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And the PAC12 flip flops, too

Everyone’s playing football again.

The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season beginning Nov. 6, the league announced Thursday.

The decision, voted on by the Pac-12’s CEO group on Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This has been the result of what we said back in August — that we’d follow the science, follow the data, follow the advice from our medical experts,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, “and that we know how badly our student-athletes want to compete, as student-athletes for the Pac-12, but that we would only do so when we felt that we could do so safely.”

In a release, the Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball can begin Nov. 25 while other winter sports can begin in line with their respective NCAA seasons. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as cross country, soccer and volleyball, will continue to plan for a spring season.

[…]

In August, the Pac-12’s CEO group, which includes a president or chancellor from each university, voted unanimously to postpone the season. The explanation for the postponement included the need for daily rapid turnaround tests for COVID-19. At the time, there wasn’t a belief that would be possible during the fall.

However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide daily tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are expected to be operational in early October.

Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will take at least one polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test per week.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports remains our guiding light and number one priority,” Pac-12 CEO group chair and Oregon president Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our CEO Group has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decision, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on the evolving information and data related to health and safety.”

The conference faced additional pressure after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remained set on playing in the fall. There was a common belief in the Pac-12, sources said, that after the Big Ten postponed its season, the other Power 5 conferences would eventually do the same. When that didn’t happen and the Big Ten faced significant pressure to change course, and eventually did, the Pac-12 was left to find a way not to be the only Power 5 conference idle in the fall.

After the Big Ten’s announcement last week, Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six Pac-12 schools in those states from practicing. By the end of the day, governors from both states publicly indicated that nothing at the state level would prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.

See here for the background, and here for the PAC 12’s statement. No one will be allowed at on campus games until at least January. It does indeed seem inevitable that once the Big Ten came back, the PAC 12 would follow. Now even some non-Power Five conferences are also returning, as the Mountain West Conference made a similar announcement. Just because they’re back doesn’t mean they’ll end up playing all the games they intend to play – just ask the University of Houston, which has had four games against four different opponents get cancelled for COVID reasons. And if you think all this is weird and perhaps ill-advised, just wait till basketball starts.

UPDATE: And the MAC is back, too, meaning that all FBS conferences will be playing some form of a football schedule this fall.

So where are we with college football?

Possibly on the brink of postponing the season.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

TCU to the Big East

Can’t say that this was unexpected, given that TCU changes conferences more often than some people change clothes.

TCU, located “Where the West Begins,” is headed east. To the Big East Conference, to be exact.

The school announced Monday that it has accepted an invitation to join the conference in 2012. All sports will participate in the Big East.

TCU has competed in the Mountain West Conference since 2005 and will remain in the league for the 2011-2012 school year.

Rumors of the move have been circulating since September, but TCU wasn’t officially asked to join the conference until Sunday evening.

Father John Jenkins, the Notre Dame chancellor and chairman of the Big East Executive Committee, made the offer to TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte by phone.

TCU’s Board of Trustees, knowing the offer was coming, held an emergency meeting Monday morning and voted unanimously to accept.

Since the breakup of the Southwest Conference in 1995, TCU has been in the WAC, C-USA, and the Mountain West. You have to figure that if the Big XII comes calling some day, they’ll be receptive to yet another move.

Is it a good move for them? Well, it means that they’ll have a guaranteed shot at a BCS bowl every year, at least until 2014 when the current agreement expires. Beyond that, it’s a good question.

[U]sually when a school makes a major change like the one TCU is announcing today, it can at least try to sell the idea that it’s good for all the sports at the school.

This one seems strictly designed for men’s football.

We know that TCU is no powerhouse in men’s basketball. It’s going to play in the Big East with UConn and Louisville and Syracuse and Pitt and the rest of those big boys? Good luck.

As for women’s sports and the smaller men’s sports, the travel through the Big East would seem to be prohibitive although there was obviously some very difficult travel in the Mountain West as well.

But I think without question this is being done strictly for the opportunity to pursue an automatic BCS bid…which hasn’t really been a problem for TCU lately, anyway. The Frogs are going to the Rose Bowl this year. Outside of playing in the BCS national championship game, the stage doesn’t get any bigger than the Rose Bowl.

I realize that Frogs fans believe their team is just as deserving of that national championship game as Oregon or Auburn. I get that. But this move doesn’t get rid of the possibility of being left out of the title game in the future.

