Final Thoughts on Expansion… For Now

Winner of the conference expansion sweepstakes.

It appears that the dust has settled (for the time being) on the crazy expansion frenzy that has gripped the college football world over the past two weeks.

In the end, what actually happened seems a bit mild when compared with the expectations just a few short days ago.

The Pac-10 added Colorado to bump its membership up to 11. They will almost certainly be looking to add a 12th, possibly in the next few days, with Utah being the most likely candidate.

The Big-12 lost two members and ended up with a conference that is so totally dominated by Texas that its future is cloudy already. The problems that tore apart the Big-12 in the first place (primarily revenue sharing and television rights) will most likely be magnified ten fold in the new incarnation and will almost certainly rip apart the new conference sooner or later.

Additionally, without 12 teams, will the new Big-12 even be able to have a championship game?

Without a conference title game and outside of Oklahoma-Texas, what games are people even going to watch? Good luck making money in that set-up.

The Big-12 could add two teams to make up for the losses and get a conference title game back, but who would they go to? I don’t think TCU or anyone else is going to be a national draw. On top of national exposure considerations (or a lack thereof), no matter who they add, it does nothing to improve their problems, so it will be a mess regardless.

The Big-10 added Nebraska, a top 5 all-time football program and a school that ‘fits’ in with the rest of the conference.

I think it is safe to say that the Big-10 in unequivocally better with the addition of Nebraska, most notably because of the ability to add a championship game. If you like money, the championship game is undoubtedly awesome, if you like tradition… well, we can talk about that later.

Phase two?

So while things have certainly settled down a bit, and thoughts of mega-conferences and playoff systems will have to be put on hold for the moment, there is still plenty of action on the horizon.

Most importantly, the Big-10 is back to their original 10 to 12 month time line for expansion, and everyone’s eyes will be on Notre Dame rather than Texas this time around. So rest easy, there will still be plenty of speculation on that front over the next few months.

Less importantly, as mentioned, the Pac-10 will be looking to add a 12th member, and that decision may get done in the next week or two. Utah is pretty yawn in terms of additions, but if the Pac-10 tries to go in a different direction things could get interesting once again.

Finally, let’s talk about Texas.

They were the apple of every conference’s eye during this expansion frenzy, and there is little doubt that they were in contact with the Pac-10, the Big-10, and the SEC over the past few weeks  exploring their options.

Ultimately, as Frank points out, they chose total control of less money in the new Big-12 rather than less control of more money (potentially) in the Big-10 or Pac-10.

I look at the move by Texas as an experiment. They tested the waters of moving to a new conference and basically found that they could force their Big-12 companions (those that were left) to bow to their every whim to keep the conference together. Whether or not this was premeditated is up to you to decide.

Side bar: how humiliated is Oklahoma right now?

Texas is the master and commander of the new Big-12, which is probably what they wanted all along, but how long will it last?

Texas gets to experiment with their own television network and a revenue sharing system that supposedly will earn them between 20$ and 25$ million a year (I find those numbers to be extremely doubtful, particularly long term).

So while Texas clearly benefits in the short term and will enjoy almost unprecedented control over their conference, how long will this arrangement last?

Missouri is interested in realignment, and would join the Big-10 in a heart beat… in fact, they are probably writing love letters to Jim Delany as we speak. Texas A&M very seriously flirted with the idea of joining the SEC. If Texas doesn’t play nice (which they won’t) how long before they are fed up and do make the move? Oklahoma has to be embarrassed by all of this and will be looking for ways to not seem like Texas’ lap dog. The best way to do that may be jumping to another conference that isn’t quite so pathetically dependent on Texas.

The point is, Texas may have scored big in the short term, but ultimately the conference they have created and control is almost certainly doomed to collapse. When that happens, 16 team mega conferences may be the next step.

For Texas, I have a feeling that they really don’t care. As I mentioned, this is an experiment for them. They get to control a conference for however long it lasts, reaping the benefits all the while. If the experiment fails and the conference breaks apart, they have their pick of conferences to move to (that was made resoundingly clear in the last two weeks), leaving their poor Big-12 friends in the dust.

How each conference positions itself for the inevitable collapse of the new Big-12 will be the expansion story worth tracking in the next few years. Hopefully Texas decides to play nice (haven’t they heard of the golden rule?) the next time and follows the money to the Big-10.

For now, it looks like the expansion hysteria has passed and the college football landscape is relatively unscathed. The next few years will be like the period between WWI and WWII, everyone knows that it’s going to hit the fan again, they are just not sure when. The question is: which Big 12 team will be Franz Ferdinand?

update by MaliBuckeye: The Oklahoma thing cannot be stated enough… Can you think of any other team that would say to Ohio State or another Big T1e2n program “Hey, we’ll do what you do. We don’t care that you make a lot of money, as long as you give us just a little bit.”

I can’t imagine how a Sooner fan could stomach this- They know that, even if they win the “Dr. Pepper Red River Shootout Brought To You By The Bevo TV Network” 77-0, they will still be a) losing money and b) to their number one rival.

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