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Rice to join AAC in 2023

As expected given prior developments.

Nearly eight months after accepting an invitation to join the American Athletic Conference, Rice on Wednesday announced it has finalized an agreement to officially enter the league in 2023.

Rice — along with UTSA, North Texas, UAB, Florida Atlantic and Charlotte — will jump from Conference USA to the AAC on July 1, 2023.

Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard said the announcement “brings Rice athletics a step closer to its very bright future.”

Left out of the Big 12 following the breakup of the Southwest Conference in the mid-1990s, Rice spent eight years in the Western Athletic Conference and eventually joined C-USA in 2005.

The AAC’s agreements with the six new schools — which were spread out over the last five days — ends the latest round of conference realignment that began last summer with Texas and Oklahoma accepting invitations to join the Southeastern Conference. That set off a wave of moves, with the Big 12 adding the University of Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida from the AAC and independent BYU, and the AAC quickly adding six C-USA schools to form a 14-team football league.

On Friday, the AAC said it reached agreements on $18 million exit fees with its three departing schools — who will join the Big 12 on the same date — to pave the way for Rice to finally set a concrete date to join its new league.

As part of the departure, Rice will forfeit two years of revenue distribution, an amount estimated at $3 million, according to an industry source familiar with the payouts.

The move to the AAC outweighs any short-term loss of revenue, with Rice expected to benefit from an increase in visibility (the AAC has a multimedia rights deal with ESPN) and boost financially. Football-playing schools in the AAC received anywhere from $5.33 million to $9.44 million in revenue distribution, according to tax documents for the 2020-21 fiscal year. C-USA schools receive $500,000.

The AAC’s press release is here. By “prior developments” I mean UH and other officially joining the Big XII in 2023. It just made sense for the AAC to fill out its roster with its new players at the same time. The question still remains about when UT and OU will leave the Big XII for the SEC, but they’re on their own timetable. It’s not a big deal for the most part if those two overlap with the new Big XII members for a season. I hope this conference is more durable and sustainable than previous ones were (I will admit for a fondness for the old and too-short-lived WAC 16, which honestly would have been an awesome conference if certain members hadn’t broken off to form the Mountain West) and that Rice does its part to improve its teams and facilities. It’s been a rough few years for Owl fans. I hope this is the start of something better.

UH will officially join the Big XII in 2023

No use waiting around.

The University of Houston will start play in the Big 12 in 2023 after the school came to an agreement on exit fees with the American Athletic Conference.

The Cougars will pay the AAC $18 million spread over 14 years to leave early and join the Power 5. The school will pay the first $10 million by 2024 with the rest to come in the following 12 years.

The Cougars, Cincinnati and Central Florida, are leaving the AAC and joining the Big 12 along with BYU, which as an indepentend already had announced plans to join in 2023.

The conference shift came after Texas and Oklahoma announced last summer they would leave the Big 12 and move to the SEC. Texas and Oklahoma still say they won’t move until 2025, so the Big 12 could have 14 teams for two seasons unless the schools negotiate an early departure.

The exit of the three schools from the AAC will also impact when Rice will leave Conference-USA to join the AAC along with UTSA, North Texas, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic and UAB.

UTSA announced its intent to join the AAC in 2023, while Rice said it hoped to release more information soon.

See here for some background. We noted this possibility in April. As for the exit fees, UH will be able to afford it.

While the Big XII may temporarily swell to 14 members in 2023 – which will make its name no less accurate than it is now, with ten members – I think there’s a strong chance that UT and OU will make their way to the SEC at the same time. UT is already scheduling games with Texas A&M, so really it’s all just paperwork and contract details at this point. By the same token, I’d expect Rice and its fellow C-USA refugees to be fully in the AAC in 2023. It was always the most likely scenario – every other conference reshuffling happened ahead of the originally announced timelines, because once that cat is out of the bag the incentives are very much in favor of moving things along. I’d expect the rest of those dominoes to fall in the coming weeks. CultureMap has more.

Big XII may get temporarily bigger

The dominoes fall when they fall.

Next week, the Big 12 plans to discuss the future of the conference regarding its expansion, per Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger.

Houston, Cincinnati and UCF are expected to join the Big 12 in the 2023–24 academic year, potentially joining the conference before Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC by the ’25 academic year.

Per The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, the American Athletic Conference still has to sign off on the three schools exit. The process so far has been amicable.

“No agreement has been reached to permit the three (UCF, Houston, Cincinnati) to leave early,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told Auerbach. “Our negotiations are continuing.”

Though their joining was already expected, the negotiations are expected to be finalized in the next week, according to Dellenger. BYU will also be joining the Big 12 in all sports, not just football.

There is a possibility that there will be 14 teams in the Big 12 during the 2023 and ’24 seasons. Conference officials will be meeting next week to discuss how a larger team pool could work, examining all possibilities including divisions and whether there should be eight or nine league games.

See here and here for some background. An early exit from the AAC by UH, UCF, and Cincinnati might hasten the arrival of its new members as well. Thing might be slightly less complicated if UT and OU are able to officially join the SEC in time for the 2023 season – which I have always thought would happen – but that’s a different domino. I feel like now that this one is in motion, the rest may follow, but we’ll see.

American Athletic Conference to expand

Time for some more dominoes to fall.

The American Athletic Conference is set to consider expansion this week after six Conference USA programs applied for membership on Wednesday. If all six teams are added to the AAC, it would expand to become a 14-team league once realignment shakes out.

The six potential institutions looking to join the American from Conference USA include FAU, Charlotte, North Texas, UTSA, Rice and UAB, sources told CBS Sports on Monday. It’s expected that all six programs will be approved as new AAC members. Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel first reported the movement.

Adding North Texas, UTSA and Rice would allow the AAC to retain a strong geographical foothold in Texas, while FAU would join South Florida in the conference, Charlotte and UAB would have regional partners in East Carolina and Memphis, respectively.

The potential moves comes months after AAC members Cincinnati, Houston and UCF opted to depart for the Big 12, leaving the league with just eight football-playing members. The AAC previously looked to the West by courting Mountain West institutions Boise State, San Diego State, Air Force and Colorado State. However, all four schools declined the possibility of moving conferences.

“We do want to get back to either 10 or 12 [schools],” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told the Orlando Sentinel in September. “We have some good candidates and we’re only dealing with candidates who have approached us — who have expressed an interest in us. It’s proceeding and I’m reasonably confident we’re going to end up as a strong conference and our goal is to be even stronger than before.”

The AAC is banking on safety in numbers. At 14 teams with many important geographic footprints under its belt, the American would stand with the Mountain West as the two strongest non-Power Five conferences. The move would also gouge Conference USA, which may now seek teams from the Sun Belt or a partnership with that conference after itself being reduced to eight members.

This round of realignment would leave Conference USA with just eight remaining members, which is one reason why it recently sought but failed to convince the AAC and Sun Belt to regroup along geographical lines. It is believed that there will remain 10 FBS conferences following this round of realignment.

[…]

The group puts an emphasis on big markets, featuring teams in Houston, San Antonio, Birmingham, Charlotte and on the edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Other schools that will compete in the hypothetical AAC include SMU, Memphis, East Carolina, Temple, Tulsa, South Florida, Navy and Tulane.

