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August 31, 2011What's next for the Big 12?
After looking around to make sure all nine members are still in the room, the league must decide if it will grow by one school or by three.
"It depends who's available," one Big 12 administrator said today.
There is a five-member Big 12 expansion committee being headed by Missouri's chancellor and includes Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds.
The two names I keep hearing at the moment are BYU and Pittsburgh. BYU makes sense because ESPN has the Cougars' television contract, and ABC/ESPN is also the Tier 1 rights holder in the Big 12. But BYU may be perfect as an independent because of its ties to the Church of Latter-day Saints and its policies prohibiting the Cougars from athletic competition on Sundays.
Two sources told me today Pittsburgh continues to move up as a Big 12 target, and may even be moving into the lead. Pitt AD Steve Pederson is sending out signals the Panthers are content in the Big East.
But Pittsburgh would bring football and basketball tradition to the Big 12 as well as a large television market in the northeast. Considering Pitt makes about $8 million per year currently in TV revenue, the Panthers would probably love the upgrade in pay in the Big 12 (to between $17 million and $20 million) starting next year - as long as the Big 12 is still together at that point.
The Big East has a television contract renegotiation coming up in the next year and already has plans to add TCU. But the Big East could become vulnerable if the SEC starts to look elsewhere to add more schools (more on that in a minute).
BIG 12 DOWN TO NINE: Let's talk about the Big 12's vulnerability first. The Big 12 could be ready to come apart because it nearly came apart last summer, and now the league is down to nine schools.
There were deep conversations between six members of the Big 12 (Texas, Texas Tech, OU, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Colorado) and Pac-12 last year.
CU is already in the Pac-12, and there were fan bases of the other Big 12 schools involved in that courtship who all but had their bags packed while hoping that migration west would happen.
Anyone who thinks Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is sitting on his hands, watching this all go by, is crazy.
Scott could plunk down a regional network in the state of Oklahoma in a heartbeat and try to entice OU and Oklahoma State to be the Pac-12's 13th and 14th members.
Oklahoma is working on its own TV network, and there have been mixed reports about how the Sooners' search for a media partner is going. If the Sooners are having trouble finding a media partner, Scott could solve that for them by creating a regional network for OU and Oklahoma State's third-tier rights and call it a day.
Then, Bob Stoops would be playing football against his brother, Mike, at Arizona, and the road trips for football would be to Scottsdale, Tucson, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Seattle instead of Manhattan and Ames.
Would bringing in a school like Pitt or BYU be enough for OU to stick around in the Big 12 with Texas currently collecting $15 million per year more than any other school in the league thanks to ESPN/Longhorn Network? And whatever OU does, Oklahoma State is likely to do because of that state's legislature.
And would Texas ever be willing to allow the Longhorn Network to be turned into a regional network in the Pac-12? One source close to the situation said, "That would mean turning off the Longhorn Network almost before it got started. I'm not sure if that's Texas' style."
THE SEC'S NEXT MOVE: Much of what's about to happen to the landscape of college athletics is predicated on the Southeastern Conference's next move.
According to my sources, the SEC and Virginia Tech are starting to get to know each other to see if that could be a good marriage in the SEC East.
If Virginia Tech were to come out of the Atlantic Coast Conference as the SEC's 14th team, what would happen to the ACC? My sources say the SEC is VERY interested in North Carolina. So far, UNC has indicated the Tar Heels are not interested.
But if the ACC started getting picked apart by the SEC, the ACC will undoubtedly turn to the Big East for schools to add. If the ACC went after schools like UConn, Syracuse and Rutgers, the Big East would then be reeling.
And if the Big East comes apart, the biggest independent dominoe of all could be back in play - Notre Dame. If ND doesn't have a home for its other sports (currently the Big East), the Irish will be back in discussion about where to put those teams.
Everyone assumes it would be the Big Ten. But as I've reported previously, ND is working on its own television network (separate from its NBC contract), and the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC don't allow schools to have their own networks.
The Big 12 does.
If Pitt is already in the Big 12 at that point, who knows if Notre Dame might look favorably to the Big 12. And if Notre Dame and Pitt were to end up in the Big 12, the sources I've talked to said don't count out Arkansas as a third school to get the league back to 12 teams.
It's a long shot, a long shot. But administrators at the highest level of the Big 12 are the ones mulling these scenarios. They did so Saturday on a conference call in which BYU, Pitt, Notre Dame and Arkansas were all discussed, according to sources.
The bottom line is, we appear to be on the verge of a tipping point that could lead to super conferences in college athletics, just like we were last summer.
In fact, I was told by a source with intimate knowledge of the situation the SEC will not take Missouri because the SEC doesn't want to be responsible for the collapse of the Big 12.
But my sources at Texas A&M continue to say the SEC will ultimately end up at 16 teams. They repeated that to me today. If that's true, there are three more schools that will be leaving their current homes to join the SEC.
Those moves may not all happen immediately. But the fear of such moves will be enough to send conferences scrambling for members to secure their borders.
We are back in the world of uncertainty as it pertains to college realignment. Where everyone is looking at everyone else and wondering if they are telling the truth.
AGGIES MOVING ON: Texas A&M has officially notified the Big 12 it plans to apply for membership to another conference.
In perhaps the most bizarre line of the official release from the Aggies, it says, "Should this application be accepted, Texas A&M will end its membership in the Big 12 Conference effective June 30, 2012."
Other members of the Big 12 read that as if to say that A&M wanted its withdrawal from the conference to be contingent upon the Aggies' acceptance to the SEC.
And what if the ultimate Aggie joke occurred, and A&M didn't have at least 9 of the 12 votes required among SEC presidents for expansion?
"We can't be waiting around for this process to play out before deciding what we're going to do," said one Big 12 administrator.
That administrator and others in the Big 12 question if SEC commissioner Mike Slive has the votes to bring in Texas A&M. Sources close to Texas A&M say they've been assured the votes are there (the Aggies need at least 9 of 12 to be admitted).
A&M sources expect some movement by the SEC on their application by the end of next week.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe made it clear A&M's withdrawal is unconditional.
"Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin has notified the conference of his decision to withdraw the university from the Big 12 effective June 30, 2012.
"The presidents and chancellors of the nine remaining member institutions are steadfast in their commitment to the Big 12. As previously stated, the Conference will move forward aggresively exploring its membership options."
Sources say the Big 12 will withhold all of Texas A&M's remaining revenue for the 2011-12 school year, totaling between $15 million and $18 million, as the Aggies' exit fee. The maximum payout would have been between $28 million and $31 million, sources said.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said, "As we stated last summer, we are strong supporters and members of the Big 12 Conference. Recent events have not altered our confidence in the league.
"A Big 12 committee is in place to look at all options, shaping the future of the conference so it will continue to be one of the top leagues in the country."
Mack Brown said he would hate to see the Texas-Texas A&M football game come to an end because it has 100 years of tradition and is a great showcase game for Texas high school football players.
But sources say the Longhorns' brass may not be in the mood to continue that game and may look at replacing the Aggies with Notre Dame on Thanksgiving night going foward.