The Big 12 Conference at the moment shares much resemblance with the Holy Roman Empire in its dying days. It's neither Big, nor 12, and pretty soon, it might not be a conference anymore.
Blame that on the Longhorn Network.
The University of Texas' fledgling television network is reason No. 1 for all the current upheaval in college football. As a result, the expansions by the Big Ten and Pac-12 last year are merely a prelude to a much bigger revolution to come.
Chafing at the founding of the Longhorn Network and the preferential treatment Texas would be getting in the new, weakened Big 12, Texas A&M finally had had enough and decided to leave the conference, at any cost. Oklahoma, equally not amused, will soon make its westward haul and land in the Pac-12 (14?), taking Oklahoma State with it.
With Pitt and Syracuse officially moving to the ACC, Texas' only other safety chute has been effectively closed. Now the Longhorns are faced with two choices, and what they decide to do will finally complete the realignment frenzy, perhaps for the foreseeable future.
Texas' contract with ESPN stipulates that the Longhorn Network may only be disbanded if Texas leaves the Big 12, meaning that Texas cannot "save" the Big 12 in its current state. UT and OU can still save their rivalry - but only as fellow members of the Pac-16, with the Longhorn Network aborted in its infancy.
So the fork in the road is at hand for Texas. What it decides will bring down the rest of the dominoes.
If it chooses to go Route 1, keeping the Longhorn Network in a reconstituted Big 12, this is how the new conferences most likely would shape up:
- Big 12 - Bring the old Southwest Conference band back together, replacing A&M, OU and OSU with TCU, SMU and BYU, and possibly adding Houston and Tulsa to round it back up to 12
- Pac-14 - Add OU and OSU
- Big Ten - Do nothing
- SEC - Add West Virginia and Texas A&M
- ACC - Add Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers and UConn to become the only 16-team conference
- Big East - Add Central Florida, Memphis, East Carolina, Temple and have Villanova move up to D-IA to form a eight-team conference
In this scenario, the Big 12 may barely have enough juice to preserve its automatic bid in the BCS. The Big East likely would lose its, leaving just five auto-bid conferences.
Or, Texas may decide to junk the Longhorn Network and cut its losses, joining OU and OSU a year after Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott made his ambitious powerplay:
- Big 12 - Effectively disintegrates, with each member fleeing to a new conference
- Pac-16 - Take OU, OSU, Texas and Texas Tech
- Big Ten - Add Notre Dame and Kansas
- SEC - Take Missouri and Florida State, in addition to Texas A&M and West Virginia
- ACC - Add Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers, UConn and South Florida to form a 16-team conference
- Big East - Add Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State and keep TCU, plus Central Florida and Villanova to have eight teams, though now much more oriented toward the Midwest than the East
In this scenario, there will be also just five BCS conferences: three with 16 members (Pac-16, SEC and ACC) and one with 14 members (Big Ten). If this should occur, we might be done with realignment for quite awhile.
(And this is making your head spin, check out our helpful Conference Affiliation spreadsheet)
So it's all up to Texas and what will it do? The guess here is that the Longhorns will abandon their eponymous network to accept a membership in the Pac-16. The TV venture so far has been a disaster, with prep games barred from being shown on it and few cable/satellite operators willing to take it on. When DirecTV openly questioned whether two UT football games constitutes "a network," the message seemed to be loud and clear.
Maybe they can show "A Bridge Too Far" on the night the Longhorn Network bids its farewell.