It’s not clear what a 14-team AAC would be worth in media rights revenue. Conference USA schools get about $500,000 annually in their current TV deal. The AAC, as it currently exists, averages $7 million per team. That figure is expected to decline significantly after the loss of three schools to the Big 12.

Something like this was highly likely after UH and others left for the Big XII. As the story notes, it could have been the Mountain West adding members, but they decided it was better financially to stand pat. The AAC isn’t as strong as it was before the departures, but some of these schools look like up-and-comers, in particular UTSA, a large public school with a big city market all to itself in college sports. It’s a great move for Rice, which has had far more success in women’s sports in recent years (the women’s basketball, volleyball, and soccer teams all went to the NCAA tournament last year) than the men’s, but the step up in competition is a double-edged sword, to say the least.

The timing of this all hinges on when UT and Oklahoma make their actual move to the SEC, as everything else will follow that. I continue to believe that UT and OU will suit up for the SEC no later than the spring of 2023, and it won’t surprise me at all if they’re there for football in 2022. I guarantee, there’s plenty of talk going on about that right now. ESPN and the Chron have more.

Coronavirus and college sports update

What life is like for Texas’ college football teams.

In the world of COVID-19-era college football, Sunday is a day not for resting but for testing.

Each Sunday this fall brings a new set of checklists and guideposts that players and staff members must negotiate before they can think about playing, let alone winning, on any given Saturday.

It has not been a uniformly smooth road for Texas’ 12 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Nine of the 12 have had at least one game on their revised schedules affected by their own positive COVID tests or those of an opponent.

This weekend alone, Texas A&M and Rice were idle because their games against Tennessee and Louisiana Tech, respectively, were postponed as college football enters the final month of its truncated, delayed regular season. Nationally, 15 games were postponed or canceled this weekend.

But with the exception of Rice, which delayed its season opener into October, each of the 12 Texas schools will exit this weekend having played at least a half-dozen games, which speaks to their success in maintaining the discipline required for success and health.

“We’re asking 18- to 22-year-olds in the most social time of their lives to be more mature than many adults are being,” said Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades. “They’re doing a pretty darn good job of following the rules and being disciplined.”

A month remains, though, in which things can go awry quickly.

“We can’t let our guard down,” said Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork. “We can’t get too comfortable, especially with our communities surging right now. But everyone has done a great job.”

While each of the five conferences represented by the 12 Texas schools — the American Athletic, Big 12, Conference USA, Southeastern and Sun Belt — have their own weekly procedures, all are on the same approximate schedule.

You can read on for the details, but basically it’s testing on Sunday and at least one other day, contact tracing and quarantining anyone who was in contact with someone who tested positive, coordinating with the visiting teams, and so on. With the exception of Texas State, every school that is playing football has had at least one game postponed, with those that had scheduled non-conference games having them mostly or all canceled. I’ll be honest, this has gone better than I expected in terms of getting the games played – the effect of the outbreak in the towns that have these universities is another story, but that’s about more than just the games – though the wisdom of doing this at all seems to have been accepted regardless of the outcome. I think we’re going to be debating that for a long time.

Meanwhile, this is the time of year when college basketball normally gets underway. Suffice it to say, there are challenges. At least football is played outdoors, where some of the COVID risks can be minimized. If there’s going to be basketball of any kind before a vaccine is fully rolled out, I don’t see how it can be done with fans in the stands. We’ll know what they’re up to soon.

So where are we with college football?

Possibly on the brink of postponing the season.

Commissioners of the Power 5 conferences held an emergency meeting on Sunday, as there is growing concern among college athletics officials that the upcoming football season and other fall sports can’t be played because of the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

No major decisions were made on Sunday night, but multiple sources in several Power 5 conferences have told ESPN the commissioners talked about trying to collaborate if their respective presidents do decide to cancel or postpone fall sports.

Several sources have indicated to ESPN that Big Ten presidents, following a meeting on Saturday, are ready to pull the plug on its fall sports season, and they wanted to gauge if commissioners and university presidents and chancellors from the other Power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — will fall in line with them.

Sources told ESPN that a vast majority of Big Ten presidents have indicated that they would vote to postpone football season, hopefully to the spring. A Big Ten official confirmed to ESPN that no official vote took place during Saturday’s meeting.

“It doesn’t look good,” one Power 5 athletic director said.

[…]

Several sources have told ESPN over the past 48 hours that the postponement or cancellation of the football season seems inevitable. Many of those sources believed it ultimately will take a Power 5 conference to move things in that direction and that either the Big Ten or Pac-12 would probably be the first league to do it.

“Nobody wanted to be the first to do it,” a Power 5 coach told ESPN, “and now nobody will want to be the last.”

A Power 5 administrator added: “It feels like no one wants to, but it’s reaching the point where someone is going to have to.”

As we know, all of the not-FBS conferences, as well as the MAC, have cancelled or postponed their fall sports. On Monday, the Mountain West Conference joined them. Today, the PAC 12 will have a meeting, and we’ll see what they decide. This could be the week when the plug gets pulled, which would mean spring football if everything is finally better by then.

Or maybe not. The University of Nebraska is considering its options in the event the Big 10 postpones its season. (As of last night, there were conflicting reports about the Big 10’s plans.) There is definitely support from some athletes and politicians for having a season, though as that story notes the reasons each group has for advocating its position are different. One possible outcome is some kind of massive realignment, maybe with a smaller number of schools playing, and/or a bunch of athletes moving to other schools to participate. I’m sure we’ll know more soon. But just remember, in a country where we had the political leadership to get COVID-19 under control, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.

UPDATE: Just noticed that Rice is pushing back the start of its season to September 26, with the intent to reschedule games against UH and Army that were originally planned for before that date. I guess that’s a baby step towards postponing till spring, but as of this writing Conference USA and the AAC were still on for the fall.

The NBA is keeping an eye on SB6, too

I’d be shocked if they weren’t.

While lauding the work of New Orleans to take on the NBA All-Star game after the league pulled its events from Charlotte because of House Bill 2, which limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the state, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not sound eager to take those steps again.

Silver said the NBA will closely monitor similar legislation pending in Texas and other states when considering bids to host future All-Star weekends and its many related events.

The Rockets have prepared bids to host either the 2020 or 2021 All-Star weekend, a person with knowledge of the process said on the condition of anonymity because the effort had not been announced publicly.

“In terms of laws in other jurisdictions, it’s something we continue to monitor very closely,” Silver said. “You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games.”

[…]

“We’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” Silver said. “I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely.

What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

Greg Abbott is gonna be so mad about this, you guys. And from the league Commissioner, not some “low level adviser”, too. The NBA has already moved an All Star Game out of North Carolina, so they have a track record of action. Sure, the NBA All Star Game isn’t as big a deal as the Super Bowl, but there are three NBA cities in Texas, and there have been three All Star Games played in Texas since 2006, with Houston aiming for another one soon. Why would we want to mess that up?

