While it looks near certain that Texas A&M will bolt if the SEC decides that they want to take the Aggies, the unknown is who the SEC would tab if they went to 14 or even 16. The names are obvious and have been bandied about: Mizzou, Oklahoma, FSU, Clemson, VT and/or UNC.
Forget the denials that have emanated from other programs. I think we all know that this is like a coach search. No one has been “contacted” but everyone is in touch. So, if you want to say, but FSU has denied any contact or VT has said they have no interest in leaving the ACC. Or that Mizzou is pretending to be content in the Big XII — it means nothing.
The aspect I’m trying to look at in this post is the impact/survival/attractiveness of the Big XII vs. the Big East.
The key for most conference stability is that there is a strong core. Not just attractive/strong/national programs, but programs that are intertwined with the conference to such a level that it is impossible to imagine them elsewhere — and they don’t want to be anywhere else. Ohio State and Michigan in the Big 10; Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia in the SEC; UNC and Duke in the ACC; USC, UCLA, Washington in the Pac-12.
In the Big East there is no such core. There is no program that fits that description. Syracuse, Pitt, UConn, WVU and Rutgers have all looked wistfully at the ACC or Big 10 in recent years.
The Big XII still has that mash-up quality of the Big 8 and the Southwest Conference. While there should be a strong core, with Texas and Oklahoma — the old conference divisions coupled with the fundamental inequity of revenue distribution — it instead feels held together by fear and arrogance. Texas, holds the conference together, it also holds the power over the conference. Essentially with the ability to decide when it wants to kill the conference — go independent or even bolt to another conference. Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, K-State, Mizzou and Iowa State hang in there because they have no where else to go.
In some ways, the Big East and Big XII represent the extremes of the spectrum. The core of the Big XII is too strong, too powerful and too in control of the fate and direction of the conference. The Big East is without even one program that really makes the conference. The SEC represents the best balance of the BCS conferences with so many programs that can be considered core programs. The Pac-12 and Big 10 are somewhere in the 2-3 position. Both with multiple core programs. The ACC is closer to the Big East in that what teams could constitute its core programs either lack the heft for football (Maryland, UNC and Duke) or are so recent to the conference (FSU, VT and Miami) that they still don’t seem quite right.
The rumors are that the Big XII (i.e., Texas) feels that the Big XII is fine if it loses A&M. It can go on with 9 members. Or it could consider picking one to three new teams to join. Obviously the Big XII could look to Houston, Boise St., or perhaps even BYU. Louisville also has been mentioned as a possibility.
Louisville to the Big XII makes limited sense. Yes, the Big XII media deals are richer right now, but the Cards would be trading one type of conference instability for another. They would go from a conference that has instability from conflicting goals (basketball schools vs. football schools) and a lack of a strong core to one that exists at this point solely because the core team wants it to for now. Subject to the desires and needs of Texas only.
The Texas and Big XII situation fascinates me, because the Big East almost ended up in that situation when it tried to keep Miami in 2003. The Big East offered Miami more revenue and essentially more control over the Big East to stay. Miami would have had the hammer over the Big East with the ongoing threat of leaving any time. It would have bred the resentment you see from Missouri and other Big XII schools with Texas. Needing them, but hating how they are not treated as equals.
The issue that matters to both the Big XII and the Big East is not whether Texas A&M leaves for the SEC — since that appears to be a forgone conclusion — it’s where does the SEC get their 14th team?
A loss of, say Mizzou, would be a back-breaker to the Big XII, because then the conference would be looking at reduced media deals with the loss of both the Houston and St. Louis media markets (and a blow to the KC market). They would be looking at Big East level pu-pu platter options to replace and get up to 9 or 10. It might be the thing that makes Texas, shrug and decide on independence.
That scenario would be the best case for the Big East. They would be in a position to take Kansas and Kansas State (presuming they have to be a package deal). Then it would be a decision with UCF, Villanova, Baylor and Houston to get the twelfth football team. Big East football, while not a powerhouse, suddenly has a sense of stability with twelve teams for football. It could also be the situation that splits the basketball and football schools at long last — which would improve stability as programs would no longer have conflicting agendas.
The other direction is that the SEC pulls a team from the ACC. The ACC obviously calls up a team from the Big East. UConn, Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers would probably fall over each other for that move. Each has advantages and disadvantages for the ACC, so I would not be quick to assume one over the other in that situation. A move that hurts the Big East and all that positioning for the big media deal is suddenly shaky.
In that scenario, maybe Louisville does listen to Big XII overtures out of fear that the Big East is even weaker than before. Stability and money would be in shambles. Where the Big East was looking for one more team to get to 10 in football, they would be forced to find three. Villanova obviously reverts back to a no-brainer to admit. UCF finally gets in, and then I suppose it would be Houston.
In other words, the Big East looks as weak as it did after 2004.
One way or another the Big East has to prepare for a big change sooner than it imagined.