The Longhorn Network is too advantageous for Texas to give up. The Longhorn Network is keeping the smaller Big 12 schools from forming what, at least in least in rose-colored perception, would be a lucrative new conference network. Expansion to renegotiate the TV deal was the only way to generate more revenue. But, given the program quality available, expansion was a nonstarter.
Texas and Oklahoma will have better options when the Big 12 grant of rights deal expires (or sooner if the deal does not hold up in court). They have shown zero inclination to sacrifice to keep this conference together. The most rational conclusion is the conference now has an expiration date. The next logical question: what happens when the Big 12 breaks apart?
Our hypothetical will rule out titanic changes. Amateurism could end. The cable bubble could pop. Research into brain trauma could make football untenable for insurers. All three could happen. We don’t know what that effect would be.
We’ll use the path of least resistance as our guiding principal. The people who run college athletics are not decisive business luminaries. They are subject to political pressures. While schools will act in their own self-interest, they also will make the easiest decision for them to make.
The ACC Deal Kills Wilder Realignment Scenarios
ESPN and the ACC signed an agreement last summer. The lead story was the ACC Network no fans were clamoring for. More importantly, the agreement ties ACC schools together through 2035-36. The deal extends Notre Dame’s deal with the conference through the same term. If Notre Dame decides to join a conference, it has to join the ACC.
If we presume the grant of rights would hold up, it nixes more wild realignment scenarios. It stops the Big Ten (UNC, UVA) and SEC (NC State, Virginia Tech) from carving up the Tidewater. It stops some new Texas/Florida/ND super-conference from emerging.
Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Join The Pac 16
The Big Ten may be the best option for Texas and Oklahoma in isolation. It would be great for the Big Ten bottom line. But, political constraints stop those large public schools from acting alone and screwing their large public rivals. That precludes a move to the SEC or the Big Ten. Talks reignite over a long rumored move: Texas/Oklahoma and two other programs, likely Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, move to the Pac 12.
Moving to the Pac 12 would be easier to get through with Texas and Oklahoma State coming along. The Pac 12 needs Texas and would do more to accommodate the Longhorns. Being able to get into both Texas and California recruiting works out for everyone. Conference meetings at Pebble Beach. It’s better TV inventory, without having to go through Michigan/Ohio State or Alabama/LSU/Florida to get to the playoff.
Conferences could get smart and get rid of divisions. They probably won’t. Here is what a geographic division alignment for a new Pac 16 could look like.
West: UCLA, USC, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
East: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado
The Rump Big 12 Raids the AAC
Baylor, TCU, West Virginia, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State are left. No combination of those two teams makes it worth it for the SEC or Big Ten to expand to 16. They are stuck. The only rational move may be to form a new conference. Schools that were desperate to join the Big 12 are still interested.
Here is what a plausible division alignment could look like.
West: Baylor, TCU, Houston, SMU, BYU, Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado State
East: West Virginia, USF, UCF, East Carolina, Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis, Iowa State
It’s not clear what the TV market for the “Big 16” would be. Some of the revenue loss could be resolved with an 8-team playoff and that conference receiving one of five automatic bids.