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Big XII

UH officially joins the Big XII

Long time coming.

Hello, Big 12.

In a historic day, the University of Houston has accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference.

The Big 12’s presidents voted unanimously Friday to formally invite Houston, BYU, Cincinnati and Central Florida to form a 14-team league.

UH will begin play in the Big 12 as early as fall 2023.

“Joining the Big 12 Conference is a historic step in our institutional journey and signifies the tremendous growth and success attained academically and athletically over the last decade,” UH chancellor Renu Khator said in a statement. “Our expectations for our University remain high, our aspirations continue to be bold, and we embrace this new opportunity to compete at the highest levels in all we do.”

[…]

As members of the American Athletic Conference, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF must give 27 months’ notice if they plan to leave the league and pay a $10 million exit fee.

BYU is an independent in football and could join sooner.

What the Big 12 will resemble in a few years remains uncertain. Texas and Oklahoma said they will honor current contracts until 2025 when television rights with ESPN and Fox run out. Both schools would have to pay a buyout of $80 million to leave early.

See here for the background. Scheduling could be a little chaotic over the next season or two until everyone gets where they’re going. I’d bet a nickel on all the moving parts settling into their new places in time for next fall, but there’s a lot that could cause delays. I assume the AAC will now go trawling for some new members, so there’s still more to this story. In the meantime, congrats to the Coogs for finally catching the car they’ve been chasing since 1996.

The Big XII is finally ready for UH

Hope it was worth the wait.

Five years after a potential match fizzled, the University of Houston and Big 12 Conference are on the verge of uniting after all.

UH has emerged as a leading contender to join a reconfigured 12-team Big 12 with a formal vote planned for next week, two people with knowledge of the talks said Thursday.

The shift comes just over a month after Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, starting another round of conference realignment that could eventually fulfill UH’s longtime desire to join one of the major conferences in college athletics.

Earlier reports Thursday by ESPN, The Athletic and the Dallas Morning News said the Big 12 has targeted UH, BYU, Central Florida and Cincinnati as expansion candidates to join the league’s eight remaining schools. Long the powerbrokers of the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma have accepted invitations to join the SEC in 2025.

The Big 12 requires eight of its current 10 members to approve candidates before expansion can occur. A person with knowledge of the process said UH is expected to receive unanimous approval.

The Morning News said the expansion timetable “remains very fluid,” with one source saying, “it can move as fast as everyone wants it to.”

[…]

By adding UH, UCF and Cincinnati, the Big 12 would raid the American Athletic Conference, which has long been considered the best league outside of the so-called Power Five that includes the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12. The addition of the three schools would allow the Big 12 to remain involved in the Houston television market, extend its reach to Florida and add a Cincinnati program that begins this season in the football top 10.

BYU, which is independent in football, brings a strong national brand, large fan base due to its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rich football tradition. All of BYU’s athletic programs except football currently play in the West Coast Conference.

See here for some background on the last time UH was on the Big XII dance card. As you know, this is all the result of UT and OU saying good-bye to the Big XII for greener pastures. Cincinnati and UCF make sense as additions and BYU is a nice get, probably the biggest non-Notre Dame free agent out there, but it’s going to make for some geographic challenges – Utah is a long way away from the next closest school in the conference. The PAC 12 probably makes more sense logistically for BYU, but they decided to stand pat for whatever the reason. BYU is now the center of another political and religious fight, which may bring some negative attention to their future conference and conference-mates, but that’s more or less the cost of doing business these days. The UH Board of Regents is having a special meeting today to discuss their Big XII prospects, and I think we can expect that they will go along with any plan to join up. So congrats, Coogs, you finally made it.

UPDATE: UH’s Board of Regents has officially approved pursuing Big XII membership.

The PAC-20?

Here’s one possible outcome for the left behind members of the Big XII.

According to multiple reports, the commissioners of the Pac-12 and Big 12 met Tuesday to discuss how the conferences might benefit from working together or maybe even merging.

The merging part has us very interested.

A full merger of the Big 12 and Pac-12 would create a 20-team conference with schools in every major U.S. time zone, something no other conference has.

That would make it unique and very different and potentially pretty valuable in the ever-important TV contract discussions for conferences.

What could a Big 12 and Pac-12 merger look like?

Here’s some possibilities to split up the conference, should the Pac-12 and Big 12 decide it is in their best interests to join forces.

You can read the rest. There’s lots of reasons why this probably won’t happen, but it’s at least amusing to contemplate. We live in very strange times.

Also in the “we live in strange sports times” news department:

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said the league has never “plotted” with ESPN to pursue teams from other conferences.

“Our conference has never strategically aligned or plotted with ESPN to influence conference structures,” Aresco said Wednesday during a video conference call to kickoff AAC media day.

Aresco said the AAC is not actively looking to add schools.

“I want to emphasize we are not looking at realignment and not out there attempting to take teams,” Aresco said.

[…]

Aresco said he has not spoken to any Big 12 schools.

“Any suggestions or statements that we colluded with ESPN with regards to the structure of any other conference is completely unfounded and grossly irresponsible accusation,” Aresco said.

See here for the background on that. We’ll see if Bob Bowlsby provides some receipts for that initial claim. In the meantime, if the AAC and every other conference isn’t thinking about realignment and what they might do about it, I don’t know what they are doing. I’m not saying they should want to live in this ever-religning world, but I am saying it is the world they are in fact living in, and they should adjust accordingly.

Big XII visits the Lege

It’s something to do, anyway.

As the University of Texas prepares for a jump from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference, state lawmakers are working to determine how the move will affect the rest of the state — and whether they might be able to intervene in such a move in the future.

The first hearing of the committee on the future of college sports in Texas on Monday produced more questions than answers. Senators, economists and representatives of the universities left behind brainstormed how the Big 12 could remain viable — perhaps by adding up-and-coming Texas programs such as the University of Houston and Southern Methodist University.

But with the exits of UT and the University of Oklahoma sealed, there was little lawmakers could do but commiserate and propose potential solutions.

“I think there are options for us to partner with other conferences, there may be opportunity for mergers, there may be opportunities to add members,” said Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference. “There may be other opportunities that are currently unforeseen. … The multitude and severity of the challenges that are out there right now is likely to cause lots of changes.”

The eight remaining schools — which include Waco’s Baylor University, Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University and Lubbock’s Texas Tech — agree that “staying together is probably our best approach in the near-term,” Bowlsby said.

[…]

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound and the chair of the newly formed committee, said she’d invited representatives from UT and ESPN to testify on Monday, but they declined. Texas A&M, which left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, also rejected an invitation.

See here for some background on the committee. Nothing is going to happen, as this issue isn’t on the special session agenda and of course there’s a quorum break going on, but everyone got to express their feelings, and I’m sure that helped. As for UT, they weren’t there to share their perspective, but they still had something to say.

University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell on Monday publicly defended the school’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference along with the University of Oklahoma in 2025 and denied Texas lawmakers’ claims that the school violated Big 12 bylaws in doing so.

“This future move is the right thing for our student athletes for our student athletes, our programs and our University in the face of rapid change and increased uncertainty,” Hartzell said.

[…]

“It is timed to avoid the legislature in its legislative session, where it is structured with the power to make decisions,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Hartzell said that he initiated discussions with the SEC in the spring — while the regular legislative session was going on.

He disputed claims made by lawmakers and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby that the Texas school violated the league’s bylaws by not giving advance notice of their departure.

“I want to set the record straight — we have and will continue to honor all agreements,” Hartzell said. “We have not violated any Big 12 bylaws.”

Lawmakers argue that the process was done in the dark, and would have far-reaching effects on the remaining schools in the conference, notably the three that reside in Texas.

See here for more on the accusations of UT and OU’s alleged duplicity along with ESPN. Lord knows, this Legislature knows how to do things in the dark. Game recognizes game.

Big XII accuses ESPN of sabotage

Interesting!

In the long, sordid and divisive history of conference realignment, there has always been feverish levels of mistrust, backroom allegations and message board conspiracies when schools switch leagues. But in the decades of cloak-and-dagger maneuverings, political gamesmanship and rival in-fighting that have always accompanied realignment, we’ve never seen a moment like Wednesday afternoon.

Yahoo Sports first reported that the Big 12 sent a “cease and desist” letter to ESPN essentially demanding the television network stop plotting to sabotage and cannibalize the league. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN of attempting to “harm the league” for ESPN’s financial benefit. That wasn’t even the most memorable part.