Also, too, there’s this:

In addition to the NBA and NFL, the Big 12 has said it’s keeping an eye on the bill’s progress. The NCAA has deferred comment even as it threatens to move several championship games from North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law. San Antonio is set to host the Men’s Final Four in 2018. Dallas is hosting the women’s championship this spring, but the bill won’t be passed before the event.

The NCAA we know about, but recall that the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved several conference championship games elsewhere. Texas is home to schools in the Big XII – which will be having a football championship game again; wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if they decide to have it in, say, Oklahoma City instead of Dallas? – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Southland Conference, and more. Lots of conferences, lots of sports, lots of tournaments and championship games potentially not being held in Texas. And for what?

Boise bails on Big East

By my count, the Big East has now lost more members than it ever had.

Boise State will remain a member of the Mountain West Conference and will not join the Big East in 2013.

The Broncos’ decision, confirmed in news releases by the the school and Mountain West on Monday, is the latest crippling blow to the Big East Conference, which has had 14 schools announce they were leaving the league in the past two years.

“As I’ve stated many times, I have had the utmost trust that the university would make the right decision in what is best for Bronco football and all our sports at Boise State,” football coach Chris Petersen said in the statement. “This innovative proposal to get football the maximum exposure on national television will be a tremendous boost to our program as we continue to grow the Bronco brand.

The Broncos will remain a Mountain West member in all sports instead of joining the Big East next year as a football-only member and the Big West in all other sports.

“The football programs in the Mountain West Conference continue to get stronger and we look forward to the challenge and competing in a strong league for many years to come,” Peterson said.

Without Boise State plus the announcement that the league’s seven Catholic basketball schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova — are leaving the league, the Big East’s future membership remains in flux.

A source with direct knowledge said there is a tentative in-person meeting of the seven presidents of the departing Catholic Big East schools set for Friday. Discussing exit fees and when to form the new conference are high on the agenda, as well as designating a point person.

[…]

The Big East also could lose another member, as San Diego State may return to the Mountain West.

With Boise State remaining in the Mountain West, the Aztecs’ Big East contract allows them to withdraw from the Big East without paying an exit fee if there is no other Big East member located west of the Rocky Mountains.

A Mountain West conference source with knowledge of the situation said San Diego State wants back in the Mountain West, but the league is holding up the process as it decides whether there is a better fit than the Aztecs and if there is a school that can deliver more value.

The source said if SDSU returns to the Mountain West, the Aztecs would have to come back on the conference’s terms.

USA Today thinks that SDSU is likely to wind up back in the MWC, though both stories explore the possibility of the MWC either finding an alternative to SDSU or expanding further; both mention Big-East-for-now members UH and SMU as possible targets for such expansion. I think that unless the MWC is in line for a renewed TV deal – and by the way, Boise State will make out like a bandit on the TV terms they negotiated to return to the MWC – expansion would just mean cutting their existing pie into smaller pieces, and as such I have my doubts. For sure, UH and SMU and all the other Big Easties had better be thinking about their own futures now. They can try one more time to patch the Big East ship, they can come crawling back to C-USA (which would have to eject some newly-recruited replacements to take them back), or they can form their own conference out of Big East refugees and whoever else they can poach. I’m guessing this is probably not the position they thought they’d be in as 2013 dawned. Mean Green Cougar Red has more.

UTSA to C-USA

According to reports.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source confirmed that the Roadrunners would be among a group of schools joining C-USA. The same source said UTSA had also received invitations from the Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences.

The Mountain West and C-USA are in the process of joining their 16 existing members in some fashion after losing multiple schools.

Several sources have identified North Texas, Florida International and Louisiana Tech as leading candidates to join C-USA, which will lose SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Memphis to the Big East.

There is also strong speculation that Utah State is the top choice to join the MWC.

UTSA is slated to join the Western Athletic Conference on July 1 for its second season of football. But it will be an unexpectedly short stay now that C-USA, which UTSA identified as its dream destination when the football program was approved in December 2008, has warmed up to the Roadrunners.

They had received a cool reception initially, when Hickey first approached commissioner Britton Banowsky in 2009 about the possibility of joining.

Then came last winter, when the two rekindled informal talks after the Big East gutted C-USA. But multiple sources said it wasn’t until recently, when C-USA began its evaluation process in earnest, that UTSA’s stock began to rise.

A C-USA athletic director, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Roadrunners stood out largely because of their location in a major Texas market and their long-term potential after averaging 35,521 fans at the Alamodome last season to set a start-up record.

Said a MWC athletic director, also speaking anonymously: “It’s Texas football. You can’t go wrong, especially with that market.”

I thought C-USA was the better fit for UTSA from the beginning. The C-USA they’ll be joining is different than it was when I first said that, but it’s still a good fit for them. I expect these guys to have a pretty solid program overall in a few years’ time.

C-USA and and MWC make merger plans official

We knew it was coming.

With their respective leagues being picked apart by the month to fulfill others’ expansion plans, 16 presidents and chancellors from Conference USA and Mountain West Conference met Sunday in Dallas, knowing they needed to do something.

The result is a new league with a wide scope that goes coast-to-coast and beyond.

C-USA and the Mountain West agreed on an athletic association that will combine the remaining members of the two leagues plus three future Mountain West members to form a 16-team conference beginning in the 2013-14 academic year.

The new league, whose name is to be determined, will include Rice. Athletic director Rick Greenspan called it the dawning of an exciting new chapter for the Owls.

“This new conference is one that allows us to retain much of the competitive equity and familiarity we have built up over our seven years in C-USA while also broadening our appeal to an even wider audience,” Greenspan said in a statement. “It will address many of the core concerns that have led others to seek new affiliations and does so without a significant increase in the demands we place on our student-athletes.”

Ultimately, the league’s membership likely will include 18 to 24 schools, with members ranging from the Atlantic seaboard to Hawaii. A football championship format will include semifinals and a final, and there will be a conference basketball tournament.

There’s 16 teams now for football, 15 or possible less for other sports. I’m guessing other schools may affiliate for other sports, but who knows. At least for football, there’s a neat east-west division, with the C-USA schools being in the former and the MWC schools in the latter. That will help with travel costs. I woulcn’t call this the best of all possible worlds, but it’ll do till whatever the next thing is that shakes up the landscape comes along. And the MOB will get to do an Annual Salute To The New Conference show.

Meanwhile, West Virginia has settled its lawsuit with the Big East.

West Virginia will join the Big 12 for the 2012 season after a lawsuit settlement was reached with the Big East, the school and league announced Tuesday.

The Big East Conference board of directors voted to terminate West Virginia’s membership, effective June 30. The vote is conditioned upon WVU fulfilling its obligations under an agreement that resolves the lawsuits between both parties.

West Virginia accepted an invitation in October 2011 to join the Big 12, and sued the Big East in its home state to get out of the league without waiting the required 27 months. The Big East filed its own suit in Rhode Island, seeking to hold West Virginia to the waiting period.

The Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, citing an anonymous source, has reported that the Big East will receive $20 million in the settlement, with WVU contributing $11 million, and the Big 12 covering the remaining amount.

WVU already has paid half of the normally required $5 million exit fee to the Big East.

