For the past few months, college athletics' rumor mill has been swirling out of control. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany set the wheels in motion earlier this year, when he put the nation on notice that his conference would be seriously exploring expansion options over the next 12 to 18 months.
The Big Ten's No. 1 target is, and has always been, Notre Dame. The long-coveted Fighting Irish haven't gotten to the point where they are willing to give up their NBC contract or independent status yet. But it is believed that they are softening their hard-line stance on those issues as new blood eases into Notre Dame's decision-making positions.
So, while the Big Ten waited on Notre Dame, their intention was to take their time in finding other suitors to invite to their conference.
That time-line, however, was fast-tracked last week by Larry Scott, when he and the rest of the Pac-10 made plans to expand their conference by extending invitations to six Big 12 schools (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado).
The first official invite was sent out Thursday, and after months of speculation on who might go where, the University of Colorado joined the Pac-10 and became the first school to accept a bid to a new conference.
Boom goes the dynamite.
The remaining five schools are expected to join Colorado, but not until the demise of the Big 12 becomes certain. The core of the Big 12, especially Texas, wanted to keep the conference together and that could have been achieved if only Colorado were leaving.
But the Big Ten is suddenly looking to add members immediately, and Nebraska has become their primary target. They are expected to be the next domino to fall in conference realignment on Friday, when it is expected that Nebraska officially will become part of the Big Ten.
Conference expansion news has taken many twists and turns over the last few weeks. While nothing is certain, it has become increasingly more apparent that Texas will migrate to the Pac-10 when it is all said and done. And that decision could come as early as next week.
So what does it all mean for Texas? There are many questions that will need to be answered as the Longhorns wander off into a new frontier. How will the move to the Pac-10 affect the Longhorn's on-field achievements? And what about their off-field, financial success?
—Every major conference is open to the idea of adding Texas to its league, so Texas holds a plethora of bargaining chips when they sit down to negotiate terms of joining a new conference. One of the advantages Texas will enjoy by moving to the Pac-10, as opposed to the Big Ten or SEC, is that Oklahoma will be moving with them and Texas will keep one of the best rivalries in college football alive.
Texas and Oklahoma have spent most of their history residing in two different conferences. But there is no guarantee that the series would continue with the ever-changing landscape of college football if the two were to move on to separate conferences this time. There is currently little to gain by scheduling tough out-of-conference opponents, and this game would definitely fall under that category for both programs.
—By joining the Pac-10, Longhorn fans will get to enjoy a more competitive schedule than they currently see with the Big 12.
The southern division of the Big 12 will largely remain together in the Pac-10's eastern division, with the exception of Baylor (and A&M, if they opt to go to the SEC). Baylor will be replaced by Colorado, with Arizona and Arizona State being added also.
The western division of the Longhorn's new conference will be far tougher than what they faced in the Big 12 north. USC has been far superior to Nebraska in the last decade. Games against Oregon and Cal should make for far more competitive games than the Iowa States and Missouri's of the world (Not to mention far better road trips as well).
—As part of the new Pac-10, Texas would be trading postseason conference tie-ins with the Fiesta Bowl for post-season conference tie-ins with the Rose Bowl.
Being part of the "Grandaddy of 'em all" would be far more prestigious than what Texas currently has with the Fiesta Bowl. Sure, the Fiesta Bowl is a nice bowl. And the city of Phoenix is a great place to visit. But it doesn't hold a candle to the rich tradition of the Rose Bowl.
And it's not like Texas would be out of place. The Longhorns have enjoyed a great deal of recent success out in Pasadena. They were victors in back-to-back classics in 2004 and '05, their first two trips to the Rose Bowl. Along with their national championship in '05, they played for the crystal trophy again in Pasadena last season, only to fall short against Alabama.
And how great would it be the first time Texas and Nebraska met up in the Rose Bowl? With the bitterness that is building between the two fan bases, that showdown would make for an epic matchup of old conference foes.
—Perhaps the best thing to come from Texas and its cohorts bolting the Big 12 is that they will become part of college football's first super-conference, which would inch everyone closer to something college football fans have been clamoring for for years.
A college football playoff.
If the other conferences follow the Pac-10's lead and add programs to form their own super-conferences, there would almost have to be a playoff system instilled. It would be like four versions of the SEC, only with more teams. With more balanced conferences, each conference winner would have a legitimate claim to play in the national championship. A playoff would be the only reasonable solution.
A playoff system would be easy to implement. You could take the division winner from each conference and have an eight-team playoff. If you wanted to expand it even further, you could have the top two teams from each division for a 16-team playoff.
No BCS formula would be necessary. It would be strictly about records and on-the-field results. And the current bowls could be used as sites to play the games. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars it would bring to the universities.
Dan Wetzel reported earlier this week that a 16-team playoff would bring in over $700 million in revenue. The current bowl system generates between $100 and $200 million dollars. So if Wetzel's projections are accurate, Texas and the rest of college football would rake in hundreds of millions of dollars more than they currently do simply by moving to a playoff system.
—Speaking of money, moving west to the Pac-10 will almost assuredly bring in more for Texas and the other Big 12 schools that are leaving.
Yes, Texas already makes the most money of any college program in the nation. But that isn't going to stop DeLoss Dodds and the Longhorns from exploring how to make more.
As Dodds likes to say, "We don't keep up with the Joneses. We are the Joneses."