If everything was the same with Oregon and Auburn this season and TCU was just finishing an unbeaten run against the likes of Rutgers and Cincinnati and their new Big East foes, wouldn’t the Frogs still be, in all likelihood, No. 3 behind the Ducks and Tigers?

I would think so.

For what it’s worth, the highest BCS ranking of any Big East school is West Virginia at #24, though it’s Connecticut that has the edge in getting to a BCS bowl this year. I have to figure that if there were a real college football playoff, this move would be less likely to happen, as TCU would have its shot at a championship and wouldn’t have to worry about being passed over by forces beyond its control.

I dunno, I mostly think of the Big East as a basketball conference. As far as that goes, it won’t be pretty for the newcomers.

TCU spent the past five seasons as an also-ran in the Mountain West; its best finish was seventh (at 6-10) in 2007-08. Its highest rating in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency rankings during that stretch was 124th, in ’08-09. Because the efficiency rankings are best way evaluate teams from different leagues on the same plane, we can use them to project where TCU would’ve ranked in the Big East from 2006-10:

2009-10:
TCU Efficiency Ranking: 178
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 0 (Closest: No. 172 DePaul, No. 156 Rutgers)

2008-09:
TCU Efficiency Ranking: 124
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 3 (No. 135 South Florida, No. 141 Rutgers, No. 198 DePaul)

2007-08:
TCU Efficiency Ranking: 169
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 0 (Closest: No. 164 Rutgers, No. 126 St. John’s)

2006-07:
TCU Efficiency Ranking: 152
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 1 (No. 166 Rutgers)

2005-06:
TCU Efficiency Ranking: 229
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 0 (Closest: No. 162 South Florida, No. 108 St. John’s)

Those numbers indicate that the Big East is adding a team that would have finished 17th, 14th, 17th, 16th and 17th, respectively, in the league over the past five years. TCU’s ’09-10 team was, improbably, worse than the DePaul squad that went 1-17 in conference play that season. The Horned Frogs give the league a new TV market (Dallas-Fort Worth, which is the nation’s fifth-largest), but they will not make for quality hoops TV.

And that’s before you consider scheduling and tournament issues. Obviously, the Frogs can strive to improve their hoops program – they’ve done all right with football, after all – but it could be ugly for awhile. Anyway, congrats to TCU for finally getting what they want, at least until something better comes along.

What about A&M?

On the one hand, there’s evidence to suggest that the Aggie faithful want to sever ties with UT and go East.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive visited College Station on Saturday, according to Billy Liucci’s Maroon & White Report, and A&M potentially could call a regents meeting for later in the week, a school official said Saturday.

The bottom line is it appears many Aggies, including some near or right at the top of the A&M food chain, are willing to risk their team getting battered for a time while the program adjusts to the brutally tough SEC.

“We’ve just gotten a sense that A&M feels it’s a better match for the SEC,” said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, of politicians trying to take A&M’s temperature.

[…]

A&M hasn’t finished in the Associated Press Top 25 this century and has had trouble enough competing in the Big 12. The Aggies also have had their hands full with their most recent encounters with the SEC. Tennessee whipped A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl five years ago, and last season, Arkansas (47-19) and Georgia (44-20) both beat up on 6-7 A&M.

Neither the Razorbacks nor Bulldogs competed for a title in their respective SEC divisions. Still, the pro-SEC faction at A&M figures the Aggies’ recruiting classes will improve greatly, with the promise to youngsters in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio that they’ll be playing in the nation’s premier league — while staying in their home state.

On top of that, state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said that if the Big 12 had to break up, the SEC makes more sense than the Pac-10 for fans in this part of the country.

“You can road trip to Mississippi,” he said. “You can’t really do that to California.”

Congressman Joe Barton, an A&M alum, thinks the SEC is the best fit for the Aggies, too. On the other hand, there’s one prominent Aggie who has not yet spoken up, and politics may make him push the school West.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will have a decisive say in which conference his alma mater, Texas A&M, joins and he probably prefers the Aggies link with Texas and other Big 12 schools and accept invitations to the Pac-10 Conference, two long-time political figures told the Statesman.

“Anybody who thinks Rick Perry is not going to sign off on the final decision is fooling himself,” one of the sources said. “A&M will go where the governor wants them to go.”

