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Conference Expansion Rumors

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Just when it looked liked the Houston Chronicle had quashed the newest rumors that Texas A&M is going to the SEC (in reality the Board of Regents was meeting to discuss the Longhorn Network), Jon Wilner and SportsByBrooks brought the topic back to the floor last night on Twitter.

What remains clear is the current Big 12 (with ten teams) is not a longterm solution. Texas enjoys far too much freedom (with the least revenue sharing and its own network), and only having ten teams isn't a recipe for stability. As far as I can tell, here are some guiding principles in the upcoming conference expansion.

  • In the end, Texas will end up independent: Yes, the state government would love to keep as many Texas schools together as possible, but the Longhorns want too much control. While Kansas and company were thrilled to hand the Longhorns a huge cut of the pie in order to save the Big 12 from almost certain collapse, that acceptance won't last. 
  • Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be a package deal. One of the rumored "road blocks" to expansion last year was that Oklahoma wouldn't abandon the Cowboys for the SEC.
  • The Big 10 will be the antagonist: Jim Delaney is by far the most aggressive of the conference commissioners (Beebe may be the most reactionary). 
  • At the end of the day, we'll be left with the Pac 12, the SEC, the Big 10 and some hybrid conference (probably a Frankenstein of ACC, Big 12 and Big East).
  • Eventually, Texas A&M will join the SEC (I'd also put my money on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State).

More after the jump.

 In my opinion, the most attractive members of the poachable conferences (i.e. the Big 12, ACC and Big East) are: Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Maryland, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Louisville. The question is: how important is "expanding" TV markets and avoiding stepping on peoples' toes to the SEC? The obvious choices for the SEC are grabbing A&M, the two Oklahoma schools and picking up Florida State or Georgia Tech. But the SEC already has major-market schools in Florida and Georgia. This makes me think a school like Virginia Tech has a pretty good chance of being that fourth school.

The obvious choices for the Big 10 are Missouri (who they already passed up, which makes me skeptical that a deal will ever happen), Maryland and Syracuse. I'm still baffled why they didn't pick up Missouri when they could (I suspect they were waiting on Notre Dame). One of the more interesting rumors Wilner brought up last night is that the Big 10 has its eyes on Duke and North Carolina as possible expansions. His reasoning comes down to North Carolina as the 10th largest state (and growing), the schools' academic profiles (which feels like a peripheral reason at this point), the schools' national following and North Carolina happens to be Delaney's alma mater.

One note, I don't think the "original" members (Duke, UNC, NC State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia and Maryland) will stick by the conference until it starts falling apart. I also think the ACC has the best chance of being the backbone of the fourth conference depending on three things: the willingness of original members to part ways (those seven schools have been playing each other since 1953...that's a lot of history to break up if you don't have to...not to mention, Clemson is still looking for its first win in Chapel Hill); the politics of the SEC (do we reach out to Georgia Tech and Florida State even though we already have Georgia and Florida); and the willingness of Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech to go from perennial conference title contenders to more middle-of-the-road. 

Finally, we get to the Pac 12. It's probably the weakest of the power conferences, but has some of the more innovating minds behind its media deals. The word is, the conference isn't interested in BYU though the Cougars are the most obvious starting point for any western expansion. I could easily see Missouri winding up with the Pac 12: two large TV markets (Kansas City and Saint Louis) and strong academics make the Tigers a valuable choice. I think Kansas is a sleeper for the Pac 12, and won't be left out in the cold like people thought last year. To move to 16, I would think the conference would look at Nevada and BYU, but TCU or another Texas school wouldn't surprise me either.

In the end, I hope none of this happens. I like the conferences how they are (minus the bloated, unwieldy Big East). I love that the Big 12 will be able to play a true round robin format in basketball next year. Unfortunately, historic rivalries and round robin formats don't lead to the largest TV deals, so they won't drive conference alignment.