Sept 20, 2011: A wild ride in Conference Expansion

Here comes Conference Armageddon

Where will your team end up in conference realignment/expansion?

 

Brian Graham, KC Sports Nation

Personally, I am sick and tired of the daily drama known as conference expansion/realignment. It gives me a headache everytime I think of all the possible outcomes. Last time there was a lot of smoke, but not much fire.

Today could be day that the wildfire goes out of control and the final domino falls for all hell breaking loose, setting the stage for Conference Armageddon.

With all the fate of the Big 12 supposedly in the hands of Oklahoma and Texas, and everyone focusing on what they were going to do, Missouri could be the one that blows it all up.

Reports surfaced today that Mizzou is on their way to the SEC, and it gaining momentum. If this is the case, the sooner the better. Whether your team ends up in some sort of new conference, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-whatever it is called, or somewhere else, lets get this thing over with!

Today has been a wild and crazy day.

First, Missouri reportedly receives an offer from the SEC, first broke by the Kansas City Star’s Mike DeArmond. In the story, DeArmond says he spoke directly to a MU booster who spoke to an MU official who said there is “an offer on the table” and that SEC’s interest started in the summer of 2010 as soon as the Mizzou to the Big Ten fell apart. According to DeArmond, the booster said, “They came to us.”

An hour later, around 2:30 p.m., Clay Travis, who covers the Tennessee, sent a series of tweets, “SEC denies it has given Missouri an offer…League not happy about this story going public…SEC wants to wait for the Big 12 to implode before pursuing Missouri. Not happy with lead…Missouri spoke out of turn…SEC likely furious.”

Can anyone make any sense of that? The SEC is saying, “Damnit Missouri, couldn’t you just wait?” I like how the SEC denies it, then says they are furious that it has been “leaked.” To me, that’s an indication that there is A LOT of truth behind this MU to the SEC “rumor.” If it is completely false, there is nothing to be leaked.

This is after CBS’s Brett McMurphy reported that West Virginia’s application to both the SEC and ACC was denied. This meant Missouri to the SEC as the 14th team, to me, but I didn’t think things would get rolling so fast.

But that’s just the start. Oklahoma State graduate, donor, athletic booster and billionaire T. Boone Pickens says he thinks the Big 12 is not dead and that A&M could consider remaining in conference, but is quickly shot down when a Texas A&M official quickly cleared that up, according to Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, “Texas A&M has made our intentions perfectly clear. We do not intend to be a member of the Big 12 past this season.”

Pickens also mentioned that Oklahoma State (and ultimately Oklahoma) heading to the Pac-XX is not the best option, “are you going to be full-fledged members? Not ever, probably. You’ll be viewed as the division without the ocean. You’ll get to play USC in Stillwater every eight years. That’s not much of a deal.” Pickens also added that he has reached out to Texas A&M graduate and former Yell Leader, current Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry to “fix” the Big 12 and to tell Texas A&M to tell Texas that they will stay in the conference if Texas gives up their Longhorn Network, or share the wealth evenly, as well as other concessions such as conference-wide revenue sharing.

After reports of Missouri to the SEC surfaced, Oklahoma, who was once believed to be on their way out of the conference for Pac-XX, the Oklahoman reports that Oklahoma would be willing to stay in the Big 12 if there is major reform, including equal revenue sharing from Texas to Iowa State and the removal of Commissioner Dan Beebe

Shortly after, it is reported that a last-ditch, Hail Mary effort to save the conference led by Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton. Will this truly be a Hail Mary or the death of the Big 12?

An hour later the, Birmingham News reports Mizzou is on its way to the SEC and follows it up by saying Mizzou has a tentative agreement to join the conference, barring a major setback, and will be placed in the SEC West with Auburn moving to the East.

Can anyone explain to me what just happened? Is Missouri on the way out, or are they trying to save the conference? Is the “tentative deal” pending the Big 12’s demise? If Oklahoma and Missouri can save the Big 12, is Missouri off to the SEC? Is this just an attempt for Missouri and Oklahoma to save face and say, “see we tried” and throw all the blame on Texas?

A LOT of questions need answered. The next few days ought to be VERY intriguing on the college athletic landscape.

Wow, what a wild and crazy day.

So much speculation and so many scenarios. Several universities rumored to be linked to several different conferences. What to believe? Who is right? Who is literally just making stuff up?

Is it real, or are universities using other conferences for leverage? We will soon find out. Can cooler heads will prevail, or will all hell will break loose and Conference Armageddon will be upon us?

Buckle in, and stay tuned…

Lets analyze what we can.

 

What we already know

Three Big 12 Teams have left the league for greener pastures in the past year and a half, with Colorado bolting for the Pac-whatever it is called, Nebraska going to the Big 10 and A&M headed for the SEC next year. Those were the major moves. There was also TCU announcing its move to the Big East, Boise joining the Mountain West in hopes of the conference earning automatic qualifier status, only to see TCU, Utah (Pac-12) and BYU (Independent) leave, hanging them out to dry. Also leaving the WAC is Hawaii, who will become an Independent in football beginning next year.