As my friend Ellen likes to say, some problems are best solved by swatting them with a checkbook until they die. This was one of them. We’ll see if Syracuse and Pittsburgh will follow West Virginia out the door before their waiting period is up.

Memphis to Big East

It’s what they’ve always wanted.

At long last, Memphis is part of the Big East.

The Tigers officially accepted an invitation to be part of the conference’s next incarnation in 2013, the conference said Wednesday. Memphis is the seventh school, and fourth from Conference USA, to sign up for future membership in the Big East since December. The Tigers will compete in the Big East in all sports.

Memphis has been trying to upgrade its conference affiliation for years, and the Big East was always the most likely landing spot. The Tigers were snubbed during the Big East’s last massive expansion in 2005 and lost a longtime rivalry with Louisville in the process.

Now with the Big East rebuilding again and eventually in need replacements for West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, there was finally room for Memphis.

[…]

Memphis gives the Big East 11 football teams committed for the 2013 season, still one short of the 12 needed under NCAA rules to hold a conference championship game — though the league could ask the NCAA for a waiver to play a title game with less than 12 teams. Plus, there’s no guarantee some of the holdovers, such as Louisville, Rutgers and Connecticut, won’t jump at the chance to join another league if the opportunity comes up.

And it’s still unclear when West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse will leave. Big East bylaws require a 27-month notification period for schools that want to leave and commissioner John Marinatto has said he intends to make the departing schools honor that. West Virginia has filed a lawsuit to begin competing in the Big 12 in the fall. The Big East has countersued and Pitt and Syracuse are watching the cases closely as it could determine when they start playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It’s possible the Big East could have 14 football teams and 20 basketball teams in 2013.

Good luck planning the 2013 schedule. I kind of suspect that the current litigation will reach a settlement of some kind before then. Be that as it may, I don’t think this changes that much. The Big East is still an odd, geographically-disparate assortment of schools that is now stronger in basketball but not football.

As for the conference Memphis is leaving behind, the pending CUSA/MWC merger is still on.

Conference USA’s board of directors will meet later this week to discuss the possibility of a full-scale merger with the Mountain West Conference, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The prospect of a merger was already on the meeting agenda, even before C-USA member Memphis was on the verge of joining the Big East, the source said.

[…]

In the past year, C-USA members Houston, SMU and Central Florida accepted invitations to join the Big East in 2013-14.

That, along with Memphis’ pending departure, would leave C-USA with eight members: Southern Miss, Tulsa, Marshall, Rice, UAB, Tulane, East Carolina and UTEP.

The Mountain West is adding Nevada and Fresno State from the Western Athletic Conference for all sports and Hawaii in football. But the MWC is losing San Diego State to the Big East in football and the Big West for all other sports; Boise State to the Big East in football and the WAC in other sports; and TCU to the Big 12.

That means in 2013-14, the MWC would have eight football members, including Hawaii, and seven in all sports: UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force, Fresno State and Nevada.

A merger between C-USA and the MWC could consist of a conference with its current 2013-14 membership of 15 in all sports and 16 in football.

I want to point out that ten of those schools – Rice, Tulsa, UTEP, and all of the MWC schools except Nevada – were once part of the WAC16. Party like it’s 1996, y’all! In all seriousness, I don’t think that’s a terrible outcome. I just don’t think that any outcome right now should be seen as anything but a stopgap until the next round of changes comes along.

UH heads to the Big East

I wish them all the best.

The Big East Conference officially announced the additions of the University of Houston, Boise State, Central Florida, San Diego State and SMU on Wednesday.

UH, Central Florida and SMU are being added as all-sports members to the league while Boise State and San Diego State are joining as football-only members.

The additions will take effect in time for the 2013 football season.

“Over the last 32 years, the Big East Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics,” said Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these five great Universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the Big East family.

“Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name — though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members — has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that.”

As things stand now, the reconstituted Big East will have ten members – I think it’s safe to assume that Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia will be allowed to make their exits prior to the 2013 season despite the lawsuit onslaught that has followed their initial announcements. Air Force and Navy may also be on board by then, which would allow the Big East to have two divisions, with the Big East West containing SDSU, Boise, Air Force, UH, SMU, and either Cincy or Louisville.

That all assumes that the five current Big East members stay put. As Andrea Adelson notes, that’s far from a sure thing.

The Big East had little choice but to add Houston, SMU, Central Florida and football-only members Boise State and San Diego State. After Pitt, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia bolted the conference, the league had to do something to remain viable. That meant stretching itself, making Boise State its No. 1 priority to help boost its football profile. Boise State needed a West partner — hello, San Diego State.

None of this makes much geographical sense. There are no regional rivalries. There is no sense of brotherhood, of shared goals, of a common cause. Because the Big East was indeed a sinking ship in desperate need of a life preserver, it had to trade in the Backyard Brawl for some Red-Eye Rivalry.

[…]

These head-scratching moves do not answer any questions about the future of the Big East, not at all. What would make these 10 disparate universities band together to stick together? The first incarnation of the Big East failed. So did the second. How is the third any stronger than a conference that had Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia all on board?

Simply put, these moves are more of a stopgap measure and less of a stabilizing force. Once the conference seas start shifting again, you can bet some of the current members are going to want to jump as quickly as Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU did.

Think about it: Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville and Connecticut have gauged the interest of other conferences. According to the lawsuit West Virginia filed against the Big East to try and get out of the league for the 2012 season, representatives from those four schools “have been engaged in discussions with other sports conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big Ten for the purpose of trying to obtain invitations to join these conferences and withdraw from the Big East.”

Indeed, Louisville practically threw itself at the Big XII a few weeks back, and UConn’s lust for the ACC is well known. It’s possible this mashup will settle their wanderlust, or will keep the predators at bay. I’m not sure I’d bet on that, however.

As for the conferences that the five joiners leave behind, it looks like they will get together and try to love one another right now form their own mega-conference.

C-USA and the Mountain West are considering a merger in all sports. Sources have indicated that Craig Thompson, the current commissioner of the Mountain West, would become the commissioner of the new merged league, while Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky would step down.

A vote on the merger could come by next month, sources said.

The merged league would consist of: East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP from C-USA and Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from the Mountain West along with new members Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada for a 17-team conference. However, Air Force remains a viable candidate to join the Big East.

So, it’s more or less the old WAC-16 with some of the names changed to protect the innocent. I can hardly wait for the MOB’s “Annual Salute To The Everything Old Is New Again Conference” show next September. Hell, I’d start working on a script for it myself if I had any confidence that things won’t change again between now and then.

Anyway. As I said, I wish UH the best of luck. Nobody knows what the college football landscape will look like in a year, so if something comes along that looks like it may be better than what you have, you may as well grab for it. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, in whose district UH resides, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Air Force is staying put.

(more…)

It’s official: WVU to Big XII

The Big East takes another body blow.

The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia from the Big East and bid goodbye to Missouri before the Tigers even had a chance to finalize their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Now that the poaching of the Big East seems to be over, the beleaguered league is not backing down. It has been busy courting six schools and says it was braced for the latest loss. And despite what the Big 12 says, the Big East plans to keep West Virginia for two more years — just as it has vowed to keep Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Atlantic Coast Conference until 2014.

