By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
College football as you know it is long gone. Conference realignment chaos is back in the news as Texas A&M's potential move to the SEC has thrown a wrench into the entire college football landscape. The Aggies have informed the Big 12 they plan to withdraw and join a new conference in time for 2012. Barring an unlikely chain of events, Texas A&M will play in the SEC next season. This move could set off a domino affect that will shake up the SEC, ACC, PAC-12 and Big East. To help sort out this mess, here’s a breakdown of how we got here and an analysis of what will happen to some of college football’s biggest teams and conferences.
How Did We Get Here?
The driving force behind this round of expansion has been Texas A&M and the Aggies’ displeasure with the Big 12, Texas and the Longhorn Network. Although the Big 12 was held together (barely) after Nebraska and Colorado left, there was still plenty of unhappiness from College Station. Although the NCAA has ruled high schools games cannot be televised by school networks, Texas A&M still has interest in the SEC, which means the realignment dominoes could be ready to tumble once again.
Why does Texas A&M want to join the SEC? Although the Longhorn Network created a lot of hurt feelings across the Big 12, the Aggies have simply had enough of Texas. The Longhorns cast a large shadow in the conference and moving to the SEC would get Texas A&M away from Texas, provide more stability and--most importantly--money.
What could expansion/realignment could mean across college football if Texas A&M joins the SEC?
The SEC is already college football’s most powerful conference and would only get better with the addition of Texas A&M. The Aggies are a good geographic fit and would become an immediate rival to LSU and Arkansas in the SEC West. However, if the Aggies join the SEC as the 13th team – No. 14 can’t be too far behind.
The Leading Candidates to be the SEC’s 14th team:
Clemson – Considering the SEC is already in South Carolina, Clemson is a longshot. The Tigers would be a more likely candidate if the conference expanded to 16 teams.
Virginia Tech – Not only would the Hokies provide a new market for the SEC, but they would be a good fit in terms of fan appeal and geography. Virginia Tech is likely at the top of the SEC’s expansion list.
North Carolina – Outside of Virginia Tech, North Carolina seems to be the most likely target for the SEC. As a charter member of the ACC, it’s unlikely the Tar Heels would leave. And while this is all about football, we can't forget that North Carolina is first, and foremost a basketball school. A move from the ACC to SEC would not sit well with Tar Heel basketball fans.
NC State – The Wolfpack could be the sleeper team in this mix. However, just like North Carolina, NC State is a charter member of the ACC.
Florida State – The Seminoles wouldn’t give the SEC an additional market, but would be another top 10 team for the conference. Could Florida prevent Florida State from joining the SEC?
Missouri – The Tigers have stated they have no interest in joining the SEC. If the Big 12 looks on the verge of falling apart, Missouri could reconsider, and a Kansas City market would be very attractive for the SEC.
Oklahoma/Oklahoma State – Like Missouri, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State is committed to the Big 12, and it would be easier for both schools to win a national title outside of the SEC. Barring a move to super conferences, expect the Sooners and Cowboys to stay in the Big 12.
What will happen once the SEC gets to 14 teams?
Outside of figuring out the SEC’s 14th team, the biggest question that needs to be answered is the viability of the Big 12. The conference can still continue with nine members, but certainly loses some value with the departure of Texas A&M. Even though the Aggies haven’t been as successful as Oklahoma or Texas, they have a strong, passionate fanbase and with the right coaching staff, could contend for a national title.
The wildcard of the conference could be Missouri. The Tigers have been rumored as an SEC expansion candidate and wanted to join the Big Ten last year. Although the Tigers are unlikely to move and have pledged their allegiance to the Big 12, they might want to be proactive and find a new home in these unstable times. If the Tigers leave, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech could be headed to the Pac-12.
Although the Big 12 could crumble, the most likely scenario appears to be the conference holding together. Texas and Oklahoma will form a solid backbone for the future, but expect the Big 12 to look at adding a 10th team.
Who could be a target for the Big 12?
BYU – Although the Cougars joined the Independent ranks, a move to the Big 12 could be tempting. With the Longhorn Network in place for Texas, the Cougars could still control television rights and would be in a conference with an automatic bid into the BCS.
Notre Dame – The Irish have never jumped at the Big Ten’s inquiries, but would a conference with Texas and Oklahoma have more appeal? Probably not, but it’s at least worth a phone call to South Bend.
Air Force – Under coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have emerged as one of the top five programs in the Mountain West. Although Air Force is a solid program, it doesn’t give the Big 12 much of a boost in national reputation.
