November 20, 2012

Realignment ripple effect?

This column will ultimately be about Florida State and Georgia Tech and if they'd ever leave the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But first things first. The Big 12 says it wants to stay at 10.

The Big 12 also thought it would get Notre Dame's non-football sports and up to six football games against the Irish. Then, the ACC made like George Clooney and smooth stole the Big 12's potential date.

And while the Big 12 loves the scheduling ease of everyone playing everyone with 9 conference football games and round robin schedules for basketball, the Big Ten is now at 14 schools and counting with Rutgers and Maryland.

The SEC is at 14 and counting with Missouri and Texas A&M.

The Pac-12 in 2010 considered a proposal to create a league with 22 schools by merging with the Big 12. Instead, the Pac-12 opted to try and lure six Big 12 schools (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado) before settling for Colorado and Utah.

Make no mistake, the Pac-12 got its third option. But the TV money was there for Pac-12 anyway, to the tune of $3 billion for media rights packages.

With Maryland and Rutgers and a 2017 TV re-negotiation, the Big Ten projects payouts of $30 million to $35 million per school in TV revenue in the near future. Texas makes that right now, thanks to $15 million per year from ESPN for the Longhorn Network.

But what about the rest of the Big 12? How long will Oklahoma president David Boren be content to watch Texas and schools like Northwestern and Colorado make more money in TV revenue than the Sooners?

Last September, Boren announced OU was considering all of its "conference options" and appeared to try to force Texas to go with it to the Pac-12. It didn't happen. Texas called the bluff, and ultimately the Big 12 became stable enough to land TCU and West Virginia and secure a 13-year granting of rights.

Some schools are more equal than others, as they say. How long will the rest of the Big 12 be content to let Texas be the leading voice on possible expansion?

Texas was one of the leading voices in the league touting Notre Dame's non-football sports to the Big 12. But then the Atlantic Coast Conference changed its all-or-nothing stance on partial members to all-or-some for the Irish.

Texas and Big 12 officials hoped Notre Dame might come to them because the Irish could control their third-tier rights and develop their own TV network. But once the ACC bowed to Notre Dame, Irish officials valued the East Coast presence and academics of the ACC over new rivalries with Texas and OU and any possible new TV money. Besides, Notre Dame sort of has its own network without any of the overhead in NBC.

One of the biggest arguments for the Big 12 staying at 10 is to help the league have the easiest path to a football national championship.

Texas and Oklahoma have sort of agreed that no Big 12 championship game reduces the chance of an upset that could derail a league champion from playing for it all. And since Texas and OU dominated the 2000s and made multiple appearances in the national title game, those voices were heard.

But things are changing. The television revenue opportunities are increasing. TV revenue pays the bills of athletic departments. And the question is how long will the argument of an easier path to a football championship going to hold up when schools are trying to keep up in the arms race? Schools with much smaller budgets than Texas and Oklahoma.

Which leads everything back to Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Before Notre Dame decided to cozy up to the ACC, I was told by key Big 12 sources Florida State and Georgia Tech were probably the most attractive targets the Big 12 would consider adding.

Those two schools would bring huge TV markets - Atlanta and Florida - while bringing football tradition to the league.

I was told it wouldn't have to happen any time soon, but that those two schools would be attractive targets down the road.

With Maryland bolting the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014 and the ACC seemingly on the verge of destabilization, the question is if the Big 12 can afford to sit back and let things play out or take an aggressive stance?

Keep your ears open for rumblings out of the SEC about a push that could include Alabama with support from Texas A&M and Missouri to get Florida and Georgia to relent on their opposition to adding Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Louisville has been ringing the Big 12's doorbell since realignment started, but now could be a candidate to replace Maryland in the ACC. The Big 12 has done studies that show schools such as Louisville and Cincinnati don't move the meter enough in terms of television, so there is no interest in those additions at this time.

The ACC outfoxed the Big 12 to get Notre Dame. Could the SEC outfox the Big 12 to get Florida State and Georgia Tech?

Would the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets be open to such moves?

The fact that we are even asking these questions tells you that realignment is back and everyone better be on their toes.



 

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