Well the Big 12 has finally made a (wrong) decision on expansion. Yesterday they decided to stay put and not add any new members to the conference. Ultimately this came down to money. ESPN and Fox, TV partners for the conference, were on the hook to pay $25 million annually per new member. They didn’t want that. So they paid off the conference to not add anyone.
This means the existing members decided it would be better to have an inferior conference with better payouts than to dilute the money per school among new members and improve the conference. So as usual, money is the root of all expansion or non-expansion.
What does this all mean for the Big 12? The end. That’s about it. The conference simply won’t survive. With only 10 members they just aren’t deep enough to be a major player in college football moving forward. Why? Because Kansas is Kansas. Iowa State is Iowa State. You have two doormats every year. Texas Tech isn’t much better and Baylor is bound to return to doormat status pretty soon.
What does that leave you? Texas and Oklahoma are the perennial powerhouse programs naturally. I’m sure the Longhorns will be back sooner than later. Oklahoma State and TCU always have solid teams. Kansas State and West Virginia are, on average each year, about the most perfectly average Power 5 programs.
What type of conference is that? Two great, two good, two average, two weak and two losers. Some years will differ, but that is the gist of it. Sure, the Big Ten has Rutgers, Illinois, etc. But they are also a league of 14 teams. You can afford to have those losers in bigger conferences. But in a league of 10? It just won’t fly.
The Big 12 has just one thing going for it at the end of the day, and that is the Pac 12. Fortunately for them that is a league full of parity that cannibalizes itself every year. If the Big 12 can produce one phenomenal team, that team has an excellent shot at the playoff. But that is only if the Pac 12 does what it seems to so often do- produce a 2 loss champion.
At this point it is looking like the SEC, Big Ten and ACC will be putting their champ in the playoff every year. That last spot will be up for grabs between the Pac 12 and Big 12. But without a conference championship game, the Big 12 will be disadvantaged on that front. Their champion will also have a weaker overall strength of schedule by playing in a weaker conference. Remember the breakdown? Well, that one great team doesn’t play itself, so a conference schedule that includes essentially four weak teams, four decent teams and one good team might not cut it.
This is all a moot point anyhow since the lack of expansion is a clear signal that Oklahoma and Texas are done with the Big 12. The other 8 had a chance to shore things up for long term stability and didn’t do it. You only need 8 of 10 votes on a new members for expansion. They could have done it. They didn’t. And the grant of rights hasn’t been extended beyond 2025.
So here is my prediction. When 2025 is coming up and the Big 12 grant of rights is coming up, Texas and Oklahoma are going to get courted and hard. The Pac 12, Big Ten, ACC and maybe even SEC will come calling. I don’t think the SEC will get very far as Texas A&M will squash any of that. I also don’t think the Big Ten gets very far because they tend to favor AAU schools which Oklahoma isn’t. You’re also going to run into political issues as Texas and Texas Tech will be a package deal as will Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The Pac 12 looks like the leading contender to me. They already tried and were on board with all four. No doubt they will try again and make an attractive pitch. This will form the first 16 team power conference. Scheduling means you set up four pods:
EAST- Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
SOUTH- Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State
WEST- USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford
NORTH- Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
How does that schedule work? You play the other three teams in your pod every year. You play two teams from each of the other pods, one home, one away, on an alternating basis so that every few years you play everyone in the conference. This gives you 9 conference games. The conference championship pits the two best teams from the pool of four pod champions. Winner of that game is the conference champion.
For basketball you can combine east and south pods and north and west pods to make two divisions. You play everyone in your division both home and away. You play everyone in one pod of the other division just once an alternate pods each year. That gives you 18 conference games. It can be worked out.
As soon as everyone else catches wind of this, dominoes will fall. First, Big 12 members are going to freak out. They will know the rumors before it happens. They will be looking for new homes. Will they find any? I believe some will.
Kansas will be the hot commodity simply for basketball. They are an AAU school and are in Big Ten country. It’s a no brainer. They were willing to add Rutgers and Maryland to expand, so clearly football prowess is not a top priority for them. Kansas brings a good market and one of, if not the, best basketball programs in the country. I would bet politics gets in the way again and that Kansas State is a package deal with Kansas, so the Big Ten adds both of them to get to 16. Then they would make pods like the new Pac-16 to this effect:
EAST: Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland
CENTRAL: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana
NORTH: Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota
WEST: Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State
Done. Same scheduling as before. You can even set it up to have cross-pod permanent rivals (UM-OSU).
At this point you will have West Virginia, Iowa State, TCU and Baylor in a tough spot. The ACC and SEC might be eyeing these moves to 16 teams and wondering if they should do the same. I honestly doubt the SEC would add any members. They have a great thing going.
The ACC? Very possibly. If they did expand I would bet Uconn and West Virginia are at the top of the list. Just imagine that conference come basketball season. Wow. But that is a big if. They might go to 16 teams and they might not.
Either way, Iowa State and TCU and Baylor are headed to the American. That’s just all there is to it. Maybe West Virginia joins them. But it would be a foregone conclusion in this scenario. It would make the AAC a halfway decent conference. Not at the level of the power conferences, but still decent. If they managed to squeeze Boise State in there just to bolster football they might have a decent chance of putting a team in the playoff every once in a while.
So after the collapse of the Big 12 you end up with the Pac 16, Big T6n, ACC and SEC at the top of college football. I would bet the playoff stays put at four teams too.