Conferences are dashing to gobble up bigger and better television markets for fatter network payouts, so the formation of super conferences is becoming more of a reality than ever before. The SEC and Big Ten have already brokered multi-billion dollar payouts with their latest television contracts, and the rest of college football is looking to catch-up.
With the addition of Texas, the Pac-10 will be adding the biggest and baddest bargaining chip out there for their upcoming television contract negotiations. And Texas will expect to almost double their current television revenue, from nearly $12 million a year to $20-plus million.
—As a fan of college football, I worry that a move towards bigger super conferences will make the college game more closely resemble the NFL brand.
I can't blame the presidents and athletic directors for making decisions that are driven by money. But I can't help but wonder if money will soon get in the way of the rivalries, traditions and pageantry that separate the college and pro game.
Regional rivals are a big part of what makes the college game so special. Texas lost one of its biggest rivals in the '90s, when the SWC split up and Arkansas went to the SEC. If today, Texas had to drop either Oklahoma or A&M off of their schedule because of a conference shift, a large part of the fan-base would be extremely upset. For most Longhorn fans, these are the two games that they live for.
While the Longhorn's current two-biggest rivals are set to move west with them, nothing will be certain until the ink dries. Look at Nebraska. Sure, they will be earning more money in the Big Ten. But they are having to leave behind conference rivals in Colorado and Oklahoma. And they are leaving behind a budding rivalry with Texas. Surely their fans will miss playing in these games.
—One of the fears that Texas must have about moving into a new conference and region of the country is that it could be opening up the state of Texas for the Pac-10 schools to come in and recruit the state's top athletes.
As it stands currently, the Longhorns have a strangle hold on recruiting in the state of Texas. For the most part, Texas chooses the athletes they want, leaving only those they don't have room for to the other programs.
As long as Mack Brown is at the helm and they are successful on the field, the Longhorns will probably have little to worry about when it comes to recruiting, even if schools like USC and UCLA become more visible in the state of Texas. But one would have to think that there would be at least a slight impact due to the presence the new schools would have in Texas.
—I stated earlier that the tougher schedule the Longhorns would have in the Pac-10 would be more exciting for college football fans. While this is true, it would also mean a tougher road to a national championship for the 'Horns.
As it currently stands, Texas faces one real national power a year (OU) on the path to a national championship berth. Sure, there is the occasional Texas Tech or Kansas State that will jump up and upset the 'Horns. But for the most part, if Texas can escape Dallas with a win against the Sooners (or vice versa, as Texas and OU have played in five of the last seven championship games), the Longhorns have a great shot at playing for the title.
If Texas does indeed go to the Pac-10, they will have to get by juggernauts OU and USC. And from top to bottom, the Pac-10 will be a tougher schedule than what the Big 12 provided.
—As of Thursday, the idea that Texas A&M might not join the Longhorns in moving to the Pac-10 became a real possibility. While odds are the Aggies will eventually commit to the Pac-10, it is far from a given at this point.
According to Orangebloods.com, news broke Thursday that Texas A&M regent Gene Stallings is leading a major movement for the Aggies to join the SEC. The idea has gained some ground, and there seems to be some dissension amongst the Aggie power brokers.
Orangebloods also reported that if the Aggies were to leave the other Texas schools and join the SEC, A&M would be blacklisted by the Texas schools. They don't want the SEC to have any sort of presence in the state, and a move by the Aggies would result in a scheduling ban from these schools.
Also tragic in an Aggie move to the SEC would be the end of a 100-year-old rivalry. The annual match-up of Texas and A&M each Thanksgiving is one of college football's greatest traditions. Each school references the other in their respective fight songs. Yet there is a very real possibility that the rivalry could come to a screeching halt in the next few weeks.
—The biggest tragedy for the Longhorn brass in this conference realignment is that they will have to give up a few things that they hold a strong emotional attachment to.
DeLoss Dodds was a big player in the creation of the Big 12, and has seen Texas enjoy its Golden Era of success in college athletics. Since joining the Big 12, he has made Texas the highest revenue producer in college sports. Dodds has helped Texas build some of the greatest athletic facilities in the nation, including increasing the capacity of Memorial Stadium to over 100,000 seats. The football, baseball, and swimming programs are perennial national championship contenders. And the men's and women's basketball, and women's softball have extremely competitive programs.
One of Dodds's final major projects as the athletic director at Texas was supposed to be the creation of The Longhorn Network.
Texas has been partnered with IMG for years in an effort to get the network up and going. And it would have been a reality had the Big 12 stayed together.
The Longhorn Network was believed to be a huge revenue producer for Texas. It would carry shows hosted by university coaches, non-conference games, and other various university-related programming.
But the Big Ten, nor the Pac-10 allow program's to carry their own television network. The Big Ten has a conference network channel that requires an all-rights commitment from each school. And the Pac-10 is working on a similar television deal.
So it's no surprise that Dodds's first choice was to keep the Big 12 together. And with as much success as he's seen the Longhorn program have during their time in the Big 12, who can blame him?
Dodds and company must be a little disappointed they couldn't keep the Big 12 together after they reportedly did everything they could do to keep the status quo. The Longhorn program is in great shape, and no matter where they go, they will be primed for success.
But there must be a tiny bit of uneasiness felt by the powers-that-be on the 40 acres.
*Image courtesy of Susan Manzello
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