See The Big 12 Has Gone Insane Part I Here
The Politics Make No Sense
This ties back to culture and some of the historic issues we’ve discussed but the politics of a full blown merger would be insane. West Virginians are not going to want to play in the Pac-12, they will want to play in the SEC. The Pac-12 is not going to be welcoming of small private religious schools like Baylor and TCU. Most Big 12 presidents and academics will push for a move west. Many fans will push for a move east. The players and coaches will likely be split. Texas coaches will probably only look at either merger and sigh at the prospect of how burned over Texas recruiting will become. A Big 12-SEC merger would set off Aggie fans in ways the internet has never seen before. Arkansas and Missouri fans probably won’t be too thrilled with the burnt orange scapegoat joining their new homes. Jury is out on if Colorado would be happy to see its old conference mates join it in a Pac-24, if they would be upset, or too stoned to care. Everyone’s collective fanbases would sit with baited breath awaiting redrawn divisions. Imagine the nashing of teeth from Colorado and Missouri coaches when all of the work they’ve done building California and Florida recruiting pipelines gets destroyed overnight when they find themselves in an isolated division or, ironically, back in a division with Texas schools. That is nothing compared to the howling one would hear if LSU suddenly found itself in a western division as the lone charter SEC member or if the Arizona schools and their heavily Californian students found themselves more often flying east at great expense than the easy road trips west.
Every state legislature from Olympia to Oklahoma City or Topeka to Tallahassee would have a very vocal opinion on this and heaven forbid President Trump is asked his thoughts on the subject. If little old Maryland jumping to the Big Ten triggered a massive lawsuit can you imagine all of the lawyers running to a merger of this scale looking to cash in? You have to wonder what powers, if any, the Federal Trade Commission might try to flex in such a scenario.
Why Would Expansion Still Be On The Table?
If ExxonMobil and Shell were in talks to merge, even just initial merger feelers, Shell wouldn’t go out and buy ConocoPhillips. The craziest part of this story to me is that the Big 12 might be making expansion decisions based on what will happen to the conference down the road. If the Big 12 doesn’t even believe it will be around ten years from now then why is it even expanding? Is Clay Travis right and the Big 12 is planning to essentially extort two programs to grab some extra cash, give them a seat at the table for a few years, and then deuce out when the timing is right? If so, that’s incredible and considering most of these schools are public universities funded by taxpayers and student tuition, massively unethical. In a vacuum BYU seems like a surefire add when one considers their program prestige and academic status but they might get the axe, not because they aren’t better than other potential expansion candidates but because the Pac-12 won’t want them for religious reasons and the SEC wouldn’t want an outpost in Utah.
If a merger were truly on the table then expansion would be off the table and more importantly everyone in the Big 12 would be eerily quiet, which brings me to my next point.
Someone Buy OU and OSU Some Caulk For Their Leaks
Let’s start with a recurring issue that we have to discuss. For years now, all of the news about which direction realignment and Big 12 expansion is going seems to leak from the Sooner State. Leaks don’t happen at this scale because someone is throwing a journalist a bone or because of happenstance, they happen because someone is trying to steer the narrative in a certain direction. Of all the schools, why is OU the loudest when it comes to conference expansion? Leaks never come from Kansas State or Iowa State. Rumors don’t get started at Texas Tech. In Sooner Country though, different story. I would imagine because OU has the most to lose on the off chance it finds itself on the outside of a power conference looking in. It’s crazy to say that because OU football is a blueblood powerhouse and the Sooners seem tied to the hip with Texas which should have its choice of conference home. But what if Texas goes independent or the Big Ten takes Kansas for their basketball program and AAU status over OU? I’m certain OU would wind up in a power conference but we know OU President David Boren is focused on raising OU’s academic status and I would imagine the entire athletics’ department wants to maintain as many games in Texas as possible for recruiting. Maybe OU is being forced to stay with Oklahoma State who might not have the landing options OU has. If either is the case then it would make sense that Oklahoma sources are always the ones trying to steer realignment discussions and generally steer them in a direction to keep the Big 12 together.
Now on to the merger idea.
If they are leaking the idea to kill the merger then maybe OU and OSU believe a 24/26 team conference won’t work. If they are leaking to float the idea out there and hope it picks up steam then maybe OU and OSU are throwing up a hailmary to keep both schools in the same conference.
