With each day that passes it appears as if the Big 12 Conference moves one step closer to extinction.
However, a scenario emerged Saturday that might go a long way toward saving the conference.
An ESPN.com report early Saturday morning quoted Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson as saying that the MWC was frothing at the mouth to scoop up whatever Big 12 schools might remain should Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State head to the Pac-10, as expected.
Sources within the Mountain West, however, told the Journal-World late Saturday night that the exact opposite actually could happen. Instead of the MWC taking the Big 12’s castaways — Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor — the Big 12 could absorb all 10 members of the Mountain West, including newly acquired Boise State, and move forward as a revamped Big 12.
“That has some merit because it would allow the remaining Big 12 schools to protect things like their NCAA Tournament basketball shares and the automatic qualifying bid to the BCS,” the source said. “If that’s how this goes down, I know that both sides are going to be very sensitive to how that part’s handled so that it doesn’t jeopardize the BCS bid or any of the basketball shares that those schools have earned.”
That alone, along with the other advantages that would come with the Big 12’s leftovers sticking together, such as geography, friendly time zones and tradition, could be enough to make the offer appealing to those schools that remain. One other potential benefit of staying with the league and adding the MWC schools would be the fact that the Big 12 — whatever it would be called from here on out — would be around to collect the departure penalty payouts from the schools that leave.
As for the Mountain West schools, which, like the Big 12, have been together barely more than a decade, the idea of leaving the MWC behind would not be tough to swallow, the source said.
“With the opportunity to become a BCS conference, nearly immediately, and the fact that this conference, which has been on a united front throughout this whole thing, would remain united, I think the sentimentality carries very little weight,” the source said. “I think in a lot of ways it’s a best-case scenario for everyone involved.”
The kicker, of course, is that, as of now, the Big 12 still has 10 teams in it, with only Colorado and Nebraska out the door for certain. That could all change as soon as Tuesday, when four Big 12 south schools reportedly will announce their defection to the Pac-10.
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg visited with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State officials in person Saturday, ostensibly with invitations to join the league. Up next is a trip to Texas A&M, Texas and Texas Tech today. An OU press release described Saturday’s meeting with president David Boren and AD Joe Castiglione as “very cordial and informative. It would not be appropriate to comment further on the content of the meeting at this time. There will be a special meeting of OU’s board of regents Wednesday to weigh possible conference options available to the university.”
The press release had most pundits 100 percent convinced OU is Pac-10 bound.
The wildcard here remains Texas A&M. The Aggies originally were in the proposal outlined by the Pac-10, however, A&M has since become torn over whether to join its Big 12 brothers in heading west or set out on its own into the SEC. NBCsports.com reported Saturday there were enough votes of A&M regents to approve a move to the SEC.
There are conflicting reports whether the SEC would want A&M and ESPN reported Saturday that the league was not interested in KU, though some KU officials have been intrigued by the possibility of joining that league.
There’s also been talk of KU, K-State, Missouri and Iowa State joining the Big East but that has yet to build up much steam nationally.
Should A&M head to the SEC, that would leave Kansas in an interesting position of whether to pursue becoming the 16th school in the Pac-10 or to stick with the potential Big 12/Mountain West merger that seems to be gaining momentum.
A source confirmed to the Journal-World reports that officials from KU, K-State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor met via teleconference on Saturday to discuss the possibility of remaining with the Big 12 via merging with the Mountain West. The athletic directors may meet Monday to ask questions of TV officials about possible contracts and what they would be worth for such a league.
Although the losses of Texas and Oklahoma would be tough to stomach, taking on the Mountain West schools could actually expand the markets the Big 12 reaches, especially if the Big 12’s five and the MWC’s 10 went after Houston or SMU, as the source indicated they would, as the 16th team in the revamped Big 12.
That, in effect, would be creating the very thing that current Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe has warned against throughout the entire realignment process. It would be interesting to watch if, with his conference saved, Beebe would be willing to oversee one of the 16-team power conferences he’s lobbied against in recent weeks.
“I think it’s something that we, as a community of leaders, better be very careful about,” Beebe said. “I think if we come to a day where there are four 16-member conferences and there’s a clear departure of those conferences from the rest of the institutions in higher education and athletics, that it’s going to be a sad day and it’s going to be very difficult to not have a lot more intervention and legal issues attached to those institutions.”