With Texas deferring their future conference affiliation decision to Oklahoma, the Big 12 is on shaky ground again. OU seems to have smart leadership who get that you take the best path available to you in conference realignment when it appears.
OU wants to improve their academic and research reputation while staying in an elite power BCS conference. Joining the PAC-12 does that. OU, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech may not have received PAC-12 invites on their own because their academics and research are a bit below PAC-12 standards.
The PAC-12 has a good thing today. They don't have to expand now, but to protect their future standing in the world of mega conferences they need to secure the audience of 25 Million people in Texas rather than seeing the SEC or Big 10 land UT and do so instead. Plus UT is an athletic dynamo and one of the few research powers left in the western US that are not already in either the PAC-12 or Big 10 academic and research consortiums.
UT is the one asset the PAC-12 effectively can't say, "We can afford to wait" on.
UT has lowered it's horns for their friends in Norman and for once is apparently deferring to the Sooners' instincts. OU appears poised to use UT's media clout, academic reputation, and research prowess to carry the three weaker candidates into a higher profile, more lucrative, more academically impressive home in a new PAC-16.
OU should politely ask for more. Not because the southern four deserve more, but because it is in everyone's best interest to add six schools instead of four.
They should go hat in hand to the PAC-12 and ask for them to also invite longtime conference mates Kansas and Missouri.
And not just because it is the neighborly thing to do. It actually makes more sense for OU, UT, and the PAC-12.
OU should look out for their friends...
...And not just because they are OU's neighbors. Missouri and Kansas have been OU's conference mates for how many decades? In financial terms, these are schools OU's fans do not want to give up. Playing them keeps OU's fans happy and that helps OU's gate, their TV numbers, their recruiting, and their booster donations.
More important than that is the question of loyalty.
One can point at Missouri as an example of selfish disloyalty due to last year's flirtation with the Big 10, but is it any different than OU's PAC-12 crush? They saw a similar opportunity to increase the academic prestige of their school. That's defensible. It is exactly what OU is doing.
Plus there is a fairly compelling argument that Missouri, which had never been in that situation, may have been embarrassingly played by the Big 10. They've already eaten their crow.
Missouri came out strongly for staying in the Big 12 this year when they were likely approached by the Southeastern Conference. Their Chancellor, Brady Deaton, is the head of the Big 12 Board of Directors. They apparently do not share A&M's doe eyed swooning for all things Hazard County. Do you really want to leave them to that fate?
Kansas has always been strongly in favor of the Big 12 and a loyal conference mate. Is it really appropriate to leave either school behind without trying to return the loyalty?
The PAC-12 will not let OU bring just anyone, but two state flagship schools with the kind of measurables the PAC-12 favors, some marketable brands, and good media arguments may also be able to ride the UT train into the PAC-12... if OU acts as their advocate today to get the ball rolling.
Kansas and Missouri can likely earn their own way, they just need OU to be a strong reference on the front end. Is that really too much to ask?
Frankly carrying them with OU simply helps assure that what the Sooners have built in terms of recruiting and fan support in the Big 12 doesn't erode in the PAC. For OU, it is the safe play.
From a PAC-12 perspective, KU's and MU's value as individual PAC-12 candidates is very high.
Kansas and Missouri are academically more the speed of the PAC-12 membership. Both are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the prestigious academic "fraternity" of 61 top North American universities.
In fact their prestige and academics compare very well to all three members of the Longhorn wrangling society.
School - Endowment (in Mil)- US NEWS National University Rank (of 262) - AAU Member - Carnegie Research rating - 2009 research (in Mil)
UT - $14,052 - 45 (of 262) - Yes (1929) - RU/VH - $506
OU - $968 - 111 (of 262) - Nope - RU/VH - $196
OSU - $495 - 132 (of 262) - Nope - RU/H - $120
TT - $775 - 159 (of 262) - Nope - RU/H - $80
KU - $1,054 - 104 (of 262) - Yes (1909) - RU/VH - $225
MU - $974 - 94 (of 262) - Yes (1908) - RU/VH - $245
Legend for the Carnegie 3 tier research rating system of top research universities
RU/VH: Research Universities (very high research activity)
RU/H: Research Universities (high research activity)
DRU: Doctoral/Research Universities
They both have good media value. Kansas bring the Kansas City DMA. Missouri brings the St. Louis DMA and Kansas City relevance. Kansas, like UT, is also (for the Big 12) fairly liberal --- a positive for many members of the PAC-12.
They are frankly better candidates for what the elites of the PAC-12 look for than OU, OSU, or Tech. They could effectively sweeten the deal for some PAC-12 member schools by making the additions more academically impressive.
Kansas basketball is one of the top brands in the nation and has only gotten better over the years from recruiting Dallas/Fort Worth as a member of the Big 12. Missouri has become an annual threat to finish in the top 25 in football each year. This is based in large part off an increased emphasis on Texas recruiting for improved depth that does not appear to hurt any of the southwest foursome's recruiting. These schools will surprisingly help the PAC-12 earn the support of non-affiliated Texans.
A PAC/SW-18 looks better and more profitable than a PAC/SW-16
With 16 schools, the likely division is the PAC-8 on one side and the newbies on the other. That certainly works on the PAC-8 side, but it doesn't allow the conference to maximize newbie brands like UT sports, OU football, Arizona basketball, Arizona State baseball, and Colorado football ...and could actually cripple all of them.