From there, Bowlsby did a series of media interviews where he accused ESPN of plotting with another league – later revealed to be the American Athletic Conference per Yahoo Sources – to attempt to kill off the Big 12. Essentially, Bowlsby said he found evidence that ESPN had been “providing incentives” to a league to lure the Big 12 leftovers away after Oklahoma and Texas bolted without warning.

“What pushed me over the top was a couple of days ago when it became known to me that ESPN had been working with one or more other conferences and even providing incentives for them to destabilize the Big 12 and approach our members about moving away and providing inducements for the conference to do that,” Bowlsby told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “That’s tortious interference with our business. It’s not right.”

There’s more, so read the rest, and see the letter in the original story. ESPN denies the allegations, as you might expect. I have no idea what happens next, as I have definitely been operating under the assumption that this is going to happen and will very likely happen well before 2025, but this suggests there will be a lot more friction than I anticipated, and that the Big XII will aim to make it as expensive as possible for UT and OU. And, apparently, ESPN. We’ll see how that works out for them.

Meanwhile, since this is of course all about money, there’s this.

The decisions by the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma to seek to leave the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference could affect more than just which teams they play. The decision can also have a big economic impact for the rest of the Big 12 and the communities that are home to their teams.

The move is not yet approved, but if it goes through, it could cost as much as $1.3 billion a year in lost athletic revenues, tourism spending and other economic activity for communities across the Big 12, according to an analysis by Ray Perryman, an economist and CEO of the Perryman Group, an economic consulting group in Waco.

Without Texas and OU, the rest of the conference is likely facing smaller television deals, lower attendance, and other negative consequences, Perryman said in a report released Thursday.

Ray Perryman is the go-to guy for this kind of economic analysis, and you have to respect his ability to crank them out in such a timely manner. I don’t doubt that the remnants of the Big XII will do worse without UT and OU, and some of that will trickle down to the cities the schools are in. I suspect those numbers are overblown, but I couldn’t say by how much. The report is here, judge for yourself.

SEC accepts UT and OU

Time to start printing the money.

The Southeastern Conference voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to invite the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma to join their 14-member league during a meeting with the league member’s presidents and chancellors.

“Today’s unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC’s longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “I greatly appreciate the collective efforts of our Presidents and Chancellors in considering and acting upon each school’s membership interest.”

[…]

Meanwhile, UT and OU could see their revenue climb significantly through the move from television revenue, ticket revenue and additional branding opportunities.

The decision may also tie into a Supreme Court ruling last month that says athletes can earn money based on their intellectual property, meaning flagship schools must find new ways to earn revenue.

Although UT and OU said in their letter to [Big XII Commissioner Bob] Bowlsby that they don’t plan to renew their deal with the conference past 2025, there is speculation that the two schools would not be bound by the Big 12’s contract if the conference dissolves before 2025. They would need to pay a penalty of more than $75 million for leaving the league early, but are still legally required to give 18 months’ notice, per Big 12 bylaws.

“I have every expectation that Oklahoma and Texas will do whatever they can to not meet their [contractual] obligations,” Bowlsby told CBS Sports. “That’s what they’ve done so far.”

After two closed session meetings this week, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted late Wednesday afternoon to support Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, despite concerns the Board had over the “communication process.” A&M joined the SEC from the Big 12 a decade ago.

“The board concluded that this expansion would enhance the long-term value of the SEC to student athletes and all of the institutions they represent — including Texas A&M,” the statement read.

See here for the previous update, and see here for the story on the A&M Board of Regents getting on board, presumably once they realized the money involved. Put a pin in that quote from Bob Bowlsby, there will be more about him and the Big XII tomorrow. You know I believe that UT and OU will be playing SEC conference games well before 2025, but there may be more obstacles in that path than I first thought. The Chron has more.

UT and OU make it officially official

Smell ya later, Big XII.

After a week of speculation, the University of Texas at Austin announced Tuesday that alongside the University of Oklahoma it has asked to join the Southeastern Conference starting July 1, 2025.

The news came a day after both schools announced they would not renew their media rights contract with the Big 12 in 2025. If the two schools were to join the SEC, they would join the likes of top football schools such as University of Florida, Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama.

“We believe that there would be mutual benefit to the Universities on the one hand, and the SEC on the other hand, for the Universities to become members of the SEC,” UT President Jay Hartzell and OU President Joseph Harroz, Jr. said in a joint letter to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

Sankey said in a statement that while the SEC hasn’t actively pursued new members, it will welcome change when there is consensus among members.

“We will pursue significant change when there is a clear consensus among our members that such actions will further enrich the experiences of our student-athletes and lead to greater academic and athletic achievement across our campuses,” Sankey said.

The move leaves the rest of the Big 12 conference, which includes Texas Tech University, Baylor University and Texas Christian University, in a state of uncertainty. Monday afternoon, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement that the remaining eight institutions will work together to ensure future success.

“Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently,” Bowlsby said. “The Big 12 Conference will continue to support our member institutions’ efforts to graduate student-athletes, and compete for Big 12 and NCAA championships.”

The Monday news was about saying goodbye to the Big XII, or at least saying that they wanted to say goodbye. This is about saying Hello to the SEC, which one presumes will be returned in kind. I suppose it’s possible that things could go pear-shaped from here, but that would be a huge upset. Most likely, if you’re a Longhorn or Sooner, get ready to start shelling out for new SEC-branded gear.

A personal anecdote: Back in 2003, during the long special session slog to re-redistrict Texas on Tom DeLay’s orders, Rice played UT in a football game at Reliant Stadium. I contributed a bit to the MOB halftime script for that show, which was about the redistricting saga and how we should never leave the task of redistricting to politicians. “After all,” the bit concluded, “the last time the Governor got involved with redistricting, Baylor wound up in the Big XII”. It got a big laugh from the mostly UT fans. Seems like the joke holds up pretty well all these years later.

There is of course political involvement in this round of Conference Bingo, and so naturally our state’s biggest self-promoter has rushed out to the front of the parade in hope of being mistaken for a leader.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked Sen. Jane Nelson to chair a new select committee on the “Future of College Sports in Texas,” a move that came hours after Texas and Oklahoma issued a joint statement to the Big 12 that served as the first step toward leaving the conference.

In a tweet sent out Monday night Patrick said the committee’s purpose would be to “study the athletic & economic impact to TX schools & communities by UT’s exit.” A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 2.

This is just the latest bit of political theatre in the face of the state flagship’s impending departure from the Big 12, a conference it founded in 1994 that currently includes four Texas-based members: UT, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech.

Hey, Dan, let me know when you plan to have a hearing to fix the grid and claw back some of the money that was heisted from way too many paying customers from the freeze.

UT and OU make their official move to exit the Big XII

It’s just a matter of time now. And money. Always money.

The University of Texas at Austin announced Monday morning that it will not renew its sports media rights contract with the Big 12 that is set to end in 2025, giving the first formal signal that it’s planning to leave the athletics conference.

The decision comes after rumors surfaced last week that UT-Austin and the University of Oklahoma would leave the Big 12 and join the Southeastern Conference, which would then include 16 schools.

The move was announced in a joint statement from UT-Austin and Oklahoma.

“Both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs for the future,” the statement read.

[…]

The financial impact on the [remaining] schools could be devastating. Records show that media rights represent the single largest income stream for Texas Tech athletics. Its total athletics revenue during the 2020 fiscal year was $90.4 million, meaning the Big 12 payouts accounted for more than one-third of its total earnings.

That major-conference money helped allow it to limit the amount of money the university transfers into its athletics department to under $50,000. Public universities outside of major conferences in Texas have been known to funnel millions into their athletics programs to keep the departments afloat. (TCU and Baylor are private schools, and their financial numbers are not public.)

See here for the previous update. I’m old enough to remember that one big reason why the old Southwest Conference fell apart is that some schools thought some other schools were not pulling their weight in terms of financial reward for the conference as a whole. (A broader geographic appeal, and thus bigger potential TV audiences, was another significant factor.) Speaking as a Rice Owls fan, I feel your pain, Texas Tech and Baylor. Sucks to be on the other side of that, doesn’t it?

Sources from the Big 12 told ESPN that Monday’s statement from UT and OU doesn’t fully guarantee that the schools remain in the Big 12 through 2025. There is the possibility that they can pay a penalty of more than $75 million for leaving the league early and give a required 18 months’ notice, per Big 12 bylaws.

