By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
It seems college football is preparing for a major shift in conference realignment very soon. Although the 2011 season is just getting underway, the race is on to get conference affiliation finalized in time for 2012. The first domino is ready to fall, which could spur several teams to change conferences.
However, Baylor has threatened to explore legal options if the Aggies left the conference, which has slowed the realignment talk for now.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive indicated on Monday Texas A&M was accepted as the conference’s 13th member. The conference has indicated they have also studied schedules for 13 teams for 2012.
The legal issues need to be sorted out, but all signs point to the Aggies playing in the SEC for the 2012 season.
The departure of Texas A&M has added further instability to the Big 12. The conference believed it could continue with 10 members after losing Nebraska and Colorado last season.
However, the Aggies’ desire to get away from Texas and join a conference with more stability has raised a lot of doubts about whether the Big 12 can continue to exist.
The SEC’s 14th team?
Although Slive has indicated the conference isn’t actively pursuing a 14th member, don’t expect the SEC to stick with 13 teams too long.
West Virginia, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State and Louisville have all been rumored to be in the mix to be the SEC’s 14th team.
The SEC will likely play 2012 with 13 teams, but 2013 should see the conference back to even divisions and 14 teams.
Texas and Oklahoma Hold the Cards
Reports out of Oklahoma continue to indicate the Sooners are seriously considering a move to the Pac-12. If the Sooners go west, then in-state rival Oklahoma State is coming too.
If Oklahoma and Oklahoma State depart, Texas and Texas Tech will likely join them in the Pac-12, creating college football’s first 16-team super conference. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was close to securing 16 teams last summer, but the Big 12 managed to hold together.
Although Texas is strongly considering a move to the Pac-12, the Big Ten, ACC and going Independent have been rumored as possible options.
If the Longhorns want to join the Big Ten or Pac-12, it’s very unlikely they would be allowed to keep the Longhorn Network. If Texas joins the ACC, keeping the network is a realistic possibility.
Whether or not Texas and Oklahoma can work out its differences and save the Big 12 remains to be seen.
If the Sooners and Oklahoma State depart for the Pac-12, then it’s very unlikely the Big 12 would be able to continue – even if Texas, Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor remain.
If Oklahoma leaves, Texas won’t be far behind.
What happens to the remaining Big 12 teams?
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas, Missouri and Kansas will have no trouble finding new conference homes. However, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor have to be sweating out the uncertainty surrounding the Big 12.
Kansas and Missouri are both targets for any potential Big East expansion. And the Tigers could be a target to be the SEC’s 14th team.
Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor could be pursued by the Big East or Mountain West if the Big 12 breaks apart. However, if Missouri joins the SEC and Kansas is the Big East’s 10th team, could the Big East jump to 13 and keep Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor together? Or would the conference want to stick at 12?
Going from the Big 12 – a conference with an automatic BCS bid and significant television dollars – to one that doesn’t (Mountain West) will be a blow to any of the three schools athletic budget.
If the Big 12 survives…expansion?
If the reports out of Oklahoma are true, then we could be witnessing the final days of the Big 12.
The conference was pursuing expansion before Oklahoma’s unhappiness surfaced.
If the Big 12 manages to survive, adding at least one team seems very likely. And don’t count out going back to 12 teams and a conference championship game.
BYU was mentioned as a strong candidate, but the Cougars are likely content with their Independence with all of the uncertainty surrounding the conference – unless they can get a guarantee that Oklahoma is sticking around.
If BYU does not work out, possible targets could be Houston or SMU from Conference USA. Louisville and Pittsburgh have been mentioned as Big 12 expansion targets, but seem unlikely to leave the Big East.
What happens next?
There’s a lot of scenarios and possibilities on the table, but there could be some major shifts in conferences over the next couple of weeks.
Little doubt exists with Texas A&M: The Aggies will be in the SEC in 2012. However, it’s what happens after that is uncertain.
Oklahoma currently holds the cards to the future of the Big 12. Should the Sooners decide to leave the conference, the Big 12 will be history.
If Texas and Oklahoma can work out a solution to save the Big 12, then the realignment and expansion talk will likely cool until the SEC looks to add No. 14.
Get ready college football fans, whether we like it or not, the next few weeks are going to be filled with realignment chatter.
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