In a surprising, and bold move, the ACC shocked the college football world by announcing Saturday that Pittsburgh and Syracuse of the Big East had applied for membership into the ACC. Wow. No one, I mean no one, saw this coming. By late Saturday night, early Sunday morning, Pitt and Syracuse were the newest members of the ACC. What an addition for basketball. Will the ACC stop at 14?

The speculation in the last 16 months is the landscape of college football is headed toward Mega-Super Conferences of 16 teams, or more.

This Missouri to the SEC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St, possibly Texas and Texas Tech to the Pac-XX seems all too familiar. Except last time, it was Missouri to the Big Ten. Beginning as early as 2009, MU began displaying its displeasure for the Big 12, spearheaded by Governor Jay Nixon, who said Mizzou should be in the Big 10. He later said that if the Big Ten was interested, Mizzou would listen. When the dust settled, Nebraska was the team that headed to the Big 10. With Nebraska’s departure, Colorado got nervous, panicked and jumped the gun and headed out west. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech were reportedly heading west also. In the end, cooler heads prevailed, and the four schools stayed. The Big 12 was saved.

 

End of story, right?

 

Wrong.

 

I always say when there is smoke, there is fire, and just when we thought it was over, it started all over again…and it is still going. Texas A&M courted the SEC the first time, and then decided to stay when the other four Big 12 South schools elected to stay. But a year later, the Aggies were again pursuing the SEC. The Aggies withdrew from the Big 12 and their application to the SEC was accepted.

 

The fate of the nine-team Big 12 was now in flux.

Last night Texas, OU presidents given go-ahead to take action in regards to conference expansion/realignment. Until this afternoon, it was widely believed that Oklahoma was as good as gone. Is this “go ahead” the last step before heading west to the Pac-XX? And what does this mean for Texas?

 

What is happening?

Texas went to Norman two weekends ago in a last-ditch plea to keep Oklahoma in the Big 12 and left with the idea that Oklahoma had both feet out the door and it was almost shut. If/when Oklahoma leaves, the Big 12, as we know, will cease to exist. When Oklahoma leaves, little sister (sorry Oklahoma State, but yeah, I said it) Oklahoma State goes in a package deal. The conference will be down to seven teams. Will Texas want to stay in a conference and add more teams, or will it leave? Texas certainly has the power to do so and it does not want to leave, that is clear. They are the benefactor of an uneven wealth distribution, and now even more so with their Longhorn Network. Will any conference allow them to keep the LHN besides the Big 12? Even now it seems if the Big 12 is going to survive with Oklahoma and Missouri with Texas, the Horns may have no choice but to give up their network or make concessions to share the revenue with the whole conference and agree to equal revenue sharing.

 

Deep down I think Texas does not want to be independent in football. I think that they have dug their own grave and their willingness to not give up their own network has turned off the other conferences. I was always under the belief that Texas (and Oklahoma for that matter) could pick up the phone and contact any conference that they want and they would open their arms wide open and let them in. Has Texas’ arrogance rubbed others the wrong way?

 

Now back to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Is all of this a smokescreen? Do they really want to leave? Will they really leave? Texas A&M didn’t back down to Texas. Have the Longhorns learned from their mistakes? Can the Longhorns sacrifice its gigantic ego to keep the Big 12 alive, or is it too late?

 

A Board of Curators meeting is scheduled for Thursday morning in Columbia. If this last ditch effort to keep the league together fails, its possible Missouri, if such an offer exist (no invitation has been sent by the SEC since Arkansas and South Carolina joined in 1990. Texas A&M was not offered an invitation) accepts the offer then and there. Oklahoma State has a regents meeting tomorrow morning. Deaton plans to meet with Oklahoma President David Bolen later this week.

 

I am under the impression that if Oklahoma stays in the Big 12, Missouri will too. That is assuming Texas gives in and meets Missouri and Oklahoma’s demands. Some other options include OU’s considering the Big 12 because the Pac-XX does not want Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will not go without them, OU is doing this (as mentioned before) to say it was Texas fault.

 

In addition to the Pac-XX, Texas has been linked to the ACC, SEC and Big Ten Conferences.

 

Tech does not have much appeal to other conferences. But, somehow, someway, Texas Tech appears to be linked with Texas and can ride the coattails of Texas to another conference, just like they did when the Southwest Conference folded and they merged with the Big Eight to form the Big 12 when Tech was not one of the original institutions considered.

 

Can the Big 12 survive? Can the Big East survive? Can either survive?