There is also speculation that OU and Texas would also not be bound by the Big 12’s contract if the conference dissolves before 2025, according to the publication. If the future of the Big 12 conference is in doubt, other schools could also look elsewhere for a landing place.

I for one would bet on UT and OU making their exit from the Big XII well before 2025. All of the previous breakups, starting with Arkansas leaving for the SEC in 1990, happened within a year. Whatever the contract terms are now, UT and OU will have plenty of incentive to buy their way out of them, and the remaining schools will ultimately take the cash as a preferable option to uncertainty and a hell of a lot of awkwardness. I will be shocked if UT and OU aren’t fully integrated into the SEC by the start of the 2023 football season, and it would not surprise me if they’re there for 2022. That’s the world we live in. The Chron and Slate, which runs some financial numbers, have more.

The A&M and AAC responses to UT and OU and the SEC

Moving from denial to bluster.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork has a message for any newcomers to the Southeastern Conference: “We’re ready.”

Texas and Oklahoma are preparing to exit the Big 12 and join the SEC, just as A&M did nearly a decade ago. The Longhorns and Sooners are expected to inform the Big 12 this coming week and begin preparing for their pending exits — and how soon they join the SEC (whether by 2022 or as late as 2025) is to be determined.

“We believe that throughout our time in the SEC, Texas A&M has become stronger than ever,” Bjork told the Houston Chronicle on Saturday. “We’re the largest university in Texas and in the SEC. We have 550,000 former students. We’re knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff, and our women’s basketball team is the reigning SEC champion. We’ve got so many Olympians. There are so many great things and strengths about our program.

“As you look at all of this and our landscape, our position is, ‘Who wouldn’t want to join?’ The SEC is in the best position to lead in this transformative time in college athletics, and obviously there are others wanting to join us in that journey. Here in Texas, we’ve paved that way, and we’ve been leading that way over the last 10 years.”

A&M and other SEC programs apparently were largely kept out of the loop on informal discussions among UT, OU and the SEC in recent months, and Bjork said A&M is addressing that with the league.

“Those conversations are being had … there are definitely procedural matters that need to come forward, and those things are being discussed,” Bjork said.

A&M is pivoting from its early stance when the Chronicle broke the news on Wednesday at SEC Media Days that UT and OU intended to join the powerful conference.

See here, here, and here for the background. I can’t blame A&M for feeling blindsided by this, but their first mistake was in thinking that anyone outside Aggie Nation cared. It’s all about the money, y’all.

I also found this amusing.

Back in summer 2016, schools from the so-called Group of Five lined up to make elaborate pitches to join the Big 12.

For three months, the University of Houston was among the reported favorites, along with Cincinnati, to join the Big 12. It would have been a monumental moment for Houston, which has long desired a seat at college football’s table of power brokers — and the exposure and lucrative payout that come with it.

It all turned out to be a three-month charade. The Big 12 eventually decided against expansion. Tilman Fertitta, UH’s deep-pocket board of regent chairman, blasted the process, calling it “a total sham” … “PR play” … “biggest ramrod, railroad, ever.”

Five years later, conference realignment is back on the table. This time it’s not just talk. As early as this week, Texas and Oklahoma are expected to declare their intention to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.

That once desirable Big 12 destination that had schools tripping over each other for admission like a sold-out concert. Not so desirable anymore.

And once on the verge of being raided, the AAC could open its doors to some, if not all, of the eight remaining teams from the Big 12, a group that includes Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU.

The AAC will not take a wait-and-see approach and instead will be aggressive in pursuit of the Big 12’s leftovers, an industry source confirmed Saturday. The Athletic was the first to report the AAC’s intentions.

For what it’s worth, in my previous update I linked to a Yahoo News story that suggested it would be the diminished Big XII that would be aggressive in courting AAC schools to join them. That has been the normal flow of events in the conference-hopping game, though one must admit that “Big XII minus UT and OU” is a lot less formidable, and maybe not so much bigger or grander than the AAC or the Mountain West. I just enjoyed the Mouse That Roared energy from this story. Maybe it plays that way and maybe it doesn’t, but I suppose there’s no harm in assuming one is now on equal terms with a former big boy. Where it stops, nobody knows.

One more with UT, OU, and the SEC

It’s happening. I know, it’s early, and there’s resistance, and stuff can happen, but come on. It’s happening.

Texas and Oklahoma are prepared to inform the Big 12 they will not renew their media rights agreement with the league when the current deal expires in 2025, a conference-shattering move that could come as early as Monday morning.

A Big 12 source confirmed both the Longhorns and Sooners are preparing to break from the league they helped found in 1994. The Chronicle reported on Wednesday that the schools had discussed a move to the SEC and that an announcement could come in the next few weeks. Declining to extend or negotiate a new media rights agreement (first reported by Dallas television station WFAA) with the Big 12 and providing notice of intent to withdraw to will allow Texas and OU to formally begin the process of aligning with a new conference.

But Texas and Oklahoma would still be bound by the grant of rights, which bestows the schools’ first- and second-tier media rights to the Big 12. If Texas and Oklahoma exit prior to June 30, 2025, when that agreement expires, the Big 12 gets to keep the TV money a school generates even after it leaves.

Withdrawing members are also obligated to pay a commitment buyout fee. That amount is equal to conference media rights distributions that would otherwise have been paid out to the program(s). The Big 12 distributed $34.5 million each to its 10 member schools during the 2020-21 fiscal year, a $3-million drop from the previous year due to effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby believes distributions could jump to $40 million or more next fiscal year, which could make Texas’ potential buyout hit $80 million.

Even with all the potential obstacles – Texas A&M’s fervent objections, vitriol from the rest of the Big 12, an effort by some Texas and Oklahoma representatives to turn conference realignment into a legislative issue – the belief is Texas and Oklahoma are bound for a new conference sooner rather than later.

See here and here for the background, and here for the WFAA story. The money issue will work itself out one way or another, even if it is just a matter of waiting until the current agreements expire. I suppose that might give the legislators now frantically filing bills and making unanswered phone calls to Greg Abbott some time to throw up obstacles to UT, but I don’t believe there’s a force in this world that will stop the money train. Nothing ever has.

Assuming this does happen – and you should be – there will be massive ripple effects throughout the rest of the NCAA, just as there were a few years ago when we last went through a big round of inter-conference shuffleboard.

Expect the Big 12 to be aggressive in adding schools. It’ll knock on doors at Arizona and Arizona State. Perhaps it’ll try and lure Colorado back and pry Utah. The Pac-12 is weak now, but the core of USC, Oregon, UCLA and Washington are all more attractive to be aligned with than any of the Big 12 schools.

From there, the Big 12 will decide how big it wants to get. It has to decide whether to add two, four or six schools. Four seems like the most reasonable number, with Cincinnati, UCF, USF, BYU and Boise State the most likely candidates from outside the state of Texas. The potential addition of Houston and SMU becomes complicated, as Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech wouldn’t have much interest in more in-state competition.

Remember, it’s streaming subscriptions, not cable boxes, that matter most. BYU would appear to have the best option for that, with its national following. But BYU is always complicated, which prevented the Big 12 from adding it in 2016 when the Cougars’ complicated LGBTQ history became a factor.

UCF and USF have great markets, but would the Big 12 want two Florida footholds? Cincinnati is a preseason Top 10 team that has been working hard behind the scenes to build for this moment. It also brings a big market and fertile recruiting area.

This is all sub-optimal for the American Athletic Conference, as it’ll be a familiar trickle-down. In a similar food chain fallout that followed the ACC cannibalizing the Big East a decade ago, the Big 12 will go after the most attractive AAC candidates. The AAC will do its best to hold on to its top programs but a reconstructed Big 12 without Texas and Oklahoma should offer a more attractive financial landing spot than the current AAC.

[…]

The ACC is in a difficult spot because it ate a bad deal from ESPN to get a linear network. Now it is frozen for two decades in an antiquated agreement, as the ACC gives schools more than $32 million per year.

[ACC Commissioner Jim] Phillips needs to do something dynamic to blow up that deal and get back to the bargaining table. Those options are limited, and ESPN isn’t going to be eager to give up a sweetheart deal on its end.

The loss of Texas as an option is a huge blow to the ACC’s ambitions, as multiple sources indicated that the ACC was caught by surprise Wednesday. The ACC’s other big play was Notre Dame, but the league failed to use any leverage it had on Notre Dame as a quasi-member the past few years. The new College Football Playoff proposal doubles as a security blanket for Notre Dame’s independence, which means little incentive for it to find a league home. Especially with its own lucrative TV deal coming.

