Opportunity is Knocking: Why the PAC-12 should take another run at the Big 12.

Tobi WritesAnalyst IAugust 16, 2011

I know a big chunk of PAC-12 fans will think, "PAC-12 members are making $20 million dollars a year from TV and we haven't even launched our network yet!  Why mess with Texas again? They had their chance."

Well, with respect that may be short term thinking. In the age of mega conferences that may launch with A&M potentially moving to SEC, you don't want to come to the party late.  The PAC-12 largely got paid for who they already had, not for who they added.  It is a nice deal for a 12-team traditional BCS conference, but when there are maybe three to four mega conferences, the PAC-12 may be asking themselves why they didn't push the state of Texas into their column instead of being forced to finish out their mega conference with say Iowa State.

The stars have aligned to allow an opportunity for the PAC-12 to land legitimate statewide influence in Texas while not being toyed with by UT. To add Texas to the column and have UT have to "deal with it."

And wouldn't that be sweet.

UT up 1-0 in the latest realignment dance

UT won the first round last year.  They played the PAC-10's admiration into total control of the Big 12, driving off rival Nebraska and getting UT the one thing the Big 12 membership didn't want to allow them to have—their own network.

But the stars are aligned perfectly for the PAC-12 to win the next round and the series.

Round 2: Go talk to A&M.

Where The PAC-12 blew it last time was that they didn't acknowledge A&M's enormous chip on their shoulder.  The PAC-10 rolled out the red carpet for UT, immediately invited Colorado when Baylor tried to push their way in on the outsider card, but the PAC-10 didn't blink an eye when A&M strayed.  That bothered Aggie fans. Treat A&M like UT and they'll win a lot of Aggie love.

Court them in the media.  Make their fans feel the love.

Aggies want to go the the SEC now, but it seems likely they may or may not have the political juice to leave on their own.  The SEC doesn't want to burn a slot on Baylor or Texas Tech, so there is nothing A&M can do in a move to the SEC to eliminate the in-state political backlash.

The Plan to tie the series

Offer invitations to A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tech with an understanding that if they accept there will always be a place available for UT if UT chooses to embrace negotiable but equitable terms with its conference mates.

Sell the offer to the public as the PAC-12 having wanted A&M, and A&M insisted on Tech, OU, and OSU. A&M can spout some very clever public relations spin like,

"Our flirtation with the SEC and our conversation with the Texas House Committee on Higher Education opened our eyes to the responsibility we have to the state as a power school.

We took care of our little brother, Texas Tech, by carrying them, as well as our providing a slight helping hand to our neighbors Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, into The PAC-12.  This move should allow Tech to continue to improve their academic reputation and offer more and more valuable degrees to the citizens of West Texas as well as create high paying research jobs in the College Station and Lubbock areas.

We would love to have UT with us, but if they insist on another path, UT should follow our example and similarly carry Baylor or the next most ready public school, Houston, with them to their new conference if they ever move."

Zing!  When was the last time A&M was ever able to take a leadership role on UT and stick it to them like that in the press?

And it would work.

OU desperately wants into the PAC-12 for academic reasons. They feel it could help them meet some academic long-term goal including perhaps helping them earn membership into the Association of American Universities. 

The OU game is far more valuable to UT in fundraising terms than to OU. UT won't give it up, so there is absolutely no penalty for OU to make this move. OSU wants to tag along with OU into a mega conference and Oklahoma politics make OU want OSU to come along.

Bringing Tech with you makes you look responsible to unaffiliated Texans and ties the hands of any state politicians who may want to punish you. Tech wants to be in the PAC-12, but they obviously do not have the academics to earn the approval of Stanford and the PAC-12 research elites. They need a research elite to carry them. If you do this, Tech boosters will support and help you fight off a UT backlash politically.

It was pretty clear to all involved that Tech and the Oklahoma schools were going to be invited to add UT. With UT out, they are not in the PAC-12. It sends a very clear message about the respect the PAC-12 has for A&M if three schools that have not landed PAC-12 invites on their own are added in order for the PAC-12 to get A&M.


A&M ain't chopped liver...

A&M has very similar attributes to UT.

Football Attendance at the high BCS level?  Check. 13th in the BCS in 2010 at 82,477.  The only thing that is keeping them from finishing higher is their stadium capacity.  The Aggies fill 86,000 seat Kyle Field at just under a 96 percent capacity rate with what have been some mediocre teams lately.  Given that and the unbelievable passion of the Aggie faithful, catching UT's attendance numbers is just a stadium expansion away.