 

Yesterday morning, Fox Sports reported the Big East is on verge of collapse. UCONN, Rutgers and West Virginia are popular expansion choices. UCONN, Rutgers are rumored to be candidates for further ACC expansion. West Virginia, who is considered, along with Missouri, as candidates for SEC’s 14th member, is mentioned as an ACC possibility because of their longstanding rivalry with Pitt. Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim says he think UCONN will follow Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC.

 

What can still happen?

 

This week’s expansion flavor of the week is the remaining Big East and Big 12 schools (whether it is all or some of Baylor, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State) could come together. With the Big 12 and Big East are mulling a merger, popularly called the “Leftover Conference” would this really solve anything? Would these schools still have BCS affiliation? I can’t imagine the NCAA telling a school that has been a BCS team that they are no longer a BCS school. And is this is a temporary fix? Could be. Would Texas remain in this conference? It definitely would help the brand of this conference. What would happen to the remaining seven Big East Schools that do not play FBS football (Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall) For some of the “leftovers” this has to be the worst-case scenario. How would you feel if you were TCU and you made a big move to join a BCS conference that soon folds before you can actually compete in that conference? Total suckage. For others, this is the best-case scenario, such as Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor, and to an extent Kansas, who does appear to be in better shape than the other three. And who knows what can happen, its wont be impossible to see Missouri in this group.

 

There is still some powers to be at Missouri that prefer Missouri to go to the Big 10. One caveat is that Missouri hopes to stay with Kansas, which could be a possibility in the Big Ten. There has not been much noise from the Big Ten on Missouri since they passed them over for Nebraska last year, but that appears to be changing. The Big Ten is warming up to Missouri. The Big Ten would love to have two major TV markets in Kansas City and St. Louis. Missouri has a natural rivalry with Illinois and a historical one with Nebraska. Iowa and Missouri recruit St. Louis better than anyone else, and because of proximity, could develop a rivalry quickly. Missouri is also a member of the American Association of Universities, as is Kansas, has success in two major sports and seems to be a better “cultural fit.”  Its very plausible for Missouri and Kansas to sell their rivalry to a conference. Can this happen in the SEC? Probably not, although one scenario swirling out there mentions Texas, Kansas and Missouri going to the SEC to give them 16 teams, although highly unlikely, but not impossible.

 

The Big Ten flirted with Missouri before, and turned them down. What will happen this time? The Big Ten and SEC have been waiting for the four Big 12 south schools minus Baylor to leave and when it does, the expectation is that it will become a race between the Big Ten and the SEC to stake out their territories. Mizzou is right in the middle of that battlefield. If the Big Ten wants Mizzou, it will get it, as the Tigers prefer the Big Ten over the SEC. If the SEC really has offered Missouri, does the Big Ten act? I’m hearing this is a REAL possibility. Missouri is in a great position. Stay in a reformed Big 12, which is best for Missouri, or go to another power conference.
Sources in Oklahoma have indicated that there is “almost nothing” that could keep the Sooners in the Big 12 at this point. Sources have indicated that there are people in positions of power at Mizzou who still have an interest in holding the league together, but if it implodes, the SEC is the preferred choice.

 

Kansas has also been mentioned in Pac-XX expansion and there has been some increased talk of Kansas attaching themselves to Texas and going to the ACC. If Rutgers and UCONN go, then Kansas going there seems impossible. What about the Big East? Depends, but if Rutgers and UCONN are gone, will their even be a Big East left? Will Kansas have to “settle” for this leftover conference?

 

Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State’s futures, if everything breaks down, are less clear. All three’s best scenario is remaining in whatever this Big 12-Big East merger looks like. Baylor attempted to block Texas A&M’s departure to the SEC, before backing down. Why would they do this? Because they have little, to no options. There have been reports of Baylor and Iowa State reaching out to the Big East about joining their conference if/when the Big 12 implodes. This won’t happen if the Big East falters. This wont have to happen if the conferences merge.

 

Iowa State is in the same position as Baylor.

 

There has been very little conversation recently in regards to Kansas State. Will they be a package deal with Kansas IF the Jayhawks are headed elsewhere? The most popular outcomes have Kansas State ending up in the Big East or the Mountain West, but I find it hard to imagine that K-State will end up in the Mountain West and not a BCS conference. And they could be just fine in this “leftover” conference.

 

What about current independents BYU and Notre Dame? I find it VERY hard to imagine that either would be left out. Of course Notre Dame, makes the most sense in the Big Ten and it’s the conferences top target. BYU would be great for the Pac-XX, but they’ll already have 16 if OU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech head west. If only two go, then they would be a perfect fit, but what about their BYU Network? Texas Tech is the wild card here. They have NO appeal to conferences, and just like they did Texas when the Southwest Conference fell apart, they’ve latched themselves onto Texas. Lucky them.

 

Is all hell about to break loose, or will universities back down and keep conference together? This has nothing to do with the student athletes, their families or the fans. This is all about the $$$$$$$, how TV markets can be gobbled up and how big of a footprint a conference can have.

 

Stay tuned.

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