Well, a new challenger has entered the ring for conference expansion, looking to overtake not only the Big Ten on the national stage but on media revenue as well. The PAC 10 has made a move to add Texas, Texas A&M, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech, creating a “PAC 16” and creating a new network to rival the wildly profitable Big Ten Network. While the Big Ten was looking to slightly expand its current market, it appears that the PAC 10 is looking to annex the entire Western United States. Nebraska and Missouri have been eyed by the Big Ten, but their hand is being forced by the Big 12, which is now demanding that the two northern partners of the Big 12 either commit one way or the other by June 15. Conference expansion has suddenly barreled forward, with the Big 12 the most likely casualty.
It once was that the conferences had to slightly make sense, and each of the 6 major conferences had their assigned region. The Mountain West conference was also comfortably nestled in as a regional power. The Pacific conference has instead made a land grab for Texas and Oklahoma, attempting to create a two-division conference, one in the Southwest and another along the Pacific Coast. I won’t waste much more time recapping except to say that aside from Iowa State’s professed desire to stay in the Big 12 (not that they have any other options), the rest of the conference has either admitted an interest in following the money or is open to the idea. As for me, I just see a karmic response to leaving Texas Christian University out of the Big 12 back in the 90’s leading to the unraveling of the conference.
Either way, the fallout from this move could be tremendous. Any losses of the Big 12 would be devastating as they lack sufficient regional replacements to make up for them. Aside from the aforementioned TCU, they would have to reach for the Mountain West to find any new partners, which is unlikely as the Mountain West itself is close to BCS conference status. It is possible that Houston or New Mexico could be added to absorb the impact of a couple schools leaving, but if the PAC 10 is successful in its power grab, the conference is done. The result would be a gigantic 16 team conference, the first of the superconferences likely to rule over college football. The SEC could easily pick over whatever is left in the Big 12 South for new schools, and Missouri and Nebraska would help form the expanded Big 10. Suddenly a 14 team Big 10 doesn’t seem so bad anymore, huh?
After that the ACC will make another grab at the Big East, which could spell disaster for them, but we have covered that before. The Big East’s unwieldy basketball/football memberships created a lack of conference loyalty and spelled their own undoing long ago.
The biggest beneficiaries of conference expansion, believe it or not, could be the mid-major conferences. Once the major conferences are done expanding to 14 or 16 teams, there will still be quality programs with a great deal of tradition left over to choose from. Imagine if Kansas or Kansas State joined a mid-major conference- the cache could elevate that conference to new heights while a number of quality, competitive programs were left beating each other up in the new superconferences. The ACC couldn’t absorb the entire Big East, leaving scores of great teams left for a Conference USA or some other mid-major that could transform from a national amalgamation of teams into a smaller regional conference with new members. Rather than having to scrape along for members, there will be more money for midmajors. People will still pay to see great programs like Pitt, Kansas, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Rutgers, or a number of other teams left over after the great conference realignment. That could mean bigger and better TV contracts for mid-major conferences down the road.
The ones who have the most to gain from the big guys getting bigger could be the little guys after all.