The latest round of conference realignment appears to be winding down, but tug-o-war over who goes where when likely will take a while to sort out.

The Big 12 completed its work Friday by adding West Virginia to become its easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State.

The Big 12 said it expects to have 10 schools for the 2012-13 season, listing West Virginia but not Missouri, which is expected to complete its move to the SEC any day now.

“I wouldn’t say that there won’t be further expansion,” interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said on a conference call Friday evening. “But our mission was … to move forward with 10 teams at this point. That doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be further consideration. But right now, we’ve got our house in order. We’ve got everybody signed up. We’re looking forward to a very aggressive conference.”

So for now at least, Louisville will remain in the Big East despite a late push from Sen. Mitch McConnell to push them ahead of West Virginia. The Big East continues to insist that WVU, along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, will be held to their conference commitment through the end of the 2013 season, but I think we all know that that’s a problem that can be resolved by a judicious application of the checkbook.

Given that, what will the Big East do? The sidebar on this ESPN story says it will continue forward with an expanded version of its expansion plans.

The Big East plans to announce Central Florida, Houston and SMU as future members of the conference, likely in 2013, as early as Tuesday, the source said. Navy and Air Force are being more deliberate and methodical in the process, but the conference is hopeful both soon will follow, along with Boise State.

The conference has statistics it believes shows those six teams in addition to Louisville, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida and Cincinnati would qualify the conference as a continued automatic qualifier for the BCS. As a 12th member, the schools under discussion include BYU, Army, Temple, East Carolina and Memphis. BYU would be part of a logical Western Division of the Big East.

The Big East believes it would qualify for the BCS because of the depth of the football success of proposed teams in terms of Top 25 appearances and an overall lack of traditional bottom-feeding schools.

While some may suggest an independent school like Navy or Air Force could be available as early as next season, a conference official warned that those schools are committed to large schedules for next season that would create complications as challenging as adding a school from a conference that has exit fee and timeline complications.

I think if the Big East gets the schools it wants that it can survive and could continue to be a BCS conference, but it will be a conference of convenience and not much more. I don’t see a whole lot of traditional rivalries in that group, and the ones that I do see all involve newcomers. What will hold anyone to the conference in the event that one or more of the ACC, SEC, and Big XII decide that 14 and 10 members are awkward numbers to schedule around? That’s the decision that UH now faces.

University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator was granted authority to make decisions regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation during a board of regents meeting on Thursday at UH.

School officials did not publicly discuss any particular conferences. However, the school has interest and an invitation from the Big East Conference, which is looking to expand to 12 football-playing members.

“We certainly want to thank chairperson (Nelda Luce) Blair and the board of regents for their decision to grant our chancellor authority to make any decisions regarding conference membership, conference affiliation that are in the best interests of our student-athletes, staff, head coaches and our athletic department,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said.

The timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“We’ll wait and see,” Rhoades said.

I think if you feel reasonably certain that the Big East gets all the schools it is targeting, and that the other conferences are satisfied with what they have for the foreseeable future, then you make the move and hope for the best, even if it means that your biggest rivalry game goes the way of UT-A&M. I have no idea how to evaluate those odds, and no idea how risk averse UH will be. I’m just glad it’s not my decision to make.

UH to get Big East invitation

Change is coming, one way or another.

UH’s hope of joining an automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference may soon come to fruition after the Big East Conference extended an invitation to UH on Monday evening.

The league extended an invitation to UH after a conference call on expansion with the Big East’s presidents and chancellors according to a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions.

UH chancellor Renu Khator and athletic director Mack Rhoades will head to New York later this week to meet with Big East officials. UH officials declined comment.

If UH makes the move and leaves Conference USA, it could take effect as early as the 2013 football season and it would be for all sports.

The report that UH has already received an invitation is a bit premature, but the plan is for them to get one. There are a number of “howevers” that come with this. The first is the biggest:

The University of Missouri is heading down a path to join the Southeastern Conference, said a university official with direct knowledge of the situation.

The person said that Missouri’s decision to apply for membership to the SEC was “inevitable and imminent,” although a specific timeframe has yet to be set. Missouri’s Board of Curators will meet on Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where the process of withdrawing from the Big 12 and applying to the SEC is expected to begin. Expansion is not listed on the agenda, but there is a private session scheduled Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

After it applies, the person said that Missouri expected “no problems” with gathering enough votes among SEC presidents for it to become a member.

What does that have to do with UH and the Big East? This:

A source with direct knowledge of the Big 12’s expansion panel’s plans told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that if Missouri departs, the Big 12 still must decide if it wants to go to 10 or 12 members. The source said Louisville and West Virginia are two of the top candidates to replace Missouri if it leaves.

Needless to say, if the Big East winds up being the raided instead of the raider, their attempt to expand is likely to fall apart. The Big East did vote to double its exit fee, from $5 million to $10 million, which was supposed to be a sign that the remaining schools were committed to staying. However:

The increase is contingent on Navy and Air Force joining, said another official in the Big East who also asked to not be named because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Not clear who’s the chicken and who’s the egg here. It should be noted that the Big XII is also targeting BYU as a replacement for Missouri, and that if they get BYU and stop at ten teams, that might be the end of the domino tumbling for now. But there’s still another factor in play.

If Louisville and West Virginia leave, Big East basketball members also could decide that the proposed football additions wouldn’t add enough value on the basketball side and look to split from the remaining football schools.

Notre Dame also will be watching these moves closely since it could decide it’s time to move to a conference, either the ACC or the Big Ten. The ACC, at 14 schools, is believed to be holding a couple of spots open in case Notre Dame decides it’s time to join a conference. Connecticut already has expressed its interest in the ACC.

All these possibilities have been out there for weeks. However, Missouri’s potential move has been viewed all along as a trigger – a much-feared one in Big East circles.

Isn’t this fun? We ought to know in a couple of days what Missouri will do. Raise your hand if you ever believed that Mizzou would someday be the linchpin for all of college football. And finally, as a reminder that the fallout from all of this extends well beyond the schools at the epicenter, UTSA will be sitting by the phone waiting for a call from C-USA in the likely but not yet inevitable event that it needs to refill its membership.

UH to the Big East?

Rumor has it.

The University of Houston could be a part of a Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conference in the near future.

UH is one of six schools that the Big East Conference is targeting for expansion, a person familiar with the conference’s expansion discussions told the Chronicle on Friday.

Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida, Navy and SMU are the other schools being targeted, and the Big East’s presidents and chancellors will conduct a conference call on Monday to further discuss expansion plans, the person said. A timetable for moving forward on expansion is unclear.

UH athletic director Mack Rhoades released a statement in response to the speculation regarding the school’s athletic conference future.

“We are aware of the growing speculation regarding conference realignment and do not feel it would be appropriate to comment on the possible intentions of another league,” the statement read. “We are flattered to be mentioned as an athletics program of national importance and we are grateful for our strong traditions and the dedication of our fans, alumni, staff and student-athletes.”

