With sources reporting that Oklahoma and Texas (along with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech) are in discussions to soon turn the Pac-12 into the Pac-16, it looks like the Big XII will soon become extinct.
It’s hard to believe that one of the two original superconferences will become irrelevant sooner than the ACC or Big East.
Think about it: Within a few years of the Big XII forming in 1996 — when remnants of the once-proud Southwestern conference merged with the Big Eight — it was obvious that the Big XII would partner with the SEC as college football’s elite. Nebraska won its third national title of the decade in 1997 (although 1994 and 1995 were as part of the Big Eight) and would play for another in 2001 (loss to Miami); Oklahoma, rejuvenated under Bob Stoops after a decade of mediocrity, won the national title in 2000; Texas was again on the rise under Mack Brown; and Kansas State under Bill Snyder had become a perrenial Top 10 team towards the late 90s.
Yet, 15 years later, Oklahoma — arguably the best overall program of the past decade — will determine if the Big XII will soon become defunct. Oklahoma president David Boren riled up his Big XII counterparts when he said “multiple conferences” have shown interest in the Sooners, and he plans to make a decision about Oklahoma’s future as part of the Big XII very soon (possibly as soon as this week). The dominoes started — this round, anyway — last year when Nebraska and Colorado, both looking for better deals away from the suddenly Texas-centric Big XII (which actually includes Oklahoma), left for the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively. Texas A&M has officially announced it will leave (likely for the SEC), and we’ve all believed that Texas would eventually pursue football independence in order to capitalize on its Longhorns Network (produced by ESPN, naturally).
Even without Texas A&M, the Big XII could possibly work out an arrangement to remain viable, especially if they return to 12 members with a combination of Air Force, BYU, Houston, SMU, TCU (set to join the Big East in 2012) and/or Boise State; with Notre Dame, the conference could likely survive with 10. But it’s inarguable that the Big XII can survive without Oklahoma and Texas, at least not as part of the BCS.
As for “multiple conferences,” in addition to the Pac-12, the SEC has also probably contacted Oklahoma about becoming its 14th member, along with Texas A&M; and the Big Ten could be looking to re-unite the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry. If/when the Oklahoma and Texas schools leave the Big XII, then the rise of four 16-team superconferences is inevitable, and the remaining Big XII teams will immediately be in play, as well as several Big East and ACC teams as the SEC and Big Ten look to solidify their positions against one another. Syracuse (“New York’s College Team” as a banner pronounced during the Wake game), Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and perhaps even Maryland and Boston College seem to be in play for the Big Ten, while the SEC would probably look first to Missouri, and then maybe Florida State, Virginia Tech and possibly even a North Carolina school.
The uncertainty: how will it all play out, and how will the fallout affect the relevance of the ACC as part of the BCS?
Personally, I don’t think the right response is solely raiding the Big East again this time around. Instead, the ACC should be proactive: As I suggested recently, the ACC should start by looking west to Oklahoma and its Texas TV markets and recruiting inroads, and then go from there (this may include Missouri and/or one or more Big East members). Geography, rivalries, culture and tradition no longer matter, at least not to the conference presidents, and expansion is entirely football-centric; basketball revenue is significantly less than football.
College football TV revenues (including the BCS) are dictating a new structure for college football. The simple reality is, the cozy southeastern basketball conference most of us grew up with will soon have to look very different in order to survive, and the ACC leadership needs to recognize what it will take to remain relevant in the BCS and maximize the potential to re-negotiate the next TV deal. What I expect to eventually see is a structure with less emphasis on divisions; when you consider that a 16-team conference — even with nine conference games — would only have two interdivisional games available each year, it may be a decade between seeing other teams within your own conference. But we can be certain that logistics are peripheral to the mega-millions in TV revenues driving this.
Perhaps the Sooners wouldn’t even consider the ACC, but I think pursuing Oklahoma would be the right place for the ACC to start the expansion process.