It doesn't take a lot to see the writing on the wall for the Big 12 at this point.
Honestly, if Texas A&M hadn't been shy with the SEC in the summer of 2010, the Pac-16 would already be a done deal. Now, a year later, the same conclusion is virtually inevitable.
ESPN is reporting that University of Oklahoma President David Boren will decide whether or not Oklahoma is leaving the Big 12 within three weeks, "seeking stability," and that multiple conferences have "recently" shown interest. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that means.
Boren uses foreshadowing like a polished novelist, stating: "I don't think OU is going to be a wallflower when all is said and done."
Oklahoma is finally ready to make a move, and the Big 12 won't survive it.
Everyone talks about the fact that Texas is the big enchilada in the Pac-16—er...Big 12, or 9, or however many teams make up the conference today. From the standpoint of viewership and marketability, that is true.
But the Big 12 has been Oklahoma's conference. They've won seven of the last 10 conference championships, and in most expert opinions (obviously this is a matter of debate) are the greatest college football program of all time.
So objectively, lets put Texas' Longhorn-sized ego aside for a minute. While the folks in Austin are probably the only ones happy with the status quo, pulling in their big bucks, they can't afford a divorce from Oklahoma.
In the past 20 years, the Texas-Oklahoma/Oklahoma-Texas rivalry has elevated itself to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the college game. Texas and Texas A&M? That was old hat.
The rivalry was a relic of last century, just like Oklahoma-Nebraska.
But when you look at Oklahoma and Texas, neither school can afford to leave each other. The rivalry is too big now.
Its a modern rivalry between two of the top five (or ten) programs in the current college era. The entire Big 12 conference has existed because of the hate-fest in Dallas. It's been a really fun experiment.
And Oklahoma President David Boren is smart enough to know that he will have to take the conference nucleus, aka The Red River Rivalry, with him to whatever conference he joins.
Additionally, the folks in the quiet, conservative Sooner state are not going to be willing to abandon their little brother in Stillwater. Politics in a small state like Oklahoma won't permit it. Football is a religion there, and there are only two programs with relevance in the state (both of whom have impressive national scope). Apologies, Tulsa.
Oklahoma is, therefore, in a tough situation should they try to move leagues. If that's ever to become a reality, they'll have to go as a package deal, with at least the two other teams.
Texas will be under political pressure to at least try and accommodate Texas Tech by taking them along for any movements.
Bringing in BYU will not be enough to keep the Big-12 (which would then be back up to 10 teams, if you're following along) competitive. Fundamentally that is because of the looming SEC expansion.
The SEC is going to add Texas A&M, and then they'll have to add at least one more team to get to an even number at 14. Can a weakened Big 12, down to 10 teams really compete on a landscape where the other big conferences have better programs and more of them?
The Pac-12 champion would always get into the BCS title game over the Big 12 champion. The Big Ten Champion would always get in over the Big 12 Champion. And the SEC champion would get an automatic invitation to the big dance on an annual basis.
The Big 12 has to dissolve. It cannot be competitive anymore.
Which leaves two options, which I'm sure are the option David Boren is considering. The first is really intriguing, but also a bit terrifying.
I'd imagine if the issue was pushed, Oklahoma could follow Texas A&M into the SEC, and drag Texas and Oklahoma State along with them. Basically, the SEC would be the most horrifying conglomeration of competition on the planet, and every other conference would be rendered irrelevant.
This would lead to a de facto end to the BCS era, because the champion would simply be whoever survived the SEC. Oklahoma would have an extremely hard time being competitive, and would also sacrifice some of the progress it has made as a national research University.
Without trying to take a dig at the SEC, its schools generally are not as academically respected as the premier schools in other conferences (with a huge asterisk next to Vanderbilt).
The other option, which is more realistic, is for Oklahoma to head west and reunite with Colorado, while forcing Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to follow.
The benefits to this option are tremendous. First of all, Oklahoma would likely be in a division with Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State. The other division would probably be the old Pac-8. Travel generally wouldn't be awful within divisions.
The Sooners would be set to maintain partnerships with the majority of the current division in the Big 12, while simultaneously entering a new division that they will still have a very high chance of being dominant in. Throw in a yearly trip to the Golden State and things are looking, well...sunny.
Additionally, Oklahoma would be able to associate with the more universal academic prestige of the Pac-12, while bringing the academic prestige of Texas along with it. Their division would still center around the Red River Rivalry, and the conference would rival the SEC in every way.
The Pac-16 champion would basically be guaranteed entry to the BCS title game, or at the very least, the conference would be guaranteed multiple BCS bids.
Additionally, Oklahoma could add a rivalry with other all-time great programs like USC, while maintaining scheduling comfort by only playing the Trojans every couple of years. The latter option is not simply the better option, when reasoned through, its the only real option.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the Pac-16. Based on David Boren's timeline, its only three weeks away.
It looks like Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, is finally going to get his way. And like it or not, the era of super conferences is upon us.
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