Adding schools from Idaho, Colorado, and Texas would make the “Big East” about as appropriately named as the “Big XII” and the “Big Ten”, but I don’t suppose anyone cares about that. Meanwhile, Conference USA, which has three schools targeted by the Big East, and the Mountain West, which has two, went forward with its football-only merger plan as defense against that potential raid.

The two leagues expect to merge their football operations into one mega-conference that will probably have between 20 and 24 teams in it when it finally gets going in 2013.

The name? They’ll come up with one.

Will Boise State and Air Force, among others (like UH and SMU), stay? They hope.

“I’m just trying to create stability — greater stability — so we’re not talking about membership issues,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday night on a conference call. Both commissioners, Thompson and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, said the new arrangement will provide the security that top programs need to keep them from jumping ship.

By “security” he means “money”, but there is a little more to it than that.

According to a source with direct knowledge about Boise State’s and Air Force’s situations, the conferences went ahead with the alliance when Boise State indicated to the MWC that it didn’t plan to leave the conference.

The source also said Air Force had soured on the Big East deal a bit when Army decided against joining the Big East and Navy became skeptical of the plan.

[…]

Right now, the Big East has only six schools committed to play football in the league beyond this season.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse have announced they will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, though Big East rules require them to stay in the league for the next two seasons, and Marinatto has said he will hold the Panthers and Orange to that. However, that seems unlikely if the league can’t grow to 12 teams for next season without them.

TCU was slated to join the Big East in 2012, but the Horned Frogs reneged on that commitment and accepted an invitation to the Big 12 last week.

Trying to recruit new members has been tricky for the Big East because its remaining members might also be looking for new conference homes.

Louisville and West Virginia are possible targets for the Big 12 if it needs to replace Missouri, which is pondering a move to the Southeastern Conference, or decides to expand back to 12 teams.

Connecticut has interest in joining the ACC if it expands again, and there has been speculation about Rutgers moving, too.

Remember that only UH, SMU, and Central Florida were invited for all sports by the Big East, so Boise State and Air Force would have to find another conference for their others sports if they went with that invitation. At this point, I think you have to consider everything to be written on sand. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen next.

Who’s number 14?

As the SEC welcomed Texas A&M as its 13th member, commissioner Mike Slive says they have no immediate plans to invite a 14th.

Slive said the SEC wasn’t looking to expand, but that A&M was too attractive of an option to ignore.

“We were very happy at 12,” Slive said. “When Texas A&M came to us and indicated their interest in joining the SEC, we said to ourselves: ‘That is a great institution, academically, athletically, culturally and in every way, and a real fit.’ So we decided even though we were content with 12, that we had the opportunity to have Texas A&M as part of the SEC was something that we just did not want to give up.”

Slive acknowledged that scheduling a 13-team league will be difficult but said it wouldn’t expand just to make things easier.

They won’t expand for 2012, but I cannot believe they won’t expand shortly thereafter to balance the conference. Thirteen is just an unwieldy number to deal with, and while making the scheduler’s life easier may not be a top priority, I’m sure it’s on the to do list. I also figure that the schools that will be in a seven team division will be thinking that their mates in the six team division have it easier than they do, and will want to rectify that. If they don’t add a 14th team by the start of the 2013 season, I’ll be surprised.

Meanwhile, there’s angst about the future of the UT-A&M game.

College football needs Texas-Texas A&M just like it needs rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan and Auburn-Alabama and Texas-OU and Lane Kiffin-NCAA. They’re as much a part of the fabric of college sporting life as Beano Cook, the Rose Bowl parade and Lee Corso’s costumes. Take ‘em away, and college football isn’t nearly as compelling.

And a lot of people are sad now that A&M’s gone to the SEC, and Texas-A&M is probably dead.

But John Sharp’s beyond sad. He’s borderline mad. Or he at least halfway sounded like it. Good for him.

“We want to make it abundantly clear we will play the game anywhere, any time,” the new Texas A&M chancellor told me Monday morning. “If that game dies, it will not be on us. That game is bigger than Texas and bigger than A&M. That game belongs to the people of Texas, and if it goes away, it’s not going to be on our watch.”

The Aggies are on record as saying they want to continue the series, come rain, shine or the Longhorn Network. A&M’s president and chancellor both say they want to play Texas every year.

[…]

Both sides are talking about how difficult it will be to fit in that game with conference schedules and all. Poppycock. Isn’t A&M in the third year of a 10-year series with Arkansas? Well, that will become an SEC game, which opens up a spot for Texas. Weren’t the Aggies and Longhorns supposed to play every year until the end of time or Joe Paterno’s next birthday? So now it’s a non-conference gig like all those pre-Big 12 Texas-OU shootouts in Dallas, no problem.

You see how easy it is.

Do not let pride and ego and raw emotion get in the way of the best thing in sports since the State Fair corny dog.

But DeLoss Dodds doesn’t sound as if he’ll budge either.

“As we have said before, scheduling them would be problematic,” the Texas athletic director said. “We have contracts for three non-conference games each year that run until 2018. We also don’t know what the configuration of the Big 12 will be.”

Then, DeLoss adds this for a zinger:

“We didn’t leave the conference. They did,” he said. “We’ll make a decision that’s best for Texas.”

The irony is that while A&M bolted for the SEC in large part to escape UT’s shadow, keeping this game probably means more to them at this point than it does to UT. The Longhorns still have a signature rivalry game with Oklahoma every year. They also now have an incentive, as do other schools in Texas, to minimize A&M’s presence within the state. I’m neither an Aggie nor a Longhorn, so the loss of this game would have no special meaning to me, but I do think that having severed conference ties with Texas, A&M is in no position to blame them for the end of this tradition if that happens. (For that matter, if either school actually cared about tradition, the Southwest Conference would still be a going concern.) The Aggies shouldn’t be surprised or offended that as they have moved on, so has UT.

Well, assuming the Legislature lets them move on, of course.

Texas has a long-standing tradition of creating odd laws to fit nearly every circumstance. Hell, we have an official song for our state flower. But one has to wonder if State Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) may be taking things a bit too far with his proposal to draft legislation that would require the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play an annual football game every Thanksgiving as they have for many years.

With A&M moving to the Southeastern Conference and the future of the Big 12 very much in doubt, Williams and State Rep. John Otto, who will sponsor the bill in the House, have decided this is a tradition that must be preserved and the best way to go about doing that is making it law.

We’re a long way out from the next legislative session, and for all we know neither Williams nor Otto may be in the next Lege, so to say this is all a bit premature is to understate. I’m not surprised someone has taken this up, but neither will I be surprised if it winds up going nowhere.

And finally, just because it’s such a weird story, we have the possibility of a merger between Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference.

A football-only federation – involving 22 to 24 schools – would offer C-USA and Mountain West a “strength in numbers” response to recent conference realignment.

“It’s an intriguing concept,” Rice athletic director Rick Greenspan said. “It’s one that is probably a bit unique in college athletics.”

A C-USA-Mountain West merger would involve the two leagues remaining separate. At the end of the season, the two champions would meet in a championship game with the hope the winner receives a BCS bid.

