In what has to be the most unsurprising development in college athletics, Texas A&M has officially sent notice to the Big XII that it wants a divorce. Apparently fed up with the Texas-centric economics and politics of the conference, A&M wants out.
This is no small thing. Texas A&M has been one of the premier schools in the conference. Their traditions and the passion of their football fans is legendary, as is their rivalry with Texas, not to mention that they field very competitive teams in many sports. If the Aggies can get upset enough to leave the conference, something’s rotten in Denmark.
So what’s going to happen to the Big XII? Is it going to stay with 9 teams? Is it going to expand to 10 or back to 12? Is it going to dissolve completely?
As someone who has followed the Big XII since its inception, the conference has always given me a sense that it was in an unstable equilibrium. Sports leagues, in the college ranks as well as the pros, are cooperatives. But as the Big XII has become ever more dominated by the University of Texas economically and politically, what stability it had has eroded.
Nebraska never was happy with the political dominance of the Longhorns from the beginning, so I wasn’t surprised when they left for the Big 10. But now that dominance has gotten to be too much even for for the Aggies. Unless the Big XII moves towards giving the conference members more equal political footing (not to mention more equal revenue sharing), I think the dissolution of the conference is a non-trivial possibility.
But I think dissolution unlikely. Staying at 9 members is a possibility since a round-robin championship format could still work. Each team would have to play four non-conference games and then play each conference member.
But I think this is unlikely too because the Big XII has now lost two of its biggest football markets in Nebraska and Texas A&M. My hunch is that the conference will look to bring at least one more team in to improve the value of the conference. Who?
Will the Big XII get Notre Dame to join the conference? Here, I think it is obvious that having Notre Dame in the Big XII would sufficiently enhance the value of the conference, and if ND asked for entrance, they would get it, probably unanimously.
But if Notre Dame joined a conference, that would mean sacrificing some football revenue to other schools. It also would mean losing some of their rivalries in football in order to play a conference schedule. I really doubt that Notre Dame would want to join the Big XII. If they join any conference in football, it will be the Big 10 because it has so much in common academically and geographically with the Big 10.
SMU? No. Next?
Arkansas: I don’t quite see what Arkansas brings to the Big 12 (Arkansas’ population: ~3 million), but there’s no doubt the Razorbacks are a better geographic fit in the Big 12 and would rejoin rival Texas and should-be-but-isn’t rival Missouri. The Hogs haven’t won a conference title since joining the SEC in 1992 (the Hogs had two SWC titles in each decade since the 1950s), but it hasn’t seemed to matter to the fans, who would revolt if talks about a move began to take a serious turn. The best pitch for Arkansas would be the chance for greater success, but it would be quickly rebuffed.
…BYU: This is my official recommendation. The Big 12 needs to heavily pursue the Cougars and stick with 10 members for the same reason it didn’t expand to 12 over the past year: No one else adds enough to the league to warrant membership. This marriage would be beneficial for both sides. BYU gets more money and access to the BCS, while likely keeping its already-active television network for Mormons across the country. The Big 12 might have to allow the Cougars to keep their current television deal with ESPN, though. The Big 12 gets a national brand with great football and great basketball while expanding its footprint. And there’s plenty of BYU fans inside the Big 12 footprint, too. There’s an argument that independence better serves BYU’s mission, which might cause decision-makers to think twice, but this decision-making process will be interesting.
He places the probability of BYU joining at 60%.
He also mentions Air Force as a possible candidate. That one intrigues me because its location in Colorado would help bring back the Denver market that was lost when Colorado bolted for the Pac 12. But Denver seems to me to be much more of a pro sports town, and they love their Broncos. How many Denver eyeballs would Air Force bring to the Big XII? Probably not as many eyeballs as BYU would bring.