If you were paying attention this weekend, you saw the shape of things to come with the new college football playoff. We can sit here and talk all day about strength of schedule, head to head and conference championship games, but once you could make an argument about whether Ohio State should be in the field over Baylor and TCU, there was only one way that argument was going to end. The only thing on TV you needed to watch this season to know which teams were going to make the cut was Game of Thrones.
While Ohio State's 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game made life easier on the committee, the most convincing part of their case was their TV markets, their alumni base and their national brand. If you asked the average sports fan in the US to pick out Baylor and TCU on the map, they probably couldn't do it. The only reason those two schools even have a seat at the table is because of Texas and OU. They are welterweights in a sport being taken over by the heavyweights.
The math is inescapable under the current system - there are 5 conferences and 4 spots in the playoff. I'm fairly confident the Big 12 would have gotten a spot if Texas and OU had switched places with Baylor and TCU, but it sure would be nice if some of the other schools in the conference could start carrying their own weight. As it stands now, we are subsidizing our own competition and letting regional power bases develop within Austin's sphere of influence without getting anything for it. You don't see Florida letting The U in the SEC. They even have a gentleman's agreement not to let Florida State get in the mix.
There's an ever growing pile of money just sitting in the middle of the table and if you want your share, you have to have other schools with the muscle to help you grab it. That's why Notre Dame ended up aligning with the ACC - even the most stubborn independent power in the game knew they would need some back-up. If you think any other non-aligned school is getting a taste of all that sweet, sweet playoff money, I have a time share in Boise to sell you.
The silver lining is an expanded playoff which goes from 4 schools to 8 and allows everyone a seat at the table. Given the way things are going, you have to think it's somewhat inevitable, even if it's down the road a few years. However, as the more mathematically inclined may have grasped already, 5 doesn't go into 8 evenly. The first rule of robbing a bank is to make sure everyone's cut is the same. There's no honor among thieves and the second that money starts getting distributed unevenly, the knives start to come out.
However, if you go with the widely discussed super-conference model, the math works out really well. Instead of 3 of the 5 power conferences getting a second bid, you could give 2 bids to each of the four 16 team super-conferences, no muss, no fuss. You could do it like the SEC model, with 2 divisions of 8, one permanent cross-division rival and one rotating game. Non-conference, you could do an inter-conference challenge every season like they do in basketball, rotating yearly between the other conferences. From there, teams can fill out the home schedule with a few games against local rivals or whoever else. When people start talking about schedule equality, this is what they are talking about.
We've already seen the power conferences go from 6 to 5 so going from 5 to 4 doesn't seem like that large a stretch. And if you start playing the Game of Thrones, the Big 12 could be in trouble. The SEC's participation brings national legitimacy to the playoff and the Pac-12 represents half of the country, so they are in. And while the long-term demographics of the Big Ten could eventually doom them, they have the money to play out the string for decades and they have been expanding rapidly into the Northeast in anticipation of that shift.
The ACC has been expanding as well, grabbing up schools left and right without seemingly much of a plan. I'm not even sure how many schools they have in their conference now, but it is interesting that they have Duke, UNC, Syracuse and Louisville under the same roof. If they get iced out, they can try to get Kentucky and Kansas on board, play a 20-30 game schedule and cripple the NCAA Tournament. It isn't the greatest card in the world to play, but it is more of a card than the Big 12 has.
What happens if the Big 12 gets iced out? Texas and OU start looking for a new home and everyone else tries to get in on that gravy train. If that's the end game here, we might as well start looking around and seeing what our options are.
My #1 priority in any future re-alignment is staying with OU. When Texas A&M went to the SEC, they took part of the state with them and the last thing you want to do is further dilute your power base. You never want to leave someone behind who can throw a knife in your back. If OU and A&M link up, they can start to ice Texas out of our own back yard. The last thing we want to happen is for Texas to make a national play only to see more and more swaths of the state become SEC country as we slowly become a stranger in a strange land.
Of course, the problem with OU is they are carrying a hundred-pound billion-dollar gorilla on the back in the form of the University of T. Boone Pickens at Stillwater. OU isn't going anywhere without OSU, which means our lifeboat is going to need at least 3 seats. That rules out most of the other power conferences, especially if we go with a 16-team model. There are 14 schools in the SEC and the Big 10 and more than that in the ACC. The obvious move is the one we should have made all along - West.
If OU and Texas each get one lifeboat for a traveling partner, the numbers work out perfectly, as the new super conference could align itself in almost any configuration, with pods in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, So Cal, Nor Cal, Oregon, Washington and the Rockies. Obviously, we would rather have gone with Texas A&M, which would have meant the three biggest schools in our part of the world could have made all of the moneys and run everything around here like a mob, but perhaps it's for the best.
A&M, as you would expect for them, made the short-term emotional decision, fracturing the state so they could align themselves with the conference who would make them feel the best about themselves and give them a new identity out of the shadow of Big Brother. Going to the SEC was a 100 year decision and since no one at A&M can apparently read a map or look more than 2 feet in front of their face, they decided they would rather be aligned with Florida and the Deep South than Northern and Southern California. All you have to do is ask yourself which parts of the country are more likely to be growing in 2050 and 2100.
If A&M is the little brother, Texas Tech is the weird cousin. Like, he's a cool enough guy, but don't associate me with him or hold me responsible for anything that he does. I can't say I know all that much about what really goes on in Lubbock and I'm not sure I particularly want to know. If Baylor or TCU can rig the smaller game of thrones in Austin to take Tech's spot, it wouldn't change anything on our end. Either way, there are 4 seats in this car and 3 are taken, so they can figure it out among themselves.
California and Texas have usually been on different teams for most of their history, but there's definitely room for an alliance that benefits both. We may never agree on the cultural stuff, but we can both agree that we don't want Texas being run like California or California being run like Texas. We are both a long way away from the NY-DC axis of power and both places seem to be doing a better job of staying on their feet during this recession than anywhere but DC. If you get Dallas, Houston, LA and the Bay all pushing in the same direction, not to mention Seattle, Phoenix and Austin-San Antonio, it's going to be hard for the rest of the country to resist.* Under a Pac-16 model, instead of worrying about getting our share of the pie, we would get most of the pie every year.
* If we are talking 100 years from now, I expect demographics to turn Salt Lake City into a seat of power worthy of a great house as well. Just wait until Mitt Romney IV wins the Presidency thanks to Utah's 30 electoral votes.
I haven't followed the ins and outs of re-alignment all that closely but I do know there are a lot of procedural hurdles in place for this type of move in the near future. However, on a long enough time frame, anything is possible. And when you start to follow the money, Texas to the Pac-12 almost makes too much sense not to happen. If you are into conspiracy theories, you might be interested to know what part of the country our new AD hails from and where most of his connects are.
At some point, my guess is Steve Patterson is going to call up his counterpart at OU and tell him to tell T. Boone that the car is leaving at noon and we aren't waiting around for him. You don't get to be the Athletic Director at a school like Texas if you don't know how to play the game. It's nothing personal against the rest of the Big 12 - I have friends who went to all those schools and, for the most part, they all play good basketball and good football. Unfortunately, as we found out this week, none of that means a damn when you start talking hundreds of millions of dollars.
From where I'm sitting, it's time for Texas to start packing up the conference and turning out the lights. There's just nothing here for us anymore. When you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.