We’ve seen Big 12 expansion options proposed. Texas, the only voice that matters, is reportedly against the idea altogether. That’s not an optimistic sign for the Big 12’s future. Should the Longhorns consider their options, once the grant of rights deal expires, there is a clear, compelling option: joining the Big Ten. Here’s why.
Every Big 12 Expansion Option Stinks
The Big 12 could expand in multiple directions. None are compelling. Recently mooted candidates include Houston, Colorado State, Memphis, and UCF. The second biggest program in Colorado. Feel the excitement.
None of those schools make the conference stable. None add competitive weight. None make it more marketable for TV. They would be placeholders to get to 12 teams and a title game. They would be two more schools to worry about during the next realignment round.
Imagine pitching a conference with those additions during the next round of TV negotiations. Remember that’s with 12 teams. Projecting into the 16-team super-conference era gets terrifying. Remember that Kansas State, Baylor, and TCU may not have all-time great coaches when that happens.
The Big Ten Could Accommodate The Longhorn Network
Texas has its own network. Guaranteed payouts from ESPN top $10 million and will approach $15 million. That’s a problem for just about everyone. Four schools left the Big 12. Those remaining want Texas to give the network up or merge it into a conference-wide network. The Pac 12 would want to do similar.
For the Big Ten, the Longhorn Network might make the move easier. Nebraska won’t get a full share of B1G TV revenue until 2017. Maryland and Rutgers will not until 2021. Getting Texas to agree to a similar holding period would be a major sticking point.
An ESPN subsidy for the Longhorn Network would permit the B1G to distribute less to Texas for the first few years, with the Longhorns staying on par. That may smooth the process.
The Big Ten Would Offer The Best Conference
We’ll presume the Big Ten won’t be leading the charge to do away with divisions. Here’s what a 16-team Big Ten, with Oklahoma tagging along, could look like.
East: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue
West: Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern
That setup is viable logistically in the Eastern/Central time zones. It makes the Big Ten West a viable competitor for the Big Ten East. Nebraska is no longer marooned for recruiting. The TV footprint is enormous.
Texas would have Oklahoma and former conference rival Nebraska. Presuming a 10-game schedule, that’s at least one of Michigan, MSU, OSU, and PSU every year. Texas would play Wisconsin, Iowa, and at least one of Michigan/MSU/OSU/PSU every year.
Texas’ conference home slate last year was Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas, Texas Tech. Had a fun road trip to Ames in there too. If the Big 12 expands, that could be Memphis or Fort Collins, Colorado.
Texas would be playing better, more marketable, and more relevant football than it plays in the Big 12 and than it would play in a watered down Big 12, the Pac 12, or in an ACC merger.
The Big Ten is a Cultural Fit and a Safe Harbor
Most Big Ten schools are large, public universities with strong academics, getting rich off not paying athletes to participate in college athletics. Texas is a large, public university with strong academics, getting rich off not paying athletes to participate in college athletics. No need to deal with riffraff and small in-state Christian schools.
Big Ten schools aren’t quite as into leather or orange. But, Big Ten country can bond over mutual meat appreciation.
The Big Ten will be the richest conference. It has a well established football presence. No one wants to leave. No one is arguing. The Big Ten does not need UT, which is why UT should be interested in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten Is The One Move That Beats Texas A&M
Most important. Texas A&M left for a better conference, the SEC. Texas can’t play the Aggies. The rivalry battle is now about public perception. We’re measuring belt buckles. Texas can’t let Texas A&M win.
Texas following the Aggies to the SEC would be a blow to its pride. It would probably be a non-starter. The Aggies didn’t even want to play Texas in a bowl game. Their brand right now is being Texas’ SEC school.
Texas and friends could merge with the Dixie ACC into a new super conference. Maybe that gets Notre Dame to jump in as a permanent member. It would still be second-fiddle in the Southeast, basically a worse version of the SEC. A&M wins.
Texas could join the Pac 12. Golf at Pebble Beach on the regular? Can’t beat it. But, they’re making less money than A&M and remain less relevant. Those games kicking off at 10:30pm ET will be huge for branding. A&M wins.
The Longhorns joining would give the Big Ten, in terms of audience, three of the nation’s four biggest programs. Best on the field? Debatable. But, the Big Ten with Texas is getting the most media attention and making the most money.
Texas could and should be a power in the Big Ten. Texas A&M couldn’t win the West with a Heisman-winning quarterback and an NFL offensive line.