College football fans everywhere are now fully immersed in the drama involving Texas and Oklahoma’s flirtation with the SEC as the two power programs have . New first broke of the potential move during SEC Media Days, and now the possibility of the Sooners and Longhorns becoming full-fledged members of the SEC is inching closer to reality.
So where does this leave the Big 12? The conference lost Nebraska to the Big Ten, Colorado to the Pac-12 as well as Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC during the last realignment phase roughly 10 years ago. It made up for those losses by adding TCU and West Virginia, which kept the ship afloat for the remainder of the decade.
Now that the ship is sinking, though, where can the other eight schools land? Of course, it’s possible for the Big 12 to add some teams to try to stay attractive to television partners. But in a new era of college football that includes six automatic College Football Playoff bids for conference champions, no matter their previous conference, it’s safe to say that the the Big 12 could fall way behind in an era that will place less relevance on Power Five/Group of Five status.
Here are some potential landing spots for the remaining eight schools assuming that the Big 12 collapses.
The Bears navigated through the NCAA sanctions that ended the Art Briles era, went to a Sugar Bowl and proved that they can be successful in the new era of college football. They also have other teams who have had plenty of success — most notably the 2020-21 men’s basketball national champions. With that said, it’s hard to imagine Baylor being attractive to the ACC or Big Ten. The Pac-12 has a chance to pounce on the Big 12 in an attempt to boost its profile, but Baylor wouldn’t fit that plan.
The most likely landing spot is the AAC. Now, before Bears fans start freaking out about dropping down to a Group of Five conference, think about this for a second. The Big 12 television contract won’t be worth nearly as much without Texas and Oklahoma. Coupled with the fact that there’s a clear path to the College Football Playoff for Group of Five teams, that makes the AAC a very attractive option. The conference already has a big presence in Texas, and adding multiple Big 12 teams can be mutually beneficial to ex-Big 12 teams and a conference that bills itself as part of the “Power Six.”
Iowa State has reportedly been connected to the Big Ten, which makes a ton of sense. The Cyclones already have an in-state rivalry with current Big Ten West power Iowa and are a member of the Association of American Universities, which is an important factor in determining which programs to invite. It has a true Midwest feel not only in its style of play on the gridiron, but a coach in Matt Campbell who was born in Ohio, played at Mount Union and coached at Toledo prior to heading to Ames, Iowa. Iowa State is consistently a tough out in football, just won the Fiesta Bowl and checks every other box that would be on the Big Ten’s wish list.
Like Iowa State, Kansas is also a member of the Association of American Universities, the prestigious academic group that the Big Ten holds dear. No, the football program isn’t elite, competitive or even relevant. But the basketball program is. Well, as long as it doesn’t get bogged down in further NCAA trouble. Football typically drives decisions like this, but at this point it’s not like there will be football superpowers to go around. The Big Ten would be a monster on the hardwood and maybe … just maybe … the Big Ten West is what Kansas needs to become more than a punchline on the gridiron.
Kansas State should be making calls to anybody and everybody right now. It hasn’t had a ton of success on the football field recently, is not a national brand, doesn’t play in a big media market (which, admittedly, is less of a factor now than 10 years ago) and isn’t a member of the American Association of Universities. It can slide right into the Mountain West and become one of the better football programs and expand its recruiting footprint in a direction that could prove to be more beneficial than fighting against the power players in the Big 12. Again, this wouldn’t necessarily be a “demotion.” Group of Five conferences have a much easier path to the CFP in the new system, and the revenue is likely to jump as a result.
The Cowboys are going to be very desirable and will certainly be courted by the AAC. But as the most prominent of the remaining eight programs, they’d be best served to call first-year Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff. The Pac-12 was widely regarded as the worst of the Power Five conferences prior to the news that Texas and Oklahoma could bail on the Big 12. Luring the Cowboys to play the teams out West would go a long way toward changing that. Plus, for Oklahoma State, it’d be a great way to expand the recruiting net and, at least in theory, have an easier path to the College Football Playoff now that it’d be out of Oklahoma’s shadow.
The AAC would undoubtedly make call after call after call to TCU in an attempt to lure the Horned Frogs into a conference that already has a foothold in the state of Texas. But it’s a big enough brand to be attractive to the Pac-12’s television partners and has had enough success in football in recent years to be a legitimate threat to win the conference on a year-in, year-out basis. The Pac-10 nearly became the Pac-16 during the last realignment phase but settled on becoming the Pac-12. If it poaches three or four teams from the soon-to-be defunct Big 12, TCU absolutely should be one of them.
The Red Raiders could be desirable for the Pac-12 if it expands to 16, but they’d have to deal with other current Big 12 candidates as well as teams like BYU and Boise State trying to break down the door out West. The AAC, which can raise its profile in a big way through all of this, would be a much better landing spot. Imagine an AAC that adds Texas Tech and Baylor to a group that includes fellow in-state programs Houston and SMU, traditional powers UCF and Memphis and the rest of what already is a wildly successful Group of Five conference. That’d be pretty strong.
West Virginia: ACC
The Mountaineers are going to be in a tricky spot if the Big 12 dissolves. They already feels like a fish out of water, and it’s not like they’d be a desirable fit in other conferences. The Big Ten and ACC only need to add two more to become 16-team superconferences, and one of those ACC spots could be reserved for Notre Dame if it decides to become a full-time member. With that said, Notre Dame is perfectly happy with its independence and will likely hold out in order to keep its own television deal in football. That might not be much of a factor for West Virginia, though. A move to the ACC not only keeps the Mountaineers in major college football (at least, as we know it right now), but it will also allow them to rekindle the fierce rivalry with Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl on an annual basis. Yes, the two rivals do have a four-game series on the books, but the ACC wouldn’t mind that being a conference game.