The second source said Perry, a former Texas A&M yell leader, does not want to do anything to disrupt his re-election plans and consequently might try to push the Aggies toward the Pac-10 to calm the political waters. Perry has said he’d prefer to keep all the Texas schools together.

“Perry’s political team has told him that the one thing that could beat him (in the November election) is to get involved in a football fight,” the long-time political observer in Austin said Saturday. “He doesn’t want to tick off Texas Tech and the Longhorns. The least amount of political downside is for A&M to join the Pac-10.”

Interestingly, at least some Baylor fans are already upset with the Governor for not fighting to keep the Big XII, or at least the Big XII Texas schools, together. I don’t think that will amount to much, but I could see a UT/A&M divorce (and a Tech/A&M divorce) having some blowback. This is all assuming that the Aggies were to get an invitation to join the SEC, something they don’t have yet.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the Aggies only have so much time to make a decision before the PAC 10 makes it for them by inviting someone else. That Chron link mentions Utah as a possible alternate choice for the PAC 10, while that last link suggests Kansas. There are other possibilities for Kansas as well.

Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri could be playing in the Mountain West, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Interestingly, Baylor is not part of the equation amid strong opposition from MWC member TCU.

[…]

What seemed interesting Saturday was word that the schools that will be left behind once the Big 12 dissolves finally began to draw some serious interest. The five left-behind schools are believed to be exploring every possibility from sticking together in what will be a diluted Big 12 to banding together to become influential members in a non-BCS conference.

Kansas, however, could be out of the equation which would all but leave the four scrambling. There has been a great deal of speculation that if Texas A&M does not join the Pac-10 then Scott will extend an invitation to the Jayhawks. Initially it was thought that Kansas could not separate from Kansas State but that has changed with everyone in panic mode.

“Look at it this way,” KU coach Bill Self said to The Kansas City Star on Friday. “No matter what, I’m 100 percent confident we’re going to land. And we may land in a group that gives us more exposure than we ever could have had before. We may land with somebody that opens up recruiting doors in areas that we never really tested before. We’re not gonna lose what we already have. This may open up new avenues for us.”

I don’t know what TCU’s animus towards Baylor is all about – resentment that Baylor was in the Big XII to begin with while TCU got stuck with the WAC before moving to C-USA and then finally the MWC, I suppose – but if you can get past the idea of Kansas being a “mountain” state – which, let’s face it, is no more ludicrous than Oklahoma being a “Pacific” state – the MWC makes some sense. It’s the closest fit geographically, and who knows, the MWC may wind up as a BCS conference out of this now that there will be one fewer in existence. Justin has been banging the drum for the Big East to grab Kansas, and that certainly makes sense from a basketball perspective. But if one thing is clear in all this, it’s that basketball considerations have not been part of the equation in all of the conference shuffling of late.

I don’t see how college sports are better when Nebraska has to start new rivalries so it can get a bigger chunk of TV money. I don’t see how putting Texas and Washington State in the same league makes this enterprise more compelling for anybody.

And since this is all being done for TV money, it is all about football. It is telling that in the last two decades, no league went after Kansas, Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina. College basketball, a national obsession every March, is not even part of this discussion. And if the school presidents aren’t giving a thought to basketball, you can be sure they don’t care a bit about the various soccer players, lacrosse players, sprinters and swimmers who will be going pro in something other than sports.

It’s interesting to me to see 16-team conferences becoming the new hotness. As a Rice fan, I have some experience with such things, as Rice wound up in what was then a 16-team WAC back in 1996. The original conference added six teams – SWC leftovers Rice, SMU, and TCU, plus UNLV, San Jose State, and Tulsa – and went to two divisions with a championship game. That lasted three years, before a group of original WAC members decided it was too much and split off to form the MWC. (Certain current PAC 10 members might want to note that when they did this, they took new school UNLV with them while leaving longtime members UTEP and Hawaii behind.) There were complaints about diluted rivalries, too much travel, mismatched academic standards. If any of this sounds familiar, just file it away for future consideration. Maybe the future PAC 16 will be the only conference to go that big, but whatever the case, the point I’m making is that it’s been done before, and that experience should give anyone pause. I for one am planning to laugh my rear end off if that history winds up repeating itself.

UT headed to PAC 10

So says the Statesman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, they are not.

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

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

This won’t work for long.

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

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

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