No timetable has been set for when a decision could be made. C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday that the possibility of a merger for 2012 is premature but “the following year is something that is possible.” The current BCS contract runs through January 2014.

I guess the idea is that the winner of this mega-conference championship game would be seen as BCS-worthy? Or maybe that they figure either the Big XII or the Big East will implode between now and then, and they would like to be first in line to fill that slot? Seems to me there’s a bit of an underpants gnomes problem here, but maybe they’ve put more thought into this than I’m giving them credit for. All things considered, it’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard this week.

UT will start conference shopping

More dominoes.

University of Texas President William Powers Jr. was given the authority Monday to explore changing conferences, and Texas will seriously consider trying to join the Pacific-12 and the Atlantic Coast conferences if not other possibilities, sources close to the realignment discussions told the American-Statesman and business partner Hookem.com.

Powers was given the charge of leading Texas’ realignment search following an hour-plus long executive session meeting of the UT regents. Powers has the authority to keep Texas in the Big 12, but any recommendations to move to another conference would have to be approved by regents.

That regents authorized Powers was not a surprise in a month that has already been full of them in college athletics. The landscape there appears to be shifting to super conferences, raising the question of whether the already-diminished Big 12 can survive even with the continued support of the Longhorns.

Oklahoma gave its president even more authority to act on realignment during its regents’ meeting Monday, and Oklahoma State regents will meet Wednesday. OU could be the school that petitions the Pac-12 for membership soon and possibly lead Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the path to join as well, sources said.

[…]

All sources say the process could still be an extended one and take anywhere from one to three weeks because of the sensitivity of the talks and the complexity of the issues. Texas remains keenly interested in preserving its Longhorn Network , but conference membership elsewhere will make that a thorny problem.

On Monday, Powers called the conference consideration an “ongoing process” and then quickly ducked into an elevator without answering questions from reporters.

OU president David Boren was more talkative. He acknowledged that if OU left the Big 12, it would focus mainly on the Pac-12 and said the school has had “very warm, very receptive,” conversations with that conference.

Boren, however, said, the OU board’s directive “is not a Texas A&M-like situation.” He added, “This is not an announcement that we are leaving for the Pac-12. … No one should read into today that we have made a decision.”

But you’re sure as heck thinking about it. Whatever UT and OU may be thinking about, the PAC 12 is not on the menu at this time.

The Pacific 12 Conference released a statement Tuesday night saying it was not pursuing expansion plans at this time.

“After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference,” Commissioner Larry Scott said in the statement.

The decision came after Scott met with conference presidents.

Of course, as we know with the SEC and Texas A&M, “not at this time” does not mean “forever”. Word was that not all PAC 12 schools were on board with further expansion, which most likely means they didn’t think they were getting enough out of what had been proposed so far. I’m sure not ready to say that the wheels have stopped spinning just yet.

Be that as it may, if the PAC-12 doesn’t work out, another possible landing spot for UT could be the increasingly-misnamed Atlantic Coast Conference, which added Syracuse and Pittsburgh to its roster for the 2014 season. Why the ACC? There would be no obstacle to UT keeping the Longhorn Network under its existing rules. The ACC is now up to 14 members, so one presumes they only have two more slots available, if they are still looking to expand.

The potential shuffling at the top has those not at the top considering their options as well.

The Big East and Big 12 might join together in their fight for survival.

School and conference officials from the two leagues have been discussing ways to merge what’s left of them if Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, a person involved in the discussions told The Associated Press.

[…]

If the Big 12 loses Texas, OU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, it would leave Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State scrambling.

Without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East still has six football members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida, Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia. Plus, TCU is slated to join in 2012, giving the Big East a presence in Big 12 country.

[…]

Also talking about a merger is the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA. Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesmen that he and CUSA Commissioner Britton Banowsky “resurrected this consolidation concept with Conference USA from a football-only standpoint.”

A union between those schools could create one BCS automatic qualifying league, but there’s no guarantee some of those schools won’t also look elsewhere.

There’s no guarantees of anything except more chaos and the pursuit of the almighty dollar. It’s even possible that the Big XII could remain intact, if the right terms are met.

Texas has never wavered in its hopes to keep the Big 12 afloat, but is equally determined to keep its lucrative Longhorn Network.

But on Tuesday, a high-ranking Oklahoma school administrator said the school would consider staying put in the Big 12 if Texas agrees to a “reformed” version of the conference that includes changes to the Longhorn Network and if Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was removed, The Oklahoman newspaper reported.

“It’s going to take major, major reforms,” the source told The Oklahoman as conditions for staying put. “We’d have to have an interim commissioner.”

Tune in tomorrow when everything you know today may prove to be wrong.

UPDATE: Long live the Big XII! Until something better comes along, anyway.

UTSA and TSU officially join the WAC

Welcome to the FBS, y’all.

Separated by roughly 35 miles of I-35, UTSA and Texas State have long been adversaries — for victories, for attention, for prestige.
Heated enough as it is, their rivalry became even more contentious on Thursday, with both schools accepting invitations to join the Western Athletic Conference.

“This is a great first step for us,” UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey said. “We know there are going to be challenges for all our sports, building our program, but this is the right thing to do.”

“It’s surreal,” Texas State athletic director Dr. Larry Teis said. “Everybody wanted this, and the fact that it’s happened, and happened this fast, is great. You just feel an air of confidence.”

The University of Denver will also be added, in all sports but football, forming a motley cavalry to relieve the impending departures of Boise State (after this school year), Fresno State and Nevada (after 2011-12).

[…]

The three schools’ memberships will be effective on July 1, 2012, with one significant issue to be resolved — the date of inclusion for UTSA’s football program.

Hickey and head coach Larry Coker said their preference is to delay joining until at least 2013.

But Benson has said his league must add two football programs by 2012, just one year after the Roadrunners are scheduled to begin play in 2011.

Yes, UTSA hasn’t actually played a down of football yet. They’re not wasting any time in the shallower end of the pool, that’s for sure. Given that San Antonio is currently the largest city in America without an FBS program, and that the Roadrunners will play their home games at the Alamodome, UTSA is arguably already the biggest fish in the WAC. No pressure, none at all.

More from the Statesman:

For Texas State and UT-San Antonio, the jump to the WAC should mean more national exposure, along with more travel, more expenses and some competitive challenges.

“The campus is very excited ,” said UT-San Antonio’s president, Ricardo Romo. Romo said San Antonio is the largest city in America without a Football Bowl Subdivision football program, “so the city is excited.”

[…]

Texas State has never quite been able to recapture its football magic of the early 1980s, when Wacker’s teams won back-to-back NCAA Division II championships. But the school’s teams have been improving recently as Texas State also expands Bobcat Stadium, which could soon seat 30,000.

Instead of traveling in state and to Louisiana and Arkansas for conference games, UT-San Antonio and Texas State, once they join the WAC, will fly to far-flung locations . The WAC will stretch from Moscow, Idaho, to San Antonio and from Ruston, La., to Honolulu.

“Flying to Hawaii is a little different than busing to Huntsville,” [Texas State athletic director Larry] Teis said. “I’ve already told our coaches that for our nonconference games, we need to stay grounded. There’s enough competition around here.”