The best remaining option for the ACC will be some type of scheduling arrangement or merger with the Pac-12. And that hints at another potential ripple from this move – is this going to be remembered as the pivot point toward super conferences?

There has long been a notion in college athletics that the Big Ten and SEC were pulling away from all the other leagues because of the financial success of their networks and the corresponding success on the field. Now, the Big Ten will go to market without the adrenaline jolt that the SEC got in its deal. The only corresponding move the Big Ten could make would be a play for Notre Dame, but that remains unlikely because of how secure Notre Dame’s future is in the new football playoff.

The issue for the Big Ten would be that Ohio State is isolated as the league’s power. Could the Big Ten leverage the potential of its next deal with a move to answer, adding Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson to cover the league’s Eastern flank and fortify the Interstate 95 corridor? There will be pressure on Warren to be bold. But the ACC is protected by a grant of rights through the length of its TV deal.

“It’s about combining forces now,” said a high-ranking college official. “Who teams up with who? Do we end up with four leagues? Do we end up with three? Or do we go to a 32-team NFL model. This is going to be earth-shattering.”

[PAC 12 Commissioner George] Kliavkoff joked on Twitter about his active first month as commissioner getting more interesting. The Pac-12 is last in line to go to market, and there’s a feeling that it needs to do something creative. There’s still great value in the West Coast, even if the football has been subpar for the past five years. But this move, the Big Ten deal and an upcoming deal for Notre Dame potentially put the Pac-12 in a position of weakness thanks to a lack of suitors.

The ripples of this potential SEC deal will be felt from coast to coast. And it’s not good news for any of the other leagues because of how much ESPN oxygen this sucks up. As one industry source put it: “The current schools in the SEC wouldn’t agree to this if all of a sudden their games are relegated to ESPNU. It’s not just money, it’s exposure.”

The ACC, PAC 12 and Big 10 all have new commissioners whose jobs just got a lot more stressful. New Big 10 Commissioner Kevin Warren had his first media day after the UT/OU story broke, and that subject was a big part of the conversation. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but assume that whatever the college football world looks like now – and as that Yahoo story notes, this is entirely driven by football, with basketball at best an afterthought – it will be different soon. If your school isn’t part of the action, it’s being left behind. I don’t make the rules and I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s how it is.

Some legislators want to keep UT out of the SEC

This is kind of hilarious.

As the college athletics world roils over the possibility of the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 conference, a group of Texas legislators with ties to other universities in the state has mobilized.

Four prominent lawmakers — one each with ties to Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University — met with Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff Thursday, one day after news broke that UT and OU had reached out to the Southeastern Conference about joining, according to a source briefed about the meeting and an Abbott spokesperson. Abbott is a UT alumnus and outspoken Longhorn fan.

The four lawmakers were Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who chairs the influential House Appropriations Committee and attended Texas A&M; Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who received his law degree and MBA from Texas Tech and chairs the powerful House Calendars Committee; Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who chairs the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence and was a student body president at Baylor; and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and a former TCU athlete. Kolkhorst declined comment and the other three lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comments Thursday evening.

Leach and Burrows have already expressed their concern about a potential move on social media, with Leach saying on Twitter that he was “working on legislation requiring legislative approval for UT to bolt the BIG XII.”

“This is about much more than college sports,” Leach wrote. “The impact UT’s decision would have on communities & businesses all across Texas would be real, substantial and potentially devastating. On behalf of those concerned Texans, the Texas Legislature has an obligation to be involved.”

See here for the background. Nothing is happening in the Lege right now, for obvious reasons, and one wonders what motivation “outspoken Longhorns fan” Abbott would have to stop his alma mater from making this move, since he’d have to add the item to the next special session agenda. For sure, if UT and OU leave the Big XII it will consign TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech to a diminished future, but that’s a result of longtime forces in college sports. Their foundation wouldn’t be any firmer, they’d just be holding off the tide for another day. Speaking again as a fan of a team that was left behind in the 90s, I understand their fears, but by the same token since they were among the leavers, I trust you’ll forgive me if I don’t rush to sympathize. Sean Pendergast, Jerome Solomon, and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: There’s now a bill to effect this end, HB298. If it gets added to the call, and if there’s a quorum when that happens, then maybe that has a chance. Don’t hold your breath.

UPDATE: I’m dying:

Sources: Gov. Abbott not returning calls from top Republicans in the Texas Legislature about UT trying to head to the SEC

Republicans like Chairman Dustin Burrows and Chair Brian Birdwell have filed bills to block UT from changing conferences, but of course that’s not on the special session agenda. The governor’s office has gone quiet.

There’s been a real distinct lack of high comedy this legislative season. I want to thank the universities of Texas and Oklahoma for providing the opportunity to bring a little of that back.

Are the college conference dominoes set up for a tumble again?

This would be a big deal.

A decade after major conference realignment shook up college football, big changes might again be on the horizon.

Texas and Oklahoma of the Big 12 have reached out to the Southeastern Conference about joining the powerful league, a high-ranking college official with knowledge of the situation told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.

An announcement could come within a couple of weeks concerning the potential addition of UT and OU to the league, the person said, which would give the SEC 16 schools and make it the first national superconference.

“Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics,” UT responded in a statement Wednesday. “We will not address rumors or speculation.”

OU, in its own similar statement, offered: “The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. We don’t address every anonymous rumor.”

[…]

Another person with knowledge of the schools’ interest in jumping to the SEC said it could be the first step in the long-awaited break between haves and have-nots in the college sports world. Most of those scenarios have involved four superconferences of 16 schools each, but the observer said the eventual winnowing down could result in an NFL-like scenario with as few as 20 to 30 schools in the top tier.

The eventual impact, the second source said, could be the biggest change agent in college sports since the 1984 court decision involving Oklahoma and Georgia that allowed schools to market certain media rights without being limited to conference-only agreements.

“You’re going to see shifts happen like they’ve never happened before,” he added, “but it’s not going to happen for another three years.”

The recent developments in athletics (possible expansion of the college football playoff) and legal circles (players’ ability to profit from their name, image and likeness) are leading Oklahoma and Texas to consider moves based not on regional or competitive ties but on economic forces.

The Big 12’s TV contract with ESPN and Fox expires in 2025. Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec said in May that the two networks had declined to discuss extending the contract past 2025.

“The general result is that, at this time, with so much uncertainty in the media marketplace as well as the landscape for collegiate athletics, our partners, ESPN and FOX, are not interested in acting preemptively with regard to our contract,” Schovanec told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in late May. “They recognize the importance of our partnership, but there’s just too much uncertainty, and they do have four years to go.”

As colleges face new challenges with name, image and likeness reforms and the recent Supreme Court decision that cast doubt on the NCAA’s beloved “student-athlete” model, the second source said, more powerful schools will seek to protect their economic base by flocking to like-minded superpowers.

“Schools have worked so hard to hide the fact that the collegiate game is nothing but the NFL hiding behind the veil of education,” the second source said. “Sports is mirroring what is happening in the broader context of society. It is not exempt from the same forces that affected K-mart or Blockbuster, who enjoyed success but were not able to change. To survive, you have to be able to change in real time.”

As the story notes, it’s been nine years since Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big XII for the SEC; Nebraska and Colorado also departed the conference, for the Big 10 and the PAC 12, respectively. A&M’s athletic director is quoted in the story as being unfavorable to the idea – basically, A&M got there first and they deserve to have the SEC to themselves – but I doubt that will carry much weight in the end. Money talks, and UT and OU represent a lot of it.

If this happens, and I’m inclined to believe it will, we will wind up with a vastly different college athletics landscape in short order. For one thing, the Big XII will lose pretty much all of its glamour, and may well end up on the outside looking in when that “four 16-team superconference” world comes into existence. (On the plus side, UH might finally get accepted into the Big XII.) As a longtime fan of a school that’s never going to be more than cannon fodder in this world, I’m not interested in the palace intrigue of it all. You have to be able to handle a lot of cognitive dissonance to be a college sports fan. The recent NCAA ruling over “name, image, likeness” rights makes things a little better for the athletes themselves, but this is never going to be an equitable world. You make your peace with it or you find some other thing to occupy your Saturdays in the fall and weekends in March. ESPN and Texas Monthly, which is warming up the death knell for the Big XII, have more.

Optimism abounds in the AAC

Good luck with that.

In the face of a pandemic, the American Athletic Conference will attempt to conduct business as usual this football season.