If the Big 12 was even in minor negotiations of an inter-conference merger then this thing would be airtight. Two power conferences merging to create a conference spanning most of the continent would be one of the biggest sports stories of all time. Heck it would be one of the biggest business stories in some time. The legal complexities, the political interests at stake, everything would be dependent on a handful of higher-ups in the know and shutting up while everyone else was in the dark. I don’t know who Tramel’s sources are but if a full two conference merger was on the table then only someone of the stature of T. Boone Pickens or David Boren would be in the know. And if either of them or someone of equally high status was in the know they wouldn’t be talking about this unless (A) they wanted the deal to collapse or (B) the idea was their own. This brings me to my next point.
Decision Makers and Boosters Are Clearly Using Journalists to Push Their Own Insane Ideas
This happens all the time. Sources don’t provide information to journalists out of the kindness of their hearts, they do it because they want something in return. Sometimes this is as simple as publicity and controlling a narrative, other times it is because a timely leak or well said quote can steer a narrative itself. Conference realignment has been fueled by rumors since forever ago. Texas A&M might be preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary in the SEC had everyone been able to keep a secret until it was time to announce and the deal was too far gone to turn back. All it takes is one person to leak something, even if it’s false, and the entire narrative changes. In an offseason where nothing else is going on, the most interesting story many rabid alumni and college football fans will consume are conference realignment stories pertaining to their school or conference. Naturally people become very vocal about this. In 2012 the Pac-16 deal was essentially done until word got out, then the fanbases and the political machines began churning in overdrive. A&M unexpectedly pushed back with fans preferring to take the long rumored standing SEC invitation and fuming that the hated Longhorns negotiated in their name without their permission. Baylor chaffed at the idea of being left out and with many state legislatures owning law degrees from Baylor they reacted accordingly just as the Baylor politicos tied the historically below average small private school to Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech in the early 90’s (at the expense of a large public school in Houston). Fear of losing their place in the deal was one of the chief reasons Colorado bolted from the Big 12 in the first place.
Sources informing someone that there is talk about a 20+ team merger of two power conferences sounds insane. Let’s refer to Ocam’s Razor for this one. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually the better. What makes more sense? The SEC or Pac-12 are willing to rework decades of tradition and hundreds of millions of dollars to accommodate a ten team conference, that might still expand, with tons of ego, drama, and a team network wildcard. Or someone is making this up hoping it gains traction as an idea, potentially as one of the few ways it might preserve what’s left of the tradition of the Big 8 and keep schools that would likely be left out in the cold, in the college power mix.
I’m choosing to believe these sources are spitting an idea against a wall and hoping against hope it sticks.
I don’t know if I can blame these “sources” though. Who knows about the OU source who constantly seems to be talking realignment but for the Oklahoma State source, can you blame them? If the Big 12 expands and adds two schools that will mark the beginning of the end of that conference. The deep seeded issues that plagued the old Big 12 will come back such as imbalance of power or unbalanced divisions. If the Big 12 has five years to live and in 2021 we are back at the realignment rumor mill there will only be so many lifeboats in play. The Pac-12 can always take two teams and join the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten at 14 teams but that saves two of 12 programs. Maybe the fleeing Big 12 schools get a power conference to jump to 16 but even that seems unwieldy and they would need a lot to go right to convince the other conferences its worth their while. Remember the SEC didn’t take A&M and Missouri out of the goodness of its heart, they did it because it doubled their TV market overnight in anticipation of creating the SEC Network and gave them two AAU schools. Right now the only Big 12 school with a guaranteed landing spot is Texas because of its tradition, location, and academic status. Kansas has basketball and academic status but it doesn’t have location or football. OU has football and academic and location potential. Everyone else has one or two things going for them but is it enough to convince a major conference to shake up the college athletics world to take them? Probably not, not even for OU or Kansas.
This is why I can’t blame the source throwing out this hailmary idea. If OU doesn’t even have a guaranteed seat at the table in the future then who can blame OSU for being very nervous. For schools like Iowa State, Kansas State, and even schools like Oklahoma State and West Virginia there are many scenarios where you will be left out in the cold and a full-fledged merger of conferences is the only scenario in conference realignment not just where you break even but you benefit.
Is this idea insane? Yes, but I’m not going to blame someone for trying to make insane work when insanity is the only thing that will save someone.