If the rumors are to be believed the Big 12 Conference is in danger of being seriously compromised - the end result could even end up being fatal - by raids by fellow BCS automatic qualifier conferences the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.
These two research consortiums are rumoured to be looking at 3 members of the less esteemed Big 12. The Big Ten would take Nebraska and Missouri while the Pac-10 would take Colorado from the Big 12.
By all accounts, Nebraska officials have been bitter with the fact that UT and OU set the direction for the conference. Their move to the Big Ten would likely have as much to do with leaving the Big 12 as landing a $12 million or so increase in their TV revenue share.
Missouri does not appear as sour on the Big 12. Historically, they have never been a conference direction setter. They are not dealing with a reduction in status.
Still, there is little reason to expect they would turn down about a $13 million raise in their TV revenue or the added research millions likely to come their way if they play in the Big Ten.
Colorado may have discovered they have a competitive weakness in recruiting terms in the Big 12. They're an outlier in the Big 12. Colorado has a much larger alumni-base in California than in Texas which hurts them in recruiting as they are not in a conference with California members.
And, of course, the superior academic reputation and the millions of dollars in added research revenue they would likely realize in the Pac-10 would make Pac-10 membership a hard thing to decline for The Centennial State's "Public Ivy".
Managing the losses.
Like most of the other BCS conferences, the Big Ten is a collection of mostly major public universities.
They have the dominant state system flagships of Texas (both of the major university system flagships), Colorado, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
They have the second most followed public universities in Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas, all with statewide followings. Texas Tech's dominance accross the many DMAs of West Texas mark them as a peer in that group with regards to fan support.
And finally there is one private school in the conference, Baylor.
These schools are in states that have a total of 47.1 million residents or 15% of the US's population (Texas alone has a little over 24 million people). This total is already much lower than other BCS conferences like the Big 10, ACC, SEC, and Pac-10.
The potential loss of Colorado with their five million residents was likely considered a manageable loss. The loss of Colorado and Missouri is something of a nightmare scenario for the Big 12.
If the Big 12 loses all three schools, their footprint will only contain 34.7 million residents or about 11.3% of the US's population.
Walking into TV negotiations with that would be akin to bringing a calf to market when all the other elite conferences have fully grown, prize winning cows. Yeah, you might get a fair price...but you might not.
But what could the Big 12-3 do?
There aren't three programs in the region that could deliver Big 12 level fan support and at least 12 million residents.
That puts the Big 12 in the awkward situation of either adding 3 schools and going forward with a much smaller percentage of the US population which would reduce the attractiveness of their conference to TV networks or expanding to 14-16 members (including some with minimal fan support) to try for the larger total payout and splitting whatever they get between more mouths.
Whichever option they chose, the "Big whatever" will be seen as a weaker conference subject to further defections by key members.
A scenario to try to save the Big 12
I want to start by saying I am not a fan of the current Big 12. I think this day was inevitable due to the composition of this conference.
That said, I think this scenario could save the conference financially (and as a bonus it would make the conference a lot more interesting to people with southwestern sensibilities, like myself).
I cannot see a scenario that keeps Missouri and Nebraska in the Big 12 if the Big Ten offers them membership.
Even if UT agrees to share finances equally - a source of contention with the 3 potential defectors - I cannot see either Nebraska or Missouri taking what would have been $6.5 million a year in TV revenue over a Big Ten payout.
In that equal division of TV revenue scenario, even if the TV money doubles in the Big 12 via a new cable TV deal, those two schools would still be walking away from about $10 million in TV revenue each year and a lot more in research dollars in the Big Ten.
The Pac-10 on the other hand does not have it's TV house in order. That opens the door for a potential block if one exists.
I think Colorado may be retainable due to the politics in neighboring Utah.
Utah is BYU country.
Utah is 60% Mormon. Brigham Young University is the main university for the Latter Day Saints Church.
BYU is a much bigger gameday draw and TV draw than The University of Utah, confirming the presence of a much larger fan base statewide.
The Pac-10 would be ideal for Utah, but when has the top university in a state ever let the distant number two university land in a better situation when the top dog could prevent it?
