I’m starting to wonder if Oklahoma will really find its way into the Pac 12 after all. Obviously, if the Sooners and Oklahoma State do not exit, then the Big 12 is saved. But even if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leave, the Big 12 does not have to die. And teams do not necessarily need to scatter to the Big East or whichever conference will take them. If Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M leave, they leave behind Texas (which has options but does not seem thrilled with them), Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Missouri, and Baylor. Far from ideal, but is that at all inferior to the core of the Big East in football? I don’t think so.
In an ideal world, the league would then be able to go out and steal TCU and Louisville from the Big East and get BYU to join the conference for football only (or for all sports if they want). Is that 10 team set-up a great football conference? No. But it would be better than the current version of the Big East in football from top to bottom and would likely be in no danger of losing a BCS automatic qualifier bid. With Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Louisville, and Kansas State, it would also be a very solid basketball conference (likely a consistent 4+ bid league). My sense is that if Texas was interested in this set-up, their best bet to ensure some measure of stability would be to agree to an even split of revenues from primary and secondary conference sources, with schools retaining their tertiary rights. Thus, Texas would get to play the generous benefactor that saves the conference as a viable long-term entity by agreeing to some equal revenue sharing, but they also get to keep the Longhorn Network and collect that fat $300 million ESPN deal that no one else gets.
Now, if those three “ideal” choices aren’t interested, then there is a steep drop-off in backup choices – the most likely that come to mind (within a certain geographic range) being Cincinnati, Colorado State, UTEP, Rice, SMU, Memphis, Southern Miss, and Houston. No, that’s not a particularly pretty group. Pittsburgh and West Virginia are attractive possible options, but are pretty far afield geographically. In the case that the “ideal” falls through, things might actually go better if there is a feeling that the era of the super-conference has begun, thus pushing the entire football-playing Big East into a merger with the remainder of the Big 12 and an east-west divisional split.
Nonetheless, I don’t think the TCU/Louisville/BYU scenario is all that far out. I have to believe that TCU would relish being in the same conference as Texas, Baylor, and Texas Tech. BYU didn’t seem terribly enthused about joining the Big 12, but a football-only deal where they get to join a BCS-AQ conference and keep their own network (like the Longhorn Network) might seem like too good a deal to pass up. Louisville is probably the longest shot, but the Big East has its own instability issues, and the Big 12 can probably guarantee more money (at least at first).
Just pondering more scenarios…