In 1996 the Southwest Conference finally blew up, and four teams moved to the old Big 8 conference. Those schools joined to form what would become a BCS auto-qualifying conference, and those teams became the "haves."
TCU, Houston, Rice and SMU were left looking for lesser places to go, and in the past 15 years they have taken different paths to where we sit today awaiting the likely demise of the Big 12.
When the SWC teams formed the Big 12 South, Baylor found itself losing ground to the other Texas universities, and before last season had a grand total of 0 postseason bowl games since a 10-3 loss to Washington State in the 1994 Alamo Bowl.
Gone were the solid teams anchored by Mike Singletary in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the solid running teams of the mid 1980s led by Jim Thorpe Award winner Thomas Everett and multiple NFL draft picks.
When Grant Teaff retired, Baylor Football came off the tracks.
For Baylor, this realignment could be a watershed period in their history. And while losing auto qualification status and the recruiting advantage it implies is hard on their collective egos, it could truly be a blessing, as it was for the school 90 miles to the north.
While the Bears have been the whipping boy of the Big 12 South for over a decade, TCU has gone from mediocrity (and that is a stretch) to a perennial Top 10 team.
TCU rebuilt a program that had two national championships in the 1930s and a history of all-time great NFL players like Slingin' Sammy Baugh. But from 1959 until the five-way tie for the final Southwest Conference Championship, TCU was never consistently good.
The Wacker era had a couple shining years that have been overshadowed by recruiting violations, but outside of that brief period, it was a dry time for Horned Frog faithful.
A step back.
Dennis Franchione changed the fortunes at TCU when he took over a 1-10 team and led them to a bowl victory over USC. This was followed by another solid campaign and the prospects of being a BCS buster in 2000, but a call from Alabama put defensive coordinator Gary Patterson in the drivers seat, spawning a run that is unprecedented in school history, surpassing even the Dutch Meyer/Abe Martin years.
Moving to a lesser conference—the WAC—gave TCU a chance to compete, and compete they did.
In the 15 years away from the Southwest Conference TCU has six conference championships, 12 bowl appearances and two BCS game appearances. They took a big step back to move to the place they occupy today.
Would a move to Conference USA, or the WAC or MWC really be a bad thing for the Baylor?
They showed last year that they can win, but are still a long way behind the other Texas powers in recruiting, and will have to replace their phenomenal QB in another year. So where does Baylor go if the Big 12 dissolves (and it's only a matter of time)?
Mountain West Conference
Outside of the BCS conferences this is the one with cache. But this is also the gauntlet that will leave Baylor mid-pack most years and playing Boise State, Nevada, Hawaii, Fresno State, a revitalized San Diego State and always dangerous Air Force.
While it has name recognition it is not the place to go for the Bears.
Western Athletic Conference
This is a league the Bears could run and with the new UTSA and upgrading Texas State, there are instant geographical rivalries built in that help with generating crowds in nearby road games. Unfortunately the other sports in the WAC are suspect and Baylor has a solid all around athletic program, so this route is not the best option on the table.
Sun Belt Conference
This revitalizes the holy wars of SMU and Baylor of the 1980s and before. Houston is here and the second tier of Southeastern schools as well. This is not the SEC, and it's not the Big 12, but it is a good, competitive conference and contains old rivals and teams with good names that Baylor can beat.
Baylor vs. SMU is as ugly a hate fest as the TCU games currently on the schedule and on a yearly basis this would be a great ticket that would have the potential to find itself in the Death Star.
No Baylor fan wants to hear that they need to follow a road map laid out by TCU, but this one could be exactly what they need to become the next Boise, Miami or (God forbid) TCU.