Conference Realignment - What We Think We Know

Or more accurately what I think I know. I'm going to handle this by looking at the situation from various parties' perspectives. My take on their positions is based on valid information, baseless rumors, and personal opinion. So basically it's ironclad truth that you can take to the bank. Like your mama always told you, you get what you pay for.

THE PROGRAMS

Texas A&M

The Aggies lifted their skirt for the SEC and are locked into moving there. The only problem is that they didn't take care of all their business beforehand and thought that information leaks, public bluster, and the mythical standing offer would carry the day. Oops. They are twisting in the wind right now but will eventually land in the SEC. That's what they want without question, so for the purposes of this post there's not much else to say. Their behavior over the last two months is for another post or the comments section, but it's clear they want out of the Big 12 and are leaving one way or another.

Texas

The acceleration of the realignment situation is not what the Longhorns wanted. They would have much rather moved along with the status quo for a few more years while the Longhorn Network became established. At that point it would be an even more powerful bargaining chip during negotiations with any conference if the Big 12 were to dissolve. The rapidly changing situation has forced Texas to work on various contingency plans and while it's well-known that the Longhorns would be gladly welcomed into any conference, the question is under what terms would each conference accept them. The Texas Gambit is that the Longhorn Network becomes successful and obviously so to the point that other big time programs realize that they need their own network as well. My thoughts are known on this subject; revenue generation from third tier rights is not nearly as important as the exposure and branding that the network provides. Will other schools realize this moving forward or will conferences hold on to third tier network control?

Rumors sprouted up today that Texas is in early discussion with the Big Ten on possibly joining that league in 2014/15 if the realignment game comes to fruition. Some in the media (Pete Thamel of the NYT) have since denied the idea, but it matches up with what the Big Cigar has repeatedly said about Longhorn/Irish cooperation. So for now I'll assume the gist of this rumor is true. The Longhorn Network aspect of that rumor didn't make a lot of sense to me, though, especially where it included an offer to roll that network into the Big Ten Network contract with Fox. Offering that without ESPN's input considering the LHN contract seems iffy, but that may be just because I don't fully understand the details. In any event, my best guess right now is that Texas is still attempting to delay any and all changes as long as possible. Their interest in the Pac-12 was serious last summer, but since then the emergence of the LHN beast has cooled the conference and the school on each other. Because of that, Texas appears to currently be establishing the Big Ten as a contingency to their ideal resolution.

Preferred Endgame: School networks become the flavor of the day. Oklahoma's current work to leverage their position into getting SoonerVision picked up is part of this scenario. Texas and Oklahoma's networks become successful enough that everyone is happy. BYU joins the Big 12 with their network and eventually the league is able to attract Notre Dame with the prospect of a Notre Dame Network. I think Texas and the Big 12 truly share a desired result here even in the superconference world.

Current Big 12 - Texas A&M + BYU + Notre Dame + 5 other schools

Who are the other schools? They would probably hope for a mixture of smaller stature schools along with one or two that want their own network. I don't think the ability of the Big 12 to become a superconference is very likely, hence the contingency plans.

Plan B: It now appears that Texas is working on what they will do if school networks don't carry the day to the extent that the Big 12 can survive past the next wave of realignment. The Big Ten rumor included the implication that the plan was regardless of the Big 12's temporary viability, but I'm not convinced. If the preferred result above were actually possible, I don't see how Texas doesn't take it. But because Notre Dame's entrance into the Big 12 is so improbable, Plan B is in development. Texas would join the Big Ten along with Notre Dame and roll the LHN under the Big Ten Network. As I said, details on that are sketchy but I would have to assume that the key point on Texas' side is that the network remains exclusively Texas with all branding associated with that. I mentioned it above, but the exposure and branding of a school network are more valuable to the institution than the actual revenue in my opinion. In fact, recall that Deloss Dodds didn't even view a Lone Star Network as a revenue generator but merely a publicity vehicle for the program overall including other sports. I do think we would be willing to join a conference if the Longhorn Network stays the Longhorn Network even if we have to split the revenue. And who knows, maybe we are able to bring Kansas and Missouri (other AAU schools) to the Super Big Ten with us.

Plan C: If Plan B is successful in becoming a contingency, does the Pac-12 revisit their stance on the Longhorn Network? If so, then they come back into play for Texas. If not, it's possible that dream is dead. A temporarily successful Big 12 with a Sooner Network added in combination with Plan B above being known would put tremendous pressure on the Pac-12 if they believe that the 16-team superconferences are around the corner. The Pac-12 does not have very many attractive options outside of Oklahoma and Texas. Would they then be willing to offer both Texas and Oklahoma the deal that the Big Ten is considering for Texas and Notre Dame? And if so, would the Texas powers-that-be prefer to go to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma (and Texas Tech) or go to the Big Ten and keep the Sooners as an out-of-conference rival?