The best case scenario in the mind of BYU fans is for BYU and Utah to land invitations to the Pac-10. That is not likely to happen due to the lack of market in Utah (2.8 million in Utah alone vs. 7.8 million if they take Utah and Colorado) and because some Pac-10 schools are rumored to be against inviting BYU over BYU's application of their religion towards their academic and research policies and other religion related issues.
BYU's second choice would be to retain control of a Mountain West Conference that contained Utah and was permanently a BCS automatic qualifier conference. Again, this is unlikely as the Pac-10 appears poised to add Utah. It is unlikely the remaining MWC - even with Boise as a replacement- will end up staying in the BCS for longer than 2 years once the BCS rewrites their rules for the next evaluation period which their site very tellingly specifically says they can.
Remember, the BCS is a coalition with major bowls. The bowls aren't likely to be in love with having to offer an automatic bid to a conference that only has one team that draws over 50k per game and most of which don't draw 35K.
BYU's third option (despite protests to the contrary) would likely be to go with Utah and join an existing BCS conference nearby like that is not in any danger of losing it's BCS affiliation. That is the Big 12.
That is what the Big 12 should use as their point of attack.
The Big 12 should offer membership to BYU and Utah as part of a package deal. BYU would then likely block Utah's possible move to the Pac-10, via state politics, to protect the best interests of BYU.
The other nine schools in the Big 12 should pass rules that create large fines on new members who attempt to leave the conference within 15 years of joining. Something of a loyalty provision.
If they then offer a package deal of membership to MWC members BYU, Utah, Colorado State, and the University of New Mexico, I think the Big 12 could slam the door on Pac-10 expansion.
The soft spot in Pac-10 expansion plans.
Pac-10 expansion requires a unanimous vote by their member universities. That has been historically difficult to acheive.
The Pac-10 is rumored to be looking myopically at adding Colorado and Utah. Both are good research schools and would be a good fit for a research consortium.
The combination of Colorado's designated market areas with those of another of the 2-3M population southwestern states (Utah, New Mexico, or Nevada) would make the addition of two new schools only likely a minor reduction of the conference's per school payout.
When you add in the fact that the Pac-10 would then have enough teams to play a lucrative championship game, the expansion probably becomes a clear net positive in terms of TV revenue.
That said, expansion overall is still something of a tough sell in the Pac-10 where academic esteem is highly valued by at least some of the members.
Affects of the move
If the Big 12 pulled in those four MWC schools, it would essentially kill the MWC. TCU would probably drift back into CUSA. The other schools would drift back into the WAC.
More importantly it would take those four MWC schools invited to the Big 12 out of running to be partnered with Colorado in the Pac-10. The financial implications could effectively lock those schools into the Big 12 for 15 years. (Other area schools like Nevada and UNLV do not likely have the academic or research background to secure the vote of a school like Stanford.)
With no unanimously acceptable 12th candidate, the Pac-10 would not be able to net the money from a championship game and the negatives of adding an 11th school - even a really good one like Colorado - would be magnified to it's membership.
Would the four Pac-10 members in the northwest, who rely so heavily on California trips and the recruiting exposure that it brings, be willing to vote for Colorado to be the league's lone expansion team knowing that no championship game is forthcoming and it would only hurt their exposure to California recruits?
The resultant Big 14
The additions would push the conference westward giving the conference dominance in two timezones which should actually help their TV negotiations.
Colorado would become a central team in the northern division which should help them recruit better and draw better. It seems likely it could help them re-emerge as a power school. Improving their bottom line can only help their level of satisfaction with the conference.
Colorado State would also likely boom from playing teams in a good proximity with larger fan bases.
All teams in the northern division except Kansas would have athletic budgets in the same ballpark giving them all better chances to have breakout years. A resurgent Colorado & Kansas State, plus Utah & BYU would likely give the north four teams capable of going undefeated and giving the southern champ a good run for their money.
As the revenue distribution is weighted in the Big 12, expanding to 14 could likely prove to be more manageable by the member schools than it would be in conferences where it is not weighted.
This scenario would give the Big 12 only 44.1 million residents to take into the next TV negotiations, but that difference should be more than offset by their dominant appeal across multiple timezones.
Additionally, this would give them a stronger position negotiating with the Pac-10 on any kind of shared TV deal or network as the Big 12 would have the ownership position in the mountain time zone.
And finally for a fan like me with southwestern sensibilities, it would be much more fun to watch.