Athletic excellence? Take a closer look at the Aggies.  They are admittedly a middle of pack Big 12 team in football, but they are a regular in the NCAA basketball tournament and do quite well overall in the non-revenue sports.  They would certainly hold their own in the PAC-12, and I think the geography suggests they would do much better in football in a PAC-16.  Check.

Strong fan support throughout the state? Check. A&M is the only other school besides UT in the state that indisputably has it. I would argue in fact, that, as the underdog in that rivalry, A&M fans are far, far more passionate (at least that is what I have seen as an unaffiliated Texan observer).

Elite Research University? Check. UT may have an assortment of affiliated institutions that do a ton of research. If you just compare UT proper to A&M, A&M's annual research budget is higher than UT's — 21st nationally at $543 Million vs. UT's 31st at $446 Million in 2009

A&M ranks ahead of of current PAC-12 members USC, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. Yes, PAC-12 fans you read that right, A&M has a bigger research budget than PAC-12 research elites Arizona and USC!  For a research consortium like the PAC-12, where their universities do a lot of cooperative research between members, A&M brings the value!

Academic reputation? Check. A&M is currently ranked 63rd on the US News's list of "National Universities" only 18 slots behind UT in that category of 260-plus large elite universities. A&M ranks ahead of of current PAC-12 members Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.

UT/UCLA/USC/Washington level National Brand? Not there yet and won't be there in the SEC, but it easily could be in a PAC-16.  Dropping the biggest conservative, pro-military school in the nation into a mostly liberal PAC-12 pond would do more to get A&M attention than anything the SEC could do in a thousand years. 

A&M would become the rockstar of the PAC-16. Everyone would want to beat them.  Their games would be among the best attended on the schedule. They'd be the UT in the conference. Everyone would be talking about A&M and that can only improve recognition of their academic excellence.  

Plus there is the military thing... The US has an Air Force, Army and Naval Academy playing football at the FBS level, but there is no BCS level "Marine Academy." A&M has a large contingent of Marines and culturally embraces that branch of the military. It can be argued that not only do they have strong statewide support like UT, they also have the potential to be a national brand like the academies for this reason as well.

Tolerably Conservative? Check. A&M is filled with financial and military conservatives. The admission of Utah over BYU and the snub of Baylor should make it abundantly clear that some members of the PAC-12 see a big difference between religious conservative culture and other brands of conservatism.

Here are some differences between Texas' twin giants. UT's alumni are heavily liberal and liberals tend to flock to the major cities after graduation. A&M's alumni have a more conservative bent preferring country living to a greater degree. A&M's proximity to Houston makes them arguably the No. 1 college team in that city.

There is no question that the PAC-10 greatly overlooked A&M.  It is time to fix that today.

A&M has not been as successful on the field as UT lately, but with OU and Tech they are more than capable of delivering Texas. A&M, OU, and Tech have three of the five largest fan bases in Dallas/Fort Worth and all three have strong support in the rural communities of Texas.


Respect, "It's what Aggies crave"

A&M doesn't like being seen as UT's incompetent little brother.

They are an annual tourney team in basketball and have the most fevered fan base in football in the Western US.

But no one sees that.  It the PAC-12 acknowledges the greatness of A&M in this way, I suspect they will have a surprisingly good chance of landing them.

The Aggies are generally a reasonably fair conference mate. A&M is more than willing to join the SEC where TV money is shared equally, so it makes no sense that they would not agree to do the same in the PAC-12.  They are not going to be a dismissive and arrogantly self-centered conference mate like UT.

All that is required is a proper sales job.

A PAC-16 would be a better home for A&M than an SEC 16

Larry Scott has to illustrate clearly to the A&M board of Regents how much added value a PAC-16 would offer over a mega-conference SEC.

In a 16-team SEC, A&M and another central school would probably be added to the SEC West.  The existing SEC schools would still likely get the players they want today, but would be able to supplement them with a couple top Texas talents each year. In other words they would all get a little better.

A&M on the other hand would run into the same trouble that Arkansas and South Carolina had upon joining the SEC — trouble recruiting in the tradition-cherishing deep south in addition to seeing their recruiting backyard —Houston — get overrun with SEC recruiters selling the dominance of the SEC plus a game in nearby college Station every other year. LSU and Arkansas in particular would profit.

