renamed MWC and not a Pac-10 in any way therefore no fees would be owed.
Exit fees in the Big 12 are also questionable.
The Big 12 is under contract and the only escape clause they have to legally get out of it without penalty is if they start their own network. Along those lines their conference does have some teeth to their fairly large exit fees.
But supposing the New Pac/SW negotiated a somewhat discount deal with the holder of the Big 12 TV contract for the length of the Big 12 deal. Concessions could be made to keep the Big 12 members left behind on TV.
If you eliminate any TV penalties, you are really just dealing with hurt feelings.
The talk of the Big 12 dissolution always discounts the fact that people are always willing to make deals if they feel they'll end up ahead of the game.
The Pac/SW is likely not going to immediately be ready to start a TV network and a few years of being on an existing network would ride out the recession and could generate a desire by that network to pay SEC money-plus to retain that conference long term rather than lose the Pac/SW to them starting their own network.
The Big 12 would be losing half of their membership, which again calls into question can you really claim damages and exit fees on half of your conference?
Nebraska would certainly think very hard about whether they would want to try to collect damages. The Big Five and the Big 10 have long had mutual admiration for each other. In this scenario, Nebraska would be one of the leading expansion candidates for either the Big 10 or Pac/SW conference. Would they want to potentially cost them admission votes by pursuing this?
The implications of membership in a Pac/SW research consortium would have the Texas Tech academic leadership pushing for a waiver of fees. Tech knows they have a losing hand in almost all expansion scenarios involving the Big 12 losing members. Eventually any scenario that doesn't have UT & A&M going west ends with Tech having a losing hand in Texas recruiting.
The fact that the resulting conference could have Tech playing in a BCS conference without both UT and OU in division and a lot of in-state traditional SWC opponents to play, could make it a very good tradeoff for a lot of Tech fans. If A&M agreed to play Tech annually and Tech was given the right to play UT annually if it chose, I think it would be a best case scenario for Tech, far better than watching UT slowly pushing Big 12 conference members out the door.
Baylor might complain, but they haven't been competitive in the Big 12 in football since the conference was formed, so there would be next to no support for their complaints from other Texans.
Alumni and fans at the other privates would be very glad to see Baylor rejoining them as it gives them more clout as a group. Additionally, idea of the seven Texas publics being allowed to participate in a Pac/SW research consortium could be used to create unified political pressure on Baylor to let it go.
From a competitive standpoint, Baylor simply cannot recruit the depth of talent required to compete at the Big XII level. While it would be a loss of status, there is no reason to believe Baylor could not quickly become one of the better football programs in a conference with all of their former Texas private school peers. For long suffering Baylor fans that might be acceptable.
Academically an association of Baylor, Rice, Tulane, Tulsa, SMU, and TCU if packaged properly could be more than a replacement for the esteem of the Big 12.
Kansas State, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State would be injured and angry. None of those schools would have much of a shot of joining one of the top 4 BCS conferences. Perhaps Iowa State could be mollified with the Big 10 offering them a slot in the CIC.
In the type of environment I am describing, an offer from the Big 10 to Iowa State could be sensible and desireable for that conference. Iowa state is quite a good academic school.
At some point the question of votes come into play. If the votes are there, Rules can be re-written.
Plus, time is on their side
The Big 5 and Arizona could set a future end date on the Pac-10 or break away and then wait for the Big 12's TV deal to end or the exit penalties to be revoked. If they broke away, they could offer single sports slots to a numbers of schools to satisfy NCAA requirments. Schools like Denver or Utah Valley University might be pretty willing to jump in with the Pac-6 for a few years to jumpstart their basketball programs. Likewise Boise and a host of others might agree to short timer status to in football to get a shot at bigger BCS shares in the short term.
Politics are not so much of an issue
Unlike the last days of the SWC, the politics today would be manageable. UT & A&M working in unison aren't likely to stopped or steered if they take this path. Tech probably has more to gain than they do to lose.
The seven large Texas Publics have an enourmous alumni base that would back UT and A&M.
The Texas Privates have long been jealous of Baylor and in practical terms are stronger with Baylor with them. The dream of a "Southern Ivy League" or "Magolia Conference" of elite privates might live again, with Denver, Rice, SMU, TCU, Baylor, Tulane, Tulsa, Creighton, Drake, and St. Louis at the core.
States like Oklahoma and Kansas would have to chose a favorite, but they would also know the realities of their situation.
I cannot see any political hurdles that could derail this if the powers took this path, but I am sure there are some that others will contribute.
The stakes are high and getting higher each day
When the NCAA was forced out of the role of negotiating TV deals and dispersing TV revenue, the stakes were raised.
When the Notre Dame's and the first conference TV deals were signed, the stakes were raised.
Regional conferences with little national appeal like the Big Eight and the SWC were forced to change or die.
When the Big 12 was formed and they signed a big TV deal, the stakes were raised.
When the the ACC raided the Big East, the stakes were raised.
When the ACC and/or Big Ten raid the Big East, the stakes will be raised again.
There will come a point where the regionally isolated and timezone hobbled Pac-10 will not be able to compete anymore. Just like the great Southwest conference.
Frankly when one hears their leading expansion candidates include Utah and then a short while later hears they are investigating if they can have a championship game without expansion, it does lead one to wonder if they are realizing that they are already dead.
Much the same can be said of the Big 12. This shotgun wedding has always been dysfunctional. If it had the timezone issues the Pac-10 has, it probably would have already collapsed.
At some point it would seem that the stakes will raise to a point that the hands of UT, A&M, and the Big Five will be forced. I think it might work out better for most parties involved if that day was sooner rather than later.