The Pac-12 might not be the Pac-12 much longer. Unless the Pac-12 wants to stay the Pac-12 and do its own thing. You can't change the Pac-12, the Pac-12 can only decide if it wants to change!
(Sorry, was practicing a line from my script for Conference Realignment Part III. Found it wandering at points, although there's lots of noise and explosions scattered throughout.)
For those who've missed out, here's what's been happening, bullet point summary wise (catch up on all the previous Pac-12 expansion posts on Pacific Takes here).
- The Texas A&M Aggies appear to be on their way to the SEC, lawsuits aside; commissioner Mike Slive sure thinks they're on their way.
- If A&M goes, the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma St. Cowboys are ready to look elsewhere. They want no part of the Big Twe9ve. All signs are pointing toward interest toward the west and the compelling-looking Pac-12.
Larry Scott has stated publicly the conference isn't looking into further expansion. Which only means that the schools will have to come to them, with Peter Gabriel crooning from their boomboxes. So expansion is still probably on the table.
- A lot of schools were reticent toward inviting the Oklahoma schools the first time around, but it was felt like a necessary evil to bring Texas into the fold.
It's starting to look like there will be no Texas to the Pac-12 unless they're willing to compromise. Texas seem firmly committed to preserving the Longhorn Network the way it is, because "money power money power money power". So until the Longhorns want to deal, they're pretty much off the table and are probably not worth waiting around for.
If the Pac-12 feels like they've got adequate membership on their way, the next step appears to be inviting Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to joining the Pac-12. The teams are ready to get going, and Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated believes they hold the cards. The danger in NOT inviting them seems to be the possibility of future encroachment by other conferences, most namely the SEC. The conference seems ok with their thirteen school arrangement for now, but that's likely a smoke screen to avoid being called the instigators for realignment for a more powerful conference.
However, with no Texas as the hook, will the Pac-12 schools agree to taking on the Oklahomas on their own? As valuable a property as their football programs might be, the other schools in the conference do not seem as willing to accept the two schools on their own, Pete Thamel of the New York Times reports. Colorado and Utah were easier to tag along because they were a decent cultural, academic and athletic fit. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State won't be quite as easy a sell, no matter how much money and prestige they bring college football-wise to the conference.
There's definite advantages to taking both schools simply because of their football pedigree. Football is the whole reason conference expansion is even happening in the first place, and what the Sooners and Cowboys bring to the Pac-14/16 is a strong winning tradition and current top ten programs. It'll be hard to turn down, especially once Larry Scott gets to work selling them on the ideas and upside of such a move.
If Commissioner Larry Scott is serious about the sixteen team super-conference model (something he's hinted at before), then he has to know the only logical step is to accept the Oklahoma schools and look for two other schools to partner up with (whether they be Kansas or Missouri, or the original Texas/Texas Tech package once the Longhorns are convinced to come around). Otherwise he'd be in danger of letting two of the strongest programs in the country go and try and pursue alternative avenues (most likely the SEC, potentially the Big 10).
Scott will have to make the college presidents swallow their discomfort with the Oklahomas and take them on. He'll most likely have to dangle this carrot: If the Oklahomas go, Texas could very well follow.
The departure of A&M and the Oklahoma schools will leave Texas football derelict in an undead conference. Sure, they'll be kings of their landfill of a conference, but it's still a landfill, and the other residents with potential mobility aren't likely to stick around. Kansas & Kansas State (likely Big East), Missouri (SEC, potentially Big Ten), and Texas Tech (somewhere) are all likely to seek refuge from a ruler stuck in a blind power loop.
So Texas will have to seriously reconsider their options. Sure, the LHN will net them millions of dollars, but what's the point if they can't play anyone? Oklahoma isn't likely to rekindle their rivalry with Texas if they're playing a nine-game conference schedule in the Pac and want flexibility in future opponents. A&M will probably stick around on the schedule because hey, it's A&M. But that's about it. That leaves them with a schedule fit for an SWC lite round-robin: Houston, Rice, Baylor, SMU, Iowa State, and all such assorted company. Not sure who would be interested in that.
The Longhorns could swallow their pride and deal with the Pac-12, which would be a huge concession. They could go independent and use the LHN as their
national regional (check your local cable provider for further information) platform for future domination. Or they could stay in the conference, and risk irrelevancy. Texas football irrelevant? How deliciously ironic.
It would be tough for Texas to bow to the whims of their hated rivals of the North, but at the moment they're powerless in the way their conference will shape up. Either Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leave, or they demand huge concessions to stick around and keep Texas's conference intact. The Longhorns might have to cave, or they're not going to have their Big Twe9ve anymore.
We're entering the most critical stage of college football realignment. Up to this point, expansion has moved along a progressive but predictable fashion since Scott first stirred things up (Colorado and Utah were natural Pac-12 targets, Nebraska was always intrigued by the Big 12, Texas A&M wanted its SEC bid so badly). But now we have a group of schools whose path is totally uncertain, and will break up an entire conference.
And the first dominoes will fall with Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, the two schools whose future isn't quite so easy to predict. A lot of actors are at play with conflicting agendas, and could very well muddle their decision and the decision-making of the conference the two teams decide on. It's the only thing standing between the current FBS hegemony and an uncertain and unsettling future for the sport.
Scott better be prepared. The Pac-10 became the Pac-12 to prevent the conference from becoming totally irrelevant in the big scheme of things, and he might have to expand it again to simply stay ahead of the curve. And onto the era of the super conference we go...