A plan announced Wednesday will allow AAC schools, including the University of Houston, to play a full 12-game schedule, if they so choose, and begin the season on time, even as COVID-19 continues to grip the U.S.

The AAC will play all eight of its conference games as originally scheduled beginning Sept. 19, and schools can schedule as many as four nonconference opponents, according to the plan unanimously approved by the AAC’s Board of Directors.

“We wanted to keep our eight-game schedule the way it was, not to be too disruptive to the teams,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said during a phone interview Wednesday. Asked about the uncertainty of playing a full 12-game schedule due to COVID-19, Aresco added: “We’re not sure that our teams can get to 12. There’s a lot that could affect that. This is the most unusual year we’ve ever faced.”

UH is expected to play an 11-game schedule, which begins Sept. 3 against Rice at TDECU Stadium. A 12th game — a nonconference trip to Washington State on Sept. 12 — was canceled with the Pac-12’s decision to play a conference-only schedule and is unlikely to be filled, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

I mean, I’m sure they’d like to do that. Many conferences are greatly restricting or eliminating non-conference games – the Big XII will allow for one non-conference game, others like the PAC 12 are doing none – so the extra games for AAC members may prove challenging to set up. Well, extra games with major-conference schools, anyway.

I remain perplexed by the belief that we’re going to have college football as if it were a normal year. The “bubble” concept seems to be working (or has worked) for basketball and soccer, while MLB baseball has had more than its share of problems with its rollout. I don’t see any reason to think that the players will be safe – never mind the coaches and staff and everyone else – and the idea that there could be fans in the stands is even more bizarre. On the other end of that spectrum, former AAC member UConn will not play football at all this fall. Maybe they’re the forward-thinking ones. The Trib has a more comprehensive roundup of what the various conferences are planning, for now. I’d assume all of that is written on the sand, at low tide. All I can say is, there’s not much time for things to get better before the games, such as they may be, begin.

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?

Big XII declines to expand

Sorry, UH.

The University of Houston’s campaign to join the Big 12 Conference was crushed Monday by the league’s presidents, who ruled out expansion without discussing the merits of any individual applicants, including the confident, fast-rising Cougars.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, president of the league’s board of directors, said league CEOs decided unanimously against expansion and agreed to remove the topic as an active agenda item.

They said individual candidates, including UH and Rice University among 11 finalists, were never discussed during meetings Sunday night and a six-hour session Monday.

“We all came to a unanimous decision that this was not the right time (for expansion),” Boren said. “All the information generated was not wasted effort. They (candidate schools) presented themselves in a very fine light, and we appreciate them.”

Those compliments, however, came as cold comfort to schools such as UH that have invested tens of millions of dollars in facility upgrades and coaching salaries in the hopes of joining one of the “Power Five” conferences that hold the financial upper hand in the billion-dollar college sports industry.

So while UH stands among the nation’s elite on the field, ranked No. 11 in the most recent Associated Press football poll and the defending football champion in the American Athletic Conference, it remains on the outside looking in when it comes to the millions in financial spoils that fall to established leagues like the Big 12.

Here’s the official press release about the non-announcement. The Big XII last invited new members in 2011 when TCU and West Virginia joined. UH had been angling for an invitation back then – they’ve been at this for longer than that – but wound up going to the conference formerly known as the Big East instead. I’m not a UH partisan so I don’t have an emotional investment in this; I find the whole neverending game of musical conferences to be amusing and enervating at the same time. It may be that this is a wise decision for the Big XII and it may be that they’re putting short-term and self-interested considerations ahead of their long-term viability. Who knows? The one thing I’m sure of is that this settles nothing. We’ll be back on this rollercoaster before you know it. SB Nation, the Press, and the DMN’s SportsDay have more.

The first college football playoff

How about that committee selection process?

As it turns out, it wasn’t a case of Baylor or TCU in the collective mind of the College Football Playoff committee after all. It was neither, and the joke’s on both.

TCU wins by 52 points and falls from third and a spot in the playoffs to sixth and oblivion?

“The committee doesn’t see the fall being very far,” chairman Jeff Long said.

Off the top of my head, Jeff, I’d say it’s the longest free fall by a Top 10 team after winning its last game by half-a-hundred in the history of polls, rankings or cave markings.

[…]

The only surprise Saturday was the Buckeyes’ big win with a third-string quarterback.

But that was nothing compared with Sunday’s shocker, especially if you’re a TCU fan or were under the impression the committee really meant to provide more clarity than the BCS’ much-maligned process. As impossible as it seems, the committee mucked it up even more.

Frankly, I was startled last week when TCU vaulted from fifth to third over Florida State. The move seemed less a vote of confidence in TCU than a shot across the bow of the Seminoles.

Florida State beat a pretty good Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, but it was a typical FSU win this season, a little less than convincing, the kind that started it on a slow slide from first to fourth.

Until Sunday, anyway, when the Seminoles moved back up to three.

And TCU fell in a black hole.

“I wouldn’t be honest if I wasn’t a little surprised dropping from three to sixth,” Gary Patterson told ESPN, smiling, playing good cop for a change.

Had the committee made TCU fifth or sixth last week, it wouldn’t be an issue now. All this result does is feed the conspiracy theorists. For that matter, the weekly release was probably a mistake. Long insisted it was a new world every week, but that’s a hard sell for a public unused to seeing such volatile movement from one Tuesday to the next. Made you think it was less about providing transparency and in reality just an excuse for an ESPN dog-and-pony show.

I have no dog – or pony – in this fight. Honestly, if I’d been on that committee, I have no idea who my fourth team would have been. Given all the past hubbub and controversy that led to the creation of this committee as a replacement for the unloved and unmissed BCS system, it’s quite the irony that in the first year of a four-team playoff for all the marbles, four slots weren’t enough. When does the drumbeat to expand this sucker to eight teams officially begin, I wonder.

And speaking of expanding

The Big 12 commissioner says the conference will reconsider how to declare its champion after being left out of the four-team college football playoff.

In a phone interview on the College Football Playoff Selection Show, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN’s Rece Davis: “It’s clear that we were penalized for not having a postseason championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that ahead of time.”

“We have to weigh whether this is substantial enough to add institutions. … It’s certainly a major consideration.”

The Big 12 would need to add two teams or have the NCAA approve a waiver to have a conference championship game. The Big 12 has 10 teams, and a conference must have 12 teams to have a conference championship game.

Clearly, there had been too much stability in conference composition lately. Round and round she goes…

Big East settles up with departers

Everyone who wants to leave the Big East is now free to do so. Well, maybe “free” isn’t exactly the right word.

Pitt and the conference announced that the school will pay $7.5 million to join Syracuse in leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, 2013. The Big East reached a similar deal with Syracuse earlier this week.

The agreement with Pitt includes the $5 million the school already paid after it announced it was switching leagues last September. It also puts an end to an acrimonious split between the Big East and one of its longest standing members.

[…]

The Big East later Wednesday night confirmed it had dropped its lawsuit seeking $5 million from TCU for reneging on a commitment to join the league and instead joining the Big 12. The conference said in a statement that “TCU has fully discharged its obligations to the Big East and the lawsuit is amicably settled without admission of liability of any party.”

Conditions of the settlement weren’t released, but a person familiar with it told The Associated Press the Big East will receive $5 million from TCU. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was to be made on the agreement.

The Big East filed the suit last month in Washington, claiming TCU failed to pay the league the $5 million it agreed to when the school joined the Big 12.

TCU was never an official member of the Big East but accepted an invite in November 2010 to join in 2012. The Big East contended TCU agreed to pay $5 million if it didn’t. TCU accepted an invite to the Big 12 in October and will start playing in the conference this year.

Add to the $20 million the Big East is getting from Pitt, Syracuse and TCU another $20 million that West Virginia agreed to pay the conference earlier this year when the school and the league settled their dueling lawsuits, and the Big East earned $40 million in departure fees.

Not a bad day’s work. The Big East can now concentrate on getting a new TV deal and deciding whether or not the name “Big East” makes sense for a conference that will have teams in all four continental time zones.

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…)

Big XII says it’s set with IX or X for next year

But who knows what they’ll do beyond that.

Interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said Saturday the conference has no plans to expand further prior to next season, although that doesn’t mean a move back to 12 teams couldn’t happen eventually.

Leaders of the conference’s schools have been divided over whether the league is best with 10 schools, where it settled after losing Nebraska and Colorado prior to this season, or finding a way to expand back to 12.

