The Big 12 is always in danger of falling apart, by far the most unstable of the five major conferences in college athletics. Just about every major realignment rumor has, in some way or another, involved the Big 12 or Big 12 schools. Many of those rumors have turned out to be true. Over the past five years the conference has lost Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M while gaining TCU and West Virginia.
Currently with ten members, Oklahoma president David Boren set realignment tongues wagging this summer when he publicly endorsed expanding. All sorts of articles followed, including this one at Outkick, analyzing the potential targets for the Big 12 and suggesting the conference should go to 14 members.
Many also wondered -- was this Oklahoma's president publicly creating space for the Sooners to leave the Big 12 in the future?
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Well, earlier today came interesting news that hadn't been public before. According to an Omaha, Nebraska newspaper article which you can read in its entirety here, five Big 12 schools explored joining the Big Ten in 2010, a move that would have taken the Big 10 from 11 to 16 schools and created a Big 10 west division comprising Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Kansas and Iowa State from the Big 12 alongside Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota from the Big Ten.
According to the article:
"A Big 12 athletic director, who spoke to The World-Herald on condition of anonymity, said he contacted Big Ten athletic directors and presidents with whom he was familiar in June 2010.
The topic: Was the Big Ten, which had 11 members at the time, interested in adding five Big 12 schools?
The feedback from Big Ten school officials was positive, both sources said. The sticking point was devising a revenue-sharing plan to satisfy all. It would have taken at least three to four years for that many incoming schools to hit the financial payoffs sought for moving."
Nebraska, of course, wound up joining the Big Ten to take the conference to 12 members. Texas A&M would become the SEC's 13th member and Missouri, a school that also flirted with the Big Ten, but wasn't evidently included in the group of five that sought to leave together, would become the SEC's 14th. The Big Ten also added Rutgers and Maryland to get to 14.
But that still leaves three of the existing Big 12's existing ten schools that attempted to join the Big Ten -- Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa State.
So could Oklahoma and Kansas still be in play as a 15th and 16th Big Ten members?
The Omaha-Herald thinks so.
The article ends with an interesting final sentence:
"If the predictions come true that the clock is ticking on the Big 12 sticking together, remember what we previously reported from two sources at Nebraska the Big Ten has done its "homework'' to evaluate Oklahoma and Kansas as potential members."
If Oklahoma and Kansas left that would leave the Big 12 with Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
In that scenario you have to think either Texas would go independent or it would join the Pac 12. (I'm assuming that Texas A&M would block Texas to the SEC.) Of course, it's also possible Texas would stay and try and dominate an even weaker Big 12. They are, after all, Texas. But if Texas joined the Pac 12 would the Pac 12 take Texas and one other school or Texas and three other schools? Who knows? And I don't even know which schools the Pac 12 would take if it only took one more. (You have to figure the Pac 12 would take two schools to get to 14 at a minimum).
In a conference network era, Texas would be enough to get the Pac 12 carried in the state of Texas. So would you add Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State to add those three additional states to your network? It makes the most sense financially, but would the Pac 12 presidents really add those additional schools given that they aren't academic heavyweights? I have my doubts.
I think it's more likely that Texas would join the Pac 12 along with one other Big 12 school.
Which means the other six Big 12 schools would be left drifting without a major conference home. Rather than die, I think it's likely the Big 12's existing television contracts would remain intact and the Big 12 would grab four more schools and attempt to survive as a vastly weakened ten team league. It sounds insane, until you realize that's exactly what happened the last time the conference lost four major schools. (I don't believe ESPN or Fox would stop paying the Big 12's television rights fee because they could be sued for helping to encourage the existing Big 12 schools to change conferences. Why would the schools be leaving for the Pac 12 and the Big Ten? For more TV money. Where does that money come from? ESPN and Fox's deals with the two conferences. It's no surprise that no conference has ever lost its television package over the loss of members. Now what would happen when the TV contracts ran out? The conference might well die).
Buckle up, this could get fascinating. And while everyone has been focusing on Texas as the school that controls the future of the Big 12, have we been overlooking Oklahoma? It sure seems like it.