There is blood in the water. The sharks should smell this from a mile away and come in for the kill. The SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are the three power players in college football. The second tier contains the likes of the Big 12, ACC and the Big East. The Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, WAC and Sun Belt fill out the bottom-feeders tier in that order.
By working together, the SEC and Big Ten can eliminate the Big 12 Conference and gain a bigger piece of the financial pie for themselves. The Big Ten and Pac-12 already maimed the Big 12 by plucking Nebraska and Colorado respectively. It is time for the big sharks to stop messing around and devour the tasty morsels that are left.
The Big Ten needs teams that fit the following criteria: resides in or borders a state currently in the Big Ten; member of the AAU; and preferably has a good athletics program with a large television market. The first two are must-haves while the last two are would-like-to-haves. Three teams in the Big 12 fit the criteria.
Missouri is the biggest chip. They practically threw themselves at the Big Ten before. They would bring the Saint Louis and Kansas City markets. They traditionally have decent programs in both football and basketball—the two revenue-generating sports.
Kansas is the next most attractive piece. They lack prestige in football, but would more than make up for that with their basketball blue blood status. The Jayhawks would be a huge gain on the hard court.
Iowa State is the least attractive from an athletic prestige and market-gained standpoint. However, they would be a great traditional fit in terms of geography, would provide more than bragging rights regarding the in-state rivalry with Iowa and most importantly it helps to demolish the Big 12. All of the new members can't be home runs. Adding Iowa State certainly adds more to the table than it takes away.
Obviously, this puts the Big Ten at 15 members of a 16-team super conference. I will advocate a power play be made for Notre Dame to round out this expansion, but that is a different article for another day. This one is focusing on the destruction of the Big 12.
The SEC is salivating at the thought of further opening up the recruiting ground in the state of Texas. Texas A&M is tired of being bullied by Texas. They are the proverbial straw being talked about in the media that will break the Big 12 camel's back. Further opening up recruiting ground in the state of Texas and adding that television market would be a major coup for the SEC.
Oklahoma may have the higher profile on the football field, but they would be the second biggest chip to come the SEC's way. The fact of the matter is that they bring a smaller television market and a less fertile recruiting ground than Texas A&M does.
Oklahoma State should be attached to the hip of any deal involving Oklahoma. The Pokes combined with Oklahoma bring the Oklahoma City market, and provide another solid addition on the football field.
Kansas State should be the final addition for the SEC in the demolition of the Big 12. The state of Kansas isn't a huge gain in terms of television and recruiting, but as stated before they bring more to the table than they take away from it.
So why should the Big Ten and SEC make these moves? If it isn't obvious already let me tell you: Both conferences get to expand their television market coverage and the recruiting bases that go along with those areas. The increased television market coverage adds to the bottom line for both conferences. Going to 16 teams also adds prestige to both conferences further cementing their status as the heavy hitters in college football. Most importantly, it eliminates the Big 12. With the Big 12 gone there would only be five BCS conferences left. There are 10 spots open on a yearly basis for BCS bowl games. If you can do the math you can see that now creates a virtual guarantee that both the Big Ten and SEC would get two BCS bowl bids apiece. Those bids are worth millions of dollars. Future television contracts can be negotiated that much higher in the future as well.
Who does this leave twisting in the wind? Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. I will touch on Texas last as they are going to get their wish of testing the independent waters.
Texas Tech and Baylor have three options each: Try to latch onto the Mountain West Conference; try to convince the Big East to add them; and go independent themselves. I firmly believe the Mountain West route would be the best and most realistic option for both schools.