With Texas A&M and possibly Missouri headed to the SEC, the Big 12 has added West Virginia and TCU this year in an attempt to stabilize.

“We’ve got to get our house in order. We’re pretty good with 10 or, if Missouri stays, 11,” Neinas said Saturday after helping with the unveiling of a statue of formers Sooners coach Barry Switzer across the street from Owen Field.

“We’ll be very strong and solidified and then once you get that, you do your homework first and everything else takes care of itself.”

Neinas said the Big 12’s expansion committee hasn’t met since deciding last week to add West Virginia instead of Big East rival Louisville.

“The expansion committee will continue to look at the landscape of college athletics and at some point will make a determination what they feel is the best size for the conference,” Neinas said.

There are two reasons why I believe the Big XII will fill itself back out to XII members again. One is scheduling. With X members, you either have nine conference games, meaning you have one less chance to schedule a cupcake at home and some teams playing more conference home games than others, or you play eight conference games, thus ensuring that everyone plays a different schedule and potentially courting controversy if top contenders don’t play each other. The other is the original reason why so many conferences were interested in expanding to XII members in the first place, which is that with XII members you get to have different divisions and a conference championship game, which is a big moneymaker. I can see the Big XII waiting to see how some things shake out before expanding, but I can’t see any reason why they’d be satisfied with X members for the long term.

However, they may need to be concerned about the short term now, too.

The Southeastern Conference finally made one of the worst-kept secrets in recent college history official Sunday morning by inviting Missouri as its 14th conference member.

The Tigers will begin participating in all sports starting with the fall of 2012.

[…]

The announcement leaves the Big 12 in a potential quandary. The conference must have at least 10 members in order to fulfill the perimeters of its contracts with media partners ABC/ESPN and Fox.

West Virginia has been announced as the Big 12’s 10th member and the Mountaineers have told the Big 12 they would be available in 2012. The school sued the Big East last week, seeking to declare the conference’s bylaws invalid. It claims the conference breached its fiduciary duty to West Virginia by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.

The Big East then filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against West Virginia on Friday in Rhode Island Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages along with an order requiring West Virginia to stay put for 27 months in compliance with Big East bylaws.

Missouri could face a similar difficulty to begin play in the SEC by 2012. The Big 12, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, could demand that Missouri stays if it can’t get West Virginia in place for next season.

I’m thinking that Louisville is back in play now. Anyone got Mitch McConnell’s phone number?

Big XII expects WVU for 2012

The Big East is no obstacle.

Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said Tuesday he fully expects West Virginia to start play next season despite a hard-line stance from the Big East.

Neinas attended a reception in Morgantown officially welcoming the Mountaineers into the Big 12 on Tuesday, a day after the university filed a lawsuit against the Big East seeking to clear the way for West Virginia to start Big 12 competition next fall.

[…]

When Neinas was asked what happens if the Big East is successful in delaying West Virginia’s quick exit, “then I guess for the first time in college football history, we’ll have home and home” schedules, he joked. “Oklahoma State told me they don’t want to play Oklahoma twice.”

On a serious note, Neinas said: “We fully expect West Virginia will be there.”

Neinas, Luck and Clements tried to keep the focus on the Big 12’s newest member during the packed reception at the school’s football stadium, which included a pep band playing the Mountaineers’ fight song. Neinas even wore a striped gold tie and blue shirt in West Virginia’s school colors.

Neinas said West Virginia’s entrance into the Big 12 was contingent on the university being available next year.

“We needed a 10th member next season to fulfill our TV commitments,” Neinas said. “There’s an inventory that goes with a contract for TV, so we’ve got to be able to do that.”

[…]

Neinas said Missouri is considered a Big 12 member until it withdraws and the league will accommodate 11 football teams if necessary.

“We can do it,” Neinas said. “We don’t have it on paper. But our computers will work out to provide a schedule that will accommodate 11 teams.”

West Virginia wouldn’t simply move into Missouri’s Big 12 football schedule if the Tigers leave.

Instead, “we’re going to have to redo the schedule for a variety of reasons,” Neinas said. “We’re going to have to do some adjusting.”

More here. Among other things, we learn that there are no immediate plans to correct their inaccurate name by adding two more schools. Not really clear what their Plan B is in the event WVU is not available and Missouri has said sayonara, but that’s not my problem. In the meantime, Boise State has received clearance to switch conferences.

The Idaho State Board of Education has given Boise State permission to pursue membership with the Big East Conference, a move that would mean more revenue and give the Broncos a clear path to the Bowl Championship Series.

The board voted 7-1 Thursday to give university president Bob Kustra the authority to move Boise State’s football program out of the Mountain West Conference and into the Big East for the 2013 season.

Kustra has had ongoing discussions with Big East representatives, including during a campus visit by conference leaders last week. Boise State has not yet received a formal invitation to join, but Kustra told trustees he expects one to come in the next few days.

There are two issues to be worked out. One is for there to be some western teams to join Boise State in a Big East West division; I suppose if I can handle a ten-team Big XII and a twelve-team Big Ten, I can wrap my mind around a Big East West. Obviously, schools like Air Force, UH, and SMU would fit that bill, presumably along with Louisville and Cincinnati, if they all join in as well. The other issue is a bit stickier:

Negotiations are also taking place to secure conference membership for other Boise State teams. Kustra said he hopes to solidify membership plans with at least one western conference in the next several days. He declined to identify the conference, but said geography is a key ingredient in finding a home for basketball, volleyball, tennis and other sports.

The Bleacher Report suggests that Boise’s old conference, the Big West, would fit the bill for this. They believe BSU to the Big East is all but a done deal. We shall see.

UPDATE: The Big East says “You’re suing me? I’m suing you!”

The Big East filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against West Virginia on Friday, four days after the university sued the conference in a bid to make a quick exit for the Big 12.

The conference said the lawsuit was filed in Rhode Island Superior Court seeking unspecified damages along with an order requiring West Virginia to stay put for 27 months in compliance with Big East bylaws.

The latest lawsuit underscores the Big East’s position “that it will vigorously pursue the enforcement of its rights and West Virginia University’s obligations,” Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement.

Marinatto noted West Virginia helped construct the bylaws and formally agreed to them.

Isn’t this fun?

West Virginia sues Big East

The divorce just got ugly.

West Virginia filed a civil lawsuit against the Big East on Monday in an attempt to exit the conference in 2012 to join the Big 12, squarely blaming commissioner John Marinatto for the instability of the conference.

In the 14-page suit filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court in West Virginia, the university claims it should not be held to the 27-month waiting period required of all departing teams. West Virginia alleges, “The Big East Conference and its commissioner, through their actions, breached their contract to WVU and nullified and voided the bylaws.”

How did the Big East breach its contract? West Virginia alleges that nothing was done to protect the remaining six football playing schools once Pitt, Syracuse and TCU left. That created such instability, that the lawsuit alleges Cincinnati, Rutgers and UConn engaged in discussions with the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten.

West Virginia alleges Marinatto failed to take proactive measures to “maintain, let alone enhance the quality of competition in the league” and the school had no choice but to accept an invitation to the Big 12.

A copy of the suit is here, and a good explanation of what it’s all about is here; more on WVU joining the Big XII is here. What happens in this case will likely also determine the fates of Syracuse and Pitt, whom the Big East is also trying to hold through the end of the 2013 season. It’s fair to say that this will have a large effect on the college football landscape. Ready to make up your mind about conference affiliation yet, UH?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Big East is moving forward on inviting new members, apparently including UH. Something to think about: Currently, the only Big East school ranked in the BCS Top 25 is none other than West Virginia, at #24. Conference USA, with UH at #13 and Southern Miss at #25, now has more BCS-ranked schools than the Big East. Methinks they need UH and Boise State more than UH and Boise State, which could join forces in the proposed C-USA/MWC mega-conference, need them.

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.

Shunning A&M

It’s not just the UT-A&M football game that’s on the endangered list.

The SEC-bound Aggies have said they’d love to keep playing UT as a non-conference foe, but Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said the school’s football schedule is full at least through 2018. That isn’t the case for all sports, but so far A&M has come up dry in scheduling future contests of any sort with UT.

“There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest from the other side,” A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said Monday.

[…]

Byrne has instructed his coaches to contact their UT counterparts about scheduling future non-conference games – with no luck to date.

“I reached out about four weeks ago to Texas and emailed and said we’d love to keep the series going,” A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri said. “I haven’t heard back.”