16 doesn't read well in Dallas/Fort Worth - the lynchpin to OU and UT's success
In Dallas the local sports talk media is bemoaning the loss of "it's conference" and wondering who they should follow. One reporter actually threw out "Conference USA" in disgust.
As much as I like the move as a Texan who can see the obvious benefits for the state from the UT gang moving west, it isn't that popular of an idea in Texas.
The locals are not sold on the PAC-12. They seem to sense a loss of voice in Texans in the direction of their most prominent conference. In DFW in particular that should be a concern for the PAC-12.
I live in the Metroplex. While the media does acknowledge the strength of the SEC, the SEC does not have a good foothold of media support here presently. A&M's move has made the SEC toxic to many.
If the locals should stay ambivalent towards the PAC-16, UT and OU could see SEC influence increase and UT's and OU's DFW recruiting fall off, costing the conference much of its power as an elite conference. Any PAC/SWC needs UT and OU hitting on all cylinders.
Branding the conference as the Pacific Southwest Conference or "PAC/SWC" (pronounced "pak swak") instead of the PAC-16 would do a lot to make unaffiliated Texans feel more supportive of the expanded PAC-12. The Southwest Conference brand is still warmly remembered in Texas and OU was a founding member of that conference, so it would not be inappropriate.
It is in many ways similar to the last days of the Southwest conference when the talk was of UT and A&M alone going to the Big 8. Texans were somewhat ambivalent of the idea. When Baylor and Tech came along 4 of the 8 remaining members, Texans embraced it as the replacement to the SWC.
On the same token carrying along Missouri and Kansas would see arguably the 6 best of the 9 remaining programs in the Big 12 (from the perspective of DFW fans) moving to the PAC/SWC. That would read much better in the Metroplex and would help sell the idea that this expanded PAC-12 is the true heir to "our" conference. That will help the southern four maintain the status quo in Texas recruiting.
16 shatters big time rivalries and kills program's abilities to maximize their appeal
Does the conference really want UCLA and Arizona Basketball in different divisions? Is it smart to reduce the Wildcats' access to California basketball recruits?
Does the conference want to risk disrupting Arizona State baseball? California is a great baseball state. Moving Arizona State to a division with no California schools hurts that storied program.
Colorado football was a national power program in the early 1990s but died on the vine in the Big 12. Most Colorado alumni move west, not east. Colorado moving to the PAC-12 was a great idea athletically for the Buffaloes because they could better access their large and financially successful liberal alumni base. Cutting off CU's access to the west coast would likely eliminate all hope of the Buffaloes quickly rekindling that spark of football dominance. It would cheat the PAC/SWC out of a potential national brand to sell.
Going with 18 schools creates the potential for a "wild card" slot in the Pacific Division to protect these revenue streams for the conference as well as opening the door to three cost saving divisions in non-revenue sports.
How divisions in an 18 team PAC/SWC would look for football
Doing everything possible to resurrect the dominance of Colorado football is a sensible idea. The PAC/SWC would already have 5 historic national football brands in USC, UCLA, Washington, Oklahoma, and Texas as well as an emerging one in the dynamic Oregon Ducks. Resurrecting Colorado would give the conference an astounding seven national football brands to market nationwide.
Arizona and Arizona State have not proven to have gained any dominance in football due to California and west coast recruiting so it make sense to give slot nine in the football Pacific division to Colorado. Utah has proven they don't have to have a lot of exposure in California to go undefeated. Really Colorado is the school that needs the slot to activate their alumni and fan bases.
How divisions in an 18 team PAC/SWC would look for baseball
Arizona State has been the dominant program in the PAC-10 since they joined with 26 NCAA baseball tourney invites since 1978. There is no reason to potentially screw that up.
California is a big baseball state. Keeping the Sun Devils as the dominant school in the Pacific allows them to keep their recruiting pipelines open and allows UT to stay the dominant baseball school in the southwest. Piling up all the great baseball schools in the southwest makes no sense in terms of marketing. That only diminishes the conference's ability to sell the sport.
Arizona State is the logical school to fill a 9th spot in the Pacific baseball division.
How divisions in an 18 team PAC/SWC would look for basketball
Arizona has had a pretty long run as the dominant team in the PAC-10 over the last 20 years. Moving them to the Southwest Division would diminish much of the effectiveness of all the networking they have done with PAC-10 territory high school coaches.
The regional networks the PAC-12 has talked about appear to be based on quads. It seems to me that if Arizona played all of the PAC-8 schools in basketball, it would put Arizona on the California school's regional networks quite a bit, helping them maintain their recruiting.
Putting it into the Southwest 8 division could hobble that program for up to a decade. The conference needs their top brands at maximum appeal in the emerging era of mega conferences. Plus there is no good reason for allowing it to happen.
16 is an arbitrary number
As the conference will be run as two divisions --- effectively two separate conferences with a shared title game --- it does pose the question, "Why stay with two 8 team divisions when conferences find 9 or 10 team conferences much better for scheduling?"
The PAC-12 is a conference full of some of the most brilliant minds among US colleges. To stay at 16 because conventional wisdom has arbitrarily concluded that 16 is the ideal number is silly. A conference with minds of this caliber should weigh the pros and cons. (Yes, I am not above using gratuitous flattery to open eyes to the potential here.)
There is a fairly good chance that 18 might be quite a bit better of a number than 16 based on the current membership and the specific long term needs of this expanding conference.
The new conference will not see two better candidate for their criteria emerge than Missouri and Kansas in the next 20 years, so why not add them as well today?