The sports talk shows have been buzzing for weeks about this. If the merger goes through, it is the death knell for the Big Twelve, whose TV contract is not as lucrative as that of the SEC and the Big Ten. The Big Twelve cannot sustain the loss of the major markets in St. Louis and Kansas City without taking a significant hit to its earnings potential. The four programs that the Big Ten is wooing have not known a lot of gridiron success in recent years. That is one reason why they are attractive to the Big Ten. Nebraska isn’t going to threaten Ohio State or Michigan any time soon. No way that Ohio State or Michigan wants to deal with UT or Oklahoma. The question now is what would happen to the Big Twelve if Missouri and Nebraska depart. The biggest worry is that Colorado might leave for the PAC 10, taking the Denver TV market with them. Where does the Big Twelve look for new blood? There are only two choices. One is Utah, where Brigham Young and Utah have had top-twenty programs. But Utah brings nothing to the Big Twelve. It has fewer than 1% of the nation’s TV sets. The other is Texas. TCU and the University of Houston would no doubt be interested in joining the Big Twelve. They too bring nothing to the table. The Big Twelve already has the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston markets. The U of H is a commuter school. It has 33,000 students but no fan base to speak of. The problem with adding Texas schools is that the conference becomes Texas-heavy and would resemble the old Southwest Conference. The Big Twelve would end up with UT, A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, Houston, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado (maybe), and Iowa State. This is not a workable solution. The Des Moines TV market is not going to save the Big Twelve. The school that has the most to lose from the breakup of the Big Twelve is, of course, the University of Texas. It has the biggest athletic budget in the country. Take away the Missouri and Denver TV markets from the Big Twelve and UT is no longer the behemoth that it is today. A&M has had financial troubles in the athletic department lately, but its ambitions are on the same scale as UT’s. So the big question is this: If the Big Twelve breaks up, where does UT go? More to the point, who decides? When the Southwest Conference fell apart, the Southeast Conference was said to be interested in A&M, the Big Twelve and the PAC Ten were said to be interested in UT. But Texas Tech had the political clout at the time. Bob Bullock was lieutenant governor and Pete Laney was speaker. Rob Junell, another Tech alum, was chairman of appropriations. Ann Richards was governor, and she was from Baylor. TCU, SMU, Rice, and the University of Houston were shown the door, and UT and A&M were allowed to go to the Big Twelve, provided that Tech and Baylor would accompany them. Baylor has never been competitive in football. Tech was competitive as long as Mike Leach was around, but now that they have run him off, the future of that program is by no means assured. As I said before, the big question is, Who decides? I think the answer is Rick Perry. There is no way that Perry is going to allow UT to leave for greener pastures without A&M being joined at the hip. What about Tech and Baylor? Perry and Tech chancellor Kent Hance are close, but I can’t see Perry doing anything that would hold A&M back. Neither Tech nor Baylor has the political clout that they had back in the nineties. I think they will put up a huge fight to put the old Southwest Conference back together, but I can’t see UT and A&M going along. They cannot achieve their national ambitions in that configuration. There really isn’t a good solution for UT and A&M. The PAC Ten has made overtures to UT before, but the time difference creates problems involving fans’ ability to get to road games in places like Eugene and Seattle. If the game of musical chairs starts, however, I don’t think that time zones will matter very much. The imperatives for reorganization are too great. When the Southwest Conference broke up, the word was that the PAC Ten, an affiliation of major research universities, wanted UT but not A&M, which, at the time, did not have the academic reputation that it has today. I don’t think that is a problem any more. The main attraction for UT and A&M going west–as I believe they should–is that the PAC Ten needs the Texas TV markets. It may not happen right away, but eventually UT, A&M, Oklahoma, and Colorado will join the PAC Ten. UT, OU, A&M, and Colorado will be in the southwestern division, along with Arizona and Arizona State and, perhaps, Utah and BYU. The coastal division will have USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State. See you at the Rose Bowl.
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