A&M baseball coach Rob Childress said he and UT counterpart Augie Garrido have yet to discuss whether to continue playing as non-conference foes.

I’d speculated about this before, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see UT give A&M a cold shoulder. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise. The question now is whether any other Texas-based school will follow the Longhorns’ lead. At least one so far seems to be doing so.

As for the Aggies perhaps playing another soon-to-be former Big 12 mate in Baylor, Bears athletic director Ian McCaw said via email Monday, “At this time, our future non-conference football schedules are filled through 2020. With regard to scheduling Texas A&M in other sports, it will be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.”

Anyone know what the status of future games between A&M and Texas Tech is? How about TCU, SMU, and UH? Rice has played A&M fairly regularly in baseball lately, and occasionally in basketball, but has not played them in football since the demise of the SWC. I don’t expect any changes there. Looks to me like the Aggies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming years.

WVU to Big XII?

The Big XII appears to have a replacement in mind for when Missouri makes its move to the SEC.

The Big 12 has approved bringing in West Virginia to replace Missouri when the Tigers complete their move to the Southeastern Conference, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the school nor the Big 12 had announced that its board of directors unanimously approved inviting West Virginia when Missouri’s spot comes open.

The move would allow the Big 12 to maintain 10 members and is another blow to the embattled Big East, which already has lost two members and one member-to-be in the last six weeks.

The Big East is trying to reconfigure as a 12-team football league and has been courting Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and Central Florida, SMU and Houston for all sports. Commissioner John Marinatto met with officials from some of those schools Sunday in Washington.

Since there is no timetable for Missouri to complete its expected departure from the Big 12 — and the league’s board of directors announced that it expressed “a strong desire” for Missouri to stay during a Monday meeting — there is no timetable for West Virginia to receive a formal invitation, the person said.

But the school will accept an invitation once it is offered, the person said.

That news comes at a time when the powers that be at UH are considering their invitation to the Big East, or whatever may be left of it.

UH’s board of regents called for a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation.

On the meeting agenda is a request for approval to “delegate authority to the Chancellor to negotiate and execute a contract for athletic conference affiliation and to negotiate and provide notice of contract cancellation as necessary.”

The agenda does not specify a particular conference, but a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions told the Chronicle last week that UH received an invitation to the Big East Conference.

If school chancellor and president Renu Khator is granted approval to act on conference affiliation on Thursday, the timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“Thursday’s meeting is to give our board members an update on conference realignment as it pertains to the University of Houston,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement. “There is a great deal of speculation out there, and this meeting will allow us to provide our leadership with up-to-date information.”

The NYT says that the schools that were targeted by the Big East had been told about the possibility of WVU departing, so one presumes this is not a surprise. The question is whether it’s the last domino, and if so for how long.

While Big East officials and athletic directors are confident they will rebuild, there are troubling lingering issues. Does Notre Dame risk further Big East defections? It’s reasonable to expect the Big 12 to grow when it renegotiates its ESPN deal, which expires after the 2015 football season. That would put Louisville at risk of getting grabbed.

And Connecticut is yearning to be in the ACC. So again I say there may not be a Big East for anyone to join. Good luck with that decision, y’all.

Big XII targeting Big East schools

There are still more dominoes to fall.

Two high-level Big 12 school administrators said on Sunday the conference expects Missouri to leave and will act quickly to replace the Tigers, focusing primarily on West Virginia with Louisville as a strong second candidate.

“I think that’s accurate,” one school official told the American-Statesman. “I’d say West Virginia is the leader in the clubhouse. I think we’ll come out better than before. I’d rather be with someone who wants to be with our conference than anybody who doesn’t.”

Asked why the Big 12 would be upgraded, the official said, “West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.”

He added there is support for Louisville, but said a lagging football program hurts its appeal.

[…]

A second Big 12 school official told the Statesman he prefers Louisville because of its closer proximity and said travel to West Virginia would make for too big a burden on the athletes.

“The only place where there’s an advantage for West Virginia is better football,” the second official said. “Their academics is not as strong. If there’s any thought about what’s best for the student-athlete, we’ll go with Louisville.”

So don’t start printing those “We’re Moving!” cards just yet, UH. It’s still not certain that there will be a Big East for you to move to.

RIP, UT-A&M

Tradition, schmadition.

This Thanksgiving one of college football’s oldest and most storied rivalries will be put on indefinite hold when Texas and Texas A&M meet for the last time as Big 12 foes.

The Aggies wanted to continue the series when they left for the Southeastern Conference in July, but the Longhorns told the Aggies that their non-conference schedule is full through 2018.

[…]

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who led the charge for the Aggies to move to the SEC, has been vocal about his desire to continue playing Texas throughout the conference realignment process.

“We’re able to accommodate them anytime they want to make that happen,” he said of the rivalry. “It’s their choice, obviously, if they don’t want to do that, and I have to respect that choice, but it will be a loss to both of us and the state of Texas.”

Loftin pointed out that most states have key instate rivalry games that take place each season despite conference boundaries.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds emailed Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne late last week to tell him the Longhorns couldn’t fit A&M into their schedule through 2018.

“What we have right now is a full schedule, but if any future options are available, the decision will not be made by just one person,” Dodds said in a statement.

Loftin hopes they can renew the rivalry when Texas has room on its schedule.

“It’s open at any time,” Loftin said. “There’s no doubt in our minds to accommodate this kind of game at any time now or in the future.”

My sense, as someone who is neither a Longhorn nor and Aggie and who doesn’t really care one way or the other about this is that A&M is more interested in continuing this rivalry than UT is. From A&M’s perspective, their income will increase in the SEC, but so will their travel costs. Being able to play a few non-conference games in any sport in Texas will ease that a bit. I’ve mentioned before that if UT wanted to be a bit vindictive towards the Aggies, they’d refuse to play them at all, and would encourage other Texas schools to do the same. (Kim Mulkey, for one, does not need to be convinced of this.) The Horns can always offer games against themselves, with perhaps some exposure on the Longhorn Network (to the six homes that receive it, anyway) as incentive. I’m just spinning a scenario here, so don’t take any of this too seriously, but I will be interested to see what A&M’s nonconference schedule in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and volleyball look like next year and in 2013.

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.

TCU to join Big XII

For now. Until something better comes along, of course.

TCU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 on Monday night, seizing an opportunity to be a part of a conference with natural geographic rivals despite the league’s recent instability.

The board of trustees unanimously approved the move and Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. made the expected announcement in front a packed room of more than 200 people. Athletic director Chris Del Conte fought back tears as he recalled receiving the phone call from the Horned Frogs’ new conference last week.

“This is living proof that dreams do come true,” he said.

They’re quitting the Big East before ever officially joining it, thus becoming the Britney Spears and Jason Alexander of college football. (I’ll leave it to you to decide if that means that the Big XII is K-Fed.)

The move could provide some much-needed stability for the Big 12, which lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) over the summer and will lose Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference next year. Missouri is also exploring a move to the SEC.

Yes, we’ll see how long that stability lasts. And if the SEC ever wags a finger at TCU, don’t get between them and the exit clause. Now we wait to see who the Big East will go after to fill the holes left by TCU, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. Everyone in Conference USA, either brush up your resumes or hold onto your seats.

Missouri on the move?

Still no stability for the Big XII.

It wasn’t too long ago that Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton spoke of “working every day to hold the Big 12 together.” Now he’s been tasked with helping decide whether the Tigers are the latest program to leave a troubled conference fighting for its future.

University curators voted unanimously Tuesday night to consider leaving the Big 12 instead of committing to the league for the long term. The governing board’s members agreed unanimously after a 4-hour closed meeting at the system’s St. Louis campus to give Deaton authority to look elsewhere, specifically “any and all actions necessary to fully explore options on conference affiliation….which best serve the (school’s) interest.”

And Deaton, the conference’s public face through its recent turmoil, is resigning as chairman of the Big 12’s board of directors to avoid the obvious conflict of interest.

Just one day earlier, the conference announced that presidents and chancellors of the remaining nine members — including Deaton — had agreed to equal revenue sharing and to seek approval from each university to hand over the most lucrative television rights to the conference for six years.

Now it looks as if the Big 12 might be losing two members for the second straight year.

“The University of Missouri is a member in good standing in the Big 12 Conference, and I anticipate the University will continue to be a member of the Big 12,” interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said in a statement released soon after Missouri announced its intentions.

