Publicly, Big 12 officials and athletic directors of member schools must voice a positive, calm spin every time an institution bolts for another conference. Privately, they know they must poach or be poached. They’re looking, but maybe they aren’t looking in the right places.
Sure, Notre Dame, Arkansas or Air Force and Brigham Young would give the conference remarkable national appeal, strong TV ratings and a great deal of sex appeal. It’s worth a try, but as career minor-league power hitters can attest, swinging for the fences without adjusting to a two-strike plan is a good way to stay in the minors.
In the arena of conference realignment, it always pays to remember that nobody can be trusted. Not fellow conference members, not other conferences. Nobody. Poach or be poached. So far, the Big 12 has been raided three times, losing Colorado, Nebraska and soon Texas A&M and hasn’t raided any other conference.
Time to assess the national landscape, identify a vulnerable football conference and raid away. Before any Big 12 institutions seriously consider how they might fit into the Big East, first look at how a few Big East schools might look in the Big 12. Figure out a way to bring Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia to the Big 12 before the Big Ten decides to expand again and does the same, or adds Syracuse instead of West Virginia.
Why not explore adding Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia before taking the less aggressive step of simply adding Houston and moving ahead with a 10-team conference?
Any conference move for Pitt and West Virginia is more appealing for both schools if they get to move together and preserve the Backyard Brawl, one of college football’s top rivalry games. (Last season WVU won on a 43-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt as time expired in one of the most dramatic games of the college football season.)
The Mountaineers always play an exciting brand of football, especially now, with former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen as the head coach. Rutgers had made huge strides under Greg Schiano until stumbling to 4-8 last season. The New York-New Jersey athletes he now loses to Syracuse and UConn would be more likely to sign with Rutgers if the Scarlet Knights played in the Big 12. Having Rutgers in the Big 12 would bring a ton of TV sets into the conference, a plus for everybody.
One problem with Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia joining the Big 12 to make the conference name accurate: Aligning the divisions by either latitude or longitude would not enable Kansas to keep its two chief rivals in the same division. Using East and West divisions would put KU in the East with the three Big East schools, Iowa State and Missouri. K-State would be in the West. Using North and South divisions would put KU in the North with the three Big East schools, K-State and Iowa State. Missouri would be in the South by a hair.
Minor detail. Just get the strongest members possible and worry about the divisions later.