Oklahoma

The Sooners threw a major wrench in the A&M-to-SEC situation by announcing their flirtation with the Pac-12. This caused Baylor to realize that the Aggies' move could end their lives as a major conference member. While lots of media types interpreted it as standing up to Texas for whatever reason, I never read it that way. Oklahoma's play was to make sure they were in a superconference when it comes to that and no less importantly to play this situation so that their network gets picked up. They have reportedly been told that a Big Ten invite will not be forthcoming at any point, so Big 12 collapse leaves them with the Pac-12 as their most viable option. Obviously the SEC would love to have the Sooners but the interest isn't as sincere on the Norman side of the conversation. I am intentionally not in tune with Oklahoma goings-on, but I would assume at this point that they are on board with a temporary Big 12 as long as they have their network picked up by someone. If and when the next wave hits, their final destination will come down to a few things out of their control despite their obvious value as a program: 1) Does the Big 12 work long-term? 2) Does Texas decide on the Pac-12 in the Plan C discussion above? 3) Will the Pac-12 take Oklahoma and therefore Oklahoma State without Texas? If the answer to all three questions is no then I think you could see Oklahoma in the SEC within a decade. That would obviously be a huge win for the SEC.

Oklahoma State

Inextricably linked to Oklahoma.

Texas Tech

Clearly they have two options. They want the Big 12 to survive or Texas to decide on the Pac-12. Will political influence matter for the Longhorns' decision? Doubtful as it would happen in a world where the Big 12 is no longer feasible. Tech would then want the Oklahoma and Texas pairs to head to the Pac-12 together. With that said, there is still a chance that the Pac-12 would take Texas Tech without Texas in order to add the state to their conference footprint (and television deal negotiations). The Red Raiders aren't appealing to the SEC once A&M is already there unless that 15th/16th team situation gets really bad for that conference. The Big Ten is not an option for Tech, obviously.

Baylor

Big 12 survival is paramount. The Bears played this last week perfectly and are doing a great job of looking out for themselves. Word has leaked out that they think they could get a Big East invite if the Big 12 dissolves but that may be just a band-aid given the questionability of that conference's long-term survival as well. Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC are all clearly out of play for the Bears.

THE CONFERENCES

SEC

The SEC wants into the State of Texas in the worst way. They have publicly stated they are in favor of taking A&M into the fold as a 13th team, but not with legal entanglements hovering over the Aggies. Logic dictates that they would need a 14th team in the near future but they would be willing to be a 13-team league for at least a year. Rumors have put West Virginia and Virginia Tech in their crosshairs but the Mountaineers seem a more likely target based on the rumor mill's ebbs and flows as the Hokies gave what appeared to be an actual denial of any interest in the SEC. And while A&M is and will remain a reasonable target, the question remains: exactly how much value does a TAMU/WVU pairing add to the SEC?

The SEC's behavior of late answers that question in some ways. Whatever that value is, it's not worth the possibility of litigation over the additions. So why tamper with A&M in the first place? The SEC simply must view the 16-team superconferences as inevitable because they currently dominate the 12-team landscape without question. Given that Oklahoma and Texas have shown little to no interest, publicly at least, in the SEC then if 16-team conferences are inevitable in the SEC's mind they want to be in a position to add a valuable property before they are locked out. Think for a moment how unappealing some of the 14th team candidates are. Now try to get to 16 teams as the SEC, do you go hard after Missouri? Then whom? Louisville has a natural rival but offers no new territory. If the ACC stays strong then they're out of good targets if Oklahoma does not get "no" answers to the above three questions. So the SEC has made it known that they will get Texas A&M in the end.

Big 12

See Preferred Endgame above. Now more than ever the Big 12 and Dan Beebe's long-term future aligns with Texas'. But even this assumes that Texas would rather stay in a strengthened Big 12 instead of move to the Big Ten (or Pac-12) if and when the opportunity arises. The latest rumor about equal sharing of 1st and 2nd tier rights is intended to increase conference stability and make the league more appealing to programs below the top shelf. Now the Big 12 must hope that their experimental model of shared 1st and 2nd with school-kept 3rd tier rights wins the day.

Big Ten

After being at the forefront of the superconference discussion last year, the Big Ten has stayed fairly quiet. The Texas/Notre Dame rumor would indicate they're listening to and considering their options if that day comes. The Big Ten has the most flexibility of all the major conferences in the realignment game if only due to geography. They are situation between two weak leagues ripe for the picking in the Big East and Big 12. They don't need to necessarily be in a hurry to accept the UT/ND proposal despite their desire to get the Irish on board. If things accelerate, there's no reason to believe that the Big Ten coudn't simply pick from among the Big East and Kansas/Missouri in order to get to 16.

Pac-12

Unlike the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is clearly locked in by geography. The only two big time options they have available moving forward are Oklahoma and Texas. If they can't or don't land either of those schools then will clearly be forced to move down the list if conferences move to 16 team structures. For this reason I don't see a way that they reject Oklahoma/Oklahoma State if they don't get Texas, and coming from this perspective Texas Tech's chances of sneaking into the Pac-12 through the backdoor look even more probable.

All thoughts are welcome. Obviously as stated at the outset of this post, this is all based on a lot of speculation and unknowns. How do you see all this shaking out? What schools will be major players that I left out? Where am I completely off?

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