Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Dominoes are About to Fall

One year after thinking the Big 12 (10?) had avoided implosion, it looks like their foundation is about to be rocked again. Texas A&M appears headed to the SEC, and who can blame them? Forward-thinkers are the winners in today's high-stakes game of college football poker. Cast your gaze twenty years down the road, and you'll be in good shape. Live for today and you're going to get left behind.

Now, the Big 12 is left trying to save a soon-to-be nine team league. This week, finally, there is talk of Big 12 expansion. Where was this talk last summer? Or the summers before that? I never understood how the Big 12 could be OK going forward with a weakened league. Conventional wisdom says that we are heading toward a new Division One in college football, to be comprised of four, 16-20 team super conferences (the SEC, Big 10, Pac 12 and ?). Why, then, would the Big 12 say "we're fine with a shrinking league" and try to go forward with ten schools that already have a very uneasy coexistence?

Some say it's because they wanted fewer schools in their league so that each school's share of the TV money would be larger. This is the most short-sighted view a league could ever take. The Big 12 should have been thinking about expansion five years ago. If they could have brought in a few more big schools and made themselves a super conference, then their TV contracts would be worth much, much more down the road. They could have tried to ad Notre Dame or BYU or TCU or Utah, and they could have dealt from a position of strength. Now, weakened by the departure of heavyweights Nebraska and Texas A&M (and lighter-weight Colorado), they have relatively little power. They are no longer an attractive landing place for big schools, because everyone is afraid the conference is about to dry up and blow away.

Nobody should be upset with A&M leaving. They have a chance to join the best, most stable conference in the nation. They will make more money in the SEC. Their visibility will rise. They have some natural rivals built in with Arkansas and LSU (don't forget that A&M and LSU used to be huge rivals--they've played 55 times, and RC Slocum always used to talk about resurrecting the series). They have always seemed like an SEC-type school to me, anyway. And, don't look now, but Mike Sherman has the Aggies on the rise--they are in just about everyone's pre-season Top 15 this summer. They may not get kicked around in the SEC like many suspect they will.

Likewise, nobody should be upset with Texas and their new Longhorn Network. Both schools are simply doing what they think is best for their programs. For the Ags, it's moving to a much better league. For Texas, it's starting up their own TV network, which will increase their exposure and which should be a profitable venture.

Will the Longhorn-Aggie rivalry continue? I don't see why it shouldn't. Texas A&M says they want to keep playing Texas. They could still play on Thanksgiving Day, and the rivalry would be more bitter than ever. If the Ags want to play Texas at the end of a brutal SEC schedule, then Texas shouldn't have any problem playing A&M at the end of a so-so Big 12 schedule. Plus, many big schools play big non-conference games late in the regular season (USC-ND, Georgia-Ga. Tech, Florida-Florida St, Clemson-South Carolina).

Can the Big 12 survive? Possibly. But, they are behind the curve. They are going to have to scramble. I'm not sure adding Houston or UTEP or SMU is the way to go. The conference will also be faced with the task of keeping schools like Missouri (who would be attractive to the Big 10) once other leagues pick up the pace of their expansion. The Pac 12 will always have their eye on the Texas-Oklahoma prize. And, who knows if Texas would actually think about going independent in football if the Big 12 can't adequately replace Nebraska and A&M? There are so many ways this story can go, which makes it one of the most fascinating stories that this reporter has ever professionally followed.

I'm old school. I wish we still had the Big 8 and the Southwest Conference. But, I'm also a realist, and I realize those days are long gone. I realize now that we are headed toward the super conferences at a much quicker pace than we were even one year ago. So, I'm ready for it to happen--let's quit the shadow boxing and get down to sorting it out. It's the next big step that has to be taken to get us to a college football playoff, so let's do it. And let's thank the Aggies for knocking over that domino.