There’s been a lot of talk lately about conference swapping and specifically about the Big 12 and Texas. To this point, I’ve chosen not to engage in the debate because I see it as speculation and anonymous quotes.
There is no doubt that the Big Ten, who started all this with talk of landing Notre Dame and stealing Missouri and Nebraska from the Big 12, needs help. Their conference is down in recent years, especially from a competitive aspect, and without a championship game, they lose even more credibility when the Big 12 and SEC host theirs.
But I’ve changed my mind and decided to toss in my two cents about the future of the Big 12 and what will happen to Texas by addressing a few of the speculations flying around college football.
“Texas will end up in the Big 10.”
No, they won’t. It simply makes no sense and there’s no upside for Texas. The Longhorns are the prize team that everyone wants. They are competitive, have tons of rich history, a loyal fan base that’s willing to travel and a rich recruiting base in a state loaded with talent. The Big Ten simply has nothing that Texas needs. Back in the '70s, kids in Texas might have dreamed of playing ball at Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State, but today? Not so much. Geographically, it makes no sense: It’s cold, and those teams aren’t very competitive right now. And when they do make it to a big game, they lose.
And what does Texas gain from traveling to Bloomington every other year to face Indiana or to Illinois to face Northwestern? Absolutely nothing.
The best the Big Ten can do is offer Texas money from their rich TV contracts, but Texas already brings in the most money of any football program in the U.S. clearing $138 million in total sports revenue. Simply put, it will take a lot more than money and the Big Ten doesn’t have anything else.
“Texas could end up in the Pac-10.”
OK, hypothetically, yes, they could. And for almost all of the reasons that they won’t go to the Big Ten, they also won’t go to the Pac-10. Although the conference is on the rise competitively, most people still view the Pac-10 as USC and its nine little brothers.
The only upside for Texas in moving to the Pac-10 is potential recruiting in California; however, Texas already pulls talent from California occasionally. Also since they have such a rich talent base in the state of Texas, they don’t really need to go to California unless it’s for a blue-chipper. Even then, because Texas does have such a competitive program, they usually make the list of any kid who wants a chance to play for a top-notch program. Moms and dads want a good education, maturity and growth. Recruits want to play for a championship and to make it to the NFL—and the former is a distant second to the latter. At Texas though, all of the above are already possibilities, which makes everyone happy. Thus the expanded recruiting base really isn't all that expanded.
“The Big 12 will not exist in 2 years.”
This is the most plausible statement I’ve heard from all of the various talk. I fully expect some conference realigning. It totally makes sense for Iowa State to be in the Big Ten or for Colorado to go to the Pac-10. Natural rivalries and recruiting bases already exist. Missouri and Nebraska are also potential partners for the Big Ten.
If such a realignment were to take place, what would that mean for the Big 12? One of two things could happen.
First, Colorado, Nebraska or Missouri could move to new conferences which make a lot of sense in terms of geography and finances, especially for Missouri and what the Big Ten can offer. If that happens, it will leave the Big 12 looking for replacement teams.
TCU has shown they are a school to be reckoned with. Located in one of the biggest cities in the nation, every year they rise the ranks of the unknowns to be a contender at the end. They have money and educational prestige and they are ready to jump to the big leagues.
After TCU, the pickings are slim. There aren’t many other competitive programs that would make sense geographically like TCU does. Boise State and Utah fit better in the Pac-10, so if the Big 12 loses more than one team, it could get tough. Arkansas might be a decent option to rejoin Texas in a conference, especially given their rich history of rivalry and that Arkansas is somewhat of a step-child in the SEC right now—but that’s a long shot.
Another possibility is simply that the Big 12 would cease to exist with all of its teams being gobbled up by existing conferences. Big 12 North schools would flock to the Big Ten or Pac-10 and Big 12 South schools would head to the WAC or SEC, and all of it would make geographical sense.
Texas would head to the SEC and bring A&M, OU, and Oklahoma State with them. Talk about a power conference! Florida, Alabama, LSU and Texas each playing the other in conference games? Wow!
Competitively, it makes total sense for Texas. It also makes sense monetarily since the SEC also has some very rich contracts, and geographically, it makes sense.
The only way that move does not make sense is that with all those power teams in one conference and a conference championship determining the finalist, it means that those teams cannot play each other for the title. That’s a true downside because it would essentially mean that the National Championship Game would be picking from the SEC for one team and from the Big Ten, Pac-10 or other fortunate conference. That may or may not benefit Texas. And we haven't even discussed the academic concerns of Texas joining the SEC which make it an unlikely move.
The biggest issue that college football and the Big 12 face is that college football is ultimately about money. Everyone knows it even though they might not like to say it. So what happens in the Big 12 and college football as a whole will ultimately be determined by the answer each school gives to the question they are already asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”
Once that question starts getting answered, the pieces will start landing.
Until then, it’s just water cooler talk and something to keep 24-hour sports stations from getting bored.