Houston – Losing Texas A&M hurts the Big 12 in terms of television appeal in Houston and this is where the Cougars help. Houston needs to upgrade its stadium, but seems to be one of the most likely candidates to become the new 10th member of the Big 12. And we can't forget that UH was at one time a conference rival of Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor in the old Southwest Conference.
Boise State – A longshot, but certainly deserves consideration with the recent run of success. Boise State doesn’t fit the geographic footprint of the Big 12 and wouldn’t bring in much for television value.
SMU – June Jones has SMU back on the right path, which certainly helps the Mustangs’ chances of getting into the Big 12. However, they have a small enrollment and the Dallas television market is already controlled by Texas and Oklahoma.
TCU – After joining the Big East, it’s unlikely TCU will get a call from the Big 12. However, when you consider Air Force, Houston and SMU, TCU is the team that is most ready to contend for a spot in the top five of the conference.
Although getting to 10 teams would improve the Big 12’s overall profile, there’s no guarantee they want to expand. If the conference wants to stick with nine teams, Oklahoma and Texas should be a solid foundation.
What would Big 12 and SEC expansion mean to the rest of college football?
If the SEC moves to 14 teams and the Big 12 looks to expand, get ready for the domino effect across the other conferences. Putting together how the dominoes could fall is like putting together a Rubik’s Cube...only harder.
There’s a couple of scenarios in play that could change the way this round of realignment pans out. Let’s say the SEC expands to 14 teams and the Big 12 grabs Houston to fill Texas A&M’s void, the Big Ten and Pac-12 could choose to do nothing.
Here’s an in-depth look at what might happen across college football if the SEC and Big 12 expand:
ACC – If the 14th team for the SEC is from the ACC, then commissioner John Swofford would have to look at adding another member. The conference could look at swiping West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida (if Florida State leaves) or Syracuse from the Big East. Could UCF get a look if Florida State departs to add another school from the Sunshine State? Although the members of the ACC have stated they have no interest in leaving the conference, until all of the smoke has cleared from the SEC and Big 12, Swofford has to be on high alert.
Big East – Anytime when expansion or realignment is mentioned, Big East commissioner John Marinatto has to cringe. Although the conference has mentioned expansion outside of TCU is likely, there have been no invites extended. The creation of 16-team super conferences would significantly impact the Big East, but don’t expect any drastic changes due to the SEC expansion. Could the conference lose West Virginia, South Florida, Rutgers, or Pittsburgh if the ACC needs a team? Possibly. However, Marinatto could be in a position to invite Missouri, Kansas or even Baylor if the Big 12 falls apart. If the Big East is unable to grab any Big 12 teams, UCF would be a viable candidate to join the conference.
TCU could be poached by the Big 12, but that’s a scenario that seems very unlikely. The Horned Frogs are committed to the Big East and although they would be competitive right away, the Big 12 probably wants to secure Houston or make a run at Notre Dame or BYU.
Big Ten – Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday the Big Ten has “closed down active expansion.” Although the Big Ten seemed to close the book on expansion after landing Nebraska, there’s no doubt Delany will do what’s best for his conference. If the SEC gets to 14 teams, expect the Big Ten to at least explore the possibility of additional expansion. Notre Dame is obviously a practical target, but don’t be surprised if Georgia Tech, Maryland, Missouri or even Oklahoma jump into the discussion.
Pac-12 – You can bet commissioner Larry Scott is monitoring the developments in College Station. The Pac-12 was ready to become the first 16-team conference last year and if Scott thinks there is a chance of the Big 12 crumbling, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech could all get invites. The SEC moves to 16 teams, the Pac-12 wouldn’t be far behind.
Notre Dame – The Irish continue to maintain their desire to remain an Independent. If college football moves toward 16-team super conferences, the Irish could be forced to join a league. Barring a major change of heart, Notre Dame isn’t going anywhere in this round of expansion. The Big 12, Big Ten and Big East will all likely place a call to South Bend if the dominoes start to fall. Would joining the Big 12 and teaming with Texas be enough of an attraction? If the Irish were to join the Big 12, keeping their current television deal with NBC is very likely. Although Notre Dame has a lot of suitors, expect the Irish to remain an Independent.
The league with the most to gain or lose in this round of conference realignment is the Mountain West. If the Big 12 falls apart, the Mountain West could offer a spot to Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State or Baylor. If Air Force leaves, the Mountain West loses one of its top teams. If the Mountain West needs to replace Air Force and the Big 12 sticks together, the conference could take a look at Utah State or San Jose State from the WAC.
If Conference USA loses Houston or SMU to the Big 12, a spot is open for Louisiana Tech or possibly North Texas. The Bulldogs would be a solid geographic fit for Conference USA, which would significantly cut down on their travel budget.