[…]

Speculation has centered on a possible Missouri move to the Southeastern Conference, which recently agreed to accept Texas A&M from the Big 12 starting next year

Deaton declined to specifically answer a reporter’s question about interest in the SEC on either the school’s part or the other conference. He said there is no timetable for the decision, whether by a self-imposed deadline or a Big 12 loyalty demand.

“We’re going to be exploring options generally and will be making no comments about specific areas where we have begun to look at,” he said.

Conceivably, Missouri could remain in the Big 12, Deaton said, but the Tigers are officially on the market now. And the SEC could use a 14th member to balance a league that now has an odd number of teams.

“We certainly are not ruling out continuing in the Big 12,” he said. “But we want to be sure to do what is best for our university.”

That boat sure has a lot of leaks, doesn’t it? It’s unclear at this point if or when an invitation for Missouri to join the SEC might come; they are wrestling with how to preserve rivalries in the event of another western school joining. Who knows how long that might take? In the interim, the Big XII is now seeking to expand as well.

Leaders of the Big 12 Conference cleared the way Thursday to add TCU, a move that would bring in a rising program and potentially shore up a league that seemed ready to fall apart just a few weeks ago.

The Big 12’s presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to authorize negotiations with the Horned Frogs, who play in Fort Worth, Texas, and boast the defending Rose Bowl champion.

TCU was planning to leave the Mountain West for the Big East next year, though the Big East is reeling from the loss of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC.

TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. suggested a move to the Big 12 might be a better decision for his school, a former member of the old Southwest Conference that once included current Big 12 members Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. It also included Texas A&M, which is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next year.

“These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU,” Boschini said. “It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for years. As always, we must consider what’s best for TCU and our student-athletes in this ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. We look forward to continuing these discussions with the Big 12.”

More here and here. The Big XII, assuming it continues to exist as a viable entity, is surely a better option for TCU, which is to conference affiliation what Liz Taylor was to marriage. Never mind the Big East’s own issues with volatility, the Frogs’ travel budget will be much more manageable in the Big XII. One wonders if the Big XII will look for another school to invite in the event Mizzou bolts. And one wonders how embarrassing it would be in the event TCU says “thanks, but no thanks” to the Big XII. Has that ever happened to a BCS conference before now? Anyway, the ongoing drama of As The Conferences Turn seems unlikely to end any time soon.

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.

Still room for discontent in the Big XII

Texas A&M is on the way out, OU and UT are settling back in, but what’s left of the Big XII still isn’t quite a happy family.

Contrasting pictures of the stability of the Big 12 were highlighted by OU president David Boren and Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton during dueling head-to-head news conferences Thursday night. Their comments reflected contrary viewpoints on whether the conference’s problems have been fixed.

Deaton’s news conference was held at the same time as Boren’s. Both used the same audio servicing company and Boren’s voice boomed over Deaton’s during part of the teleconference for media members across the nation.

It might have been a technical glitch, but it seemed more symbolic than that.

Boren projected an air of unity with most of the Big 12’s problems settled; Deaton talked about working to reconcile those differences.

Most importantly, the Missouri chancellor didn’t provide a long-term commitment to remaining in the conference. Some reports have the Tigers interested in joining Texas A&M as a new member of the Southeastern Conference.

“That’s a hypothetical that could occur,” Deaton told reporters. “In a sense, anything is possible. That’s all recognized, and that’s what has led to the discussions that we’ve had over the last several weeks.”

Make of that what you will. For its part, the SEC is going to have 13 teams, which seems to be mighty awkward from a scheduling perspective. Adding one more school might help with that.

South Carolina president Harris Pastides would like to see the Southeastern Conference cap expansion at 14 teams.

Pastides and the other SEC presidents have voted to accept Texas A&M as the league’s 13th member, once the Aggies resolve legal issues regarding their departure from the Big 12. The presidents have not decided whether to add a 14th team.

“I don’t think 13 is a sustainable number, but I think 14 is,” Pastides said. “I’m not in favor of 16 personally right now. You begin to lose what is a very special quality.”

Pastides spoke with the Associated Press this week about SEC expansion and his role in an NCAA summit this past summer regarding reform in major college athletics.

Pastides is favor of the SEC growing after Texas A&M joins “because 14 works better than 13,” he said. “But if it were Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech [together], to me, I’d be saying, ‘What happened to the SEC?’ ”

[…]

The president said identifying a 14th school is just speculation and rumors right now. He’d like for SEC members to have some time out of the glare of conference realignment to find a similarly good match as Texas A&M. Pastides knows that might not happen.

I’m not really sure how much better 14 is. With 12, it’s easy – two six-team divisions, each team plays all five division mates plus three teams in the other division. All rivalries are maintained, no teams go more than two years without facing each other, no muss no fuss. With 14, you either skip some in-division games as shown in the 13 team scenario, or you forget about even scheduling across divisions. Seems to me 16 would be easier to deal with, but that has other problems as we well know. I’d have stayed with 12, but no one asked me. As for who lucky number 14 might be, we’re left to our own devices for the time being. Mizzou would like for it to be known that they would not turn down an invitation.

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.

It’s a little late for appeals to history and tradition

Baylor President Ken Starr takes to the op-ed pages to justify conference-blocking Texas A&M plead for keeping what’s left of the Big XII together. Which is fine and exactly what I’d be doing in his shoes given the unlikelihood of Baylor finding a conference gig as nice as the one it currently has, but for those of us who have been around for more than a few years, it gets a bit jarring at the end.

The changes that are being rumored in the landscape of collegiate athletics are breathtaking and will forever alter the proud history of college football in Texas. Such decisions should not be made in haste, and they should not be based on unsubstantiated representations of the benefits of such moves. Let us be certain that we have engaged in our deliberations those who stand to be most affected by any departure from the Big 12 – the student athletes and coaches from all sports – as part of the decision-making process. We should not reject more than 100 years of tradition handed down through the generations without a well-informed, transparent discussion that objectively evaluates all of the costs and consequences thoroughly.

Richard Justice says what needs to be said.

Why talk about traditions and all that stuff? This is about money and status. Not UH’s status. Not SMU’s status. It’s about Baylor’s status. Just tell the truth, Ken. How many people do you think you’re fooling?

When Ken Starr talks about the fabric of the state being changed, about a hundred years of rivalries being lost, about the whole thing not being as interesting or as good as it once was, he’s absolutely right. But he’s off by 16 years, and when we think back to the really important day, his school saved itself and threw TCU, UH, Rice and SMU onto the side of the road. Does Ken Starr not know the history of what happened when the Southwest Conference broke up?

Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor joined the Big 8. SMU, TCU, UH and Rice were tossed aside. Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech were easy picks. As for the other, there was no easy choice. Baylor was chosen because it had more friends in high places.

Plenty of history and tradition were lost when that happened, but because Baylor survived the cut, Baylor was fine with throwing away plenty of history and tradition. Now there’s another wave of consolidation coming, and Baylor is in a bad place.

Has no one mentioned this to Ken Starr? Doesn’t he see the hypocrisy of pleading for something his school was part of helping tear apart? Why doesn’t he just admit it’s all about his school and its money, and he doesn’t give a damn about history or rivalries or any of that? That would be the truth.

Indeed. Look, I don’t begrudge Baylor’s elevated status. I used to, but I got over it. They won the lottery in 1995, they’ve gotten to enjoy the spoils of it since then, and good for them. But let’s not pretend there’s anything noble and preservationist about what they’re doing now. The precedent about the value of tradition has been established, and Baylor was part of that. They get to live with that legacy, too.

Can this conference be saved?

Here’s your latest Big XII speculation.

Several reports indicate that Texas would be willing to share its Tier I revenue provided through the Big 12’s television contracts for football to help preserve the conference. That would not affect the $15 million provided each year to the school by the Longhorn Network.

But the key to keeping the Big 12 together still appears to be convincing Oklahoma to stay. The Sooners appeared ready to bolt to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma State in tow for most of the last week.

Even with the recent comments of OU president David Boren saying his school wouldn’t be “a wallflower” in a possible realignment scenario, the Sooners may be convinced to stay put after some initial apprehension.

“We just have to tap on the brakes and try to slow down,” a person familiar with the negotiations said. “There is still value in this conference. We all just have to realize that.”

This may already be obsolete, of course; indeed, it may be too little, too late. To be honest, I really don’t understand the mad rush towards 16-team super conferences. Speaking as a survivor of the WAC 16, there are many issues when there are that many schools. But then I’m also pretty sure that logic isn’t the driving factor here. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of As The Conference Turns.