The problem at A&M could be even more pronounced as it takes a special kind of recruit to embrace the military culture of A&M and to chose small town conservative College Station.

There are plenty of places for conservative recruits to play in the SEC.

To win national titles in the SEC you have to recruit as well as a Florida or Alabama or LSU as well as cheaters like Auburn. It is difficult to imagine A&M being able to even maintain its current level or recruiting in the face of that.

As Alabama, LSU and Arkansas already out-recruit A&M, it is difficult to see that changing if little changes on the SEC end with the exception of them gaining better access to Texas,  especially the rich Houston recruiting area.

A&M is also not likely to out pay Auburn for recruits even though the death penalty will never be enforced again.

Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Auburn will probably all have better talent most years and talent wins. It is difficult to see a pathway for Aggie football national titles.

In the PAC-12 A&M would displace Utah as the school with the most conservative culture in the conference.

The resulting PAC-16 would be one of three elite BCS conferences (and the first "super conference") that would essentially each dominate one third of the US population.

The Aggies would be the only military school in that region and would own every BCS caliber recruit from a military family in the western half of the country. The Aggie swagger and pageantry would be a tough to resist lure giving A&M an excellent shot at conservative kids throughout the liberal leaning west. 

A&M would effectively not have to further open its Houston recruiting area as the price of admission. It is quite a way from Houston to USC or Washington. Texas teams joining a Western facing mega-conference would turn the attention of the state's football playing youth away from the SEC, and Arizona, ASU, Utah, and Colorado are too far away and lack the juice to be a similar drain on Texas recruiting at the highest end.  More elite Texas recruits would chose A&M. A&M's recruiting would be maximized and could very well rival or exceed UT's.

The path to the PAC 16 title game would have a deeper A&M squad having only to beat a peer OU squad and dangerous Tech and Utah teams. That is a much easier path.

A&M's uniqueness would be lost in the SEC.  They would be a nationally prominent shining beacon for conservatives in the PAC-12.

It is night and day. I am frankly shocked Aggie leadership and their fans do not see it.

It would be silly to incur the wrath of the state to jump to a conference where A&M may never win a national title and most years would finish fifth in their division....even more so when they could be an annual national contender in football in a PAC-16 and acknowledged as a peer of elite large publics in the PAC-12 and Big 10.

A&M needs the PAC-12 to make them see that.

Neither party may want this for cultural reasons, but it would make great, revenue generating TV and both parties would maximize their profit.

Round 3/For the win: Make the offer to UT conditional.

UT will never give up their network, but in the right situation they could be forced to accept more equitable terms.

Adding A&M at that price puts UT in the rare spot of not having leverage and being in the shadow of A&M

The Big 12 would be a gutted shell of itself.  UT friends Arkansas and Notre Dame would not join. BYU would be a nice replacement and Houston would be OK, but they certainly would not replace the four departing schools. 

It is unclear whether TCU would bite to get involved with that drama considering the Big East money is not yet known and TCU has a better shot at making a national title game there as the Big East doesn't have a football program the caliber of UT.  Frankly the Big 12 north could actually be vulnerable to a raid from the Big East, due to their basketball culture.

Unlike Notre Dame, much of UT's value is based on its rivalries in the Big 12 South. With those rivals in the PAC-16 and having the option of not playing UT due to tremendous PAC-16 payouts, UT could lose games and see their earning and fundraising potential erode.

If UT swallows the bitter pill of defeat to A&M and concedes, A&M and Tech could use their influence to help UT shed Baylor and another other politically imposed Texas barnacle.  If UT refuses, the Aggies and the Red Raiders can help Baylor maintain their relationship with UT.

UT can join the PAC-16 at any time and rejoin the best part of the Big 12 South, but they would have to concede some loss of power.  It would be fantastic theater.  As an unaffiliated Texan who is just as sick of UT gluttony, I like to imagine UT as a howler monkey with its hand in a bottle with a death grip on a wad of money (The Longhorn Network).

It works for both parties. The PAC-12 hits a TV home run even if UT doesn't come and they get to wipe the egg off their faces over getting played by UT and return the favor.

And it would allow A&M fans to enjoy really sticking it to UT for once, to be acknowledge by the nation as UT's peer, and really isn't that all that this whole A&M/SEC thing is about?


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