The latest report in the Texas A&M exodus story is out today, with A&M formally informing the Big 12 the school wants to keep its options open in terms of dating other conferences. Here’s a novel idea: Who cares what Texas A&M wants to do! The only thing that is clear in this whole conference mess right now is that pretty soon, A&M won’t be in the Big 12. So why doesn’t the Big 12 just go ahead and do something about it?!
But do what? Here’s a plan:
1. Kick A&M out of the conference. I know. Crazy. Think about it though. Suppose I sign a contract for some guy to renovate my house. Every room. We’re talking about a multi-month project. Say things are going well enough, but a month into the project, the guy tells me he really wants to go renovate someone else’s house. He’ll stick around and keep working on my house for the time being, but he makes it crystal clear he really doesn’t want to stick around and he feels it would be more advantageous for him to renovate this other house, and so he’s subject to leave as soon as the other homeowner gets his loan papers in order. I know it’s not a perfect example, but I’m going to fire this guy on the spot. You know what, champ, go ahead and renovate the other house. I’ll get someone in here who wants to be here and will be committed to doing a good job.
(Side note: A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said the school is seeking to generate greater visibility for its “championship-caliber student-athletes.” Call me crazy, but don’t you have to actually win a championship, or at least threaten to win a championship, to call yourself championship caliber?)
2. Contrary to popular belief that the Big 12 is worthless, the league holds one pretty sweet trump card: BCS status. This is evidenced by this report, which shows that SMU is pretty much begging to be admitted into the conference. While I think it’s cute that SMU wants in — they’re even offering to expand their 32,000-seat stadium to 40,000 — I think the Big 12 should make a power play above that level.
3. Since we’ve already kicked A&M out, now we have room for at least three new schools. But let’s not stop there. The Big 12 needs to act boldly. Just for a second, forget about the whole “More TV money split up between fewer schools” model. That sounds great, but it apparently hasn’t kept A&M committed. And who knows if that model will hold if the SEC comes calling for Missouri. Or the PAC 12 for the rest of the old Big 12 South. Let’s become the first super league and then capitalize with new TV deals that reward that risk.
4. So how do you become a super league? You obviously have to get to at least 14 teams. You could probably have teams like SMU and Tulsa pay you to let them in the league, so there’s no shortage of average to small programs you can score. But if you’re going to chase mid-major teams, the better move is to admit teams on one of two criteria: 1) The football program has reached a level of perennial national rankings, or 2) The football program expands your national significance through its brand recognition. Keeping that in mind, this is what I would do:
Big 12 South
-OU, OSU, Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Houston
Big 12 North
-Missouri, Iowa State, KU, KSU, BYU, Air Force, Boise State
That takes you to 14 teams. Houston would join in an instant. Probably Air Force, as well. TCU already craves BCS status, and wouldn’t playing in the Big 12 be preferable on a travel-expense basis alone compared to the Big East? Boise State is constantly on the lookout for respect, and while travel would suck for all involved, Boise won’t be gaining much respect in the Mountain West now that Utah and BYU are gone and TCU is about to leave. The main wild card might be BYU, but since they can keep their TV network intact in the Big 12, maybe the lure of big-boy status would sway them.
5. So what does the Big 12 get? A replacement team in the Houston TV market, two of the hottest mid-majors over the past decade in Boise and TCU, re-entry into the Denver market with Air Force, and a new frontier in the Salt Lake City market — plus a significant national following — with BYU. Sounds like a winner to me. The buzz and publicity such a deal would generate would last for years. And once you have buzz and publicity, the TV money will follow. Once you have all that, your conference isn’t going anywhere.
That is indeed a pretty radical plan, and perhaps one that has been envisioned — in some form — elsewhere in the past few weeks. Once thing seems clear: the Big 12 needs numbers to survive. Maybe you can survive with nine teams if A&M leaves. But how long will the TV dollars continue to flow once the next domino falls? Get your numbers, keep your money, keep your league. Now get cracking, Big 12.