Here is why: The Big East already is up to 17 schools for basketball. They want more teams in football, but they would prefer Notre Dame or having someone like Villanova move up to FBS status so as not to interfere with basketball scheduling, which is already a nightmare. In addition, the Big East already added TCU in the near future—to open up the rich Texas recruiting grounds for the conference. They don't have as pressing of a need to add these two schools. Furthermore, adding TCU was a head-scratching move for the Big East in terms of geography in the first place. The final nail in the coffin is TCU's relationship with Baylor. TCU despises Baylor. This is due to some backroom shenanigans that Baylor pulled after the old Southwest Conference was disbanded and they got into the Big 12 while leaving the more deserving TCU high and dry. Baylor tried to pull the same dirty business last summer when they tried to screw Colorado out of joining a potential Pac-16 super conference. Suffice it to say, Baylor has burned some major bridges with their despicable behavior. No one should feel sorry for them.
Both schools are too small in stature to go the independent route.
That leaves the Mountain West. They would be a decent fit in terms of geography and they would bring the conference up to 12 teams. That would allow for a conference championship game. The Mountain West also has the best stature of all the non-BCS conferences as well. Texas Tech and Baylor would further add to that perception.
Now on to the Texas Longhorns.
Their hubris could lead to their downfall. It is pretty easy to figure out why Nebraska and Colorado wanted to bolt the Big 12. They were sick of the money not being divided evenly 12 ways. Texas demanded the lion's share of the money, because they thought the conference revolved around them. Nebraska gets an even share of the pie in the Big Ten—as it should be. Most of the conference members were tired of being treated as second-class citizens by Texas. They were willing to stick around because getting an unequal share of the pie was better than an uncertain future. The final straw was the creation of the Longhorn Network with ESPN. Texas was getting a mountain of cash in that deal in addition to their unequal share of the pie in the Big 12 television deal. Other schools finally said enough is enough and led by Texas A&M, they began to explore their options.
If the Big 12 was smart and wanted to remain as a conference they should have immediately expanded back to 12 teams after the defections of Nebraska and Colorado. I wrote so much in this article back in February, which you can read here; http://bleacherreport.com/articles/609090-big-12-expansion-options-should-include-old-southwest-foes-eat-or-be-eaten.
The Big 12 failed to seize that opportunity in a rapidly shrinking window. Now it looks like the conference is soon to be extinct.
Texas now gets its wish of being an independent. Their ego could be in for a reality check in the near future. They completely underestimated the value of being in a conference and what schools like Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado—among others—brought to the table. Being in a conference guarantees a consistent big pay day and more importantly, it guarantees big name opponents for scheduling purposes on a yearly basis. The Pac-12 is going to be playing nine conference games a year. The Big Ten recently announced they also plan on going to nine conference games a year in the near future. You can bet the SEC would follow suit if they expanded to 16 teams, or maybe even if they don't. That leaves only three open games per year for each team in those three big boy conferences. You know the Big Ten teams are still going to schedule two home games a year against teams from the MAC. The same can be said for the SEC with the Sun Belt Conference and the Pac-12 with the WAC and/or Mountain West.
That leaves one game a year in which those teams might schedule a big non-conference opponent. Some schools have long standing non-conference rivals that you know they won't abandon such as Georgia vs. Georgia Tech. This leaves very little opportunity for Texas to fill their schedule. It isn't like big name schools were lining up to play them anyway. Other than Ohio State, which big boy had the guts to schedule Texas out of conference in recent history?
I know Texas could fill four games by playing non-BCS opponents like Rice, SMU, North Texas and Florida Atlantic. I am fairly confident they could agree to a yearly meeting with other fellow independent newcomer BYU. That still leaves seven games that have to be filled against BCS opponents. Honestly, since the big boys would be playing nine conference games plus one BCS opponent, non-conference Texas might have to trim the fat and not play the likes of Rice and Florida Atlantic four times a year. Even at that minimum number of seven they will have a hard time finding enough BCS teams to schedule. Remember, each of those schools they are hoping to schedule only has one maximum opening on a yearly basis.
If Texas thinks they can play many of their ex-Big 12 mates on a yearly basis they are delusional. These schools have hard feelings towards the Longhorns and won't be looking to do them any favors. Other than maybe Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I can't see any other team throwing them more than an occasional bone at most. Texas may get their wish, but don't be surprised if they find it really lonely up in their ivory tower.