Teis mentioned UT as a possible opponent — even in football. “I’d love to (play Texas), down the road,” he said .

When you’re ready to reduce that travel schedule a bit, just remember that Conference USA actually has Texas-based universities in it. Assuming that the Big East hasn’t caused it to break apart by that time, of course. Be that as it may, best of luck to both schools.

Conference realignment isn’t just for the big boys

Expect to see a lot of smaller fish moving around now that the dust in the big conferences has mostly settled.

[Southland Conference] commissioner Tom Burnett told the San Antonio Express News last week that he expected Texas State and UTSA to eventually leave the Football Championship Subdivision and bolt for the WAC, which is scrambling for survival in the aftermath of losing Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference.

His position remains unchanged.

“When you look at what the WAC is faced with and what they need to do to essentially ensure their existence in the future, they need football programs, and they need them right now,” Burnett said. “Texas State and UTSA have made it very clear that this is something that they want in their future, and they have not only said that but have acted on it.

“They have put money or soon will into tremendous growth in their athletic departments, facilities, scholarships, staffing, all of that which will lead them to have the ability to play in the Football Bowl Subdivision.”

Here’s that Express-News story, which has a lot more detail. The SLC is an FCS conference, so this will be a step up in more ways than one for UTSA and Texas State. UTSA hasn’t even played a game yet, which in addition to the bump in conference level means the timeline is uncertain. As I’ve said before, as things stand now I think C-USA is the best geographic fit for these schools, but who knows what C-USA may look like in a few years’ time.

UH’s academic argument for the Big XII

Interesting strategy.

The head of the Big 12 insists there are no plans to add Texas teams to the conference, but Renu Khator, chancellor and president of the University of Houston, apparently didn’t get the message.

She’s still pushing for membership in the Big 12 or another high-powered athletic league, saying the school deserves a spot because of its rising academic ambitions.

“Sometimes you get defined by the company you keep,” Khator said. “You compare your progress against the schools in your league. Being associated with the highest group is always a good thing.”

[…]

“For years, the University of Houston has improved its research and academic functions in its drive to rank among the premier universities in Texas,” the letter states. “We believe that its inclusion in the prestigious Big 12 conference would assist in this endeavor.”

[…]

Five Big 12 members, including UT and A&M, belong to the elite Association of American Universities, which represents the nation’s top research institutions. UH, Tech and Baylor all hope to join the group someday.

UH and Rice, meanwhile, compete in Conference USA, a collection of 12 schools in Texas and the South. Among C-USA members, only Rice and Tulane are in the AAU.

I think until such time as UH achieves either Tier 1 status or AAU membership, its best argument for inclusion in a BCS conference like the Big XII is going to be its athletics. That’s assuming that the Big XII has any desire to add members, which in turn assumes that the Big XII is in a position to be thinking about its long term stability. Let’s see what things look like next year, when Nebraska and Colorado are officially bidding adieu. Mean Green Cougar Red has more in a long and thorough post that is largely pessimistic about UH joining the Big XII.

UT headed to PAC 10

So says the Statesman.

The University of Texas is virtually certain to abandon the Big 12 Conference for the Pacific-10 Conference when its governing board meets Tuesday. Texas Tech University is expected to follow along.

Texas A&M University officials apparently are undecided on joining the Pac-10 or the Southeastern Conference. Baylor University’s prospects for joining the Pac-10 remain bleak. And the Big 12 is history.

That, in a nutshell, is how the high-stakes, high-dollar game of college athletics conference realignment — Texas edition — is shaping up this weekend after Friday’s announcement that the University of Nebraska will leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten. A day earlier, the University of Colorado said it will quit the Big 12 for the Pac-10.

One highly placed Big 12 school official said there was no doubt that league members UT, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would join the Pac-10.

“The decision has been made,” he told the American-Statesman. “We’re bringing everybody to the Pac-10 but A&M.”

Texas A&M is apparently considering a move to the Southeastern Conference.

Athletic director DeLoss Dodds has been on record as saying he believes both schools should remain in the same conference. Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, however, indicated during last week’s Big 12 spring meetings that Texas and Texas A&M need to play each other regularly in all sports but hinted that did not necessarily mean they had to be members of the same conference.

“We really like the relationship with Texas,” Byrne said at the time. “We have a long relationship with them. We have the Lone Star Showdown in every sport.

“I can’t imagine us ever not competing against the University of Texas.”

The major concern Texas A&M seems to have with a move to the expanded Pac-10 is the increased travel and likely increased missed class time for all sports except football. A move to the SEC seems more logical to A&M, if a move is necessary.

“There is a two-hour time difference,” said Byrne, who was once the athletic director at Oregon. “The travel between Eugene, Oregon and College Station is 2,200 miles. That’s a long way, sports fans.”

More on that is here. I don’t know how seriously to take that. On the one hand, I think the geographical concerns make a lot of sense. On the other hand, I think the Bleacher Report raises a good point:

If A&M were to part with Texas and head to the SEC, they would almost certainly have to maintain the annual Thanksgiving game with the Longhorns, forcing them to not only play an SEC conference schedule that is at this point way out of their league, but to also play a non-conference game against a perennial top-five team.

If A&M were a strong enough program to handle this type of schedule, it would be a great scenario as their strength of schedule would undoubtedly put them in a position to play for the BCS title every season.

However, they are not.

A&M, at this point, will be lucky to finish .500 in SEC play.

Playing Texas each year would almost guarantee another loss, giving them a best case scenario of going 6-6.

This won’t work for long.

That’s a bit of an overstatement, and I’ve no doubt that the Aggie faithful would believe that moving to a “better” conference would make it easier to bring better recruits to A&M, thus raising their game. I’d just ask how well that worked for them in the move to the Big XII.

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing the two schools part ways. If you thought the Lege might get involved on Baylor’s behalf, you can be certain they will take notice of a UT/A&M divorce. In the meantime, thinking about it does allow for some entertaining scenarios, as Sean Pendergrast demonstrates.

On a related note, the Mountain West Conference has gotten in on the expansion game by adding Boise State. I wouldn’t count them out as a final destination for some of the currently left behind Big XII schools, no matter how mountain-free they are. You almost have to feel sorry for Missouri, as it was their initial flirtation with the Big 10 that was the catalyst for all this, and now here they are with no place to go. Hey, maybe Conference USA will take them. Beggars can’t be choosers, right? C-USA would be a pretty good fit for Baylor, in any event. It’s all written on water till the big boys finish up with their business. Stay tuned.

Should the Aggies move to C-USA?

I’m unsure if Richard Justice is kidding or not in his apparently annual suggestion to the Aggies that they realize they’re in over their heads in the Big XII and join C-USA instead. I mean, his serious stuff often reads like parody (or worse), so who can tell? Either way, speaking as a fan of Rice – you know, one of the schools the Aggies wanted to get away from because we were beneath them and their athletic prowess – all I can say is HA HA HA HA HA! Karma sure is a bitch sometimes, isn’t it? The Rice Owls fan forum has fun with this as well.